In this installment of our Digital Marketing for Universities series, we’re going to tackle goal setting.
Setting goals seems like a simple enough task, right? For some it is, but for most of us, being able to set challenging yet attainable organizational goals over and over again doesn’t come naturally; it’s an acquired skill. It takes practice, persistence, focus, creativity and lots of fine-tuning.
So how do you set challenging, attainable goals? How many should you set? It is hard enough to stay focused on them month to month while dealing with the day-to-day operations, let a lone find time to execute the plan you have in place.
First step — don’t panic. We’re going to answer all your questions by showing you how your higher education institution should set goals and set standards across your institutional departments to actually achieve them. Here’s what we’ll cover in this post, feel free to click on any link to be taken to that section:
- Defining Goals
- Number of Goals to Set
- Resources Needed to Attain Goals
- Establish a Cohesive Front Across Departments
1. Defining Goals
How To Define Your Goals
Most of us know the five traits your goals should possess:
- Clear— Goals must be well defined so everyone understands them.
- Authentic— Goals need to be unique to your brand, relating to your institution and what you stand for.
- Actionable— Clear action needs to be taken to accomplish your goals.
- Achievable— Goals need to be realistic and attainable for those required to attain them.
- Time-bound— Goals need specific starting and ending times.
But how do you effectively analyze what you did the previous year? What you are going to focus on this year? And how much you can impact traffic and leads to the Universities site?
Understanding Your Data First
It is important to first begin analyzing the past performance and results of digital marketing efforts and website traffic. Here, you’ll need to head to your analytics tool. First off, you’ll want to ensure that there are filters in place to not include traffic from certain IP addresses. In addition, there needs to be annotations marked to track major events like website changes, search engine algorithm updates, media buys, and anything else that may have impacted traffic both negatively or positively.
In Google Analytics, setting up notations is easy:
- Head to the Admin section of Google Analytics
- Under the far right column ‘VIEW’ – All Website Data – select ‘ANNOTATIONS’
- You’ll be taken to the create annotations page, where you’ll select ‘+ NEW ANNOTATION’
- Create your annotation and select ‘Save Annotation’
- Your annotation now appears in your reports!
Building a Case for Projections
Google Keyword Trends
Once you have an understanding of the past data trends, you can begin to formulate goals for the upcoming year. When analyzing potential traffic growth, you should take into consideration projected search volumes for SEO and PPC. A useful tool for understanding whether a keyword or sets of keywords are being searched on more is Google Trends. For example, using Google trends you can see how the Universities brand is doing:
Additionally, you can compare search terms, website types, and interest as recorded by Google since 2004. You’ll also see state-by-state breakdowns and related search terms.
Analyzing Current Keyword Performance
Once you have an understanding of keyword trends in your space, you should analyze where you currently rank for the keywords you are targeting. One tool that allows you to quickly gather data is SEMRush. SEMRush can give you a quick snapshot of where you currently stand along with the potential traffic you are missing out on.
To do this, add your website into the tool and start the analysis. Once it has finished you will get a dashboard that looks something like this:
The organic search section allows you to quickly see your organic position distribution:
This is an extremely valuable chart for quickly understanding future growth. In the example for walden.edu they have a huge potential, see details below:
The amount of keywords ranking in position 4 – 30 totals is 24,230 terms.
Now comes the fun part. By selecting the position distribution in the SEMRush graph you can quickly see a list of terms that fall into that bucket. For example, when I select the 4-10 bar chart the following report populates:
You might notice that branded keywords are pulled into the report. You can filter the results more by excluding branded keywords to clean things up a bit. The result will give you better data to analyze.
By filtering out branded terms you are able to export the new list and run some basic numbers. Exporting the list above you are left with 6,104 keywords ranking in position 4-10 of Google. When you add up the total search volume for all 6K+ keywords you have a potential of 937,160 monthly searches. Yes, you heard correctly, nearly 1 million searches monthly.
If Walden were to drive even 1% of the total traffic volume to their site they would drive 9,371 additional visits each month. Further, if they could convert 1% of the total traffic that would result in 93 more leads a month. This is only keywords ranking in position 4-10 of the search results. By following the same process for each group of keywords e.g.- keywords in positions 11-20, 21-30 etc. you could start to get an idea of how much potential traffic you could drive to the site month over month. Comparing that with analytics data you would start to get a picture of how much growth you could see YOY and now you have a data driven growth plan.
Online Growth and The Competitive Landscape
When projecting online growth, it helps to look into what the competition is doing . SEMrush is a fantastic online tool to identify and assess the competitive landscape:
SEMrush provides a plethora of competitor data around organic and paid keywords. It also gives you a more comprehensive viewpoint of where your university stands compared to top competitors.
Once you analyze past results and future potential, you can start to figure out projections for future growth.
2. Number of Goals to Set
We can’t tell you an exact number your institution should set. That depends on your specific objectives and overall digital marketing strategy.
But, we can tell you that you should never have too many goals you’re working on at once. Too many goals is chaotic, confusing and increases your chances of not reaching any of your goals because you don’t know where to focus your efforts.
The book, “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” communicates the need in every business to focus on the Widely Important Goals (WIGs). Businesses tend to focus on too many goals, because of the desire to impact everything at once.
However, the key is to focus on less and work from lead measures of success. It helps to start by selecting 1 to 2 goals that matter most to the university as a whole and focus solely on fulfilling those.
3. What You Need to Attain Your Goals
Once you have narrowed your focus to your Widely Important Goals, you need to figure out the plan to achieve them! Here’s a process we use at Stryde:
Step 1: Develop an Action Plan
Determine objectives for each of your goals, and then develop an action plan to achieve each goal. While your team develops a plan of action, ask yourselves the following questions:
- What is our start date and deadline?
- What does this goal entail?
- How are we going to accomplish it?
- What resources, i.e. people, money and materials, do we need in achieving this goal?
- Who is responsible for completing each task?
- How do we measure the results? What key performance indicators (KPIs) will we use to track our progress?
- What is the competition doing to impact market share?
Here, it can be particularly useful to build a quick chart to inventory the team’s capabilities and resources you have at your disposal. For example, for our team at Stryde, a snapshot of teams and a handful of the tools we have access might include:
Step 2: Analyze Industry-Specific Digital Landscape
It is important to analyze the digital landscape to know what is happening and how it could change over time. Things to look (and tools to look at them with) at include:
- Keyword Rankings
- Social Following per Channel
- Links to Site
- Content Frequency & Types
- Tool to use: Google site:www.website.com
- Content Promotion & Distribution
- Local Citations/Business Listings
- Email Strategy
- Just sign up for their emails!
- Paid Search Strategy
After you’ve analyzed the elements of the digital landscape listed above, you can construct your growth plan. Use the projections set during the goal creation process and map out a path to impacting and achieving the Widely Important Goals. A visual example of a growth plan can be found below:
Step 3: Establish a Scorecard or Dashboard
How are you going to measure your success month to month to make sure you hit your goals? Setting up and maintaining a digital marketing dashboard is the perfect way to visualize your progress and ensure achievement of your goals. With dashboards (like the template we provide for free here) you’re able to track how revenue is performing month over month and which channels are performing the best. In addition, you’re given comprehensive performance breakdowns by device detailing sessions, transactions, and revenue.
Step 4: Cadence of Accountability
Along with monitoring your results, you want to monitor who is working on what week to week and how are they performing compared to the rest of the team. This will ensure that any internal issues that need to be addressed will be tended to in a timely manner.
4. Establish a Cohesive Front Across Departments
Higher education institutions are complex organizations, consisting of several departments and teams within each department. The structural makeup of higher education institutions has a silo mentality. Each department tends to only focus on its own needs, goals and challenges.
If your institution is going to be effective at setting and achieving goals, you can’t have a silo mentality, especially when it comes to the content aspect of your digital marketing efforts. You’ll run into numerous problems if department aren’t unified.
Effective, cohesive department collaboration is key. It’s a critical component for any higher education digital marketing strategy. A combined effort of every department working together cultivates visibility across all departments and helps you more efficiently reach your goals.
There are brilliant minds in each department — use them!
Setting goals isn’t the easiest task on your plate, but when you work together with the other departments, don’t give up, focus on the process and enjoy the overall experience, it will start getting easier and you’ll be a skilled goal setter in no time.
Remember, we’re dedicating a series of blog posts to digital marketing for universities! Check out each installment here:
Here’s what on the horizon in this series:
- Digital Marketing for Universities: Platform Identification
- Digital Marketing for Universities: Tapping Your Content Sources