A while back, a senior member of school leadership knocked on my office door and asked what I was doing. Caught off guard, I responded with something half-intelligent and tried to appear as though I was being somewhat productive. He slowly nodded, paused, and then asked, “Is THAT the best use of your time?”
Passive-aggressiveness aside, it’s a valid question … and while I’ve had quite a few years to cool down, the moment still sticks in the back of my mind as a lesson in creating content that has the most impact. Your key performance indicators (KPIs) are what support your goals, after all.
Whether it’s the benchmarks for your marketing and communication efforts, community engagement, or enrollment, your administrators want high-level information to gauge the overall growth and performance of your school’s content.
But when you’re juggling so much content for your school, it can be difficult to track and manage what’s making the biggest difference.
Did that downloadable offer catch the eyes of prospective families? Did those edits to your tuition page make much of a difference? Was that Instagram post worth the effort?
Perhaps that one tweet won’t enroll five students, or maybe one single video testimonial won't create a new donor but remember — it’s the cumulative impact of your content that will make a difference in the end.
When you’re creating content marketing for schools across a variety of platforms, at different intervals, for a variety of audiences, how do you evaluate the effectiveness of your content marketing strategy? If content is king, let’s look at the essential KPIs for:
- Your school’s website content
- Email marketing and workflow engagement
- Social media
- Digital ads
Your school’s website content
Conversions: This can vary based on what you define as a conversion, but for many, visiting this page would signify that they’ve performed an action you’d want a user to take, such as arriving on a “thank you” page because of a content download, or confirmation pages for event RSVP. In Google Analytics 4, you’d set this as an event.
Traffic: Refers to the total volume of users visiting your school’s website. It’s measured in visits, sometimes called "sessions.” Traffic can encompass multiple visits to a site by one person.
Unique visitors: This metric represents the number of distinct users visiting a page or multiple pages on your website, but it’s not always reliable because a user may clear their cookies, switch to a different browser, or even block cookies before viewing your site. All these page views would be tracked and attributed to multiple unique visitors instead of the same visitor. For that reason, some analytic tools, like HubSpot, don’t track unique visitors — but measure new visitor sessions instead.
New vs. returning visitors: New visitor sessions measure the number of new, unique individuals with at least one session on your site during a period of time. If a user has multiple sessions, they’ll still be counted as the same visitor.
Time on page: Simply, time-on-page refers to the duration of when a user lands on the page until they move on by clicking a link to go to another page.
Bounce rate: Refers to visitors who load a page on your website, then leave without interacting with the page (scrolling, clicking, zooming) — hence, they “bounce” off your website and go somewhere else. Bounce rates are calculated by dividing these single-page, zero-interaction sessions by all sessions.
Exit rate: The last page a visitor sees before exiting your site. While not necessarily a bad metric, pay attention to pages with the highest exit rates and determine if they’re converting. Your goal is to make your top exit pages your thank you pages and content download pages.
Page views: The number of times a page on your website is seen by a visitor, but it’s not unique. If a parent loads a page, then reloads, it counts as two page views.
Pages per session: How many pages a user encounters during a session. This is a helpful metric because it can shed light on how your users are engaging with your pages and content. A high page per session, paired with a low time on page, could suggest users are jumping around looking for answers. Conversely, engaging content would keep users on fewer pages for longer.
Traffic sources: Wondering where your visitors are coming from? While the amount and names of traffic sources vary by analytics tool, these are common:
- Organic search: These visitors most likely arrived at your website through the results of an organic search through Google or another search engine.
- Paid search: These visitors arrived by clicking on your search — sometimes called “PPC” — ads.
- Referrals: Referral traffic comes to your website through links on other websites, as opposed to search engine results.
- Email: Traffic from links included in emails.
- Direct: Traffic through a bookmark or by entering the URL directly into the browser.
Canterbury School offers its admissions brochure as a beautiful downloadable content offer. With a short form and a simple design, the page seems to be optimized well. But is the page performing as intended? If they’re seeing a high bounce rate, a high exit rate, or few conversions, they may want to consider removing the top navigation, moving the form to the left side of the page, and adding an anchored call to action to increase form submissions.
Email marketing and workflow engagement
Once an email lands in a user’s inbox, determine if your school’s email, newsletters, and automated workflows are performing and converting the way you intended.
Open rates: the percentage rate at which emails are opened. Though it is a general indicator of subject line effectiveness, it can be a misleading metric for online marketers. The iOS update in 2022 has also skewed open rate data for any recipients using an Apple device for their email.
Unsubscribes: The number of accounts that choose to no longer receive email communications from your school. Whether it’s a current or prospective parent, keep an eye on these and make sure your content isn’t turning people away.
Click-Through Rate: The click-through rate (CTR) shows the engagement of your audience and tells the percentage of people who clicked on at least one link in your message.
Evaluating the effectiveness of email KPIs can suggest it’s time to tweak subject lines, offer different content, or change up the layout or design of your templates.
Social media posting and engagement
The success of your social content should be judged by what gets the most engagement, which is often most influenced by shares. When it comes to social currency, these are the indicators that can make you rich.
Likes: Faster than writing a comment or sharing, a “like” (or similar reaction) refers to users approving content on Facebook and Instagram.
Comments: Comments are included within engagement and can include text, hashtags, mentions, and emojis. They offer positive (hopefully!) feedback, and questions, and contribute to the online dialogue about your content.
Shares: When social media users select content to redistribute to their own networks, followers, groups, or individuals. Shares can be a big indicator of success because they signal which content resonates with your audience the most.
Followers: Across a variety of channels, a “follower” represents an account that chooses to see all of another user's posts in their content feed. For some, increasing the number of followers can indicate popularity, but beware — without a high level of engagement, a lot of followers doesn’t mean much.
What’s better: a huge following with no engagement, or fewer followers who are consistently commenting, liking, and reposting your content?
Impressions: The number of times your content is displayed, regardless if it was clicked or not. Impressions are simply the number of times your posts have been shown on Facebook or Twitter, for example, not necessarily seen or engaged with. Think of it like talking in front of a crowd of a thousand people —the crowd may have been large, but maybe only 1/3 of those people actually heard you.
Reach: Social media reach is the total number of unique users who see your content. Similar to impressions, reach will increase regardless of whether users engage with your content.
Let’s say you have 1,000 followers on Facebook and make a single post. If each one of your followers sees the post, your reach is still only 1,000 because reach is about the number of unique users seeing your posts, not about the number of times your posts were seen. If all of your 1,000 followers saw your post twice— that’s 2,000 impressions.
If we take a look at Munich International School’s recent visual arts exhibition video on Instagram and YouTube, which is performing “better”? At the moment, it has 16 likes on YouTube but more than 730 plays and 120 likes on Instagram.
Videos posted on your main pages, such as a homepage, admission pages, or about page, can indicate if viewers are engaged and interested in what you have to share. If distributed through email, mobile viewers may be less inclined to watch a longer video.
Plays: Simply, the number of times your video was played, regardless if users watched it multiple times.
Unique views: Similar to the web stat, this is the number of individual people who saw the video, as opposed to your biggest fan who watched it over and over.
Average duration: The average length of time a viewer watches your video. A decent view duration can be between 50 to 60 percent, meaning more than half of your viewers watched at least half of your video.
With all the effort that goes into shooting, producing, and editing video, it can be disheartening to discover that only a tiny percentage of viewers may watch the entire video. If your analytics suggest viewers have a short attention span, shorten the length of your video content, add captions, or consider producing montages with just a backing music track.
When your marketing budget is on the line, the KPIs for your digital ads play an even bigger role in defining success. By digging into the metrics and analytics of your ads, you’ll be able to gauge whether or not your strategy is working, if you need more budget, or if you need an entirely different approach.
Cost per click: Also known as CPC, this is a metric that determines how much you'll pay for ads placed across the web or on social media. It’s based on the number of clicks the ad receives, and it’s a metric that applies to all types of ads, whether they have text, images, or videos.
Impressions: Similar to social media, an impression for a digital ad is used to quantify the number of digital views or engagements, also referred to as an "ad view." Ads that are built on an impression optimization model work best for awareness campaigns, where the number of eyes you get in front of is more important than web traffic.
Click-Through Rate: Your click-through rate, or CTR, can be used to gauge how well your ads or keywords are performing. It’s determined by the number of clicks your ad receives divided by the number of times your ad is shown: clicks/impressions = CTR.
Ad position: This refers to the position of your ad on a search engine results page (or SERP). Also known as ad rank, ad position = Max Bid x Quality Score x Expected Impact of Extension
Conversions: When someone clicks a text ad or views a video ad and then takes an action that you've defined as desirable.
Conversation rate: The percentage of people who clicked on an ad and then completed an action/conversion. For example, if one person submitted an event RSVP form after an ad had been clicked on 100 times, that would give a conversion rate of 1%.
Cost per conversion: How much it costs to gain a conversion. It refers to the total paid for an advertisement compared to the success in achieving your goal.
Total spend: Ad spend is simply the amount of money you are spending on advertising campaigns.
Return on ad spend: Also known as ROAS. This is a marketing metric that measures the efficacy of a digital advertising campaign. ROAS helps online businesses evaluate which methods are working and how they can improve future advertising efforts.
OK, but how do you calculate return on ad spend?
ROAS = Revenue that can be attributable to ads/cost of your ads. For example, if you invest $10,000 into your ad campaign and generate $250,000 in tuition revenue from those ads, your ratio is 1: 25.
Quality score: Google Ads measures the quality and relevancy of your pay-per-click (PPC) ads by evaluating your landing page experience, keywords, and CTR, and ranges from 1-10. The higher the score, the more likely your ad will appear above your competition.
When content engages a variety of audiences across separate platforms, it can be challenging to make fair 1:1 comparisons for different types of content. Tracking the success and impact of your digital ads, website and video content, social media posts, or any other types of content, will require a closer look at your KPIs and how they are supporting your school or district’s larger goals.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.