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George Orwell, Web Stats, and Your Site Visitors
July 27, 2010 - 12:30am

I am a self-identified web stats addict. I love logging in to Google Analytics and checking out the web stats from the various sites that I administer. While I acknowledge that the data that web analytics packages can track is a tad bit like "Big Brother," I think that student affairs practitioners should be tracking their web stats in order to provide relevant information to their students.

I often use analogies when talking about web stats with my student affairs colleagues. For example, when a student affairs department opens a new building on campus, e.g. a new recreation center, usage data is tracked. The amount of traffic that a campus recreation facility receives influences its hours of operation, the amount of staff during open hours, the layout of workout areas, etc. The amount of users influences a myriad of decisions at the recreation center. What happens when you adopt the metrics/tracking that occurs in the brick and mortar sphere to a web site? I would contend that web stats tracking/assessment is an oft-forgotten aspect of student affairs assessment initiatives.

When a student affairs department debuts a new website, visitor tracking should occur and be ongoing. Are site visitors looking at the site? What search terms are being used to access the site? A lot of time and money goes into web site development. It is crucial that student affairs administrators are tracking their web stats.

While you could easily spend hours and hours analyzing your web stats, here are a few metrics that can assist with your strategic web initiatives:

  • Visits: How many unique users are visiting your site. A visit is usually calculated as one user accessing your web site in a 30 minute time period.
  • Page views: This is a bit trickier to analyze. A single visit can account for multiple page views. A lot of page views can mean that your content is in high demand. However, it can also mean that people can't find what they want on your site and they end up surfing until they find what they are looking for.
  • Keywords: The search terms that users use to find content on the web can be very insightful for web administrators. Sometimes, you're most popular keyword can be a term or phrase that you never expected to see.
  • Referrals: Referrals are like virtual pats on the back. Referrals show you who is linking to your site and that users are clicking through.

When I talk with my colleagues about web stats, the conversation generally ends up with at least one Orwellian reference. It's true that IP addresses, browser types, and screen resolution are just a few of the metrics that are tracked via web stats. However, I contend that web stats are a great asset for today's student affairs practitioner.

Does your student affairs division tracks its web stats? Do you incorporate web analytics in your assessment initiatives?

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