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Robert Perry, Head of Research – Pickle Jar Communications, is one of the 12 presenters of the 2017 Higher Ed Analytics Conference (the 5th edition!).

In this 3-question interview, Robert tells us about an interesting analytics challenge and a favorite Google Analytics before discussing what will make a big difference for higher ed analytics in 2017.

1) What’s the most challenging yet interesting part in your work with analytics?

We work with a lot of universities and colleges of different types and sizes, so their challenges are always unique to them – but one of the measurement issues we see regularly is a lack of understanding about what success should look like. We’ve got an incredible amount of data available to us, but if we don’t know what our audience is likely to do, we can’t evaluate the success of our activity.

So I like to look at the ways different audiences consume information online and use that to determine performance. It can be frustrating to see that a great series of social media posts isn’t getting much engagement – but If you know in advance that a particular audience type just doesn’t tend to retweet or share articles they find on social media, then you know not to worry about it. There’ll be a different way to measure success for that audience, and finding out what that is – that’s the fun part.

2) What is your favorite GA feature, why and how do you use it at your school?

I’m a big fan of tracking the effects of spikes in traffic. I like to find a specific page that brought in all the new users, then create a segment for new users who arrived at the site through that page. After that I can see what their behaviour, demographic, and acquisition information is – what does it tell me about that piece of content and that audience? Did they go elsewhere, explore other areas of the site? Are they a particular audience segment I hadn’t considered before? Can I provide more information like this, turning that spike into part of our content plan, rather than just a one off?

I’m also a sucker for the simple screen size figures. In the education sector we’re always under pressure from different institutional voices to include more information on web pages. When we look at the screen size info and see that all those extra boxes and links just aren’t getting seen by lots of visitors, it’s a helpful argument for streamlining that content.

3) What do you think will make a big difference for higher ed analytics and measurement in 2017?

There’s so much information we can gather for ourselves, but we’re not the only ones. Data and analytics are available to everyone, whatever their role, and that can be overwhelming. I think we’ll start to see more and more examples of data curators – people within an organisation who are able to decide what the useful information is and present it to others in a meaningful way.

In turn, I think this gives those of us responsible for data the chance to be open and honest about what we find. We can’t just gloss over the negatives – we need to be able to give the context behind a supposedly poor performance. That make the successes even more meaningful.

A conference on digital analytics for higher education?

The HEA conference has become a must-attend event for digital marketing and communication professionals in higher education looking for new ideas and best practices.

Read below what a few of your higher ed colleagues who attended the past editions of the Higher Ed Analytics Conference say about the event.

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