Get More from Your Analytics: Applying an Ecommerce Model to Higher Ed, Part II

A chalkboard filled with charts and diagrams
In Part I of this series, we discussed the problem a lot of Higher Ed analysts run into. Connecting the value of content to the value of a goal conversion is often a daunting task. Google Analytics is a great tool, but unless we take some very specific steps, we lose out on a lot of its reporting capabilities. Part II of this series deals with one easy solution to get more out of your analytics.

If you missed Part I in this series, or if you just want a refresher before you dive back in, check out Get More from Your Analytics: Applying an Ecommerce Model to Higher Ed, Part I

Page Value: The Magic Metric

On to the first solution. Page Value, that one little metric, comes built into Google Analytics out of the box, but you’ve probably never given it much thought. You might have never even seen it. Or if you have, you just ignored it.

Which was a mistake. Page Value is the magic metric. It has the power to unlock the burning question of how content helps goal conversions.

So, if you ask the Google machine about page value, you’ll get a really useful definition that clarifies things really well for people who are experts in Google Analytics:

“Page Value is the average value for a page that a user visited before landing on the goal page or completing an ecommerce transaction (or both)…”

  • a Google document somewhere

I find Google documents to be some of the best sleep aids out there, and I wouldn’t blame you if you saw that definition and immediately forgot why you were here. If you did make it to the end of the sentence, you may have noticed some really cool words in there that add up to the answer to the question we’ve been asking.

Page Value is the value of a page before a user converts!

That’s absolutely amazing! The whole time there was this one metric that could breach the gap between goal conversion and pageviews, and we didn’t even know about it.

So, why didn’t we know about it? Well, your analytics probably looks like this:

How to assign a Goal Value in Google Analytics

$0.00 zero dollars and zero cents. That’s a whole lot of zeroes. So, does that mean none of my pages are valuable? Does it mean that my users don’t visit any pages before converting? Are they just converting by osmosis?

There’s a catch. There’s always a catch. For everything good and useful in the world there’s a catch, and Page Value is no different. Even though it’s a 100% standard metric, it implies doing something that for most of us in Higher Ed, is completely non standard:

In order to access Page Value, you have to assign a Goal Value.

Google Analytics screen shot of assigning a monetary value to a conversion Likewise, you also have to set up Goals. Again, please tell me you set up Goals!

You need to assign a dollar value to your goal. If you want Page Value to be anything other than 0 for every page on your site; if you want to be able to look at how your content supports your goal conversions.

You have to assign a dollar value. You have to think differently. As much as I hate the phrase and as cliché as it’s become, you have to think outside the box.

Really, though, you just have to think inside that red box up there.

You may be thinking at this moment, “We don’t sell anything on our site! Our goal conversions are forms and buttons! Where did you get those dollar figures? We don’t even ask for a deposit!”

You’re not entirely wrong. Your users are just filling out forms, asking for more information, wanting to visit the campus, maybe attend an event. You haven’t even asked them for any money…yet.

You’re probably just looking for leads, hoping to get prospective students and their families interested in your school, and get them onto your campus.

So, where do we get those dollar figures?


Quite frankly, it does not matter. Go for broke! But keep something very important in mind, this equation:

The equation is page value = total goal value over unique pageviews

For any given page, Page Value is the total goal value from all conversions divided by the number of unique pageviews.

Why is that important you ask? If you set your goal value low, your conversion rate is low, and you have a lot of pageviews in a lot of sessions, then Page Value might average out to to a fraction of a penny.

In which case, your pages will have “<$0.01” value. Which is as useless as having 0 value.

Screenshot of Google Analytics with Page Value column highlighted This is literally no better than zero.

Once you’ve got your dollar values sorted out so that Page Value has some kind of meaning for you, it’s time to put it to use. You’ll be able to see which pages are getting into the funnel. Not only that, but you’ll be able to see which pages your users are hitting in the funnel, whether you thought they were relevant or not.

This is the kind of analysis that just wasn’t possible looking at pageviews alone. You can — and should — combine Page Value with groups of content, using the content drilldown reports or by creating your own custom content groupings. Then you can judge not only individual pages but content types as well.

You might even come across pages you considered important, but your users find just, well, “meh.” This might lead to you reorganizing your content, reimagining your funnel, doing some testing, or putting the axe to old content. At the very least, you’ll have the data to back up your decisions.

Page Value is cool, but it’s not perfect! Remember that Page Value is just a single metric among hundreds. Never, ever use it alone. Always report in the context of a particular question. Combine metrics that describe similar situations. Segment your users by type. Be aware of seasonal changes.

Frankly, you should be doing this for ALL metrics you report on, but again that’s a different discussion altogether.

Be stingy with your goals. Because page value is still linked to the session, you might want to focus on goals that are usually completed in a single session, like submitting a request for information form or signing up for campus visits or events.

Prospective students generally don’t complete the application process on the first visit. They’ll research, poke around, then generally come back later when they’re ready to apply. And that’s if your admissions form is part of your site. If you rely on a third party system, an off-site form, or the CommonApp, tracking application submissions as a goal might not even be feasible for you.

Lastly, as with many things in analytics, adding page value now won’t change your historical data. You have to start collecting goal value to start seeing page value. Only once you get some conversions rolling in will you see page value start to distribute to your pages. You’ll want to add an annotation to your reporting view so you can set proper date ranges to look at page value.

The point is, Page Value is useful, and even magical, if you treat it right.

But you came here for more than an article about a single metric, so be sure to check out our upcoming posts for more ecommerce-based solutions!

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