2020 Niche Higher Education Website Benchmarks

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Summary

  • Total website traffic dropped by 27% in 2020. Search traffic took a 30% hit, led by a significant loss of Google traffic. Social media traffic also declined, but paid traffic increased by 12%.  
  • Digital marketing not only increased in volume, but there was also a marginal increase in the quality as well. The bounce rate dropped slightly and new sessions increased while not engaging with fewer pages. The traffic did not perform as well as other sources though, so there is still room for improvement.
  • Facebook still provides the highest volume of traffic to higher ed websites, but the highest quality comes from Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.
  • 2-year public or private colleges have the best Google Ads performance. 4-year for-profit colleges both spend the most and have the lowest-performing Google Ads. 

Results

A tactical difference is highlighted in the quality of referral traffic versus social or paid traffic. People who come to your site from referral sites, such as Niche and other college search platforms, are more likely to stay on your site as well as spend more time on the site and look at more pages. They also come back more often than people who come to your site through social media or digital marketing. Driven by a change in Google Ads, Niche now drives all digital marketing traffic through the platform first; essentially prequalifying and further improving the quality of referrals.

All tables can be expanded in a new tab by clicking on them.

Methodology

These benchmarks are based upon website traffic data for the 2020 calendar year aggregated across 279 higher ed institutions. All institutions included use Google Analytics to track and report on their website traffic, and all granted Niche read-only access to their Google Analytics. In order to calculate industry benchmarks for key traffic metrics, the data across all institutions was pulled via the Google Analytics API and the median value among all institutions was calculated for each metric. 

The key traffic metrics benchmarked are: 

  • Total Sessions 
  • Percent New Sessions 
  • Bounce Rate 
  • Average Session Duration 
  • Pageviews per Session 
  • Sessions per User 
  • Average Page Load Time 

Additionally, for those with Google Ads connected Niche benchmarked:

  • 2020 ad spend
  • CPC
  • Clicks

Benchmarks were determined for traffic on a site-wide level, as well as for traffic across various search engines, social networks, and paid sources. Not all institutions had traffic from every source. The benchmark for traffic from a specific source is the median among all schools with traffic from that source. 

Will Patch

In addition to the Enrollment Insights blog, webinars, and podcast; Will is a frequent conference speaker and podcast guest. He has presented at NACAC, AACRAO-SEM, Indiana ACAC, CASE V, EduWeb, and EMA. Will's work has been featured in Forbes, Inside Higher Ed, CNBC, CNN, the LA Times, and The New York Times among other outlets.