Sylvain Léauthier is Web & Social Media Specialist at the Catholic University of Lyon. After studying communication and web marketing at university, he worked as a copywriter before joining the Catholic University of Lyon and dedicating himself completely to digital. Here, he answers all our questions.
What is the one key skill to have in a job like yours?
Communication – and the ability to write well, in particular – is essential in digital, in my opinion. Even if we often focus on tools (and notably the newest ones), it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that the message is what counts – no matter our site, services or digital goals. Beyond professions that are of a purely editorial nature (however you want to call them: web copywriter or editor, editor-in-chief…), writing is at the heart of many other digital roles: SEO, community management, website and application usability… and web analytics, too, as it serves (in part) to measure editorial impact.
In a few words, please tell us about the Catholic University of Lyon’s digital presence.
Our digital ecosystem is composed of our websites (the Catholic University of Lyon’s website, and 13 other websites for our establishments, institutes and research centres), for which the principal target audience is future students – applicants and future applicants. Our traffic volumes are between 70,000 and 80,000 per month, which equals about 200,000 to 300,000 pageviews. These sites are at the heart of our digital presence, and we use various acquisition tools around them: SEO, obviously (I use the SEMRush tool to audit keywords), and AdWords campaigns (we gave up display and affiliation). For loyalty, we mainly use email campaigns and social networks. For our students, our digital presence is centred on a student website (which has 200,000 monthly pageviews for 20,000 monthly visitors), which is a content and service platform also serving as a portal to all administrative and educational resources (important documents, online courses, etc.).
What are the challenges of addressing a student population on digital platforms?
Higher education websites have traffic of a very specific nature: the first characteristic is very strong patterns, both weekly (with spikes during the week, and dips on the weekend) and yearly (strong traffic from January to June, corresponding to enrolment season, a spike in September and October with back-to-school, and low traffic during summer holidays). Another point is that traffic is not very loyal on our sites: When students wish to enrol at one of our schools, they visit the site maybe 3, 4, 5 or 6 times over a period of a few months, before making their decision. Once they’re enrolled, they don’t come back to this site, in theory (except maybe when the school year starts). Even if our traffic is not very loyal in nature (except for with certain secondary targets), it is still very challenging, as the stakes are high: They’re choosing an educational programme in which they’re going to spend 3 to 5 years, which is going to impact their lives – or at least their careers. Selecting a higher education establishment is not like choosing a pair of shoes!
How do these particularities translate into your observed results?
This is discernible in our analytics reports, as visit lengths are long (5 to 6 minutes) and the bounce rates are quite low (less than 50%). So, our visits and traffic are quite brief and short-lived, but strong and engaged. Not much traffic comes from smartphones, as our visitors typically consult our site from a desktop computer, most likely at home in a calm environment, and they seek out both educational and practical information. On the student web, traffic characteristics are different, as the Internet is students’ working tool; traffic is loyal and recurring. The rhythm of editorial publications must adapt to this particularity.
From a digital point of view, what’s the competition like between higher education establishments?
The competition between establishments is clearly quite strong, but we don’t see it across our entire programme offering. There’s a large cultural difference on this topic between establishments, but the competition is clear, accepted and managed. On the digital level, the competition is first and foremost in acquisition, but also in conversion, even if many factors come into play when choosing an education programme – and some of those factors we can’t control (geographic choices, feedback and opinions given in forums, and from friends and family…). Nonetheless, we work and collaborate with our colleagues across the field. We even have a very active community, webuniv, which brings together more than 250 web professionals from diverse establishments.
How do you use your analytics data?
We use web analytics in the classic ways: identification of relevant KPIs according to the goals defined, and if needed, specific configurations (tagging on sources, goals, conversion funnels, custom metrics), reading of data, and interpretation and reporting. At our establishment, the people in charge of communicating their programmes (our university’s different faculties, schools and institutes) often ask for site traffic figures and data, and data on how acquisition activities are converting. Certain people have direct access to the analytics, and in these cases, there is greater autonomy and a strong need for training on the tool. For less frequent users, I take care of the reporting, as it would most likely be too complex for them to grasp the use of a comprehensive tool. One of my goals this year is to create personalised dashboards for the people in charge of communication, with the indicators that we’ve identified together as relevant. Nonetheless, I really do like putting together “manual” reports, even if it takes a bit of time because it often entails consolidating data from several different tools.
How do you see your job in 10 years?
I’m not very good at predictions, but I can tell you what kinds of evolution seem necessary in our profession. With digital, I think we have to move from a “presence strategy” (reasoning in terms of formats and tools, which seems to me a vision that’s too static) to a “flow strategy” in which the goal is not just to be present or to publish content, but to truly deliver the right message at the right time to the right person.
To put it another way: to no longer just be satisfied by publishing information, launching a site or a Facebook page or a tweet… but to replace these tools in a content strategy that takes other elements into consideration, notably the message quality (content, timing compatible with the target). We should no longer think in terms of formats, but in terms of “flow,” because that’s what we’re managing today. We no longer construct websites like we construct houses; we identify flows and try to direct them to adapted content. This approach clearly entails evaluation of the content and therefore an analytics culture. Of course, we can’t measure everything, but to me, the challenge is opening analytics up even more to the people who produce and publish content, so they can easily evaluate the impact of what they produce. Concretely, this means that content producers need better access to this data, exactly as how today, when we tweet, we can see the number of retweets or favourites. This will happen via a better integration of analytics in the CMS.
For you, what are the 3 key qualities a digital professional should have?
For digital, I think writing skills are the most important. Tool knowledge is important, but for me, it’s secondary because it’s easy to learn and grasp. What’s more is that tools change continuously, so it’s not so much about tool knowledge as it is about perspective and the ability to establish relevant goals and methods, which will work no matter the tool or changes.
For analytics, I think you need mathematical intelligence, but you also must know how to put metrics into perspective. I often see presentations with things like, “Objective: 10,000 fans on our Facebook page” or “100,000 pageviews for our site.” But what good is it to have 10,000 fans or 100,000 pageviews? No good, in itself. It’s what those people are going to do that is important (sign up, buy, consult, attend an event). We mustn’t confuse the metric and the objective.
One other point: It’s very difficult to measure certain things. How can we measure the efficiency of editorial content? The number of pageviews is not a good indicator, because it evaluates the promotion of content (on social networks, SEO, on the site), the quality of the title, tagline and visual (whatever is visible before clicking on the content page), rather than the content itself. The number of pageviews is simply the number of times a page was loaded. When presented like that, you realise immediately that a page can be loaded without the content being consumed!
So, how can you measure this editorial impact?
Platforms like Medium or analytic reports like AT Internet’s ScrollView are really interesting, because they are certainly the most relevant indicators of a piece of content’s quality.
I could cite so many other examples: a significant bounce rate is always considered as a negative indicator, but it really depends on the quality and intensity of the promotion of that content, and on the content itself. If you manage a blog, the bounce rate is going to be really high, because visitors arrive from social networks, read the post, then leave. Does this mean the blog post content is bad? No.
Lastly, I think we must question the way in which certain metrics are calculated. For example, a returning visitor is not calculated in Google Analytics (based solely on the cookie _utma or _ga) in the same way that it’s calculated in AT Internet’s solution (also based on cookies, but specifically for a given period vs. a previous period). Yet, this is an indicator that seems to mean the same thing upon first glance.