The number of visitors to the University’s website has increased by about 50 percent in the last year, officials said.
Officials said that about 4,000 unique visitors – a third of them from mobile devices – accessed www.gwu.edu each day last year, tallying about 1.5 million site views over the course of the year. Experts said the website traffic increases may be the result of improved data analytics, revamped website content and increased accessibility of University websites on mobile devices.
University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said about 35 percent of visitors accessed GW’s websites last year on a mobile device like a smartphone, a 3 percentage point increase from the previous year. The increase follows a series of updates to the University’s mobile websites in recent years, like changes to the size of text and the display.
“In general, mobile has been an increasing priority across all of the University’s digital assets, websites and applications for several years,” she said in an email. “We are consistently looking for ways to improve the mobile experience, as we know that students as well as our faculty and staff are increasingly using mobile phones for more than just phone calls.”
Csellar said about 400 of the University’s websites, including the main site and myGW, automatically change their size to adapt to a user’s computer or mobile device – about a 33 percent increase in the number of GW’s “responsive design” websites over the past year.
She said officials did not spend money on website redesigns this year. Officials declined to comment last year on the cost of the mobile website updates.
Experts said timely and “focused” curation of web content may have contributed to the increase in web traffic.
David Sandor, the senior vice president of communications and public affairs at Emory University, said officials can expect an increase in web traffic at certain points throughout the year and maximize page views and engagement by providing visitors with easy access to applicable content.
“You must segment the audiences in your target zone,” he said in an email. “Next, you need to use data to understand the ‘seasonality’ of higher education content consumption by these audiences.”
Sandor said an effective website strategy consists of “superior storytelling” – creating content that tries to “customize” the experience for viewers. GW’s home page includes social media posts and personal testimonies from students.
“I challenge my team each day to answer these two questions when they prepare to post content,” he said. “Would you share it? Would you pay for it? If the answer is ‘no,’ start over.”
Sandor added that officials may be using data analytics – examining raw data to draw conclusions – to shape their strategy to increase online traffic. The increase in mobile users makes accessibility more “essential” than in the past, which may explain GW’s focus on accessibility in recent website updates, he said.
“Most will interact via mobile and, in that environment, content must be compatible with the time and attention individuals will spend there,” Sandor said.
Thomas Winston Thorpe, the director of web strategy at the University of Washington, said enhanced website accessibility on mobile devices can improve a university’s reputation because prospective students and families – who heavily rely on school websites as a source of information – form their perception of the university based on the website.
He said his university increases web traffic through paid promotions and advertisements and search engine optimization, which increases the visibility of websites on search engines like Google.
“We make sure that we’ve got really good available content that can be indexed by Google and other search engines,” Thorpe said. “We want to know that when someone is searching for something around the University of Washington, that the result on Google is exactly what they’re looking for.”
He added that increased website traffic may lead to a jump in philanthropy if a university publicizes a link to donate on its website. GW’s website hosts an online donation form where donors can make a direct contribution to the University.
But Thorpe said universities should be mindful and maintain enough servers to handle large increases in website traffic.
“It is our job that the servers that run the website are highly available, if we see a spike in traffic, we have to be able to meet that spike in traffic,” Thorpe said. “If we can’t do that, and if for whatever reason the University’s homepage would be unavailable, I think that would be a very disastrous thing, not being able to serve out the content that people need.”