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TAMU Webmaster's Blog

Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters


Bowl Game Day

Throughout the course of the year I had been watching the university site’s traffic on gameday.  I have mentioned how gameday does affect traffic – not only the amount but also the pages people are looking for.  I therefore decided to use this trend to try to encourage visits to some of our other web properties. On bowl game day we therefore swapped out the “In the Spotlight” section on the front page of the university site with links to Aggie Traditions, 12th Man, and Reveille.

My theory was that these sites all receive more hits during game weekends without any additional advertisement, so adding them on the front page should drive even more traffic.  The numbers, though, are inconclusive at best.  Each of these sites did – as expected – experience an increase in traffic.  The increase was not as much as I would have thought, though.  More telling, not as much of the increase came from referrals than I had hoped.

The university site did experience an increase in traffic, but not as much as it did for some of the bigger games during the season.  This would have meant that we didn’t get as many people seeing the links to have clicked on them.  Organic search still dominated as the channel by which people were landing on these sites.

We also didn’t attract as many outside visitors to the university site as with other gameday peaks.  On average we had 42% new sessions during the semester.  The October 8 game against Tennessee, fueled by our also hosting ESPN’s GameDay, saw a peak of 78% new sessions.  For the bowl game it was only 62%.  This percentage drop, coupled with the lower overall number of visitors, would imply that there were fewer visitors who might have been looking for this type of information.

The game itself may have lent itself to these trends.  Having been in the Big 12 for several years, most of the Kansas State fans are probably familiar with Texas A&M.  The matchup probably didn’t have the national draw that some of our in-season games did, so we would have fewer people from areas of the country who aren’t as familiar with who we are.

So while I don’t think this was a failure, it still wasn’t the success that I was hoping for.  It does indicate that we need to be aware of scheduling these content changes around events that can get more outside attention than we were able to draw this year.

Thursday, January 5th, 2017 Analytics No Comments

Google Data Studio

Google recently released a limited access to Data Studio, which allows us to create highly visual analytics reports.  Their product description page shows two examples of how different – and how impressive – the reports can look.  We all know that presenting the standard Google Analytics dashboard to our decision makers is largely ineffective.  There is simply too much information formatted in a hard to read manner.  Data Studio can make your analytics effective simply by making them read by the people who need to be reading them.

Creating a Data Studio report is similar to using such services as Gliffy or Visio.  You can select whatever metrics that you want to display, position them on the page, and style them to reflect your own preferences or office branding.  Almost any metric that you can access through the GA dashboard should be accessible from within the Data Studio interface.

I have recently created a few reports and given them to my decision makers, and the results were beyond spectacular.   One administrator spent several hours looking at the Data Studio report on the day that I sent it, probably more time than had been spent in total on the typical dashboard reports that I had been sending for two years.  This review resulted in a meeting of that particular project team and decisions being made to change plans on how to proceed on it.   The idea of “data driven decisions” suddenly made sense…because now they had data that was accessible to them.  Of course this result will not be the typical response, but it does show that repackaging our analytics data into easy to read reports is an effective way of increasing its perceived value and even the amount of attention and use it receives.

Friday, July 8th, 2016 Analytics No Comments

Adding “Email Opened” to Google Analytics

One of the basic claims of many bulk email platforms is the ability to track when the email is opened, which they call the number of “opens.” They usually do this by adding tracking codes or transparent images that are tied to the recipient’s email address. The Maestro system on campus does not have this feature activated, which is probably a good thing. At the same time, we have not been able to gauge how many of our readers open the Texas A&M Today newsletter when they receive it.

Even those platforms that do keep record of “opens” do not always make this available to your Google Analytics.  Not a requirement, but it is convenient to have all of the information in one place when you start to look at your site usage.

By adding campaign tracking codes to links in the email, we were able to see that many of our news stories became popular just because they were featured in the email newsletter. But until now, we couldn’t tell how many people open this email newsletter when they receive it.

We recently built a method within Google Tag Manager that does allow us to track when (but not by whom) our emails are opened… at least if we define “open” as opening the mail and downloading images. Using the Google Analytics Measurement Protocol, we created an “image” (really just a URL) that stores an Event Category of “email,” an Event Action of “open,” and the title of the news story as the Event Label. This works because the email thinks it’s a real image and tries to download it, sending the information to Google Analytics.

Our analytics show that recent issues of the Texas A&M Today newsletter were opened by more than 20,000 people the first day they were sent, 3,000 the next day, and 1,000 the third day.


Tuesday, July 5th, 2016 Analytics No Comments

Random Findings in Analytics

Ask a random student on campus where they are from and it has always seemed like the majority will say they are from Houston.  Coming from the Dallas area myself, and knowing how many of my own high school classmates came to A&M, that has always seemed surprising to me.

Looking through our analytics, though, the numbers support that anecdotal conclusion.  One of the pieces of information that you can get from analytics is the geographic location of the user – from the country level all the way down to the city.  While there is some margin of error when you look at the by-city numbers, they are accurate enough to make some comparisons.

Unsurprisingly, College Station is at the top of the list, with just over one-third of traffic coming from here.  That makes sense given the amount of student, faculty, and staff traffic that we get.  What did surprise me, though, was how much more more traffic we get Houston than anywhere else in the state.  Just over 15% of traffic comes from Houston – more than Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio combined.

These numbers are fairly consistent across all of our sites.  I have started watching the combined view of all university sites that have joined in on our campus-wide tracking code and there isn’t any change after adding several colleges, departments, and offices.

Whether it is proximity, the number of old-Ags living in Houston, or some other factor, the percentage is significant enough that it should be taken into account if we ever do location-based advertisement or programs.

Monday, June 6th, 2016 Analytics No Comments

Adding campaign tracking codes on the fly

Campaign tracking codes don’t require advance setup or technical expertise. Any writer and marketer can and should include tracking codes in the links they send or tweet out, especially if it’s an ad they’re paying for. That way, using Google Analytics, they can see which of their efforts is most effective.

Here’s an example of a link:
(Okay, that part was easy).

Here’s an example of a link with tracking code:

The code may look complicated, but here’s the breakdown:
=twitter or facebook or tribune and so on.
utm_medium=social or email or banner or adwords and so on.
=12thman-Launch or 04/08/2015-email and so on.
=tweet-graphic, website-link or get as specific as you want, to see which link or ad brought the most traffic.

Even better, use & instead of &. It’s more correct and may avoid problems.

To analyze your campaign results, log into Google Analytics and, from the left menu, choose Acquisition > Campaigns > All Campaigns. Then  under Primary Dimension, you can look at your data in different ways:

  • Campaign
  • Source
  • Medium
  • Source / Medium
  • Other


Friday, June 26th, 2015 Analytics No Comments

Webmaster Tools and Their Limitations

What tools can webmasters use to understand, as Monty once asked, who our “web visitors are and what they want to see”?

The Google Keywords Planner (under Tools in your Google Adwords account) can tell you what related keywords are most popular worldwide. Google Trends looks promising – compare search popularity by time and region for colleges or english majors. Google Analytics can tell you where your visitors came from, the keywords they were searching for (if Google feels like telling you), and what pages on your site are most popular. For search, Google Webmasters Tools may tell you even more. Your server logs can tell you some of those same things too.

But none of these tools can tell you about the people who have never visited your website.

So, what’s a webmaster to do? Blindly rewrite all our pages to use all the most popular keywords? Google Trends has a list of those too. Blast an email to every website that’s vaguely related to yours, and try to convince the webmaster that your site is closely related to theirs and needs a prominent link from their site?

I’m a little sensitive about link building requests, after recently receiving two emails from the same “link building marketer” on behalf of two normally-reputable educational publishers. He was asking for his links to be added to some of our web pages.  First to the Key Public Entry Points page, except that contains only A&M home pages. Then to one of our news releases, except that was released to the news outlets three years earlier. Apparently he didn’t actually read the pages first.

No, don’t turn your site into something that it isn’t, or pretend it’s something that it isn’t. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t let these tools serve as a wake-up call. If nobody is linking to your site, you probably need to start answering the questions that people are asking. If nobody is interested in what you’re talking about, eloquent and informative as you may be, you probably need to start talking about something new.

When our customers change, our products need to change too. When the world changes, departments should change. But a departmental website won’t succeed unless it accurately reflects its department. The department has to change first, then the website.

You’ll always be most successful by being yourself. For one thing, there’s no competition. Once you’ve decided who you want to serve – and who you can serve best – then give those people what they want to see. How do you know what they want to see? You have to enter their world. Or you could ask them.

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Monday, June 16th, 2014 Analytics No Comments

Questions People Asked the First Week of Classes

As we gear up for the new semester, I thought it would be interesting to look back at some of the most common questions that people asked on the Texas A&M website the weekend before school started last fall. This sampling of search engine queries, including questions from our campus Google Search Appliance, comes from Google Analytics reports for August 28-30, 2010. Apparently they weren’t all new students, but can you picture these searchers and speculate on their motivations and goals?

  • what does a&m stand for
  • where is texas a&m
  • where is sul ross plaza texas a&m
  • where is texas a&m located
  • how many students attend texas a&m
  • how to cancel
  • what is the address of texas a&m
  • how do i get my texas a&m email address?
  • how to order a ring
  • what does gig ’em mean?
  • when does college start a&m
  • tamu what books do i need
  • what time can students move into texas a&m
  • where to mail transcripts
  • what is it to be an aggie ?
  • how athlete’s sports passses work tamu
  • what are the core values of texas a&m?
  • when will bills come out
  • are the buses running today?
  • when do classes start at texas a&m
  • how much is it to attend a&m
  • how to tailgate at texas a&m
  • how to set up neo on phone
  • what does f# mean on transcript
  • who pulls tickets first
  • how far is college station from dallas
  • what colleges are at texas a&m
  • when is spring break
  • what major is inst
  • are dogs allowed on campus at texas a&m?
  • tamu college station is in what county
  • how add an event to the calendar
  • how to set up my clicker
  • what is it to be aggie
  • where is all the texas a&m locations at
  • what is the century oak at texas a&m university
  • where is the student counseling center?
  • what texas a&m offers
  • how to visit texas a&m
  • where do tamu athletes live
  • how big is texas a&m campus
  • what is texas a&m known for
  • why is tour guide in the admissions process
  • how smart do you have to be to become a software engineer
Monday, August 1st, 2011 Analytics 1 Comment

Cotton Bowl Daily Traffic

Anomalies always point out behavior that otherwise tends to be hidden in the general background noise. That’s why when we look at website analytics we look for events that stand out and then try to understand what happened.

The Texas A&M football team played in the Cotton Bowl on January 7, so it should come as no surprise that analytics reports showed a big traffic spike on that day. Examining that spike reaffirmed some of the lessons that we have learned in the past.

First, and unsurprising, national publicity leads to increased traffic volume. The football game was on national TV, in prime time, against a team that has significant national name recognition. Traffic on the mobile site doubled that day, and the main university site increased by even more. Given this many (mostly new) faces coming to the site, big events like this present a great opportunity to do something special rather than presenting them with your standard day-to-day content.

Once inside the site, traffic patterns were quite different from most days. Whereas academics and admissions are typically the most viewed sections of the site, gameday traffic was overwhelmingly focused on the “About A&M” section. After the index page, the next most viewed pages were About A&M, A&M Facts, and the university FAQ, then followed by Athletics. This trend is similar to what we noticed when the football game against Texas was on ESPN last Thanksgiving, and what Butler University noticed at the NCAA basketball tournament last year. In both cases the About page was the most visited on the site. For most of us this content tends to be low on our priority list, but as these instances show, this is precisely the area that can make a good first impression on people not already familiar with your school.

The moral of the story… big events provide big opportunities for marketing the university to an audience that isn’t already familiar with us. Most of the time events like this are known about well in advance, giving plenty of time to prepare. Do so… create something special for them… don’t waste the opportunity by presenting them the same stale content.

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Wednesday, January 26th, 2011 Analytics, Miscellaneous 2 Comments

International social media visitors to Aggieland

As we said yesterday, August was one of our most socially-responsive months, particularly our Texas A&M News and Information website. The 290 visits from Twitter to our article Students’ Understanding Of The Equal Sign Not Equal included a record 167 referrals on Aug. 14 from the Twitter home page. At 1,578 visits, Facebook was one of our top source of traffic as usual. And as we said, we received thousands of new visitors from Slashdot, Digg and Reddit in response to articles such as the ones about equal signs, the Gulf oil spill, and the 2011 U.S. News and World Report rankings.

Other sites that linked to our “equal sign” story, and the visits they brought in: 567
feedburner 357 215 199 152
google 130 130

The “equal sign” story brought in more out-of-state visitors than any other story. 9,376 New Yorkers visited the A&M home page last month.

State Entrances Exits Bounce Rate
1. California 2,015 1,927 95.61%
2. Texas 1,469 1,372 93.43%
3. New York 1,107 1,040 93.95%
4. England 1,074 1,029 95.76%
5. Ontario 847 814 96.20%
6. Mass. 603 560 92.89%
7. Virginia 597 573 95.96%
8. Illinois 597 568 95.07%
9. Washington 568 552 97.17%
10. Penn. 565 528 93.36%

For most of these visitors, the bounce rate exceeded 90%; that is, nearly all these visitors left our sites after reading one news story. But after all, that’s what they came to do. The News and Information home page only had a more typical 52.22% bounce rate – half of these visitors wanted to keep reading.


Thursday, September 9th, 2010 Analytics, Social Media No Comments

University news reaches new popularity with social media

Within a few days in August, Texas A&M News and Information was Slashdotted, Dugg and Redditted at record levels. On Aug. 13 alone, 12,773 visitors viewed our university’s news stories. Several social media outlets reached our list of top referring sites for the first time.

The most popular stories for visitors from these social media outlets were Students’ Understanding Of The Equal Sign Not Equal (20,981 visits, our 3rd most popular landing page overall), Gulf Oil Spill Gone? Not So Fast (9,606 visits, 7th place overall), and Texas A&M Fares Well In 2011 U.S. News Rankings (6,125 visits, 12th place overall). (Of course, the Texas A&M home page remained the most popular content by far, with more than one million views last month). Other news stories received most of their traffic from the usual sources: direct links, Feedburner, Facebook, Google searches, and the university Google Search Appliance.


On Aug. 4, we received our first referrals from in a while. We had 669 visits to the TAMU home page because of a single comment on

On August 14, we received 1,505 visits when the home page featured the “equal sign” story. All links to the Reddit story brought in a total of 2,331 visitors in August.


On Aug. 8-9, we received several thousand visits from Digg because of links to Gulf Oil Spill Gone? Not So Fast. The Digg story brought in 3,006 visits, plus another 1765 visits when it reached the Digg home page.


On August 13, the “equal sign” story was mentioned on Slashdot, for 4,613 visits. When that mention appeared on the Slashdot home page, that brought in 5,748 visits.

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Wednesday, September 8th, 2010 Analytics, Social Media No Comments