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2021 Higher Ed Website Benchmarks

2 min read

Colleges and universities spend the majority of their marketing budgets driving people to their websites. But what happens once they get there?

College websites received less traffic in 2021 than in 2020, and the majority of visitors are leaving right away. The latest study by Niche on 2021 Higher Ed Website Benchmarks shows bounce rates (the rate at which visitors jump right off your site without taking action) are up across the board. 

Retaining an audience is as important as attracting an audience. So what should you do?

Let’s get into it.

A Look at the Numbers

Niche collected website traffic data from 442 higher ed institutions to calculate industry benchmarks for key traffic metrics. Benchmarks were determined on a site level and for traffic across various search engines, paid sources, and social media networks.

Higher Ed Website Traffic is Down

Website and search traffic is down across the higher ed industry. For 4-year colleges, only small private institutions (enrollment under 648 students) and large public institutions (enrollments over 15,098) saw decreases in sessions, but enough so to bring down the overall average.

The good news is that the share of new traffic is increasing across the industry, with a higher average of new eyes on your school’s website.

A Look At Paid Digital Advertising

Schools spent an average of $600,000 on Google Ads in 2021, with public colleges spending the least (a little over $100,000) and for-profit schools spending the most (over $1.3 million).

Overall, digital advertising brought less traffic to college websites in 2021 than 2020, even with a higher share of new visitors. At such a high cost, paid ads may not be an efficient way to spend your marketing budget.


What This Means for You

With less traffic going around, schools need to make an impact on the visitors they do have. That means attractive, engaging visuals, clean and concise formatting, well-organized written content, and a simple, easy-to-follow navigation.

Make it easier for visitors to find the information they seek. That means prioritizing content that they’re searching for and having web chat functionality as 24/7 self-service support, with human help as needed during business hours.

The Faster the Load Time, The Better.

Public institutions with the fastest loading pages had the lowest bounce rates, followed by private colleges. For-profit institutions had the highest load times and bounce rates. Almost no websites in Niche's report met the three-second maximum load time, which is considered a best practice for retaining visitors.

Lesson learned - optimize your website to load quickly to keep more visitors there.

About the Study:

These benchmarks are based upon website traffic data for the 2021 calendar year aggregated across 442 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 average value among all institutions was calculated for each metric.

Benchmarked Metrics:

  • Total Sessions
  • Percent New Sessions
  • Bounce Rate
  • Average Session Duration
  • Page Views per Session
  • Sessions per User
  • Average Page Load Time
  • 2021 Ad Spend
  • CPC (cost per click)
  • Clicks
View the full summary here.

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