Do your Online Markets Challenge your Traditional Business Model?

Last week while visiting the UK, I sat down with the Operations Director of a small academic institution.

We started to review their Google Analytics. As often happens, we were immediately faced with data that directly challenges the business strategy they’ve followed so far.

To date, the college has concentrated on delivering high-quality programming to in-person groups – and their marketing and fundraising has reflected this model. Yet without any focused online promotional efforts, their Website is attracting traffic from all over the world – far outside their physical catchment area. In fact, 35% of all Web visitors could not easily get to their campus.

This is a scenario that I’ve seen many times. There will always be visitors to your Website who at first glance don’t belong to your established target market or demographic, and your instinct may be to let them go.

However, in this case we can clearly see from the inbound search terms and the pages visited that these people are specifically looking for the college, or for the subject matter that they teach – this is highly qualified traffic. And 35% is a pretty big number of potential customers to turn away!

Of course our discussion turned to the creation of virtual courses, webinars, podcasts, e-books and other offerings that could be delivered anywhere in the world. This would be a major shift in strategy for the college, and like many non-profit organizations, they’re underfunded and tend to move cautiously.

From what we saw in the analytics, I believe that they’re missing significant potential revenue and outreach opportunities – which in my language means that their Website has some major leaks. At least there are proven visitor numbers to make that case to the Management Team and the Board – I’ll be interested to see how they go forward.

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