Andrea Cole

About Andrea Cole

With 13+ years of SEO, paid search and Google Analytics experience, Andrea is Beacon’s “chief digital strategist,” working directly with our Higher Education clients and large commercial accounts. Her in-depth review of Husson University’s website led to an overhaul of the keyword and content targets of 100+ pages within their degree and program content, significantly improving search visibility. Andrea earned a B.A. in Communication Studies from UNC Chapel Hill, is certified in Google Analytics and is invited annually to Google’s exclusive GA Summit. She recently served as an adjunct professor in Wake Forest University’s MSBA Program and led a conference seminar for improving site search and SEO in Higher Education. Andrea is also the author of The SEOptimist blog, which provides useful tips and informative articles on SEO, PPC and Web Marketing.
23 03, 2020

Don’t Panic. Leverage Digital Marketing During the Coronavirus Outbreak.

By | 2020-03-23T08:27:03+00:00 March 23rd, 2020|Categories: Beacon News, Digital Marketing, Ecommerce, PPC|Tags: , , |

Travel bans are in place. Restaurants are closed for dine-in service. Social distancing is the current collective mantra. As the world hermits itself, many brands are assessing what this means for their marketing budgets. With consumer spending pulling back and collective attention turned towards the continual flow of COVID-19 news updates, it may seem logical to spend less on marketing. But, for many companies, this may not be the best approach.

Not Spending is Not a Strategy

Marketing strategy is always about delivering the right message, at the right time, with the right medium, and to the right audience. This truth is consistent and enduring. Put into action, this also means that strategy must pivot anytime there’s a disruption – and the Coronavirus is certainly that disruption.

The knee-jerk reaction is to cut ad spend – and, if you are considering this, take a step back and breathe for a moment. Pulling back on ad spend isn’t a marketing strategy. Less marketing equals less sales and less visibility, which is the exact opposite of your goal and what you ultimately need for your business. And, considering no one knows how long this pandemic will last, ignoring the present climate will certainly make the road to recovery brutally long. After all, you can’t not market forever, can you? What’s your plan?

Our goal as marketers is to break through the noise and reach the customer. Just because this becomes more difficult, or “feels” fruitless, does not mean marketing is turned off. With recent reports stating that web usage is up 20-50%, it’s more important than ever to have a presence online and pivot your marketing plans. Rather than deciding how much to pull back, the focus should be on what medium to invest in and what message to deliver.  Seize the opportunity… wisely.

Even The Coronavirus Can Present Marketing Opportunities

Whether you’re 100% e-commerce, brick and mortar, or a little bit of both, you can still be successful with your digital spend. The key is to find the right mix and define a strategy rather than “click,” turning it off. Consider moving dollars from a direct response (lower funnel approach) to building brand awareness (top of funnel). This is true for the Ford Motor Company, who shelved ads for their new product launches and instead, redirected focus on new spots touting “Built to Lend a Hand” and “Built for Right Now.” The point here is to stay connected with your current audience and create new connections by showcasing your brand to the larger audience that is online because they are at home. Opportunity!

And yes, you may not be Ford, but you have options. Other brands are introducing new, timely calls-to-action. Dunkin Donuts is giving extra points to those in the DD Perks programs for on-the-go ordering. Sling TV is providing free access to news and entertainment. And, One Medical has offered 24/7 virtual care to its members. These are all great examples of marketable offers that pivot digital strategy to respond to today’s climate.  These ads shine to the online audience because they are different, they feel personalized and, consequently, keep conversions and awareness high.  Opportunity!

Pull Back on Ad Spend Only If You Must

Marketing strategies will vary during this period depending on the type of business. Some will choose to stay the course. Some will pull back partially, and yes, some may pull back completely. Before jumping to the latter, consider moving ad spend around to save where you can – but avoid completely disappearing.

Focus on your top awareness drivers. Invest in building your brand and conversions that are relationship builders. Spend where there’s still ROI, even if the benefit to your business takes a little longer. But, you really shouldn’t go dark. 87% of consumers who interact with a brand daily feel more loyal to them – and this number falls drastically as the length of time since last interaction increases.

Remember: out of sight, out of mind. Maintain your connection to some degree, particularly as your competitors dial back and cost goes down. This helps to bridge the gap and helps you get back to full speed when the time comes. Opportunity!

Also keep in mind that the World Advertising Research Center (WARC) projects a 7.1% increase in global media spend based on the expectation that marketers will simply withhold spend until later in the year. The surge in demand later in the year will drive up competition and prices, making acquiring (and reacquiring) customers potentially more expensive than ever before. Staying connected, even somewhat, will reduce the ramp up and deliver a lower blended ROI when compared to a stop-and-go approach.

In Summary: Adjust to the Coronavirus, Not Away From It.

Again, take a very deep breath. Let it out. And, maybe consider taking another one.

Now do what you always do.

Yes, disruption abounds. Resist the urge to throw in the towel. Adjust your strategy to keep your brand alive, visible and relevant to your audience with special messaging and/or new offers. Take advantage of the situation as your competitors panic and ad costs are driven down. Speak to your audience differently, showing that you are still here… and care… and ready when the pandemic clouds dissipate.

We know it’s difficult. Beacon recommends that you calmly assess your particular business’s situation and plan accordingly. Don’t go ALL-IN and don’t FOLD. Stay in the game. Now is the time to collaborate and brainstorm.  Assess the data, as customer visits are probably different. Pay attention to items being put in shopping carts without checking out, more browsing of your products (pageviews), an increase in virtual tours and other low-risk, stay-at-home activities. Opportunity!

And when the world returns to normalcy, and it will, you will be ready. As always, the Beacon Team is here and available if you need guidance.

17 07, 2018

Google Analytics: Understanding Your Audience

By | 2018-07-18T07:20:49+00:00 July 17th, 2018|Categories: Google Analytics, Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , , , |

What Does the Data Tell You About Engagement?

The competition for students in higher education is fierce. With so many excellent options for undergraduate and graduate studies, colleges and universities spend a considerable amount of time and resources recruiting prospective students.

These efforts include email campaigns, mailers, deployment of recruiters to high school campuses, and many other marketing programs. But, one of the most effective tools in your recruiting arsenal is your website.

A higher education website has to be geared to many audiences and be able to accomplish a multitude of tasks — keep the campus informed about news and events, allow students to register and schedule classes, provide accurate parking information for visitor, and much much more. However, serving as a primary marketing vehicle for prospective students is one of the higher ed website’s main goals.

But, how do you know if your website is doing the intended job? Or, if it’s doing it well? How can you make sure that your visitors are engaging with your site and taking the actions you want them to take? Your website is not a grocery store. You can’t just follow someone around and see what they’re putting in their shopping cart.

Luckily, the digital nature of the internet allows you to track all sorts of interactions users engage in with your higher ed website. With a properly configured Google Analytics (GA) account, you can learn a lot about your target audiences — from how long they stayed on your site and how many pages they visited, to the geographic area from which they logged on and the device they used.

GA Device Analysis

One of the cooler things that GA can tell you is how many of your visitors use a desktop computer, a smartphone or a table device to access your website. Why is this important?

Not too long ago, device usage data was used to justify an investment in a responsive website design. A responsive design allows for a dynamic display of information based on the type of device you’re using to access the site and the size of your device’s screen. If you’re accessing the website from a smartphone, the elements of the webpage shift to accommodate mobile-friendly viewing. Logging on to the site from your desktop is often a richer user experience, due primarily to the advantage of a bigger screen.

Today, however, a responsive design is almost a must for a higher ed website — or, any website, really. With mobile devices set to overtake desktop devices as the preferred browsing tool sometime in the near future, many developers are recommending a responsive design as a default.

So, if justification for mobile-friendly sites is no longer necessary, what else is device tracking used for? Well, there’s a treasure trove of insights that can be discovered by tracking certain metrics along with device data.

You can compare the bounce rate, pages per session, and average session duration data between desktop and mobile users to see if there’s a significant difference. If your bounce rate for mobile users is higher (as in the pictured example), it can be an indication that your site is not geared toward mobile users enough. That should lead you to audit the mobile experience on your site and make improvements to any discovered shortcomings.

GA Audience Analysis

What else can GA data tell you about your audiences? Setting up some custom tracking can help you segment your audiences, track their various click paths and evaluate conversion metrics.

There are certain pages on a higher education website that attract a specific audience. For example, the Admissions page is a good bet to be primarily used by prospective students and their parents. The Career Services page, on the other hand, is most likely to be accessed by current students. Enabling tracking on these landing pages allows you to track the different audiences and learn about their usage habit and interests.

You can also zero in on any problem pages from which a significant amount of users end up leaving the site. Fixing these pages could go a long way to improving the experience for all your users.

There are also some simpler factors that can help you better target your marketing efforts. The Demographics, Geo and Behavior tabs in your GA account allow you to track age and gender, geographic location, and repeat visits of your website users. This data provides a rich foundation for decision-making in several areas, including in what part of the country to spend your marketing dollars.

Beacon Knows Google Analytics

Want to know more about how your Google Analytics account can drive a more fine-tuned marketing program? Give our experts a call at 855.695.2408, we’d be glad to talk to your team.

24 04, 2018

Heat Maps & Site Search

By | 2018-05-01T07:56:42+00:00 April 24th, 2018|Categories: Higher Education|Tags: , , , |

Are You Listening to Your Data?

Your website users can tell you a lot about how your site is performing. Of course, they don’t necessarily make it easy.

In our previous blog post, we discussed how to directly tap into your audience by asking questions via focus groups and surveys. The benefit of engaging with your audience in these ways is the opportunity to hear firsthand what your customer base thinks.

The drawback?

Your focus group and survey participants may not always be so great at assessing their own online behavior. Or, the nice people that they are, they may be tempted to tell you what they think you want to hear.

While direct responses from your website users are an excellent source of insights, you do want to make sure that what your audience tells you is reflected in their actual online behavior. There’s an old Russian proverb, often attributed to a former US President, that offers great advice: “Trust, but verify.”

The best way to do that is by taking a close look at what visitors are actually doing on your site.

Heat Maps: Pretty Data

Beacon homepage heat map

Heat map of Beacon’s homepage

Heat maps provide an extremely user-friendly method for identifying the portions of your website that receive the most attention. Instead of numbers, pie charts, columns or bars, a heat map presents user behavior data as colors on a warm-to-cool spectrum. This provides an intuitive way to interpret the information – lots of clicks equals warmer colors.

Heat maps can be used to represent any kind of data – not just website usage. But, they are particularly useful in showing where on a given webpage users click the most. And that information can be easily turned into an analysis of on-page performance.

Are people using your navigation bar as intended? Is your CTA drawing the engagement you thought it would? Are page features being overlooked or overshadowed by other content?

Combined with a scroll map, you can also see if users are reaching the content at the bottom of the page. These insights make it easy to understand why a page may not be performing up to expectations, and help you come up with a well-targeted re-design plan.

Site Search: Know What They’re Looking For

Another tool that lets you peek inside the mind of your audience is site search analysis. If you haven’t installed a site search feature on your site, you should really consider doing so soon.

Site search makes your site more convenient for many different types of users, while maintaining emphasis on your primary target audience. It allows visitors to drive their own experiences on your site by letting them find exactly the information they want to access.

Through their searches, visitors also leave behind valuable information about their intentions, desires and future behavior. Between five and 10% of all internet users rely on site search – a healthy sample size from which pertinent and actionable insights can be pulled.

Site search analysis can help you identify new, relevant keywords; content that should be added; new product ideas; or unexpected reasons people are visiting your site. It can also highlight usability or navigational issues by specifying the locations from which users initiated their search and how many pages they viewed after completing their query.

We Can Help with That:

Want to know how heat maps and site search can help your website perform better? Give us a call at (866) 708-1467, we’d be glad to talk to you about your challenges. Insights and analysis are what our Digital Marketing Services team excels at.

14 01, 2016

New & Notable in Digital Marketing: December 2015

By | 2016-11-18T15:00:36+00:00 January 14th, 2016|Categories: Digital Marketing|

DECEMBER GRAPHIC V2With the holidays past and a fresh, new year upon us let’s reflect on the happenings in digital marketing that were important but may have squeaked by us amidst the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Here’s your monthly dose of what was new and notable in digital marketing this past December.


Google is now indexing https (secure sites) by default. This gives an even clearer and more direct signal that Google will continue to favor secure sites–a claim previously mentioned in 2014. Moving to a secure site it a costly and labor-intensive venture. SEO’s and marketing directors can now feel more comfortable that https is of long-term importance to Google for rankings.

Yahoo mades tweaks to their mobile search algorithm. The change includes presenting the most recently published content above all else, with a focus on trending content, news, and social media. This is a marked change from Google, who relegates news articles to “News”. Changes are available now. If you’re active on social media or a regular content generator, you may see an increase in Mobile traffic from Yahoo.

Google released an API for Google My Business listings. The API enables you to programmatically create and edit locations in Google My Business. This is a big win for businesses who need to manage a multitude of local listings. Use this opportunity to take stock of your current data and make important, scalable updates.

Real estate agents, brick and mortar stores, and apartment complexes take heed. Google is filtering out your results when there is location-overlap. And Google doesn’t care if you’re a different address or person in the same area. The sheer magnitude of this filtering (sometimes tens of listings) highlights the need to really differentiate your content across your domain.


Google has released automated “Smart” goals in AdWords, powered by Google Analytics. In general, I’m pretty against anything automated by Google and although Beacon hasn’t personally tested this new feature yet, the feedback in the industry isn’t great. My take: any SEM above novice should steer clear.


Facebook released a new toolset designed to help page owners better communicated with audiences. New features include the ability to set expectations around response time, an “away” setting, “away” messages and instant replies, more personal information about the person speaking on behalf of the business, and a better way to keep track and respond to comments. This was a much needed change that takes out a lot of the detrimental anonymity of dealing with big businesses on Facebook.

Many are forecasting that 2016 is the year for Twitter and along those lines Twitter has released a new ad unit that encourages conversations with businesses. The new ad unit has a call-to-action and allows users to re-Tweet and add in their own hashtag.

Facebook releases “Professional Services”, a new product to compete with Yelp and Angie’s List. Seeing this new offering unfold will be interesting since Facebook can run so strongly hot or cold for businesses. Combine Facebook’s reach and you could have a recipe for disaster. I’d say taking part in Facebook Professional Services is a smart idea for those companies with an intensely positive following. Everyone else should sit back and watch before jumping in.


Mobile, not just e-commerce, is eating into brick-and-mortar retail. Although Mobile traffic growth is expected to slow from the double-digits seen in previous years, Mobile traffic will continue to eat away at other device traffic. Traditional retailers with hopes of continuing to see growth need to assess their mobile strategy.

That’s it! ‘Til next month.

10 12, 2015

New & Notable in Digital Marketing: November 2015

By | 2016-11-18T15:00:37+00:00 December 10th, 2015|Categories: Digital Marketing|

Happy Holidays! November 2015 was chock full of interesting and important updates in the land of SEO and PPC. Here’s your monthly dose of what was new and notable in digital marketing this past November 2015.


Next Google algorithm update for links (Penguin v 4.0) should happen by the end of the year. This algo update will be a real-time version, meaning as Google detects spammy links on a site, it will update the rankings accordingly. At the same time, when those spammy links are removed and Google’s indexer picks up on that, rankings should adjust again. This is a huge and important change that will give more immediate results as adjustments are made to backlink profiles.

Unconfirmed Google Phantom (quality) algo update occurred on November 19th.

Google to start indexing App-only content and show results in Mobile search. This presents an opportunity for App content generators to gain more real estate in Mobile search and presents a threat to those competitors with no App content.

Google set to release AMP pages for Google Mobile search in early 2016. AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages, a project backed by Google that has gained support from publishers and is aimed at making the mobile internet faster. Considering how Google Mobile ranks mobile optimized pages higher than non-mobile optimized pages, it’s possible Google Mobile will rank AMP pages highest of them all.

Google releases updated Mobile search quality rater’s guide. Most interesting is the increased focus on mobile usability as a ranking factor, specifically ease of data entry, page display on various screen sizes, difficulty in use, and load time.

Google removes reviews from new Google+ Local listings. Reviews will still be visible in local search results and maps.


AdWords releases “click-share” metric for Shopping ads. Click share shows you the percentage of total possible clicks received by your Shopping ads. Use this new metric to help you better understand where you’re missing out on click traffic.

AdWords releases text message remarketing.


Q3 2015 E-Commerce Jumps 15% Y/Y to $69.7 Billion in Sales. 84% of digital dollars came from Desktop. Mobile commerce contributed the remaining 16%. Mobile achieved strong year-over-year growth at 70% as compared to just 8% from desktop.

16 07, 2015

Basic Google Analytics Setup Checklist: A PDF Document

By | 2017-06-16T12:48:39+00:00 July 16th, 2015|Categories: Google Analytics|

Google Analytics is a powerful tool for tracking your digital marketing performance. So powerful and versatile, in fact, that knowing the main important things to focus on during a basic setup can be challenging. And doing a search for “basic GA setup” yields pages of basic setup “checklists” that are more guides than lists. Well, fret no more! Shared below is a basic checklist (yes, an actual list you can “check”) that you can use during a basic setup or audit to ensure that you have all the important bases covered in your Google Analytics account.

Again, let me stress that this is a basic setup list. There are many other features, like event tracking and custom variables, that you should consider employing as part of your digital strategy. But as far as the bare-bones goes, that list is provided below.

Since such copious amounts of information on Google Analytics setups exist, I will not reinvent the wheel by explaining and defining each line item below. Google and other professionals in the field have done a good job of that already. What I will provide, however, are links to this information so that you don’t have to search for it.

So, please enjoy and share this basic Google Analytics setup checklist with your colleagues and internal team for usage. I know I’ve found it helpful and I hope you will too!

Basic Google Analytics Setup Checklist.pdf

Basic GA Setup Checklist--Beacon TechnologiesBasic Google Analytics Property Settings

1. Connect Webmaster Tools

2. Link AdWords

Basic Google Analytics View Settings

1, 2, & 3: View name, time zone, and default page. More on why completing the default field is important.

4. Enabling and configuring site search

5a. Exclude internal traffic filter

5b. Display subdomains filter (Image below)– This filter allows you to see the full URL string in your content reports.

Display Subdomains Google Analytics Filter- 6.25.15

6b. Setting up funnels

7. This setup will vary depending on your website and CMS. However, be aware of possible duplicate transaction tracking and use this method to prevent it.

8. Configure custom alerts and examples. We love custom alerts! It can really save your behind if something goes haywire.

9. What channel groupings are and how to configure channel groupings if you’d like to customize

10. We always create a copy of the main View for testing and other miscellaneous fiddling so that we don’t mess up the main reporting View. I encourage you to do the same!


17 06, 2011

Time Saving Features in Adwords Editor: The Copy and Paste

By | 2017-08-08T08:35:44+00:00 June 17th, 2011|Categories: PPC|Tags: , , , |

I remember back in the day, stumbling upon a neat little tool called “Adwords Editor“.  And it was like the sky broke open, angels sang, and the gods smiled down on me. Once I used it, all I could say was: WHAT. A. FIND. Unfortunately I made this find after having a co-worker do a tremendous and tedious account overhaul manually is Adwords, but let’s not talk about that.

Anyway… we all know how Adwords Editor saves us time creating, managing, and editing PPC accounts. But there are even more features once you get into the nitty-gritty of Editor that are worth being aware of. And today I’d like to talk about the most simple of these: copy & paste.

The Copy and Paste in Adwords Editor

Yup. Good ol’ copy and paste. So, we all know you can export all or parts of an account using the “Export” feature under “File”. But what if you want to manipulate something super specific, like ad copy and keyword destination URLs? Exporting this is difficult and even impossible in some circumstances. Well,  copy and paste to the rescue!

How to Use Copy and Paste in Adwords Editor

Simply Control + C or Shift + C (depending on whether you’re selecting choice data or all data in a group) and Control + V into Excel. All data, including headings, will be pasted. Now do your thing with edits. Save as CSV, making sure your headings match, and import into Editor. Review and approve edits. Done! Now wasn’t that easy?


This method has served me particularly well in making large, sweeping changes to ad copy. Give it a try and check back again for more tips on our beloved Adwords Editor!






23 09, 2010

Regular Adwords Reports That Lead to PPC Bliss

By | 2020-02-04T10:26:00+00:00 September 23rd, 2010|Categories: PPC|Tags: , , |

One of the most common blunders of PPC is over management—making so many changes that you don’t give any change a chance to have an effect or making so many changes that it’s impossible to make definitive conclusions. Following the schedule below allows me to prevent myself from over-managing and ensures that I keep abreast of trends and regular maintenance. Change the schedule as you see fit but still make sure you run these reports. They’re important—for your sanity and the healthy of your account!


Ad Copy: Check to make sure CTRs are healthy. Pause under-performers. Run new test in their place. Have no more than 3 ads running per ad group. If it’s a busy week, I will leave ad groups with healthy CTR alone—no testing; if I have time, I will try to improve on them. I don’t make any decisions on results until there are at least 500 impressions on an ad. The impressions your account receives will determine if this will be a weekly or bi-weekly task.

Monthly (Beginning of Month)

Reduce Keyword Bloat: (Done before adding any new KWs for the month) Import previous month’s data into Editor. View all keywords at the account level. Sort by impressions. Delete low impression keywords. What “low impression” means depends on your industry’s volume. I usually start with keywords with less than 30 impressions a month since it means that that keyword gets less than one search a day. Lower search volume accounts will have a lower threshold. I leave low volume keywords with clicks >1 alone.

I do a similar exercise for high volume keywords with no clicks, since these words decrease overall CTR and thus, quality score.

NOTE: It is important to understand the order in which you do this work. If you remove bad volume keywords AFTER adding new ones through the search query report (below) you will have a hard time sorting and figuring out which words are bad in volume versus just recently added. For simplicity’s sake, always reduce keyword bloat first!

Search Query Report: Automatically schedule to run the first day of each month for the previous month’s search queries. I use this report to add keywords, upgrade match types to phrase and/or exact, and add negative keywords.

Day Parting/ “Ad Scheduling” Report: If I use day parting in an account, I will check the previous months day part trends to the previous 3 month’s average to see if there are any shifts in CTR, CPC, CPA, or Conversion Rate. I do this for both Day of Week and Hour of Day. I take this information into consideration for the coming month’s management. Rarely will I make a change unless there is a serious shift or a shift trend I have noticed month-over-month.  I try not to make changes until I see data from the Quarterly Day Part Report.

Impression Share Report: More informational than anything, I use this to see what the search volume of the market was like for the previous month and what slice we got. If slice was low/high, I investigate why.

Quarterly (Beginning of Month)

Day Parting/ “Ad Scheduling” Report: If I use day parting in an account, I will check the previous 3 month’s averages to see if my current day part scenario is the best. If hourly or daily trends have changed, I adjust the account accordingly. When this report is scheduled, it trumps the Monthly Day Part Report.

Ad Group Report: (For accounts that max out on budget each month, I do this monthly. On accounts with unlimited budget, I do this quarterly.) Import previous 3 months worth of data into Editor. At the campaign level, sort ad groups by cost/conversion. Ad groups with no conversions or high CPA get paused or noted as areas of needed work. Repeat offender ad groups get paused indefinitely. Sometimes if I feel an ad group might be getting a bad rap, I go deeper into the ad group’s keywords to see if I can find specific offenders that are bringing the whole ad group down. I either delete or pause. If I delete, this keywords becomes an ad group negative.

Overall this should keep your PPC account trim and healthy, worthy of high impressions and quality score. I schedule these in Outlook so that getting them done is a no-brainer. I suggest you do the same.

Good luck!