What do you do when your newsletter audience almost triples from 30,000 subscribers to 80,000? This was the fortunate dilemma we faced at Professional and Continuing Education in May of this year with the popularity of our online Master Gardener Vegetable Gardening class. But let me back up and discuss where we were, what happened and where we are now.

PACE has long had a gardening newsletter, primarily as a promotional venue, and it has always had an engaged readership. We had a little over 30,000 subscribers and strong numbers in terms of engagement. Our open rates hovered around 13% (3,500 people) and our click-through rates (the number of people who click on something in the email after opening it) was usually around 25%, or close to 1,000 people.

We also knew, through analytics provided by our content management system HubSpot, that 75% of our audience actually read our newsletter, meaning they spent more than 2 minutes engaging with it. These are strong numbers, but we always thought the newsletter could do more. It was a great way to let people know about our upcoming gardening classes, but we weren’t providing much benefit beyond that.

Then COVID-19 happened. When we were all leaving our offices and beginning to quarantine at home, Gail Langellotto decided to make PACE’s Master Gardener Vegetable Gardening class free temporarily so people stuck at home could enjoy the spring weather and get out in the garden. It struck a chord. Between March and June over 40,000 people enrolled in the course and we added 50,000 people to our gardening newsletter list.

At this same time, the PACE marketing team was beginning to work more closely with others in Extension Communications and the Extension Computing Technology Unit, now in a virtual setting. Capitalizing on these new relationships and the rising popularity of our gardening classes, we forged a small team to work together on a revitalized version of the gardening newsletter. We soon realized that we could do more than promote upcoming classes, especially with the added expertise of Extension Communications folks.

We decided to revise the newsletter to focus more on providing benefit and resources to our audience to help them garden. We would utilize existing resources such as monthly gardening calendars, Extension publications and upcoming news articles. We would also continue advertising upcoming PACE gardening and agriculture focused courses to let people know about professional development opportunities they could pursue.

We also made use of a new email template in HubSpot that PACE had as part of our website redesign. This template was much more clean and engaging. Plus, using some of HubSpot’s new tools, it is easily customizable month-to-month when we have different pieces of content coming in and out.

Even though we added 50,000 people to our newsletter list who may be relatively new to gardening, our engagement metrics have gone up. Our open rates have been consistently between 20-30% (16,000 – 24,000 people) and our click-through rates have mostly been in the 17% range (4,000 people). We have also increased the frequency in order to stay more engaged with this new audience, moving from once a month to every other week. We have plans to move to weekly, if possible.

Having a larger team working remotely on the newsletter has also been a great opportunity to improve processes and make use of more planning and reporting. To that end, we’ve been using AirTable for our content calendar. This allows everyone on the team to view the different components of the newsletter ahead of time and contribute their own edits, thoughts and ideas. It also allows us to see all the upcoming newsletter drafts at a glance at our monthly check-ins.

We have a fantastic team working on this newsletter, and it’s been great to see it evolve so much this year. The pandemic has been and continues to be a devastating part of 2020, but it’s nice to see more people getting interested in gardening. And it’s great to be able to provide that audience with the excellent content Extension has to offer.

Sign up if you would like to receive the gardening newsletter and get seasonal and relevant information in your inbox each month!

Author: Rich Collins

OSU Extension has programs for Oregonians at every stage of life, from young children participating in 4-H Cloverbuds to seniors taking Walk with Ease or Better Bones and Balance classes. With this diversity of programming, it is no surprise that people of all ages visit and utilize the Extension website.

It is difficult to make generalizations about people’s web use based on their age, since it is often influenced by factors such as socioeconomic status, education, location, etc. that vary tremendously within one age group. Despite stereotypes, a teenager growing up in a rural area without regular internet access will probably be less “tech savvy” than a retired person who spent much of their career as a software engineer in a big city. However, because it’s our mission to serve all Oregonians, it is useful to look at analytics for visitors in different age groups to ensure that the website is serving them all effectively and determine if there are particular topics or methods of content delivery that are more effective for certain groups.

In this post, we will take a high-level look at this information. All analytics data provided is for the period January 1, 2020 to October 15, 2020. Note that Google Analytics is able to determine age data for about 36% of visitors to the site.

Under 18

For legal reasons, Google Analytics does not provide data about users that it determines to be under the age of 18.

Check out these articles on creating web content for children and teens:

Ages 18-24

A significant segment of this age group on the Extension website is made up of college/university students, as evidenced by the relatively high popularity of “academic” content used as citations or references in papers, such as items in the Botany Basics collection, as well as the fact that this group has the highest percentage of visitors from Corvallis.

Ages 18-24 user data

This is the age group that is reported to visit the Extension website the least, making up 11.6% of users for which we have age data. (Note, though, that this age group contains the shortest range and therefore the lowest number of individuals who could visit.) It also has the highest bounce rate (71.65%) and lowest average pages per session (1.44). This means that they are the most likely to visit a single page on the site and leave before visiting any others. They are also the group least likely to use the site search feature.

However, this group also spends more time on average on individual pages (2 minutes 51 seconds) than any other age group. This suggests that they are interested in the content on the site and are spending time to read it through. They are the group who least often leaves feedback on content (“Was this page helpful?”), but from the data we have their responses are almost always positive.

Contrary to what you may guess, visitors in this age group are more likely than visitors in any other to be using a desktop computer rather than a mobile device (this may be related to the number of students doing school work). However, for all age groups, a majority of users do use mobile devices. Even though this is the group most likely to be using a desktop, only 46.7% do.

Additionally, all groups of visitors are most likely to find the Extension website through an internet search through Google or another search engine. However, the 18-24 age group is the least likely to find the site through other methods (links on other sites, social media posts, etc.).

In terms of the content visited, this age group represents the widest diversity of interest. For the most part, a large majority of visitors to the Extension website are interested in gardening, food preservation, and (particularly over the last couple months) emergency preparedness topics. However, visitors in the 18-24 age group are the ones who most often visit content about other topics, including Sheep and Goats, Beef Cattle, Fish and Aquatic Life, Field Crops, and Business Management.

Takeaways:

  • To encourage visitors who get to the page from a search engine to visit more than one page on the site, be sure to include a “call to action” or other links on your articles and other content.
  • Be sure that your content includes information about author(s) and date published, etc. so that students (or other researchers) can create a citation for it.
  • Look for opportunities to create and promote content targeted at people in this age group who aren’t college or university students.
  • Consider targeting this age group when promoting content or programming that is new or uncommon in Extension.
  • Look for ways to promote relevant content to this age group beyond relying on them finding it through an internet search.

Ages 25-34

Visitors in this age group are the most common on the site, making up 23.19%, nearly a quarter, of all visitors for which we have age data. They are “middle of the road” for most statistics, including bounce rate, pages per session, and time on page, as well as for the devices they use and the ways they find the Extension website.

In terms of content interests, analytics suggests that visitors ages 25-44 are more interested in livestock-related content than other age groups, particularly beef cattle, sheep, and goats.

Takeaways:

  • Although this age group represents the largest group of website visitors, they are commonly thought to be underrepresented in “in-person” Extension programming. Think about ways you can utilize the web to increase participation from this group.

Ages 35-54

Google Analytics splits this into two groups, 35-44 and 45-54, but the statistics for these groups on the Extension website are so similar that it is easier to talk about them together.

This age group shows a significant drop in visitor numbers from the previous group. Numbers pick up again somewhat for visitors 55 and over.

Extension visitors by age

It may surprise you to learn that it is actually this age group that is the most likely out of all visitors to be using a mobile device. Over 70% of visitors in the 35-44 age group use a mobile phone or tablet to visit the Extension website.

Additionally, the 45-54 age group is the one most likely to find the Extension website through social media (12.7%). Facebook is the most common platform people arrive from.

In addition to the interest in livestock topics mentioned above, this age group shows a relatively high interest in crop production topics, particularly Field Crops, Hazelnuts and Nut Crops, and Tree Fruit.

Takeaways:

  • Think about reasons why visitors might drop off in this age group. Do we have programming appropriate for people who may be busy with family and/or career obligations? If so is it well represented online?
  • Don’t assume that only young people are visiting the site on a mobile device.
  • Make sure your social media strategy isn’t targeted solely at young people.

Ages 55-64

This is the second most common age group for visitors to the Extension website. Most statistics for this group are somewhere in the middle of the stats for the previous age group and the next.

One notable fact is that visitors in the 55 and over age group are much more likely than other age groups to leave feedback on content. The vast majority of all feedback is positive, but this group leaves negative feedback most often (55-64 ~7% negative and 65+ ~13% negative).

The 55+ age group also, perhaps unsurprisingly, represents visitors who have a relatively high interest in healthy aging and physical activity topics.

Takeaways:

  • When looking at feedback on content, keep in mind that certain groups of visitors may be more likely to leave feedback than others.
  • If you are making content targeted at older adults, look at examples like Better Bones and Balance or Walk with Ease as examples of effective web content for that audience.

Ages 65+

This age group is only the third largest group of visitors on the Extension website, but they spend the most time in a session visiting the site and tend to view the most pages. However, they spend the least amount of time on individual pages on average (2 minutes and 8 seconds). This behavior may indicate that this group has a harder time finding what they need on the site and so end up visiting many pages pretty quickly while they look. This idea is further supported by the fact that this group utilizes the site search feature much more than any other age group.

Contrary to what you might expect, this age group is not particularly likely to be using a desktop computer (in fact, slightly less than the 18-24 age group). The 65+ group is the one that most often uses tablets to access the website (~17% of visitors in this group use one). This age group is also the one most likely to find the Extension website from a link on another site.

Takeaways:

  • Make sure content is written to be easy to scan and read, so people can easily tell if what they need is on the page.
  • Tag your content with relevant keywords and topics so that visitors can find it through the site’s search feature.
  • Don’t assume that older adults are always using a desktop setup to access web content. In particular, don’t assume that they are using technology that can easily download/view PDFs or other documents.

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