November 27, 2018
If you work for a college or university marketing team, you probably have Google Analytics installed on your website to help track visitors.
These five tips will help you become more proficient in interpreting traffic data.
With so many competing priorities and digital tools at your disposal, Google Analytics helps you prioritize your marketing campaigns and audience needs by finding out what’s working and what’s not.
For large institutions, a website serves a wide range of visitors—prospective students, faculty members, local businesses, current students, and many more. Each of these visitors will look for different content on your site.
A prospective student most likely will be in the 18-24 age category, live within 50 miles of your university, and is in the market for post-secondary education. On the other hand, alums interested in fundraising are most likely older than 35 and can live throughout the country.
Once you have a broad definition for each of your audiences, you can build different audience segments and take a better look at your data and see what kind of content engages your audiences.
Once you segment each of your audiences, you can apply each segment to see which of your marketing channels contribute the most visitors to your website. On your Google Analytics dashboard, there’s an “Acquisition” tab that gives you an overview of your marketing channels, including organic search, social media, and email.
For many universities, social media is becoming a prevalent channel to promote their brand to prospective students, to nurture existing alumni relationships for fundraising, and to broadcast announcements to existing students.
This dashboard allows your team to see the effectiveness of your campaign in these different channels.
For example, your team may be divided on whether to use Facebook or LinkedIn to market a new program. You then launch a campaign on these two platforms and see a significant conversion rate on LinkedIn. This information allows you to reallocate resources from Facebook to LinkedIn for the next enrollment cycle with predictable ROI.
While the “Acquisitions” tab allows you to see where your visitors come from, the “Behavior” tab allows you to see how visitors navigate your website and which pages they find useful.
As I mentioned before, your university website serves many different audiences with different needs. Looking at aggregate data on which pages everyone visits is probably not very helpful—an alum is probably not interested in the fitness center hours or the university dining locations.
But you can apply the alumni segment and see which pages they engage and at what point they convert (or the pages where they are likely to donate). With this information, you may want to launch a social media campaign that targets alumni and connect them directly to those pages.
For example, to promote two campaigns, your team writes a story about fundraising for a new science building, and another story about volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. Students are more likely to volunteer their time, and alumni are more likely to donate funds for a 10-year capital campaign.
Having data to validate your audience preferences by their visit quality and conversion rates allows your team to strategically work on these two projects at different paces. You also will have different metrics to monitor the performance of these two campaigns.
With an accurate view of your audience and an understanding of your traffic sources (i.e., “Acquisition”), your team can prioritize your resources.
Creating goals is simple, but it is often misused by many organizations. You can track video plays, page visits, and many other interactions, but each Google Analytics view has a limit of 25 goals.
I strongly suggest creating goals that align with macro or institutional goals. These are goals that contribute to your main conversions, such as Apply, Request for Information, orDonate. Smaller goals are better tracked through Google Tag Manager with triggers since that limit is much higher at 1,000. (The paid version is unlimited.)
To create goals, head over to your administrative dashboard, select a view, and click on the “Goals” tab to expand your options. Although goals can be recycled, your reports may be confusing if you don’t provide good annotation and/or inform your teammates.
With goals enabled, you will be able to see data in the “Conversions” tab. The conversions will show how each page visit contributes to your goal. If you have “Ecommerce” enabled, you can attach a dollar amount to your conversions or use it as a point system to track relative page value.
Finally, your team members and your supervisor all probably have access to Google Analytics but are only interested in specific metrics from the website. The dashboard can be confusing and overwhelming to navigate, and they probably ask you to provide them with monthly or quarterly reports instead. Here’s a quick breakdown of the metrics that different departments will find useful:
Supervisors – These are directors, deans, or even the president, and they would like to see the effectiveness of your marketing dollars and how those dollars have contributed to your university goals/conversions (Apply, Request for Information, or Donate). Other helpful metrics include Social and Email channels to show how outreach campaigns contribute traffic to the website or promote your brand.
Marketing team – These are the writers, social media managers, designers, and even web developers. They will be interested to see page performance for the different audience types and find ways to optimize content to increase audience engagement. They will be interested in page views, page duration, bounce rates, exit rates, and how visitors arrive and exit the goal pages.
IT team – These are the individuals tasked with keeping the website running smoothly and mitigate potential network attacks. Metrics related to their responsibilities include audience technology (network), page duration (any page that takes more than 10 seconds to load), and geographic location (help find sources with high-traffic volume and low-visit duration). Their goal is to identify problem areas with the website and inform your marketing team to make the necessary changes.
You can create a dashboard to provide a quick glimpse of those metrics (they are limited to 10 records) or create a custom report to provide a more detailed view.
Once you have set up reports, you can automatically email reports to your team. If your team requires a little more control, such as changing the timeline, but you don’t want team members modifying other aspects of your view configurations, you can set up a Google Data Studio report. This may be the most useful report for your supervisors, who may be interested in monthly or annual comparisons.