Why Every Higher Ed Marketer Needs to Understand and Use Cross Domain Tracking
Higher Education Marketing

Why Every Higher Ed Marketer Needs to Understand and Use Cross Domain Tracking

Date posted: November 4, 2013

Higher education web ecosystems are generally pretty complicated and include multiple domains, sub-domains, microsites, payment gateways, CRM systems and external promotions, etc. To understand the visitor traffic patterns across all these sites and the effectiveness of your related marketing efforts you need to be able to track visitors through this labyrinth and determine which content and pathways are leading the most visitors to the most conversions that meet your business goals. Once you determine that, you can invest in and optimize these pathways to improve the visitor experience and improve your marketing effectiveness.

Cross domain tracking allows you to do this.

So here’s a classic higher ed marketing example of how this works. It starts with a Facebook promotion that leads a prospective student to the college’s prospective student site, and then ultimately to the college’s main .edu site, where the student would register into the promoted program.

Facebook marketing example

In the Google Analytics account for the prospective student microsite, (we’ll call it GA Account 1), the referring source of the student is the Facebook promotion. That’s nice and clear so far.

Facebook example GA1

In the Google Analytics account for the main college website (we’ll call it GA Account 2), the referring source of the student is the perspective student microsite. That’s, of course, accurate but without cross domain tracking GA Account 2 does not know that the visitor originally came from the Facebook promotion. It will also not know if a conversion or if a registration resulted from the Facebook generated visit.

Facebook example GA2

In very practical terms, this means that in your monthly marketing meeting with your boss, when she asks, “How many registrations did we get from the Facebook campaign?”, you have no idea. You do not know how many visitors it pushed through to the main site, how many of them took an action that you measure as a Goal completion, nor how many of them registered into the program being promoted. Not a great way to forward your promising marketing career, right?

Cross domain tracking is your solution.

Set up your analytics to track the visitor across across the two domains, ( GA Account 1 & 2), and now you can provide all the answers you need to measure the effectiveness of the original Facebook campaign.

Facebook example GA1 and GA2 tracking

Here is an example of what high level cross domain tracking looks like in Google Analytics. This is a real example but we have masked the identity of the college and its sites. Cross domain tracking has been implemented across all of these sites. When you drill down to the next level of traffic, detailed tracking is provided for each.

Cross Domain Tracking GA report

For those of you who are interested in learning more about cross domain tracking, here is an example of the actual code used.  For more info on this you can check out an earlier HEM blog post posted on the more technical elements of cross domain tracking. And for the real coders, here’s the link to Google’s resource page for developers, on cross domain tracking.

Cross Domain Tracking Code

So that’s how it all works. The technical aspects of setting up cross domain tracking can be a challenge so you’ll likely want help from your webmaster or analytics service provider to get it all working properly. But don’t let the technical nature of this hold you back. The additional marketing intelligence that you get once you can see across your web ecosystem in absolutely invaluable. In fact, I would go as far to say that you are really operating in the dark, if you do not have cross domain tracking set up for your university or college web ecosystem.

Please let us know any questions you might have about this. It is pretty technical stuff and we are happy to help explain further. We would also love to hear from any readers out there who have implemented cross domain tracking and get your take on its value.