Google Analytics (GA) is a tool that allows you to see how prospective students engage with your website, what content is interesting to them and what actions they are prepared to take to interact with it. You’ve likely spent many hours staring at GA reports, trying to decipher the trends and glean insight into the goals, mindset and sensibilities of your target audience so that you can improve their experience, and at the same time deliver your college or university’s marketing objectives.
But what if the GA data that you have been so carefully studying is tainted by the behavior of visitors who are not prospective students and, in fact, behave (as in interact with your website) in ways completely different from that of the typical prospective student? Sorry to tell you this but unless you filter your traffic, this is the case and depending on your situation, may make up a fairly large percentage of your traffic.
So who are these visitors and how can you filter them out of your data?
The 4 types of visitors on your website that have a very different agenda from your prospective student and that you should consider filtering out are:
1) You and the rest of the marketing team – Surprise, but you and the rest of your marketing team are on the list. It is sort of obvious when you think about it but when you’re working on your own website, auditing content, comparing it to competitors, optimizing conversion paths or checking fixes, etc you spend a lot of time on the site. And of course GA is happily tracking you alongside your prospective student visitors. Fixing this is easy. You exclude yourself by telling GA to not track any traffic coming from your IP address. This applies if you have a static IP. If you have a dynamically generated IP, like at many higher ed institutions, the good news is that your dynamic IP address usually remains the same for long periods of time. But it may change under certain circumstance, hence the name dynamic. Check with your IT support and they can help you determine a strategy to deal with this, like checking it every 3 or 4 months, and updating GA accordingly.
2) Your web development and IT team – This group’s footprints are all over your website and GA tracks it all. Keeping your site up to date and operational takes lots of page views and testing to see if your updates are implemented properly and whether your core functionality, like lead generation forms and registration pages continue to work properly.
To deal with these unwanted footprints you might want to exclude the whole IT department from tracking by server name or if you happen to have an external supplier supporting you on web development, you could exclude all traffic coming from their domain. You’ll probably need a bit of help from these folks to pin down which approach is best to mask their traffic from GA. Use this conversation as an opportunity to share knowledge with them about GA and once again demonstrate how important you are to each other in the pursuit of your common goals.
3) Internal campus traffic – There’s lots of internal traffic on your site coming from academic departments, staff, registered students, administration etc. This is important traffic to understand but is very different from that of a typical prospective student. Many institutions create a separate prospective student site or push it all through a separate sub-domain. If your school does this you are already in good shape.
If you are like many of the rest of your peers where all traffic comes into one main URL, you need a different approach. This is where your GA configuration using views will solve the problem. It’s not that you want to remove this activity from GA tracking completely, in fact you will need to look at it to do other parts of your job, you just want to hide it from sight when you need to focus on external prospective student traffic. You do this by setting up a view in GA that looks only at traffic coming from external sources. This way the footprints of the external prospective student are separated from those of from the internal administrative staffer.
This example below shows a particular institution with a number of views set up to segment traffic specifically by key functional areas of their website.
Here is how we segment traffic out that comes to the HEM blog, allowing us to carefully track the behavior of visitors like you, to this post.
Just a note about setting up views, you should always maintain an “all traffic“ or “Global Roll Up” view of your site that pulls in all visitor traffic. This ensures you always have the total traffic picture recorded in GA that you can come back to in the future, slice and dice any way you need to, and be assured you are seeing the complete picture
4) External robots and spiders – External bots and search engine spiders are regularly checking your site for a variety of reasons. It might be a search engine looking for new content or a service looking to find your latest blog. The problem with this is that some will trigger website hits in your tracking. You really don’t want your reports to mix these visits in with traffic from real prospective students. Excluding this traffic in now quite simple, thanks to Google who have just introduced a new and efficient way to exclude it. Simply check the box as seen below and GA will filter out all spiders and bots on the IAB/ABC International Spiders & Bots List from your data.
With these adjustments you can get this tracking tune-up done pretty easily and will immediately begin to see a truer representation of the behavior of prospective students in your GA reports. You will now be in a much better position to understand what’s actually happening on your site and to develop those deeper insights that you need to significantly improve the marketing performance of your website.
Have you already implemented some of these filters? What were your most important lessons learned from looking at your traffic before and after these filters. Are there any other types of traffic you’ve excluded from your tracking in GA?