During a recent webinar, we polled participating education marketing and admissions staff on how often they consult Google Analytics to measure their digital marketing efforts. Given the tremendous capacity of GA to help track and improve tactics, we were pretty shocked with the results:
And what about you? How often do you use GA?
This tutorial is directed toward the 46 percent who have yet to discover Google Analytics, and the remaining 54 percent who’d like to explore its functions further.
With plenty of examples and step-by-step instructions, this post will demonstrate how you can optimize settings and configuration, effectively set and track goals, and analyze reports. Once these simple steps have been mastered, you’ll only need a couple of hours each week to measure your digital marketing initiatives, improve your tactics with reliable data, and improve ROI on student recruitment campaigns.
Navigating the Google Analytics Interface
We’ll begin by exploring the Admin interface in Google Analytics. I’ve highlighted some key features of the control panel to give you a sense of GA’s capabilities:
- User Management
- Tracking Info
Advanced users may create multiple accounts, each with its own set of Property and View Settings. All you need is a registered Google account (not necessarily Gmail) to set up the accounts. Here is a snapshot of several accounts I manage, with all the associated Properties and Views:
Under the Home tab, users have access to a range of Google products, including Analytics, for each profile.
Setting up a GA Account & Optimizing Configuration
Once you’ve logged in and created your account, you will gain access to your tracking code – a chunk of Java script that you will plug into the pages of your website you would like to track.
Many education institutions use a Content Management System (CMS) that streamlines this process by allowing you to enter the tracking code just once, and then the CMS applies it to each page automatically.
1. Link Your Google Products to Your GA Account
An important next step is to link your Google Adwords and Webmaster Tools to your GA account(s), so you can measure how your advertising campaigns are performing and track how users find your site through Google search. You can do this in the Product Linking section highlighted below.
2. Optimize Your Filter Settings
We’ve noticed that many schools neglect to optimize their filter setting in Google Analytics, which means that internal traffic (coming from one or several campuses) is lumped into your overall traffic reports. The results below demonstrate just how much this oversight can skew the numbers when you’re measuring visits to your website on GA.
To configure your filter, visit the Filters section under Admin. Name the filter and identify the IP address you wish to exclude from results.
3. Share Access to Your GA Account
It’s incredibly useful to have comprehensive data to look at when reviewing your institution’s digital marketing strategy. And Google Analytics provides quite a bit of flexibility when it comes to sharing results with your collaborators. You can invite users to participate at the account level, property level, or view level. You can also designate access by tier, allowing certain users to manage, edit, read and analyze, etc.
Here is how you can share access with team members and stakeholders, and control the level of that access:
4. Segment and Measure Your School’s Website Traffic
GA measures the traffic to your institution’s main website, which means it tracks activity from a variety of different sources, including paid advertisements, social media, organic search, and more. There are 22 “segments” or categories to choose from, which are pre-programed under the Systems tab. You can select the ones that are most relevant to your school and strategy, and GA will generate reports for each traffic type. If you’re a more advanced user, GA even offers the option to create your own custom-segment – perhaps to measure international traffic.
Here’s a look at the Segment list – the ones in purple are some of my favorites.
Setting up Goals and Conversion Tracking for Your School’s GA Account
Before you set up goals and conversion tracking on your GA account, it’s important to first consider just who is visiting your website. Who are your primary personas (target audiences)? What kinds of information and experiences are they seeking on your website?
In order to identify your conversion goals as an institution, reflect on what prospective students and/or parents really want from your website – that way you’ll know which objectives to track and measure.
Align Persona and School Goals
This simple graphic shows two visitor profiles, but your school may wish to elaborate others, including alumni, agents, and international applicants.
Not only is this process an important step for configuring GA, it is an essential foundation for your overall content strategy and development. In order to effectively promote (and track) conversion, your website must align content with the interests, motivations and objectives of its most valuable audiences.
Set up Website Goals in Google Analytics
Some of the School Goals you see in green on the graphic represent common conversion milestones most institutions want to measure – Live Chat, Request Info forms, Brochure downloads, etc.
Google Analytics provides a variety of ways of measuring website goals like these. There are four main categories:
- Time on site
- Pages seen
- Specific events (like a video that was viewed)
Here is what these options look like in GA, under Goals in Admin, with the URL of a thank-you page highlighted:
Many education institutions are interested in tracking their Request Info button, which may be positioned on several different pages across the website. Here’s where this particular CTA lives on the University of Phoenix’s homepage:
To configure a goal like this on GA, you will need two URLs:
- The URL of the request info form
- The URL of the thank-you page users see once they’ve filled out the form
Here is how you would set-up goal tracking in Google Analytics, under Goal Details. Notice that we’ve included special instructions for determining the “value” of the goal, which once established, will populate reports in Analytics that would otherwise be inaccessible. We strongly recommend entering a value for each of your goals to enrich results.
Viewing Reports and Tracking Results in Google Analytics
The report interface contains several different command options and pathways to specific reports. Users land on Audience Overview, from which the four main report sections are displayed (and highlighted in yellow) on the left hand side:
Using the date-range function on the upper right hand side, users can select any date range and compare with a prior period by month, year, week, etc. You can also email and export results. I recommend new GA users explore this page – click around and acquaint yourself with the various available functions.
When you expand the Audience option, you’ll discover the Overview report. In the snapshot below we’ve selected year over year, and can see that Sessions and Users have increased during that time frame.
So what does this mean? What are Sessions and Users?
Google Analytics measures how browsers interact with your website. A user is a browser, and a session is that browser visiting your website. They may come back and have multiple sessions, and GA will track each one, generating a report that lets you know whether activity on your website is up or down by comparison to previous performance.
1. Track the Geographic Source of your Website Traffic
The Location report (under Audience) tells you which countries, states or cities your website traffic is coming from. This tool allows you to really drill down and gain visibility on the sessions, users – and also the goal completions – of site visitors from domestic or international sources.
2. Measure Traffic by Device
The Mobile Overview report (under Audience) can tell you more about the types of devices which are accessing your site: desktop, smartphone, and tablet. The report will tell you how much traffic is coming to your site from each type of device and analyze the behavior of that traffic. In the example we have here, it’s clear that year over year, traffic is up from mobile – no surprise given mobile’s growing importance among prospective millennials students.
3. Analyze Traffic to Your Website by Digital Channel
The Channels report (under Acquisition) gives you macro-level insight into the various channels you are using to attract traffic to your website.
- Organic: SEO Traffic from search engines
- Email: links in email campaigns
- Direct: users enter the URL directly in the browser
- Referral: traffic from other sites yours is linked on
- Social: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
- Paid Search: Google AdWords, Bing ads, etc.
Here we’ve highlighted performance by Goal Completions and can determine that Organic Search is extremely valuable with regard to conversion.
Taking it a step further, the All Traffic report under Acquisition gives you micro level insights into the channels that funnel traffic to your school’s website. Notice on rows four and eight that we are able to track off line newspaper traffic and PPC initiatives on Facebook.
For linked accounts (as we mentioned earlier) Google Analytics will generate a full section of reports for Adwords. We strongly suggest linking the two rather than relying on data from the Adwords interface alone.
GA also provides a range of data on how your social channels are performing. You will be able to determine how many sessions and conversions came from your social communities.
The Queries report under Acquisition, provides organic or SEO keyword information. You can see which keywords are generating impressions and clicks, and determine your average position on Google.
You will need to link Google Webmaster Tools to your Google Analytics account to have these reports populated. If your institution is investing in SEO, this data is extremely valuable for determining just how well your initiatives are working.
4. Measure How Well Your Content Converts
The All Pages report under Behavior gives you page-by-page insights about the potency of your website content, including how often a particular page has been viewed, the average time spent on that page, the bounce rate, and the page value. The page value gives you an indication of the propensity of a user to convert on one of your goals after engaging with the content on that page.
You’ll see a variety of pages on this snapshot, including
- Case Studies
- Contact Us
You can also gauge the performance of your landing pages on the Behavior section.
The All Pages Navigation Summary report under Behavior provides detailed insights on which pages users visited before and after a particular page. You will also know what percentage of users enter and exit that page. This is one of my favorite reports.
The Goals Overview report under Conversions, provides a summary view of the total number of conversions and conversion rate.
The Reverse Goal Path report under Conversions tells you which pages were seen prior to converting.
The Funnel Visualisation report under Conversions gives you insights into how effective your conversion page is. In this example, 54% of sessions decided to fill out the form and convert!
And there you have it. We’ve looked at how to set-up and configure your Google Analytics account, as well as how to interpret and share results.
With quantitative results like these, it is much easier to keep track of how your digital recruitment tactics are performing and tweak them to improve results. And in the increasingly competitive education market, visibility like this is crucial for coordinating your efforts, justifying your tactical decisions, and staying ahead of the curve.