Student Conversion Strategies 101: Understanding Tracking Codes
Date posted: November 6, 2019
It’s admissions season and your school begins to ramp up its marketing efforts. From emails to social media posts to paid ads, your team leaves no digital stone unturned in its attempt to reach prospective students. But of the many marketing tools you use, which are the ones most effectively driving prospects to make inquiries and applications, and which are falling short?
Unless your school is tracking conversions accurately, you’ll be forever stuck trying out different marketing tactics without precisely knowing their overall impact. With proper tracking, however, schools can analyze the exact path users take to get to a specific web page, and what they do once they get there.
The data that tracking codes provide is practically gold in the marketing world. The more insight you have into your performance, the easier it is to create more effective campaigns – and the greater certainty you’ll have that the results will be positive. Read on to learn how your school can use tracking codes to make the most of its marketing efforts.
What are Tracking Codes? A Simple Intro for Schools
Have you ever clicked on a link to a web page from another source and noticed that the URL is significantly longer than normal? That probably means that a tracking code has been inserted.
A tracking code, also known as a UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) code, is a string of simple code you can add to a URL to track exactly how a user got to your site.
Example: Below is a basic tracking code template that schools can use to track the performance of their marketing campaigns.
With tracking codes, you can analyze and compare each element of a particular campaign. Let’s say your school creates a strategy to promote its upcoming open house which includes a few Facebook ads, some organic social media posts, and an email workflow to drive prospects to your registration page.
As you implement your strategy, you will likely see an increase in registrants – but which channel was most instrumental in your success?
Through tracking codes, you can analyze how many people were brought to your page by email, social, and paid ads. More importantly, tracking codes will also show you which channels drove the highest quality leads by telling you how many users actually signed up when they reached the registration page.
Using this data, you can easily identify which channels are most effective, and which require improvement. If, for example, your Facebook ad generated a lot of clicks but produced few applicants, you would know that your ad is highly engaging but perhaps is not reaching the right audience.
How do UTM Codes Help You Track Student Conversions?
While they can seem complex, you don’t need a computer science degree to understand tracking codes. Simply put, they are composed of tags called ‘UTM parameters’ which track different aspects of the path a user takes to get to a destination.
You can measure a maximum of 5 parameters: the source, medium, campaign name, content, and keyword term responsible for bringing a user to your website.
Example: Use the following chart for an in-depth look into each parameter, how to use them, and which ones satisfy your school’s marketing needs.
Based on your school’s needs and goals, you can create different parameter combinations for each campaign. For example, if you’re running ads on Google, adding the “Term” parameter in your URL makes it easy for your school to track its success. If you’re running a general campaign, however, the first three dimensions are likely sufficient. No matter your campaign, tracking codes are practical and effective tools your school can use to measure and improve its student conversion strategies.
How Schools can Create Tracking Codes
Creating tracking codes can be daunting – especially if analytics and website architecture is not your forte. Luckily, there are numerous platforms available to make the tracking process as intuitive as possible.
Google’s Campaign URL Builder
Campaign URL Builder is a free Google platform that enables you to manually add UTM parameters to any URL, which you can then track through your Google Analytics account.
Campaign URL Builder is one of the most accessible and simple tracking tools available. Simply add in the parameters, as demonstrated below, and the program will automatically generate the code for you.
Once your URL is ready, you can copy and paste it into any links you’re using in your campaign. If you want to track CTA clicks in an email, for example, use your tracking code for the CTA link URL instead of the original website URL.
You can then track your results by campaign, source, or medium in the ‘Acquisition’ section of Google Analytics. There, you can see how many people visited your site from which channel, how long they stayed on your site, the bounce rate, and numerous other metrics.
GA and Campaign URL Builder are a match made in heaven when it comes to tracking codes. Together, they make it easy for schools to assess every aspect of their recruitment campaigns.
Google Tag Manager
Google Tag Manager (GTM) is a robust tagging system perfect for schools who want an equally robust strategy for tracking student conversions. Using this tag management system, you can both create and monitor tags – but don’t have to write a new code for each tag.
The ease of automation does come with the effort of having to set it up, however. You’ll first have to install the platform in order for your website to communicate with the GTM servers. Then, you can create your tags, set triggers for them, and create variables that can be used to automate your tag configurations.
In GTM, a set of tags, triggers, and variables is called a ‘Container.’ This tag organizing tool makes it easier to store and find your tags, which will prove especially useful for long-term tracking.
Similar to Campaign URL Builder, you can easily analyze your GTM tracking codes through Google Analytics. This can be done by setting up event triggers in GTM. When these triggers are activated, data will automatically be sent to your monitoring program of choice, whether that is Google Analytics or another third-party software.
Marketing Automation Software
If your school already uses marketing automation software, good news: your marketing activity is likely already tracked through UTM codes.
Most marketing automation programs automatically track the different channels website visitors come from, as well as their behavior on your site.
HubSpot, for example, automatically includes a tracking code within any linked elements you create on the platform. This means that each form, CTA, social media post, etc. has its own unique URL. If you want to create a custom UTM code, you can also do so on HubSpot, as demonstrated below.
Many marketing automation programs make it easy – and even effortless – for schools to track their marketing efforts with UTM codes, but they also come with a price tag. Depending on your school, Campaign URL Builder or GTM may suffice – but if you have the budget, or are already using marketing automation for its many other benefits, it can help you to streamline and simplify the tracking process.
Using UTM Codes to Track Student Conversions
At the end of the day, the purpose of your school’s overall marketing strategy is to generate more inquiries and applications. While metrics like website visits and social media followers are useful indications of your school’s digital presence, that data doesn’t directly reflect your conversion rate.
With UTM codes, however, schools can precisely assess the performance of their campaigns by examining the impact their marketing tools had on the number of applications and inquiries they received.
If your school uses tracking codes to their fullest capabilities, you will obtain the data you need to create winning content, organize effective campaigns, and ultimately attract quality prospective students.
Track the Value of Multi-Channel Education Marketing Campaigns
It’s difficult to determine how effective each component of a large-scale, multi-channel campaign is – that is, unless you use tracking codes.
By tracking the various sources of traffic to your website, UTM codes make it easy to identify which channels are most effective at reaching prospective students, and which are underperforming. With this data, you can leverage your most successful marketing tools during key campaigns, and work on improving those that don’t generate the desired outcome before enrollment season rolls around.
Ultimately, understanding your marketing strengths and weaknesses will save your school a great deal of time and money when planning campaigns, as you’ll be able to allocate resources more efficiently.
Assess the Performance of Offline and Alternative Marketing Tactics
Although tracking codes are predominately discussed in relation to popular marketing tools like email, social media, and search engine marketing, they can also be used with other formats such as mail, radio ads, podcasts, posters, website banners, and even a link in one’s email signature.
For instance, if you want to evaluate the effectiveness of paper promotional materials, consider adding a QR code that is embedded with a UTM code. This way, you can gauge their ability to drive prospects to your website.
Example: This poster from Cebu Institute of Technology includes QR codes that link to their application forms. If the links used contain tracking codes, the university can easily monitor how many people are directed to their application form from their poster.
No matter if you use online or offline marketing tactics, UTM codes can help you analyze every component of your marketing strategy.
Test the Performance of Particular Content
Not only can UTM codes tell you which channels drive the most traffic – they also let you know which types of content perform best.
Imagine that it is admissions season and you share a video, blog post, and image on your Facebook page that all direct users to your application form. Perhaps each post receives a different number of likes, comments, and shares – but which best achieved your main objective of generating applications? Through tracking codes, you can see which content format most effectively brought users to your form.
Tracking Student Conversions through UTM Codes
UTM codes go beyond tracking campaign performance. They enable schools to see the direct link between their marketing strategies and the applications and inquiries they receive.
If your school uses GTM or Campaign URL Builder, Google Analytics will enable you to see how many conversions each channel generates. To access this data, you will first need to set Goals in GA based on the conversion activities you want your UTM codes to measure. For schools, GA Goals could include anything from bookings to inquiries to event registrations.
Creating a GA Goal is a simple, 3-step process, as demonstrated below.
Once you’ve set your conversion goals, you can view your GA Acquisition reports to see which channels are best fulfilling them.
If your school uses a marketing automation program to set up its tracking codes, there are likely already readymade reports available on the program, making it one of the easiest methods of conversion tracking for schools. Marketing automation reporting also tends to be highly customizable, which is especially helpful if you want to use your tracking code data to compare different channels or test different approaches.
Example: This HubSpot report allows you to clearly see which forms generated the most leads.
The more insight you have into your campaign performances, the easier it is for your school to improve its marketing efforts – and the higher number of inquiries and applications you’ll receive as a result. Through tracking codes, your school can measure the exact impact of each part of its marketing strategy. Once you have the data, the possibilities for improvement are endless.