Google Analytics: Who Cares?

As an analytical person, Google Analytics was my playground when I began working with it 3 years ago. But, as my knowledge in higher-ed and web marketing was strengthened, I realized Analytics could do more than just ‘reports’.

Illustration courtesy of
Illustration courtesy of

So, you’ve been to a few conferences and have sat through several presentations on Google Analytics and its use in higher education. You may even have administrator access to Analytics and have been segmenting, reporting, and filtering to your heart’s content. If you’re lucky (cursed?), you may have even gotten the attention of your manager or sector vice-president with web analytics and pretty reports.

So what?

There. I said it. And I’ll say it again: So what? I feel comfortable asking this question of analytics reporting because of my own misconstrued bravado surrounding this particular topic. I thought that because I could pull numbers from Google Analytics that I was somehow participating in the greater-than-myself marketing efforts carried out at my university. But was I? What insight was I really adding to the bottom line? Did these numbers ultimately help gain and retain enrolled students? No. They did not. So, why do it? For me, the light bulb finally came on and I started to search for something better.

Who cares?

Illustration courtesy of
Illustration courtesy of

Maybe you are saying that it doesn’t really matter, that campaigns and numbers, in relation to departments and offices, are what truly measure the success of our marketing tactics. You may be saying that reports are what VP’s  and Deans want, and that they set the questions to be answered. This is where I’ve started pushing back.

Quality data reporting is not a new theory. But if we aren’t fully integrated in our tracking of online activities across multiple divisions, how are we really interpreting these numbers as anything more than hits? For you, a Google Analytics report may be nothing more than proof that your code is still working.

If we are not tying data outcomes to the large business goals (enrolled students, retained students, graduating students), then what is the purpose of our tactics at all?

Now what?

Illustration courtesy of
Illustration courtesy of

So, how do we get your Google Analytics mojo working? How do we face the behemoth of online marketing at a university? Here’s where I’ve started:

  • Code those URLs! This one is tough: not from the code perspective, but the political perspective. If you can’t take on the big guns, you’re going to have to start small with a department or office that can use your help. Code everything: online and offline, Facebook and your university web pages. Watch traffic as it moves through the site from specific campaigns. See where people really fall off the wagon and help them get back on. Make sure you keep tabs on which entry points help you reach your conversion and engagement analytics goals.
  • Change that Dashboard! I was stuck in a rut with my pre-made Google Analytics dashboard. So much so, that it defined what I reported. No more! Make the data that is most important to your university goals more prominent by highlighting them on your dashboard. There you will be able to see that data at a glance, keeping it in focus.
  • Customize your Reports! Just like the Dashboard, the preset reports can also put you in a rut. Set up reports that will help you report on the bottom line: specific visitor information, goal conversion, keyword performance, hot content, etc. Share these with other GA users on campus so that they can have this information as well. Don’t keep that data all to yourself!

How are you moving forward in your fight to ensure analytics help make decisions that affect the real issues at your university? Have you hit a brick wall at any level? Have your ideas been met with shrieks of happiness? What have been your greatest successes/challenges in taking a university outcomes based approach?


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