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Using Google Analytics in Higher Education to Influence Marketing Decisions

By April 29, 2014 No Comments

By: Linda Watson, Rollins College
I recently presented a session on Google Analytics at the Hannon Hill, Cascade Server conference. In the short survey I conducted, 100% of the Higher Ed attendees had Google Analytics incorporated on their sites, but fewer than 10% were using analytics to make “marketing” decisions.
This static was very surprising, especially considering how powerful the data gathered through Google Analytics can be for measuring and dictating future marketing efforts. Those who aren’t taking advantage of the power of GA are missing out on a huge competitive opportunity and are only making the job of a higher education marketer that much tougher.
Here at Rollins College, marketing decisions take into account both a technical component and a reporting component, which includes strategies in setting up our tracking code, our views (profiles), link tracking, and reports created each month for our Marketing department, Advancement Services, and the Board of Trustees.
Data gathered from Google Analytics for each department, as you’ll see below, is chopped many different ways to enable our decision makers to gage performance from many different angles. This allows our University to be proactive in our response to changes in the market and ensure we’re delivering the best experience as possible for our visitors.
From setting up our tracking codes to reporting, I’ll provide you with a brief overview of our Analytics strategy and how analytics played a role in our move to a responsive website design.

Tracking Code:

With the help of Circa Interactive, we have two accounts set up and Rollins tracks both accounts on every page.  Having two tracking codes will allow us to expand the number of views (profiles) we set up in the future.  I also modified the tracking code at the start of 2014 so Rollins can now track demographic information such as age and gender.


Measuring KPIs (Key Performance Indictors):

Our web marketing team struggled for a couple of months on what KPIs to track.  Often, institutions can get caught up in all the data available and lose sight of the big picture.  Listed are the major KPI’s Rollins currently tracks and, in addition, we track conversions on applications and social media KPIs.
We have set up filters in the views, (profiles) to track all traffic to the Rollins site, internal traffic and external traffic.   The most valuable KPI’s we track come from the external traffic visitors to the Rollins site and, most importantly, the mobile traffic.
Year over year of data shows that the Rollins internal traffic is decreasing while the external mobile traffic is increasing.  I surmise that our students are using their tablets/phones on campus and accessing the Rollins pages using their personal ISP’s and Google Analytics now tracks their visits as external visits.
The substantial increase in overall mobile traffic provided the data to the Board of Trustee’s to move forward with the additional expense of a responsive website.

Responsive Website:

Early in 2013, in preparation of the responsive site, we added event tracking to all the links on the current Rollins site (now the old site).  Link tracking added another layer of valuable information as to what our users were clicking on within the page and on the menus. Using the data taken from the event link information, we could justify which links should appear on the home page.
Also, in preparation of the new home page links, we looked at what users were searching for on our current site and the keywords they were using.   I found the library was not only a top page viewed, but also a top searched keyword.  On the responsive site, our new site search allows users to search the entire Rollins site, the library site, or our news site.  Again, Rollins used the information available from Google Analytics to make key decisions on the responsive website to better serve our users.

Key Reports:

Several times a month, I glean the data from Google Analytics and take it into Excel to produce a graphical representation of our traffic.   Each month, the overall traffic, mobile traffic, and the three school’s year over year traffic are compared.  In addition, KPIs that stand out are also added.
On the departmental level, I create KPI reports, which include the standard KPIs listed, but in addition I look at the department top pages (pageviews), bounce rates, time on page, and demographics. I discuss with key departments the possibility of combing pages, updating content, etc.

In Summary:

As a digital marketer, monitoring and tracking the data within Google Analytics is a task that should be a part of your daily routine.  I try to spend 5-6 hours a week on analytics creating the reports, updating or creating new views, code updates, and researching and learning more about Google Analytics.  You’ll find that it’s well worth the extra effort and attention.  At Rollins College we’ve been able to cut costs and save time by making data driven decisions, rather than decisions made on a hunch that often prove to be wasteful and hinder the success of our marketing campaigns.
Linda Watson, Web Technology Manager at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. Please feel free to contact me at: 

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