Granted: there may be sexier subjects than Google Analytics.
But I really believe that no marketer can do without a grasp of Google Analytics. Whatever campaigns and promotional activities you run, online and even offline, people will ultimately visit your website. Chances are that your website is where the most important interactions take place, such as enquiries, sign-ups for events and webinars, and even applications.
Whatever you do to attract visitors to your website, however you choose to design your site, you need to measure what works and what needs improvement. For that, you need web analytics software, and Google Analytics happens to be the most widely used.
On 16th February 2022 I conducted a LinkedIn LIVE session on education marketing with Google Analytics. There are lots of resources around (such as the free Google Skillshop). They cover the basics, but to my taste, focus too much on technical stuff instead of covering how to get marketing focused insights such as “Is it actually worth it for us to keep running this campaign?”
I covered 4 main themes:
- Assessing campaign quality
- Assessing website quality
Below is a quick recap of these themes, followed by a video embed from the Linkedin LIVE session.
1. Assessing campaign quality
Whether you run a campaign on Google Ads, on a study portal site or on Instagram, Google Analytics is usually the place where it’s easiest to compare them side-by-side.
- First, they will attract prospective students to click to your website, resulting in web visits.
- These visitors will engage with your website, by viewing pages, scrolling, viewing videos, etc.
- Ultimately, your objective is to have a significant percentage of these visitors take action such as filling a form, applying or signing up for a webinar. These can be measured as conversions.
The first two steps will be tracked by Google Analytics “out of the box”. Conversions (also called “Goals” in Google Analytics) and they take some effort to set up. You’ll find detailed instructions in this Google Analytics support article
The report that’s best for assessing the performance of different traffic sources is in Acquisition > Channels
In the lines, you’ll see the different traffic sources (channel grouping), which you can change to evaluate specific campaigns as well.
In the columns, there are 3 metrics for each stage. Here’s an example of the table.
When you carefully study the table, you’ll realise that things like bounce rate and conversion rate can differ wildly between traffic sources. And this tells you something about the quality of the traffic. It’s great if a particular campaign brings in a lot of visitors, but if none convert, it’s not going to do you much good. You can usually improve the campaign’s quality by tweaking the targeting, ad copy and ad creatives, so they speak more to your ideal audience.
2. Assessing website quality with Google Analytics
The previous point was about campaign quality. But even the best campaign won’t do you much good if your website is not compelling or perhaps even has technical issues.
Effectively, you’d be running the traffic, high quality or not, into a rock.
How to quickly identify major issues that may be holding back your website? Use the table you find in Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages
You’ll find the same metrics as in the table above, but now it’s broken down by landing page, instead of traffic source.
What you see in this particular case of an English language school, is that one page is receiving far more traffic than the rest.
This is very common. Even for very large websites, the bulk of the traffic often “lands” on just a few pages.
So to get most out of everything you do in the way of online marketing, it’s important that these frequently visited pages perform well in terms of engagement and conversion. Often, you can get 80% of the results of website optimisation by focusing on just 3-5 pages or page types.
In an education marketing context, an important page to optimise is the programme detail page, which contains the information about a specific study program. Spot the few most severe bottlenecks in Google Analytics and fix them!
In the table above, the top page is a blog post that started to show up at the top of Google results worldwide. Since the website is locally focused and these people aren’t specifically searching for English language courses, the conversion rate was near zero. After adding a widget that lets visitors test their English level, the conversion rate is still low, but now the page contributes significantly to the total website’s conversions.
Google has announced that current version of Google Analytics (Universal Analytics) will eventually be replaced by a new version: GA4.
GA4 is an entirely new way of looking at website traffic, and it’s not compatible to your existing Google Analytics setup. So what should you do? Wait it out a little longer, or switch over as soon as you can?
Right now (February 2022) it’s comparable to moving house:
Universal Analytics is like your current house. You’ve been living there since 2012 and know your way around. Everything works, everything has its designated space. But you’re using your home differently now. Let’s say you work from home much more, and there’s no space for a dedicated office. It’s time to move.
GA4 is like your new house. Much more spacious and practical. Most of the basic functions are already there: the roof is completed. But the garden isn’t done. There’s hardly any furniture yet, and do you see that electrical wire on the right? I’m not sure if electricity has been connected…
I’ve tried to switch to GA4 and realised that despite the hype, it’s not a mature piece of software yet. Many features we take for granted in Universal Analytics are simply not available on GA4 yet. GA4 is the future. But for now, my advice is: stay with Universal Analytics for a while.
Eventually, Google is going to stop supporting Universal Analytics, although I expect that moment to be at least 2 years away. So the best is to set up GA4 tracking already, while you keep using Universal Analytics for day-to-day measurement. Once the time to switch comes, you’ll have amassed a few years of historical data which is essential to know whether you’re improving year-to-year.
In the video, I also cover briefly what the main difference is between Universal Analytics and the new GA4.
No discussion about tracking software is complete without privacy. And that certainly goes for GA4.
While I have my gripes about turning GDPR into a stop sign for new initiatives, it is important to be transparent and respectful when you capture someone’s personal data. But it’s even better to not capture personal data in the first place.
The most important point I’d like to make on privacy is that as an education provider, you can drastically reduce how much personal data you capture in the first place. You may not need to capture any personal data at all and still have a pretty good idea of how your campaigns and website are doing. And if you don’t capture personal data, you won’t need to ask permission with a cookiebar.
Here’s a couple of specific things you can do:
Google Analytics can work without cookies. As a consequence, it will be harder to keep track of users across multiple visits. But through modelling, Google claims to be able to fill in about 70% of the gaps. You can set your preferences. You can avoid cookies altogether, or let Google fill in the gaps for the people who opt out.
You can anonymise visitor IPs. In fact, GA4 will do it by default. By setting the last 3 digits of the IP address to zero, it’s not possible to tie the IP address back to a single user any more. Geographic reporting may be a little less precise, but that’s a small price to pay.
Another point is that a growing number of people block Google Analytics, either consciously or by using Firefox, Safari or an ad blocker that blocks tracking. You may be missing out on around 20% of your visitors. To get a more accurate view of reality, you can consider to track your website traffic with another software in parallel. Matomo, for example, can be set up so it circumvents blockers.
Eager to get more out of education marketing with Google Analytics?
In my Google Analytics e-course, I help you master the fundamentals of Google Analytics. The course is tailored to education marketers and besides theory, it includes live sessions in which I’ll help you to set up tracking step-by-step.