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Google Analytics for Higher Education: The 4 Analytics Goals Every University Must Track

Note: On July 1, 2023, Universal Analytics will sunset and move entirely to Google Analytics 4. GA4 uses a completely different data model (event- vs. session-based) and UX platform to create custom goals and events, making the information in this article less relevant. Keep an eye on our Insights for upcoming articles and tools to help you make the transition, and proceed here with caution knowing that you’ll need to familiarize yourself with this new platform coming down the line.

Higher education marketing is more important now than ever. For the eighth consecutive year, postsecondary enrollments have dropped, and the higher education space is already one of the most challenging industries to be in (not to mention the havoc that the coronavirus is wreaking). With many universities looking to cut costs, having an effective and efficient marketing strategy is paramount.

Enter Google Analytics. We know it can seem daunting at first, especially for the smaller marketing team or the marketer with limited digital chops. Or, maybe you’re already familiar with Google Analytics and just need some assurance. Regardless, confirming you’re tracking the right goals in your Google Analytics account will ensure you have clear insight into your audiences and your website performance.

After all, your website is your largest body of content. It weaves many different elements and assets of your brand together, making it crucial to your enrollment marketing, advancement efforts, and content strategy. The best higher education websites have authority and clearly communicate the ROI they offer to students. Their calls to action (CTAs) encourage students to engage with the school in tiered ways. Every landing page has a purpose that’s designed to drive a certain outcome.

What actions do you want prospective students to take on your website? If you haven’t pinpointed the following website goals and tracked them in Google Analytics to establish when, where, and how often they’re occurring, you’ll never know how your website is truly performing.

What are Google Analytics goals?

A Google Analytics goal is any action someone may take on your website that your organization considers a conversion (a win!). For higher education, the most important and popular goals include:

  • Click to “apply” (external link click to application website)
  • Request for information (form submission)
  • Request for a campus tour (form submission)
  • Donations

It’s ideal to have between three and five goals set up in your Google Analytics account so you can see how many of your website visitors are completing each of the above actions, and what pages of your website are driving them to do so. That percentage of total users who complete at least one of your specified goals is your website’s conversion rate.

There are different types of goals, and each goal type requires specific action for proper setup. The three types of Google Analytics goals are duration goals, event goals, and destination goals.

Duration Goals

Duration goals (or session goals) measure the percentage of users who stay on your website for a specified amount of time. Pages/Screens per session measures the percentage of users who visited a minimum number of pages on your website.

A high percentage here can indicate that your visitors are engaged with your content, cruising around your site learning more about you.

Event goals

Event goals are registered every time a user conducts a specific action on your website, such as a video play, file download, or button click.

Destination Goals

Destination goals register a goal completion when your user reaches a certain page. You get to designate these pages based on your business objectives. It’s often a thank you page or confirmation page that the user sees after completing a sign-up, registration, or purchase. For every new goal, the goal tracking will depend on the specific URL of that destination page.

If you’re ready to go ahead and set these up now, here’s how to set up destination goals in Google Analytics.

What Google Analytics Goals Should a College or University Track?

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As a university, you’ll likely want to focus on these four big Google Analytics destination goals:

1. Click to Apply

When your visitors click a button on your site to ”Apply,” they’re likely taken to a third-party website, such as the Common App site, that you don’t “own.” That makes it difficult to track the actual number of applicants who came through your website—but there’s a workaround. You can track an external link click to “Apply” as an event goal, where the “event” is an external link click that includes “commonapp”, or whatever the general application website is.

2. Request for Information

To combat the issue above and capture email addresses of prospective students, every university should have a prominent form or button to request more information. After all, many more potential students will request information than actually apply to the university. We’ve built a great example of this for University of Texas Permian Basin. Capturing email addresses opens up the opportunity for you to win a prospective student over by building an ongoing relationship with them. That’s probably the best reason to set up this destination goal, but it’s definitely not the only one.

“Apply” is the ultimate goal. But before they’re ready for that commitment, students can select two lower-stakes options: “Request Information” and “Visit.” Now, UTPB can track conversions on all three options.

When a visitor completes a form submission to request information, you’ll track the thank-you page they land on as the specific URL for this goal.

3. Schedule a Campus Visit

For many universities, increasing college visits will also increase your applications (and your yield). But getting your potential student on campus is the biggest lift of these four goals. Think of it this way: If you create a user experience where prospective students (or parents) who complete one or both of the other two goals are encouraged to visit, you’ll see an increase in campus visits. So if your conversion rates are informing your digital marketing strategy, you may be surprised how everything comes together.

Now, we realize that this article is being published while most of us are still staying home during the global pandemic. So perhaps your campus visits become virtual visits for now.

4. Donations

When your communications and advancement teams are under the same roof, you may also need to track donations to your university and its programs.

In this case, you’d want to know which fundraising campaigns inspired your donors. Which alumni giving efforts made the difference. Which email campaign drove them to give. For each and every donor, you’d have an inkling of what led them to support your university. That’s invaluable.

In all likelihood, your university collects donations through a third-party platform. However, there’s a good chance it offers Google Analytics integration. The integration of these tools is worth the effort (and if you can’t do it—hire someone to do it for you).

The greater strategy here is to drive every visitor to achieve all four types of goal completions! That means thinking comprehensively about your goals and your website flow. What’s the easy, non-committal request that can set you up now for the bigger requests later? Lead with that.

Aim for consistency across the experience. Your users should feel a certain cohesiveness when advancing from one request to the next, from the first time they check out your website through the moment they set foot on your campus (and beyond).

You don’t need to set up a million different goals. Please don’t! Condense it down to the few that actually show value. The goals you choose should directly ladder up to your business objectives. You can even assign a monetary value to goal completions in Google Analytics to see exactly how much money each webpage, and your website at large, is bringing into your university. If you can do this, it’s easier to request budgets for website updates or overhauls later.

Feeling ready to jump in? Take a look at how to set up destination goals in Google Analytics.

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