In a nutshell, Google Analytics is a free and powerful tool that you can add to your website’s source code. Once the code is operational, you can use the information it gathers to learn about your website’s “traffic patterns” — such as who visits your site, how your site’s visitors got there, and what visitors look at on your website after they’ve arrived. After you have become familiar with Google Analytics data and understand what it represents, you can identify where your website is already working well. Additionally, you will learn about which parts of your website may need improvement, to better respond to your constituents’ needs and interests, and encourage return visits to your website in the future.
In other words, Google Analytics data can be harnessed to promote your website’s marketing potential. If this still doesn’t seem to make sense from a higher education point of view, consider an analogy borrowed from retail customer service training, which proposes that customers be treated as “guests” in the sales environments they visit, much in the same way as guests would be treated when they visit your own home. For example, upon their arrival, make guests feel welcome and comfortable; let them know what to expect throughout their visit; take care to make every guest’s visit a positive experience, from start to finish; and as each guest departs, let them know you look forward to their visiting you again soon.
What’s the point? When a guest has had a good experience, she is more likely to speak favorably about you to others, and want to visit again in the future. From a higher education perspective, then, you want your unit’s website to be “findable” for prospective as well as return guests, or in this case visitors to your website–and you absolutely want to be assured that your website is findable for your unit’s targeted constituents. Once they have arrived, you want to know that your website’s visitors can quickly and efficiently find the information they are looking for. You also want to offer both intentional and “accidental” visitors the opportunity to learn more about you: what services do you provide, and how does your work complement other areas of the education community? This information can offset some constituents’ need to call your office or meet with your staff to get assistance. And of course you want intentional website visitors to come back again. One way to promote this is by ensuring that they see your website as a reliable and valuable resource.
As with any tool, Google Analytics is helpful only to the extent that its users understand it and know how to use it. In this case, that means knowing what is (and what is not) represented by the data collected, and how to apply that information. Depending upon your role, you may need to learn a great deal about how to use this tool, or your use of it may be very limited. Web developers and marketing/communications staff likely will need to have a fairly sophisticated understanding of how to gather, interpret, and apply Google Analytics data. On the other hand, if you are responsible for maintaining only a page or two of your unit’s website overall, and the pages you administer are only used for internal operations within your unit, such as for managing a small once-a-year event, the insight you need may be minimal.
Are you new to Google Analytics, or do you need to learn more about how to use it? The Google Analytics website provides an excellent overview of its features, with links for how to get started. And once you’ve begun, the website’s tutorials can help you better understand and more capably apply the tool’s numerous features.
A recent Digital Union Google Analytics for Beginners workshop provided an overview of many of the tool’s basic features. The workshop handout (a work in progress) includes links to a number of resources; you can access the workshop handout from this Digital Union workshop archive blog post.
For thorough and in-depth Google Analytics tutorials, Lynda.com is an excellent resource. You can access Lynda.com tutorials by visiting one of the Digital Union locations; to use the tutorials, you will need to remain at that Digital Union site, where availability of stations may vary. You can also request access to one of the Lynda.com accounts offered by the OCIO–but you should know that only a few are available, and there is typically at least a three-week waitlist, with access limited to one week at a time.
In these times of dwindling resources and rising costs, institutions of higher education are expected to hone their capacity to respond efficiently as well as effectively to their constituents’ needs and interests. Institutional units’ web pages serve multiple purposes: as marketing tools, outreach portals, and informational forums that are available for reference even when staff are not on duty–to name just a few. When a unit’s website fails to satisfy visitors’ needs, outcomes can include diminished credibility and constituent satisfaction, as well as lost opportunities for recruitment and investment. Conversely, well-designed websites have the potential to yield both short- and longer-term positive outcomes, many of which are easily attainable with appropriate use of free Google Analytics tools.