Google Analytics is a powerful tool for gaining in-depth insight into your audience and strengthening your marketing strategy. If you’re not familiar with Google Analytics, it can be a bit daunting at first. There’s so much data it can be overwhelming to try to figure out the most important metrics for your school marketing program. Over the years, I have learned 7 customizations I consider vital for my website. There are many benefits to using Google Analytics for school marketing. Want to learn more about how Google Analytics can help improve your inbound marketing efforts? Click here to read more… There are literally thousands of customizations you can make to Google Analytics, depending on your needs and how you want to use the tool. Over the years, I have discovered 7 Google Analytics customizations I consider vital for school marketing websites. Once you have made these customizations, you’ll be able to:
- Glean the most important keyword data
- Run reports with the most pertinent metrics for your marketing program
- Refer to instructions to clean up your URL to make your reports accurate
- Set up alerts to help you catch catastrophic data failures within 24 hours
- Install the Google Analytics tracking script
- Filter out data from your office IP so your reports aren’t accidentally skewed
- Access a backup of your Google Analytics account data should a major catastrophe happen
Here are 7 customizations to make to your Google Analytics account to protect your data and improve the performance of the tool for your marketing efforts.
Customization #1. Connect Google Analytics to Google Search Console
In the past, GA used to have keyword data in all the standard reports. You could see which keywords sent traffic to which pages. And, if you had goals set up, you could see how much revenue each keyword produced for you. Then, Google decided to remove keyword data from Google Analytics. For a few years, inbound marketers had to rely on third party tools like SEMrush or Ahrefs for keywords. In the last few years, however, Google has been improving Google Search Console. It is now a goldmine for keyword data. All you need to do is sign up for a free Google Search Console account and connect it to your Google Analytics account. Here’s how you do it:
- Create a free Google Search Console account and verify that you have access to your site. It’s simple if you already have a Google Analytics account installed.
- In your property settings in Google Analytics, connect to your Google Search Console.
- From your dashboard, click on Admin in the lower left-hand corner.
- Go to Property Settings > Search Console > Adjust Search Console.
- Make sure your Google Search Console is linked.
After the accounts are connected, the reports under Acquisition – Search Console will start populating. Keep in mind there is a 48-hour delay so give it a few days before checking for keyword data.
Customization #2. Create Multiple Views
I consider this a mandatory customization because, well, accidents happen. Once data has been collected by Google Analytics, it can’t be undone. If some of the following customizations are set up wrong, you won’t be able to go back and “fix” the data. All you can do is update the customization so your future data will be correct. We all make mistakes. So, it’s a good idea to have two extra views for your Google Analytics profile as a backup. I recommend setting up three views:
- Master View. This is the main view you will work with.
- Test View. Before adding a new setting to your Master view, test it here. This allows you to mess around without impacting your real data.
- Raw Data View. Leave this view completely untouched without any settings configured. If something goes horribly wrong, you always have this base data to work with.
Here’s how you set up multiple views.
- Go to Admin > View Settings
- Click on + Create View
- Reporting View Name (Master, Test or Raw Data)
- Set your Country and Time Zone
- Select Create View
Customization #3. Set up Events
Google Analytics tracks many metrics without any customization, which is part of why it’s so popular. Standard metrics include sessions, pageviews, bounce rates and time on site. However, there are other “events” you might want to track, such as:
- Inquiry form completions
- Email signups
- PDF downloads
- Video plays
- Webinar registrations
- Click on important links
Anything that’s important on your site can be turned into a Google Analytics event so you can track how often it happens. To trigger events, you will need to add code to your site that sends the event data to GA whenever the action occurs. Most likely, you’ll want to ask your developer to help you set this up. Here is the link to how to set up events in Google Analytics.
Customization #4. Clean Up Parameters
It’s pretty common to run into multiple listings of the same page in your Google Analytics reports. Each listing will have the same Page URL with a question mark “?” and then some number, symbols and text. Anything after the “?” in a URL is a parameter. It’s common for tools to add parameters to a URL that adds extra data various tools can then use. The problem is that GA treats parameters as unique URLs. Traffic to the same page will look like a different URL because the parameters are different. This splits the data you collect into multiple listings so you don’t really know the true performance of the page unless you do the math by hand. There’s a bigger problem here too. Many marketing automation tools (like autoresponders and social media schedulers) will add ID parameters to the end of every URL in their emails. This allows them to track email subscriber or social media follower actions. Even worse, it can populate reports with personal information such as name and email addresses. It’s against Google Analytics Terms of Service to have personal information in any report so you definitely don’t want this to happen. To understand how to make this customization, you need to understand how parameters work:
- The end of the URL and the beginning of the parameter is marked with a “?”
- Every parameter has a name and a value. The name is before the “=” and the value comes after
- Parameters are separated by a “&” so if you an “&” in the URL, it means there are multiple parameters
To clean up your reports and scrub personal data clean, go to the All Pages report. Sort by Least Pageviews. This will give you a list of URLs that only have a single Pageview. Scroll through about 100 pages and look for any parameters that don’t signify a real URL. Once you have your list of parameters that are junking up your reports, go to your View settings and add all the parameters you want excluded. Go to Admin > View Settings > Exclude URL Query Parameters. Add each parameter on a separate line. Just be careful. Some sites use parameters for different pages. If your site does this, don’t include the parameters of real pages. Otherwise GA will stop tracking those pages entirely. Also, don’t include any of the standard UTM parameters that are used to track marketing campaigns. Google Analytics handles that data correctly.
Customization #5. Install Google Tag Manager
- Remove Google Analytics Global Site Tag from your website.
- Create a Google Tag Manager account at set up a workspace for your site.
- Create a new tag under your workspace.
- For tag type, choose “Universal Analytics”.
- Choose “Page View” for tracking type.
- Under Google Analytics Settings, choose “New Variable” and add your Tracking ID.
- Add a trigger that fires the tag on all pages.
- Save your tag and publish your workspace. Don’t forget to publish the new workspace – you have to “push” to production otherwise your changes won’t become active.
To make sure Google Analytics is working through Google Tag Manager, check your real-time reports in Google Analytics to make sure it’s successfully recording data.
Customization #6. Create Custom Alerts
Sooner or later, your site will experience a major problem. Here are a few scenarios that have happened to me or I’ve seen happen to other school marketers.
- A site redesign was launched and Google Analytics was missing when it was published.
- Another site redesign launched and cut email signup flow by 50 percent. Tracking was working, the new site just didn’t convert nearly as well as the old site.
- Someone was working on the site and accidently removed Google Analytics from the entire site. It was missing for about 24 hours before it was caught.
- Google launched a bug in a search algorithm update and the site lost 40 percent of traffic in about 30 days.
- About 40 percent of search traffic was lost in 30 days after Google recrawled the site and lowered all our rankings.
- A new email signup infrastructure was installed which damaged the signup tracking, which was the primary goal of the site.
- A landing page was updated and the marketing funnel that led to it lost traffic by 50 percent.
Most of these examples were pretty embarrassing to someone on the team. Sooner or later, they happen to every site. Most marketers experience them about 1-2 times per year. To help catch mistakes or errors like these, Google Analytics has Custom Alerts. Here’s how it works. You define a set of criteria and whenever that event happens, Google Analytics will send you an email. Even if you’re not checking Google Analytics daily, you’ll still catch major problems within 24 hours. Here’s the alert I like to set up.
- In Google Analytics, go to Admin > Custom Alerts > New Alerts
- Name = Session Drop
- Apply to = Your Domain Name (default)
- Period = Day (this way you will catch a catastrophic problem within 24 hours
- Select “Send me an email when this alert triggers”
- Alert Conditions = This applies to All Traffic. Alert me when: Sessions – Condition: % decreases by more than 30% – Compared to: Same day in the previous week.
- Save Alert
This alert will send you an email if ever your sessions decrease by 30 % or more compared to the same day the previous week. Here are few things to keep in mind regarding Google Analytics Custom Alerts.
- Only set up a few Custom Alerts. I set up the Session Drop alert (which covers Total Traffic) and then one for the primary conversion on the site (i.e. inquiry contact form submissions). If you have too many alerts set up, you tend to ignore them eventually.
- Compare events to the same day the previous week. This is because most sites have huge fluctuations on the weekend so if you set it for the previous day you might get too many false alarms.
- Increase the trigger percentage if you find you are getting too many false alarms.
- I recommend keeping alerts to major decreases only. Positive increases are great, but it’s bad news where every minute counts.
Customization #7. Add an Office IP filter
When it comes to Google Analytics, filters give you complete and total power. You can remove and transform data permanently. And when I say permanently, I do mean permanently. Be careful with filters. Seriously. Once a filter is live it will change all the data that’s collected. You can never undo it. If a bad filter is applied, all you can do is remove it and clean up the data as best you can for the future. You can not do anything to fix the old corrupted data. That said, there’s one filter that many school marketing departments should set up: a filter to remove internal traffic. Now, if you’re a super small school and there’s only you or a small team, there’s no need to worry about this customization. The impact of your activity is so limited it’s not worth worrying about. However, if you’re a larger school with a robust marketing team, you will definitely want to set up this customization to limit the impact of the team’s activity. Your traffic data is likely to be skewed and the data Google Analytics reports will be biased. In order to set up this customization, you will need the IP address of your office. Here’s how to set it up.
- Select the View you want to work with. First apply the filter to your Test view and make sure it’s working properly before applying it to your Master view.
- Go to Admin > Filters > Click + New Filter > Create New Filter
- Select Predefined Filter Type
- Exclude – traffic from the IP Address – that are equal to
- IP address (enter your address XX.XXX.XXX.XX)
This filter tells Google Analytics to ignore all data from the IP address you enter. Google Analytics is a powerful tool you can use to measure the performance of your website and the traffic you are driving to it. These customizations will help you refine the data you are collecting and give you more control over your reports. Have you applied customizations to your Google Analytics account? What customizations have you found to be helpful? Please share with the school marketing community in the comments below.