Web Analytics Solutions for #highered: How to Extend Your Segmentation

August 30th, 2012 Joshua Dodson 1 Comment

I recently read an excellent article on the Google Analytics help section under best practices titled, “Use Custom Variables to Extend Advanced Segments.” This article contains all of the information you might need to assess which users either never convert to one of your Goals, or are generating the highest revenue (think matriculating students).

This actually goes beyond the traditional Advanced Segments since it incorporates a new (and highly underused) component: Custom Variables. Custom Variables allow you to define additional pieces of information about your users. A simple example would be that you can set a Custom Variable when a user logs into a content management system. You can then use Advanced Segments to examine what other pages are visited when a user has logged into the CMS.

Where Custom Variables begin to become very useful is when you define important characteristics of a user that extend beyond a single visit or session. Remember that Advanced Segments work with session data. However, if a user is assigned a visitor-level custom variable, then you can segment by the custom variable and examine their behavior across multiple sessions.

A practical example of this is with the beloved inquiry form. If you present options that a user can select and, upon submission of the form, are then assigned as a Custom Variable for the user, you can segment your data by that variable. For instance, if your form has the question, “What is your current level of education?” and the user selects “Bachelors Degree,” then you can segment your data by the Custom Variable value of “Bachelors Degree” to examine what users that have a bachelors degree (and are presumably interested in graduate programs) are looking at on your site. Furthermore, you can then see if those users go on to complete other Goals. If some go on to complete other Goals such as applying to the school, you can quickly compare what those users do that other, non-converting users do not.

There are many possible uses for Custom Variables. Like so much in Google Analytics, it is important to first of all ask yourself what you are trying to achieve. If you have an issue that can start to be addressed by applying Custom Variables to visitors, then a little bit of extra tracking code is an easy way to give you actionable information.

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