Web Analytics Solutions for #highered: When to use 2 Google Analytics tracking codes on 1 site

August 20th, 2012 Joshua Dodson 1 Comment

Colleges and universities are complex organizations with many parts that function on their own, and sustain the institution as a whole. A school’s web presence reflects this complexity. Each department often has its own website or section of the website. However, the sections also work together to form the entire online experience for the school.

By treating the website as disparate pieces with very little connection, it is possible to lose a lot of valuable data. There are a couple of things that can be done to ensure that this does not happen.

Splintered Web Tracking

Since each website may be considered separate (separate content editors, administrators, designers, etc), it is common to add a separate Google Analytics tracking code to each. Since the department can see how many users visit their section of the website nothing is lost, right? Wrong! The full user path is not accessible in this model. How did the user enter the website? Where did they come from? Where are they going? Do they complete a website Goal (big “G”)? Perhaps some of the questions can be answered some of the time, but often it is impossible to see what is actually happening.

Seeing the Big Picture

There is a better way to approach this and it is through a comprehensive web tracking approach. Simply put, use the same tracking code across all of your web properties. If you have one main site and ten subdomains, then use the same Google Analytics tracking code across all 11 sites.

Some departments will only want the ability to view the information for their users. They can still do that. It is possible to either install multiple tracking accounts, or use filters to create profiles that focus on only specific data. The Dean of the business school can see the numbers on the business site, but not the history site. That is okay. However, where deeper analysis is concerned, a comprehensive view of what is happening is very important.

Comprehensive web tracking will start to show you information that you were not previously able to access. For instance, if a user types a long-tail keyword into Google, lands on a news story about their topic of interest, and then finds their way to the admissions site where they submit an inquiry request, it would be useful to see the full picture. If you have comprehensive tracking in place, you can see the full user path and assess whether there are useful changes that can be made to the website to make the user’s path more conducive to Goal Conversions. With splintered web tracking, the first site the user came to would have received the long-tail keyword information while the admissions site would have seen the visitor as a referral from the first news site. It is clearly more beneficial to examine comprehensive data when trying to make good website decisions.

How to Set Up Comprehensive Web Tracking

The first step in setting up comprehensive web tracking for your school is to have an account that is designated to extend across all websites. This is as simple as creating a new Google Analytics account. Once this is in place, it is easy to add the code to the pages by following the instructions provided by Google Analytics. If Google Analytics tracking code is already in place for all or some of the sites, then it is possible to add a second tracking code so that data can be collected in both the original, splintered way, as well as in the comprehensive web tracking way.

To use multiple trackers, a secondary tracking command can be added in the following way.


_gaq.push(
['_setAccount','UA-XXXXX-1'],
['_trackPageview'],
['b._setAccount','UA-XXXXX-2'],
['b._trackPageview']
);

In the above example, UA-XXXXX-1 is the first web property ID and UA-XXXXX-2 is the added web property ID. More tracking commands can be added as long as a new prefix is added, similarly to how “b” was designated as the second prefix.

Together, but Still Separate

Always have a completely unfiltered profile, just in case something happens and you need the unfiltered data. Also, typos do happen.

Setting up a filter to include the hostname for one profile can allow you to differentiate traffic if you have various subdomains with similar naming conventions. This is particularly helpful if it is a large website with many different subdomains. You can add the hostname to the Request URI so that when you examine the Top Content report, you do not confuse the index page for the main EDU site with the index page for the admissions site. After all, very different audiences may access each, so distinguishing between the two will be helpful in your analysis of the data. The following screenshot shows how to set up a profile filter for appending the hostname to the Request URI.

Google Analytics Domain Name Profile Filter

In Conclusion

It is best to have a Google Analytics account that provides information across all of the college’s web properties. It will provide you with a comprehensive view of what is happening, and allow you to move beyond a splintered approach to make improvements to the website based on complete information.

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