Estimated read time – 3 minutes
Want to keep updated about the blog? Sign up for the newsletter!
If you have access to data about your website you have access to a tremendous amount of information that can help improve the user experience, or UX for short, for your constituents. As much as some sages claim to have the best way to do everything on your site, the truth is that each institution is different and your constituents are different as well. What works great for one institution may be a miss for another. I recently spoke to someone who noted that they recently optimized their page load speeds and their conversion rates dropped very significantly. They undid their work and slowed down the pages and the conversion rates went back up where they were. That is inexplicable and counterintuitive, but for some reason it worked.
While there are some basic principles, such as the need to have accessible pages that typically load quickly and are designed for mobile, to truly make data-driven optimizations you have to be able to pull insights from your own users. This series will serve as a roadmap to help you get started, and to teach you how to find what works for you rather than tell you what to do without building your own understanding. You may want to start with a primer on using UTM tracking first, then come back.
The Resources: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Sure, Ben Franklin wasn’t referring to digital tools. The idea holds though that you can’t analyze data and optimize your site if you don’t have any data. The clear leader in the area is Google Analytics, which is what I will reference here. It’s free and ubiquitous, clear positives for education. I believe that you can still learn some processes and take away insights if you use another service though. When you set up a Google Analytics account you will have a snippet of code that will collect anonymous user data from your site. The code can be placed either in the header of all pages (hopefully in a template) or in Google Tag Manager, which itself will be placed on every page. If you only want a basic setup and won’t be doing any other data collection or advanced event tracking you will be fine just installing the Google Analytics code. I do recommend that anyone planning ahead set up a Google Tag Manager account and install that code instead. Tag Manager allows you to do much more including event tracking, easily installing conversion pixels, and heatmapping.
If you want to be able to build visual dashboards which allow other colleagues to easily gather information and answer questions you will also want to connect your Google Analytics to a Google Data Studio account. You can make dashboards highlighting traffic to your site, segment behaviors, or almost anything else you want to know about your site (you can also connect a Google Sheet or your Google Ads account, but that’s beyond this piece).
The Setup: Invest time in getting it right the first time
The first big “must” is to have one, and only one, instance of Google Analytics or Tag Manager installed across all pages on your site. Having multiple tags installed can interfere with each other and cause inaccurate data. There’s an easy way to check your installation in Chrome, Firefox, or Opera: The Google Analytics Debugger extension. Once the extension is installed you can navigate to your site, right click on the page, and choose Inspect (or Inspect Element) to view the data. Click the Console tab and you should see something similar to the screenshot below as long as you have the code installed properly.
Once you have Google Analytics installed correctly it will start collecting information that you will be able to log in and see. Keep an eye on traffic initially to make sure you have things installed correctly across all pages on your site. In the coming installments we will get in to how to set up filters, how to segment and measure traffic of different types, event tracking, and more advanced tactics.