Building a web analytics strategy for student recruitment

Building a web analytics strategy for student recruitment

Many student marketers cite an absence of clear strategy as one reason for why they’re not getting value from doing web analytics, but analytics doesn’t have to be frustrating.

In this post, I will attempt to lay out a strategy that all student recruitment marketers can follow to set them on a path toward more impactful analysis. Note that this strategy assumes you are using Google Analytics (or something similar) and that at the very least your tool is collecting accurate and reliable data from whatever site you’re putting in so much effort to promote.

Watch the recording from our latest Google Analytics webinar, where I outline ways the platform can be used to inform and improve your student recruitment campaigns. Click here to watch.

Although web analytics tools promise the cliché of actionable insights into your marketing and web performance, web analytics remains frustrating for many marketers in the education sector. Challenges unique to the sector, such as long conversion cycles, dated websites, and a lack of time to devote to strategic thinking about analytics, have caused many student marketers to abandon analytics and resort to guesswork.

Ready to get started? Then let’s begin by introducing a truth that should come as no surprise to those who spend a lot of time promoting large education sites…

Your audience, from a recruitment perspective, is a small subset of everyone who visits your website

Think about it: your site is used daily by all sorts of different types of users, both existing students and not. Most of these users aren’t relevant to your marketing because they’re coming to the site to find their supervisor’s phone number, borrow a textbook they’ve been waiting for or find out where on campus to park their car… and so on and so on.

Therefore your first concern should be to isolate those users in your reports who just might be prospective students. In Google Analytics, this can be achieved using segmentation and URL tagging. Familiarise yourself with these tools and their limitations.


Once you are able to run a report that only looks at your prospects, you can start to peel off some valuable information.

  • Which pages are more prominent to your recruitment audience?
  • Which are more effective at giving a strong early impression (think bounce rates, read-through rates)?
  • Is this content being experienced more often on mobile or on desktop? (Try to build up a picture of the different user experiences.)
  • Where are these people based, geographically?
  • On average how many times and how often do they visit our site?

None of the above will tell you if you’re succeeding or failing with your marketing. But it’s the first step towards being able to do so, and this kind of information will help you to understand which campaigns and which content you need to start focusing on and prioritising. To take the next step, and begin using analytics to improve your student recruitment marketing, you need to look at conversion tracking.

Conversion tracking is how you use analytics data to improve your future digital marketing results.

Look beyond the easy metrics (page views, visits, or worse, “clicks”) and consider which statistics truly describe whether or not a visit to your site was successful. For student recruitment, this means making an impression with your content, fostering a relationship with your prospects, and facilitating the process of their application.  Make sure you account for micro outcomes (more common but less beneficial) as well as macro outcomes (more beneficial but less common) so that you’re able to capture touch points at all stages of the user’s journey.

Which specific actions you choose to track on your site will depend on your institution’s strategies for promoting student recruitment, but here’s a few to get you started. The important thing is that your conversion actions constitute outcomes.


Once you’ve identified your conversion actions, your web analytics tool will make it possible to attribute these actions back to the marketing activity that draws prospects to your site. This means identifying which traffic sources are contributing the most to your acquisition of valuable prospective students. This might include:

  • Organic search
  • Users directed from your owned social media channels
  • Search or CPC advertising
  • Display advertising
  • Social media advertising
  • Users arriving via links placed in emails
  • Referrals from third-party sites

If a particular campaign or strategy is getting a good proportion of converted visits, do more of it! If the results aren’t so good, it’s time to rethink your tactics. At this stage, you should also explore all the tools you have available for segmenting your conversion data into different groups.

This also allows you to measure returns on your advertising. An easy way to do this is to measure your ad spend in bringing a user to the site, then comparing this to the user’s likelihood to convert. This allows you to compute the cost per acquisition (“CPA”), which will tell you which campaigns give you the best value for money.

Through this process of isolating your prospects, analysing their behaviour and tracking conversions, you should be able to establish a catalogue of different reports that illuminate your site’s performance in different ways. Your major challenge after doing this will be to get this data out to your decision makers. How can you effectively put data into people’s hands?

Create a web analytics reporting strategy for your organisation

No matter how much time you devote to capturing and analysing data, your effort is wasted if you don’t put this information into the hands of others in your organisation. You will get the best results out of doing web analytics if you build your data into effective reports, made available to as many people involved in your digital operations as possible. But what makes a good web analytics report? A few ideas:

Screengrab two

In summary, by carefully considering who you are analysing, attributing outcomes (touchpoints in a student’s timeline from initial awareness to making an application) to your marketing, and building this information into something shareable, you too can find success in the arena of web analytics.

Watch the recording from our latest Google Analytics webinar, where I outline ways the platform can be used to inform and improve your student recruitment campaigns. Click here to watch.