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Analytics Tracking Tips

Assessing the goals of your website can be an arduous task. Web maintainers used to add hit counters to their web pages just to count the number of hits on a web page, but what did that really mean? Is it a popularity contest? With whom?

Web analytics have improved through the last ten years, and Web Services staff are trained to understand what the numbers mean depending on what goals you have set for your website.

Today, I’m going to focus on ways to improve your analytics reports on your website via Google Analytics (GA). Web Services has GA code embedded into every page on the Tarleton website. When you need analytics on your website, you can contact us about what your goals were in order to receive data on your website from GA. Here are some ways to make sure your reports actually tell the proper story of your website:

Do not change the names of pages or folders within your website on a whim.

Let’s say, for example, you had a registration page called “reg.html” on your website. GA had 10 hits for that page in the last month, but you changed it to “registration.html” a week ago. GA tracked “registration.html” as an entirely different page with 5 hits, and it did not add the number of hits from both of these pages together to make 15 in the last month. GA doesn’t know these two pages are the same page.

This isn’t just an adding problem. How did they even get to your registration page? Now you have to look at the navigation summary of two “entirely different” pages. The results can look quite unusual depending on how many other pages across the website were updated to link to “registration.html."

Do remove old pages.

Similarly, if you did rename “reg.html” to “registration.html,” you don’t want people to accidentally hit the old page. GA will still collect information about the old page which means your users are not going where you really wanted them to go.

Do track “outside” pages.

Some “outside” pages are important. Very important. For example, perhaps your goal is to get prospective students over to the ApplyTexas website where they fill out the Common Application to apply to Tarleton State University. However, ApplyTexas.org is not a page or website within the Tarleton website, so we cannot track this link. That means we are losing good tracking information to see how successful we are at providing prospective students with enough information that they are (a) willing to apply or (b) find it easy to apply.

We have created an area inside Cascade under the WWW folder called “_global_links” which contains pages with GA tracking code as well as redirects to these various important websites, so we can actually track their usefulness. You’ll find that ApplyTexas.org is the page “apply-texas” within this folder.

Some of these “_global_links” have other important uses. For example, all the links we use to direct our constituents to Banner are listed here. When Banner goes down for an extended period of time while the rest of the Tarleton website is running, our users may hit the following scenarios:

  1. If we linked directly to https://ssb01.tarleton.edu:9000/horrible-nightmarishly-long-web-address-that-oftentimes-changes-when-we-least-want-it-to.html, then our users would hit a confusing error page. This is bad for two reasons: (1) our constituents have no idea why it is down or what they can do in the meantime and (2) these links change often enough that it can be unintentionally time-consuming for web maintainers to change all their links on their website to a new page.
  2. If we linked to something like /WWW/_global_links/banner-ducktrax-login, then our users would hit a page we have created that explains the maintenance downtime. This is beneficial for three reasons: (1) we control the communication of downtimes which improves customer service, (2) we reduce the number of times web maintainers have to change their links due to upgrades ITS must install, and (3) we can track how many people are using Banner off any page on the Tarleton website.

If you want to add these “_global_links” to a Word or PDF document, please change links using the following pattern:

/WWW/_global_links/banner-ducktrax-login

becomes

http://www.tarleton.edu/_global_links/banner-ducktrax-login.html