The dream of full-funnel tracking becomes a closer reality for higher education marketers everyday. Our tools, technology and people are smarter than ever before because we know the importance of attributing applicants and enrolled students to leads and users earlier in their journey. We use a variety of tools to track and record user activity on a website. Each one works a little differently for their respective purpose and also reports differently. These tools use scripts, also known as pixels, which are placed in the code of a page, either directly or with a tool like Google Tag Manager, and allow us to see what users are visiting a page.
When a user visits a web page, the browser they’re using reads through all the code for that page and loads all the items in the order they’re written. The browser also may interpret the content differently based on any browser plug-ins the user might have installed, including ad blockers. In order for these scripts to work properly, there are very specific guidelines about how and where the code needs to be placed and will only work if it is able to load properly, in the right order.
Google Analytics (GA) is the most comprehensive tool to tell us what a user is doing on our website. It provides metrics like users, sessions, session duration, page views, bounce rate, and also more specific user activity like clicks (events) and goal conversions. After the Google Analytics script is loaded, it begins collecting data about a user’s visit based on specific rules that defines the metrics.
Advertising channels also have their own scripts that allow for tracking and data collection associated with that respective advertising channel and specific account. We most commonly use two types of scripts, remarketing and conversion. A remarketing script writes cookies to a user’s browser. This cookie serves as a signpost on other webpages where our ads could be seen that this user has already visited our specified page and we can use rules to show this user our desired ad if they meet our criteria. A conversion script is placed on a page or tied to a click that we want to track as a goal or conversion. This script is placed in coordination with the remarketing script so we only track conversions from our specific account from the advertising channel who have seen our ads.
Google Tag Manager (GTM) is a utility script that, once placed in the code of a page, can load any other script based on rules we have set up in the tool’s backend. The current best practice is to have one Google Tag Manager script installed on every page of an organization, and use the Google Tag Manager backend to determine what scripts are to be placed where. It provides a single location to handle any and all scripts across any number of websites, instead of having to manage the code placed on these pages individually.
In the wake of increased awareness of data collection, more users are employing ad blockers on their browsers. These ad blockers can prevent some or all of the above scripts from loading, effectively blinding us from the user’s activity on our page. These scripts all operate independently from the actual elements on the page: text, images, forms, etc. This means that a user with an ad blocker could feasibly complete a form and send their information to your CRM without us being able to successfully record the conversion.