GA4: Is Your College or University Ready To Drive More Applications?

computer screen showing analytics data

By Josh Barrer | Published June 15, 2023 | Categories: Google Analytics , SEO , Cascade CMS , Beacon News , PPC , Higher Education , Digital Marketing

The conversion from Google's Universal Analytics Platform to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is one of the biggest and most impactful changes in the world of web marketing in quite some time. As with any change – especially a change regarding a tool that so many web marketers use for tracking online activity  – there are a lot of questions.

As a digital marketing agency specializing in higher education, Beacon is always ready and eager to answer those questions for our client partners. Following the success of our first Fireside Chat event with Hannon Hill (creators of the Cascade CMS system used by many colleges and universities) earlier this year – which focused on higher education digital marketing trends – Beacon and Hannon Hill decided to convene again for another open and candid roundtable webinar. This time, the focus would be on GA4, specifically what higher education marketers need to know about the new system and what strategies they can employ to make the most of it. 

Thought leaders from Beacon and Hannon Hill came together online on Thursday, May 18th for the event. Once again, Troy Singer, of The Higher Ed Marketer podcast, hosted and moderated. The lively discussion, viewed by more than 200 attendees, covered a range of topics related to GA4. Watch the video below or read on to discover what you can do to get the most value from your GA4 setup. 


Why GA4 is Such a Big Deal

"GA4 is probably one of the most drastic redesigns in analytics tracking that Google has ever done," said Andrea Cole, VP, Digital Optimization & Analytics at Beacon. "Google has essentially been using the same concepts and the same approach to digital analytics since they acquired Urchin in 2005. So it was long overdue for an overhaul, especially considering how different the web is now and how people shop across devices."

As Cole says, there are an array of changes in the new platform. These include significant alterations to the way Google handles session calculations, cross-platform tracking, and perhaps most significantly, data collection. Unlike in the old Universal Analytics model in which every action taken on a website is counted as a "hit," GA4 utilizes an Event-based model for its tracking. In this model, every action a user takes on a website is recorded as a stand-alone event, and different actions (such as button clicks or pageviews) are recorded separately and distinctly. This allows GA4 to offer a much more comprehensive and accurate snapshot of user behavior on a website. GA4 also provides significant improvements to user privacy and utilizes machine learning to improve the results it delivers.

GA4 also is able to collect and share more data about a site's traffic and user actions. And unlike in the old platform, where if you had too much data then the system would essentially output a sample or cross-section of your analytic results, GA4 is able to give site owners the full picture. This allows for more accurate analysis and understanding. 

How GA4 Can Help Higher Ed Marketers

As we move towards July 1, 2023—when Google disables Universal Analytics and GA4 becomes the industry standard—many marketers and site owners have already made the switch to the new platform. If you haven't yet, it's time to put a plan in place. Says Jordan Burleson, VP, Digital Advertising at Beacon, "Ask the agencies you're working with: 'What's the plan we have in place for the Google Analytics transition?'' Though it might seem easier, Burleson cautions against letting Google's systems automatically handle the transition as it will carry over your old settings, which may not be optimized for GA4's new processes and methods of counting. As a result, the results you get may not be accurate or usable.

For Burleson, who specializes in paid web marketing, accurate analytics and data are a must for ensuring the efficacy of paid digital campaigns. "Do not run paid ads at all without tracking," he advises. "It's just wasted money. You have no idea if users are coming to your landing page and leaving or converting." With GA4, though, a web marketer can set up tracking to count important actions, including "apply now" clicks or requests for more info, as well as secondary interactions like viewing multiple pages on the site before leaving. All of this data can paint a much more accurate picture of how your ads are performing and ensure you're getting a strong return on investment for your paid advertising spend.

When it comes to organic traffic and SEO, GA4 offers major advantages as well. With its more robust and accurate tracking of user actions through its Event model, web marketers can more fully understand how their audience is engaging with the content on a site. Then, they can make updates to drive even more action. Even better, you can now get much more usable data by adding more clickable areas and calls to action (CTAs) to boost trackable events. 

In short, every higher ed marketer interested in the long-term health and reach of their site should give significant attention to setting up GA4 tracking to take full advantage of the features and more importantly, drive better data-driven decisions. 

Count on Beacon to Optimize GA4 On Your Site

Whether you've been using Google Analytics for years or are new to data tracking, there is a lot to consider when setting up GA4 tracking for your website. From utilizing Google Tag Manager to even identifying the events you want the system to track, it's easy to get overwhelmed, especially when using a new platform with a variety of new features. You may want to partner with an expert to ensure you're using the GA4 platform to its fullest potential to get all the benefits for your college or university. 

Beacon is a long-standing member of Google's Partner Program and has a proven history dating all the way back to the first launch of GA. You can trust this experience to get pointed in the right direction with the newest evolution of Google Analytics - GA4. Our Digital Marketing Team has been tracking and studying GA4 since it was announced last year.  So when coupled with our full set of digital marketing services, we will get you transitioned quickly and enjoying all the benefits. 

Want to see what Beacon can do for you? Contact us today and we'll partner with you to not only build out a custom GA4 set-up that will deliver valuable data that will greatly improve your marketing performance so it reaches more students, drives deeper engagement, and ultimately, more applications. 

Let's get to work!

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