How Higher Ed Can Improve Analytics Governance with GA4

January 26th, 2023

Leaders at higher education institutes understand the importance and prioritize the governance of student and organizational data. Many times, that governance and support doesn’t make it to digital and website analytics platforms, like Google Analytics, that marketing and digital teams rely upon for attracting prospective students, gaining awareness and building user experiences. 

Without governance support across several different teams, technologies and website needs, we often see disjointed methodologies for how to collect website analytics data. When a large initiative is underway, like a large website redesign or digital campaign, it isn’t uncommon to attend a meeting with several stakeholders from different units all looking at different metrics, all insisting that the way they are analyzing their website performance is the correct way. On the other hand, there are many units that have a free Google Analytics account set up with the code implemented on the backend of the site, but they don’t have the necessary skills or time to analyze that data. These are familiar frustrations among institutions working hard to become more data driven in their decision-making.

Google Analytics 4 Presents An Opportunity To Build Consistency

Google has announced that all Universal Analytics accounts will no longer collect data as of July 2023, and account holders must use a Google Analytics 4 (GA4) account to continue collecting important analytics data moving forward. This date and timeline to upgrade was a shock to many users of the platform, and has caused confusion about the complex upgrade path, conflicting resources, and tracking methodologies. Maybe I’m an optimist, but the announcement also presents a very unique opportunity to start fresh, purge technical debt, and build a foundation for website analytics. Institutions that can get caught up in the “We’ve always done it this way” mentality, are now forced to wipe the slate clean and focus on what they need and want from their analytics platform. 

During this upgrade to GA4, there is a focus on website analytics in many institutions that use the platform as a primary source of website data collection. Leaders are trying to find support from other internal units, partnering universities, and vendors to be sure that their website data does not stop collecting and marketers are trained in the new methodologies. This is the time to identify an owner or group of owners focused on web analytics governance. All stakeholders can agree that providing content that engages their audiences is a priority, this is a great place to start building that common language among analysts and website teams while starting fresh and focusing on the new GA4 metrics.

Why is Website Analytics Governance Important? 

Partnering with internal teams and creating university-wide alignment can help establish clear guidelines on how data is to be managed and utilized. Upgrades and training can be very costly depending on the amount of customization added, and not all teams are able to budget and prioritize their analytics the same across the university. When a foundation for how analytics is set up is prioritized, it helps to keep all stakeholders on the same page and have a baseline to start from without having to invest large amounts of money into support that may lead to a completely different tracking methodology than their peers. When more customizations are needed and vendors are brought in, you have a baseline and documentation for how you are currently tracking and what KPIs are used across the organization already and where additions are needed.

Some benefits of analytics governance I’ve seen within higher education includes: 

  • The ability to maintain accuracy of digital analytics data over time across units, and the alignment of insights with Institutional needs
  • Helps to ensure that end-users of analytics data have access to relevant data and similar KPIs through dashboards and visualizations
  • Promotes consistency and shared goals across units within the institution
  • Improved decision-making, website budget lines and collaboration with peers

Setting up analytics governance doesn’t happen overnight, in fact, it can be difficult to get support for identifying an owner(s), and everyone speaking the same language and leveraging the same resources. Leadership support is crucial to the effort, and working with many different stakeholders and teams to lead the effort for analytics governance can help illustrate the importance. 

When teams are not working from the same foundation or have different guidelines and tracking methodologies, this can lead to limited and inconsistent data that makes it difficult for teams to find what they need from the data. Analysis becomes so frustrating that decisions are made with gut-instincts and without a priority to use data in the future. In higher education, the need to make data-driven decisions has become more important than ever as budgets and resources continue to get tighter. Institutional leaders want to make sure that they are investing in the right campaigns and the right optimizations, and have the ability to share those insights with others. 

Oftentimes, getting support for analytics governance can be a challenge in large institutions. Guidelines and support to units can be met with withholding account information and stakeholder mistrust. Change is hard, and especially with big changes to data collection and the implementation of guidelines, this can make stakeholders feel uncomfortable. It is important to be understanding, and help leaders of these units understand the risks they face by not having a common language across the Institution. 

Establishing a Digital Analytics Center of Excellence: 

In many Institutions, there are many different teams focused on different website priorities, and sometimes meeting with peers or experts in analytics can be a challenge when there are so many different reporting methodologies. Establishing a ‘Center of Excellence’ that can contain resources and documentation for teams looking for analytics support will go a long way in keeping alignment and building an internal community. Everyone is on the same team, and this can help provide support for struggling units or provide an atmosphere full of ideas for everyone to collaborate and try new strategies. We tend to use Confluence as a place to keep this documentation and the conversation going, but in higher education institutions I’ve seen Google Drive folders, and Sharepoint websites full of this information. 

Some examples of documentation I’ve seen work when establishing a digital center of excellence in higher education are: 

  • Frequently asked questions, and documents for common processes (how to set up an account, how to ask for access to an analytics property)
  • Google Analytics 4 custom dimensions to enable and events to use to analyze data
  • Google Analytics foundational setup guide including University internal IP address filters and how to set up old UA views as specific events to collect similar data 
  • Dashboard templates (using Looker Studio or another source) that can be contributed from many Units across the Institution
  • Data Layer best practices and governance plans for developers/analysts
  • A community to request help from (maybe a teams chat or access to a slack channel)

Establishing guidelines and best practices for any university is a challenge, but with the major changes to tracking methodologies and data collection this is a great time to build some consistency across accounts and trust among your colleagues within the organization. When teams are using the same consistent language and pulling data into the same reporting templates to inform optimizations and marketing campaigns, there is no telling the difference it can make in your web presence. 

If you need any help or advice along the way, FFW is here to help you put together an analytics governance plan, getting you set up for these conversations across the institution!


Mandee Englert

Mandee Englert

Solutions Consultant