Google Analytics goals for beginners: Part 1

No matter your website’s function, it’s important to set Google Analytics Goals to measure its performance. Here’s how to get started.

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Using Google Analytics to monitor website traffic is all very good, but wouldn’t it be better if you could go one step further and analyse how that traffic is actually helping your business? With goals, you can do just that.

Goals allow you to track important actions on your website, such as:

  • Enquiries
  • Downloads
  • Account and newsletter signups
  • Interactions with videos and other on-page elements
  • Specific user engagement metrics

No matter your website’s function, be it to encourage one or all of the actions above, it’s important to set up goals to track its performance in relation to those objectives, and crucially analyse which traffic sources are making the biggest contributions – or aren’t, as the case may be.

Getting started

Firstly, make a list of all the important actions you want users to complete on your website once they arrive – as outlined above this could be making an enquiry, signing up to a newsletter, or interacting with a video or other piece of content. Whatever it is, take note of the page/pages on which that action takes place, and what (if anything) happens after that interaction, as this will define the type of goal you set up.

Secondly, to get the most out of goals you’ll need to have a decent understanding of how to read the main reports within Analytics: If Audience reports are the “who?”, Acquisition reports the “How?”, and Behavior reports the “What?”, then Conversions reports (which is where you’ll find goal data) are the “So what?”. The “So what?” Factor allows you to analyse the true value of different traffic sources and marketing campaigns.

Finally, you’ll need to consider which of your Analytics ‘views’ you want to create your goals in, because goals are configured at view level, and not account level. Check out the Analytics Help page for more information about account structure best practices.

Goal types

There are four goal types in Google Analytics:

1. Destination goals

A destination goal is triggered when a visitor lands on a specific Url. These types of goals are particularly useful if an action on your site results in the user being directed to a page after that action has taken place. For example, if the user is directed to a ‘Thank you’ page after submitting an enquiry form.

2. Duration goals

A duration goal is triggered when a user exceeds a predetermined length of time during their session. For instance, this type of goal may be useful for blog owners who want to increase the amount of time users spend reading their content.

3. Pages per session goals

A pages per session goal is triggered when a session exceeds a certain number of page views. Pages per session goals can be useful for tracking the effectiveness of help or resource pages, for example.

4. Event goals

Event goals are a little trickier to set up, as they require an ‘event’ to be in place first. In simple terms, an event in Google Analytics is defined by an action that takes place independently of a page load. In other words, the previous three goal types all rely on the user moving around the site, but events are actions users take on a single page, such as clicking ‘play’ on a video, clicking on an external link, or interacting with a widget or tool.

In order to set up events, you’ll need to add some additional Javascript code to the pages on which those events take place – you can read more about setting up event tracking here. Once event tracking has been set up, you can configure a goal to be triggered every time an event takes place (more about that below).

Setting up and configuring goals

Defining your goals is the easy bit, setting them up is where it can get a bit more complicated. As you’ll see below, there’s often more to consider than simply choosing a goal type.

To set up a goal, go to the Admin menu, select the view you want to apply goals to, select ‘Goals’, and then click the ‘New goal’ button.

You’ll then be presented with three goal setting options; Template, Smart Goal, or Custom.

1. Goal templates

Goal templates are industry specific (automotive, finance, healthcare, etc.) goals, which are based on common use cases within that industry. Templates are split into four categories; Revenue, Acquisition, Inquiry and Engagement, and the template you select will define the goal type. For example, a ‘Place an order’ template will default to a destination goal, whereas ‘Use calculator’ will default to an event goal. You get the idea.

N.B. If you’re not seeing Goal Templates as an option, it’s because you haven’t selected an industry in your account. To do this, go to Admin > Property Settings > Industry Category.

Setting up Google Analytics Goals - Goal Templates - Browser Media

2. Custom goals

Custom goals allow you to configure goals based on your own specific set of rules. Custom goals are, as the name suggests, fully customisable and offer more flexibility than templates. There’s more about custom goal configuration in the next section.

3. Smart goals

Smart goals are specifically designed to improve Google Adwords performance. Here’s how they work:

“To generate Smart Goals, we apply machine learning across thousands of websites that use Google Analytics and have opted in to share anonymized conversion data.  From this information, we can distill dozens of key factors that correlate with likelihood to convert: things like session duration, pages per session, location, device and browser.  We can then apply these key factors to any website.  The easiest way to think about Smart Goals is that they reflect your website visits that our model indicates are most likely to lead to conversions.”
Google’s Official Blog

To use Smart Goals your site must meet a few prerequisites:

  • You must have your Adwords and Analytics accounts linked
  • AdWords must have sent at least 500 clicks to the selected Analytics view over the past 30 days
  • The view must not receive more than 10 million sessions in 30 days
  • You must have data sharing turned on in your Analytics settings

If you can tick these boxes then you’re good to go. For more information about Smart goals, check out this page.

Configuring goals

When setting up a new goal, you’ll be prompted to input some specific details about the action/s a user must take in order for a goal completion to be triggered. This information will vary depending on the goal type selected (or selected for you if using a template). Below is a breakdown of the information each goal type requires, and the various rules you can apply when supplying that information.

Destination goal configuration options

  • Destination: the URL that will trigger the goal. You’ll only need the extension here, not the whole URL, e.g. ‘/thank_you’. See below:

Setting up Google Anlaytics goals - Destination goal configuration - Browser Media

  • Match type (Equals to, Begins with and Regular Expression): This determines how strict Analytics is when deciding if a URL counts as a goal completion.
    • Exact match = A goal completion will only be triggered when that exact URL is visited. URLs that vary in any way will not be counted.
    • Begins with = Any URL that begins with the inputted Url will trigger a goal completion. Choose this if your destination pages include a unique ID, or if you’re using utm parameters to track marketing campaigns.
    • Regular Expression = An advanced feature that allows you to match Urls with lots of variable data. Regular Expressions are complex by anyone’s standards, so read up first.
  • Case sensitive: Do you you only want to track visits to a lowercase or uppercase destination URL? If so, tick this box.
  • Value: Allows you to assign a monetary value to the goal completion. This is a subject worthy of  blog post in its own right, but until then check out this article.
  • Funnel: Use funnels if you require users to take a specific path to reach the destination URL. This is useful for identifying kinks in your conversion paths. You can add up to 10 steps to a goal funnel, and apply match types to each URL, as detailed above. To reiterate, funnels should only be used if you require users follow a specific set path to reach the destination URL.

Duration goal configurations

Use the Hours, Minutes and Seconds fields to specify a duration goal. A goal completion is triggered when a user exceeds this time on a page.

Setting up google analytics goals - Duration goal configuration - Browser Media

Event goal configurations

An event is made up of four components:

  1. Category (e.g. Video)
  2. Action (e.g. Play)
  3. Label (e.g. New promo)
  4. Value (use it to assign a value to the event)

Only the first two components are required to trigger an event, but the more information you provide in your tracking code, the more detailed the reporting. Refer to the link in the Event goals section above for more information about event tracking.

When it comes to setting a up an event goal, it’s simply a case of inputting the event components, and choosing a match type, like so:

Setting up google analytics goals - Event goal configuration - Browser Media

If your event tracking code already contains value information, then you have the option to use this value as the goal value too.

N.B. You cannot set up event goals without first implementing event tracking on your site.

Pages per session goal configurations

When prompted, input the number (of pages) that you want to use as your goal benchmark. Users who view more than that specified number will trigger a goal completion.

Verifying goals

Whenever you set up a new goal, you will have with the option to verify it first. Doing this will calculate the conversion rate for that goal over the past seven days. This is useful to check the goal is configured correctly before saving it, but if you are seeing a 0% conversion rate, it could just be because there’s not enough data in your reports for that timeframe.

Managing goals

You can pause your goals at any time by hitting the ‘Recording’ button on the main Goals dashboard – you may want to do this if a certain goal is no longer relevant, or if your site is down for any prolonged period of time. Keeping inactive goals ‘live’ will only result in lots of zeros in your reports.

Furthermore, it’s important to update your goals to reflect any changes to your website, particularly when it comes to Urls. Value is another metric that should be viewed periodically, as it’s likely this will change as you learn more about how certain goal completions contribute to wider business objectives.

For Analytics noobs, goals can seem like an intimidating prospect, but they really needn’t be. If you have a Google Analytics account set up for your website, I urge you to go away and think about the purpose of that website, and what goals you could implement to measure its performance.

Stay tuned for Part 2, which will cover goal reporting and analysis.

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