Google Analytics Goals: Back to Basics

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Measuring how well your website is doing at achieving your objectives is essential, and the goal feature of Google Analytics is a fantastic way to track how your users are converting on your site. With only a few minutes of setup time needed, the payback is quick as they provide you with really great insights.

Whether you’re starting from scratch, or already have some goals set up within Google Analytics, it’s worth taking a few minutes to double check that everything is configured correctly.

What are Google Analytics goals good for?

Along with ecommerce conversions, goals are a primary means for Google Analytics to report on your website’s success at converting users. It’s a good idea to set up goals for everything that constitutes ‘success’ for your website – you can have up to 20 goals per view, so don’t hold back.

Every website is different, but some goals you might want to measure include:

  • Email newsletter subscriptions;
  • Contact form submissions;
  • White paper and PDF downloads; and
  • Product purchases made.

If you’re struggling to work out what the goals should be for your website, think about how you would end the statement “I want my users to…” This is a good start for your initial goals.

Types of goals

There are four types of goals that you can set up in Google Analytics:

  • Destination goal: a particular web page is viewed, for example, a ‘thank you’ page for a newsletter subscription.
  • Duration: a session has lasted for a certain length of time, for example, 10 or more minutes.
  • Pages per session: a minimum number of pages have been viewed by the user during the session.
  • Event: something has happened that you have coded into your website to send to Google Analytics as an event. For example, the user has clicked on a link to a social media service.

Getting started

Firstly, let’s look at the most common goal – the user has viewed a particular page on your website, perhaps a ‘thank you’ page shown after they have subscribed to your enewsletter.

Start by going to your website and navigating through it, completing the steps you’d expect are needed to arrive at the thank you page. As you go, record the URLs of the pages you visit, all the way to the thank you page. Here’s an example of what the steps might look like:

1. http://www.site.com/index.html 2. http://www.site.com/news/ 3. http://www.site.com/news/subscribe.html 4. http://www.site.com/news/thank-you.html

In this example, the user would go to your homepage, then to your news section, on to the enewsletter subscription form page, and finally to the thank you page.

In this case, the destination page that you will configure for your goal is the last one (the thank you page), because that is ultimately what you want to count as an enewsletter subscription conversion.

Setting up your goal

Firstly, confirm that you have the right permission level to add goals. Only users with edit-level permissions are able to add goals to a view.

1. Go to the ‘Admin’ tab in your Google Analytics account.

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2. Select the view where you want to add a goal and then click ‘Goals’.

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3. Click the ‘+ New Goal’ button.

4. You may be offered some basic goal templates, but this will depend on your account. For this example, click ‘custom’ to define your goal completely from scratch.

5. Give your goal a meaningful name and choose which of the 20 numbered goals you would like it to be recorded under. For type of goal, click on ‘destination’.

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6. Enter the page path of the destination URL that you noted earlier (in this case /news/thank-you.html). Ideally, this should be a page that users will only see if they have completed the goal that you want to track. As a goal completion will be recorded whenever it is loaded, you don’t want your conversion figures distorted by pageviews that are not genuine goal completions.

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Instead of ‘equal to’ for the destination, you also have the options of ‘begins with’ (for example, entering /page.html will match for /page.html?id=18 and /page.html?id=204) and ‘Regular Expression’ for more versatile pattern matching. (Need a refresher on regular expressions? Have a look at our blog post on regular expressions.)

Although optional, it’s also a great idea to enter a dollar value for the goal – these are all added up and included in your reports, so helps with later analysis. If you can, set this as the actual monetary value to your business. For example, if you estimate that a user subscribing to your enewsletter will on average be worth $50.00 to your business, then set $50.00 as the goal value. Note: leave the value empty for ecommerce goals, as Google Analytics will already be tracking the transaction revenue.

7. Finally, for destination goals, you can define a ‘funnel’ – a sequence of pages that you expect users to navigate through to reach the destination. Defining the funnel is optional, but doing so gives you access to Google Analytics reports that will show you where and to what extent users are dropping out of the funnel on their way to the end goal. These results will help  you identify where to concentrate your efforts to improve your conversion rate.

To define funnel steps, set the option to ‘On’ and enter each page that you expect users to go through, giving each step a meaningful name. For our example, you might enter something like this:

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You should not enter the destination page itself as a funnel step, only the pages leading up to it.

Note that a goal completion will still be recorded whenever the destination page is viewed, even if the funnel steps have not been completed. So these steps are optional as far as Google Analytics is concerned. The one exception is if you set the first step’s ‘Required’? setting to ‘Yes’, in which case your Funnel Visualization reports will report completions only for cases where that step was completed (and be aware that only the Funnel Visualization reports are also affected).

8. Finally, click on ‘Create goal’ and double check that the recording is turned on in your goal list. Your first goal is now tracking and ready for use!

Do you have a great example of a Google Analytics goal? Tell us in the comments.

Want to learn more about the best practices for Google Analytics? Check out our Next free after hours event on Getting back to basics with Google Analytics.

This is an update to an article first published in 2010