🚨 Note: All standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits on July 1, 2023. 360 Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits on October 1, 2023. That’s why it is recommended to do the GA4 migration.
Setting up Google Analytics Goals is really simple.
However, given their importance in your business, you should take the time to make sure you get it right. When doing Google Analytics audits, we come across poorly configured Goals surprisingly often.
The danger of bad Goal setup is that businesses will lose trust not only in their reporting but in their digital marketing activities and engaged service providers.
With more and more advertisers opting for automated bidding, incorrectly configured Goals can quickly impact the bottom line of a business in general.
So let’s get it right from the start. This guide will tell you everything you need to set up, adjust, test, troubleshoot, and monitor your Google Analytics Goal setup.
What are Goals in Google Analytics?
Goals in Google Analytics are trackable user interactions with your website that you deem to be the most valuable to your business.
Examples of Goals for different website types include:
- Purchases on an eCommerce site
- Lead form submissions on a lead generation site
- Page visits on an information site
- Duration of video watches on an information site
- Signups on a subscriber site.
Google Analytics Goals help businesses by providing data for analyses such as:
- Evaluation of the success of your website over time
- Performance comparison of different activities
- ROI calculation of your marketing investment.
Why Are They Important?
When your website Goals are in line with the objectives of your business, you know how much (or little) your website is helping you to achieve those set targets. This is especially helpful when you want to grow your business or when you are not the only player in the market.
Without Goals, you might still get some valuable insights from Google Analytics about the use of your website. However, those insights will probably just lead to questions about if and how those results positively or negatively impact your business’s success.
Unless you are using your website exclusively as an artistic outlet, you should define and track its Goals. Ideally, your Goals should be defined as soon as the decision to launch a website has been made.
Sign up to the FREE Google Analytics for Beginners Course…
Deciding What Goals to Create
It all starts with deciding which Goals to create and which ones not to create. Tracking irrelevant website actions as Goals can be as detrimental as not tracking Goals at all. Hence you should invest enough time and energy to get the balance right.
For most businesses, this means liaising with different departments and getting upper management sign-off. Only then can you be sure that everyone is defining the success of your online presence through the same set of measurements.
How does the business make money?
Supporting your business’s ability to make money is the most obvious starting point when you think about your website Goals.
Find the Main Actions on Pages That Support These Objectives (Macro Goals)
What are the best actions users can take on your website on their journey of doing business with you? Answering this question should steer you in the right direction of identifying the most relevant website Goals.
Macro Goal Examples
|Business Type||Macro Goal|
|Lead Gen Site||Leads|
|Publisher Site||No. of Pages Visited Above X|
Identify Micro Goals
Micro conversions are user actions that fall in one of two categories:
- Necessary actions to actually complete the macro Goal (like adding a product to the cart before purchasing)
- Indicative actions of a user’s progression through your funnel (like whitepaper downloads during the consideration stage)
The necessary action should be easy to define while the softer indicative actions might require some testing and adjusting.
|Micro Goal 1 →||Micro Goal 2 →||Micro Goal 3 →||Macro Goal|
|Product Page View||Add to Cart||Checkout Page||Purchases|
|Mailto Link Click||Form Page View||Form Started||Leads|
|Time on Site Above X||Link Clicked||PurchasesNo. of Pages Visited Above X|
|No. of Pages Visited Above X|
Creating Your Goals
Goals are created in the view section of the admin area of your Google Analytics account. If you are working with multiple views you will need to recreate your Goals in all of them.
While directly copying Goals isn’t possible, you can share them as a template link. This is a shortcut to setting up identical Goals in multiple views.
Which Goals are Available in Google Analytics?
There are five different Goal types for you to choose in your Goal configurations. Each Goal must be exactly one Type: Destination, Duration, Pages/Screens per session, Event, or Smart Goal.
Google Analytics Destination Goals are triggered based on a string that is matched against the URL (excluding the domain name) of a visited page. The most common use case is the thank-you-page of a completed contact form or a webshop order.
The match type “Regular expression” (Regex) makes destination Goals more flexible and allows you to specify multiple URLs. For help with this, see our YouTube tutorial How to Use Regular Expressions with Google Tag Manager & Google Analytics.
With Duration Goals, you define the session length that will trigger the Goal. If your website is focused on video content, branding, or educational content, this might be a relevant Goal type for you.
Pages/Screen per Session
Pages/Screens per session Goals can be used to measure the achievement of a predefined engagement threshold. If you are gaining revenue from ad displays or clicks on your website, this might be a relevant Goal type for you.
Event Goals allow for the most flexibility and can be executed based on a number of website interactions. They even allow you to fire Goals when a combination of a pre-defined duration and scroll depth have been reached with the help of Google Tag Manager. You can learn more about Event Goals here.
Simo Ahava more thoroughly explains this type of Goal supported by tags in his post Fire GTM Tag Upon Scroll Depth And Time Spent. For more details on Event Goals overall, check out our YouTube tutorial How to Create an Event-Based Goal in Google Analytics.
Although Smart Goals are another option, we won’t elaborate on them here because they rely on machine learning to decide Goals for you. If you’re able to determine which Goals you want to set and make them yourself, your setup will probably function better than those that are relying on Google’s artificial intelligence.
Choose a Goal Value (Optional)
While choosing a Goal Value is optional, we strongly encourage you to make use of it for your non-transaction Goals. The value of transaction Goals is already measured with eCommerce tracking, so you should skip this step for transaction Goals.
Setting a Goal value unlocks the insightful page-value metric for non-eCommerce websites. We regularly use this metric alongside engagement metrics when conducting content audits (more on audits here). Assigning a monetary value to your pages has also proven fruitful for discussions with offline marketers and managers.
Create a Goal Funnel for Destination-Based Goals (Optional)
Creating a Funnel can give you insight into where users drop off. An example would be to analyze how often your contact form is opened but not successfully submitted.
If you have a calculator with multiple steps that all have a unique URL, this could be another use case. For eCommerce websites we recommend using eCommerce tracking instead of a funnel, which provides more reporting options and insights than Goal funnels.
Verify Your Goal
The last step before saving your Goal is to Verify your Goal. Click the link and Google Analytics will go through your past data in just a few seconds. You will see the conversion rate of your Goal setup against the last 7 days of data.
This function can be your first indication if something is substantially wrong with your setup. If you see 0% and assume the Goal should have been hit, you should review your setup.
The same applies if you see a surprisingly high percentage. Note that if your website is brand-new and doesn’t have much traffic yet or if your Goal setup is based on events you have just created, this test will not provide any insight.
Once you have saved your Goals you should immediately verify that they work as intended. Since collected data cannot be altered and tracking doesn’t work retroactively, you want to eliminate any configuration errors. This will ensure that you have reliable data to inform your business decisions.
Realtime testing is a method for positive testing. This means it can verify that your Goal setup is firing for the user actions you have defined. However, to be sure your setup is also robust against unexpected or even unwanted user behavior, you should schedule several follow-up-tests over a few weeks.
To test your setup with a Realtime report, simply complete the action on your site that you expect will trigger the Goal and check your Realtime reports on Google Analytics (Realtime > Conversions). You should see a Goal hit on your realtime graph, and the specific Goal will appear beneath it.
If you have a high-traffic website and are struggling to identify your own test session in realtime reports, you can add unique UTM parameters to your first pageview request (example: ?utm_source=test&utm_medium=test) after clearing your cookies.
Monitor Regular Reports Over a Few Weeks
To ensure that your Goal setup is working when exposed to actual user data, you should check your Goal report over a prolonged period of time.
First, check that all of your Goals are getting triggered regularly. Navigate to Conversions > Goals > Overview and select the Goal from the Goal Options drop-down.
The second step depends on your Goal type. For destination Goals, check if your Goal Completion Location is in line with your trigger. Navigate to Conversions > Goals > Goal URLs and again select the Goal from the Goal Options drop-down.
To test other Goal types, the monitoring routine is slightly more complex. You will need to create and apply a custom segment that only includes the sessions that have completed your Goal.
Then navigate to Audience > User Explorer and examine the journey of individual users. If things are working properly, Goal completions will occur when users take the specified actions.
Top Tip: Keep it Simple
Try not get carried away by the many Goal tracking possibilities. Keep a simple, lean, and robust setup that will stand the test of time. Having clean, reliable data over a long period of time will make it easier to show progress and reduce noise in your reporting. Focus on user actions that directly and exclusively indicate engagement with your business.
How to Use Goals in Google Analytics
Having a robust Goal setup is crucial to collecting reliable data. If you have ticked this box, it is time to think about how you generate actionable insights from your data.
Monitor Them Over Time in Your Goal Report
Reviewing your Goal reports over time gives you a general idea in which direction you are headed. For example, are you getting more or less successful in completing your site Goals? If Goal completion is increasing, that’s a great indicator that your business is doing well.
You may need to adjust the time periods you compare when measuring Goal conversions. If your business is affected by seasonality, for example, you can do this by comparing data year-to-year as well as month-by-month.
Segment Your Data
Sometimes you need to narrow your view by segmenting your focus at a specific subset of your data. This allows you to answer specific questions about your overall performance.
For example, if your Goal completions went down last month in comparison to last year, you might be interested in whether traffic declined through a specific channel. You can examine the distribution of traffic across different channels under Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels.
It might also be helpful to investigate if mobile users are completing fewer Goals compared to other device users. You can answer this by going to Conversion > Goals > Overview and clicking + Add Segment.
In the segment configurations, make sure to leave All Users checked and scroll down to additionally check the box for Mobile Traffic so that you can compare them to each other. Click Apply to see a line graph showing both trends.
Another question may be whether users conducting a site search more or less likely to complete Goals. To check this out, apply a new segment using the same method as for mobile traffic but under Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels and check the box for Performed Site Search. You can now compare this data alongside All Users.
Import Them into Google Ads as Conversions
If you are using Google Ads to drive traffic to your website, you want to optimize your campaigns and maximize their impact. Importing your Google Analytics Goal completions into Google Ads allows you to do just that.
One advantage of using your Analytics Goals is that you don’t have to set up Google Ads conversion tracking separately. However, there are a few differences between the two tracking methods that we address in our YouTube video Google Ads Conversion Tracking vs. GA Goal Import: Which one to choose?, so be sure to check it out.
Create Google Analytics Audiences (Use These in Google Ads for Remarketing)
If you are running remarketing campaigns in Google Ads, an important piece of information is whether a particular user has already completed a Goal or not. This would allow you to tailor your message and setup (for example: bidding and frequency cap) for two different audiences.
To create an audience based on a user’s Goal completion status, simply go to Admin > Audience Definitions > Audiences and use the audience Users who completed a Goal conversion. Give it a name, click Next and select your Google Ads account as your destination.
To create an audience of users without Goal completions, follow the same steps but edit the Audience definition by clicking the pencil-shaped edit icon. Changing the filter from Include to Exclude using the dropdown options.
Multi-Step Funnels in Google Analytics
The Multi-Step Funnel setting in Google Analytics sounds more powerful than it actually is. While many users assume that the steps you specify and mark as “required” influence Goal tracking, this isn’t really the case.
Setting up steps and marking them as required only impacts what you see in the “Funnel Visualization” report. It might be still worth setting up those steps if you want to gain insight into where users drop off in your funnel. However, defining funnel steps only works based on pageviews and does not allow you to use events.
This limits the practical use cases where this might actually work. For webshops, the funnel reports that come with enhanced eCommerce tracking give you more insights, but they are also more difficult to set up.
If you want guidance deciding when and how you should use some of the more detailed features of funnels, check out our YouTube video Funnel Tracking with Google Analytics (Enhanced eCommerce Feature).
Is there a limit to the number of Goals I can create?
Yes. A maximum of 20 Goals can be created for each Google Analytics view. There are a few workarounds if you hit this limit:
1. Create additional views with the same configuration. This will allow you to track a multitude of Goals. It is even possible to import Goals from several different Google Analytics views into one Google Ads account.
2. Repurpose old Goals that you don't use anymore. However, be cautious when you create reports spanning periods during which the repurposed Goal tracked different actions.
3. Tracking Goals as events. You can report on "unique events" and filter by a specific event category, action and/or label. The downside of this work-around is that you cannot import your Goals into external tools (like Google Ads) if you only set them up as events.
Are Goals retroactive?
No, goals are only tracked as metrics going forward from the point of creation. It is still possible to get pre-Goal numbers through filters and/or custom segments, but they are not conveniently available through the Google Analytics user interface or tracked as stand-alone metrics.
If all your reporting is done through Google Data Studio, however, you could report retroactively by applying segments, filters and/or by using calculated fields.
Can I pause a Goal temporarily?
Absolutely. This works at the click of a button. Changing the recording status from "on" to "off" will do the trick. You would also do this if you wanted to delete a Goal, which is not possible. Make sure that you document significant changes like this, especially if you aren't the only person analyzing the data.
While you could also refer to the Google Analytics change history, the best practice would be to document changes to the Goal setup as a Google Analytics annotation.
What Goals should I create for an eCommerce store?
eCommerce Stores should enable Google Analytics's enhanced eCommerce tracking, which comes with its own set of dimensions, metrics, and reports.
However, we would still recommend using Google Analytics Goal tracking alongside eCommerce tracking, since it provides you more flexibility in terms of reporting beyond the standard reports in the Google Analytics interface.
Your primary Goal will be completed orders, and this should be set up as a funnel.
Nonetheless, there are also other actions that users take on their path of making a purchase (especially repeat purchases)—so called micro-Goals. Those actions should be set up as Google Analytics Goals as well. Examples include newsletter signup, add to cart actions, and use of a comparison tool.
What Goals should I create for lead generation?
Lead generation websites should track generated leads as their primary Goal. Depending on how leads are collected this can translate into one or multiple Goals:
• Lead Form Submission: when leads are collected through a form on your website
• Mailto Link Click: when you display a contact email address on your website
• Phone Lead: when you provide a contact phone number on your website (used with a connected external call tracking provider or the US-only Google Analytics beta Phone Analytics).
In addition to those primary or macro Goals, you should also track micro Goals. If your Goals are well-aligned, optimizing your activities for your micro Goals will have a positive impact on your macro Goals. Examples include whitepaper download, use of live chat, and viewed/watched case study/testimonial.
What Goals should I create for a subscription product?
Your primary Goal will be signups, and this should be set up as a funnel.
In addition to this primary or macro Goal you should also track micro Goals. If your Goals are well-aligned, optimizing your activities for your micro Goal will have a positive impact on your macro Goal(s). Examples include viewed pricing page, created (free/trial) account, and viewed/watched case study/testimonial.
What Goals should I create for a content site?
Which Goal you set up for a content site will depend on your business Goals and whether you have a monetization strategy.
If your Goal is to get people to become paid subscribers of your premium content, then your primary Goal will be subscription signups.
On an affiliate website, you should track affiliate link clicks as your main Goal.
For a content site with no monetization strategy, you could start with engaged website visits as your primary Goal.
In addition to those primary or macro Goals, you should also track micro Goals. If your Goals are well-aligned, optimizing your activities for your micro Goal will have a positive impact on your macro Goals. Examples include newsletter signups, social share clicks, and comments.
How are Goals different from eCommerce Tracking?
Goals track the occurrence of a specific action on your website during a visit. It either happened or it didn't. eCommerce tracking is like a more refined Goal tracking setup for eCommerce sites.
It takes into consideration many actions surrounding a webshop purchase including add to cart actions, checkout steps, revenue, and even refunds. Consequently, eCommerce tracking gives you access to additional metrics and dimensions.
While Goals can be set up on any standard Google Analytics implementation, eCommerce tracking requires additional code to be added to your site. The complexity of this process will depend on several factors like your eCommerce platform and the template you are using.
If you stick to a widely-used platform and standard templates, chances are that you can use plugins to enable enhanced eCommerce tracking pretty easily.
How can I track Google Analytics Goals in Google Tag Manager?
Goals are configured and tracked in Google Analytics. You will need Google Tag Manager to fire events (i.e. based on button clicks) that you can then use as conditions when setting up Goals in Google Analytics.
What are some limitations of GA Goals that I should be aware of?
One Goal can only be fired once per session. This means if you track your webshop orders as Goals, it will only track the first order during one session even if a user places multiple orders.
The metric "Goal Completions (ga:GoalCompletionsAll)" will also count currently inactive Goals in the total if there are recorded Goal conversions during the selected data range.
Multiple Goals can be counted during one session. If you are tracking mailto link clicks and form submissions as Goals, a user clicking the email link before submitting the form will generate two Goal completions.
Why do I only see my test Goal completions and none from actual users?
A potential reason for this is that you are using an event Goal and forgot to publish the event tag with Google Tag Manager. You might have used the GTM preview and debug mode and everything looked fine. However, the tag was never visible to anyone but your own browser.
Now you should have a good understanding of how Google Analytics Goals work, how to set them up, and how to use them to boost your business. While ideally you don’t make many changes to your Goal setup over time, you can keep it in line with your overall business objectives.
If businesses switch from face-to-face to virtual consultations or from trade-shows to webinars, this might also impact the specific user actions you define as successful on the website. The same applies to changes in user preferences or behavior, such as reaching out via phone calls instead of contact forms. Being able to adapt your Goals will help you monitor your business and continue its growth.
What are your business’s macro and micro Goals? Which ones have you set up, and which might you change after our tutorial? Let us know in the comments below!