Goals goals goals

Dart board by TeroVesalainen via Pixabay

Goals in Google Analytics are intended as a generalization of transactions: actions you wish to think of in terms of conversion rate, and which you are specifically looking to increase (you could potentially use them for the opposite, but that’s a different blog post).

What are goals and why should I have them?

Having an action tracked as a goal adds basically two things onto the standard event or pageview tracking: first, GA will automatically calculate the conversion rate for you, and second, you can view goal conversions as part of other reports, making it easy to see what audience traits and acquisition channels convert at higher rates and therefore are perhaps more worth aiming your marketing dollars and website optimization towards.

GA gives you 20 goals, and unless you have a full-time analyst or the equivalent, that should be plenty – in fact it should leave room to grow on. If you want to include a ton of micro-goals, though, you can set up additional views to contain them. Do that as early as possible; even if cloned from an existing view a new view will only contain data beginning at its creation. If you are lucky enough to be working from a clean slate or have the freedom to kill off existing goals, you can take advantage of the organization of goal sets. Those allow you to view up to 5 goals together within most Acquisition and Audience reports, which can be a convenience.

Note that you are limited to 4 kinds of goals: time on site, number of pages viewed, specific page reached, and event occurrence. You can use regular expressions to make goals that are reached via multiple events or multiple destinations, but you can’t combine across goal types or create goals that require more than one event or pageview to occur in order to be counted. The primary limitation imposed by this is that sequences of actions cannot be tracked as goals. GA lets you define a funnel for a destination goal and mark steps in the funnel as “required,” but “required” in that context is “FYI you can’t get skip this and get through,” rather than “only count this as a goal completion if the person visited this page.” Same destination + different funnels = goals that track identical activity. Sometimes the solution is to change the way you are tracking your goals, and sometimes it is to abandon that activity as a goal and look at it using a different tool such as segmentation (about which more another time).

Choosing goals

Concrete advice for what goals to set in Google Analytics is hard to come by, which is understandable, since the details of your site matter a lot. I’ve gathered some options that ought to apply to a broad swath of sites, though.

General Site Engagement

Time on site *
Number of pages viewed *
Social share of page (via on-site share tools only) **
Print page (if you have a pretty-print button)
Save page (if your site allows internal bookmarking)

* The duration and page depth goals lend themselves to tiering; I’m thinking especially of a content-heavy site aimed at selling a lower-volume/higher-cost product or service such as insurance. There may be one point that correlates well with people who are interested but possibly in an early stage of shopping, and a higher threshold that correlates to people who are interested and closer to purchasing.

** The social tracking found in the Acquisition > Social > Plugins report cannot be used for goals, unfortunately, so having that nice reporting and a social share goal together requires duplicating your tracking in Events. Also, although there’s nothing in this list that this specifically applies to, if you want to use clickthroughs on internal promotions for goals, they must also be tracked separately as events. Those reports both seem to be in early stages in many ways, so hopefully they will eventually be options in goal setup.


Create site account
Sign up for email list
Request catalog
Initiate online chat
Submit contact form
Review product/content
Comment on blog post
Log in to account

Content Marketing for offline goods/services

[see also De-Anonymizing]
Submit inquiry form
Use store locator page/function
Subscribe to blog (via on-site functionality)
Register for course/e-course/webinar
Download free materials/coupons
Request gated materials/coupons
Watch videos (begin playing and/or watch till end)
Other actions promoted by marketing campaigns (enter contest; answer survey)

Ecommerce *

View product page
Take “more information” actions (view alternate photos, associated videos or informational documents, nutritional info/size chart/technical specs, etc)
Request notification for out of stock/forthcoming product
Add product to wishlist
Add product to cart
Add second (third, etc.) product to cart **
Act on upsell or cross-sell prompt
Initiate checkout
Additional checkout benchmarks as appropriate
Complete purchase

* Why would you want to duplicate ecommerce tracking outside Enhanced Ecommerce? To combine EEc tracking with non-EEc tracking, or to see particular actions in a different way than EEc allows (e.g. add to cart outside the context of Product Performance or Product List Performance).

** Your add to cart events would need to be distinguishable based on the number of items already in the cart, but if your margin on multiple-item orders is significantly better than on single-item orders this may be worth tracking.

Note that if out of stock notifications, product adds to cart, and product adds to wishlist are all tracked as events, you can combine two or three of them into a single “expression of product interest” goal. How’s that for macro-level?

Last thoughts

There may be more than 20 goals listed above that are relevant to your website, and they may still not cover everything you need to be tracking. The list is just a starting point.

To figure out what your goals should be, the first question to ask is, “what actions can a visitor take on my site?” Then, “what pages do I especially want a visitor to reach on my site?” To thin the list down, ask “Does this action/destination contribute directly to my business’s success? Would I spend money to try to make this happen more?” “Success” could mean financial success or hearts and minds; it is the directness that you want to worry about more (though – speaking from experience – it doesn’t much matter to win hearts and minds if you don’t have enough capital to continue to exist).

Expect to take a couple of sessions to choose and organize your goals, and remember that although you can’t delete goals once you’ve created them, you can completely repurpose them so they bear no resemblance to their previous state (one advantage to that: you can edit the names of your goals with impunity if you decide they aren’t clear). There will be future posts here about using the information GA gives you about goals in various contexts.

Dart board by TeroVesalainen via Pixabay.

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