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The Definitive Guide to Google Analytics Goals: Setup, Uses & Definitions

The Definitive Guide to Google Analytics Goals Setup, Uses & Definitions

The earlier posts in this Google Analytics series focused on the nuts and bolts of the platform. How to set it up, what it shows you, and where you can find different types of data. In the next few articles, things are getting a bit more practical. It’s time for you to find out precisely how Analytics can help you run and improve your website with a feature called Google Analytics goals.

There are undoubtedly specific things that you want visitors to your site to do. You might want them to sign up to an email list, download a PDF or simply buy a product from you. In marketing circles, these actions are often referred to as conversions

Read on, and you’ll find out how you can use Analytics data to set your own goals and track their success. Whatever your niche or type of business. This lets you implement a data-driven approach to your site that can help you to make and save money.

Here are the previous articles in our Google Analytics Guide:

  1. An Introduction to Google Analytics (GA3) Universal Analytics
  2. How to Set up Google Analytics on Your Site the Right Way
  3. A Beginner’s Guide to Google Analytics Dashboards
  4. A Simple Guide to Site Search Tracking in Google Analytics
  5. Google Analytics Acquisition: What Content Are Your Visitors Consuming?
  6. How to Find Which Device Users Search For You On: Google Analytics
  7. Google Analytics Audience Reports Guide: Understanding Your Audience

Quick Jump To:

1. Defining Goals to Best Use Your Analytics Data

2. Setting Up Google Analytics Goals

3. Goal Types & Which May Suit You

a. How & Why to Set Up Destination Goals
b. How & Why to Set Up Duration Goals
c. How & Why to Set Up Pages/Screens Per Session Goals
d. How & Why to Set Up Event Goals

Defining Goals to Best Use Your Analytics Data

It’s important to have a clear picture of what your site’s goals are. It’s only with a well-defined sense of those goals that you can move on to get the most out of your Analytics data. Some firms build a site, launch it, and start using Analytics without giving a thought to those goals. Without clear goals, it’s difficult to define what success looks like.

As a website owner, you need to decide the results you want when someone visits your site. The exact result you desire will depend on your business and niche. Some sites want a visitor to buy a new outfit, others are looking for them to read about the latest trends in remote working. The possibilities are endless. For now, it’s crucial to define your own goals so you can get the most from Analytics. 

It’s also worth thinking about the possible value attached to a goal. For example, if your site goal is to secure a purchase, you might set an average amount of money that you want to make from a site visitor as a value. If you’re looking for a lead to be generated, you’ll need to think about your conversion rate. I.e. how many leads become sales, and what those sales are worth.

With an understanding of your site’s goals in place, you can turn your attention to Google Analytics. More specifically, you can learn how to set up goals through the platform.

Setting Up Google Analytics Goals

Goals are a handy feature offered by Google Analytics. According to Google, ‘Goals measure how well your site or app fulfills your target objectives’. They’re designed for the kind of site performance tracking mentioned above. Goals enable you to track your overall business objectives.

Setting up Goals through Google Analytics is quite simple. First, go to the Admin panel of your Analytics account and select the ‘Goals’ option:

From there, you have the option to create new goals by selecting the ‘+ New Goal’ button. Once you’ve pressed that, you’re into the process of setting up and customizing your new goal. The first choice you need to make is if you’re going to use a template or create a custom goal.

The default goal templates available on Google Analytics will probably be ok for your initial needs. They’re designed to help track the most common business goals and objectives. Things like revenue, user engagement, and acquisition of new users. You should be able to use these goals for your website.

Should you need to, it’s not difficult to set up custom goals.

Setting up custom goals in Google Analytics

If you want to set up a custom goal, the first thing you have to do is name it. The name will be displayed on Analytics reports with display data related to the goal. Choose a name that relates to the goal. Especially if you are going to set up more than one. The active and inactive button will switch the goal on and off.

You then have to choose from the four types of goals available through Analytics. This choice determines which other decisions you need to make to set up your goal. Let’s look at the types of goals in turn, and which sites or businesses the goals are best suited to.

Goal Types & Which May Suit You

There are four principal types of goals you can set up through Google Analytics. A conversion is recorded when a site user completes a goal. Below is an overview of the different types of goals:

  • Destination Goal – A conversion is recorded whenever a user visits a certain URL on your site.
  • Duration Goal – A conversion is triggered when a site visit lasts more than a specific minimum time.
  • Pages/Screens Per Session Goal – A conversion is triggered when a user views a minimum number of pages.
  • Event Goal – A conversion is triggered when a certain action takes place. I.e. a link is clicked or video played.

It should be clear how the goal you choose depends on the results that you want to track. Let’s look at each event type in turn and how these goals can apply to different types of businesses.

How & Why to Set Up Destination Goals

When you choose to set up a Destination goal, there are a few simple steps to take to get it up and running:

setting up a Destination goal

You need to enter which URL you want to trigger a conversion when someone visits your site. You then have the choice to assign each a conversion value. Finally, you can set up a funnel if desired. A goal funnel is a path you expect site visitors to take to reach your final URL. This is only worthwhile if you require visitors to come to the pages on your site in a certain order to achieve a goal.

A destination goal is probably the most widely utilized of all the goals. They are used a lot for e-commerce stores. For example, when a site visitor makes a purchase they are generally directed to a URL. This could be something like a thank you page.

You can set that URL as a destination goal. This is a way you can track how well your site converts visitors into customers. For an e-commerce store, you could also assign your average order value to the goal. This would introduce a financial measure of conversions.

How & Why to Set Up Duration Goals

To set up a duration goal you can use the fields provided to set your chosen minimum session duration. From then on, every session over that length will register as a goal. These types of goals will be most relevant to a small selection of websites. 

A duration goal is useful when your site aims to educate or inform visitors. You might, for instance, run a course for paying customers. In this case, you can infer that the more time they spend on your site, the more engaged they are with the content.

How & Why to Set Up Pages/Screens Per Session Goals

A screen per session goal can be set up in a similar way to a duration goal. To implement such a goal, select the number of pages visited which you wish to register as a conversion. Screen per session goals can be used to track user engagement.

Using the course analogy, you may want to check how many visitors complete a section of your course in one sitting. This goal type would be more suitable for tracking this objective than a duration goal.

How & Why to Set Up Event Goals

Event goals are probably the most complicated goal type. To set them up, you need to first create an event or events on your site through Analytics. Events are specific actions taken by visitors to your site. That might mean clicking a link, filling in a contact form, or playing a video.

Setting up events is covered elsewhere in this series. Google also provides a handy guide to Events amongst its Analytics support resources. Assuming you have events set up for your site, setting up event goals is nice and easy.

setting up a Destination goal

To create an event goal, select your chosen event and fill in the above fields accordingly. Each time the event takes place, it will be registered as a goal conversion. Event goals are most useful for sites designed for lead generation or lead nurturing.

For instance, your site’s aim might be to get new visitors to fill in a contact form and sign up for your email list. An event goal can help you track the visitors who do so. Alternatively, you might be looking to get leads more engaged with the service your site offers. You might offer a free download of a PDF explaining the service. Event goals can also track how many visitors download such a piece of content from your site.

Phil Pearce
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Phil Pearce
Phil Pearce
Phil is an analytics expert, author, and web analyst. He's also the Analytics Director & Founder of Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, Google Ads and CRO agency, MeasureMinds Group. Over the past 20+ years, Phil has helped clients improve their analytics and search engine marketing through the introduction of new tools and disruptive techniques.
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