Your website’s performance is about more than just organic traffic and clicks. When you configure Google Analytics goals, you gain access to critical information about how users engage with your website and interact with the features most important to you.
In this guide, I’ll outline the basics of Google Analytics goals and show you how to set them up to gather insight into your site visitors’ behavior.
What Are Google Analytics Goals?
Google Analytics supplies marketers with hundreds of metrics and tools to track and analyze website visits. It can be overwhelming to sift through all the data and decide what really matters — but that’s precisely where goals come in handy.
Google Analytics goals track the visitor engagement data that’s most important to you. Goals measure specific actions, like when a visitor clicks on a particular button, views an order confirmation URL, or even scrolls all the way down a page. These completed actions (called goal conversions) provide valuable information that allow you to assess your digital marketing campaigns and tailor your SEO strategy to drive even better results.
5 Types of Google Analytics Goals
Universal Analytics allows users to create five types of GA goals.
Destination goals track when visitors reach a specific target URL on your site, such as a ‘Thank You!’ page after signing up for an email list or an order confirmation page. This data can be used to see how many visitors sign up for emails, place orders, submit forms, etc.
You can define a destination goal as a static URL (e.g. “/thank-you.html”), a dynamically generated or variable URL (e.g. “/checkout.cgi?page=1”), or even a funnel, which is a series of URLs visitors click through in a particular order. When a visitor loads these URLs, it’s counted as a conversion.
Duration goals trigger when a visitor spends a certain amount of time on your site over the course of a single session. When configuring a duration goal, specify the exact number of hours, minutes, and seconds it needs to last before a session is considered a conversion.
Duration goals measure engagement. They help you see the number of visitors who actually engage with your site rather than visit for a few moments before exiting. Comparing sheer traffic values to duration conversions is a way of comparing quantity to quality.
3. Pages/Screens Per Session
Pages/Screens per session goals fire when visitors click through a certain number of pages in one session.
When used in combination with duration, pages/screens per session goals help you paint a fuller picture of just how visitors engage with your site. Do people spend a lot of time on one page before clicking away? Do they visit multiple pages in seemingly rapid succession? You can use your goal data to look for patterns in visitor behavior — and tailor your site strategy accordingly.
Event goals are a kind of catch-all option for measuring visitor behavior. Google Analytics users can define events as any time a visitor performs a measurable on-site action, such as:
- Clicking ‘Play’ on a video
- Downloading a file
- Submitting a form
- Scrolling a certain percentage of the way down a page
- Clicking on outbound links
To track these, you’ll first need to define events using Google Tag Manager. Events can be tricky to set up, but when used in combination with other Google Analytics goals, they are a powerful way to collect detailed information on very granular visitor interactions.
5. Smart Goals
Google launched Smart Goals to help advertisers get more value out of their digital ad data. Powered by machine learning, Smart Goals analyze campaigns to see who is most engaged to count them as conversions.
The Smart Goals AI looks at 30 different metrics to find the highest quality sessions — which Google defines as visitors who are most engaged with your site relative to your overall ad traffic. This is an excellent tool for advertisers looking for better ways to optimize their campaigns and understand what most engages visitors.
How To Create Goals in Google Analytics
To configure goals in Google Analytics, you’ll need Editor access.
To create destination, duration, pages/sessions, and event goals, you’ll want to follow these first few steps, then scroll down to the goal type for additional steps.
1. Log into Google Analytics.
2. Click on ‘Admin’ in the left-hand menu.
3. Click ‘Goals’ from the ‘View’ column on the right side.
4. Click ‘+New Goal.’
5. Select the ‘Custom’ option.
You can set up 20 goals per property.
How to Set Up a Destination Goal
Let’s say you want to track how many visitors make it to your “Thank You” page after an email form submission.
1. Create a new goal, and give it a name that indicates what it tracks (such as “Contact Us Submission” or “Email Signups”).
2. Select ‘Destination’ as your goal type.
3. Enter the specific URL path you want to track — no need to include the root domain. For a fixed URL, that might be “/thanks.html.” If the URL is dynamically generated, choose either ‘Begins with’ or ‘Regular Expression’ from the dropdown box and input the part of the URL that remains fixed.
4. Click ‘Verify this goal’ to test if your destination goal is working correctly. This verification will only work if the Google Analytics tracking code has been in place for at least seven days AND you’ve had users visit the target URL during that time. You can also complete a manual form submission to manually test your Google Analytics goal.
5. Once everything looks good, click ‘Save.’
How to Set Up a Duration Goal
1. Create a new goal, and give it a name that indicates what it tracks (such as “Engaged Users” or “8-Minute Heroes”). Then select ‘Duration’ as your goal type.
2. Enter your target number of hours, minutes, and seconds in each field. Every time a visitor reaches or exceeds this threshold, it’ll count as a conversion.
3. Click ‘Verify this goal.’ This will only work if your GA tracking code has been up for seven days and at least one user has hit your target duration.
4. Save your goal.
How to Set Up a Pages/Screens Per Session Goal
1. Create a new goal. Enter a name (such as “Engaged Users” or “At Least 10 Pages”), and select ‘Pages/screens per session’ as your goal type.
2. Enter your target number of pages/screens per session.
3. Click ‘Verify this goal.’ This verification method will only work if the GA tracking code has been in place on your site for at least seven days and at least one user has reached your target number of pages/screens in a single session.
Finally, click ‘Save.’
How to Set Up an Event Goal
Event goals require a few extra steps. Before defining an event as a goal, you’ll need to set up event tracking on your site using Google Tag Manager. Click here to view Google’s guide to events in GTM.
For this tutorial, let’s assume you’ve used GTM to create an event that triggers when a user downloads a file from your landing page. Now, I can set up a goal conversion to fire when that download event happens.
1. On the new goal screen, enter a name for your event (such as “Brochure downloads”).
2. Select Custom ‘Event’ as your goal type.
3. Add Event conditions — Category, Action, Label, and Value. Only one condition is required to make a goal. See Google’s breakdown of each. (In this example, your Category would be “Downloads,” and your Label would be “Product Brochure PDF.”)
4. Click ‘Verify this goal.’ This will only work if your GA account has event data from the past seven days to check.
5. Lastly, click ‘Save’ once you’re finished.
How to Set Up Smart Goals
As I mentioned before, Smart Goals are a machine-learning tool designed for those with Google Ads accounts. In addition to having your Google Ads account connected to your Analytics account, your ads must be sending over a certain amount of traffic to your site for Smart Goals to work. (View Google’s prerequisites to learn more.)
- When creating a new goal, enter a name for your event (such as “Smart Goal”).
- Select ‘Smart Goal’ as the type.
And that’s it! There is no additional configuration needed. Click ‘Save’ to confirm.
Specifying Monetary Value
When creating goals in Google Analytics, you have the option to equate the conversion with a monetary value. How you determine the value of each conversion is up to you. One way to do this is to divide the value of a new customer by your conversion rate. So if the average customer purchase is $200 and 5% of customers who land on a particular page convert, you can create a Destination goal with a monetary value of $10 ($200 * .05).
A Note about Google Analytics 4
Since Universal Analytics is being sunset next year, it’s a good idea to start using Google Analytics 4. You can use both platforms in tandem. This will allow you to start pulling in data to your Google Analytics 4 dashboard and learn the platform. Google Analytics 4 uses ‘Events’ rather than ‘Goals,’ among other differences. To automatically migrate your Universal Analytics goals and convert them to Google Analytics 4 events, just follow these steps from Google. You can learn more about the different metrics in GA4 vs. Universal Analytics here.
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