Mastering Google Analytics: Setting Goals and Tracking Conversions

If you manage a website, understanding your site’s analytics is crucial. You’ve likely heard of Google Analytics, a powerful tool packed with features essential for webmasters. While the basic tracking data suffices for many, Google suggests that true ‘Analytics Ninjas’ leverage goals to elevate their site insights.

Google Analytics allows you to create custom goals to measure how well your site fulfills your target objectives. By tracking actions that visitors complete, you can gauge the success or failure of specified activities, offering you peace of mind and insightful data.

The concept of setting goals might sound complicated, but I’ll simplify it in this guide. Whether you’re looking to enhance your site’s performance or understand user behavior better, this guide will help you use Google Analytics more effectively.

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1. Understanding Goals & Funnels

Let’s begin by defining two crucial terms. Goals are methods of tracking visitor activity that you can configure according to various criteria on your website. Typically, you’ll monitor the rate at which visitors achieve the goals you’ve established. For instance, you might set a goal that is achieved when a visitor reaches your contact page, “/contact.html“.

Illustration of setting goals in Google Analytics

If visitors arrive at your homepage and leave immediately, they likely did not view your contact page. This situation might be considered a failed goal or a gray area. Conversely, visitors who do reach your contact page are marked as having successfully achieved the goal. Further insights, such as total time spent on the page and number of pages visited, can also be analyzed.

A funnel is an optional component of goal setting. It’s used to track the specific paths that visitors take to reach a page. Defining funnels allows you to ensure that only those visitors who follow the complete set pathway are counted as having completed the goal. This setup helps manage the flow of user activity on your site.

While it’s possible to establish multiple funnels for a single goal, keeping it simple with just one or two funnels per goal is advisable to avoid complexity and confusion. For example, you might want to compare the number of visitors who download a specific .zip file directly from your homepage versus those who find it through an article page.

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2. Setting Strategic Goals

Now that you have a better understanding of what goals can accomplish and why they are beneficial, let’s dive into setting up some basic examples in Analytics. It’s worth noting that Google continues to enhance these features in Analytics. As a result, once goals are created, they cannot be deleted from your profile – though you can deactivate them.

Exploring goals settings in Google Analytics

Before rushing into goal setup, take some time to consider what you aim to track. Avoid hastily setting goals based on fleeting trends. Below are some key considerations to guide your goal-setting process:

  • Which metrics are crucial for you to monitor? Are you tracking for insight, or to inform changes in your website’s user experience?
  • What actions do you expect from visitors once they land on your site?
  • How do you define “success”? Is it through purchases, extended engagement, newsletter sign-ups, or reaching a certain number of page views?
  • Could changes to your site’s design help visitors achieve these goals more efficiently?

Remember, while you cannot remove goals from Analytics, they are not set in stone. You can always edit your goals and adjust their criteria later. This flexibility allows you to adapt as your website and its data needs evolve.

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3. How to Set Up Goals in Google Analytics

To start, log into your Analytics account and select the profile where you want to add goals. If you have multiple accounts, click on the parent account name to access the specific profile list. In the “Actions” section, you’ll find options to edit your profile. Click on the “Edit” link to adjust your profile settings and access the “Goals” section.

Process of setting up goals in Google Analytics

Select a Goal Set where your future goals will reside. Each set can accommodate up to 5 goals and serves to organize tracking data into categories like checkout systems, user profiles, or blog interactions.

In the updated version of Google Analytics, simply click the gear-like icon at the top right corner of the page (near the “Sign Out” link), select your account and web property, and navigate to the Goals section.

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4. Exploring Different Types of Goals

Setting up a new goal in Google Analytics is straightforward. Initially, you’ll be asked to name your goal and decide if it should be Active (On) or Inactive (Off). The Goal Position, no longer available in the latest version, was designed to list goals sequentially but is generally redundant now.

Detailed view of goal types in Google Analytics

The four “Goal types” each represent a unique method of tracking your goals. Below, I’ve detailed these methods, but for further information, check out Google Analytics Help on Goal Types.

URL Destination

This common goal type tracks when a user visits a specific page on your site. You’ll use the URI component – essentially everything after your domain, including the trailing slash – for simpler tracking. For instance, instead of, you would use /404.html.

Setting up URL Destination goals in Google Analytics

Upon selecting this type, you’ll specify how URLs are matched to count as goal completions. There are three options:

  • Exact Match – The URL must be precisely as entered, without any additional characters or query strings.
  • Head Match – More flexible, targeting pages that start with the specified URI, regardless of what follows.
  • Regular Expression Match – Allows for wildcard use, suitable for tracking complex URL patterns like all pages within the /blogs/ directory.
Time on Site

Track how long visitors stay on your site, important for assessing engagement with content like videos or articles. You’ll set a duration goal in hours, minutes, and seconds, and define whether to track durations Greater than or Less than your specified time.

Monitoring visitor duration with Time on Site goals

This goal type measures the number of pages a visitor views during a session. Set a threshold, and Google Analytics will track whether a visitor’s page views are above or below this number.

Tracking page views per visit in Google Analytics

Track specific actions, like clicks on a download button. Event goals allow you to define conditions such as Category, Action, Label, and Value, giving you precise control over what constitutes goal completion.

Setting up Event goals in Google Analytics

With each goal type, you can also set an optional goal value, allowing Analytics to track and report on how many visitors meet a specified ideal, such as a certain number of page views.

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5. Creating Custom Funnels for Your Goals

Understanding how to create goals simplifies the process and can even be quite exciting as you experiment with different goal types across your website traffic. Now, consider taking it to the next level by defining funnels for your goals.

Detailed illustration of custom funnels in Google Analytics

Note that funnels are compatible only with URI goal types. They do not apply to goals based on page views or total time spent because these do not involve a navigational pathway.

Defining a funnel creates a targeted pathway that your traffic must follow to achieve a goal. For example, a goal completion might require a visitor to navigate through specified pages in the order outlined in your Goal Funnel settings. A funnel might involve several pages that need to be visited in sequence.

This is particularly useful in scenarios like a shopping cart checkout, where the visitor must view the cart, place the order, enter shipping details, and then payment information, potentially ending on a confirmation page. The ability to use regex allows you to define acceptable page sequences within your funnel, though you are limited to 10 steps. Remember, setting up funnels is entirely optional and can be bypassed if not needed for your goals.

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6. Understanding the Benefits of Using Funneled Goals

While goals provide a basic framework for tracking site interactions, funnels allow for the analysis of more complex visitor behaviors and can help streamline user experiences on your website.

Visualizing the strategic use of funneled goals in Google Analytics

If your site has specific objectives, like increasing newsletter sign-ups or social media interactions, funnels can be crucial. They help you understand the paths visitors take, whether they sign up directly from your homepage or navigate from other pages. Employing funnels becomes especially valuable when you aim to test specific pathways that visitors take to complete these goals. Although funnels are most effective with a sufficient volume of traffic, they offer invaluable insights that can guide improvements in user interface and site design.

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As a newcomer, the concepts of goals and funnels can be overwhelming, but persistence pays off. Delving deeper into these tools will not only help you identify popular content but also diagnose usability issues, potentially improving your site’s overall user experience. Stay curious and keep exploring the possibilities within Google Analytics to truly benefit from its capabilities.