Lesson 2: Tracking Conversions as Goals in Google Analytics

6 minute read. Track our highest value visitors by setting up ‘goals’ in Google Analytics. Lesson 2 of 5.

From our previous session, we have a list of conversions and microconversions defined for our website. In this tutorial we are going to turn those into ‘goals’ in our Google Analytics setup.

I did promise this would be a tutorial for non-technical people, so I will explain what goals are and how they are installed, and give you instructions to send to your website admin (or use yourself) to set up these goals.

Why do we set up goals in Google Analytics?

The simple answer is that it helps us focus. Once we track our website conversions as goals, we can focus on those visitors who are most important to us.

It’s our first step in creating a flow of useful, focused information instead of a deluge of confusing numbers from Google Analytics.

Once we have enough conversions, Google Analytics clearly answers questions like:

  • where do our paying customers or donors come from?
  • what was the most valuable email newsletter we sent last month?
  • how many times, and from what sources, did our customers visit our site before they bought something?

Those are great things to know about your website. Once you start to get a sense of those answers, you can start making much better decisions about what to do more of and what to do less of with your online work.

So let’s look at the basics of setting up Google Analytics to track our site conversions (and microconversions) as goals.

Note that two (out of three) types of goals don’t require you to make any modifications to your website, and can be performed pretty easily if you have administrative access to your Google Analytics account. So if you’re technically inclined that’s great.

And if you’re not, that’s also good – you can set up goals on your site without knowing any coding or making any changes to your website.

URL Destination goals – like a ‘finish line’

The first type of goal we are going to look at is a ‘URL Destination’ goal. This is good for tracking any conversion on your site that has a single page where the visitor ends up once they complete the goal.

  • ‘Your Receipt’ page for someone buying things on your site
  • ‘Thank You for Donating’ page for donations, or
  • ‘You have been subscribed to our email newsletter’ page for email signups.

Think of a URL Destination goal as a ‘finish line’ type of goal: whenever someone makes it to this particular page, you know they have converted, and a goal can be recorded.

Note that this needs to be a unique page on your site that is only shown to people who have converted. If visitors can get to the page from your website navigation menu or Google without converting, it doesn’t make sense to use a URL Destination goal.

The best part is that – once you have Google Analytics installed – you don’t have to make any technical changes to your website to set up this type of goal. Creating a URL Destination goal is as easy as entering the address of the ‘finish line’ page in the correct spot in your Google Analytics account. I promised that these tutorials don’t require technical knowledge, and setting up this type of goal doesn’t require any specific skills beyond finding the URL of your “Thank You” page.

Here are instructions on how to set up a URL Destination goal
You can set one of these goals up yourself, or send the link above to your website administrator.

Threshold goals – like an egg timer or odometer

Threshold goals help you track people who engage with your site. Think of them as an egg timer or odometer for your website.

What does that mean, exactly?

It means that you can quickly and easily track, as goals, two things:

  1. When someone visits your site for a long time (and is likely to be reading or viewing a lot of your content). That’s the egg timer.
  2. When someone visits many pages on your site (and is likely to be really interested in what you have to say). That’s the odometer, as they burn a lot of mileage on their way through your site.

These visitors, the ones who spend a lot of time on your site and view a lot of your content, are the ones you built the site for. You want to know where they came from, what they viewed, and how to get more of this type of visitor. That’s the reason for setting up a threshold goal.

Threshold goals are even easier to set up than URL Destination goals. You don’t need to make any changes to your website if Google Analytics is set up – you just need to add some information in the admin panel.

Instructions on how to set up a Threshold goal

Event goals – anything you can imagine!

Event goals help you track almost any interaction a visitor has with your site – it’s really up to you to define what you want to track. For instance, you can track as a conversion when a visitor:

  • clicks on a link
  • downloads a PDF of your annual report
  • scrolls to the bottom of a page
  • clicks play on a video
  • ‘Likes’ something on Facebook

Almost any interaction with your site can be tracked as an event goal in Google Analytics. That’s the good news.

The, um, other news is that event goals often require some custom technical modifications to your site. You add a bit of custom script to the section of your site you want to track, and a specific ‘event’ is recorded to Google Analytics whenever a visitor performs that action.   Each action has to be specially coded, and some websites are easier to modify with this simple code than others.

But Event goals are incredibly powerful for telling you about the specific behaviour of visitors to your site, and are part of any sophisticated Google Analytics setup.

Examples of event goals, and how to set them up

NOTE : In order to make any changes to your Google Analytics profile, including setting goals, to your account setup, you will need to have administrative access to your Google Analytics account. Someone has administrative access to your account, and if that’s not you, then you likely have ‘read only’ access to your account, meaning you can view data but not make any changes to the setup.

A quick way to find out if you have administrative access to your website profile is to log in to Google Analytics, view the website profile you want, and check if there is an ‘Admin’ link in the top left of the page on the orange banner. If you don’t have administrative access to your account, you can request it from your website administrator or get them to make the changes you require.

This is the 'Admin' link, found at the top of the page when you're logged in to Google Analytics.

This is the ‘Admin’ link, found at the top of the page when you’re logged in to Google Analytics.

Setting up goals to track conversions on your website is one of the most important things you can do to start making sense of Google Analytics.

It helps us focus on measuring the success of our website, and gives us powerful insights into how we might be able to get more successful visits to our site.

Why set up goals in Google Analytics?

Some people, at this point before they have set up any goals, ask  :

‘I already know how many sales I make / donations I get / email subscriptions I gather from my website. Why do I need to go to all the trouble of setting up these goals when I know that information already?’

That’s a fair question, and there’s a simple answer.

If you don’t set up goals to track these conversions, you won’t know very much about where those visits came from, or what those visitors did on your site before and after they converted.

And you will be left to guess how to get more of them.  Which is bad – we’re replacing guesswork with good data habits.

Once you set up goals to track your conversions, Google Analytics (and you) are focused on learning more about your highest value website visitors based on what they do before and during site visits. And that’s a good data habit.

So make sure you (or your website admin) set up at least one goal on your website. The sooner you start, the sooner you will be getting valuable insights into your website traffic.

In our next session, you’ll learn how to track the results of your email, social media and online advertising outreach.

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