What comes to mind when you think of the word “goal”?
Most people, myself included, think of personal goals or ambitions for your own life: obtaining a master’s degree, losing 15 pounds, or traveling to every continent.
Others think of business goals: reaching an annual sales target, launching a new product or service, or expanding from selling in local to global markets.
Analytics goals are different. In this post, we’ll untangle the definition of goals and help you understand what to configure as a goal in your analytics platform. We’ll use Google Analytics as an example today, but you can configure similar goals in most analytics tools.
How do Analytics Goals Differ from Business Goals?
To tease out a proper distinction between an analytics goal and a business goal, we need to understand how it’s defined in the platform you work in. Google Analytics defines a goal as:
“…a completed activity, called a conversion, that contributes to the success of your business.”
Since Google Analytics primarily tracks websites and apps, the implication is that the “completed activities” they mention as goals are online activities. Whereas business goals can (and do) often include offline measures that are impossible for a user of your website or app to accomplish.
Naturally, there’s a lot of overlap in analytics goals and business goals for companies that do a large percentage of their sales online, like e-commerce retailers or gaming app developers.
And for companies that do a large percentage of sales offline, it’s also possible to connect CRM systems to web analytics platforms and better understand how those offline sales goals are influenced by online marketing.
Generally speaking, some analytics goals can be business goals, but most analytics goals are online behaviors with at least a few degrees of separation from your offline business goals.
How Do You Configure an Analytics Goal?
Now that we’ve made the online vs. offline distinction, it’s helpful to know how to configure a goal in analytics practically. There are several ways to do it, but the two most popular are:
- Destination Pages (also known as “confirmation,” “receipt,” or “thank you” pages)
- Event Tracking (which requires additional configuration in Google Tag Manager)
Destination Pages are the easiest way to get up and running. Making a list of all the “thank you” pages that a user could reach on your site and which activities they map to (i.e., a completed sale, a demo request, a trial request, or a download of a gated asset) is a good start.
But depending on how your site is built, some online activities don’t result in a unique page being reached. Forms can be submitted without the URL in the browser changing. Call-to-action buttons can be clicked without the user being whisked away to another page. In those instances, Event Tracking is the fix. Google Tag Manager enables marketers to listen for those form fills and clicks and send an event into Google Analytics with a category, action, label, and value.
What Are Some Prerequisites for Analytics Goals?
Knowing how to configure goals is only one piece of the puzzle. I’m sure you’re all tempted to race to your Google Analytics admin and add all the thank you pages you can find. But before you do, you should ask yourself if those pages or events meet a few criteria.
Here are some good rules of thumb when considering whether a certain activity should be set up as a goal:
A goal must be evergreen. A visitor should be able to accomplish them as long as your website (or app) exists. Google Analytics only allows you 20 goal slots per view. You don’t want to occupy one of your 20 goal slots with a thank you page for a temporary campaign that will only be live for one month.
A goal must require action on the part of the visitor. Views of a category or product page, even if they’re important for you to measure, are not good goals because people can accomplish them sometimes just by landing on your website, without any engagement at all. Pages that can only be reached with an action—a form fill or a purchase—are better candidates.
A goal must map to your business objectives. I already mentioned why business goals and analytics goals aren’t always the same, but they should always have some kind of relationship. If you can’t demonstrate how a visitor achieving your analytics goal has an impact on brand awareness, customer loyalty, or revenue, it’s probably too generic.
A goal must result in a conversion rate of less than 33%. This seems counterintuitive, but hear me out: If more than a third of your visitors are able to accomplish an analytics goal, it’s too easy of an action for them to take and probably not a meaningful way for you to segment them versus an average user of your site.
Once you’re sure a goal meets the prerequisites above, you should prioritize which ones you set up first. I call these primary goals. They have a direct connection to how much money your business makes.
Some examples of primary goals include:
Revenue. If you run an e-commerce business, this might go without saying. And you may already be measuring revenue by virtue of your enhanced e-commerce configuration. But there’s value in setting up goals for your cart thank you page. Why? Funnels.
Funnels allow you to configure a linear path from a cart summary page to a sale and report on drop-off at each step, which is valuable in determining where you have friction in your cart process.
Subscription Sign-Ups. If you run a subscription model business, sign-ups where you gain a customer’s credit card information work here. If it’s a free trial where no credit card is required at the time of sign-up, I would consider holding off configuring that goal until later (see secondary goals below).
Leads. For a B2B business, where it’s impossible to close a sale online, lead form measurement is key. But not all lead forms are created equal. Some only require an email address. The ones you need to measure here are forms that generate enough information for you to evaluate whether the prospect is a Marketing Qualified Lead or Sales Qualified Lead. That means you need to be collecting a name, a company, an email, a title, and potentially a phone number.
Event Registrations. The same goes for events. If somebody RSVPs for a free meetup, that doesn’t qualify here. It needs to be a paid event only.
For goals that don’t have a direct connection to revenue, but are still important to moving people along in discovery of your product or service, consider configuring those next. Secondary goals (aka micro conversions) are tipping points to sales, socially sharing your products or services in the marketplace, or building your house list for future marketing efforts.
Good choices for secondary goals include:
Email Newsletters. If somebody wants to give you an email address to receive future discounts, news, or product information, that’s gold. It gives you a touchpoint for reaching back out to a user who may have otherwise just left your website.
Gated Assets. Collecting emails in exchange for a useful ebook, webinar, or whitepaper is also super common.
Lesser Leads. You might also have other forms on your site that have fewer fields or a generic “contact us” form that really doesn’t give you any sort of implied intent on the part of the user. These might create leads which require more vetting on the part of the sales team.
Shares of Blog Posts or Products. Don’t forget amplification of your message by interested parties via social or email. Even if the person visiting your site isn’t in the market for what you offer, they might share it with someone who is. That reach is just as valuable.
Registrations for Free Events. As with gated assets, you might provide tickets to a meetup in exchange for an email or a social follow.
Lastly, we have goals that indicate a higher level of engagement from the visitor to your site or app, but do not constitute a contact or a sale.
Video Views. Folks who watch videos about a product or service may just be curious, but studies find that they tend to purchase at a higher rate than most website visitors.
Ungated Assets. Many businesses offer free tools or downloads where no email is required. There’s something to be said for being useful to your target audience without a quid-pro-quo so that they’ll remember you when they want to buy.
Clicks of Major CTA Buttons. Online marketing and merchandising only works if we can convince people to click on “learn more” or “buy now” buttons. Upper-funnel content on websites might not have a form to fill out or another more substantial action to take, so recognizing which CTA buttons work to encourage people to move deeper into the site is paramount.
Average Session Duration. I’m generally not a fan of pageview or time on site based goals. More pageviews can indicate a person is lost on your site and can’t find what they need. Higher time on site could mean they stepped away from their laptop to make a sandwich. But when you add some qualifiers and look at averages across your entire visitor base, they can become more helpful. Look for users who exceed 3x the site average (excluding bounces).
Some Other Goal Considerations
So you’ve established these goals. Now what? Your data is only as valuable as what you do with it, and here are some ideas for action:
- Build segments for any user that accomplishes a secondary or tertiary goal. Use those segments to understand how much more likely those users are to accomplish primary goals than your average site user.
- Build audiences for any user that accomplishes a secondary or tertiary goal, but not the primary goals. Use those audiences to run remarketing campaigns in Google Ads. This is a pretty handy audience because these users are qualified, but may need a nudge to complete the conversion funnel.
- Set incremental growth targets for these goals every year. If you know that 1,000/month convert to a lead form, set a target to improve that by 10% on top of your current pace. We set these goals because we care about improving these metrics.
Trust Your Gut With Goals
This isn’t an exhaustive list or a be-all and end-all set of rules. You know what’s meaningful to your business and what really moves the needle. Experiment with additional Google Analytics views that can house another set of 20 goals if you’re not sure about what you’ve got in your main view.
If improving goal tracking is a priority for your team, we recommend checking out the new features of Google Analytics 4.