The fundamental part of a digital measurement and optimization plan is defining your goals. Get this wrong and you’ll set yourself up for disaster!
There are a lot of Google Analytics goal guides available on the web.
However, after reading through many of them I came to an important conclusion. Most guides explain about what goals you can set up in Google Analytics and how to do it. And this is important, but there is a lot more than that!
I recommend to take a strategic approach when setting and optimizing your goals.
In this post I will guide you through a 10-step process to set your goals. A process you can easily replicate in your unique situation. Setting up smart and meaningful goals is an important part of my Google Analytics audits.
Table of Contents
- Step 1: Create Measurement Plan
- Step 2: Create Implementation Plan
- Step 3: Align Goals with KPIs
- Step 4: Define Macro and Micro Goals
- Step 5: Set Up Google Analytics Goals
- Step 6: Set Up Goal Values
- Step 7: Create User Level Calculated Metrics
- Step 8: Segment Goal Metrics
- Step 9: Go Beyond Google Analytics Interface
- Step 10: Act on Your Insights
- Final Remarks
1. Create Measurement Plan
It is all too easy to head over to Google Analytics and set up a few goals. But wait a second.
Before you can set up proper goals, you need to come up with a measurement plan.
Your measurement plan is the foundation of everything that follows.
1.1 Business Objectives
As a first step you need to define your business objectives.
Start by answering this question:
“Why does your company exist?”
I will take Amazon as an example. Here are a few resources addressing Amazon’s business objectives:
- To become the best place to buy, find and discover any product or service available online. Source
- To be earth’s most customer centric company, to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online. Source
As you can see, these are strategic, high level objectives. Of course, they want to earn more money, but think about it. These high level objectives definitely support that!
1.2 Strategies and Tactics
After you have set your business objectives, you need to come up with strategies and tactics that support your business objectives.
- Strategy: sell products
- Tactic: sell online and drive physical store visits and sales
Your KPIs should be aligned with your business objectives, strategies and tactics.
For ecommerce companies, revenue and value related metrics are key.
Example list of KPIs for Amazon:
- KPIs for selling online are: revenue, average order value, gross margin etc.
- KPIs for driving physical store visits are: find store location, print voucher etc.
Read this in-depth post about how to define actionable KPIs to learn more.
You do want to connect your KPIs to different segments as well. Segmentation plays a key part in analyzing and optimizing your online business.
Here are a couple of suggestions on where to segment your visitors on:
- Marketing channel
- Geographic region
- New vs returning
- Mobile vs non-mobile
- Landing page
It is important to set targets for each of your KPIs. For example, you want your average order value to be $100 or higher.
This will ensure that you take the right actions to improve your KPIs toward your targets.
I recommend to watch the video (from Justin Cutroni) below if you want to get a better understanding of how and why to create a measurement plan for your organization.
“Your measurement plan is the very first important step in setting up goals in Google Analytics.”
2. Create Implementation Plan
Your measurement plan and determining what you want to track is a great start, but you are not there yet.
Simply deploying your Google Analytics tracking code on all of your website pages is probably not sufficient.
What if you have to deal with AJAX forms? Measuring these type of actions requires tracking code modifications.
In short, you have to translate the business needs into a technical implementation plan.
And document the technical requirements to measure things in the right way.
Happily Google Tag Manager can make the life of marketers and analysts a lot easier.
If you want to learn more about GTM, I recommend to read my 20-step beginners guide.
In addition Jonathan Weber and his team at LunaMetrics have published a great book on GTM and Google Analytics which is definitely worth reading.
“Very often technical code changes are required in order to accurately measure your business needs in Google Analytics.”
3. Align Goals with KPIs
In Google Analytics you can track 20 different goals per view. The goals are divided in four different goal sets.
It’s important that the goals that you define in Google Analytics are as much as possible in line with your KPIs. However, Google Analytics goals are not the same as your KPIs or business objectives.
External data manipulation might be needed to transform your Google Analytics data and goals into your KPIs.
The Google Analytics API, which we will discuss later, can help you with that.
“Google Analytics goals are not the same as KPIs, but make sure to align them as much as possible.”
4. Define Macro and Micro Goals
I have written an in-depth post on macro and micro goals a few years ago.
- Macro goal: the primary goal or conversion on a website. This could be a sale.
- Micro goal: a secondary goal on a website. This could be a newsletter subscription.
It is important to set up both macro and micro goals on your website.
This will help you to get a more holistic understanding of your visitor’s behaviour.
Not everybody that visit’s your website will immediately buy your products or services.
Defining both macro and micro goals makes it also more easy for you to judge the impact of one of your micro goals on the main conversion on your website.
Example of simple goals set up:
If you find out that prior to a purchase a lot of people watch a product video, you know your micro and macro goals are connected.
This is great input for further optimizing your online business results.
“Every online business has and should define macro and micro goals for their website.”
5. Set Up Google Analytics Goals
Google Analytics allows you to define 20 goals per view, divided in four goal sets. Most probably you don’t need to set up this many goals in one view.
You have the option to either define your goals by yourself or import them via the solutions gallery.
In my opinion you should always set up your own goals instead of importing a goal from someone else. It’s ok to take a look for inspiration, but don’t just copy them! Your business is different and so should be your goals.
Step 1: click on “New Goal”.
Now you can choose what goal you want to create and to which slot you want to add it.
Step 2: fill in a name, choose a goal slot ID and goal type.
In this case I choose to set up a destination goal.
Step 3: fill in your goal information.
Google Analytics wants you to fill in a couple of fields:
- Choose the destination URL of your goal (or app screen name)
- Assign a monetary value to the conversion (non-ecommerce goals) – optional, but highly recommended
- Set up a funnel for your goal – optional
A quick example for letsdefinegoals.com.
- Leadform is located at letsdefinegoals.com/leadform
- Leadform thank you page is located at letsdefinegoals.com/leadform-thanks
Here we go:
As you can see, I have included two different regular expressions here:
- ^ = begins with
- $ = ends with
In order to get your numbers right, these regular expressions are very important.
This is it! Save the goal and you will start collecting goal data from this point on.
Keep in mind:
- Always check the “thank you” page in the content reports or via “verify this goal” option.
- Step 1 required influences the Google Analytics goal funnel report itself, but the goal conversion reports stay the same. In other words, setting step 1 as required or not doesn’t influence the goal conversion rate in all other reports except the funnel report.
- Goal values provide a lot of additional value in uncovering what and where to optimize.
In addition to destination page goals that you can define three more goal types:
- Event based goals (e.g. for on-page interactions)
- Duration goals
- Pages/session goals
Event tracking is the key to track all kind of on-page interactions on your website.
Within your Google Analytics account, you can set up an event based goal.
For example, an embedded YouTube video on your website.
Event Category: YouTube video
Event Action: Click play button
Event Label: 10 Google Analytics goal tips
This is how to set up the goal in Google Analytics:
You have the option to add a value via the event tracking code (as you can see above) or you can define a goal value in Google Analytics.
Please make sure to only set up goals for your most important events. And don’t forget to use naming conventions when defining your events.
Duration and Pages/Session Goals
Setting duration and pages/session goals are helpful to create context around your most important goals on your website.
Examples of questions you can answer through setting up these additional goals:
- Is there a correlation between time on site and conversion rate?
- Do converters visit more pages than non-converters?
- How many pages do people visit before they convert?
You are limited to define greater than duration and pages/session goals.
Once again, don’t solely focus on these goals when trying to get better business results.
Why? It doesn’t bring in extra money if visitors spend a long time on your website without taking any desired action!
- Use goal set 1 for your macro goal and directly related goals. E.g. goal 1 is the ecommerce thank you page, goal 2 to 5 are your funnel steps. You can build horizontal funnels when you define your funnel steps as a separate goal.
- Use a separate goal set for you micro or secondary goals.
- Immediately turn of goals that don’t collect data anymore or that are obsolete. In the future you can use them to track other important website actions. And it will skew your overall perfomance view if you leave them on.
- Set up a different view for duration and pages/session goals if you want your overall conversion rate to make sense. High conversion rates for minor goals will skew your overall goal conversion rate data.
- In addition to session-based goals, define calculated metrics so that you can set up user conversion rate goals as well. We talk about this in a minute.
- Goals are session based. Two visits to your “thank you” page in one session result in one goal.
“Goals are crucial to analyze the performance of your landing pages, channels etc. A proper structure and suitable naming conventions for your goal sets are extremely helpful for you and other people that have access to the same reporting view.”
6. Set Up Goal Values
It is easy to add a value to each of your transactions if you are running an ecommerce site. But what if you deal with a leadgeneration or content website?
Like I mentioned before, each website has it’s unique set of business objectives, KPIs and goals. And at the end, if you define an action or outcome as a goal in Google Analytics, it should contain a certain value.
Here are two examples:
- Leadgeneration website: 100 leads in a year, total revenue from those leads is $10.000. This means revenue per lead equals $100. If you set a goal in Google Analytics on the “thank you” page after someone submits a lead form, you want to add a goal value of $100.
- Content website: 1000 subscribers are worth $50.000 revenue in a year. The revenue per subscriber (on a yearly basis) equals $50. So the goal value of a new subscriber is $50 (calculated with LTV of one year).
These are two simple examples of how to determine the goal value for specific actions on your website.
I have written a complete guide on using goal values that I recommend as an additional read.
Keep in mind:
- Don’t set a goal value on the “thank you page” of an ecommerce transaction. You already measure the value of an ecommerce transaction if you set up ecommerce tracking on your website (which I highly recommend).
- Work with relative goal values if you don’t know how to set a precise value for the actions on your website. This is no problem at all, since you can optimize on these relative numbers as well. And if you know the value of your macro goal, you can define relative values to your other goals.
- Setting up goal values allows you to better analyze your content effectiveness by a metric called “page value”. It shows you how important your page is in relation to the Google Analytics goals. If you want to go from great to awesome, I recommend to check out this very useful guide on Online Behavior as well. It talks about page velocity, something you can analyze in context to page value and goals.
“Goal values unlock the real potential of outcome driven optimization in Google Analytics.”
7. Create User Level Calculated Metrics
99% of the reports in Google Analytics are session based. In my opinion you should look at user level metrics as well.
Here is an example (ecommerce website):
- Pete visits your website on January 1st and views two product pages.
- Pete comes back on January 3rd and adds one product to his basket but doesn’t convert.
- Pete visits the website on January 5th and buys your product.
On default, Google Analytics measures a session based conversion rate. In this case 33,33%. This number is skewed since Pete is one and the same person.
If Pete visits your website three times via the same browser and device, we can recognize him as ONE user. The user based conversion rate equals 100% in that case.
Let’s face it, you will never get 100% accurate numbers, but do your best to get the best metrics possible!
I want you to think about a set of user based metrics that work for you.
Here is an example of a simple calculated metric (user based conversion rate):And the corresponding custom report:
As you can see, the user based conversion rate for organic search is 20% higher than the session based conversion rate.
Three recommended further readings on calculated metrics:
- Google Analytics Custom Metrics & Calculated Metrics by Yehoshua Coren
- A Powerful Use Case for GA Calculated Metrics by Peter O’Neill
- 25 Calculated Metrics for Google Analytics by Charles Farina
It hope these examples help to activate your creative brain to build powerful metrics for your organization.
“Calculated metrics is what distinguishes the pros from the regular analysts and Google Analytics users.”
8. Segment Goal Metrics
You are about to collect very meaningful data if you follow the outlined steps in this tutorial.
Let’s assume you have collected one month of Google Analytics goal data in your Google Analytics account.
Now it’s time to analyze and optimize on these results.
You could start by investigating your overall goals and goal conversion rates.
However, you need to segment your data if you want to get a better understanding of your audience and different target groups.
Some questions you may want to answer:
- What is the ROI of my new visitors compared to returning (loyal) visitors?
- Are certain geographic regions performing better than others?
- Do people convert on mobile as well?
- Which landing pages drive the most conversions?
- What times of the day are the most popular for selling our products?
These are just a few examples of poweful questions you could answer when segmentating your data.
Five report suggestions to get you started:
- Location report (Audience >> Geo >> Location)
- Device Category report (Audience >> Mobile >> Overview)
- Channels report ( Acquisition >> All Traffic >> Channels)
- Landing Pages report (Behavior >> Site Content >> Landing Pages)
- Goal overview report (Conversions >> Goals >> Overview)
You can segment your Google Analytics goals (individually or aggregated) to almost all dimensions that are available.
“It’s good to know your average conversion rate. It’s nice to know your average conversion rate for different segments on your website. It’s crucial to know where you need to make improvements based on your segmentation results. But it all doesn’t have any meaning if you don’t take action to actually improve your results!”
9. Go Beyond Google Analytics Interface
It’s great to get a first idea on how your website and channels perform through the Google Analytics interface.
However, if you like to crunch your data to come up with more hidden insights, the Google Analytics API can really help you out.
Here is a short tutorial to get started:
Step 1: Install Google Analytics Sheets Add-on (FREE).You should see an “add-on” menu after you have installed this feature:
Refresh the page if you don’t see it yet.
Step 2: Create New Report.
In the screenshot above you can see a “Create new report” link. Click on the link and fill in the metrics and dimension you want to pull into Google sheets.Click on the “Create Report” button down below.
Step 3: Check Your Sample Report Configuration.
After you click on “Create Report” you will see the following screen:
On default, the API selects the last 7 days. You can modify this field to your own needs.
Please note that this is only showing you the setup of your report and not yet any data.
In order to pull any data into Google sheets you need to click on “Run reports”:
Step 4: Check Your Report Data.
And now the data is ready for you:
You can see:
- The date of when the report last ran.
- Whether there is sampled data or not.
- The view name that belongs to your report.
- An aggregated overview of your report.
- A breakdown of your report based on the dimensions and metrics you have selected.
Step 5: Manipulate the Data.
This is just the start of how you can get certain metrics and dimensions pulled into Google sheets.
In our case, you want to work with your Google Analytics goals.
Here is a complete list of metrics and dimensions currently available via the Google Analytics API.
Search on “goal” in order to see relevant metrics and dimensions related to goals:
By doing this you will get a better understanding of the possibilities of the Google Analytics API.
A quick example:
- You want to get the absolute goal numbers in Google sheets for goal number 1.
- In that case you need to add ga:goal1Completions to the metrics field.
The good thing is that you can use a ton of Excel formulas to manipulate the data in the best possible way.
You might want to combine your goal data with other metrics to calculate a value more in line with your KPIs.
The next step would be to build a visual around it so you can better monitor the performance and find areas for improvement.
This short tutorial is just meant as a starting point for leveraging the Google Analytics API. Read this reference guide if you want to learn more about it.
In a future post I will dive deeper into the API and how to use it in the best way.
“The Google Analytics API helps you to automate your reporting efforts so that you can spend more time optimizing your website performance.”
10. Act on Your Insights
There is one important final step after you have captured valuable insights from simple Google Analytics goal data.
And that is acting on the insights you found.
A few simple examples:
- Insight: your email marketing campaigns perform not as well as they did in the past. Action: find ways on how to improve your email campaigns.
- Insight: you have an above average abandonment rate at funnel step 3. Action: use qualitative surveys and user tests to find out more about why users abandon your website on this step. Create a hypothesis around it and set up a few A/B tests to test your hypothesis. So that you can hopefully improve your funnel success rate.
- Insight: returning visitors convert 5x better than your new visitors. Action: set up a suitable retargeting campaign to turn more visitors into customers. And try to persuade more first time visitors by offering attractive discounts for becoming a client.
So finding insights is really great, but it is all about taking ACTION.
“A lot of people find out that something is wrong on their website, but you can only make more money if you know how to fix it and do so.”
Here is a list of things you should take into account when setting up goals in Google Analytics.
- Taking a strategic approach when setting up your goals takes time, but it’s definitely worth it.
- Start with a measurement and implementation plan before you simply add a few goals to your Google Analytics view. You might want to use a spreadsheet for outlining your goals.
- Google Analytics goals are session based, think about user level goal metrics as well.
- Keep in mind that each reporting view has a limit of four goal sets with five goals per set.
- Google Analytics goals don’t work retroactively.
- Goals are only counted once per session.
- Regular expressions come in handy when setting up your goals.
- Verify your goal before implementing it (based on historical data).
- Set up funnels for clearly defined paths on your website.
- Add goal values for each of your goals (exception is ecommerce “thank you” page).
- Use the API to pull goal data out of Google Analytics.
- Be careful when you measure across multiple domains.
- Use a goal copy/paste tool to copy goals from one view to another.
- Set up event based goals for important on-page interactions.
- Analyze duration and pages/session goals in context of more important goals on your website.
- You can make a goal inactive or replace it, but you can’t delete it.
- Use goal descriptions that anybody can understand.
- Setting funnel step 1 as required only affects the funnel report itself.
- When you set up goals there might be a short delay before they actually work.
- Add an annotation whenever you add or change a goal.
I am happy if you made it to the end since it was definitely not a five minutes read! :-)
This is it from my side. I hope you have learned some new things here! A share or comment is more than welcome!One last thing... Make sure to get my extensive checklist for your Google Analytics setup. It contains 50+ crucial things to take into account when setting up Google Analytics.