A Beginner’s Guide to Conversion Goals in Google Analytics

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Conversion Goals in Google Analytics

There’s a reason that when companies call me about SEO, Paid Search, or Social Advertising, we always end up speaking about Analytics as well.  The reason is simple.  If you don’t have a rounded analytics strategy, then you won’t have a solid understanding of how your campaigns perform.  In addition, if you don’t have the mechanisms in place to easily see how visitor segments perform, then important questions could go unanswered.  And that’s not good for enhancing your business.

Enter the Conversion Goal
Concepts in Web Analytics can get confusing.  You have event tracking, conversion goals, success events, multi-channel funnels, profiles, filters, dimensions, regular expressions, etc.  This is one of the reasons that too many companies slap a tracking code on their websites and call it a day.  The problem is that an “out of the box” Google Analytics implementation will only get you so far.  Sure, you’ll get the basics, but that won’t necessarily help you glean insights that can boost ROI.

But I’m not here today to throw advanced concepts at you.  My goal (no pun intended) is to explain more about conversion goals in Google Analytics, which you can implement today.  And after implementing a rounded set of goals, you can start to quickly analyze sources of traffic to identify both high and low performers.  A rounded set of conversion goals can go a long way.  You can view performance across a number of reports, and that data can provide enough insight to make important changes.  Changes that can help you succeed.

Lesson 1: Which Actions can be Conversion Goals?
When most people hear “conversion”, they think revenue.  I get it, revenue is absolutely important, and tracking macro-conversions like a sale is the most important thing you can do analytics-wise.  That said, macro-conversions are not the only goals you should be tracking.  That won’t enable you to see the full picture.  Using an ecommerce site as an example, you might have several other success events, including:

  • Email marketing subscriptions
  • Contact form completions
  • Clicks to social accounts (like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest)
  • Engagement goals like time on site or pages per visit
  • Events like watching product videos
  • Downloads like product specs or product guides
  • Clicks to trigger live chat with your customer service reps

So, beyond the macro-conversion of a sale, there are several other goals that should be tracked.  But guess what?  Most companies are not tracking those additional goals.  When they analyze their traffic sources and campaigns, they simply see revenue.  That’s unfortunate, because several of the other goals contribute to revenue.  For example, email marketing is the top driver of revenue for some of my ecommerce clients.  Any traffic source or campaign that drives more email subscriptions is darn valuable to my clients.  If I didn’t analyze that conversion goal, then I could very easily discount traffic sources that were actually driving revenue, but just not directly.  That’s the danger of having a limited analytics strategy in place.

Quick Tip: You can have up to 20 goals per profile in Google Analytics (4 goal sets, and 5 goals per set).

Lesson 2: Conversion Goal Types
When adding a conversion goal in Google Analytics, you can choose one of four goal types.  I’ll quickly cover those types below so you can start to think about your own website, and how you will start to track your own success events.

Conversion Goal Types in Google Analytics

1. URL Destination
If a user visits a certain page on your website after completing an action, then you can use that URL as a conversion goal.  The classic example is the purchase confirmation screen in an ecommerce sale.  It could also be the “thank you” screen after someone submits a form.

2. Visit Duration
This is an engagement goal type that lets you trigger a conversion when a user stays on the site for a certain period of time (or less than a certain period of time).

3. Pages Per Visit
Another engagement goal type that lets you trigger a conversion when a user visits a certain number of pages.  It can be set to greater than, equal to, or less than a number of pages, based on what you are trying to track.

4. Event
This is one of my favorite aspects of Google Analytics v5.  Event tracking is a powerful way to identify specific actions on your site.  These actions could include downloads, video views, clicks on specific links, button clicks, etc.  It’s an extremely versatile piece of functionality that I use on a regular basis when tracking actions on a site.  And, Google Analytics enables you to use events as conversion goals.  That’s awesome and opens up a world of opportunity for tracking conversion.

Try it now: Right now, visit your website and jot down all of the important actions visitors can perform.  Then review the conversion goal types listed above and slot those actions under each category that fits.  This will be the basis for your analytics plan.  You will implement these goals after reading my post.  🙂

Lesson 3: How Can Conversion Goals Improve Your Analysis?
In its most basic form, you can view conversion by traffic source by clicking the Goal Set Tabs at the top of your reporting (see screenshot below).  You can see a top-level view of all traffic sources by conversion goals, and then you can drill into each source to view more granular details.

Goal Set Tabs in Google Analytics

For example, drilling into the Organic Search reports, you can view conversion by keyword, by landing page from organic search, by search engine, etc.  If you drill into the referring sites report, you can view conversion by website and referring URL.  You can drill into campaign traffic to view conversion by ad content, keyword, or destination URL.  You get the picture.  This alone can provide huge amounts of value.  But that’s not all you can see…

Analyzing Conversion Data by Traffic Source

Although viewing conversion by traffic source is incredibly valuable, it only scratches the surface of what you can see once goals are set up.  I’ve included a list below of some other reports you can view conversion goals within.  For example, mobile traffic, location, new vs. returning visitors, etc.  Check out the list below.

Beyond traffic sources and campaigns, here are some additional reports you can view conversion within:

  • Location
  • Language
  • New vs. Returning Visitors
  • Browser and OS
  • Mobile Devices
  • Landing Pages
  • Site Search Usage

As you can see, once conversion goals are set up, you can start to view conversion data across many reports.  Understanding how various visitor segments are performing (across a rounded set of conversion goals) can be extremely powerful.  Compare this process to simply browsing site usage data and trying to determine what’s working for you…

Ready to Move?
I hope you’re ready to hit Google Analytics and set up some conversion goals.  But before you do, I wanted to provide a quick list of important points to consider.  Keep this list in mind while developing your analytics strategy:

  • Create a new profile when you are ready to add conversion goals. This will enable you to keep your original data as-is.  There’s no harm in adding more profiles for the website at-hand.
  • Filter internal traffic for your new profile, so employee traffic doesn’t impact conversion data.
  • Each conversion goal can only be triggered once per user session.  It makes sense, since you don’t want one person to skew your conversion data by reaching a single goal multiple times in a visit.  If you need to know the exact count, then use event tracking.
  • Add annotations to your reporting whenever you make changes.  I can’t tell you how many times those little notes helped me while analyzing traffic.  And that’s especially the case when you are comparing time periods.
  • Ensure you are tagging all campaigns accurately (paid search, social advertising, email marketing, etc.)  This will enable you to easily identify campaign traffic, versus having that traffic get mixed into other buckets.  You can use URL builder to help you tag campaign URL’s.

The Power of Goals
I hope this introduction to conversion goals explained the importance of developing a rounded analytics strategy.  By mapping out a number of conversion goals, based on your own website and business, you can easily view performance data across visitor segments.  And again, you can start today.  Don’t hesitate, gather your team, map out your conversion goals, implement them quickly, and start gleaning insights.  Stronger ROI awaits.


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  • google analytic events

    This is awesome, I track everything in my site as well. But I find event tracking is giving me heck a bit, I’ll get it.

  • Julian

    Thanks for your greate guide. Is it possible to see the conversions by source or can you just see the conversion-rates by source as seen in your last picture?

    • Glenn Gabe

      Hi Julian. Thanks for your comment. Yes, you can see conversion by source, campaign, keyword, etc. I recommend setting up some goals and then checking the reports I listed in my post. It’s a powerful way to quickly analyze the quality of traffic hitting your site.

      • Clementine

        Hi Glenn,
        This is really helpful. I am a totally newbie so pardon my dumb question. But is it possible under Conversions to see the sources of the traffic? I thought it was, but I can’t figure out how to see that info. Thanks so much!!

      • Glenn Gabe

        Hi Clementine.

        There are few ways you can achieve this. Under the conversions report, you can select Source/Medium (at the bottom) to list the sources by conversion goal. That’s a quick way.

        Then you can always view conversions by traffic source in the Traffic Sources report. You can also view conversion by campaign, keyword, etc. The Goal Set tabs will enable you to view all your conversions. I hope that helps.


  • Jar

    We just need a follow-up post now on creating funnels!

    • Glenn Gabe

      Jar, I hear you! I plan to write more about Google Analytics in future posts. Keep an eye on Search Engine Journal’s feed. 🙂

  • Prajeesh

    Never thought to use this Goal Conversion section. Thanks for the great guide and i am going to start using it for one of my site right away. 🙂

    • Glenn Gabe

      Awesome, great to hear you are going to move quickly. Once you set up a rounded view of conversion goals, you’ll never look back.

  • TopMedia

    Excellent post! Helped me to better understand Google Analytics

  • shashi kumar

    I think it is too much informative and also it will bring good results for our blog and website. I would like to use it as soon as possible in my blog for better results. Thanks a lot Glenn Gabe for your great information on this technical part of SEO. Which is very important for every SEO Professional. Thanks again

    • Glenn Gabe

      Hey, thanks for your comment. I’m glad you found my post helpful. Good luck with setting up your goals! I think you’ll find it greatly helps your analysis. 🙂

  • Roger

    Hi Glenn,

    sorry new to analytic, can you guide me how to use this – Tool: URL Builder ( http://support.google.com/googleanalytics/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=55578 )

    • Glenn Gabe

      Hi Roger. No problem. Keep in mind I can write an entire post on using it. 🙂

      In a nutshell, you can tag URL’s with several parameters so you can analyze those campaigns in Google Analytics. For example, Source would be something like Google, Facebook, adCenter, etc. Medium would be cpc, email, etc. Term would be your keywords for any search-based campaign. Content would be your ad content (like version, size, date, etc.) Then Name would be the campaign name.

      Naming conventions are ultra-important during this stage… so you can consistently drill into campaigns in GA. I hope that helps!

  • Peter

    Hi Glenn, very good summary.

    Instead of URL Builder you can use Simple Tag – it’s faster and you don’t need to decide what to put to source, medium or campaign.


  • Julian

    Hey Glenn,
    i am wondering if you can see the absolute number of conversions by source? In your pictur i can just see the conversion-rate by source. For example 33,16% for Goal6 trough Google. The absolute number would be sometinhg about 1277. But where can i see this number or do i a have to calculate that?

    • Glenn Gabe


      There are a few ways to get that data. You could create an advanced segment for a specific traffic source and then view reporting in the conversions tab. You can also create a custom report, which will enable you to add the goal count to the report. I hope that helps.

      • Julian

        Dear Glenn, thank you so much for your advise. Let me know if you have a amazon wishlist …so i can retur the favour.

  • Chris

    Hello, I’ve been getting more and more involved with the analysis side of things as my understanding has grown, but could anyone help me how to work out organic and paid goal conversion numbers on Google Analytics? I am literally after way of producing an individual number for each month so I can track growth and compare the two.


  • Victoria

    Hi Glenn,
    Just wanted to say thank you for writing this article 🙂 I’ve been googling and youtubing all morning to find the answers to these issues and your article really helped me understand what I need to do with analytics. It’s such a mindfield!


  • Jason Rogers

    Is there a way to manually track conversions? For example, I have goals setup for a variety of purposes, but would like to add phone calls as well. I know , without proper software, we can’t accurately track sources, but in the monthly reports (using RavenTools) it would be nice to add the number of phone inquiries to the mix.


  • Nate

    Great introduction to GA conversion goals Glenn. This is something many business owners / webmasters fail to setup and they end up making assumptions as to what is and isn’t working. I’m a stickler for detail and it’s a good thing too as it ensures my clients have the information they need to continually improve their online marketing strategies.