Setting Up Analytics Goals… or Not

Google Analytics goals can do some great things for you. By configuring goals in Google Analytics, you can see not just how many people bought your product or what percentage of your readers make it all the way to the bottom of the page, but also actionable things like which of your traffic sources has the best conversion rate (so you can direct your resources to the right places) and how your ads perform beyond the hits and clicks in the reports you receive.

But sometimes setting up a goal isn’t the most efficient way to get the information.

We’ve been working with the dynamic and delightful Ariel Meadow Stallings of Offbeat Bride. Ariel has a whole suite of related websites (the Offbeat Empire) which have been feeding traffic to one another… until recently. We suggested that changing the navigation might help, and Ariel asked us to set up a goal in Google Analytics to measure the effectiveness of the change.

That’s a great idea in general. But in this case, there was no metric that would capture the effectiveness of the change better than the one that initially told us we needed to make the change: the referral traffic from one site to another.

When to configure a goal:

  • When it will filter out a group you want to learn more about, such as people who download your white paper or visitors who find you through social media and then shop with you
  • When it connects with revenue or other central business KPIs
  • When it gives you data helpful to the people you report to, whether that’s your boss or your board or your ad buyers.
  • When it provides a data point that correlates with other goals or which you want to be able to compare easily with other goals

When you might not need to configure a goal:

  • When you’re duplicating data readily found in other reports, such as the number of visitors to your home page or traffic from a specific source
  • When it’s not connected to your business success metrics
  • When you want information you could more readily get by creating audience segments

For the first type of items, it can be just as good to get the data from an existing report in Google Analytics when you need it. If you’re setting up a goal in order to get a particular report quickly, remember that you can set up custom dashboards that show you specific reports.

If you set up goals that don’t really mesh with your business KPIs, they can skew your data. For example, we found in our work with realtor Ken Jansen that people who looked at a large number of homes were much more likely to buy a home from him, so he needed that configured as a goal. The number of people who visit from Facebook, on the other hand, doesn’t correlate with business success for Ken. Setting up a goal measuring arrivals on a landing page from Facebook could change his conversion rate in the Goals report without actually providing any additional sales or revenue. Ken might then make changes in his marketing designed to increase his conversion rate — and put his resources toward the wrong goal.

Ken wouldn’t really do that. It’s just an example.

Another example is a client of ours whose primary goal is thought leadership. We could have set up goals showing the number of visits from universities, media outlets, and government offices. However, by setting up audience segments instead, we’re able to follow the behavior of those visitors easily and find out what they’re reading without cluttering the client’s Goals report.

For Ariel, whose business relies on advertising spend from her sponsors, the number of visitors from Facebook to sponsored pages could mean more than the sheer number of posts each visitor reads. She can use her traffic and engagement data to show prospective advertisers and time-on-site goals to woo vendors. She also found that her readers quickly began commenting about how happy they were that she had made the change. “True story: I opened Bride and my immediate reaction to the new nav was ‘THANK YOU JESUS.’” Multiple comments of this type give strong confirmation of the improved usability of the change.

For any business, the important thing is to start with your business goals and determine which Google Analytics Goals will capture the data that will support your decisions. Then determine whether configuring a goal is the best way to capture the data and use it.







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