Best Practices for Creating Goals in Google Analytics

Best Practices for Creating Goals in Google Analytics

Your website has an important purpose: To support and improve your business by acting as your most efficient and dedicated salesman 24/7.

If your website is acting as a salesman, you need to track and measure how it is performing, like how you keep tabs on your actual sales department. You do this by creating and tracking goals in Google Analytics. And this article will provide everything you need to know to do just that…

Choose Goals that Support Your Business

The first step in measuring your website’s effectiveness is not to set up tracking in Google Analytics. The first, and most crucial, step is deciding what actions on your website will support your overall business goals. Those website actions are what you should be tracking as goals in Google Analytics.

When you have a goal in mind, ask yourself, does that goal help you build your audience? And then leverage that audience to drive revenue?

For example, having a goal of 5 pages per session (a user reaches 5 pages during a single session on your website) can absolutely indicate an engaged user – and we all want engaged users – but unless you captured the information of that user, what was the value in those 5 page views?

A better goal than having a user visit 5 page views is to have that user willingly give you their information by signing up for a newsletter, downloading an eBook, or requesting a consultation. Because, at least then, you have their information and can nurture that user into becoming a revenue-driving customer. Cha-ching!

Setup Website Forms for Simpler Tracking

Once you know your goals, whether it’s an eBook download or contact form submission, make sure they are setup correctly, so they can be accurately tracked in Google Analytics.

There are two main ways you can setup form submissions:

  1. Inline success message
  2. Redirect to thank you page

What is an inline success message?

An inline success message is when you fill out the form and a message shows up, without changing pages, that notifies you of a successful form submission.

Example notification

While an inline success message may seem easier than creating a redirect, it can be difficult to track correctly in Google Analytics. You must first create an event, which will require Google Tag Manager. Then to fire the event, you need to create a trigger based on the form response. If you’re not comfortable with HTML and JavaScript, this can be a time-consuming process.

Luckily, there’s a simpler way to track form submissions, which is to redirect your user to a unique thank you page after a successful form submission. A redirect to a thank you page is when you get redirected to a separate page after completing the form.

The benefits of creating a redirect are:

  • You can avoid the hassle of setting up events using JavaScript response message.
  • If for some reason your goals were never turned on or created incorrectly, you can still look at unique pageviews of the thank you page to get an idea of the conversions that came through.
  • You can get deeper insights by creating funnel visualizations that allow you to see the conversion rates of the landing page and if it’s a multi-step funnel, each stage of the conversion process. We will go into this in the next section.

And, here’s the best part: You can control the next stage of the conversation after a form fill. If a user filled out a form to receive an eBook, you can provide a call-to-action on the thank you page that encourages a user to sign up for your newsletter.

Creating Goals in Google Analytics

Now that you decided on your goals and have the forms setup correctly on your website, it’s time to setup tracking in Google Analytics.


When you open the Goals section, you will be presented with a page that lists your current goals. In the table, you will see: Goal, ID, Goal Type, Past 7 Day Conversions, and Recording. Let’s review each of those items:

  • Goal: The internal name you choose for your goal. Make it descriptive and useful for anyone who will be in your account, for example, “eBook – The Future of Digital Marketing in 2018” is better than “eBook Download.”
  • ID: The goal number assigned by Google. It can’t be changed and is used in the API and other reporting platforms when pulling in data.
  • Goal Type: The type of goal. There are several types of goals that you can create in Google Analytics, such as Events, Engagement (duration and pages per session), and Destination. There are also Smart Goals, which are used if you utilize AdWords, but don’t have enough conversion data to optimize your bidding.
  • Past 7 Day Conversions: The number of times this goal has fired in the last 7 days. This is a good indicator if your goal is set up correctly.
  • Recording: A switch that determines whether this goal should be tracking. If it is switched to ‘Off’, the goal will not fire even if triggers are met. Also, if the goal is turned ‘Off’ it will not show up in any reports, which makes for less clutter and cleaner reports.

To create a new goal, click the big, red button that says “+ New Goal.” If that button isn’t there, it means you have hit the default limit of 20 goals.


On the next page, you will see 3 sections, Goal setup, Goal description, and Goal details. We will review those sections here because there are nuances that can make the difference between effective and ineffective goals.

Google Analytics Goal Types

When creating a goal, you can choose between a Template, Smart Goal, or a Custom Goal. The Template options are automatically populated based on the Industry Category you chose in the Property Settings. The Smart Goal option is for AdWords and is used to optimize bidding if you don’t have enough conversion data, and the final option is the Custom goal.


The only difference between a Template and Custom goal is that the Template has the Name and Type automatically filled out, which you will likely customize to your business anyways, so for that reason, I would recommend choosing Custom each time.

Goal Description

In the Goal description section, fill out the Name, which mentioned earlier should be as descriptive as possible so anyone in your analytics account can easily know what it means without having to ask questions or dig into the goal details.

The Goal slot ID is the internal ID number for this goal. This is typically the first open goal number in your account, but you can select any goal number from 1-20 that is open.


Google Analytics Goal Types

Finally, select the Type of goal, which as mentioned earlier is either Destination, Duration, Pages/Screens per session, or Event. For our purposes, we will be utilizing Destination goals because we want each form to have a unique thank you page. If your forms don’t have unique thank you pages, you will need to create an event to track inline form submissions and then create a goal that tracks the event.


When you choose Destination, you’ll be presented with additional options that are specific to this goal type. The first option is a field to input the page path of the page that you want this goal to fire on. It’s very important that you only include the page path, which is everything after the first slash in the URL. Here’s an example of a URL and the page path:

Page Path: /about-us/our-team/stephen-roda/

If we want our goal to track how many times someone viewed my personal bio page (which is a terrible business goal, but a great self-esteem goal), you would input the page path above into the field.


Right before this field, there’s a drop-down with the options: Equals to, Begins with, and Regular expression. Let’s break down those options:

Equals to

The goal will only fire if the page path that a user hits is exactly the page path provided in the goal. This may seem like the best option, but it’s important to remember that many times URLs are appended with query parameters, such as a marketing automation tracking code. If those query parameters are in the URL that a visitor sees, the goal won’t fire. There are exceptions to this rule if you exclude URL query parameters in Google Analytics. Unless you’re sure about the exact page path URL, I don’t recommend using this option.

Begins with

The goal will fire only when the page path begins with what you provided in the destination field. This is a great option if you’ve structured your thank you pages to accommodate goal groupings. For example, if you have 10 eBooks on your site and their unique thank you pages begin with the same structure, you can create a goal that tracks all eBook downloads. To do that, the thank you pages would need to have a similar structure, such as the following:

  • /downloaded-ebook-beginners-guide
  • /downloaded-ebook-intermediate-guide
  • /downloaded-ebook-advanced-guide

To track total eBook downloads, all you would need to do is input the term “/downloaded-ebook” into the destination field and the goal will fire when anyone downloads and eBook on your site. If organized correctly, this is a great way to scale your conversion tracking, especially if you will be tracking more than 20 conversions.

Regular Expression

When creating Google Analytics goals, a regular expression is a powerful way to search and select the exact items you’re looking to track. They can get very complex and I recommend becoming familiar with regular expressions for many reasons, but for now, we’ll stick to a simple example:

Say you have 10 eBooks that don’t follow a similar URL structure (like above), but you want to measure them all together. You can write a regular expression to have the goal fire when a user hits any of the 10 unique thank you pages. For example, say you have the following Thank You pages:

  • /downloaded-beginners-guide
  • /intermediate-successful-download
  • /advanced-guide-success

To capture users who hit any of those pages, you can write the following regular expression that says, “trigger on this page, or this page, or this page.” Each page path is separated by a pipe and the entire expression is surrounded by parenthesis.


To become more familiar with and practice writing regular expressions, I recommend checking out RegExr.

Google Analytics Goal Value

The next option is to select a Value for your goal. This allows you to assign a monetary value to each conversion that comes through, which is a useful feature that allows you to see the actual monetary value and ROI of each channel driving traffic and the pages on your website. If you don’t know the value of a lead, you can find it with the following formula:

Average Sale Value x Close Rate = Lead Value

Ex. $5,000 x 2% = $100 Lead Value


Google Analytics Goal Funnel

The next step is to add a funnel to your goal, which allows you to see how many people make it to the thank you page from the form page. From here, you can see the conversion rate of the page and where people are going instead of completing the form. If you have a multi-step conversion process, this funnel will provide even more useful insights by showing where users are dropping off.

From my experience, this is one of the most underutilized features when creating a goal. Switch the funnel option to On and you’ll see Step 1 and two fields, Name and Screen/Page.


If your conversion only includes a single landing page, in the Name field write something like, “eBook Landing Page” and in the Screen/Page field, add the page path of the page that contains the form, not the thank you page.

Then, if this is the only page on your website that has the form, check the Required box. Checking this required box doesn’t affect whether the goal will be triggered, it only affects the data shown in the Funnel Visualization report (pictured below). This is a common misconception when adding funnel steps to a goal.


If your conversion process is multi-step, like a checkout process on an eCommerce site, you can add multiple steps here, such as cart, checkout, shipping, confirm, and success.

Google Analytics Verify Goal

Finally, once everything is filled out, click “Verify this Goal” to see how the goal would have converted over the last 7 days. If the thank you page has been live, and someone converted within the last few days, you should see a conversion rate show up here.


Once everything looks good, click Save. Now you have created your goal with best practices in mind! The goal will start tracking immediately and will only track conversions moving forward, so any historical data will not show up in Google Analytics.

Common Google Analytics Questions and Issues

How do I get more than 20 goals?

Each Google Analytics view is limited to 20 goals, but you can create multiple views and add new goals in those views. This will require you to stay very organized when creating your views and adding additional goals, but it’s certainly possible.

How can I delete a Google Analytics goal?

You can’t delete a Google Analytics goal. The only options are to set it to stop recording or to reassign it to something else, which makes it very important to document any goal changes in annotations. For example, if you created goal #2 to track Contact Form completions in January 2017 and then reassigned that goal to track Newsletter Signups in January 2018, every goal #2 completion in 2017 would be for the Contact Form and not the Newsletter. That context is important to know, especially for users in your account who did not know about the goal reassignment.

My Google Analytics goal is not working. Why don’t I see anything coming through?

Test the action that goal is set to fire on, such as a form submission, and view the results in the Real-Time report. If your IP address isn’t filtered out in the Google Analytics view, you are free to test the goal and see the goal fire in the Real-Time report.

How do I set up goals for an eCommerce site?

eCommerce tracking is set up separately than goals. It is a more manual process that requires JavaScript and HTML knowledge and the documentation can be found here. After setting up the custom tracking, you need to turn on the tracking inside Google Analytics on under the View Settings ? Ecommerce Settings.

You can still create destination goals that fire when someone hits the order confirmation page, but you won’t be able to see the actual value of the transaction, which is an important part of an eCommerce website. If you utilize a popular eCommerce plugin like WooCommerce, there are plugins that will automatically setup Google Analytics tracking for you. Just do a search for your eCommerce platform plus “Google Analytics integration.”


When creating goals in Google Analytics, the minor details make a significant difference in the accuracy and usefulness of the data being collected. Naming conventions, setting up website forms correctly, and funnel visualizations will make setup easier, give you more accurate data collection, and allow you to pull deeper insights from Google Analytics.

Keep these points in mind when creating goals now and in the future and I promise you will be happier with the data and insights you pull from Google Analytics.


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Stephen Roda

Stephen is a Digital Analyst with a love for technology and online marketing. His role is to oversee reporting and analysis to make sure that our services are having the largest, positive effect for our clients. He is eager to find creative solutions to complex problems and claims to have seen the entire Internet once, maybe twice.