Getting More out of Google Analytics Goals

Setting up goals in Google Analytics is a vital step in monitoring the success of your website. While it is not necessary, setting up goals helps you harness the complete power of the application. Most people usually set up goals and scrutinize the conversion rate. I’m not going to comment on conversion rate, Avinash has already caused a stir about that. But I do want to point out some other Goal functionality and Goal related reports. I think an example would be the best way to structure this post.

One of the Google Analytics goals for my site is to get RSS subscriptions. You’ll notice that I have a number of feed reader subscription links in the right hand navigation of my site. When someone clicks on one of the subscription links I record a page hit in Google Analytics. Each subscription link generates a different page hit. Here’s what the page hits look like:


So my goal is to get someone to reach one of those ‘pages’. Most people would create a goal for each of the above so they can track exactly which subscription type was requested. But that would be messy. There are 5 subscription types, I would need to use two profiles to track all of the goals.

Rather than create a goal for each of the above, I can use a regular expression to match then all. Then I only need to create a single goal. The regular expression that I use for the goal looks like this:


Here is the neat part. Google Analytics has a special report that will explain which of the links were hit. Remember, I’m using a regular expression that can match all of the subscription links (5 different links). While it is valuable to see the overall number of times the goal is reached, it is even more useful to understand which of the 5 links actually contributed to the goal.

The report is called the ‘Goal Verification‘ report and it is located in the Content Optimization > Goals & Funnel Process reports. Here’s the report for my site (don’t laugh at my data :) ):

Google Analytics Goal Verification Report
You can see from the image that there were three different matches for my goal regular expression. There were three matches for the Google Reader, three matches for the pure RSS feed and 2 matches for the Yahoo! feed reader. This is a great way to ‘drill down’ into your goal, especially if it can be achieved a number of different ways.

Just for some comparison, if I look at the Goal Tracking Report I see the total Number of goals achieved:

Google Analytics Goal Tracking Report
This is fun, let’s keep digging into this data! In our example, a visitor can reach my goal from any page on the site. It would be interesting to see which page they were on prior to hitting the goal. Google Analytics has a ‘Revers Goal Path‘ report. This report, found in the Content Optimization > Goals & Funnel Process section, shows the path that the user took to reach a goal.
Google Analytics Reverse Goal Path

Looking at the report we can see that two people landed on my homepage and subscribed to the Google RSS feed. This report is great because it can show the ‘high value’ pages that people need to see on the way to your goal page.

I hope this post was useful. Many people fixate on goal conversion rate and don’t dig into the more useful functionality.

I’m off for a vacation, I’ll be back in two weeks :)

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    1. says

      Justin: This is a great post!! It covers a “off the normal” goal (and as you point out there could be so many of those beyond not normal conversion type), then segementation and finally, what I call, “influencing content”. Very nice.

      Now I am going to my blog and try to set up these exact same rss goals for my blog (will post images and then we can both laugh at our data! :)).


    2. Justin says

      Hi Avinash,

      Thanks for the insightful comment. You summed up perfectly what I was trying to accomplish. I want people to realize how much functionality GA has and how they can use it to dig deeper into their data.

      Let me know if you need any help setting up those goals!


    3. says

      Thanks for the article. Using this approach does anything show up in the funnel visualization report, or can you only see the conversion path by viewing the Reverse Goal Path?



    4. says


      Yes, you could see some data in the funnel visualization report if you create a funnel.

      In this post I did not create a funnel, but if there was a defined series of steps leading up to my “virtual” pageview goal, I could create a funnel to evaluate the process.

      Hope that helps.


    5. Pablo says

      Hi Justin,
      I’ve followed your advice and create a four-goal goal using regular expresions. I have 4 videos which go like this: /video1/finish.html, /video2/finish.html…etc.
      The thing is, when I check each one of them on ‘goal verification’ report, those numbers are 20% different (less) from the respective ‘unique pageviews’. How can this possibly be?
      Thanks in advance

    6. says

      Hi Pablo,

      Thanks for the question.

      A person can only convert at a goal once per visit. If someone can view the goal page more than once per visit then that would cause the unique pageview data to be inflated.

      I’m sorry if that was not clear in the post.

      Thanks for the question,


    7. Pablo says

      Hi Justin,
      Thanks for your response.
      Sorry, but I still don’t understand why goal convertions and unique pageviews are different, since ‘unique pageviews’ counts, like goal convertion, only one per visit (or is it per ‘visitor’in goals’ case?).
      Thanks again,

    8. says

      Hey Pablo,

      Sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking! You’re right.

      I’ve seen some minor differences in comparing the two values, but I have not seen a 20% difference. Is it possible that something changed in the configuration? Does the difference persist if you look at the data one day at a time?

      I’m grasping a bit here because I’m just not sure.


    9. Pablo says

      Hi Justin, yes the difference persists. Maybe has something to do with the regular expressions (I cheked the individual goal value on ‘goal veerification’). I don’t know. There are many misterys not yet solved in web analytics.
      Thanks for your help (maybe we can follow the issue by email if you have time).


    1. […] Regular Expression This setting defines a goal using a regular expression. If the regular expression entered into the Goal URL matches any part of the goal URL then the goal counter is incremented. Using a regular expression is particularly useful because it let’s ‘wrap up’ goal tracking so you track multiple goals in a single goal. You can track multiple goals using a single goal because a regular expression can match multiple URLs. For example, let’s say you want to create a goal that tracks and PDF file download. You could enter .pdf into the Goal URL field. I actually wrote about using regular expressions to get more out of goals last year. […]

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