New Google Analytics Goals

We all know that it’s critical to measure conversions, or goals, for our website. But for a long time Google Analytics limited the number of conversions, and types of conversions, you could track with Google Analytics. All that changes today (October 20, 2009).

You can now create up to 20 goals per profile in Google Analytics. I can literally hear the applause at eMetrics :)

In addition to expanding the number of goals Google has expanded the types of goals to include ‘threshold’ goals for pageviews per visit and time on site.

I think we all know the importance of tracking goals, so I’m not going to get too deep into why you should use goals. If you’re not using goals you should start NOW!

Let’s talk about this new feature.

Goal Sets

Goals are now organized into four sets. Each set of goals can contain up to five different goals.

Google Analytics Goal Sets

Sets have been introduced as a way to accommodate all the new data in GA. In the report tabs, rather than one goal tab there can be up to four goal tabs in a GA reports.

New Google Analytics Goal sets in a report

When creating a goal you can place it in any set as long as there is room. Once you place a goal in a set it’s best to NOT MOVE IT. Google Analytics sees this as a NEW goal and does not move the previously captured conversions to the new goal.

TIP: I like to organize goals by business function i.e. put goals that are related together. For example, if you’re a content site, you might create goals for spending a certain amount of time on site (1 minute, 2 minutes, etc.). I would group these goals in a set all related to time.

Goal Types

In the old days a goal was a pageview that represented the completion of some high value process, like a thank you page. Now goals can be based on actions that have nothing to do with viewing a page. Conversions can be based on how much time a visitor spends on the site or how many pages the visitor views.

Time Based Goals

Time based conversions are triggered after a visitor has spent a certain amount of time on the site. To configure a time based goal enter the hours, minutes and seconds that a visitor must spend on the site before a conversion is counted. Once the visitor reaches that amount of time on the site then a conversion is triggered.

Creating time based goals in Google Analytics.

What’s interesting here is that you can create a time based goal if a visit does NOT reach a certain amount of time. If you choose ‘Less Than’ Google Analytics will trigger a goal if a visit does NOT reach a certain length.

Less Than Goals in Google Analytics

Why on earth would you measure this? I like to think of ‘Less Than’ goals as ‘Failure’ metrics. We often define success metrics, like Conversion Rate, but rarely define metrics to measure our failures!

Using failure based metrics really packs a punch when you’re talking to co workers or clients. For example, when you configure a failure goal you can easily measure and say, “Did you know that 97% of our traffic does not spend at least 2 minutes on our site? We suck!”

Abandonment rate is another well know failure metrics.

Time on site can be configured as a Goal in GA

Time based goals can also be very useful if you’re trying to MINIMIZE the amount of time people spend on your site. For example, if you have a support section on your site you may want to understand what percentage of traffic spends a certain amount of time on your site. Long term you can try to reduce the number of visits that are too long.

How about setting up a goal set for various time intervals and then try to move visitors from one “goal” bucket to the next. 10 minutes, to 7 minutes, to 5 mintues… You guys are bright, you get the idea :)

Remember, time based goals can be affected by creating virtual pageviews and events. Both of these activities send data to Google Analytics and can change how visit length is calculated.

Pageview Based Goals

Another new goal type is pageviews per visit. Like time on site goals this this type of conversion is triggered when a visit exceeds a certain number of pages. I can literally hear all the advertisers clapping out there!

Pageviews goals are set up in the same manner as time based conversions. Just specify a condition (greater than or less than) and the number of pageviews in a visit.

Pageviews per Visit Goals in Google Analytics

Like time goals, pageview goals can also be affected by virtual pageviews. If you’re creating a lot of data using _trackPageview() you need to understand that this can change your overall goal calculation.

URL Destination Goals

The old standby! ‘Traditional’ goals are now called URL Destination Goals. You can still use a regular expression, head match or exact match to identify a page that represents a goal. This functionality has not changed (you can learn more about goals in this old post.)

URL Destination Goal in Google Analytics

Now that we have 20 goals we can easily measure all of those micro conversions (RSS subscription, email signup, reaching product page, downloading white paper… etc, etc, etc).

And yes, you can still use a virtual pageview as a URL Destination goal.


Google did spend some time tweaking the interface. The old interface always showed 10 steps in the funnel. Now you can choose the number of fields the funnel form displays. You’re still limited to 10 steps in total. This isn’t such a big deal.

New Funnels interface in Google Analytics

But think about the bigger picture. Do we really need funnels if we have so many goals? With 20 goals we can use a goal to represent each stage in a process, rather than a funnel step? So do we still need funnels?

Yes. Funnels provide a nice visualization of critical processes, so I think they are still relevant. Plus, you need to configure a funnel if you want to measure Abandonment rate, a very nice failure metric that can make people squirm :)

Odds and Ends

A few random thoughts re: new goals:

If you’ve been creating lots of profiles for goals you may want to consider consolidating all goals to a single profile. The benefit is you can have all your conversions in one interface. No more messing with multiple browser tabs and adjusting the date range.

If you need to control the access to certain goals, you may need to create a profile for certain goals and then give only the people who need access to those goals access to the profile.

A visitor can only convert at each goal once per visit. This is the way it’s always been.

And finally, creating new goals will not modify your historical data, only future data. So all those new goals you’re going to create this week will only track from the day your create them onward.

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    1. stelios says

      Is this available to all Google Analytics accounts or selected ones? As i can’t see the new features in my accounts!

      • says


        Enhanced goals, and all the new features will be rolled out to all accounts over the next few weeks. You may see some new features as early as today. It all depends on how fast Google can push them.

        Thanks for the question,


    2. says

      Excellent write-up Justin and I value your GA insights as always. I’m looking forward to seeing these new features in my account and exploring the custom variables features.

    3. says

      Thanks for the post! It had never occured to me to track “negative” goals before but after reading some of your comments and recognizing the value, I’m gonna have to start experimenting with my GA accounts.

      • says

        @Jeff: Thanks! Hopefully everyone will have access in the next 1 to 3 weeks. But it’s never fast enough, right? :)

        @Jeremy: Now, with threshold Goals, we can track how much we suck! Failure based metrics always pack a punch when talking to business folks.

        Thanks for the comments.

    4. Chris Kelley says

      Lots of good points. I especially like the idea of failure metrics. You’re right we do not always realize how much of an impact failure metrics can have. Its important to be aware of failures as well as successes.

    5. Fred Munoa says

      Excellent news, I hope the integration doesn’t take too much time. I can see a lot of uses for this new feature. Thanks for the news Justin pretty interesting post as always.

    6. says

      Hey Justin,

      Thanks for your time on writing this post.

      Google analytics actually made a big deal on this update. To have new possibilities on Goals is so great!

      And, I’m a true fan of the custom variable feature.. Oh yes, we cannot forget that we are able to segment the unique visitor metric now!

      Well, of course the analyst in person, after all, is what actually make the big difference.. but with these new features, we will can make some on the fly analysis without the need of data exporation and filtering… once time is money, this is great.


      • says

        @Fred: Setting up new goals should be seamless. It’s a matter of new clicks. However, features like Custom Variables will take time as there is coding onvolved.

        Thanks for all the comments!

    7. says

      What a great post, I had read about the new functionality of Google analytics but had not really considered any of the new features. I particularly like the pageview based goals as well as being able to set up failure metrics – this should be extremely useful in seeing at what point you are failing and being able to identify possible reasons.

    8. Josh Fleischmann says

      If I set one goal for greater than 1 minute and another goal for greater than two minutes, goal two will include all visits from both goal one and goal two, right? Is it possible to bucket out all visits separately from one another (can’t set the time spent to be between 1:00 and 1:59).

    9. says

      I think a better use for the “less than” metrics would be specialized profiles monitoring conversion paths. If you have a sign-up page, or a check-out process, the time-on-site could correlate directly to the amount of friction you are introducing to that process; the lower the number, the better.

      As you make changes to these paths — removing a field, AJAXifying it to help with City look ups — you should be able to quickly see if you’ve made the process easier just by monitoring how many people took 30 seconds or less to complete the transaction.

      These new tools are going to be great. I’m excited to see them pop up in my profiles…

    10. nivi says

      Great insights!

      i have question regarding the goals. i have created many profiles to create as many goals i wanted. Can i move these to one profile so that i dont need to handle all those profiles? or should i have to manually create these goals again in the one profile where i wish to consolidate.

      • says

        @Josh: Right. A count of all of the visits that convert at the 2 minute goal will contain all of the vists that convert at the 1 minute goal. You could create an advanced segment to identify all goals that last between 1 and 2 minutes.

        @Nathan: Great idea. That’s exactly how to make this data actionable. With all the new goals we should be able to easily measure the impact of different changes.

        @nivi: Unfortunately no, you can’t move all of your previously created goals to a new profile. That would have been a great feature. You’ll need to recreate your goals and while they’re populating use your old profiles for reporting.

        Thanks for all the questions!

    11. says

      Hi Justin,
      I attended the NY Seminars For Success this October and I’ve got a quick question I hope you could answer.
      I’m one of the ‘nerds’ in my organization but an even bigger ‘nerd’ (one of the backend Developers) is implementing a ‘LightSource Z-Metric tracking script’ on our ecommerce subdomain. He asked if he set our eStore application’s config to set the HttpOnly flag on session cookies if it will break the GA cookie.
      I said I had no idea so I thought I’d throw this to you and see if you did.
      Thanks for any help you can provide. I would have emailed you but I couldn’t find an email address for you and this was too long to post on twitter. LOL!
      Thanks again!
      Dave Lender

      • says

        @David: Thanks for the question and thanks for coming to the training. I’m not very familiar with the HttpOnly flag, but did some digging and found this:

        If the HTTPOnly flag (optional) is included in the HTTP response header, the cookie cannot be accessed through client side script..

        Based on this definition it seems that the HTTPOnly flag would KILL Google Analytics tracking. Anything that blocks the ga.js from interacting with the cookies will break GA. Again, I have not had a lot of experience with this flag, but this definition does worry me.

    12. says


      We love the additional goals and have added goals 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, however those goals don’t seem to be available in the custom reports (I only see goals 1-4). Anyone else see this?

      – Boris

    13. says

      Thanks a lot for the update and just in time when I was about to create another profile to set up a few more goals. I am able to see the enhanced features right away in my account… which is great! However for single page visits, at what point does GA measure the time spent on site and doesn’t count it as a bounce?

      • says

        @ dswei: Sure, you can translate into Chinese.

        @ Boris: I’m not sure when the new metrics will be added to Custom Reports or Advanced Segments. It can take a bit of time for the full feature to be rolled out. I’d give it a couple of weeks for Google to push out the feature.

        @Bibi: Ah, that’s a problem for any tool. If there is only one pageview, and no events on the page, then there is no way to measure time. GA needs multiple HITS back to the server to calculate time.

        Thanks for all the questions!

    14. simin sartipi says

      I am adding Goals to the sites that they are in contract with my company there are some changes in the the pages of some sites for redesign purposes I need to change the Goal URL and I need to delete some I don’t see a way to delete the Goals How should I delete a Goal? there are some ways as I look through the help center but they are I guess for older design ..can you help me with that? Thanks,Simin

      • Justin says


        There is no way to delete a Goal in Google Analytics. If the fundamental goal type is staying the same, then I would update the URL of your goal rather than creating a new goal. This will maintain the consistency of your conversion data in Google Analytics. Just make sure you time the change in your goal settings with the update to your site URLs.

        Hope that helps,


    15. says

      I’ve always thought Google’s conversion calculation was totally useless.

      Based on the number of users who get to the end of my funnels over the number who started, I always get a far higher figure than what GA lists as the conversion rate. Usually it’s 1,000 times higher.

      How on Earth does GA calculate the conversion rate?

    16. says

      I just noticed these changes in my account the other day and had no idea what was going on. I never really did understand the old goal system but your explanation is very helpful. I think I will go set up some different types of conversion goals on one of my sites to test it.

      • Justin says

        @Chip: You need to create a Virtual Pageview using JavaScript and then turn that virtual pageview into a Goal.

        @DS: Goals are calculated based on a visit or session. They are not based on Unique Visitors. It is not possible to change the calculation methodology.

        @Google Terminator: Glad you’re going to set up some goals! They’re essential for measuring the success of your website!

        Thanks for the questions.

    17. says

      Hi Justin,

      This is a very informative article.
      I am implementing goals for my company’s website which is under construction.
      I want to know if google analytics counts goal completion for every visit or only for unique ones.
      Please let me know.


    18. says


      My firm (architecture/engineering) barely has it’s feet wet when it comes to analytics, but with the launch of our latest subsite (address above) I want to advance our understanding of conversions and what they mean to us. Since we’re not e-commerce, I was hoping one conversion we could use is when a visitor clicks a mailto. I can’t find any info on this, however, and was hoping you could point me to something on your blog. We’re using GA to capture data.

      Many thanks,

      Chip Jordan

    19. says

      Hi Justin,

      First, I’d like to thank you for this blog. It’s been of great help.

      I have one question. Do you know how I can track visitors like this:

      I am tracking a PDF form download as a goal, but the steps leading to it are diverse, since there are plenty of informational pages available before the download.

      Can you suggest a way to efficiently track multiple steps?

      I was thinking about creating multiple goals with different steps, but there are endless paths and page combinations a user can go through before downloading.


      • Justin says

        @Andre: If you have endless paths then you really don’t want to create a funnel. You’re giving the visitor the option to convert many different ways. If you’re not forcing them through a defined series of steps then don’t try to create a funnel. Rather create an Advanced Segment based on those that convert and analyze that segment of traffic. Do they come from a certain place? Do they interact with a certain type of content? Do they visit a certain number of times? Then use that information to push more people into that segment.

        Hope that helps,


    20. says

      I love the new (extra) Google Analytics goals! Only wish they’d allow even more. We’ve connected our call tracking platform to them so that every time we get a web-generated phone call it gets captured as a goal in Google Analytics!

      Love the blog.

    21. says

      Hi Justin, I went to your GA conf in Boston. Now I’ve got a question on C-Vent and GA integration. Would like to add link tags but can’t do it the way we learned – needs to be done thru the cvent website. Do you know how that works? Thanks.

      • Justin says

        Hi Colleen,

        I am not familiar with C-Vent. In fact I have no idea what it is. If it is some type of CMS or publishing tool they probably want you to add the page tags via the UI. Which should not be a problem. You just need to figure out how to edit your template.

        Hope that helps,


    22. says

      This was a very good article and very clear. I am going to use goals now. Sometimes I find Analytics interface so complicated and they don’t explain everything. but your article makes so much sense. Thanks for the info!

    23. Faisal says

      Hi Justin, I have 4 different forms on my website all of which go to 1 generic ‘Thank You’ page when submitted. How do I setup my goals, both in Analytics and on my site, so that I can track each form conversion separately (so I know which forms are being filled out)? Thanks!

      • says

        @ Faisal: There are a couple of ways you can do this.

        Do each of the forms have a different URL? If so, set up 4 goals, all with the the same Goal URL and create a funnel for each of the goals. The funnel step will be the form URL. Then, make the form URL a Required Step in the goal funnel. This will cause the Funnel Visualization report to only show conversions that hit the form that you identified in the funnel.

        An alternate method would be to add a query parameter to your Goal URL that identifies which form the visitor filled out. Then set up 4 goals, one for each of the forms.

        Hope that helps!

    24. Erin Ruddick says

      Justin, your posts are really helpful. I’m new to using events in Google Analytics and recently set up some related to form submissions. I’d like to use these events as goals, but the new GA doesn’t seem to allow it, and the links they offer are all step-by-step referring to the old GA.

      Do you have any “how to” you could point me to?

      • says

        @Erin: Thanks, glad you find the posts useful. You can set up events as goals in the new GA. Here’s a quick overview:

        Event: Specify a client-side event as a goal.
        Under Goal Details, supply the following information:

        Condition: Click one of the event components (category, action, label, value) to set a condition. You have to set at least one condition, and you can set up to four.
        Goal Value: Choose either event or constant value.
        Event Value is the value you assigned to the event when you set it up. If you did not set up a value for the event, use 0 or enter your own value for the goal. (See Values in the Event Tracking Guide on Google Code.)
        Constant value is a the value you enter in the field manually. (See About Goals for information on goal values.)


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