Updated on 3/17/21.

Even if you’re just dipping your toes into the water when it comes to digital marketing, you’ve likely heard of Google Analytics. Google Analytics (GA) is an uber-powerful, free analytics tool offered by the search engine to help you analyze your website traffic, measure your marketing return on investment (ROI), and meet your conversion goals. Anyone who has a website can benefit by using GA, and if you sell any sort of good or service, being well-versed in this versatile analytics program is a must. Even if you’ve signed up for Google Analytics and completed their basic tutorials, you probably still have a lot of questions about how you fully take advantage of this free tool. Today, we’re going to cover one of the GA questions we get asked the most: What is the difference between goals and events in Google Analytics?

The Difference Between Goals and Events: The Short Answer

Both Goals and Events are important tracking tools and factor in heavily to the success of your online marketing efforts. While there are elements of both that are deceptively similar, Goals and Events each help your business grow in very different ways. In addition, they’re each found in a separate report in your GA account. You would find goals in the “Conversions” reports, while events are found in the “Behavior” reports.

The main difference between a goal and an event in Google Analytics is that goals are tied to actions that affect website revenue, while events track website behavior that does not have to do with reaching a specific page on your site.

Google Analytics Goals

In a few words, goals are successful conversion events that happen on your website. They measure how well your site is meeting your objectives in terms of gaining new customers and generating income for you. These goals directly affect the success of your business and are often measured in revenue earned. Goals are actions taken by your users that factor into website success metrics and is usually measured by a visitor reaching a specific page during their time on your site.

An easy example of this is a visitor completing a purchase on your website and being redirected to a “thank you for your order” page. This “thank you” page is your “conversion goal” in GA and would be tracked as a successful goal if the user made it to this page. Other revenue-affecting “goals” you might track include newsletter signups, new qualified leads collected through a Contact Me page, or downloads of gated content that requires the user to fill out a form with their contact information.

Determining What Goals to Track

One of the biggest pieces of your website’s marketing strategy should be determining what these “goals” are for your business and how you’re going to track them in terms of success or failure. Having properly defined goals that track the right things makes it possible for GA to give you critical data like conversion rates and site drop-off that directly affect your business and marketing strategy moving forward. With this information, you can more easily see what’s working on your site and what isn’t, so you can make changes and increase your goal conversions.

Differentiating Between Macro- and Micro-Conversions

There are many important kinds of website conversions, but not all of them are as obvious as a visitor making a purchase. When determining your website goals, GA also allows you to identify which are macro- and which are micro-conversions. This means that you can also track mini (but nonetheless important) conversions as well, such as email newsletter signups or a visitor reaching a specific page, like a piece of high-value content.

Google Analytics allows you to track 4 types of goals:

  1. Duration
  2. Destination
  3. Pages per browsing session
  4. Event goals

Within each of these types of goals, you can assign a revenue value so you can more easily see how each conversion is affecting your bottom line. You can also easily create funnels for each goal to track where you’re getting customer drop off. For example, if you notice many of your customers leave your site when they encounter a your newsletter signup pop-up, you could try removing the pop-up on certain pages or delaying it for a set amount of time to see if it affects your time-on-site and overall conversion rates.

Note that GA only records a goal as having been completed once per visit, even if a single visitor completes the same goal many times. That means that even if a visitor completed two purchase sessions in a single visit and may reach the Thank You page twice, it still only counts as one goal conversion.

Google Analytics limits on goals

You can track nearly anything you want as a “goal” within Google Analytics, but there are a few limits to what you can do with the platform, including the following:

  • You may only view 20 goals at a time. If you need to track more than that, you’ll need to set up another view for your site, or edit goals that are no longer relevant to your business.
  • Goals are not retroactive, meaning they can only track conversions that occur after the goal has been created in your GA account.
  • You can’t delete goals, but you can choose to stop collecting data for any goals you no longer need.
  • Data related to goals is processed differently than your other GA data. Learn more about non-standard data processing on the Google Analytics Help site.

Google Analytics Events

Events are different than Goals in Google Analytics in that they track visitor actions on your site that may not have any affect on your site revenue, but are still important to the overall performance of your website. Examples of important events to track include video plays, buttons pushed, internal content links clicked, and other relevant site behavior. Things that would not be considered events would be visitors landing on a specific web page, or actions like completing a purchase or filling out a form, which would be considered goals.

As website technology continues to evolve, tracking events on your site becomes easier and more important. A big example of this is Flash and AJAX-based site applications that don’t require a page refresh to load, but still serve buttons or dynamically load additional content while a user scrolls. Using GA events, you can tag these actions and then collect data on minute user behavior on your site, like clicking on a specific link or button, and then analyze the data on all of the visitors who have ever clicked on that link or button.

Features of Event Tracking

A website Event has four components, which are assigned values in GA, and which will display in your event reports:

  1. Category
  2. Action
  3. Label
  4. Value

Both “label” and “value” are optional, but you should still look into each to see how they could be useful components of your reports.

One of the biggest benefits of using GA’s event tracking technology is the ability to categorize events to make it easier to digest the information in reports. When you set up an event in your dashboard, you’ll add a Category, an Action, and a Label in each event, which will then organize each event into the correct data buckets for future reporting.

You can track up to 500 different events on your website, which should be more than enough for the average business. You may be tempted to track way more events than you actually need, but try to use a critical eye when deciding what’s really necessary information for you to determine the success of your site – too much extraneous information can be overwhelming and overshadow the elements of your site that are actually critical.

Unlike Goals, events can be recorded multiple times per user visit, meaning if they click on a button or load a video that you’ve tagged 10 times, your GA account will log 10 events, rather than just one. This allows you to see what areas of your site are getting the most engagement and what areas could use tweaking. You can check out the navigation flow of your users by going to Behavior > Events > Event flow.

Event Goals

Now that you understand the difference between an Event and a Goal, there’s another type of Google Analytics goal you should be aware of – Event Goals. Confusing, right? Event Goals are user actions on your website (or events) that actually have an impact on your business’ success. These might include things like form completions on a Get a Quote page, or a pricing tier download – actions that don’t affect your revenue directly but do give you important information on what your site visitors are willing to pay for and how ready they are to convert.

Start Running with Events and Goals

Now that you better understand how to use Goals and Events in Google Analytics, sign up and start tracking so you can make smarter website and business decisions based on real data.Want more expert advice on your digital marketing strategy? Sign up for a free consultation with a Big Leap SEO expert and start making your website work harder today.

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