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Events as Goals in Google Analytics

One of the features of the new Google Analytics is being able to use your events as goals. This was an often requested feature that is finally making its debut.

What are events?

First, let’s review: what’s an event? Event Tracking, in a nutshell, is designed to capture all of the non-pageview stuff that we might be interested in on a site. By default, Google Analytics captures just when pages load (through the regular tracking code on every page), but it doesn’t capture things that happen within pages, like clicks on downloads, or AJAX elements that bring in new content without a reload, links to third-party websites, or plays of videos embedded in the page. Basically, anywhere someone clicks or otherwise interacts with the site, we can track.

Those of you who have been around the block with Google Analytics may also know about “Virtual Pageviews”, which used to be the only way to track these kinds of clicks. It added a pageview, which showed up alongside all your “real” pageviews in the Top Content report, and added to the total number of pageviews to your site. This is as opposed to events, which have their own separate set of reports and get tallied up separately. Additionally, there’s only one piece of information we get to specify for the virtual pageview (an imaginary URL), while events give us more categorization options (up to four pieces of information called the category, action, label, and value).

Events as goals?

Google Analytics lets us set up goals to tell it what we want people to do when they come to the site (whether it’s buying something, submitting a form, etc.). We can even set up funnels that tell us about a process that leads up to a goal.

It used to be that Google Analytics only allowed us to specify goals by a URL. So with goals that were pageviews, no problem. But what if we wanted to measure a click, like a download or an outbound link? Well, there were always virtual pageviews, but that inflated the pageview numbers for our site. So tracking these kind of clicks became an exercise in trade-offs:

  • Do I want the click to count as a pageview, or not?
  • Do I need to use the click as a goal (or in a funnel)?
  • Do I need the extra categorization options available with events?

Now, however, you can use events as goals. So even if I’ve used event tracking instead of virtual pageviews to track my PDF downloads, if I want to set up a goal, that’s OK, I can do it.

Here’s what the goal setup screen now looks like to set up an event-based goal:

Events as goals

The Google Analytics Blog has a pretty good run-down of the options for setting up an event-based goal.

What doesn’t it do?

This is great, because it gives us a lot more flexibility with events than we once had, and makes moot some of those trade-offs between events and virtual pageviews I discussed above. However, there are still some limitations; primary this one: with event-based goals, there are no funnels. There’s just the goal. So unlike page/URL-based goals, I can’t specify some ordered steps that visitors go through to get to the final goal.

In my opinion, the ideal way this would work is for Google Analytics to allow us to mix events and pages in a funnel and goal setup. Suppose I have a funnel that looks like this:

  1. User loads the white paper download page (Pageview: /downloads)
  2. User selects a download and loads a request form (Pageview: /downloads?file=1234)
  3. User fills out some contact information and submits in an AJAX form (Event: category/request, action/submit, label/1234)
  4. User gets a link to the PDF download and clicks it (Event: category/download, action/click, label/1234)

Notice I have a mix of URLs and events in this sequence. Ideally, I’d love to set up a funnel that lets me do this, and specify any combination of pageview or events in the steps of my funnel. You can’t do this (yet, at least).

Jonathan Weber

About Jonathan Weber

Jonathan Weber is the Data Evangelist at LunaMetrics. He spreads the principles of analytics through our training seminars all over the East coast. The next seminar he'll be leading will be a Google Analytics training in Boston. Before he caught the analytics bug, he worked in information architecture. He holds a Master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Information Sciences. Jonathan’s breadth of knowledge – from statistics to analysis to library science – is somewhat overwhelming.


10 Responses to “Events as Goals in Google Analytics”

A very good explanation. I have been using events as goals, but I can’t put the process into words better than what you have done here. Great article Jonathan!

Antti Nylund says:

I hope they would introduce a viable and easy solution to multichannel funnels. I have ran into several funnels that have those pesky options like login for existing users etc. which brake otherwise so nice funnels today.

Avenir says:

You can use Event Tracking in Google Analytics to track visitor actions that don’t correspond directly to pageviews.

Cesar Brea says:

Maybe create an advanced segment — all folks that visit /downloads — and then create a custom report that filters event goal — download the report — for only folks in that advanced segment? Not everything you want, but a crude approximation?

Peter says:

Nice post with an excelent explanation. I do have one question. I’m trying to use some reg.ex. within the event goals, but i can’t get them to function. I now wonder if this is even possible?

James says:

Is it possible to set up a goal funnel with more than 1 event? ie: user clicks on a flash button —>>> user clicks on another button.

How can you track a video ? …for instance a youtube video ? Do you need to use a specific player to be abme to tag the player ?

Zachary Burt says:

+1 to Cesar Brea. Thank you.

“Maybe create an advanced segment — all folks that visit /downloads — and then create a custom report that filters event goal — download the report — for only folks in that advanced segment? Not everything you want, but a crude approximation?”

This is good.

Michal says:

Hello. Iam a little confused. I was looking forward to try funnels, but what i realy didnt expected – that the funnels will be to set only for fixed static URLs. I have a ecommerce site with seo urls and dynamic URL with each product’s checkout in virtual subpage /product-slug/checkout. I hope they will extend it..

Robbin Steif Robbin Steif says:

Hi Michal. First, this post was about *events* as goals, and we still don’t have funnels with events as the goal (we only get to have a final event goal when using that new functionality.)

Now that we have gotten that out of the way — you can create dynamic URLs in your funnel and in your goals if you use Regular Expressions. If you are familiar with them, it is easy and if not, not as easy. You can get the eBook, if you need it, on our resources page, http://www.lunametrics.com/blog/resources/