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Deleting Goals in Google Analytics

Have you ever set up a goal in Google Analytics, and later wanted to delete the goal from your profile? You go into the Admin section, click into the Goals tab for the profile, and search for the “delete” button. But you don’t find it.

That’s because it doesn’t exist.

This is a common question that’s been asked before, and it recently came up at our Google Analytics training last week.

Background

In Google Analytics, you have four sets of goals, each with five goal slots available. Hence, you can create a total of 20 goals per profile.

Goal sets in Google Analtyics

Goals let you define success for your website. You tell Google Analytics what you want people to do on your site, and when they do it, it counts as a goal. You can even tell Google Analytics how valuable the goal is to you.

By setting up these goals and goal values, you can really start to see what’s working and what isn’t – on your site, with your marketing, you name it. For example, if you have goals set up you may see that organic search drives more traffic, but paid search drives more sales. Or vice versa. Without goals (or ecommerce tracking) you have very little information about what source of traffic is the most valuable, or what content on your site helps lead people to convert.

If you’re looking for more information about how to set up goals, Dorcas Alexander recently wrote a series of posts that will guide you:

Part 1: Plan Ahead

Part 2: URL-Based Goals

Part 3: Event-Based Goals

Why can’t I delete my goals?

Once you set up a goal, it only shows up in your reports from that point forward. It does not apply to historic data. This is because goal setup is part of the processing that happens on your data when it gets sent to Google Analytics’ servers. Here’s the flow:

1. Someone visits your site and views at least one page (maybe more)

2. Raw hits are sent to the Google Analytics servers, providing information about the visitor, the visit and the pages viewed

3. GA processes the hits. That processing includes profile settings, filters and goals. Once the processing is done, the data is sent to the reports.

That processing only happens once.

So when you set up a goal, once the data for that goal is in your reports, it’s there forever. You can’t go back and change the goal, and expect the data in the reports to be updated.

Now imagine if you could delete a goal. You might go into your goal report and see something like:

Goal Completions: 150

Goal 1 Completions: 25

Goal  3 Completions: 50

Now your number don’t add up, and you’re left wondering why Google Analytics can’t do simple arithmetic. (Of course, you know why, but does everyone else with access to your analytics understand?)

By having the option to set the goals as Inactive, you can still see in the reports that those goals used to exist, and how many completions occurred for them.

Inactive Goals in Google Analytics

What should you do?

First of all, you should have a strategy about what you want to track as a goal. There should be a handful of very important things that you want to count (macro conversion) as well as any number of softer successes (micro conversions).

Organize your macro goals into one (or more) goal sets and keep your micro goals together in their own goal sets.

Of course, there will always be something new that comes along that you’ll want to track as a goal. It’s always tempting to just keep stuffing goals in a profile until you run out of room. But that leads to a poor organization.

Ask yourself if the goal will be around for a long time, or if it’s likely to go away sometime soon. If it’s a temporal goal, consider creating a separate profile to keep track of it (and any other short-term goals).

If you find that the limit of 20 goals is too constrictive, consider creating profiles with similar goals grouped together by profile. For example, you may have a profile with goals geared to your sales division, and another profile with goals geared to your customer service division.

But what if you still want to “delete” a goal from a profile? Maybe you were testing a goal configuration and chose a poor name for your goal:

Bad goal name in Google Analytics

You can edit the goal, mark it as inactive and delete all other information from the goal, and name it “-”. You can’t leave the goal name or goal URL blank (it will give you an error if you try) but by naming those fields with just a dash, you’ll see that it’s a blank goal that you can reuse.

 Re-purposing Inactive Goals

Because you can edit goals, you can always reuse the slots being occupied by inactive goals. If you do this, remember that the previous goal data for the inactive goal will still be in your reports. This can be confusing and misleading, as you may see goal completions for your new goal that were really goal completions for the old goal.

There are three things you can do to limit the confusion:

1. Don’t re-purpose goal slots. Just mark them as inactive.

2. If you must re-purpose goal slots, try to keep the new goals as similar to the old goals as possible.

3. Use the annotations feature in your reports to keep track of any changes you’ve made to your goals. It would also be thoughtful of you to email anyone who uses the reports to notify them of the change.

Jim Gianoglio

About Jim Gianoglio

Jim Gianoglio is our Digital Analytics Engineer. He works with implementation, analysis of Google Analytics, and spearheads the LunaMetrics Google Analytics seminars across the country. Want to see him in action? He'll be heading our Google Analytics training in Los Angeles. Before succumbing to the siren song of analytics, he led the SEO campaigns of Fortune 500 companies in the insurance, retail and CPG industries. Things you didn’t know about Jim: he runs marathons, photographs weddings and has done voiceovers for TV commercials.

http://www.lunametrics.com/blog/2013/02/05/deleting-goals-google-analytics/

22 Responses to “Deleting Goals in Google Analytics”

Nancy says:

But it’s still not clear why Google doesn’t allow us to delete the goals… what’s the reasoning?

Kirsten says:

But having inactive goals that have been edited to be completely blank showing up in reports is just as (if not more) confusing to clients than having numbers from deleted goals showing. For that matter, AdWords lets you delete ads even though the click numbers for those ads stick around in the overall stats for the account, so why can’t Analytics do the same?

It also seems strange that the overall goal total has to be processed once along with the hits. Individual goals getting processed then makes sense, but is it really that big a load on the servers to have the overall goal total calculated dynamically upon report access? Then there’s no problem, deleted goals can just be omitted from the calculation.

@Nancy – part of the reason (and this is my own hunch) is because of the confusion it would create if the goal numbers didn’t add up, like I mentioned in the post. However, editing goals can lead to just as much (if not more) confusion, like @Kirsten pointed out.

That’s why I recommend marking outdated goals as inactive and leaving them alone, as opposed to reusing the same goal slots. If you do reuse them, you should absolutely create an annotation to help keep track of the change.

I’m sure there are a whole host of other technical reasons why it would be more difficult than it seems to let people delete the goals. And as far as the goal total number being off, it’s not just a matter of dynamically processing it like you mention, Kirsten. The goal totals are based off of processed data that’s already in the reports. To change the goal total, you’d have to remove data from the reports. That would require reprocessing the data, which we know can’t/won’t happen.

Also, I didn’t mention this in the post, but if you’re looking to do more goal-related analysis but want a little more control over the goal setup and funnel (and want it to be applied retroactively) you can use http://www.paditrack.com. It’s a great tool and it’s free!

Kirsten says:

Thanks for the quick response, Jim!

I suppose by “delete” I meant more that a goal would be marked as deleted and then dynamically excluded from any goal-related reports, regardless of whether the data was actually gone, as AdWords seems to do (eg. you can access deleted ads in AdWords but by default they’re filtered out). All around the methodology for processing seems a bit of a mess.

Thanks for the recommendation, it looks promising!

Antti Nylund says:

Arg, I was hoping for a solution to this but it was just a patch… Thanks for the great post though.

I often use Adv Segments for goals that don’t track something concrete like lead or sale. As soon as you add micro and macro conversions next to your actual conversions, basic reports that include total goal completions/conversion turn into crap.

I wonder why goal data cannot act like Adv. Segments? Now if you make a mistake with your goal definition and notice it after few days or a client decides to change their site (thank-you page) without telling you (sound familiar?) you are stuck with screwed up data.

Now you add the annotation and you have to remember that in every analysis you make based on goal data. With year to year comparisons that means you have to keep that in mind for almost 2 years.

I’ve noticed before that Google likes to think that internet is made of static html sites and Ma&Pa simple eshops. Anything beyond that you’re on thin ice. Luckily last year they implemented lot of stuff that help report more complex sites and interactions more easily. I just wish that they would find a way to drag goal tracking to this decade.

@Antti -

I like your idea of using advanced segments to track certain things instead of goals. Another way is with event tracking – like with advanced segments, you’re still tracking an important behavior, just not muddying up your goal reports.

I agree, even with annotations analysis becomes difficult, especially if your using a long date range or YoY comparison, like you mentioned.

Nuttakorn says:

Have you seen the case if you need to change goals from time to time – so we just need to replace the new goals with existing goals and use annotation?

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Keith says:

It’s my data and if I don’t want a goal anymore, I should have the ability to delete it.

Au says:

I hope in the future Google will add a delete function on these goals. It looks messy.

Thanks Jim ;-)

It’s a good thing they keep the goals as non-deleteable.
You should see the spam we get on the GA product forums about people “accidentally deleting” profiles and other key information.
This is directly tied to the level of analytics user maturity and education.
Turning the goals on/off is a lesser evil.

@Julien -

Thanks for the comment!

I agree with you for the most part, but I’m still on the fence about what I’d rather see. I think the ability to delete a goal *sounds* like an easy solution, but there are so many hidden issues that it just isn’t that simple. Like what do you do with existing goal conversion data in the reports for a goal that you delete?

Toye Apampa says:

Excellent post, fine if goals cannot be deleted however it will be good to be able to hide these goals permanently, only admin users will see them in the front end.

Trupti says:

Will the Goals still start tracking if we change the thank you page urls and if the old thank you page urls are redirected to the new urls? Or do we need to create new goals as the thank you page urls change?

Hi Trupti -

If your thank you page URLs have changed, you need to update them in your goal settings as well (regardless of having a redirect in place).

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If you want to know the technical reason… It has to do with summarized data. Otherwise Google would have to recalculate historical data in order to remove the goals you deleted. Also likely (although I’m not sure), there is a separate field in the database dedicated to each of the 20 goal slots. Rather than having to delete this data (again data would have to be re-summarized). When you re-purpose the goal, it would just start using that same field (goal slot) to continue aggregating the data.

SEO GROUP says:

Thanks Jim,

I have been wondering about how to delete goals.

I just shared this article with my followers.

Marvin
seogroup.com

Muskie says:

I was trying to create a goal recently and I did it on my “All Traffic” profile and it was a destination goal. The goal never worked. But then I got the bright idea to use my “www.” profile, ie just the traffic to http://www.mydomain and low my goal works. So now of course I have a useless goal on my main “All Traffic” profile. I made it inactive and will repurpose it someday perhaps, but it isn’t like I don’t have other goal slots I could use. Making a new profile seems to be a way to get more goals for the same domain.

Kate Holland says:

I just created a goal because I am teaching myself to use GA by watching their online training videos, and am practising things as I go along. I have now created a pointless goal on my employer’s GA and can’t delete it. Great.

I would like the ability to delete goals.

My understanding is best practices is to create filters, goals, etc. on a test view and later move to master view. Applying best practices, I create goals on the test view first, then on the master view.

After creating the goal on the master view, I would like to remove the test view goal. Net, I can’t. The result, I have a goal that is not used. By allowing one to delete goals, I can have a clean test view environment. Your thoughts?

The Google Analytics user interface is constantly undergoing changes. I am sure that it will once end up to be user friendly and intuitive. Until then we will have to live with the defects and useful user workarounds. Thanks for taking the time to write this article Jim.