Neat Freak’s Nightmare: How to Cope with the GA Goals UI Shakeup


The new goal setup in Google Analytics is great, unless you want to organize your goals. Here’s how to cope until (fingers crossed) Google fixes it.

black cat amid scattered cards

Let me start by saying I love the new, clean look of the goal configuration screens. I love that GA is always adding new features and making adjustments. Every week there’s a surprise, often a pleasant one. One of the best things in the new goal setup is the next to last step: “Verify this Goal.” Why, yes! Yes, I would like to verify this goal before saving it and wondering next week where all my goal data is. Or without taking several extra steps to verify my goal first.

I’m perfectly happy about the clean, new direction of the administrative UI, except for one thing. The goals list is a jumbled mess!

Problem 1:
Numbered Goals Now Alphabetized

Previously when I looked at the Goals UI, the goals were listed in the order they appeared in my reports. First I had Goal Set 1, and any goals I had configured in that set, then Goal Set 2, and so on.

Now the goals are alphabetized by the name of the goal, without regard to how they appear in my reports. All my macro conversions are in Set 1 (and they still are), but I can’t easily see that in this list.

from a numbered list to an alphabetized list of goals

I don’t know why this list has changed. In my reports I still see my macro conversions on the tab for Goal Set 1.

Of course, the whole report setup could change. And perhaps a grand Google master plan will make it all clear why we had to lose the old ordering. I found a hint of that on the official support page for goal sets: it says, “This feature is retiring.” No more goal sets? I’m intrigued.

As far as I can see, each tab still holds only 5 goals each, aka a “goal set”. And so I want the order here to match the order in my reports.

Okay, this part is easy to fix. (But admittedly a pain.)

Solution 1:
Add Two-Digit Prefix to Goal Name

By adding a two-digit prefix to each goal name, the list will be ordered the way I expect the goals to appear in my reports.

a goal name with a numbered prefix

I simply (and tediously) add a number to the beginning of the current goal name. At least the number is right there in the configuration screen and I don’t have to keep the list open in another tab to keep checking on it.

Ah, the lovely result: I feel better already.

from an alphabetized list back to a numbered list of goals

If you’re starting fresh, this isn’t as much of an issue… yet. But if you’re like me and had neatly organized goal sets, this is step one to coping with what I hope will be a temporary problem.

Problem 2:
Adding Goals to the Right Set

The next problem arises when I create a new goal. What number comes next? What set will it be in? Previously I could add a goal to an existing set or start a new set, among the four sets available to me in any profile. Now if I want a goal to appear in, let’s say, Goal Set 3, I may have a bit more work ahead of me.

When I select “create a goal”, by default GA will assign it to the next open slot, in numerical order. To create a new goal and add it to Goal Set 3, I’ll have to fill in any empty slots in the preceding sets.

Solution 2:
Create Placeholder Goals and Deactivate Them

Another tedious “solution”: create placeholder goals to fill in the sets until you reach the goal slot you want.

I just did this for a client who wanted a new goal in set 3, logically enough because the new goal was similar to the other goals in set 3. It belonged there. So I started creating placeholder goals to get to the next open slot in set 3.

goal recording toggle off or on

I found the quickest goals to define are the goal types “Duration” or “Pages per visit” because I don’t have to enter anything except the goal name and then save. I can just leave the zeroes that are there by default.

Of course I don’t want to see these placeholder goals in my reports. To make sure they don’t appear (and don’t collect any data), I immediately turn the recording “off”. This setting appears in the list of all my goals, at the far right of each row.

editing a placeholder goal

When I’m ready to replace a placeholder goal with a real goal, I can click “Edit” next to the goal description.

“Edit” lets me change the goal name and the goal type. So I can turn all these Pages per visit type goals into URL goals or Event goals or Duration goals, as needed.

What’s Next After Goal Sets?

Just to be clear, I’m not going through all my goal sets everywhere and “cleaning house” with these “solutions”. I’m only using them when absolutely necessary to fulfill a client’s request.

I want to believe that the pain is only temporary. I hope that something even better is on the horizon.

If Google is retiring goal sets, it could be that the familiar Goal Set tabs in reports will change, too.

Maybe it won’t matter what the goal number or goal set is. Maybe we’ll be able to move and rearrange goals on a whim!

I can dream, can’t I?

What’s your biggest beef with the new goals interface and how are you handling it? What do you think is the next big feature for goals in Google Analytics? Please share in the comments.

Dorcas Alexander is a Manager for the Analytics & Insight department. Her path to LunaMetrics followed stints in ad agency creative, math, and computer science. Dorcas has a master's degree in language and information technologies from Carnegie Mellon University, where she helped build precursors to a Universal Translator. One of the top-rated tournament Scrabble players in Pennsylvania, Dorcas has an insatiable drive to compete and win.

  • What I would like to see in Google a Preview (Test/Mode?) test if goals are behaving correctly without having to pollute your real data. It can be messy at the beginning.

    • Dorcas Alexander

      Yes, a Preview button has been missing for a long time, which is why we always recommend testing goals in a copy of your main profile. Have you tried the new “Verify this goal” link at the bottom of the goal configuration screen?

  • Peter

    Whats my biggest beef… well you nailed it! Thanks so much for this. I mean it’s locigal enough but I was stuck asking myself is it just me or is there something wrong here. I would consider myself a fan of google but I find they very often make changes to their products and then give very little information about said changes… I’m thinking Google Places and Google+ Local … whats going on there? Anyway I guess you can get away with it when your the biggest guy on the block, I just don’t see why you would want to.
    Anyway that was my rant, thanks again!

  • That work-around for getting goals into the right Goal Sets was just what I needed. Thanks for posting!

  • Christophe

    This is quite annoying for me as a have set of 15 websites which need to be configured in the exact same way as I’m reading them out via the GA API. Inthere, they still work with the goal numbers, so I don’t think they will remove the goal numbers altogether in the future. I noticed there are some goals which need to be re-ordered, which is now like a puzzle to achieve… Not really happy about this as how it is right now.

    • Dorcas Alexander

      Hi Christophe, I agree, it’s very tedious to have to make these corrections across multiple websites. I think you are right that goal numbers probably aren’t going away because that would change the way we call them via the API. So maybe only “goal sets” will disappear, and the goal numbers will remain the same. In either case, it would still be nice if GA allowed us to sort the goals numerically or, even better, give us the option to sort numerically or by goal name. Thanks for your comment!

  • Mark Focas

    Thanks for this article. Have you found a way to copy goals between views? I would like to be able to create a goal in a test view then when happy with it, copy it to my master view, but I see no option to do that other than to manual recreate the goals for each view.

    • Dorcas Alexander

      Hi Mark, There used to be a couple good goal copy tools, but they were not updated to work with the changes in the goal interface last year. For now, you have to manually recreate the goals for each view.

  • Dear Dorcas, thanks a ton for this article. Started with goal numbering after reading your post. Also wanted to know if you maintain an excel tracker manage goals across different views OR do you just use the label+description in GA itself. BTW, any chance you can exert pressure on the folks at Google to add a goal copy between views 🙂

    • Dorcas Alexander

      Hi Devatanu, I generally don’t manage goals outside of GA. The only time I pull goal definition info into Excel is when I am doing an audit at the start of a new client engagement. This makes it easier to compare and troubleshoot across profiles/views. I hear you about the need for goal copy. I haven’t had to do a mass copy recently, but I definitely appreciated having a copy tool the last couple times I had to copy goals across 50+ profiles. It’s something we’d like to have the time to create ourselves, but for now we’re getting by without it. Glad this article was of some help to you. Thanks for reading!

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