In the last edition of this newsletter I challenged you to make 2008 the year that you sit down, put pen to paper and document some goals for the 12 months ahead.

Well for those of you who have yet to find the time, or a pen, to complete the task here are a few simple ways for you to configure your Google Analytics account so that it takes the lead in your new path of goal setting.

Previously, I have discussed how the Site Overlay feature in Google Analytics allows you to ‘see’ the pathways visitors take when wandering through the pages of your website. By setting up goals for your Analytics account you can now record when these visitors end up viewing the most important pages your site provides.

These pages are usually the ones that say ‘thank you’. Thank you for registering, thank you for contacting us, thank you for your order – all pages that ideally every visitor to your website should see.

A standard installation of Google Analytics allows you to track four of these pages as goals. The goals area of your account can be found with its own navigation area, on the left-hand side of the screen.

Goals are quick and easy to set up – but don’t let the speed of their creation fool you. Once established, Analytics goals, and the subsequent data they provide, can uncover a whole new level of understanding when it comes to determining the behaviors of your visitors and the true value of the alternate streams of Internet traffic your website attracts.

To create a goal you need to know the URL of the web page you want to track. This page also needs to have your Google Analytics tracking code on it. If you are not sure if the page you want to track has the code, and you know people have found it before, then just search for it in your Analytics content reports. If it is not there, then check that the tracking code is installed properly.

Usually, the URL of the page you want to track is the same for all visitors who find it. If this is the case then you can just copy it directly into the Goal URL set-up field.

However, if the page URL is different each time your visitors find it (as is sometimes the case with some content management system URLs) then you will need some help to describe the URL in such a way that Analytics can track its use. Just make contact with us if this is the case with your installation and we can advise on the work required to set up a goal for a page like this.

When setting up your goal you can also configure it to track the expected pathways you imagine visitors will take when arriving at your goal page. For instance: look for product; add to shopping cart; login or create account; agree to delivery terms; confirm delivery address; and finally, confirm sale.

What’s more, your goal reporting will show you how effective your site is in moving people from stage to stage as it plots the relative percentage drop off in visitor volumes along your configured paths.

Once your goal is set up, I suggest you complete some test actions so you can expect to see some data in your reports in the next few days. (Remembering Google Analytics reporting is not live.) When you check back, all going well, your account will show your goal reports with both test and – if you are fortunate – some live actions.

So what now?

Well, here are just a few ways I use the Google Analytics goal data collected within my own account.

Firstly, it helps me keep my Google AdWords costs down. One of the key tasks when running an AdWords campaign is determining which keywords are delivering the best conversion rate for their click cost (or even better cost per conversion).

Finding this data is a breeze once I have linked my Google AdWords and Analytics accounts. Now with goals set up for the actions that need tracking I can quickly and easily find a cost per conversion at an AdWords campaign, ad group and even keyword level.

Plus, if you dig slightly deeper in the reports you can start to see how your keyword bidding affects your ads position and its relative conversion cost.

Goal tracking also helps me see the different behaviours that occur between new and repeat visitors. For instance, you may have a website whereby visitors come once to research, leave for a few days and then return to purchase. The Fireclick index I have mentioned in previous newsletters will provide you with benchmark conversion rates for these types of visitor actions.

And as I mentioned before, you can start to evaluate how different types of traffic effect your goal completion rates. As an example, you may be tracking a newsletter sign-up process as one of your goals. Your reporting may show that traffic arriving directly to your site has an 8.9% completion rate for this task, while visitors arriving from referring sites that carry your article content show a healthy 18% conversion rate. While the referring traffic may be lesser in volume the net growth in new subscribers it produces could make it more valuable. But what about using Analytics goals to track e-commerce transactions?

Well, you can configure a goal for this task but then you wouldn’t be able to know the exact transaction value for each sale.

Fortunately, with a little bit more work building the Analytics code on your order confirmation page you can pass directly to your Analytics account, which captures all the order summary and product detail information you want for future tracking.

I’ll cover this in more detail in next month’s update. Suffice to say there is a ton of valuable data that this extra work unlocks for those using their website for direct sales.

So there you have it; have fun with this great feature and why not take some time today to set up some simple goals in your Google Analytics account and begin to learn even more about your website’s ability to convert visitors to customers