Making Sense out of Conversion Tracking with Google Analytics

Here’s the important thing to remember when you’re using Google Analytics, or really any site tracking software: It’s all about who hits what page.

If you don’t already have tracking software on your site, you should. It’s the only way you’re ever going to know who’s coming to you, where they’re coming from, what they’re reading, what they’re buying, and where they’re turning away. Google Analytics is the weapon of choice for most in this. It’s simple to implement – just put the generated tracking code on all of your site’s pages. It’s free, as I said, and it has easily accessible reports.

The issue I run into most when I talk about GA is explaining what it can and cannot do, because it does have limitations.

Goal Conversions

These are conversion points based on people hitting a specific page. If you want to know how many people bought something from your store, then your goal would watch for people hitting your receipt page. Why? Because presumably only customers are going to ever see your receipt page – they can travel all over your site looking at products or blog posts or images, but only the people who click the “order now” button should ever see your receipt page. If you set up your goal to look at this, then you can look at how many of these conversions came from natural search, social media, direct traffic… whatever you need to drill down into.

But what if you have several different kinds of conversions, but they all end up going to the same receipt page?

If your goal is still the receipt page, and the people who hit this are ordering goods, and/or signing up for your e-mail list, and/or downloading a white paper, their numbers will all muck up into each other. This becomes a problem when you want to know how many e-mail sign-ups you get from Facebook in a month.


One solution for this is creating a funnel for your goal. Simply, you’ve still got the same goal page people need to hit, (your receipt page in this example,) but the funnel dictates that they must start at a certain page, hit some other pages after that, and eventually come to your goal page.

In this way, if you know that e-mail sign-ups always start on your “e-mail sign-up” page, you can establish this as a necessary first step in your funnel. The report you get will then show you how many people hit your e-mail sign-up page, how many people abandoned it, and how many people continued on to your receipt page – where, presumably, they signed up.

Problems with Funnels

The problem with using a funnel to track your actions is it doesn’t take into account what happened in between the start and the finish of the funnel. If I start out on your e-mail sign-up page, and wound up on your receipt page, how do you know I didn’t instead go to a product page, then buy it WITHOUT signing up for your newsletter? Just viewing the funnel results, it looks like I completed an action.

Ecommerce Tracking

This is an extra bit of code for Google Analytics, specifically designed to not only track conversions, but the specific products purchased and purchase amounts. If you’re trying to prove the ROI of your site, this is what you absolutely need to have in place. Without it, you can’t know how much money you’re getting as a result of your $1000 a month paid search campaign. That $1000 you spend could be earning you $2000 a month, in which case you want to jam your spend up as high as you possibly can. Or that $1000 could be earning you nothing, and you need to stop your campaign immediately.

Obviously, this gives you more information than a goal conversion, which only cares if visitors hit a specific page. With ecommerce tracking, if you only have one receipt page, that’s fine. You have much more granular data about what got them to that receipt page in the first place.

Putting your Google Analytics code onto your site can be done by hand coding, template driver, or server side include. So if you have scads of pages on your site, it’s easily included. This is the added information for including the ecommerce code.

If you use your website as a business, you really can’t afford to not know what your visitors are doing once they find you. With the information you get, a few quick fixes may be all you need to turn your small business into an incredible money maker.

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