How website goals can sort the buyers from the browsers


By Caroline Stickland, digital designer & developer

Web analytics is so in-depth now that you can produce mountains of data about who is using your website and how they found you.  But we find that a lot of our clients don’t just want the raw data: they also want to know that they are connecting with real potential customers and giving them a good experience when they visit the website.

Every business is different, so in theory every website report should be different too: an off-the-shelf report will rarely give you all the answers.  There’s a tendency to see visitor numbers as the golden statistic, but what’s the good of having a million visitors if they’re not your customers?  Setting clear goals for your website can tell you whether you are attracting the right sort of visitor.

The basics

At Harris, we follow a code of best practice when setting goals for the websites we create and manage to help our clients get the best out of their site.  Of course, all clients have different needs and we make sure we work with them to agree what they want from their reporting, but there are a few points that we always stick to.  They are:

  1. Set your goals from the beginning. Web analytics doesn’t let you track goals in retrospect, so always make sure you have at least one or two goals set up from when the site launches – even if it’s just tracking clicks on an email address.  You can adjust your goals or add news ones further down the line, but always let them run for at least six months
  2. Don’t set too many goals. Google analytics lets you track up to 20 goals, but just because you can, it doesn’t mean that you should! Choose one primary goal and then build in a few others. Around five or six should be plenty to give you meaningful results
  3. Most importantly, have a clear objective in mind for your web design. Don’t expect your site to be all things to all visitors – for example, our client Arbordeck wanted to capture decking installers and end-users with decking needs, so the site is geared towards this rather than, for example, all homeowners.  The goal in this case was sample requests, which means we can sort the serious customers from the casual browsers.

Events, destinations, durations and sessions

Website goals fall into four categories: events; destinations; duration of session; and pages or screens per session.

The most popular of these are destinations and events.  A destination refers to a particular page on the website – so if you have a product page you wish to drive people towards, anyone who clicks on that page counts as a goal completion.

Events are where a specific action is required from the potential customer, which can be requesting a sample (as with Arbordeck), downloading a document, or signing up to a newsletter.  And, as you can probably tell, ‘event’ goals can tell you much more about your customers and how interested they really are in your product.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t set destination goals: they’re useful if you have a new product page that you are promoting heavily through your social media and content marketing as you will be able to see what impact this activity is having.  It’s another reason to make sure that your website is well-organised and focused.

Destination goals can also give you a better understanding of your bounce rate: if bounce rate is high for a particular page, that’s often billed as a bad thing.  But if that page is set as a destination goal, the bounce rate becomes irrelevant: perhaps your customers are just getting exactly what they want in one place?

Traffic sources

Clear website goals can even help you to develop your future marketing activity.  Google analytics is sophisticated enough that as well as tracking the number of goals completed, you can track which channels are driving the most completions.

For example, if you set a goal of visits to a particular page, then you can not only track how many times this goal is completed, but what proportion of those completions are made by people who found the page via Twitter, or via organic search, etc.  If one channel is outperforming the others, you can adjust your marketing activity to drive more traffic from this channel.  In simple terms, if you achieve more goal completions through Twitter, then Twitter is likely where your audience is spending its time.


Overall, setting clear goals goes hand in hand with good web design.  Make sure that your website has clear objectives, and set up goal-tracking that can tell you whether it’s performing as you want it to – and don’t be afraid to adjust your goals and your website design if it’s not meeting your expectations.

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