Goals & Conversions

Why set up goals?

Once you set up goals in Google Analytics, you will be able to measure the behavior of people who come to your site through your outreach initiatives such as email newsletters and social media posts.

In the example below, the site has established a goal of readers creating an account and estimated the value of doing so as $50 per new account. The arrows show data for two different email campaigns. The No. 1 campaign generated a conversion rate of .13% and a value of $100. The No. 4 campaign generated a conversion rate of .56% -- four times as high – and a value of $150. 

It might be worth exploring why the No. 4 campaign seems to have been more successful, and trying to use those lessons to guide future campaigns.

For publishers, we’re going to focus on two common goals:

  • Signing up for an email newsletter (without needing to pay)
  • Making a payment – donating, subscribing to a paid product, or becoming a member.

If other kinds of goals are relevant to your site, the steps outlined below will also work.

Step 1: Set up “thank you” pages for each goal – and code your website so they are delivered after users take action

The best approach for setting up goals, and the simplest one to implement, is to send each new subscriber to a “thank you for subscribing” page that has a unique URL.

Here’s an example from the Connecticut Mirror. If you go to the site’s “Newsletter Sign-Up” page and subscribe, you’ll be sent to a thank-you page that looks like this: 

Step 2: Figure out what it’s worth to you for a person to complete your goals

What’s an email newsletter subscriber worth to your publication? What’s a donor worth? While it’s impossible to come up with a precise or universal answer to questions like this, if your site takes money from users, a “back of the envelope” calculation is going to be enough to get you started.

Here’s an example based on numbers from an INN site that focuses on state government coverage:

  • The site has 1,000 current donors paying an average of $83 per year.
  • Based on experience, the average donor contributes for three consecutive years.
  • The site has 10,000 email newsletter subscribers – and the newsletters are free.

With these figures, it’s possible to make a rough estimate of what a single donor is worth – their “lifetime value” to this publisher. It is roughly $250 (three years times $83 per year).

So we can say that gaining a new donor is worth $250. And since there are roughly one tenth as many donors as newsletter subscribers, a new newsletter subscriber “conversion” is worth $25.

You might think that these are crude estimates – that they can’t possibly be accurate, and you’d be right. But accuracy isn’t all that important. Setting any value will be useful to you. Your specific goals/conversions data points will seem most realistic if you come up with estimates that seem reasonable based on the data you have. You can make changes later as you get a clearer picture of the value of your newsletter subscribers and paying users.

Step 3: Set up goals in Google Analytics  

a) Within Google Analytics, on the lower left side, find the Admin tool icon and click on it.

b) Navigate to the appropriate GA view of your data and click on Goals. Click on the red box labeled “+ NEW GOAL” In the box in the upper right, name your goal.

c) Choose Destination, select Equals to and enter the URL of the “thank you” page associated with this goal.

d) Click Save and you should see that your goal has been created:

This approach will work for donations, paid subscriptions or paid memberships – if your site delivers a “thank you” page to a user who decides to give money to your site.

Having a discrete “thank you for donating/subscribing” page is desirable for reasons besides making it easier to track goals and conversions. That’s because as long as you’re going to show them a “thank you,” you can put other content on that page. 

For instance:

  • Show them a video
  • Suggest they follow your publication on social media (with clickable links)
  • Include links to some of your best content
  • Invite them to an upcoming event 

For more on the reasons why the “thank you page” approach is helpful, check out: https://www.orbitmedia.com/blog/thank-you-pages-examples/

If possible, we strongly recommend that you set up your newsletter subscription sign ups – AND your donation procedure – to display a separate “thank you” page after the user completes the process. As outlined above, this will make it very easy for you to set up goals.

What if you don’t use “thank you” pages?

The downside of a separate “thank you” page, especially for email newsletter sign ups, is that it takes the user away from the page where they signed up. You might prefer that they be able to sign up on the home page or on an article page and be able to keep perusing your content without clicking the “Back” button. This can be done using JavaScript.

For instance, if you sign up for the newsletter via the “modal” (popup overlay window) on the bottom of the Connecticut Mirror’s homepage, you’ll see something like this:

The JavaScript code delivers a “thank you” message on the page, adjacent to the signup box. Thinking only about usability, this is a good approach; the user doesn’t need to use the back button to get back to your content.

However, to recognize actions such as clicking a “submit” or “subscribe” button, you will need to configure GA “events” and link your goals to specific user actions. This will require adding JavaScript code to your pages – OR implementing Google Analytics using Google Tag Manager.

Configuring events is beyond the scope of this first guide. If you want to pursue this, we recommend you review the Google Analytics documentation below and discuss approaches with your web developer or consultant.

Event Measurement with Analytics.js

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