Google Analytics: Understanding Events, Goals and the Differences Between the Two

Events and goals are probably the two most easily misunderstood features in Google Analytics. Quite a lot of people tend to use them interchangeably, or only use one or the other for tracking user interactions on their website. But events and goals actually have completely separate properties and reports, and understanding the differences between the two is key to getting the most from your Google Analytics dashboard.

Events VS. Goals: Which One Should You Be Using?

Google Analytics actually provides a pretty clear indicator of how events and goals differ when you look at how they are reported in the dashboard. Whereas you’ll find your “Events” data grouped in with the Behaviour reports, “Goals” are found with all the Conversion reports.

That’s because an event is simply used to track user interactions on your site, like watching a video or downloading a PDF. Those interactions may not have a huge impact on your overall business success, but tracking them is vital to understanding how your visitors engage with your website. Events are created by adding extra snippets of tracking code to certain areas of your website, which are then automatically recorded in your reports.

On the other hand, goals are intended to be a measure of your online business performance. When you undertake any kind of online marketing activity, you should always have a clear objective in mind, whether that be increasing purchases on your website, collecting newsletter signups, or getting users to fill in a contact form to collect new leads. And goals in Google Analytics are how you can track these objectives. There are several different types of goals which I’ll cover in a separate post, but all of them have to be set up in the Admin panel before you can start tracking those all-important conversions.

To make matters even more confusing, you can actually create goals that are based on events: let’s say that PDF they downloaded is actually a price sheet and sales pitch for your services. That means that downloads of that PDF are actually a pretty clear measure of your business performance, since most people downloading it are likely to have at least some level of interest in hiring you. In this case, you would set up what’s known as an “event based goal”: first you set up the event to track that particular user interaction, then you set up a goal based on that event.

Key Differences Between Goals and Events

Hopefully by now it is clear that there is a clear hierarchy between events and goals, since not every single event is necessarily going to be an actual goal for your website. For example, if you have a very long homepage, you may want to set up an event to see whether users are actually scrolling down to read everything, or whether all that content lower down is being ignored. But scrolling to that point isn’t really a goal all by itself: just because they read your homepage doesn’t mean they’re going to make a purchase or fill that form you want. There are a few other key differences between the two:

  1. A single event can be recorded multiple times in a single visit, but each goal will be recorded only once per visit, no matter how many times your visitors complete the intended action.
  2. You can create funnels for goals, but not for events. For any goal on your website, there will usually be a set of steps a user has to take to reach that goal: for example, going through your checkout pages to reach the order confirmation page. And it can be useful sometimes to see where users are dropping out of the funnel: if you see a large percentage drop out as soon as they see that shipping charge, you can take actions to prevent that, and therefore increase your conversions: maybe you make those costs clearer upfront, or even offer free shipping.

As you can see, it’s only when you understand the core differences between events and goals, and what each feature is designed to do, that you can really start to reap the full benefits from each.

Understanding the differences between events and goals now and ready to learn more? Why not check out my free PDF guide to Google Analytics, which you can access right here.