Tracking Goal? How to avoid the 3 Top Mistakes

Goals are among the most powerful tool you can use.  However, they are problems that I see over and over again when it comes to track goal.  Here they are:

  1. Goals don’t show up in Google Analytics
  2. Goals show up, but the traffic source is reported as “direct” (none).
  3. Goals show up and traffic sources are known, but the user don’t look at relevant reports.

Problem 1: Goals are not recorded.

You know that you are reaching them –  people are signing in to your list, your bank account is growing- but when you open Google Analytics, nada, your goals are not there.

Action 1:  Check the content report.

Open the Top Content report and try to find your goal URL (if your goal is an URL, of course).  If you can find it, excellent!  your problem comes from somewhere else.  Go to Action 3.  If you can’t find your goal URL in the content report go to Action 2 and check your GA snippet (or code).

Action 2: Test your Google Analytics snippet.

Check your goal page URL.  Many people  will choose for their goals an URL for their goals hosted on a third party domain.  Ex: your website is and your goal page is  Unless your shopping cart let you include your own Google Analytics code on their pages, it will not work.  So be sure that you create your goal on a page where you can enter your own Google Analytics tracking code.  You can verify that by viewing the source code of your page (ctrl+u in Mozzila) and try to find your Google Analytics code.

Use a debugger like FireBug to check the __utm.gif?  If you can find that image, it means your website is sending request to the Google analytics Server.  If not, the are some conflicts in your code.  Sometimes we mix both the new asynchronous and traditional snippet.  Chose one and use it everywhere.  Never mix both will save you hours and headaches.

Action 3: Define your goal properly.

  1. Open the Top Content report and try to find your Goal URL, if you see it there it means the page is tracked, but the way you have created your goal is not working. Copy the URL you see in your content report and use that one to set up your goal.
  2. Open the Goal editing, make sure the goal URL you type is the same than the URL you found in the Top Content report.
  3. Use “head match” or “regular expression” match as matching type and don’t use “http//” when you paste your goal in the field..

Error 2:  Goals are recorded but traffic source is lost or appears like direct.

You are able to see the goals, but a big chunk of them are flagged as “Direct Traffic”.  Here are the main causes:

1. One or some pages are not tagged or their snippet don’t work.

Check them all.

2.  Traffic is coming through a link outside your website.

example an e-mail or tweet.  If you can control the link,  I suggest you to use the Google URL builder tool to include the information related to the source.  I know, it takes a bit of time, but the value you can get out of this is worth those minutes of pain.

3. Cross Domain Tracking scenario.

This happens much more often than we can imagine.  Cross domain happens every time the visitor is taken from one domain to another but you are interested in viewing those domains as part of a single visit.    Since each domain have their own independent cookie, they cannot share information, like the traffic source, the number of page views, etc.  To be able to treat visits on multiple domains as a single session you need to use cross domain tracking functions.  For more details, check the article, Painless cross domain tracking.

Another common problem is third party shopping cart.  If you use Paypal, once the transaction  is completed, the visitor will be redirected your thank you page hosted on your website.  If you don’t use the parameter nooverride=1, in your thank you page link the traffic source will be overwritten as traffic source “Paypal” .  This is not good.  To avoid that change your url from to and voilà, your traffic source will kept.

Error 3.  Simply counting goals.

This is also a common problem.  The cause is either a lack of time, or simply because you don’t know which report use.  If you are in total rush, simply create this custom report. You will learn at a glance, what are your most valuable traffic source, keywords and high bounce rate pages that must be optimized.

Traffic source
total goal completed.
goal rate.
bounce rate.

To learn that, I highly recommend to view the tutorials here.

Ok your turn, What type of problems are you running into the most? How do you fix it?