The Flaw in Google Analytics "Goal Position Change"

  by James Svoboda
  October 23rd, 2009

google-analyticsRecently, Google Analytics made an update to their Goal Conversion Tracking system that allows you to rearrange and change the position of your goals by simply selecting a different spot in a dropdown menu. At first glance earlier today, this new feature seemed to be an easy way to rearrange your goals to your preference so that you can see the goals that you want, where you them. But after testing it further I realized that is has a major flaw that you need to be wary of: Loss Corruption/Confusion of Goal History Data
 

Reordering your Analytic Conversion Goals became too simple…

Change the Position of any of your 20 Web Analytics Goals

Change your Analytics Goal Positions easily by selecting another dropdown menu option

 
Why this is significant

Previous to this new feature you had to manually edit the settings for each goal your wanted to change the position of. Kind of a pain, but not too big of a deal. The real problem was that when you changed the data from an existing goal to a new one, your new/edited goal kept the history of the one you just replaced.

As an example:

  • Goal 1 Tracked Blue Widgets at $10 profit each and 10 conversions per month
  • Goal 2 Tracked Red Widgets at $5 profit each and 5 conversions per month
  • Goal 3 Tracked Green Widgets at $30 profit each and 100 conversions per month

For scenarios like this where we have a goal that performs at such a higher level than the rest, it would be nice to reorder the goals in a manner that our more important ones were listed first and thus (IMO) easier to identify and interact with in analytics. In this case the Green Widgets. Changing the order and placing our important goal first would have given us goal history data from the original goal:

  • New Goal 1 Tracked Green Widgets at $30 profit each with a history of 10 conversions per month
  • New Goal 2 Tracked Blue Widgets at $10 profit each with a history of 5 conversions per month
  • New Goal 3 Tracked Red Widgets at $5 profit each with a history of 100 conversions per month

 
Goal History Remains After Changing Position

Earlier today I was testing the change feature on a few existing goals and discovered that when you change the position on an existing goal, the goal history does not carry over to its new position and stays at the position that the goal was moved from. This is exactly the same way as before and something that you will need to consider before changing goal positions.

 
Original Goals Overview – Notice the 6 Conversions on Goal #1

Original Goal Data Prior to Position Change

Original Goal Data Prior to Position Change

 
Goals Overview after Moving Goal #1 to #5 – Notice nothing listed for Goal #1 and 0 Conversions on Goal #5

Goal Data After Change to Position #5

Goal Data After Change to Position #5

 
Goals Overview after Moving Goal #5 Back to #1 – Notice the 6 Conversions are back for Goal #1

Goal Data After Changing Back to the Original Position #1

Goal Data After Changing Back to the Original Position #1

 
My Advice to Google Analytics
The solution for fixing this flaw and establishing a stable goal history environment seems to me like a fairly simple one… Enable the existing Goal History Data to follow each goal as they are moved from one spot within each profile to another. Of course, this could be one of those situations that may seem like it will have a simple solution, but could mean hundreds or thousands of programming hours to the brilliant Google Analytics team ;-)

 
MY Advice to Analytics Users
Don’t change your existing goals around unless you are early in the goal tracking process with little history (maybe 30 days or less) or unless you are okay with the data disruption that is going to happen and understand its effects.

Alternatively, if you are like me and at times find yourself inclined to be obsessively “Organized”, you could consider enabling another analytics profile for your site and then recreating all of your goals (now up to 20) in this new profile in just the order that you want. This will give you a clear start to tracking goals in the order that suits you best and not cause any confusion as to when things changed. Just remember to keep your original profile and the Goal History that it contains so that you have a source to refer back to from time to time.

 
Cheers and Happy Goal Tracking Everyone!


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3 Responses to “The Flaw in Google Analytics "Goal Position Change"”

  1. sam niccolls Says:

    Hey James,

    Great post, and I mentioned it in our weekly news roundup the other week, but thought it was important to make mention of the fact that your goal data is not actually lost.

    Avinash calls attention to this in his blog comments (see link below), but from it sounds like GA has a lack of messaging issue here, not at problem with deleting goal history.

    Again, great post, I just thought I’d make light of this one because it was just pointed out to me and it was something that had been previously unclear.

    http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/2009/10/analytics-intelligent-insights.html#comment-489816

    -Sam Niccolls

  2. James Says:

    Hi Sam,

    Good catch! You and Avinash is 100% correct in clarifying that it is not lost. In hindsight I could have been a little more clear in pointing out that when you change goal positions, like in the 3 images where I changed the Contact Us goal from spot 1 to 5 and then back again, this will not actually make you lose your data. It just makes it so that:

    - Goal history data does not follow to the moved goal position.
    - Goal history data remains connected with the original position.
    - If you use the original position for another goal, it will retain the previous goal history and then start tracking new goal data from that point on.

    I do caution that changing goals with history is a bad idea and unless you take steps to retain your data, such as Avinash’s excellent solution, you will be corrupting your goal history.

  3. Solar Quote Says:

    Yes this is really annoying even though google say none of your data is lossed – it loses it immediately when changing. Which is just what happened to me. I now know they are either incompetant or liars or both!

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