Smart Goals – Why you shouldn’t import them in AdWords

Earlier this month, Google announced via their AdWords blog a new feature called, Smart Goals. In theory google checks your traffic along with some “key metrics” and create an audinece group which in theory ‘enagages” more with your content/business, thus it achieves a Goal.

Let me tell you straight off the bat that while it might sound interesting , it is clearly not aimed at companies with PPC managers, agencies managing large budgets or anything that is even slightlyfocused on conversion rate and CPA metrics.

When I first read about it it reminded me “smart lists” that were introduced earlier this year so I thought to give it a go and see how it will impact one of my test accounts.

To start with I want to review the metrics google uses to “measure smart” your online behaviour. If you go to your goal dashboard and then click smart goals you will notice the standard metrics that you see on your Acquisition tag under “All Traffic”.

Smart goals metrics:

  •  Sessions – This is how many visits you got during the selected time frame. It gives a bit of context as to how many people returned for a second visit when you report it along the “new users” metric. Smart Goals will add sme of this traffic to your segment so you may use this for comparison purposes only.
  • % New sessions – Unless you have use ID implemented this is not 100% reliable since it is cookie based. For the history, it measures the % of new visits to your site.
  • New Users – How many people that haven’t been on your web site before came through the segmented channel. Same as above, this is cookie based and heavily UID dependent before becoming reliable.
  • Bounce rate – Everybody knows bounce rate. Good for landing page performance analysis. Make sure you ALWAYS use a segment when reading this metric and avoid using “averages”.
  • Page / session – Useless metric in my opinion as it gives no context and no information. Also if you take users through a step-by-step application form, corelation of high page/session and conversion will be close to 1 (due to more pages on your cart, application form, basket, etc) so you are advised to exclude it. Can be good in limited situations or retail sites with operational cost KPIs or maybe on news/blog web sites where your aim is to have your visitors read as many blog posts as possible.
  • Avg.Session Duration – Not sure how this is used by google to identify “best users”.
  • Goal conversion – The only valuable metric, however this is not an actual conversion you are seeing, just a “smart conversion”

Lets now see what we see in GA with a first look into the goals section:


smart goals GA

In the example above, we see that PPC delived 9 smart goal conversions. This would be ok and I would be more than happy to see on my monthly reports, as long as this data wasn;t affecting AdWords conversion metrics as well.

If we carefully see the actual conversion goals set in analytic we will notice that only 1 real conversion took place instead of 9 (below two graphs showing my two goals):

smart goal 1

 And here is the second goal:

smart goal 2

However, in the Adwords account all smart goal conversions have been recorded and consequently we have a wrong CPA and Conversion Rate for each campaign. The CPA target is £150 and today we achieved £96 due to 1 conversion and not £9.62 as one might think by seeing the dashboard below:

adwords smart goals

 If you are unable to set up conversion pixels in your Google AdWords account manually or via GTM then maybe this feature can come handy (until you do so and not as a permanent solution). Otherwise I wouldn’t bother much. If you still want to use it for Remarketing then you can use advanced segmentation and import the audience to your AdWords account. However I wouldn’t expect better results than the “smart list” feature.

smart goals audience

All in all this is a feature created for companies that do not have web sites that monetise via conversions. As Google stated in their blog: Hundreds of thousands of small and medium businesses aren’t measuring their website conversions today.  Some businesses may not have a way for users to convert on their website and others may not have the time or the technical ability to implement conversion tracking.

I still disagree with this approach as I struggle to understand how the metrics presented in the Smart Goal Dashboard provide any insight in how your business is doing but time will tell I suppose. As far as I am converned, I will pass on this one.

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