Google Analytics: Guide to getting the most out of ‘GA’ – goals and content groups

This is part two of what turned into a bit of a whopping post about Google Analytics basics.

— This post is part of my Google SEO Guide series

This part focuses on setting up goals and content groups. Part one focused on setting up views and filters in Google Analytics.

Follow this advice and – like this marvelously moustachioed chap – you’ll be an Analytics champion in no time.

Already know about Goals in Analytics? Skip ahead to the good stuff on Content Groups in Google Analytics.

What Are goals in Google Analytics?

Goals in Google Analytics are ways for you to track your key conversions. What is it you want your customers (or users) to do on your website?

Yes, you want them on your website in the first place, that’s great. Now they’re ‘in your shop’ as it were, what next?

Number one may be the most obvious: Spend some money. But what else?

If your product(s) are quite expensive or perhaps a more considered purchase (people may buy a £10 DVD without much thought but may take slightly longer before dropping £10k on a new car or piece of jewellery).

What are you doing to capture, warm-up or otherwise grab those leads? And how do you measure it?

Perhaps you have a newsletter sign-up form? Or a place on your site where people can book an appointment or viewing? Maybe they can register for a free account? Or start building a wish-list of things they want? Do you have white papers or other documents on your website that you give away for free (or at low/no cost) to further engage with your customers?

All of these can be Goals.

And you can teach Google Analytics that these are things you want your customers to do.

Why use goals?

An illustration from 1912 showing a soccer player running with the ball in front of the word 'Soccer'
Be like this guy – go for Goals | Image: Internet Archive Book

If you already have Event tracking set up in Google Analytics you may be thinking: “Do I need Goals too?”

If you haven’t you may be thinking: “How important is this? Do I need Goals at all?”

In both cases, the answer is a resounding “Yes”.

By using Goals you can identify:

  • Which pages on your site lead to most sales/conversions
  • Which sources of traffic lead to most sales/conversions (e.g. do visitors via Facebook or Twitter bring more £££?)
  • Which landing pages on your site lead to most sales/conversions
  • Which visitor country/city/devices lead to most sales/conversions
  • Pretty much any ‘Which ‘x’ leads to most sales/conversions?’ question you may have – be that which blogger author, site search terms… almost anything

And, once you have Goals, you can also set-up Funnels around them (say you have a three-page sign-up or checkout process) – you can then see where people are ‘leaking out’ of your funnel.

There are lots of great examples about how this really helps businesses. With this sort of funnel tracking, people have spotted problems in their checkout process, fixed them and made a huge difference to their bottom line.

So yeah… you need to set-up Goals.

How to set up goals in google analytics

Google have made doing the basics here pretty easy.

It’s worth noting here that Goals are view specific.

This can come in pretty handy if a colleague (or your boss/client/sales team) want to track Goals around a specific set of events/actions that no-one else is interested in.

If you don’t know how to set-up tailored views read my guide on how to set-up Views in Google Analytics – then you have all you need to set-up views and, with this guide, how to set-up custom Goals to keep all your colleagues and clients happy.

Go to your Analytics admin console, click into Goals in the sub-menu under the view you wish to add the goals in. Hit the big red “+NEW GOAL” button and you’ll see something like this:

A screenshot from Google Analytics showing the template filters available

A veritable delicatessen of options for you to choose from.

Key to note here is that a lot of these options rely on having “Thank you” pages or an equivalent. This means that, if your site does not push people through to a URL like you may find some of these impossible to implement.

To use these goals you are, in effect, tracking visits to that ‘thankyou’ page. So – similarly – if you have a shared thankyou page (e.g. sign-ups to both your newsletter and account registration both send users to the same thankyou URL) then your goal tracking won’t work well either.

How to set up custom goals in google analytics

If you’re a little more confident with your set-up you can use the Custom set-up function to create a goal specific to your requirements.

Using Google Analytics Custom Goals you can track:

  • a particular destination page (like a thankyou page)
  • a visit duration (e.g. visitors that spend more than 5 minutes on your site)
  • a number of pages viewed on your website or app (e.g. if a visitor viewed more than 3 pages)
  • Users that completed a particular Event (e.g. submitted a form or posted a comment etc.).

Personally I’d question the value of a visit duration goal.

The problem with duration goals is Google Analytics doesn’t know what a user’s doing in that time.

It could be that a visitor on your site for 5 minutes devoured every word you wrote and rushed off to tell all their friends, post it on Facebook and hurry to your shop.

However, it’s also possible that a visitor who spent 5 minutes on your site got to that page when the phone rang… and their browser was still on your page, but they very much weren’t.

For this reason (and countless others) I’d counsel against using visit duration goals.

I’m also not a fan of Goals tracking a number of pages in a visit. Again, it’s a blunt tool.

Consider these examples:

  • ‘User A’ flows beautifully through your carefully crafted funnel. They fall down the rabbit hole of your cleverly linked blogs, reading more and more. Hurrah.
  • ‘User B’ gets horribly lost in your site. They’re looking for something and clicking around madly trying to find it, can’t and leave frustrated cursing your name.

Both User A and User B visited multiple pages. Is that really a good conversion? No.

Unless you’re selling ads (making money per view) multi-page visits are not a good Goal.

After all, what is the aim you’re really pushing for with longer or multi-page visits? It’s likely you hope that, by spending time on your site, users are more likely to spend/sign-up/register or otherwise ‘convert’.

Measure that – not the duration of their visit.

What are content groups in google analytics?

Content Groupings in Google Analytics can help you group your content into useful collections.

This can be helpful as it enables you to review the impact and effectiveness of batches of your content.

The example Google themselves use is for an ecommerce store, grouping all Men’s clothes together, all Women’s and all Kids’ into separate groups. Then, adding more groups for all trousers or t-shirts or shoes.

Why use content groups in Google Analytics?

In this hypothetical site, using Content Groups, you could see how all Men’s clothes pages compare against all Women’s clothes pages; or how all t-shirts (men’s and women’s) perform collectively, or against trousers pages or jumpers etc.

However, goals can work just as well for non-ecommerce sites.

Maybe you want to see how your different blog authors’ posts compare against one another, or how your blog posts about cats compare to the posts about dogs?

With Content Groupings you can do all these things.

Crucially – Content Groups are not retroactive. The sooner you get them in place, the better.

Once you set them up they will start recording and showing data in your Analytics dashboard from when you set them up, not before. You won’t be able to view historical data using them.

How to set up content groupings in Google Analytics

A composite image showing a number of CD album covers
However you organise your collection use Content Groups | Image: Dave Morris

The observant among you will notice I’ve alternated between calling them Content Groups and Content Groupings. This is a good SEO tactic, to use synonyms, when similar terms are used commonly for the same thing.

Whatever you want to call it, there is one thing you need to group your pages using Content Groups.

You need the pages you want to group to have something in common. And something that Google can see – like a URL for example.

If all your men’s t-shirt pages have a lovely, consistent URL structure like this: 

then grouping your men’s, women’s and t-shirt pages together would be a piece of cake.

If not, then you will find it a bit more fiddly. Not impossible mind, just more fiddly. If this is you, we’ll come to you later and the Tracking Code for Content Groups.

Getting started

You’ll find Content Groups in your Admin panel on Google Analytics, cryptically under the menu item called Content Grouping.

As with Filters and Goals they are view specific – so be careful to choose which view you want them to apply to and/or to recreate them in each view you want them to appear in.

Once again it’s a big red button called “+ CONTENT GROUP” – and you’ll never guess what hitting that does…

the order is important

You’ll notice that there are 3 ways to track content groups:

  1. Enable tracking code
  2. Add extraction
  3. Create a rule set

Crucially this is also the order in which they apply.

You can, if you wish, use multiple rules to build your content groups but Google Analytics will always apply them in that order – tracking code first; extraction next; then rules.

Therefore, if your extraction is in conflict with the tracking code (e.g. your extraction is telling Google Analytics “This page is in the dogs content group” and your tracking code says “No it’s not, it’s in the cats group.” – you may find things not working as you intended).

Extraction and Rules are the most straightforward and the ones I apply in 99% of situations, so we’ll start there.

Content grouping using extraction

This can work really nicely if you have neat, clear URLs as in the example above like /womens/nike-orange-tshirt. 

With a bit of regex code (No? Have I lost you already? This Luna Metrics guide to regex is great and makes it really simple) you can get Google Analytics to set-up groups for you, off the back of neat URL structures.

Using the Add extraction code you can get Analytics to set-up Content Groupings for you, based on things it can extract from the URL.

For example, if you set an extraction around womens/(.*) – the ‘dot star’ is regex’s way of saying ‘everything and anything else’ – will create a Content Group for each sub-folder of /women/ and add the pages in each sub-folder of the corresponding Content Group.

This can be really handy as you won’t have to go back and rewrite your Content Group extraction code each time you add a new sub-folder to your site.

So if you start out selling just womens/shoes/ and womens/boots/ and then add a whole new product range – say /womens/sandals/ – you won’t have to rewrite your rules and regex.

There are only three options when looking for that consistent thing by which to set-up our extraction:

  1. Page
  2. Page Title
  3. Screen name

That last one is only for apps, so for websites you’re looking at Page (e.g. the URL) or Page Title (e.g. the bit that appears in the browser tab when viewing that page).

If your consistent element between pages doesn’t appear in one of those places, you won’t be able to set-up an extraction against it.

Content grouping using rules

An illustration from circa 1900s of three measuring rulers - from the Internet Archive Book
All sorts of rules | Image: Internet Archive Book

The next step along the Content Groups path is Rules.

These can work in a similar way to extraction so again, you’re going to need something consistent about your pages that Google can see, so you can group your content by it.

As with extraction there are just three choices: Page, Page Title, Screen name (for apps) – so again, if your consistent element is not in one of those three places on all the pages you want in your content group, you’re out of luck.

Again regex can make your life a lot easier here – so you can write ‘catch all’ rules which will save you having to write a new rule for each new page you publish and want to add to a group.

A key difference between Rules and Extractions in Analytics is you can add ‘And’ and ‘Or’ rules.

This means you can group blog posts like /blog/dogs and /blogs/puppies in the same Content Group – by telling Google Analytics: I want this Content Group (let’s call it ‘Dogs’) to include:


Alternatively, you could use rules to be a bit more picky so:


Would mean that any blogs you post in /dogs/poddles/ would not be included (because your filter says it must have this and this).

This is where learning a bit of regex can really help save you a lot of time. You could then write one rule which says:


and you’d have captured any blogs which fall into any of the above categories all in one rule. Clever eh?

I really would put that  Luna Metrics guide to regex on your reading list. I promise, it won’t hurt. Much.

Tracking code for Content Groups

I left this one to last deliberately, as it’s the most fiddly.

You can group your content based on some tracking code you add to each page.

Let’s say you have a group of pages that have nothing visibly in common – but you, as the business owner, know they are related in some way so you want to put them in a Content Group to see how they perform collectively.

For the sake of argument and a simple example let’s say you have lots of blog posts. Some use stock photography, others use photos which you painstaking take and edit yourself. You may want to measure the performance of those different types of blog posts.

There is nothing, aside from your knowledge of your content, to differentiate these blog posts – nothing in the URLs, nothing in the folder structure – as far as the uninformed (and Google) can tell, they’re all alike – so you can use Rules or Extraction.

You’re going to need to use Tracking Code for Content Groups.

You will need to adjust the Google Analytics tracking code (which appears on all your pages) so that it has a snippet of code unique to those groups of pages.

Google explain this better than I can (and with all the necessary examples) – so I shall defer to them in this instance: Content Groups – Using Tracking Code – especially as this will be slightly different depending on what Google Analytics set-up you have.

How was it for you?

Have you set-up Goals and Content Groups in your Google Analytics account? If not, why not? What problems have you encountered? If you have done it – what have you used them for? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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