In December 2015 Google rolled out “Smart Goals”. Powered by Google Analytics, this tool is intended to enable users lacking traditional conversion tracking to better monitor and manage the performance of their AdWords campaigns.

Although any PPC professional worth their salt would strongly advocate the use of traditional attribution and adwords conversion tracking, Smart Goals may well help users with the inability implement such tracking to improve the performance of their AdWords campaigns from a top level perspective.

How Does Smart Goals Work?

Configured at view level within Google Analytics, Smart Goals uses machine learning to analyse a varied number of signals in relation to a website visits. Rather than analysing specific actions like conversion tracking and Analytics goals do, Smart Goals uses aggregated conversion data from other website that have opted to share their data with Google.

Each website visit is allocated a score based on popular visitor engagement metrics, including bounce rate, time on site, and number of pages visited. The “best” visits, or visits considered most likely to lead to a conversion, are then allocated a score in the form of a Smart Goal.

Smart Goals establishes a threshold of roughly 5% of the traffic coming to a site via AdWords. Once this threshold is set, it applies it to all website visits, including organic, direct, and referral traffic.

How to Set Up Smart Goals

In order to be eligible for Smart Goal configuration, websites must receive a minimum of 1,000 visitors within a 30 day period. If the linked account falls below 500 clicks over the past 30 days for the selected view, Smart Goals will be deactivated until the clicks rise again to 1,000 or more.

If the website meets this criteria, there will be an option to enable Smart Goals within Google Analytics. Users wishing to use Smart Goals within their AdWords campaigns will need to ensure that their Analytics and AdWords account are linked.  To view this option, sign in to Google Analytics and navigate to the Admin tab of the appropriate Analytics view:

smart goals - analytics goal

In the View column, select “Goals”, then “New Goal”, then select Smart Goal from the options available:

smart goals - new goal


Work through the set up process:

smart goals - configuration

The Smart Goals can then be imported as a conversion within AdWords:

smart goals - adwords import

Limitations of Smart Goals

At present Smart Goals are subject to several limitations and restrictions:

  • It’s not possible to customise Smart Goals
  • Only one Smart Goal per Analytics View
  • Smart Goals can’t be used for mobile app view and do not support view through or cross device conversions.

How Valuable is Google Smart Goals?

Since Google announced the introduction of Smart Goals, opinion has clearly been divided within the search marketing industry on how beneficial this new functionality is to businesses serious about running effective AdWords campaigns.

On one side of the fence there’s some optimism and praise that Google appear to have taken steps towards providing a method for the less advanced, technical users to measure the performance of their campaigns. On the other, various industry experts have expressed their concerns at Google’s one size fits all machine learning methodology.

As mentioned previously, there’s no substitution for measuring exact actions with correctly configured goal and conversion tracking. However, I’m of the opinion that some form of tracking is better than no tracking.

That said, any decisions made in line with the data returned from Smart Goal implementation should be carefully considered in line with additional information, such as landing page performance, and should changes be made to campaigns they need to be monitored closely.

If you are considering using Smart Goals to measure the performance of your AdWords campaign, I’d recommend using it as a stop gap only. I’d strongly advise eventually replacing Smart Goals with standard goal and conversion tracking as soon as possible.


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