Recently, Smart Goals in Google Analytics have resurfaced as a helpful feature for ecommerce merchants, but particularly Shopify merchants.

In a previous post, we outline what Smart Goals are and why some ecommerce businesses use them.

However, a lack of trust (and lack of endorsement) with the Google Analytics feature has turned away ecommerce merchants, particularly Shopify merchants.

Like we discussed in the previous post, Smart Goals is a goal-setting users can enable in Google Analytics. Unlike other goals, Smart Goals uses both behavioral data and contextual (shared) data to predict which of your web sessions will result in a conversion.

The pitfall here is that the data is not your data, which would naturally be the best predictor of future conversions. Instead, Google’s algorithm seeks highly-engaged visitors and then uses that data to conclude the likelihood a given web session ends with a conversion.

Google puts it this way:

To generate Smart Goals, we apply machine learning across thousands of websites that use Google Analytics and have opted in to share anonymized conversion data. From this information, we can distill dozens of key factors that correlate with likelihood to convert: things like session duration, pages per session, location, device and browser. We can then apply these key factors to any website. The easiest way to think about Smart Goals is that they reflect your website visits that our model indicates are most likely to lead to conversions.

Are Smart Goals a good idea?

There’s a big hitch in the original concept. Smart Goals was designed for merchants using Google Ads who don’t use conversion tracking. Smart Goals was to help optimise their Ads campaigns by collecting important metrics of user engagement.

In theory, it sounds brilliant and helpful for ecommerce merchants and business owners of all scales. But here’s how it breaks down in real life:

Advertise, measure, repeat

As a rule of thumb, ecommerce merchants with stores of all sizes should be measuring their advertising performance.

Even if you’re creating a “set it and forget it” Google Ads campaign, it’s still crucial to track product views, page views, user engagements, cost per click, etc.

If you’re advertising your products without measuring, you’re likely wasting your time and your budget.

So how do you ensure you’re making good use of ad dollars? Properly set up conversion tracking. Littledata’s Google Ads connection is a great place to start. With the connection, you can be confident in your data reporting and that you’re tracking the metrics that matter.

Get Littledata's connection for Google Ads

With conversion tracking, you can follow a shopper’s journey and see how many ad clicks lead to purchases, contacts, downloads, signups and more. This data will help you better optimise your campaigns and adjust the ad copy, visuals and calls-to-action to what performs best.

Unfortunately, there are thousands of ecommerce merchants who advertise their products without proper conversion tracking. This sets them up for underperforming campaigns and stalls their online store from scaling.

Can you really trust anonymous data?

The short answer is a resounding no, and for a few reasons:

  • Using other people’s data to make crucial product and marketing decisions around your campaigns, your website and your customers isn’t a good idea.
  • Only your own customer behavior trends will guarantee you’re making optimal business decisions for your product marketing campaigns and your online store.

How does Google’s algorithm determine likely conversions?

If conversions aren’t defined and conversion tracking isn’t properly set up, how can likely conversions be determined?

Google basically assigns each web session a score, with the top sessions made into Smart Goals.

That begs the question, “what defines top sessions?”

Google scans anonymous data (such as session duration, pages per session, location, device, and browser) to select the users that are “most engaged” in your online store.

For example, let’s say Shawna the Shopify merchant. Shawna uses Google Analytics to track her product sales and other “big data” figures. However, Shawna has never set up goals in GA.

For someone like Shawna, Google would use engagement metrics in place of conversion metrics, since Shawna has no conversion tracking for her Shopify store. This is not necessarily problematic.

What is problematic is that other important metrics are left untracked. This includes metrics like:

  • Average order value
  • Customer lifetime value
  • Cost of engaged users
  • Sales increases
  • Google Ads campaign optimisation

If conversion tracking was set up (rather than Smart Goals), Shawna would easily be able to trace the online journeys and user engagements on her Shopify store.

Littledata’s Shopify connection with Google Analytics would also provide Shawna with curated reports and analytics to help make sense of her GA data stream.

What’s the verdict?

While even Google advocates for conversion tracking, there is a better way to track the metrics that support better decisions for your ecommerce business.

When advertising, especially with Google Ads, it’s incredibly important to use your own data to make decisions for the positive growth of your campaigns.