What's in a name? Is a conversion by any other name not as sweet? One thing you might have noticed about analytics platforms: they can change the names of metrics at the drop of a hat. We see this in Google's GA4, where it replaced the Goals metric with Conversion Events. 

The name change is mainly symbolic because the analytics value remains the same. Conversion events help analysts understand what marketing activity is best answering critical business objectives. Let's look at how to use conversion events in reporting.

A Brief History of the Value of Conversions

Conversions aren't a new analytic concept. For years, the industry called out conversions as goals, picking up the label used within Google Analytics reporting. Goals were pages or set actions used to help rank the value of website traffic. Marketers used goals to get a better handle on which audience was consistently converting or clicking on important elements on your website or your app.

At times goals became a lengthy metric to explain, similar to bounce rates (which was also eliminated from GA4). For example, a dollar value could be set as a Goal, but the explanation was that it was an economic value of the page — which wasn't necessarily intuitive if the page was for a content-driven website.

Changing goals to conversion events places a stronger emphasis on website design and layout of the page elements most relevant to customer activity and business metrics. The result is a more cohesive workflow and relevant report planning and analysis relative to the purpose of the site.

Conversion events also bring easier access to make changes through the standard user interface in GA4. Previously, setting goals was linked to tags that had to be physically coded into the HTML of a webpage. This created a high volume of quality assurance steps vulnerable to human error — leaving a tag off accidentally or a mistype, for example. Google's approach with events is to focus on adding events and checking settings in a familiar interface environment. 

These changes also reflect how website technology has evolved over the years. Goals represented a path customers would take to reach a particular page or button. But digital media today, such as single page apps, is not necessarily designed with multiple pages in mind. Analytics has to better account for these layouts to a give an effective picture of campaign performance.

Related Article: How Quality Scores Improve Your Digital Ad Campaign Strategy

How to Set Up Conversion Events in GA4

To set up conversion events, navigate to the Configure section in the left pane of your Google Analytics account. The events appear under the Configure menu label, with a table displaying default conversion events. Marketers can also create a custom event name by clicking the 'create' button above the table and entering a conversion event, such as "book_reservation." The marketer can also add matching conditions, specifying circumstances when a new event is triggered.

google analytics conversion events

The next step is to set the events as conversions. Marketers can select an event from the event table and activate it as a conversion. This tells Google Analytics when it evaluates event activities with this name to treat it as a conversion.

Learning Opportunities

The reports will include any changes 24 hours after implementation. Marketers can create up to 50 events and make up to 50 modifications. I found this detail interesting, as it's a far cry from the days when Google Analytics had half as many conversions goals limitations.

Related Article: How to Use Cohort Analysis in Google Analytics GA4

How Should Analysts Choose Page Events for Conversions?

What makes a good conversion on a website page or app screen? For starters, the page element being selected must play into a percentage or ratio of the types of visits or users of an app. So clicks on a play button for an important "about us" video can be a conversion event, with a conversion metric being the number of visitors who click play or watch the video in its entirety.

Another good option is a conversion activity that plays into a compound metric, like return on advertising spend. Again, the conversion can be expressed as a ratio or as a contributing factor in a formula.

To ultimately be valuable, each element chosen as a conversion must help convey how well a campaign meets a business KPI or objective. For example, if a buy now button is an event, then the percentage of people who click on that button is an efficiency measure for comparing which referral sites bring the most potential customers.  

Do not make the mistake of creating tracking for tracking's sake with conversion choices. Not only will that add needless complications to the analytics workflow but it can also open the door to privacy concerns, depending on what personal identifiable information is associated with event data.

In short, keep it clear and simple. Doing so sometimes involves web page planning and refining site elements. The process is called conversion rate optimization — I explain the process in this post; and this post provides a helpful checklist. Conversion rate optimization also offers an opportunity to address accessibility concerns on website and app page elements. Marketers interested in developing an inclusive experience should certainly put conversion rate optimization at the top of their task list.

Evaluating conversion quality is just part of the broader scrutiny analytics practitioners apply to online marketing campaigns. The starting point in analytics is examining how digital media is performing. Evaluating conversions makes that process valuable to marketing analysis.