Defining Transactions v Goal Conversions v Goal Completions

When viewing Google Analytics reports, I constantly need to remind myself of the difference between goal conversions , goal completions and e-commerce transactions (may be its just me that gets confused..!). Whatever, I thought I would share my clarification.

One obvious difference is that a transaction is associated with an e-commerce completion (a purchase) while a goal conversion is considered a non-ecommerce event, such as a PDF download, a form completion or visit to a special offers page. Of course these examples are all conversions, which is where I think confusion lies.

Explanation: The most important difference as far as Google Analytics is concerned, is that a goal conversion can only happen once during a visitor session – that is, a visitor can only become a customer (convert) once and that makes sense. So, if one of your goals is set to *.pdf for example (any PDF file download), then should a visitor download 5 PDF files during their session, it will only show as one goal conversion, for that particular goal, in your Google Analytics reports.

You can obtain the number of goal completions (5 in this example) from your Content > Top Content report – assuming you are tracking pdf downloads . Similarly, the number of transactions are counted in full within your eCommerce reports.

Where you see the discrepancy is when your transaction is also a defined goal conversion – you would do this for funnel analysis. It is likely that the number of goal conversions is less than the number of transactions because any multiple transactions from the same visit are not counted.

Tip: Track conversions as if transactions

For sites that contain many types of file downloads and/or you use wildcards in your goal configuration, tracking the number of conversions can be misleading – as in the PDF example above. For this scenario, you could enable pseudo e-commerce tracking – that is, track a conversion as if it was a product transaction. In that way, each download/goal is considered a transaction which may be more relevant than tracking a visitor conversion.

Consider also the standard goal value assignment within the GA configuration that allows you to monetise goals. This is very useful, however the same value is set for all conversions. The pseudo e-commerce method overcomes this limitation as each download can be monetised differently, just like a product purchase.

The article – Monetizing Non-Ecommerce Sites is listed on the Conversion University web site.

[*** Updated April 2008: The Advanced Web Metrics book has a more complete and detailed description of how to monetise a non-e-commerce web site and has been completely revised for the ga.js GATC ***]

Was this article helpful or is it just me that needs reminding of the Transactions v Goal Conversions v Goal Completions difference? Share our thoughts by adding a comment.

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  1. Brian Clifton

    Mohsin: looks like that article has been remove (it was getting quite old!). The has this info and the second edition is bang up to date 🙂

  2. mohsin

    Thanks for the article it removed my one of biggest confusions. The link you provided for the article on conversion university is broken, can you email me the updated link, i need to read about “Monetizing Non-Ecommerce Sites “

  3. Nandakumar

    I mean, Do I need to pay Google for Goals?

    • Brian Clifton

      Nandakumar: I am unable to provide insight as to what/why you are seeing this value, other than it must be in your setup. To answer your question, no there is no payment to Google for goals (or any feature!)

  4. Nandakumar

    Hi there,

    I recently setup goals in my Google Analytics account for my site. Today, when I went through the Google Analytics Dashboard, below the Goal Conversion, I saw a value of $21.00 mentioned, though I did not set any value to the landing pages. Do I have to pay to Google for using Google Analytics. Please let me know.


  5. BClifton

    Mark: I am unable to say what your particular problem may be, though I suggest it may be worth your while contacting a GAAC to review your setup. Set up correctly, and the conversion tracking works as I describe.

  6. Mark


    thanks for the prompt reply, but

    I’d already done what you suggested about a dozen times.

    I also checked my other logfiles, and guess what? the number of pageviews it shows matches the number “Visitors” Google Analytics is reporting for this particular page.

    So my original suspicion that GA is tracking individual pageviews as Visitors is correct.

    The question is why and what can I do about it?

    I’ve scoured the web looking for any info as to why this might be happening, and can’t find any explanation.

  7. Mark


    This simply isn’t true:

    “The most important difference as far as Google Analytics is concerned, is that a goal conversion can only happen once during a visitor session – that is, a visitor can only become a customer (convert) once and that makes sense.”

    I have a Shopping Cart Funnel Goal set up as well as Ecommerce, and the Goal consistently reports 2.5 times more conversions than ecommerce transactions.

    Clearly GA is tracking conversions more than once per session. I suspect it’s actually tracking Pageviews, which would be ridiculous, but something wacky is definitely going on.

    • BClifton

      Mark: My description of how conversions are calculated is correct. I suggest you look at your implementation with care and for example check whether your goal pages can be accessed directly e.g. by your web design team while editing pages. This will trigger goal conversions.

  8. Joe Seidler

    I am tracking .pdf downloads the way Brian recommends (shows as a page view), but I am not sure how to create a goal to monitor them? As you can tell, I am a newbie to this.

  9. Brian Clifton

    Hi Marcis – which page/Table 1.2 are you referring to?

    In terms of costs, if you are measuring the number of organic visitors to your site from SEO efforts and you know the cost/salary of your SEO’er, simply divide one by the other.

    Whether the SEO is done in-house or via an agency does not matter in this. You can still calculate how much an organic visitor is costing you.

    HTH, Brian

  10. Marcis Gasuns

    Excuse me for asking a silly question. In Table 1.2: The economic effect of a 1% increase in conversion rate
    what is meant by Cost per visit? There is no cost, only salary for the SEO, so how should I recalculate then? Great blog.

  11. Brian Clifton

    Hi Alan – I would say your comment is related. Essentially this post is all about how numbers can get mis-interpreted if you don’t know the full facts of your tool or its implementation. Stone Temple Consulting published a recent study on how the position of page tag code effects visitor numbers:

    Also, look out for a whitepaper I am about to publish on the inherent inaccuracies of web analytics tools.. 🙂

  12. Alan

    Hey Brian,

    It’s funny, I was discussing a different aspect of this GoalCR vs. TransactionCR distinction with a customer just the other day.

    In our case in point, the goal URL was the “thank you” page on which the eCommerce code was also placed. The customer was bewildered as he couldn’t understand how the two conversion rates could possibly be different (the Goal CR was always 2-3% higher than the transaction CR).

    Looking at the source code, the GA page tag was at the end of the header (which will generate a goal conversion), whereas the __utmsettrans() was called only once the whole body had loaded (which will record the transaction)

    So the 2-3% difference simply represented the proportion of visitors who left the page AFTER the header loading, but BEFORE it had fully loaded to the very end of the body.

    Now that I’ve told this story, I’m kinda realizing that it’s only very loosely related to the topic of your post, but what the hell, I’m going to post it anyway 😉


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