This post is meant for startup founders, growth marketers in early stage startups, developers working on side projects, aspiring professional bloggers, and anyone else who wants to be a data-driven decision maker.

When your product is past your MVP phase and in a growth phase you can afford premium analytics tools. But in early stages you probably don’t have a lot of data and there are plenty of free tools to help you collect conversion and engagement data, and learn what channels and tactics work best for your product. Conversion and engagement data you are able to collect and analyze in early stages of your product development can become a critical factor in your startups success or failure. 

There are a lot of free and premium analytics tools but none can claim the wide adoption and proven value like Google Analytics. In this post I assume you already have Google Analytics tracking setup on your website, so we can dive straight into conversion tracking that requires additional steps from site owner or developer.

The Basics – Conversion Tracking Using GA Goals.

Effort: Minimal – you define your goals in GA UI, no code updates required.

You can setup Goals in Analytics for your main non-sale conversions – email signup, free account/trial signup, and product activation step. These metrics can help you understand your conversion from site visitor to member, trial, or email subscriber. For many products you can also add goals as steps that indicate product usage – using certain functionality that allows users to evaluate your product and its value.

To get started, go to Admin tab and click on “Goals”, then “+ New Goal”. There are 2 main and simple ways to define Goals:

  1. Using a unique URL path of the page that indicates a task completion, e.g. /email-signup or /regi/welcome
  2. Using a unique name=value string that your site might be using to indicate an action completion. For example, you might be redirecting a user to the page they started on before they created an account and appending ?regi=true or ?email-signup=yes or similar parameter to indicate to your application that user just joined the site or mailing list in order to display a custom welcome message or launch a tutorial style widget to tell them more about your site/product.

NOTE: GA allows you to assign a $ value to your goal, but unless you are actually using Goals to track sales or other actions that you monetize (say you auto opt-in all your members into partner email list or product during regi step), I recommend you don’t assign any monetary values to Goals. Exception: If you only sell 1 product at 1 price point (say an ebook) you can actually use Goals to track your sales in which case you don’t need to read the rest of this post!

Email <> Web Engagement Tracking Using GA Goals.

Effort: Medium, depends on how/where you currently manage your emails.

If you send ANY kind of emails to your customers make sure to tag all your emails (marketing and transactional) with utm_ parameters. If you are new to utm_ parameter tracking, check out this guideAt bare minimum pass utm_medium=email on all links in your emails to attribute your traffic, engagement, and sales to Email channel. Many email providers actually have click tracking disabled by default (like SendGrid, MailGun, and many others) so make sure to turn it on and define values.

If your email links don’t pass utm_medium=email your stats will be attributed to either catch-all “Direct”, “Referral”, or “Other” channels depending on email provider you use, but also email clients your email subscribers use (some of those will appear under “Referral” channel). Once you add utm_medium=email your stats will shift from 1 or more other channels pre-defined in GA to “Email” channel. 

IMPORTANT: utm_medium should always be set to “email” on your email links. Some email providers automatically append this parameter to all your emails (leaving you no room for making a mistake), while others will allow you to define the values of some or all GA utm_ parameters yourself (like BigMailer). So if you set utm_medium to something you came up with (and isn’t a convention), like email-[provider] then all your data will be attributed to “Other” channel.

Conversion Tracking for PPC campaigns

Effort: Medium, requires your developer to drop the code in the right place, but without customizing code.

IF you run any PPC campaigns, simply drop the conversion tracking pixel/code from the network you use to your subscription confirmation page. PPC platforms like Google AdWords, Facebook, and Pinterest (and many others) all offer the option of adding tracking code (aka “pixel”) to your site. This will allow you to track ROI for your campaigns/ads inside those platforms.

Advanced – E-commerce Conversion Tracking

Effort: Medium to Large, requires your developer familiar with checkout setup to drop the code and and add values from the application into the code.

The best thing you can do for your conversion-to-paid tracking is to add e-commerce tracking from GA and pass the value of the sale or initial (1st month/year) subscription from the sale/subscription confirmation page to GA – this will assign sales/revenue to the appropriate channel automatically and you will even know what landing pages the user originated from, for example individual blog posts.

GA e-commerce revenue by channel

Report Example: Google Analytics E-commerce Data by Acquisition Channel

IMPORTANT: If you sell in more than 1 country and display prices in multiple currencies on checkout or receipt/confirmation page make sure to convert the value to your desired currency before adding the info to e-commerce tracking code or your e-commerce data in GA will be irrecoverable mess till you fix it.

Special Case – You Offer a Free Trial

Effort: Large, requires development work including database work.

Typically, when someone signs up for a free trial with CC required, they are moved onto paid plan after free trial ends. IF your product has free trials with CC required, then goal and e-commerce tracking described above will only track your free trials but not actual revenue you collect, unless you have a custom step where user manually upgrades and chooses a plan or adds a payment method.

One way to track your sources of revenue after free trial is to record the sources in your database on the conversion to trial step so you have a referral source on each trial record. Implementation: record referral source (check HTTP referer and/or utm_ parameters on query string) into a cookie, then on trial signup step record source from cookie into your DB along with account record. You can later cross-reference that record with subsequent renewals and determine your churn, LTV, and ROI for all your channels.

For a more detailed implementation of custom conversion tracking, check out Building Your Own User Analytics System in SQL from Periscope. This article is written for developers and outlines an implementation in great detail (data tables, columns, etc).

Happy conversion tracking and growth hacking!