One of the latest AdWords features has caused a bit of a storm over the last couple of months: Smart Goals. Google is selling these as an alternative to conversion tracking for small business owners who can’t get to grips with conversion data for whatever reason.

The reception has been mixed within the marketing community, to say the least, but how reliable are these Smart Goals and can they make a suitable alternative to conversion tracking?


What are Smart Goals?

Smart Goals are actually a Google Analytics (GA) feature which you can import into AdWords like any other goal you set up in GA. Google says these are designed for businesses who can’t use conversion tracking to improve their website performance or AdWords campaigns.

Instead of measuring actual conversions, Smart Goals tap into the wealth of data Google Analytics collects from thousands of websites. GA uses this info to create Smart Goals that it says typically lead to conversions, like session duration and pages per session, among other things.

These benchmarks Google sets out are designed to help you optimise your website and AdWords accounts for better conversions, without tracking a single thing.


Okay, so are these Smart Goals any good?

We should point out at this stage that Smart Goals are not a replacement for conversion tracking and you shouldn’t take using them lightly. What they are is an alternative option for small businesses that feel conversion tracking can’t work for them.


— Smart Goals are not a replacement for conversion tracking and you shouldn’t take using them lightly —


Essentially, this means Smart Goals are a fall-back for smaller firms who aren’t comfortable using conversion tracking or paying an agency to do it for them. That makes them sound pretty naff, but we think they can serve a genuine purpose to smaller businesses – and here’s why.

The vast majority of companies that come to us looking for help with their AdWords campaigns have no conversion tracking in place whatsoever. What this really means is they’re shooting blind in paid advertising and hoping for the best. And, while Smart Goals are never going to replace conversion tracking, they’ll hopefully give smaller firms a shot at optimising their accounts before they come to us for help.


— Smart Goals are never going to replace conversion tracking, but they’ll hopefully give smaller firms a shot at optimising their accounts before they come to us —


Smart Goals are still a new feature and it’s way too early to pass judgement. But we’re certainly hoping they’ll be better than nothing for companies that have no tracking in place at all.


Why are so many marketers criticising Smart Goals?

There are many reasons marketers are criticising Smart Goals and we’ll come to the concerns we think really matter in a moment. First, though, we want to point out that some marketers will be worried that Smart Goals could take some clients away from them.

Then you have the fact that conversion tracking seems like a breeze to most marketers and they probably can’t imagine why anyone would settle for less. Unfortunately, these marketers may not realise conversion tracking – and anything else that involves code – will be inaccessible to many business owners.

That said, there are some genuine concerns you need to know about before you consider using Smart Goals:


#1: You’re putting your faith in Google, not hard data

The biggest problem with Smart Goals is you’re putting all your optimisation trust in what Google tells you to do. The problem is you and Google have very different goals: you want to make money from AdWords, but Google wants you to spend it.


#2: And Google’s getting its own data from the wrong place

Okay, so Google can only collect conversion data from businesses that track their own conversions in the first place. But Smart Goals are designed for businesses that don’t track conversions. So none of the data Google is using to generate these Smart Goals comes from the kind of businesses they’re supposed to help. Which means you’ll be making advertising decisions based on business models that aren’t even closely related to yours.


Those are the two big concerns we have with Google’s Smart Goals, but there are some other limitations worth mentioning:

  • You can’t customise or configure them.
  • You can only have one Smart Goal per view.
  • Smart Goals can not be used for mobile app views, only website views.
  • Smart Goals do not support View-Through Conversions or cross-device conversions in AdWords.


So, as you can see, there’s more to Smart Goal criticism than marketers looking after their own interests. But does that mean they’re not worth the blog posts written about them?


The final verdict on Google Smart Goals

At this point we should emphasise the key point with Smart Goals: they’re not a replacement for conversion tracking. At best they’ll be some sort of compromise between tracking conversions and not tracking them at all. The question small business owners will want to answer is whether they can save/make money by using with them.

Sadly, this brings us back to the first problem we mentioned with Smart Goals earlier. You’re putting all your faith in Google, which means the only way you have to measure success is cost vs profit – and that’s difficult without tracking conversions.

So there’s a paradox in that sense and Smart Goals are too new for us to have tested them alongside data at this stage. Which means our only recommendation for now is to asses the pros/cons and give them a try, if you feel tracking conversions simply isn’t an option for you right now.

Either way, we would always suggest you track conversions and base decisions on your own data, as soon as you’re in a position to do so – either yourself or using an advertiser or agency you can trust.


Do you like the idea of Smart Goals and fancy giving them a try? Then check out our post on How to Set Up Smart Goals for AdWords or get in touch with us if you’d like some more advice on improving your AdWords performance.