Are Smart Goals and Smart Lists in Google AdWords Really Smart?

Tina ArnoldiFri, 06/30/2017 - 15:11

Google offers Smart Goals and Smart Lists that can be helpful for advertisers that are new to AdWords. Both are described below along with how they might be helpful. However, they are not recommended for advertisers who are experienced and have conversions set up on their website since advertisers do not have control over these two metrics.

Smart Goals

Smart Goals are admittedly a fuzzy metric in Google Analytics.  According to Google , they measure smart goals by applying “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.

Image removed.Adwords

Knowing that we can use more concrete Analytics goals as an AdWords conversion, it is difficult to say if Smart Goals are really measuring anything important. Since we do not know exactly what counts as a Smart Goal, it is not something I encourage tech-savvy advertisers to use because that audience will likely be familiar with conversion tracking which we will get to later. However, for brand new advertisers, this may be worth importing into AdWords short term. Since it at least indicates positive behavior on your website, it is a way to analyze activity for people who visit your site by clicking on an AdWords ad.

To determine behavior that qualifies as a Smart Goal, Google applies machine learning across thousands of websites that share Google Analytics data and estimates which factors indicate someone is likely to convert.  It is important to note that this is not based on actual conversions but simply behavior that indicates someone is likely to convert. It can be a helpful indicator for smaller businesses that do not yet have the conversion volume to optimize their campaigns. But note that advertisers who use this will see very high conversions, making the conversion rates somewhat unrealistic so it is really a short term solution to gather data about engagement before implementing conversion tracking.

Smart Lists

Smart Lists are another useful feature for new advertisers who may be overwhelmed by trying to determine appropriate segments for re-marketing. Smart Lists let Google do the work by creating a list of users that believe are likely to convert based on their behavior.  Here is how they explain it:

“Smart Lists are built using machine learning across the millions of Google Analytics websites which have opted in to share anonymized conversion data, using dozens of signals like visit duration, page depth, location, device, referrer, and browser to predict which of your users are most likely to convert during a later visit.”

Like Smart Goals, this is based on machine learning so you will not have details regarding why Google did or did not include a visitor in it’s smart list. It is instead based on multiple signals, such as device, geographical area, and page depth and is automatically updated by Google. For newer sites that do not have a lot of data to work with, the Smart List is based on conversion data from other businesses that are similar to you and have chosen to share their data with Analytics anonymously.

Those who are unfamiliar with remarketing or are unclear about who exactly their audience is may want to use Google’s Smart List. The downside is that it is anonymous. You will not know the audience being targeted for your ads. All you know is that Google thinks they are likely to convert.  So, like Smart Goals, these can be a useful tool for newcomers to Google AdWords but neither are ideal strategies for the long term.