Using Primary and Secondary Conversion Actions in Google Ads

Using Primary and Secondary Conversion Actions in Google Ads

Every Google Ads account I’ve ever touched has come with specific objectives the company is trying to achieve in its campaigns. Sometimes they’re sales and revenue, other times leads, and in other instances they’re all about branding and awareness. 

But one thing that transcends all those goals is the need for tracking, to know what is and isn’t working. 

Over the last decade, Google has grown more sophisticated with all of its performance and conversion tracking abilities. Originally, all conversions were treated the same in your account regardless of value, but now, we have quite a number of levers we can pull to optimize more efficiently. 

In this post, I want to discuss a pair of them: Primary and Secondary conversion actions. 

What Is the Difference Between Primary and Secondary Actions?

Each time you create a conversion action in Google Ads, you’re able to determine whether you want that goal to be a Primary or Secondary goal in your account.

1 - Primary Conversion Actions.png

This setting will always live in the Conversion section of your account and will be assigned at the Conversion level. 

Here’s what the screen will look like if you choose Secondary Conversions. 

2 - Primary Conversion Actions.png

As the text in the images above shows, there are two main differences between Primary and Secondary conversion actions. 

1 | Performance Tracking

First, Primary Conversions will be counted in the Conversions column while Secondary Conversions will not. Both conversion types will be counted in the All Conversions column. 

When reviewing your performance data, you will be able to see the performance for both types of conversions, but you’ll have to adjust your view just a bit. 

3 - All Conversions Column.png

First, you’ll need to customize your columns to include the All Conversions column. 

4 - Segmenting Data by Conversion Action.png

Then, you’ll have to segment your data by Conversions and Conversion Action. 
5 - Viewing Conversion Performance with Segments.png

The end result will look like this, where your conversion actions are now represented by rows and performance data is in each column. 

Primary actions for this account are Instacart Order Submitted and Store Visits. As you can see, the data shows in the Conversions column as well as in the All Conversions column. Secondary actions are those like Local actions – Directions where you can see the Conversions column shows zeros, but All Conversions shows the count of those events that took place. 

2 | Smart Bidding Optimization

Second, all Primary Conversions will be counted and used in automated bidding strategies, and Secondary Conversions will not. 

In the example account above, we’re using the Maximize Conversions with Target CPA bidding for the campaigns. Since we’re using Instacart Order Submitted and Store Visits as Primary Conversions, the algorithm is going to use those as a success signal and try to find more users who will convert on those specific actions and work to achieve a Cost Per Conversion around our Target CPA. 

Actions like Location actions – Directions, or any of the other Secondary Actions, will not be optimized for, but will continue to be tracked in the platform as they occur. 

Now that you know the difference between Primary and Secondary Conversion actions, the next logical question is, “What should I use for each type?” 

What Should Be Used as Primary Actions?

More often than not, advertisers I talk to have a pretty narrow focus of what they consider a Primary Conversion action. They think of the bottom-most funnel action and assume Purchases are the only Primary Action they should use. For lead generation accounts, most folks are self-aware enough to know a Lead should be a conversion, but not much beyond that makes their cut. 

Since Primary Actions are included in the Conversions column and used as success signals for automated bidding, you should include the actions you specifically want more of as Primary Actions. So yes, Purchases and Leads qualify. But I want to challenge you to think beyond that if your strategy allows. 

Another way to think about it is to correlate these with your campaign level objectives. 

6 - Campaign Objectives.png

When you create a new campaign in Google Ads, you get to choose the overall objective for that campaign. Now, without going too far into the weeds on what objectives you should and shouldn’t use, think of these objectives as suggestions for what to make your Primary Conversion Actions. 

If you’re setting up a campaign to drive sales, then a sales action should likely be one of your Primary Conversions. Same thing goes for Leads or App Promotion. 

You should almost always use whatever you’re looking to maximize in your account (and actually benefits your company) as a Primary Conversion. 

What Should be Used as Secondary Actions?

With your main account goals as Primary Conversions, you’re left with everything else as a Secondary Conversion. 

The first thing you need to consider is whether the action is of interest to you. I’ve seen a number of accounts that track social media icons as Secondary Conversions, but the company (or at least their digital marketing team focused on paid ads) couldn’t care less about them. I’ll give some examples.   

In my experience, the goals best leveraged as Secondary Conversion actions can be categorized in one of two ways.

1 | Too High In the Buyer Funnel

If the main goal of a campaign is to drive online sales, but you also have content assets available for download or other onsite actions that are of interest, you may want to use these as Secondary Conversions Actions. 

Think of an ecommerce site using these as Secondary goals:

  • Product Brochure
  • Newsletter Signup
  • Rewards Program Registration
  • Content Entry
  • Find a Local Store

Each of these actions could be great for the company and help build their connection to the customer, but none is actually a sale. There’s no revenue associated with any of them, and for a campaign that’s focused on revenue, this is technically a miss. 

We want the bidding algorithm to stay focused on revenue-driving customers, but we want to see the impact we’re making on users before they make their way to purchase. 

2 | Too Low in the Buyer Funnel

This example typically follows a lead generation account since the sales cycles are typically longer. The main focus of these campaigns is more likely some of the actions in the example above, where a lead is generated but a sale isn’t made. 

For these users, sometimes the buyer funnel is too long and falls outside of the regular lookback window. Sometimes the buyer cycle is too dependent on the sales process and is outside of the marketing team’s control. Other times, there simply aren’t enough conversion actions to focus on. 

7 - Bottom Funnel Conversion Actions.png

Here’s an example from an account we manage. This company generates hundreds of leads a day, but only a limited number of Purchases come through due to a longer-than-normal sales cycle. Since this data is on a larger time lag and incomplete, we keep our campaigns focused on a carefully calculated CPA for higher funnel actions, but still count Purchases in the All Conversions column to track as much as we can back to campaign strategies. 


Conversion tracking in Google Ads is an integral part of account success, but you need to take a more nuanced approach to make sure you’re leveraging the right conversions with the right settings. Not all conversions are created equal. Be sure you’re focusing your optimization and bidding strategy efforts only on those actions that are your top priorities as Primary Conversion Actions. Then leverage Secondary Conversions to help understand how customers are interacting with your brand, get a sense of how different areas of your account drive engagement, and adjust your campaigns to meet your goals.  

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