I’m going to let you in on the single most helpful and immensely useful, but hidden secret in the whole of Google Analytics. There’s no cheats or workarounds involved here, you don’t need to make any adjustments to your tracking code and you don’t need special admin privileges to take advantage.
Have you ever been pondering over your traffic timeline and seen unusual spikes or out of the ordinary traffic? Or have you ever wondered whether those posters you put up, the ad you created or campaign you launched had any noticeable effect on your website traffic? Well, now you can see all of this at a glance by using Google Analytics annotations.
What are Google Analytics annotations?
Annotations in Google Analytics are little notes that you can place across your timeline to monitor or remind yourself of, well, whatever you want! You can use them to keep on top of your marketing activity, online and offline, and monitor what effect it has on your web traffic at a glance. You could note:
- Product launches
- Big website changes (or new website launch)
- Newsletter and email news shots
- Marketing campaign launches
- Server downtime
- Or anything else you feel is important
Then, you’ll quickly be able to see the overall and broad effects that your activity has on your traffic. Plus, annotations stick around, so in six months time when you’ve moved on to future projects, you’ll still have a reminder in your annotations. This is handy for retrospective analysis and completely eradicates those “Hmm, I wonder what that spike was” moments.
How Do You Use Annotations?
Getting started using Google Analytics annotations is simple and, once you do start, you won’t be able to stop. It’s that addictive!
So here’s a step-by-step guide on how to start using annotations:
Step 1. Log in to Google Analytics and head to the Audience – Overview screen.
Step 2. You see that little, sneaky arrow hiding in plain site? Click that.
Voila. This will open the annotation editor.
Step 3: From here, you can click on ‘+ Create new annotation'.
Step 4. Select the date of your event, newsletter mailout, campaign launch or whatever you want to make a note of.
Step 5. Add your note. You only get 160 characters here, so pretend you’re jotting a tweet.
Step 6. Select whether you’d like it to be a shared or private note.
What’s a shared or private note?
Glad you asked.
A shared note means that anyone with an analytics log in for the site in question can see the note. A private note is only visible to the person that creates it (or the email address currently logged in). So if you only have one email address and one log in for your Google Analytics account that lots of people use, be careful of noting sensitive information. Consider creating a separate log in1 for each person that needs access.
Click Save. Now you’ll be able to see your annotation on the axis of your timeline and your annotations underneath:
Bonus Tip: If a campaign or a specific marketing activity is particularly important, you can favorite it by clicking the little star next to the date:
This allows you to keep track of major marketing initiatives and groups them in the ‘Starred’ tab:
Hopefully, in the future, Google will introduce the facility to create groups of annotations. This way, you could group all of the ‘email’ related annotations together and access them through the same tabs at the top.
Let’s Get to Work
So, now that you know the most useful trick in Google Analytics, it’s time to get to work and use it. Don’t be left in the dark any longer, keep track of your marketing activity and see the effect it has on your web traffic at a glance with annotations.
Believe it or not, few people are aware of this hidden gem, so whether you choose to keep it a secret or share it with your followers is entirely up to you.
There are some sharing buttons below, if you’re tempted.