"Did the dip in traffic happen because the site went down?"
"Can you remember when that sales promotion launched?"
"When did we launch the new site?""Who made the changes to the new checkout page?"
These are just some of the questions that could be asked by anyone who has a website.
It's all well and good having analytics that can monitor various metrics. But what if you want to know an answer to the questions above with ease via analytics?
Instead of digging through your paperwork, sending out emails to the department and making phone calls to your client, you can prevent the wild goose chase from happening by making use of annotations in Google Analytics.
Even though it's a small feature, it's an important feature that just about all site owners with analytics data should use.To learn everything about annotations in video format, you can watch below. Otherwise, you can keep scrolling down:
What is Google Analytics Annotations?
Google has described it as a way to:
"...let you and your colleagues leave shared or private notes right on the reporting graphs. That makes it easy to remember what caused traffic spikes or other unusual issues."
Think of annotations as a "sticky note" for your Google Analytics account.When you need little notes to remind you to take action, sticky notes are useful for that. It's the same with annotations, only it's there to tell you that an action has happened on your site which affected metrics such as traffic, engagements and conversions.
So adding annotations is a simple way to create information about why a particular metric you are measuring has reacted in a certain way.
Why Should I Use Annotations?
If you have already set up Google Analytics on your site and use it frequently, you are making your life unnecessarily more difficult if you don't use annotations.Instead of wasting time chasing up information about your data, like finding out the answers at the top of this post, annotations can prevent that from happening by adding context and clarity to your data.
If you are analysing your data and you've noticed that there was a drop in traffic at a particular point some time ago, it's difficult to remember what happened.
The same could be said if you have a year-on-year report where you have noticed your traffic has more than doubled – but it's because the year before, the site was down but you don't know why.
If your metrics have abnormally gone up or down, this is where you should add clarity to your data and note why that has happened. This situation can save you a lot of time, headache and frustration when trying to work out what happened to your data.
How to Add Annotations to My Analytics Account
Adding annotations is a straightforward process:
- go to any of the overview pages of your GA account, e.g. 'Landing Pages'
- click on the small downward pointing arrow under the main graph
- click on 'Create Annotation' on the right-hand side
- choose the date and fill in the field where you want to inform anyone accessing it
- the default option is shared, but click on private if that applies to you
- click on 'Save'
At the moment, you are only able to set annotations on individual dates, i.e. it's not possible to pick several days, weeks, months, and so on.
Also, if you have multiple GA Views, you need to manually replicate the annotations to the other views via your admin (having multiple GA Views is good practice).
How to View All the Annotations I Have Created
If you want to see a list of all annotations at once, you can do this with ease by:
- clicking on 'Admin'
- click on 'Annotations' in the right-hand column
- and you should see the list there
- you can expand the list by using the filter at the bottom
What Should I Record & Annotate on Google Analytics?
There are many situations where your annotations would be useful, whether it's because of a spike in traffic (big or small), drop in traffic (big or small) or even a complete outage:
- online campaigns – such as a social media or email marketing campaign which drove traffic to your site and caused a spike
- offline campaigns – perhaps your flyers for your local community, which consisted of a special offer, have encouraged them to visit your site
- new website design – this can result in situations such as a minor traffic drop, boost in conversion or anything in between
- significant content changes – you may have revamped some low-quality content, which ended up attracting lots of organic traffic
- technical issues – specific functions may have stopped work, e.g. contact form, payment system, etc., which can subsequently affect conversion
- website outages – if your site has gone down, then you need to know when that happens for future reporting purposes
- development changes – your developers may have made an improvement (or a mistake)
- significant industry/market changes – such as your supplier going bust, the market has collapsed, demand has dropped due to bad PR, etc.
- extreme weather – it may affect footfall in store, so your customers went to your website instead. Alternatively, extreme weather has made people purchase more of your seasonal products, e.g. umbrellas and wellington boots
- changes in GA goals or events – any changes in GA which can affect the data should be mentioned
- competitors' activities – your customers may have gone to your competitor because they are running a sale
- local news and events – during school holidays, many people would go away for a break and not necessarily visit your site to purchase your products
- endorsements – perhaps a celebrity has endorsed or mentioned your product, and their fans went to your site, causing a massive spike in traffic
- ...and anything that can affect website traffic, engagement, conversion and behaviour
Best Practices When Using Annotations
You should also consider the following best practices:
- be explicit with your information. If you have written "promotion", that is too vague for anyone to understand. What promotion? Where? How did it happen?
- and related to the above, think about who will be reading it, not just now, but also in the future. So in the case of "promotion", it doesn't tell anyone anything
- you can see in the examples above that you should be recording online AND offline activities. Just about anything around you can have an impact on your website's performance
- ask anyone who has access to Google Analytics to use annotations when applicable
- make all stakeholders aware of the importance of when their actions have caused a change to GA. They can either take responsibility by adding annotations themselves or to have one person add them all
Even though everything in this post sounds simple, you'd be surprised how even the most experienced site owners and marketers don't follow this process.
So even if you haven't done it yet, you can still go back to your old data and try to add annotations where relevant, and then to remind yourself to use it from today onward.
You'll thank yourself in the long run.Have I convinced you enough to use it more often? Or maybe you have been using for a long time already?
Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.