Google Analytics Annotations are short notes that you can add to dates within your Google Analytics reports. Moreover, when you’re looking at your data inside Google Analytics, it can be difficult to remember exactly what was happening on particular days. As can be seen below, there are several variants which are dependant on specific annotations.
Moreover, you might be able to open your calendar and do a quick check. However, you probably don’t have every single campaign written down neatly (or in my case anywhere at all). This is where Google Analytics Annotations become super valuable. Owing to that they can quickly provide the context you need to perform your analysis. And also become even more useful when you’re looking at data from last month or even last year.
The Genesis of Google Annotations
In early 2010, Google Analytics introduced annotations. Uniquely, annotations offer a simple way to track notes in the Google Analytics Reporting Interface by date. Whereas you can mark important events based on that may have impacted your data in otherwise seemingly inexplicable ways. In this way, it can explain reasons for jumps in the data to your entire Team (if shared with everyone) that otherwise may be unclear.
If you have ‘Collaborate’ access to Google Analytics you also have the option to create shared annotations. Which can be seen by anybody with access to the reporting view. In addition, you’ll also have the option to star important annotations. Whereas each annotation is associated with the email address (login) used to create them. Important to realize that you’ll be able to edit and delete annotations. As an illustration, the video below explains the whole process of Creating your Analytics Annotations.
Creating an Annotation in Google Analytics
Important to realize, your annotation will be saved and you will see a small icon on the timeline. Especially allowing you to quickly see that there is a note attached to the date within the Google Analytics interface. Follow the guidelines below;
- Click the small tab below the timeline.
- Click ‘+ Create new annotation’.
- Select the date for the annotation.
- Enter your note.
- Select the visibility of the annotation (if you have ‘Read & Analyze’ access you will only be able to create private annotations).
- Click ‘Save’.
When should you use annotations?
You can use annotations to mark important dates within your reports. Since annotations are all about providing context, you should consider creating them for any changes that might impact your data. Anything that has caused a spike or dip in traffic is usually important to add as an annotation. As an illustration, use the suggestions below to get started.
- New marketing campaigns that you’ve launched
- Email campaigns that you’ve sent
- Offline advertising, especially TV or any media reaching a large audience
- Major website changes, including launching a new website or adding lots of new content
- Digital advertising campaigns, including search, display and social
- Website problems, including server issues
- Seasonal events and holidays
Is there anything you can’t do with an annotation?
As we’ve seen, annotations are a great way to provide context, but there are some things they simply can’t do. Here are the current limitations (which is also on our feature request list for the incredible Google Analytics team):
- Annotations aren’t included when you export your reports (if you choose the PDF export option there is a little icon, but we don’t get to see the details for the annotation).
- You can only create annotations for individual dates, there is no option to include a time, or create an annotation for a week, a month or a custom date range.
- There is no option to automatically import annotations from a Google Calendar (but how awesome would this be!).
5 Tips on What to Annotate
1. Be explicit
There’s nothing more frustrating than an incomplete clue to a burning mystery. “Blog Post shared”. What the heck does that mean? Who shared it? Which post? The worst part is I don’t understand my own note! If your notes are mysterious, you’re wasting your time creating it in the first place if no one’s going to understand it. While you only have a handful of characters (160), be as detailed as possible – it’s plenty of room to get specific points across.
2. Keep in mind who will be reading it in the future
In the cases of shared annotations, you aren’t the only person who will be reading these notes. Your analysts, marketing team, etc., will be reading them and potentially using them for analysis and insights. For example, chances are if you use personal abbreviations, they’ll be interpreted in a way you didn’t intend. So when you wrote “ICBINB” to mean “internet consultant Brian implemented new banner” your colleagues will be wondering why you noted, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”. Make sure your notes are understandable to anyone reading it without context.
3. Record marketing campaigns, online and offline
As mentioned, many things can affect your traffic, and you want to know what those things are. Obviously, online campaigns probably will. If you release an email blast to 1000 subscribers, if even 10% click through, that’s 100 extra visits, so you’ll want to know what caused that when you look at your data a month later. But what about a TV ad? A radio ad? Flyers you passed out at the bus stop? That could increase traffic too, and you obviously want to know what offline campaigns worked the best for you. Log as much as you can.
4. Record any update or issue to the site/app
When updating your website, you QA furiously to make sure nothing breaks – not SEO, not Analytics. Unfortunately, best-laid plans don’t always come through. If you’re not looking at your data regularly, a change to your site that affects your tracking code may be discovered late. At this time, usually you’re in panic mode, so minimize your stress by being diligent noting site updates. Usually, these notes can give you direction into exactly what happened and exactly how to fix it.
5. Record any external event that may affect your traffic
In March, you meet Tim Cook on the street and give him your card. Next thing you know, Apple tweets your site to millions of followers. You think it’s awesome. At the end of the year, you’re analyzing how some of your campaigns are doing and it looks like for some reason March traffic skyrocketed. You want to do that again! You drill down deeper, turns out one day spiked your data, but you can’t remember what happened that day! If you had annotated that you met Tim Cook and that he tweeted, you could filter that day out for a more accurate trend.
In conclusion, we still find established, experienced clients, making simple mistakes that could easily be avoided and corrected. While using basic features already available in Google Analytics. One of them being properly using the analytics annotations – basically taking notes on different events (internal or external) that impact your site.
Surprisingly, these “sticky notes” might seem insignificant, but can often be a life-saver. Providing insight as to why your data sometimes looks the way it does, especially anomalies or outliers. Follow the jmexclusives blog to see more related Online Training and Learning Guides.
- Loves Data – Using annotations in Google Analytics to add context.
- e-nor – Back to Basics: Google Analytics Annotations – Simple & Useful Feature.