One somewhat new feature of Google Analytics that I really like is the ability to annotate a timeline with a note. If I spot a traffic spike while looking over the reports, I can usually deduce a good reason for it — perhaps it was a popular blog post, or maybe an advertisement just hit the streets to steer folks to the site. Being able to write a quick note to remind myself later why it happened is huge when measuring the impact of your internet marketing campaigns.
Think about how this could benefit your own analysis of your website traffic. If you run a storefront, populating the extra data (such as when an e-mail or print campaign launched) can be really eye-opening when digging through the tons of data that Google Analytics lets you dive into. Being able to cross-reference traffic surges with offline events can be really handy when sharing the data with the rest of your team.
If you use Google Analytics, you can find this feature by clicking on any date in a report timeline. There will be a read-out of how many visits occurred on that day, with a link to “Create Annotation”. Click that link, and a form appears beneath the timeline to store the date and a comment. You can star certain annotations if you want to filter your results later.
There are a few drawbacks to Google’s feature, though. The first one is that it only pinpoints a specific point in time. If I ran an advertisement over a period of a few weeks, I could really only have an annotation at the beginning and one at the end to designate the campaign. Our friends across town at Raven Tools took care of one within their toolset by just creating “Events” that can span over a period of time to report on a particular campaign, completely agnostic of Google’s annotations. Still, I can’t help but want this feature in Google’s platform itself.
The second drawback that I have not found any remedy for is the “manual” nature of keeping up with these things. Take for example my blog scenario: I know that traffic spikes when a blog is posted. Why on earth would I need to go into Google Analytics every time a blog is posted and create a new annotation? No clue, but if I want it to be in there, I’d best start entering that data. I cannot even import a CSV file! My feature request there would be set an RSS feed that would auto-import the time stamp and whatever data is stored with the feed. You would still have to add annotations for some things (like your CEO being interviewed on the evening news), but it would dramatically cut down on some of the more straightforward factors on website traffic.
Despite these two “missing features,” I still recommend using annotations in your reporting. Being able to quickly recall why you had that 300% traffic spike a few months from now will come in handy when planning how you’re going to get the next big surge.