Google is constantly refining their product offerings, and Google Analytics is no exception. In the past few months, there has been a torrent of new features that have accompanied the Google Analytics version 5 release that came out earlier this year. And of the myriad of changes, real-time metrics are one of the most interesting and easily accessible tools that you might want to check out.
How do you get there? You have to make sure you’re using the new version of Google Analytics by clicking the link in the upper right.
Then click the Home icon, and “Real-Time (beta)” in the left hand menu.
Everybody likes pretty graphs, and watching moving items on the screen can be pretty mesmerizing. It’s sort of like a video game, right? A few observations about how to use this tool. First, suffice it to say that the number of users you are seeing stream across your screen is probably not 100% accurate. Such is the nature of analytics. So as we’ve said before, the better way to view the numbers is as 1) trend information, and 2) a baseline from which to make improvements.You might also be shocked at how few people are on your site at any given time. With so many distractions on the Internet, your individual website is more like the little New York deli on a side street, and not some Fifth Avenue store. So part of your marketing plan has to consider how to regularly push traffic to your website.
Now that we have that out of the way, how can we best use this information to help our business?
Social Impact & Is It Working?
The non-real-time reports in Google Analytics can give you a good historical report of things like number of visits and where people came from. But the utility of real-time is that you can see how a tweet or a Facebook wall post is affecting your site now. You might, for example, think that your tweets are having a dramatic impact on your business, and real-time can help corroborate this information since we know that website activity trails off pretty rapidly after a marketing event (whether it’s a tweet or a Super Bowl commercial).
You might also want to see what type of activity your email newsletter is creating on your site. This is a great alternative if you’re not already using an Email Service Provider to track your sends.
In this particular example, we see that the number one real-time source of traffic is coming from Facebook. Pretty good proof that Facebook is effective in pulling people over (we’d have to use Goals to figure out whether that activity was translating into sales).
Is That It?
In a nutshell, yes. This report is an EKG of your website, not the full bloodwork report. It has a very specific function (at least in this incarnation), which is to get the heartbeat on your website. I do think it’s a useful way to get a sense of your real-time reach (are people doing what you want them to do when you ask them to do it?), but like any report, you need to make sure you know what questions you’re seeking to solve by analyzing the data. In this particular case, the real-time report combined with some of the Traffic Sources reports can give you a good handle on whether you should spend more time on specific marketing activities.
Learn more about Google Analytics for Photographers.