Monitoring your traffic fluxations with Google Analytics Annotations and Custom Alerts

Simon JonesAnalytics

Use Annotations to add context to your traffic fluxations and Custom Alerts to spot increases or decreases quickly

 If you’re not using Annotations in GA then are you actually serious about monitoring your traffic and analysing trends and patterns to make better marketing decisions?

Annotations is a powerful tool that is often massively overlooked by businesses.

Can you remember what happened to your site traffic on 7th August 2017?

Probably not, which means any agency or new member of staff you hire in the future won’t know that information too.

Many marketers unconsciously fall into the trap of believing they will remember what happened to increase or decrease traffic and therefore don’t need to mark it on GA – but will your successor know this after you leave, new team members, the agency you hire to audit your site health or any other team member that might need to look at the data for trends/acquisition analysis?

Anything out of the ordinary should be annotated so that when you review your primary data you have the full picture of what was occurring internally and externally at the time of traffic increases or decreases. Without having the full analysis of clean and informed data, businesses risk making decisions based on ill-informed analysis.

What should you record?

Any abnormality in your traffic should be recorded including:

  • Marketing campaigns
  • Any site content or design changes
  • Any changes to website navigation or flow of pages
  • Downtime
  • Google algorithm changes
  • Any big industry placements or mentions that will affect referral traffic
  • Weather (if your product is reliant on weather)

You may even want to include annotations for any of your direct competitor’s activities. If they have launched a new campaign you may see your traffic decrease as they take more of the market share – this is something you and anyone looking at your data needs to know before they make any strategic decisions.

Overall, you need to be marketing down any time-specific factor that could be affecting your website traffic sources or user behaviour.

Take for example the recent bot attack on my sites across the web on January 31st 2021-1st February 2021 – if a new member of your staff or an agency were auditing your data and saw the increase in traffic they wouldn’t know what has caused this increase. Adding the annotation “Bot Traffic” gives your view the knowledge that this was an external factor.


Why is adding annotations to your GA so important?

It allows your entire company and any external agency partners to see exactly how your site is performing and WHY. 

The “where” and the”why” is the most important factor when analysing any data. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if your traffic is not reaching the 10,000s or 50,000 page views a day as long as the traffic is relevant and easy to read to see patterns and trends that help make more informed business and marketing choices.

Analysing primary data such as Analytics allows you to see trends in your data that can help you strategically plan ahead for the next 12 months. But what if you saw a peak in traffic on a certain day two years ago, and then another peak around the same time the year after? Is this a sign that you should be looking to optimise your site and increase your marketing budget around this time as visitors are more likely to come to your site? Not always! You might have run promotional sales that explain the increase in traffic or were featured on a website that increased your referral traffic for the day.

Equally, it’s important to know when and why your traffic may decrease.

You can view your annotations along the bottom of the traffic timeline, or in a chronological list by going to Admin => View => Annotations

Keeping on top of any traffic fluxations

Depending on your marketing availability you may have someone constantly looking at business data, or dipping in and out of it every other day or week. If you’re really stretched for time, you may only check your analytics once a month to complete the monthly report and by this time you could be up to 30 days too late to spot any abnormalities in your traffic you could have rectified sooner.

Google algorithm changes are always reported quickly from major SEOs and marketing sites such as SEO Roundtable, so you’re likely going to know any external changes from these reasons if you keep up to date with the latest news. But what about monitoring abnormal traffic on your GA that might not quickly present itself or is the response of an internal issue?

Use Custom Alerts to keep on top of any traffic abnormalities in your Analytics 

This is another part of Analytics that many businesses do not take advantage of.

It allows you to receive an email alert for any metric you want to track over a given time period. For example, you may want to know when page views of a certain key sales page increase by 10% compared to the week or month previous, or if your landing page bounce rate increases by a certain 10%, or how many events are completed compared to the previous month. Whatever metric you need to measure but might not have the time to constantly sit in GA and monitor yourself, you can set up rules to get notifications if anything drastically changes so you’re on top of problems quicker.

To set up Custom Alerts go to Admin => View => Custom Alerts and follow the step-by-step process. It should look something like this: