Back in September 2011, Google introduced Real-Time reports to their Analytics service, which marked a notable improvement in the type of reporting available to users and placed Google Analytics alongside some of the high-level analytics tools that charged good money for this type of analysis. Since then, real-time reports have provided Google Analytics users with some valuable insights into their website activity.
The Real-Time reports can be accessed within the main Reporting view within Google Analytics, and there are a group of reports available under the Real-Time section in the left hand menu. Each report view contains activity charts for sessions in the last 60 seconds and 30 minutes (the total length of an active session). There is an overview summary report, plus more detailed views of current sessions on the site by location, traffic sources, content (pageviews) and, more recently, reports to show active events being recorded or goals/ecommerce conversions.
These reports provide a fascinating insight into the current activity that is taking place on your website – whether there are hundreds of visitors on the site at any one time, or just a few. The reports constantly change, with the charts showing new sessions appearing or dropping off the site, and the tabular reports change as visitors appear or move around different pages on the site, indicated by green lines for new activity and red when a session or pageview ends.
So these reports can be good to review occasionally to get a better feel for current volumes of traffic on the site, and high-volume websites can display these results to staff to show traffic levels at that time. However, there are other uses of these reports as well which can be particularly useful, even if you only have a low volume of traffic on your website.
Firstly, the real-time reports can be used if you are conducting short bursts of marketing activity – such as posting on social media or sending out an email campaign. Once the activity is made, you can view the real-time reports to see what immediate reaction your marketing achieves and so how many new visitors come onto the website from that source, plus what they do on the site. This short term activity is harder to track through the standard Analytics reports, and so the real-time reports can give you a better understanding of impact.
The second main function of the real-time reports is perhaps more important, since they can be used to check or verify how the Google Analytics code is working on your website and tracking data in the reports. By navigating through your website in one browser window, and viewing the real-time reports in another, you should be able to identify your actions on the site and verify that the code is working well. This technique is useful to track goal paths, events and also external traffic sources to see how Analytics is recording these – for example, clicking on Facebook links will sometimes record a visits source as ‘direct / none’ due to tracking paths, which would indicated the need to use referral tracking URLs for those type of links, where possible.
Of course, if your website has a lot of ‘noise’ in the real-time reports due to high volumes of visitors on the website, you can create a new view which is filtered for your IP address, which makes it easier to implement the latter of these approaches. The first one will be harder to track, unless another filtered view is created for that particular source of traffic.
If you’d like to know more about Real-Time reports in Google Analytics and how to use them for your website, please contact us.