There are a variety of standard reports available to you inside of Google Analytics (once it’s properly set up on your website), and the depth of data can appear overwhelming at first. But, rest assured, once you understand where to find the information that is most relevant to you, the value of the data can be mind-blowing.
The Realtime reports section is a more current view of site traffic than you’ll find in the other reports. The data covers any visitor within the last five minutes who has viewed a page or triggered an event. This is a much shorter window of time than the other reports, which are a bit more circumspect (parsing audience data with a 30-minute lag). But freshness isn’t everything when it comes to data consumption, and you don’t want to get too worked up about watching your site traffic fluctuate minute to minute.
Inside of the Realtime section you’ll find many of the same reports that you’ll find more detailed versions of in other sections, such as user location data, traffic sources, and data on pages being actively viewed.
Do you get traffic from different locations around the country or around the world at different times of day? Checking into Realtime location reports can answer that question for you.
Are you launching a campaign in a specific place today and want to see how it’s performing? Let’s say you’re a business that’s launching a social campaign targeting users in a specific city outside of your local area. Watching the Realtime data after the campaign launches could be a fun experiment, especially if you’re trying to optimize on the fly. That said, you might also wait until it’s run and pull a post-mortem report using the Audience report.
How are the visitors on your site right now getting there? This is the question to answer here. Figure out whether they’ve arrived from organic search, referral, paid campaigns or other sources. This is another area of opportunity for understanding results of an active campaign on the fly. Or parsing how a TV appearance or other media mention might be impacting website traffic. If you need to diagnose where a sudden spike in traffic is coming from, this is the place to be.
It can also be useful for testing out specific campaign codes and other tools before you launch. For example, it might be helpful to test the campaign codes you’ll be using in an email campaign prior to deployment.
What pages on your site are users looking at right now? Keeping on eye on which pages are active in Realtime can be especially useful on sites with a lot of ecommerce. You can see what product pages generate engagement based on externalities like media mentions or news events. They can also be an interesting insight for content-rich sites like to see what content is being viewed the most.
If you have a robust implementation of event tracking set up in your Analytics then this section will tell you more about the specific ones users are triggering right now. This can be useful if your campaign is driving users toward a specific goal, or if you want to monitor and optimize campaign spend on the fly. Keeping an eye on the percentage of active users who trigger an event can be an interesting number to watch as it relates to optimization outcomes. If you’re just getting your events set up, Realtime reporting can also allow you test those events to make sure they appear correctly inside of Analytics when triggered. Win-win.
This is the next level up from Events data where users complete one of the goals you have set up. Think of Events as the mile marker on the way to a final destination and the conversion being the arrival point of the customer’s user journey. This is another section requires some additional set up (preferably in line with key performance indicators or business goals you have established) but which is incredibly useful for monitoring success.
One important thing to keep in mind is that Realtime reports are only going to be useful if you have website traffic above a certain level. If your site is getting a couple of dozen visits per day because customers tend to find your information on Yelp or in Google search results rather than clicking through to your actual website, then Realtime reports won’t provide much value to you. If you have tens of thousands of website visitors (or more) per day, then watching the Realtime data can be insightful, perhaps. If you check that report and don’t see any data, then you might not have any active users right now.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the more robust data can provide you with more of the same insights historically, so the value of Realtime reports is really about finding information that is useful in the moment rather than watching data waiting for an outcome.
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