Annotations: Bringing Intelligence to Data

- March 3, 2011

While exploring the Google Analytics interface, you may have come across the annotation feature. While annotations aren’t a new feature in the platform, they are an optional (though important) tool that sometimes gets overlooked. Annotations can be thought of, in the simplest sense, as a “sticky note”. Similar to placing a reminder on your calendar at home, annotations can be placed directly on the over-time graph in Google Analytics to represent or remind the user of an important event or significant time in history.

Annotations are often created to explain “spikes” in website traffic. As seen in the example below, there was a peak in website traffic on Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Below the graph are four annotations created for the month that note the assumed reason for increases in website traffic (on 2/2, 2/16, and 2/22).

Annotations are a great way to track progress over time. From a marketing perspective, annotations allow you to track the impact of your campaigns. In this way, you are able to bring intelligence to data. Annotations are most useful when you can compare data over time. The more comparable data available, the easier it will be to justify replicating or diminishing certain marketing efforts.

Annotations are easy to create. The one “catch” that is worth noting is you can not create an annotation in advance. For instance, if you know that at the end of each month, you distribute a company newsletter, you are unable to create an annotation ahead of time. Best practice is to create the note immediately after a project is complete.

To create an annotation, click on a date on the graph (Note-you can create annotations on any page in the platform that displays the graph, whether it be “Dashboard” or “Traffic Sources”). When clicking on a specific date, a small window will appear (as seen above) with the selected date, number of visits, and it gives the option to “Create new annotation”. When you click on that option, a new field will appear that allows you to describe an event in 160 characters. Additionally, the feature gives you the option to share the annotation with others that access your account or keep it private (see illustration below). After submitting, the annotation will appear on the date selected and will appear as a small comment box. You are also able to “star” annotations that you feel are most important or that you would like viewers to pay special attention to. A website launch would be a great time to “star” an annotation, as it is an event that may only occur once over a long period of time.

Annotations are a great way to effectively track your marketing efforts (obviously after placing Google Analytics Tracking Code on all efforts first), as they will help you to analyze the success of projects over time. The best word of advice would be to create annotations and use them often.

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