The Google Analytics Real-Time Reports

Grant Marlowe - May 16, 2016

The Real-Time reports are one of the most helpful tools available in web analytics (in my opinion). Not so much for basing your marketing decisions on, but for validating all of your incoming data. In today’s world we all want to make data-driven decisions, and while this is a good strategy to work toward, the last thing you want to do is base an important business decision on inaccurate data!

That’s where the Real-Time reports really shine. Yes, they look fancy and it’s cool to see how many users are on your site at a moment in time, but helping to verify your implementation so that you can lean on the accuracy of your data and make those well-informed decisions is where you’ll find the Real-Time reports’ true potential.

Google Analytics Real Time Reports Interface Navigation

Verify Tracking Code Implementation

One of the first interactions you may have (or should have) with the Real-Time report is when you have just added the Google Analytics (GA) tracking code to a website. While some people reading this post may just add GA to the site, shut down the computer and walk away thinking all is good in the world, those people could be in for a rude awakening. There are several reasons why someone could run into complications when implementing Google Analytics on a new site and the last thing you want to do is just assume that because you ‘followed the directions’ the tool should automatically begin to work.

A great solution to verify that everything is in fact working properly, is to jump straight into the analytics interface and open up the Real-Time report in conjunction with having the website open. The purpose is to actually see your hits making it into the Real-Time reports, which will help confirm proper implementation. The advantage of the Real-Time reports compared to checking the standard GA reports, is the immediacy of the Real-Time reports, as opposed to waiting for the data to process into the other reports which could take quite some time.

Keep in mind the View you’re checking the report through does not have filters in place that would omit your hits from being sent, such as an IP exclusion filter. If you are on the site and the number of Active Users metric is 0, this is an indicator you will want to check your Google Analytics implementation again.

Google Analytics Real Time Reports Active Users


Proper UTM Tagging

Another use case for leveraging the Real-Time report is when you are setting up UTM campaign tags. You will notice that the Real-Time section of your interface is broken into several different reports, one of these being “Traffic Sources.” Opening this report will not only show the number of active users on the site, but the Source/Medium that drove the users to your site.

So before you hyperlink any of the content for that next big email marketing campaign with the UTM parameters you just created, crossing your fingers that you built them the right way, test them out by clicking on the campaign link while you are in the Real-Time Traffic Sources report. If set up properly, you will see the Medium and Source that you have tagged your link with appear in your report.

A useful tip for sites with heavy traffic – if you click on the “CAMPAIGN” label (which is right under the Active Users count) you can filter the Traffic Source report to ONLY include traffic that has campaign parameters. This will make it easier to sort through the various rows in the table!

Google Analytics Real Time Reports Active Users - Sources

Google Analytics Real Time Reports - Traffic Sources


Confirm Goal Configuration

Goals can be tricky. There are different types that require different configurations and each Goal is unique to your particular site/business. While there is the “Verify” link that can tell you what the conversion rate for that goal would have been for the past 7 days, this may not always satisfy your curiosity when you have the thought “did I really set this Goal up correctly?” Enter the Real-Time Conversions report, the solution to your Goal setup paranoia. Opening this report will show a list of each of the goals you have created and a by-the-second count of all the Goal hits that come through.

Google Analytics Real Time Reports - Conversions Report


This way, using your Unfiltered View, you can go through the process of completing the Goal on your browser, and actually watch the conversion come through in the Real-Time report. If on the website, you walk through the steps of triggering the Goal completion and you then see the hit enter the Conversion report, you can give yourself a nice pat on the back that you have set up your Goal successfully…and maybe even give the Real-Time report a pat too, for verifying the implementation!


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