Digital Marketing

Annotations to Add Context to Google Analytics

Taking a periodic look at data inside Google Analytics is vital to understanding how well you are meeting your goals and objectives. However, as you look at the data, it can be challenging to remember exactly what was going on on certain days.

You may see a spike in traffic related to a specific campaign, or a decrease in traffic as a result of a local holiday or even a temporary server outage. Though it may be possible to open your calendar and match various dates to activity, it’s not very likely you have all of the dates of every single campaign stored in a central location that it’s easy to access and review.

When you see something happening right now, you can quickly determine why it’s happening and what’s going on. As time passes, however, it’s easy to lose track of what was going on, and when it comes to analyzing your website, not readily having this information can present quite a problem. If we want to measure the impact of a circumstance on our site, we have to know what happened and when to make the proper analysis.

That’s where using annotations inside Google Analytics offers a wonderful benefit. Creating annotations will provide the context you need when it comes to data analysis. Over time, the annotations become more valuable because, as the data gets older, you are less likely to remember the circumstances of that particular campaign.

What are Annotations in Google Analytics?

An often-overlooked feature of Google Analytics is the ability to annotate your reports by date. You can click the arrow tab below the overtime graph on any reports to display the annotations panel.

Annotations are small notes that allow you to record information about what was going on on a particular day and your Google Analytics dashboard.

You can create private annotations that are only visible to you when you log into your Google Analytics account. However, if you have collaborate access to Google Analytics for other accounts, you can create shared annotations that can be seen by anyone with access to the reporting view.

If you have annotations that you consider crucial or of higher importance, it is possible to star them, so they stand out a bit more. It is easy to keep up with who created what annotations as each annotation is associated with the email address that was used to create it. It is also possible to edit and delete annotations.

All you need to create annotations in a Google Analytics view is basic read and analyze access. Anyone who can access a view can annotate it.

The default visibility setting for annotations is shared. If you do not want anyone else to be able to see The annotation you are creating, select private.

Annotations are replicated among reports with the same view to help save time. For instance, if you create an annotation in the landing pages report, you’ll see the caption icon appear in the all referrals report.

Annotations, however, are not replicated among views. If you and your team work with multiple views for the same Google Analytics property or website, make sure you’re clear about which view will house all of the shared annotations.

How to Add Annotations

  1. Look for the tab below the time graph on the report you wish to annotate.
  2.  Click “+ Create new annotation”
  3.  Select the date for the annotation.
  4.  Enter your note.
  5. Choose the visibility of the annotation. If you only have “Read and Analyze” access, you will only be able to create private annotations.
  6. Click “Save.”

Once the annotation has been saved, you will see a small icon on the timeline. This allows you to see that there is a note attached to that date.

How You Can Use Annotations

You can, and should, use annotations to keep track of anything that could influence website activity – either positively or negatively, including:

  • Marketing campaigns
  • Major website design and content changes
  • Industry developments such as Google algorithm updates
  • Website outages
  • Competitor activity
  • Weather
  • General news
  • Other time-specific factors that may affect website behavior

What Google Analytics Annotations Can’t Do (Yet!)

It’s worth noting that Google Analytics annotations could use a few improvements. We hope to see them come at some point in the future.

Annotations are not included when you export your reports. If you select the PDF export option, you can see the icon, but you do not see the details of the annotation.

It is only possible to create annotations for specific dates. There is not an option to include a time or create an annotation for a month, week, or custom date range.

There is no option to import annotations from a Google Calendar automatically; however, this would be an excellent option for those of us who are keeping an external timeline of all of our website and marketing activities.

Beyond creating a timeline directly within your Google Analytics, you may want to record events in a separate spreadsheet or calendar so you can color code and categorize and add additional notes about status and follow-up.

For instance, you may want to know that two months after you have modified your website’s navigation bar, you will check specifically for changes to the conversion rate and page visits along with other relevant metrics.

The advantage of keeping annotations within Google Analytics is that they provide context with the caption icons appearing directly in the reports. It may be easier for you to connect your data with the occurrences that you have recorded.

To make your Google Analytics even more powerful, set up custom Intelligence Alerts by email when a metric threshold is reached for a specific period.

For instance, after you feature a product on your homepage, you can create an intelligence alert that will generate an email if your traffic to your product page increases by more than 10% compared to the previous week.

If you choose to use intelligence alerts to complement your annotations, the alert will remain active until you delete it, so any factor may trigger it, rather than the one you annotated. They aim to work independently of annotations to provide a quick and easy way to monitor key metrics on your website actively.

Digital Marketing

Using Google Analytics Events to Track Even More Data

Google Analytics is a highly valuable free tool that helps you learn about the people who are visiting your website and what they are doing while they are there. Over on my agency blog, I’ve written a post about using Google Analytics to track social media campaigns, but this one’s a bit different because rather than focusing on goals, we’re focusing on events – which are used to provide more details about what your users are doing while they’re on your site.

It’s kind of an extension of my post about how to use Google Analytics to improve your SEO. How? Goals are usually tied to actions that affect website revenue, while events track behavior that doesn’t have to do with reaching a certain page on your website. Goals are found in the Conversions report, while events are located in the Behavior report.

By default with GA, you can see how much time people are spending on each page, where they’re coming to your website from, and in some instances, you can also see the keywords they used to find you in organic search. Using event tracking, you can expand it to include even more valuable information to guide your marketing strategy.

Event tracking is a feature that allows you to track and record interactions with various elements on your website that aren’t part of the standard tracking in GA. You can track them manually, or create the tracking code with the help of the Google Tag Manager.

Before You Get Started

You must have the GA tracking code installed on your website before you can set up event tracking and start creating events.

To make things easier when it comes time to create the events in the system, make a list of the various elements you want to track. You can track things like file downloads, clicks on outbound links, number of phone calls, video plays, form submissions, and more.

Your event tracking code contains four elements to describe the interaction with your website. These are used in your reports, so you want to be sure you think about your naming convention before you get started. This way, you’ll be better able to analyze the data once it’s collected.

The elements you’ll name are:

  • Category: A required field to name the group of objects you want to track.
  • Action: A required field to name the type of interaction, such as downloading a report or other freebie offering.
  • Label: An optional field that’s helpful for summarizing what the event is about, such as clicks on a navigation menu option.
  • Value: An optional field that can be used if you want to assign a numeric value to your file download, so you can track which files are more popular than others. Just be sure you track which files are associated with which values.

You should also decide whether you want to set up automatic event tracking or manually tag the links on your site. If you have a lot of documents and page elements you want to track, it is helpful to handle it all automatically.

Automatic tagging is handled in Google Tag Manager and works when the following occurs:

  • Users click on links
  • Users submit forms
  • Users hit a certain visit duration or at timed intervals
  • Users click on any type of page element

It’s worth noting there used to be two different ways to set up event tracking on a website for standard Asynchronous Google Analytics (ga.js) and Universal Google Analytics. The Asynchronous Google Analytics (ga.js) method is now depreciated, so any advice referencing this form of tracking should be ignored.

Creating Events in Google Analytics


With the manual event tracking, you’ll create the code and attach it to the link code on the item you want to track.

The event tracking code for an event tracked link in Universal Analytics looks like this:

onclick=”ga(‘send’, ‘event’, ‘Category’, ‘Action’, ‘Label’, ‘Value’);”

The code is placed after the href link as shown in this example:

<a href=”” onclick=”ga(‘send’, ‘event’, ‘Category’, ‘Action’, ‘Label’, ‘Value’);”>

Where the category, action, label, and value variables are named according to your choices based on your naming convention.

Using Google Tag Manager

If you want to set up automatic tracking, or want to create your own tracking without manually creating the code, the Google Tag Manager makes it easy.

  1. Log into Google Tag Manager
  2. Select “Tags” from the left-hand side
  3. Create a new tag and select Universal Analytics as the Tag Type
  4. Set your Google Analytics Tracking ID
  5. Choose “Event” for the track type
  6. Set your Event Category, Action, Label and Values. You can use Google Tag Manager variable names such as {{click url}}
  7. Set your triggers as required

Make sure you’ve selected the right variables for your event. Create a new tag in the tag manager, changing the track type to event. Configure the tag by filling in your values, and choose the event the tag fires on.

Why Create Events in Google Analytics

Creating events will give you greater insights into your audience and their behavior on your website. With the resulting data, you’ll be better equipped to make adjustments to your strategy and ultimately boost conversions.

Set up custom events to track any call to action clicks, file downloads, and more. This way, you’ll be able to see how people are responding to your calls to action, how many people are taking advantage of your freebies, or which of your digital products are the most popular. You’ll even be able to see when users scroll down the page, when they click on video controls to play, pause, or stop a video, abandon form fields, move their mouse, share content, and more.

The more information you have about what your web visitors are doing on your website – and whether or not they are doing what you want them to be doing, the better you will be able to create a digital marketing and SEO strategy to accommodate their needs. Your website should never be about your business – it should be about your audience and how you can help them. Always seek to provide value and keep the spotlight on your customers.

If you’d like help with learning how to maximize Google Analytics for your marketing campaigns, feel free to get in touch.


Guide to Using Google Analytics to Improve Your SEO

If you’ve got a website, chances are you’re using Google Analytics to get information about the traffic that’s visiting it. If you’re not, you should be. I’m going to assume you’ve already got the tracking code installed on your website, so if that’s not the case, learn how to do it here. It’ll take about 24 hours for Google to start collecting information about your property, so once you see data in there, you can come back to learn how to make it work for you.

Get a Look at Your Organic Search Traffic

If you see a decline in your overall traffic, you should never automatically assume the dip is a result of a decline in organic search traffic. Of course, it could be, but taking the time to dig a bit deeper may reveal your organic traffic is up, but other traffic sources are down.

To find out more, click Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels. There you will see traffic sources segmented by channel. Now, click “Organic Search” to get a view of nothing but your organic search traffic.

This report will help you see the keywords that drive the most traffic, which search engines are bringing you the most traffic, the most commonly landed on pages, the most common exit pages, and more.

See Where People Are Landing on Your Site

If you want to see which pages on your website are getting the most visitors, click Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. You can see how many page views each page is getting, along with the amount of time people are spending on your website, the bounce rate, and the percent of users that leave your site after looking at the page.

But let’s go a bit further. Click Landing Pages to see which pages they view the first time they come to your website. Compare these with the most popular pages. This can help you see which pages people like to visit more often. You may wish to add them to your side bar, or feature them as sticky posts on your home page. By making it easier for users to visit your most popular pages, you’ll also help increase the amount of time they spend on your website.

Now let’s take a second to talk bounce rate. This refers to the percentage of your users who left your website without going to a second page. The lower this rate, the better. If you notice it’s high – that usually means they didn’t find the information they were looking for on the page, and went to find it on another website.

So, take a look at the most common search queries for the page, and make sure the information on the page addresses the issues related to the query. If it does – take a look at what you can do to improve it. Can you tighten up the copy? Make it more engaging? Move some things around to make the information they are looking for easier to find? Whatever pages have a high percentage should be addressed so you can get the bounce rate down and keep them looking around your website.

Your landing page report will show you the most popular pages first. You should focus on the pages that have the highest number of impressions, as well as the pages that have the lowest click through rate. Your click through rate will be lower than your overall compared to the queries repot, since this report looks at all your keywords, not just the individual ones.

As you look at this report, cross reference it with the organic traffic above, and plug information into a spreadsheet. You should include a list of all the landing pages that have a high likelihood of driving leads and sales, and all the keywords related to the landing pages you’re all ready getting impressions for, that have a click through rate of less than 7%. Include your average ranking position for each keyword, too.

Get Basic Demographics About Your Audience

It’s important to know where where your audience is coming from. Click Audience > Geo > Location. Segment to organic traffic. Let’s assume you’ve got a global audience, even if that’s not the case. (If your visitors are only coming from one country, then you need to only target that country.) But, if you find your audience is coming from all over the world, you should be targeting users in the countries on your report.

To target a single country, login into your Google Search Console and select your website. Click on the gear icon, and then choose “site settings.” Look for the box that says “Target users in:” and select the country you’re targeting. This works well if you’re focused on a single country, but if you’re attracting visitors from all over the globe, skip this.

In any case, understanding where your audience is coming from will you give an idea of additional keywords you may want to target to bring in visitors from multiple countries.

Let’s say you want to find out even more about your audience. Click Audience > Demographics > Overview. You’ll see the audience breakdown by gender and age, which can help you ensure your content and keywords align with their interests.

See Site Speed Information

Google Analytics allows you to see the page loading time, which can be a major factor in the customer experience. Not only this, but it is a ranking factor – albeit one that doesn’t hold as much weight as some others. I’m not going to discuss the various ways you can improve your site speed here, as that’s outside the scope of this article. I’m just going to show you how to find out the average page load time for each of the pages on your site, so you can dig deeper and look for ways to improve it on your own, as needed.

Navigate to Behavior > Site Speed > Page Timings. I prefer to set one column to the page load time, and the other column to the % exit, so I can watch for patterns in the load time and the number of people who leave the site on that page. Then, I set the medium to organic, so I can see what’s happening specifically to my audience coming from organic search traffic.

When you do it this way, the top row will show you the average page load time size life, and the average exit percentage. You’ll see everything on a page-by-page basis, so you can see which pages are loading slower (and faster) than the site wide average. You shouldn’t be surprised if you notice a trend between slower loading pages and a higher exit percentage.

The PageSpeed Insights tool from Google helps you find ways to make your site faster and more mobile friendly, so if you’re just in charge of SEO – ask your developers to start here.

Once you make improvements on the page load times, run the report again and compare it to the old data to show how much more search traffic you retain, and what traffic most likely converted as a result of the improvements.

Remember, research shows 74% people expect your site to load within two seconds or less, while 40% of people will abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load. And for every one-second delay, you can expect a 7% decrease in conversion rates. To put that in perspective for you, that’s an annual loss of $2.5 million for an e-commerce site that earns $100,000 a day – with just a one second delay.

Pulling the Data Together to Create a Plan of Action

That spreadsheet is the start of your plan. Look at your rankings, and treat them all of they were between 1 and 10, since that’s how many results Google shows on each page. If you rank 49, consider that a #9 ranking position.

Now, highlight anything that ranks 1-4 in green. Anything below that gets highlighted in red.

Next, look at the click through rates. Highlight any keywords in positions 7-10 with click through rates higher than 3% in green, and anything less than 3% in red. Highlight keywords in positions 4-6 with click through rates 8% or higher in green, and less than that in red.

Now, for keywords ranking in positions 1-3, look at click through rates at 20% or higher and highlight those in green. Less than 20%? You’ve got it – highlight it in red.

Now, you’ll be able to see the areas where you need to work to improve your overall SEO. Work on both link building and on page SEO improvements in those areas. Bear in mind pages with lower click through rates need improvements made in the title and meta descriptions, to make them more enticing to click.

Getting More from Google Analytics

If you want to get even more information for Google Analytics, connect your account to both Google Search Console and Google AdWords. When linked together with those products, you can get an even more comprehensive view of what’s going on with your website. You can even create your own custom dashboard, so it’s easier to get the information you want at a glance right when you login.

It may seem like a pain to dig into the data, but data-driven decisions can help you stay on the right track from the beginning, rather than taking a shot in the dark. Of course you’ll never truly be able to predict user behavior with 100% accuracy, but it’s better than randomly trying various tactics and seeing what sticks.

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