Have you ever sat down for a Google Analytics analysis session and stopped poring over the results for a moment to wonder exactly how many people are looking at your website, right now? I sure have, and just in case you have too, Google Analytics has been making it easier and easier to find out.
The real-time feature was first rolled out in September 2011, and though other analytics providers had already been providing real-time data for years, none did it as well or as inexpensively (that is, for free) as Google. Recently, Google seems to have been paying more attention to real time tools, leading to some updates to real-time reports back in March, and some new widgets for real-time reporting on April 16.
Why Should Anyone Care About Real-Time Analytics?
In years gone by, traffic was slow to come by and booms and busts were longer in duration. Because of the proliferation of social media the idea of “trending topics” makes everything relevant for shorter periods of time, as one trend gives way to the next. Since trends can spread like wildfire for a short period of time and then be instantaneously doused by the next big thing, it’s important to know about exciting increases in traffic and engagement as soon as they happen. Knowing about dramatic traffic increases as they are in the process of occurring allows you to better capitalize on them – perhaps by highlighting a piece of content to the main page of your site, or offering a limited time discount to your new visitors.
There are also some extremely useful ways to use the new reporting features. If you have implemented tracking code to monitor your advertising initiatives, now you can immediately test to make sure it’s working – meaning you won’t miss out on any valuable data as you struggle to get it working.
Another way to use the real-time features is to monitor the effect of your offline advertising as it’s happening. If you’ve bought a radio or television ad, you can watch your traffic explode during the run of the advertisement and for the minutes after. And if you buy a spot in a newspaper or magazine, you can watch the traffic start flowing in as soon as you’re hot off the press.
Okay, I get It. Now how do I see how Many People are on My Site?
In Google Analytics, you should see Real-Time as an option in the left sidebar under Standard Reports. If you go to the Overview, you will see a summary of what is happening right now on your website – exactly how many active visitors are browsing, what portion of them are new or returning, the top referring websites and social sites, and what keywords they’re coming in on. There’s also a scrolling timeline of your pageviews for the past 30 minutes, a list of the most active pages, and a world map showing the most actively engaged parts of the world.
You can drill down to see locations, traffic sources, popular content, and events in greater detail.
What Other Real-Time Features are Available?
In the March update, Google added several new features. The Events section is new, which pulls from the event actions you’ve defined for your website to show you what is being triggered in real time. Under the Content report, you can now see what type of device is being used to access your website: desktop, tablet, and mobile. You can now create shortcuts for segments you particularly like – for example if you just want to see your United States visitors in real-time, or your mobile users. In addition, now when you drill down to a more specific segment, there is a checkbox above the scrolling timeline that lets you compare it to all traffic.
In the most recent update, Google added the ability to create a real-time widget in the form of a counter, timeline, map, or table. To add a real-time widget to an existing dashboard, navigate to your Dashboards section and choose “+ Add Widget” from the menu at the top. When selecting the widget type, be sure to choose from the four real-time options instead of the standard options.
How are you planning to use Google Analytics for real-time reporting? Share your plans or ideas in the comments!
About the author: Adrienne Erin is an internet marketer who loves translating the confusing parts of SEO to simpler terms. She does a lot of social media marketing in addition to her writing and SEO work. See what she’s currently up to by following her on Twitter under the username @adrienneerin.