Google Analytics is a tool that can provide invaluable insights into what’s happening on your website, your levels of traffic and engagement, and the success of your campaigns.
However, to a newcomer to Google Analytics, the array of different reports available can seem a little overwhelming. Once you’ve got Google Analytics set up for your website, where do you look first? Where will you find the most useful data for your campaigns?
Reports on Google Analytics are broadly divided into two types. There are standard reports, which are the preset reports listed down the left-hand side of your dashboard, divided into the segments Real-Time, Audience, Acquisition, Behavior and Conversions.
The data that appears in these is predetermined by Google Analytics, but you also have the option to customize many of them, allowing you to use the standard reports as a base and then tweak them to your liking.
Then there are custom reports, which can either be created completely from scratch with whatever data you want to gather together in a single view, or created based on a standard report, with additional segments or filters added to tailor the report to your needs.
There are dozens of different standard reports available in Google Analytics, providing a wealth of insight into audience demographics, sources of traffic, content performance, campaign performance and much, much more.
In this series, we’re going to tackle the gargantuan task of explaining each segment of Google Analytics and the standard reports they contain. We’ll cover the data you can find within each standard report, and how it can be used in your marketing and SEO efforts.
First up are real-time reports. How do they work, and what kinds of campaigns are they useful for?
What are real-time reports?
As it says on the tin, the Real-Time Reports section in Google Analytics allows you to monitor activity on your site in real time, as it happens.
It can be a useful way of “taking the pulse” of your website in a specific moment, or tracking the response to a campaign in real-time. Just don’t get too obsessed with watching the numbers go up and down!
A visitor to your site qualifies for the real-time report if they have triggered an event, or pageview, within the last five minutes. This is different from the other types of standard report, where a session is defined by a 30-minute window.
The Real-Time Reports section is broken down into:
This is the big-picture view of what’s happening on your website at any given moment. The Real-Time Overview report shows how many users are currently active on your site, a list of the top active pages, top sources of referral traffic, top social traffic sources, the top locations that users are visiting from, and more.
This report drills deeper into the available data on where exactly in the world your users are accessing your website from.
In the initial view, this information is broken down by country, but if you select a country name from the list or the map of active users, you can ‘zoom in’ on exactly which cities your users are logging in from. If you select a city from the list or map, you can get even more granular and filter the data by that specific city.
Note that if you apply a country or city filter and then navigate to another report in the section, such as Traffic Sources, the data presented to you will continue to be filtered by that region until you opt to clear the filters.
Real-time location data can be useful if you’re running a campaign targeted at a specific region of the world and want to monitor its performance, or if you want to get a sense of where your users are accessing your website from at different times of day.
As the name indicates, this real-time report shows where on the web your visitors are coming to your site from.
The data is organized by medium (how the visitors are getting to your site – organic search, direct traffic, via email, via social media, and so on), source (where visitors are coming to your site from), and the number of active users – or, if you select the Page Views filter, the number of pageviews from that traffic source in the last 30 minutes.
This real-time report can be useful if, for example, you’ve had a few different mentions in the press recently and want to gauge which one is generating more traffic to your site, or if you’re running a social campaign and want to assess how well it’s working.
The Content report (called Screens if you’re viewing analytics for a mobile app) shows which specific pages of your site visitors are currently active on, showing the page URL, the page title, and the number and percentage of active users on that page. Again, you can switch to viewing this by pageviews (or screen views) in the last 30 minutes instead of by active users.
Another handy feature of the real-time Content report is that it breaks down your user data by device, so you can see which percentage of visitors are accessing your site on desktop, mobile, and tablet.
This report is useful if you’ve used Google Analytics’ Events feature to create custom events for interactions on your site – such as button clicks, downloads, video plays, ad clicks, and so on. More detailed, non-real-time data on Events can be found in the Behavior section of your Google Analytics dashboard.
You can then use the real-time data from this report to track the top events on your site as they occur, or switch to viewing those activated in the past 30 minutes. Google sub-divides these into Event Categories and Event Actions, and as with the Content report, also shows you the breakdown of which devices your visitors are using when they trigger Events