Google Analytics has always presented a visually compelling display of user behavior for particular websites using the tracking code snippet embedded in the website html code.
Clients that I have worked with in the past have found the various displays, graphs, and maps fascinating. However, there always seemed to be a disconnect between their ability to make meaning of the data and connecting that data with behavioral actions within their business and the behavioral actions of their intended audiences.
For example, one can easily see from the very first dashboard screen in Google Analytics that a line graph exists depicting visitor activity over the past month and it usually shows a series of points across the graph illustrating ups and downs and in a fairly consistent pattern.
However, on occasion there is a spike in activity and clients have always asked me what the spike meant on that particular day. This generally leads to a discussion about what types of business activities took place on or around that day.
Was there a profile about the company in the local newspaper, television, or radio? Did the company send out a paper mailing to a client mailing list or an e-mail distribution? Did representatives of the organization make a presentation to a group of people somewhere?
Google Analytics has enabled a feature that now helps Google Analytics account holders to place little notes on specific dates in the timeline that will help bring more meaning to the spikes in activity and could help explain the peaks and drops in activity.
Recently a client was featured on a local news broadcast and I immediately logged into the Google Analytics account and placed an annotation on the timeline for that day. In the note I put information about the specific television channel that featured the client, the time of the news broadcast, and a short description about the details of the feature.
Now a little annotation flag is placed on that date and it is easy now, looking back a few weeks later, to recall the specific activity that happened on that particular day to explain the spike in website activity.
Without annotations in Google Analytics, one would need to document the date and details in some other format and then match up spikes in activity with the notes, if one can even remember where the notes are located. It just makes sense to place the note on the timeline so when it comes time to reflect about business processes and website activity, all the information needed to make sense of some activity phenomena is right on the same page.
Annotations help bring a very important dynamic to the Google Analytics data. Now we can correlate website user data with offline marketing campaign tasks and behaviors. For example, we can place a notation on the Google Analytics data timeline the day a mass postal mailing is sent out and then place another annotation the day it hits mailboxes. This information can help identify and measure the effectiveness of the mass mailing driving traffic to the website. Ideally we would see a spike in activity with a slow trailing drop back to normal. The annotation can help make sense of the lifespan of the mailing and compare it to other similar events to measure effectiveness.
Google Analytics Annotations is not a magical thing that makes a website better. It is, however, a resolution to a critically missing link in the Google Analytics package for people trying to make sense of the immense amount of data that is captured relating to the user experience on the web.
Learn more about Google Analytics on the official Google Analytics Blog.
Also, learn about how you can get professional consulting support for installation and interpretation of Google Analytics for your website.