10 ways to use annotations in Google Analytics
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Written by Bartek Bezemer

About the author
I want you to get more out of your online marketing by helping you learn from the greats and give you practical tips.

May 18, 2020

Inheriting a Google Analytics account can be a daunting task to analyze when the previous owner isn’t around anymore. 

I am a strong believer of proper documentation. When I’m not around a coworker should be able to pick up where I left off. I’ve been working for years with Google Analytics accounts and I’ve noticed an untapped feature which is left unused many times, the annotations sections, a treasure for documentation. 

Get the most out of Analytics annotations

The annotations section, as the name suggests, let’s you add notes to certain points in the progression graph or timeline. You can add notes which are marked by the email used, so you can retrace who made the remark. I sneak my way into the annotations section through the audience report. I’m going to show you ten ways how you can use the annotations section into a useful tool. 

1. Online Campaigns 

In your career, there will be times that you will create large online campaigns, or even smaller drip campaigns, which generate high amounts or sequential traffic to your website. When reporting, it’s easy to forget when you’ve run all those different campaigns. As you return you see different spikes all around your reporting in Google Analytics, not knowing what happened. In the short term this won’t be such an issue as you can recall certain campaigns, but in the long run it’s highly likely you’ll forget what online campaigns you’ve been running. 

To help you along you should document the start and end date of your campaign and the platform you’ve been using (e.g. Facebook or Google Ads). You can select the start date of the campaign by picking the date in the graph and the end by selecting another date point in the graph. 

2.Content publications

Content is a vital part of attracting traffic and therefore business. It’s more than just a fluff piece. In the beginning your content won’t generate heaps of traffic, but in the long run it can really move mountains. Therefore it’s important you are able to trace back how frequent you’ve been posting in the past and how well your content performs, because good content can generate a lot of traffic over a short period of time, especially when it’s shared or promoted. 

3.Offline campaigns 

Nothing is more difficult to measure than the effectiveness of offline campaigns on online results. I’ve run multiple campaigns in meat space, ranging from radio campaigns, billboards across highways, print campaigns and digital out of home and multiple times did I have to report the online results. I had to dive into the quotations to determine the dates when I’ve run the campaign. As with online campaigns, note the start and end date and the medium or channel you’ve been using (e.g. Radio 5 or Channel 1). It really pays off and helps you match organic or business results to offline campaigns. 

4.Goal changes 

During the lifetime of a Google Analytics account, goals come and go. URLs are deleted, URLs change. Life goes on. But it’s important to document which goals you are deleting or adding as they can play a vital role for campaigns in Google Ads and Facebook campaigns. New users of the account might also find it puzzling why certain goals suddenly disappear or are added. Sometimes the goal can also be repurposed for another, you’ve guessed it, goal. There can be legacy data in there as a goal cannot be reset, leaving the view puzzled how the numbers can be so vastly different. 

5.Filter changes

Filters can be referral exclusions such as payment service providers which cut off sessions and make it seem as they are the main acquisition channels for your conversions or the exclusions of external traffic or new internal IP-addresses. I always recommend creating these exclusions at the beginning stages of the account creation, but it might happen that some accounts have only added this feature in later stages. 

Another common issue is the social media traffic from Facebook, which is divided into three categories, which makes reporting on Facebook a painstaking endeavour. Through filtering you can merge these three sources into one combined source. 

6.Javascript changes

It doesn’t happen often that changes in the core code happen, but there was a time not too long ago when the GDPR came rolling around and forced some serious changes to the code, and into the account. Registering these details can help you determine whether traffic has been properly tracked or has been flatlining, helping you to trace back to certain events in the past. 

7.Link Building

Link Building is an essential part of an online marketers job and adding new ones, or deleting them for that matter will occur frequently. It might be wise to document when you’ve added new referrals, some of them might generate heaps of traffic over a set period of time. Others might disappear and cause dips in the traffic. Documenting these changes can help you identify which traffic sources are responsible for traffic changes. Use the start and end date, the name of the website and the referral URL in your annotations. 

8.Speed optimizations

A website is continually optimized for better conversions, which means changes are made to achieve lower loading speeds. This is important to document as optimized website performance can impact conversion in positive ways. At the moment it’s perfect, but later down the road it’s difficult to recall which optimizations were made for conversion sake. Be sure to document when the change has taken place and what has been changed that made the website load faster. 

9.CMS changes 

CMS changes won’t occur often during an average online marketer’s career, but when they do happen, they can greatly increase organic traffic. On the flipside a wrong implementation can cause tracking issues. The day of the switch can be the day tracking gets discontinued. This happened to me as a lot of pages weren’t properly migrated and goals weren’t tracked as they were not converted properly. 

During a walkthrough of the release candidate, goals, or thank you pages, were not tested, there was a sole focus on the storefront of the website. When we had known later on this was because the CMS had caused issues, we would’ve been able to find a solution much quicker. 

10.URL changes 

Just like with goals, URLs come and go. Some are temporary, others are changed for SEO purposes. That grows organically. It’s important you track these changes to measure results and make sure all is well documented for future account owners to be able to see what caused peaks, or decreases for that matter, in traffic. 

Summary

There are tons of ways you can use Annotations in Google Analytics. They are a helpful way to help you trace back past efforts and their impact on your website performance. Employees will be able to contextualize the different metrics and make informed decisions. 

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