Google Analytics Annotations: the good, the bad, and the ugly
Did you ever find yourself making one of these questions?
- When did we deploy that cool feature?
- When did we launch the marketing campaign promoting our last product update?
- What happened on September the 24th? We have noticed a big drop in organic traffic acquisition
- Who and when changed the position of the main call-to-action we have in our top organic landing pages?
- And the list goes on, and on, and on...
For web analysts and digital marketers in general, we need to have a very clear picture of any circumstance that may influence users activity on our website.
Having a proper measuring plan in place and implementing our tracking tools correctly is critical, but knowing the factors that influence data trends is also key to understand the whys.
Since 2019, there is an easy way to annotate reports in Google Analytics, so we don’t forget about these critical events.
What are Google Analytics Annotations?
Annotations allows any user with access to a Google Analytics profile to leave shared or private notes right on the over-time graph. Building upon the concept of bringing Intelligence to data captures the tribal intelligence of your company - which tends to be the most expensive and easily lost resource of all. A simple note from a colleague can save hours of real work (and frustration) for an analyst who is tasked to explain a usually dry set of numbers.
Video about Google Analytics Annotations
Main benefits of using analytics annotations
It helps to increase problem-solving speed
It’s quite common to find traffic spikes when looking at your data and not knowing the why.
Sometimes the answer is easy to find.
But as organizations and digital businesses grow and get more decentralized, with more and more people influencing the performance of the website, the time to get the answer we need can substantially grow.
Unluckily, many hours of talented people are wasted through emails and calls trying to figure out what happened that could explain those spikes.
When doing annotations the right way, time to answer critical questions and solve important issues is reduced dramatically.
It helps to share critical business knowledge
In the video, the Google team talks about capturing “tribal intelligence of your company”.
This knowledge is much more powerful when it’s shared across different teams and levels within the organization.
It’s great that analysts have a clear perspective about what product, design and development teams are doing when trying to understand the data.
And it’s also great that other teams know when the analysts change the data through Google Tag Manager.
It helps everyone understand the data
Providing context around the data is one of the most powerful tools you have as a digital marketer in order to communicate your findings properly.
Leaving relevant and meaningful pieces of context in your GA reports is a great way to be always present for other people when they check the data.
When should you use annotations?
Annotate any event that may positively or negatively influence user activity on your website.
These events could be both internal and external, so annotations can come from lots of people and teams within your company.
Annotate events such as:
- new code deployments
- newsletter launches
- google algorithm updates
- competitors activity
- public holidays
- marketing campaigns
- new product launches
- pricing policies updates
- website design changes
- relevant content changes
- changes in the tracking code
- website outages
- important industry developments
- general news
- weather issues
Tips on how to write annotations
Analytics annotations are for team players.
If done right, they not only save hours of future investigations but also become a powerful knowledge base around your most important KPIs.
When adding a new annotation, better to keep a few things in mind.
The whole point about adding context to our data is being able to understand the whole picture when we get back to it.
Try to be relevant and specific when adding annotations.
Add additional info
There is a limit in the characters you can use in an annotation, but always try to add additional info about the note when possible. It could be a Jira ticket, a google document or a newspaper article.
Highlight the most important annotations
Add a star to those annotations that you consider especially relevant. If you know that something really important happened, write it down and help everyone else looking at the data where to put the focus on.
Try to be useful
Annotations are about providing the relevant context anyone needs in order to run a proper analysis.
Add things that matter and things that can help anyone to better and faster understand the data they are looking at.
How to add an annotation
You can do it in two different ways.
From your reports
From your admin section
Where can I see all my annotations within GA?
It's important to note that annotations are stored at “View” level within Google Analytics.
To find them, do the following:
- Go to Admin
- Select your Google Analytics view
- Go to annotations
Take into account that you will only see annotations other users created with shared visibility and the annotations you created with private visibility.
The good about GA annotations
They are very easy to use
Anyone who can access a GA view can easily annotate it.
They are nicely integrated into GA reports
Once you create an annotation, it will be accessible within most of your reports.
You can choose between private or shared annotations
You can share annotations among all team members, or keep them private in case you need it.
You can highlight the most important ones
You can add a star to the most important annotations so they are highlighted in your reports. You can also filter them in the annotations table.
The bad about GA annotations
There are a few things that you can’t do with GA annotations.
You can’t replicate annotations among views
It'd be great to add annotations in multiple views at the same time.
But that's not possible at the moment.
If you and your team work with multiple views for the same Google Analytics website or app property (which is quite usual), make sure you’re clear about which view will house all shared annotations.
You can’t add links on your annotations
You can always copy and paste the link within the annotation, but they don’t support rich media.
You can’t export annotations with your reports
Don’t expect to get your annotations when you export your data.
The best you can get is a little icon showing that there is an annotation in your PDF exports, but nothing about the details.
You can’t see previous period annotations in your reports
When comparing two periods of time, you will only get annotations for the current period. Previous period annotations come without them.
The ugly about GA annotations
The ugliest thing about annotations is that you can’t automate them.
And this one hurts.
Annotations API is not available.
Despite the fact that many people have been asking for this feature for a long time (take a look to this thread if you want to have some fun), Google Analytics has not opened the annotations API, yet.
But keep reading, because we offer you an alternative with Context and Enhanced Google Analytics Annotations extension for Chrome.
Alternative to Google Analytics Annotations
With Context, now you can automate and centralize your annotations workflow, easily.
You can both use our native connectors and our API to post annotations to Google Analytics through our browser plugin: Enhanced Google Analytics Annotations.