#FreeAdvice is a monthly feature where we take your questions about search/analytics/etc and answer them here. The number of answers will vary based on length, complexity, our energy levels.
Q. How do I keep track of changes that skew my Google Analytics numbers?
A. We’ve all had these moments, you’re doing your monthly reporting (if you’re not doing monthly reporting, finish reading this, then drop everything else and start doing monthly reporting) and see something like this:
Panic sets in. You thought things were going fine. But now you’ve got some huge year-over-year losses to explain.
Then you (hopefully) look at the entire time period and see this:
Light bulb hums to life. You remember somebody changed a really far-reaching behavioral goal (like one of those obnoxious “viewed 3 pages” goals) to something more specific. And that’s really throwing your numbers off.
How do you avoid these moments of panic? You can’t be expected to just memorize every little change. Thankfully you don’t have to. Instead, do these two things:
1. Use Annotations in GA.
What are those? If you’re asking this question, look for the little down arrow below the chart on most GA reports. Click on it. Hopefully stuff will be there because someone else is using them. But regardless, start making it a habit.
There’s no one way to use annotations. I like to make heavy use of them. Website updates, big sales, email sends, Google algo updates, etc. Anything that can add context to changes in performance you might see. Yeah it can lead to a lot of scrolling, but it’s better to just have that information there for everyone who might be looking at the data. Then you’ve just got to train your company (and yourself) to look at those notes.
2. Integrate updates into your reporting.
How you do this is, again, up to you. But if you’ve got a reporting dashboard or spreadsheet where you’re adding some narrative about the recent month/week/whatever, make a reference for these kinds of important updates in addition. If your reporting is comparing this year to last, then have a full year’s worth of notes. It can be helpful for anyone using the reporting, but this is more about you. It makes it easier to remember these changes and keeps those notes in the place you need them but also keeps you from having to repeat the same things every month.
If you’ve got a better idea, let us know. There’s obviously all sorts of project management systems and similar tools that track these things. But it’s pretty common that the people looking at reports won’t know to look there or maybe even have access. You want this information to be handy as possible at the moment you or someone else sees a number that causes a panic.