Data can take a solid 24-48 hours to show up in Google Analytics historical reports. There is just one problem with this.
You can't fix the data once it's in Google Analytics.
So this is when Real Time reports become especially handy. Since the data updates by the minute, you can easily review the amount of traffic and how it gets organized in Google Analytics immediately.
There are other ways you can take advantage of live data too. Let's go over them, shall we?
Top 3 Benefits of Using Real-Time Reports
1. Monitor Live Campaigns
When a campaign goes live, we're all curious and anxious on how they perform right away. But for us techies, it's also an opportunity to fix any performance or tagging mistakes before the campaign grows in visibility. Here comes Real-Time reports to the rescue.
How to Find the Data
Refer to the "Active Pages" section on the Overview report to check out if landing pages are working properly and how many people are entering.
If the landing page relates to more than one campaign, it's best to use the Traffic Sources or Content report and look at the exact campaign variables.
2. Test UTM Parameters
UTM parameters are usually added manually to a link, so this leaves room for a lot of human error. Especially when you're running several campaigns with several versions at once. It can be a hot mess! Google Analytics' Real Time reports can show you right away as links become active, if they're being organized properly into Google Analytics. Because remember, once the data is in Google Analytics, there's no going back to fix it.
How to Find the Data
Head over to the Overview report and look for "Source" under "Top Referrals" and possibly "Keyword" under "Top Keywords" if you use that bonus UTM parameter.
This is my favorite benefit of Real-Time reports because it's my sidekick in helping keep the foundational data accurate. In addition to manual debugging with Google Tag Manager and seeing if tags fire, you can double-triple-check with the Real-Time reports to make sure the data rolls into Google Analytics properly. It's especially important to see if they're being organized the right way. Again, the data becomes permanent, so it's best to catch it early!
How to Find the Data
Pages: See if all pages are correctly firing. Some pages may get lost in the crowd, especially for a large content site.
Events: Google Analytics gives you flexibility in tagging additional elements on your website, other than the default page view tracking. These additional elements could range from button clicks, video views, and pretty much anything else. You would assign three Event dimensions: Category, Action, and Label to each element, which Real-time Reports will then show the main two dimensions, Event Category and Event Action for immediate testing.
Goals: For those who create custom Goals in the Admin settings, this is helpful to see if goals are firing properly in real-time. It’s easy to catch immediately to prevent missing out on conversions in your overall performance reporting.
Filters: Creating a new view with custom filters can be tested in real-time by reviewing all the high-level metrics. You can confirm if the right pages are included without having to wait 24 hours when it's just too late!
Things You Need to Know Before You Dive into Real-Time Reports
Remember, Real Time reports only show unique users for each action and page within a 30-minute time span, so be sure to keep track of what’s populating right away. This is crucial when there are high-traffic levels on the property you’re testing – or else you’ll need to wait until the 30-minute time span expires to see your live activity.
Warning! Looking at Real-Time data too much may get you side-tracked into the micro-level issues. It's good to just step back sometimes from a live campaign and wait until the next day or two to look at preliminary results.
Additional Quality Checks
Real-time reports can only get you so far with validating your data. You'll need to complement it with additional methods. I recommend to download a debugger tool where you can see all the variables that Google Analytics will use to identify actions and page views. Google Tag Manager can be used too if you're already using it to tag - you can see exactly when tags fire and the definitions for each tag.
Debugging Tools to Check Out
- Google Analytics Debugger (Chrome Extension)
- Google Tag Assistant (Chrome Extension)