Google Analytics Real Time: Real Time Data for Real Time Decisions


The NEW Google Analytics Real Time Reports

Google Analytics now contains a series of real-time reports that measure what’s happening on your site in real time. These reports will roll out in the next 1 to 2 weeks.

I’ve long railed against real-time data. I’ve said that businesses don’t need real time data. It’s very hard to action on time data. I’ve said this on the record!

But here I am, with my tail between my legs, to admit that some businesses really do need real time data. I was wrong. I can absolutely see the need for real time data.

Chartbeat Real Time Report

Chartbeat Real Time Report

And if you still need convincing look at the success of tools like Chartbeat. They provide some pretty awesome data that helps business make important decisions WHEN those decisions need to be made.

Real time data can be very helpfull in the following business scenarios:

  • If you are a publisher, you often need real time data to understand what content is popular right now, so you can optimize the placement of that content, or publicize that content, to optimize ad revenue.
  • If you are a retailer, you might want to understand, in real time, the launch of a new campaign. This is especially useful if you are using a channel, like social media, that has a very immediate impact.
  • If you are holding a physical event, you might want to understand, in real time, how people in that location are using your website.

To fill this analysis hole Google Analytics now has a Real Time section of reports, creatively named Real Time. This series of repots offers a subset of data that is processed in real time, literally every second. You can see who’s on your site, how they got there and what they’re looking at in real time.

The data covers three dimensions:

  • Geographic locations
  • Traffic sources
  • Content

I know, there’s no conversion data. Sucky. BUT let’s consider how much data is getting processed every second. Seriously, that’s a lot of data!

IMPORTANT: One thing to keep in mind is that the Real Time reports are NOT filtered. Even if you have a profile filter applied the data is not filtered. I guess that requires a bit too much processing power.

The real time reports are NOT real time data for all metrics, only a subset of metrics. But they are pretty good. You have access to real time stats for:

  • Visitors
  • % New visitors & returning visitors
  • Pageviews
  • Traffic sources (referrals, direct, campaigns, etc.)
  • Active pages

Let’s look at the reports and how they solve the above business cases.

Real Time Overview Reporting

Everything starts with the Overview report. This is mission control for Real Time data and gives you a general overview of what’s happeneing.


The Google Analytics Real Time Overview Report

At the top of the report Google shows a second by second view of pageviews. It then aggregates this data and shows a minute-by-minute view. I know, this view is mesmerizing. Try not to wast too much time watching this.

The top of the report also shows the total number of unique visitors on the site (it counts the cookies). Google Analytics then segments this number to show you the amount of new visitors and returning visitors.

Moving deeper into this report we get information about what’s the most popular content right now, where visitors came from (both traffic source and keywords) and a geographic breakdown of where the visitors are located.

With this one report we’re able to answer the business questions we posed above.

Real Time Locations Report

The location report has basically the same geo data as the Overview report. It still show second-by-second data and a breakdown by Country.


The Google Analytics Real Time Locations Report

One thing that is different is the ability to view geography using Google Earth. Does this offer any additional insights? HELL NO! But it looks sexy. The Google Earth plugin will zoom you from from city to city.


Oooooooo! Zoom from city to city with the Earth View

Real Time Traffic Sources Report

The real time traffic sources is literally a dump of your top traffic sources. Again, not too different than the data on the Overview, the tabular data shows the Medium and Source dimensions.


The Google Analytics Real Time Traffic Sources Report

This is especially handy when you launch a new campaign and want to see how it’s working. Think about when that big tweet goes out and you want to see what’s happening on the site.

Or consider the case where you might have an unexpected spike in traffic. This report will help you understand if there is some referring site that is driving a lot of traffic. We still can’t see if there is a lot of conversions (grrrrrr) but at least we can see traffic.

Real Time Content Report

And finally we have a dedicated real time content report. Again, not much new here. You can view how many active users are viewing a specific page or get an agregate view of pageviews over the last 30 minutes.


The Google Analytics Real Time Content Report

Notice how some of the data rows are shaded green and red? Green indicates a row of data that has increased while a row of data that is red indicates a row of data that has decreased. This is a nice touch to make it easier to see things “move.”

So there you have it. Google’s new Real Time feature for Google Analytics. How do you plan to use this to optimize your business?

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    1. says

      This could be quite useful for social media measurement.

      Segment to a new post that you are about to promote; send out tweets, likes etc…; see how the initial promotion moves the dial.

      Or, watch for spikes and see if you can identify the influencer who moved the dial; put together a special offer for that influencer.

      I wouldn’t do this regularly, but it would be quite useful as an occasional social media audit.

    2. says


      thanks for pointing out that these features will be rolled out over the next few weeks. I think you’re the only person who’s mentioned that. There’s been a lot of confused people in the forums wondering why the hell they can’t see the new reports.

      Also, from past experience 1-2 weeks is Google-speak for 1 – 2 months.


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