Google Analytics offers a special alert feature that gives you the ability to receive an email or an SMS alert when any critical event happens on your site. If you run a website, you know by now that it’s like trying to walk on a tightrope and juggle, while reciting the Gettysburg Address. It can be a very nerve-racking and stressful experience, and given the sheer volume of data and information that goes into properly tracking the performance and health of a website, it’s far too easy to miss important stuff.
Spending time digging through your site with Google Analytics is great, and you can generate some really valuable reports using Google Analytics. But there are times when the process of generating content, editing content, and promoting your website takes up all your time. The busiest times are when critical events happen on the site — you get linked to from the front page of Reddit and your traffic goes through the roof; you suddenly get a big surge of search traffic; or you get a referral from some major news site.
Then there are the bad things — the stuff that, if you knew about immediately, you might be able to do something to reduce the damage. These are things like getting blacklisted by Google; getting negatively impacted by an algorithm update; or being hit by server problems. Negative performance issues could potentially reduce your long-term readership. These are things you want to be alerted about immediately.
Setting up those alerts in Google Analytics isn’t as complicated as you might think, and it can give you immediate, actionable information about your site and you don’t even have to get on the Internet to receive it.
Understanding Intelligence Events
I touched briefly upon Google Alerts in the MUO Google Analytics guide. However there’s a lot more to alerts than those few paragraphs revealed. The type of alerts you can create is really limited only by the combination of metrics you want to monitor.
You can get to the alerts by going to the Intelligence Events area.
In the Overview section, you can see all of the latest events that have taken place — these are the big shifts in different metrics like traffic, visit duration, referral traffic, and more. You’ll be very surprised the kind of interesting information that you’ll find here — such as when a popular site links to your site and you get a surge of traffic, or when there’s a big influx of readers from a particular country.
Trying to figure out what caused those bursts of activity can be challenging sometimes, but if you click on any of those automatic alerts, you can take a look at the history and try to determine what was going on with your site on the day when the surge took place.
Of course, traffic surges or an increase of referrals are examples of the good things you want to see. But what about identifying in near real-time when negative things are happening on your site?
Identifying Analytics Problems
Google Analytics does an awesome job identifying both good and bad events. If you want to be alerted to problems the moment they happen, then you’ll want to look for alerts like pageview drops, an increase in exit page counts, a slowdown of your page load time, and other metrics that identify when you have a traffic or performance issue going on.
To set up Google Analytics to monitor for problems, you’ll want to create Custom Alerts for them. You can do this in the Intelligence Events Overview area by clicking on the Create a Custom Alert link.
The Custom Alert form is where you’re going to live for a while as you create your library of critical alerts. You can select to have the alert trigger fire off an email, an SMS message, or both. Make sure you select the “Day” period for the system to do daily checks and email you immediately if there’s a problem. The Alert Conditions area is where you set up the logic for those checks.
Examples of Google Analytics Alerts
In the example below, I’ve set up an alert for traffic from the Google Search engine dropping by 10% below the level it was at on the same day the previous week. This is a good way to identify if you’re seeing a shift due to a recent algorithm update, or potentially getting flagged for problems by Google. These are things you want to jump on immediately and try to remedy, sooner rather than later. So, an alert can help you there quite a bit.
Another good example of a way to watch for negative shifts is the Alert Condition setup below, where I’m measuring reader loyalty levels by watching for when the number of visits by returning visitors drops beyond 10% from the same day the previous week.
Dropping reader loyalty can be triggered by anything from major site changes to bad ads getting displayed on the site. These are issues that you want to identify and resolve quickly before you lose too much of your loyal visitor base.
Another issue that can have a poor effect on your search engine standing is page load time. This is particularly true of your home page, so that’s actually a good baseline to monitor for your site performance. The alert example below shows how you would do this. You get an email or SMS alert whenever your average page load time rises above 30 seconds (or whatever you want to set it at).
You can view and manage all your created alerts by clicking the Manage Custom Alerts link on the Intelligence Events Overview page.
You can also get at them by going to your Admin section in Analytics and clicking on the Custom Alerts link in the left navigation menu.
Once you’re done creating all of the alerts, you can sit back and rest confident that if things go south for your website, you’ll know about it — without the need to obsessively check your Analytics account every day!
Also, once you create those alerts, you can spot them on the timeline in the Intelligence Events section of Analytics by clicking on the Daily, Weekly, or Monthly events links.
If you’ve set up email or SMS alerts, you actually won’t need to check this to learn about the alerts, but the charts do give you a nice history to look back and analyze your problems, and why they might have occurred in comparison to whatever you had going on the site at the time.
Do you use Google Analytics alerts? How do you make use of them? Share your own insights and tips in the comments section below!