Google Analytics Real-Time: Features, Uses, Get Access

In this article, read about Real-Time Google Analytics’ features, uses, and find out how to get access. See video of Real Time Analytics at work. “Real-Time” is a new feature of Google Analytics launched September 29, 2011.

If you haven’t seen Google Analytics before, Analytics is free software for capturing and analyzing traffic to your website.

Screenshot of realtime analytics from Google

Real Time Google Analytics Screenshot (Credit: Google Analytics Blog)

Real-Time Google Analytics Features

Analytics RT provides statistics about the visitors on your website right now. The features of realtime analytics are:

  1. The Right Now area shows the number of people visting your website right now. This figure is updated every second.
  2. Top Referrals, showing the top referring websites for the users on your site right now. For example, you might see the referrer with 10 active visitors, meaning ten visitors on your site right now came from Twitter.
  3. Top Active Pages, showing the currently busiest webpages on your site, with the number of visitors on each webpage.
  4. Top Keywords, showing the keywords that brought the visitors on your site right now.
  5. Top Locations, showing where your users are on a map. Very cool. You can see this feature in the video below.
  6. The Pageviews area shows page views by minute for the last thirty minutes and pageviews by second for the last 30 seconds. These are updated live, with the views scrolling to the left as they update.
  7. There are specific pages for Traffic Sources, Locations and Content. (I’m currently waiting for access to test these.)

Note that the real-time feature doesn’t mean that all features of analytics are real-time. It can still take some time for data to show up in the other parts of analytics.

Real Time Analytics Video

Here’s a YouTube video of Google Analytics Real-Time in action:

(Source: Thanks to

Applying Real Time Analytics

Two people at Webmaster World’s forums have said “yawn” to real time Analytics. For their sites, watching traffic in real time may have little value. For me, Google Analytics Realtime will likely prove invaluable. Here are some useful applications for real-time analytics:

  1. Site operations: Have you ever had your site’s traffic jump up by 100 times? This does happen. It happened to me this year. Real-Time Analytics will show if you have a large jump or drop in traffic straight away, so you can take action, if needed. Do you need to add more servers? Do you need to put a new offer in place to capitalize on a sudden influx of visitors to an unexpected area of your site? Have you lost your number one ranking for a keyword which brought in a lot of visitors? Do you need to call your advertising network because your ads have stopped running and your traffic is down 50%? Do you need to pull a new ad because its pulling enormous traffic (click-throughs), but not making any money (conversions). For these sorts of problems and opportunities, I’d much see and respond immediately, rather than the next day.
  2. Monitoring the effect of your site being mentioned on broadcast media, for example in a TV interview or TV ad: If your site is advertised on TV, how does the traffic surge. Do these vistors go where you expect?
  3. Watching the curve of traffic from social media: Tweets, Facebook posts, Diggs – How does your social traffic build and tail off? Where do the social vistors go? How long does the traffic last? The Google Analytics blog suggests using realtime analytics can be used to see when traffic from a social post tails off, so you can see when to post again.
  4. Tracking campaigns on tight timescales: Some websites, like Living Social,  have offers that expire in 24 hours. Another example is Avaaz, who might be trying to get a petition signed before a meeting of the G8 in 3 days. Imagine if not many people are buying the offer or signing the petition (i.e. the number of conversions is low). Is that because traffic to the offer is low, or because people aren’t responding to the way the offer is presented? With Real Time Analytics, we can see how the traffic is. If the traffic is low, we can work on getting traffic up quickly! For example, getting coverage in media, or buying more online advertising. If the traffic volume is good, we can tune the offer. Maybe it needs a different headline, a different photo, or a video. Analytics’ real-time feature could make the difference between success & failure of a campaign with short time scales.
  5. Ensuring campaign measurement is working: Say you’re tracking links from an email newsletter you’re planning to send out. With Real Time Analytics can click the link in the draft newsletter, and quickly see if the campaign tracking works correctly.
  6. Testing changes to a site: You’ve just deployed your site’s new look. Are visitors staying or clicking away? You’ve added a new “resources box” to every page on the site. Is it driving people to the pages it mentions, or is it proving almost invisible to users. If a change isn’t working as expected, you could see it straight away with the real-time feature, and back it out while you redesign. You could even measure and adapt in real time: Does a thick green border work for the resource box instead of a thin black line?

To enjoy the fullness of the realtime feature, you need visitors to look at! You’ll need reasonable traffic to your site, or for your site to be exceptionally sticky (visitors staying a long time).

For example, say you have a site with 90,000 visits a month and the average visitor stays ten minutes. Ninety thousand visits a month is a visitor arriving on your site about every 30 seconds, on average. If the average visitor stays 10 minutes, that would give you an average of 20 concurrent vistors to watch. Of course visitors numbers will vary by time of day and day of week, even for sites with global audiences.

Even if you have a lower traffic site, the real time feature can still be useful, e.g. for testing campaign tracking, or watching at times when you are expecting a burst of traffic.

Google Analytics Real-Time Features Wishlist

I’d expect the Google Analytics realtime features will be expanded over time. One of the features that would be great to see is the ability to replay the traffic at a particular point in time. (Say there was a burst in traffic while you were asleep.)

Note that the realtime feature does not apply profile filters, even if you have them applied to your profile. The data shown by real-time analytics is unfiltered.

How to Access Real-Time Analytics

Realtime Analytics is being progressively rolled out to Analytics users.

Real-time Analytics is only available in the new version of Analytics. Click “New Version” at the top-right of the Analytics screen to switch to the new version. (Don’t worry, you can switch back to the old version for now.)

If you have access, real-time analytics is available in the Dashboards tab. Soon – around 5 October, 2011 – the real time feature will move to the Home tab.

If you find you don’t have access to real-time analytics yet, you can request access to realtime analytics.

How Will You Use Google Analytics Real-Time?

How do you plan to use realtime Google Analytics? Is it relevant to you? Let us know with a comment below.

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