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A Shout Out About Annotations

Friday, 16 July 2010

A few months ago at the Google I/O conference, we were approached by Zach Steindler, a co-founder at Olark (a way to gain customer insight and sell better through live chat) who was raving about Google Analytics Annotations. He had such a great business case, we decided to let him rave here. Enjoy, and thanks Zach.

Making good business decisions is hard, and making the right one is even harder. At Google I/O I realized many people use Google Analytics but they aren’t familiar with the recent annotations feature that has helped us make smarter business decisions.

When we look at our Google Analytics, we don’t really care if our numbers are up or down; what we really want to know is why. This means asking a lot of questions, particularly questions about what happened when, like:

“How long has that ad trial been running?”
“When did we release that update to the website?”
“What happened after that last blog post?”

To answer these questions I might have to dig through e-mails, commit logs, and probably end up pestering my teammates for an hour while we try to figure out what happened when. But this is serious stuff; if our numbers went up 50% in a week, you better believe we want to know why so we can do more of it!

Annotations are exactly the tool we needed to answer these questions without having to pester teammates and dig through the past. If you don't know, basically, they allow you to add notes of what events happened on a particular day. These notes are then visible for the different views in Google Analytics, so you can see how the events impacted your page views, goals, or whatever else you are tracking.

You can annotate whatever you want; we annotate things like external publicity, major updates to our site, blog posts, even service issues, to see how all these events are impacting our business.

We’re big believers in the power of open data; everyone on the team has access to Google Analytics and can contribute events they think are important. This has been incredibly useful for us. Now I can answer many why questions for myself, just by looking at the data other people have contributed. When I do need to interrupt the team, it’s because I have big-picture questions, not because I need them to help me track down dates. Also, you start to notice a rhythm of events, and if that rhythm changes, how it impacts your business. As a bonus, now we have this cool timeline of events the team thought was important, which is useful for retrospectives and end-of-period reports.

We’re far from being able to make perfect decisions with perfect knowledge, but annotations have made it much easier to answer the why questions so we can make good business decisions.


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