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Annotations Recommendations (Google Analytics)

What are Annotations in Google Analytics

Annotations are small notes associated with specific dates that you can add to Google Analytics.
Annotation you create will show-up in-context in your Google Analytics reports on their specific dates.

Why Use Annotations

Adding annotations to your Google Analytics view(s) allows you to include additional information about your Google Analytics implementation or the website(s) it tracks. Annotations can add context to your analytics reports and preserve institutional knowledge.

When to Use Annotations

You should annotate your view(s) anytime the data being collected in the Google Analytics view changes, the website sending data to the Google Analytics view significantly changes, or anytime you suspect that an outside factor might have a noticeable effect on the data being collected.

For example, you should add annotations to a view when:

Add Annotations When...Why?Example
A Google Analytics view is created (or becomes effective).It is helpful to indicate the date on which a view began collecting data, or began collecting reliable data.You can't start configuring a view before it is created, and it can often take some time before your Google Analytics configuration is set-up the way you want. Therefore, the early data in a view may not be reliable.

Alternately, you may set-up the view for a website in development before the it is publicly launched. In this case, the data from pre-launch is not representative of the experience of actual users.

In either case, you should indicate when the data becomes reliable to avoid including anomalous data in your analyses.
The configuration of the GA view changes.Changes to GA view configuration are typically not retroactive. That means that changing the configuration of a view can lead to an apples-to-oranges situation, whereby data in the view before the configuration change took place is different that of after the configuration change. If you don't annotate this change, you could accidentally draw comparisons across disparate data collection methodologies.Site search tracking is added to the view configuration after a view has already been collecting data. If you don't have a record of when site search tracking was implemented, you could easily draw comparisons across a date range that would make it appear that the increase in site search activity was larger than it was in reality.

-"Site search is up 1,000%".
-"No it's not. We just didn't used to be collecting it."
You make substantial website content or design changes.Changing the structure, content or design of your website will change how people interact with it. If you want to do an analysis of the effects of the change, it is important to note when the change took place, so you know the 'before' and 'after' date ranges.-"Pageviews of page X have dropped dramatically!"
-"No they haven't. We just changed the URL mid-month last month."

-"Pageviews are up 2,000% compared to this month last year. The design changes must have worked!"
-"We added 80 new pages to the website. Last year we only had 1 page being tracked in this analytics view. This year we have 81 pages being tracked. Of course the pageviews have increased."
Website technical or tracking issues occur.If a technical error results in a temporary gap or change in analytics tracking, you need to be aware of when it happened so that you can account for that in your analyses.-"Our traffic is down 50% compared to last month."
-"No it isn't. The Google Analytics module got turned off by accident for 2 weeks until someone noticed."

-"Referrals from the main site to our department site are down substantially since the launch of the redesigned website. The new design is not working to refer people to our website."
-"Actually... it turns out we accidentally configured the analytics on the new website to not send the referral information. Referrals are taking place, they are just not being tracked correctly."
Marketing campaigns are launched or come to an end.It helps to know when marketing campaigns started/ended so you know when to look for their effects.-"Wow. Visits from Facebook are up 500%. There must be some 'viral' thing going on."
-"Didn't the marketing team start a Facebook campaign recently?"
There are offline factors that could impact your website performance.If you don't keep track of when potentially influencing events occur, it is hard to account for their effects in your analytics.-"Wow. Out of state visits are down 50% from this month last year."
-"Ummm... wasn't this month last year when we were in the Final Four?"
In the case of roll-up properties, when a website is added or removed.If you are adding or removing websites from your analytics property, it will obviously affect the amount of data collected.-"Wow. Visits in the roll-up are up 2,000% from last year."
-"Yes, but the roll-up now contains 60 more websites than it did at this time last year."

Annotations Best-Practices

Annotations are made at the view level, not at the property level. This means that information that may affect multiple views should be added to each view individually. Unfortunately, there is currently no way to automate the adding of annotations; it must be done manually. As a result, I recommend that you add relevant annotations to all views that are currently used for reporting. If you have old views that were once used for reporting, but have been superseded by an updated view, you probably do not need to add annotations to the old view.

Annotation text is limited to 160 characters. So be as detailed as necessary, but as concise as possible.

Since annotations are used for a number of different purposes, I recommend that you prefix annotation text with a label indicating the type of annotation it is. Recommended annotation labels are shown below.

PrefixDescriptionExample(s)
statusInformation relating to the status of a view. status: view created
offlineInformation related to offline events (events not related to the website or analytics configuration itself).offline: Obama rally in Johnson Center
configInformation related to the configuration changes of a GA property or view.config: site search tracking enabled
testingused to indicate data due to testingtesting: testing tracking of embedded YouTube videos
contentchanges to website contentcontent: 2017 graduation content added
campaigninformation related to campaign-tagged marketing campaignscampaign: fall 2017 admissions campaign launched
roll-up: (added...) or (removed...)used to provide information specific to roll-up reporting, notably when websites are added to or removed from the propertyroll-up: added psychology.gmu.edu

Examples

If you didn’t have annotations, how would you know what happened in early August of 2015?

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