Using annotations in Google Analytics to add context

When you’re looking at your data inside Google Analytics it can be difficult to remember exactly what was happening on particular days. You might see a massive spike for a campaign or a seasonal dip for a local holiday. Now you might be able to open your calendar and do a quick check, but if you’re like me, then you probably don’t have every single campaign written down neatly (or in my case anywhere at all). This is where annotations within Google Analytics become super valuable. They can quickly provide the context you need to perform your analysis and become even more useful when you’re looking at data from last month or even last year.

What are Google Analytics annotations?

Annotations are short notes that you can add to dates within your Google Analytics reports. Here we can see an annotation being used to document a spike in traffic for a particular marketing campaign:

You can create private annotations which are only visible when you log into Google Analytics.

If you have ‘Collaborate’ access to Google Analytics you also have the option to create shared annotations which can be seen by anybody with access to the reporting view.

You have the option to star important annotations and each annotation is associated with the email address (login) that was used to create them. You can also edit and delete annotations.

How to add an annotation

To create an annotation in Google Analytics:

  1. Click the small tab below the timeline. 
  2. Click ‘+ Create new annotation’.
  3. Select the date for the annotation.
  4. Enter your note.
  5. Select the visibility of the annotation (if you have ‘Read & Analyze’ access you will only be able to create private annotations).
  6. Click ‘Save’.

Your annotation will now be saved and you will see a small icon on the timeline which allows you to quickly see that there is a note attached to the date within the Google Analytics interface.

When should you use annotations?

You can use annotations to mark important dates within your reports. Since annotations are all about providing context, you should consider creating them for any changes that might impact your data. Anything that has caused a spike or dip in traffic is usually important to add as an annotation. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • New marketing campaigns that you’ve launched
  • Email campaigns that you’ve sent
  • Offline advertising, especially TV or any media reaching a large audience
  • Major website changes, including launching a new website or adding lots of new content
  • Digital advertising campaigns, including search, display and social
  • Website problems, including server issues
  • Seasonal events and holidays

Is there anything you can’t do with an annotation?

As we’ve seen, annotations are a great way to provide context, but there are some things they simply can’t do. Here are the current limitations (which is also on our feature request list for the incredible Google Analytics team):

  • Annotations aren’t included when you export your reports (if you choose the PDF export option there is a little icon, but we don’t get to see the details for the annotation).
  • You can only create annotations for individual dates, there is no option to include a time, or create an annotation for a week, a month or a custom date range.
  • There is no option to automatically import annotations from a Google Calendar (but how awesome would this be!).