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55+ Google Analytics Custom Alerts – The Check Engine Light For Your Data

Last month, Phil wrote a blog about five features of Google Analytics that you probably are not using, but there obviously are more than five, and here’s another one that you probably aren’t using, but you should. In fact, I think this is probably one of the KEY things you should do when setting up an account and a new website, and it’s my bet that the vast majority of people don’t do it at all.

Custom Alerts

Why use Custom Alerts? Because you don’t check your analytics every day. OK well some of you data geeks that read this blog do, and I do, but most people who are just regular people, they don’t. That guy who is wearing 20 hats, he doesn’t have time to go over his data every morning for an hour or two. You could argue he should, but maybe he doesn’t. Custom Alerts can let him know, in general, if there is something that needs his or her attention. Is something significant, or at least possibly significant happening? Should someone take a look? it’s like a check oil or check engine light on your car. If the light doesn’t come on you probably (I hope) change the oil on your car regularly, but if something is going wrong with your oil, then you sure are glad that light is coming on to let you know to check it.

That’s what custom alerts do. They just give you a text or an email saying “hey buddy, something is going down, you need to check it out.” And that’s often enough to get a marketer in FRONT of a problem, rather than get months down the road and realize that all the data on the site is corrupt, or it wasn’t tracking data for a month, or the ecommerce numbers tanked. But it’s not just BAD things. It’s letting you know when your site is getting a spike in social media referrals, or a boost in non-branded organic search traffic.

Now, like my like my recent 20 Ways to Use Google Analytics Custom Variables post, this isn’t a “how to” post covering exactly how to set up specific custom alerts. There’s plenty of tutorials around the web. This is about suggesting specific alerts for you to use on your site. My recommendation is to set up basically all of these, with the possible exception of the ecommerce ones if you don’t participate in ecommerce. While intelligence alerts are great, are you using them? Are you checking your data constantly, daily, or weekly, for problems, or weird spikes or drops? Custom Alerts can let you know when things change as soon as it possibly can by email or even text. Some things you don’t want to wait for a week or two to find out that “oops, we haven’t been tracking data for the last 2 weeks.”.

One other note before I start listing them, I mention various percentages like 10 or 20% for increases or decreases. This is a ballpark, and for each site it will be different. The key is to tailor your site so that these alerts don’t fire for your normal traffic fluctuations, but only send out their alerts when something interesting might be happening. Set them up with a certain percentage, and if they seem to fire all the time, then try bumping the numbers till they make sense. I’ll lay out the general area of the alerts, what it’s covering, and then the basic configuration for each alert.

So let’s jump into it.

1. No Data (daily)

If we could set this as an hourly alert we would. This will let you know if you had no visits on a particular day, a great way to let you know that something is wrong with the tracking on your site (or maybe your site itself is down).

all traffic -> Visits -> is less than -> 1

2 through 13. Site Usage

Get a general idea for big changes in your site compared to the previous week, either up or down. Spikes of visits or visitors could indicate new referral traffic, or even some sort of media mention, whereas a traffic drop could indicate some other sorts of problems, such as maybe a LACK of referral traffic, or a problem with your PPC ads.  Bounce Rates increasing could indicate a content problem on your site, and so on. The idea from these alerts is that your’e seeing some sort of general and significant change to the use of the site, which might warrant a closer look at what’s going on.

Visits

all traffic -> Visits -> % decreases by more than -> 10% -> same day in the previous week

all traffic -> Visits -> % increases by more than -> 10% -> same day in the previous week

Visitors

all traffic -> Visitors -> % decreases by more than -> 10% -> same day in the previous week

all traffic -> Visitors -> % increases by more than -> 10% -> same day in the previous week

Pageviews

all traffic -> Pageviews -> % decreases by more than -> 10% -> same day in the previous week

all traffic -> Pageviews -> % increases by more than -> 10% -> same day in the previous week

Bounce Rate

all traffic -> Bounce Rate -> % decreases by more than -> 10% -> same day in the previous week

all traffic -> Bounce Rate -> % increases by more than -> 10% -> same day in the previous week

Avg. Visit Duration

all traffic -> Avg. Visit Duration -> % decreases by more than -> 20% -> same day in the previous week

all traffic -> Avg. Visit Duration -> % increases by more than -> 20% -> same day in the previous week

% New Visits

all traffic -> % New Visits -> % decreases by more than -> 20% -> same day in the previous week

all traffic -> % New Visits -> % increases by more than -> 20% -> same day in the previous week

14 through 17 Goals

In reality these two should be duplicated across all your goals. Track big swings in your goal conversions, decreases and increases. If suddenly a goal conversion drops sharply, there could be reasons for it. Maybe a weird traffic spike of users who mostly bounce from your site is affecting the rate, maybe there is a technical problem with the form. But Goals are what you in some ways care most about on your site, so if you aren’t converting them, you’re going to want to know. I’m alerting here on a daily, as well as weekly basis to help even it out.

Goal 1 – Conversion Rate

all traffic -> Goal 1 – Conversion Rate -> % decreases by more than -> 20% -> same day in the previous week

all traffic -> Goal 1 – Conversion Rate -> % increases by more than -> 20% -> same day in the previous week

Goal 1 – Conversion Rate Decrease (weekly)

all traffic -> Goal 1 – Conversion Rate -> % decreases by more than -> 20% -> previous week

all traffic -> Goal 1 – Conversion Rate -> % increases by more than -> 20% -> previous week

18 through 25 Ecommerce

These are pretty much the simplest of ecommerce alerts.  Increases and decreases of revenue, transactions, average value, and the overall conversion rate. The smaller the amount of ecommerce you do, the higher your percentage is probably going to need to be, but if you process a good number of transactions, then you’ll want to be alerted with a significant change in your ecommerce, either to take advantage of some sort of positive consumer movement, or to stem the tide from a hit to your transactions.

Revenue

all traffic -> Revenue -> % decreases by more than -> 10% -> previous week

all traffic -> Revenue -> % increases by more than -> 10% -> previous week

Transactions

all traffic -> Transactions -> % decreases by more than -> 10% -> previous week

all traffic -> Transactions -> % increases by more than -> 10% -> previous week

Average Value

all traffic -> Average Value -> % decreases by more than -> 10% -> previous week

all traffic -> Average Value -> % increases by more than -> 10% -> previous week

Ecommerce Conversion Rate

all traffic -> Ecommerce Conversion Rate -> % decreases by more than -> 10% -> previous week

all traffic -> Ecommerce Conversion Rate -> % increases by more than -> 10% -> previous week

26 through 30. Content

Just doing a few things here. Are your visits using site search decreasing, or their effectiveness decreasing? Are the exits of people from a failed search increasing? If you have a lot of people using your site search then you’re going to want to know when suddenly it’s not working as well as it should, and why. I’m tracking the total events here, but specific event tracking and increases and decreases would also be useful if your’e using them. Also watching for an increase in Average Page Load Time, just in case you have some server speed slow downs, it could be a red flag for you to watch out for.

Visits with Search Decrease (week)

all traffic -> Visits with Search -> % decreases by more than -> 10% -> previous week

Time After Search Decrease (week)

all traffic -> Time After Search -> % decreases by more than -> 10% -> previous week

Search Exits Increase (week)

all traffic -> Search Exits -> % increases by more than -> 10% -> previous week

Total Events (month)

all traffic -> Total Events -> % decreases by more than -> 10% -> previous month

Avg. Page Load Time

all traffic -> Avg. Page Load Time -> % increases by more than -> 10% -> previous month

31 through 42. Clicks (Adwords)

If you’re running adwords you’re going to want to know fluctuations in what’s going on. Are impressions changing, clicks, cost, etc? Also importantly are your (not set) visits increasing indicating an issue with your ads? The fluctuation here can be higher, but again, set it to make sense for your usage. However with so many businesses now focusing on Paid Ads, you want to be aware if there’s a problem.

Impressions

all traffic -> Impressions -> % increases by more than -> 20% -> previous week

all traffic -> Impressions -> % decreases by more than -> 20% -> previous week

Clicks

all traffic -> Clicks -> % increases by more than -> 20% -> previous week

all traffic -> Clicks -> % decreases by more than -> 20% -> previous week

Cost

all traffic -> Cost -> % increases by more than -> 20% -> previous week

all traffic -> Cost -> % decreases by more than -> 20% -> previous week

CTR

all traffic -> CTR -> % increases by more than -> 20% -> previous week

all traffic -> CTR -> % decreases by more than -> 20% -> previous week

CPC

all traffic -> CPC -> % increases by more than -> 20% -> previous week

all traffic -> CPC -> % decreases by more than -> 20% -> previous week

Keyword (not set)

keyword -> matches exactly -> (not set) -> Visits -> % increases by more than -> 5% -> previous week

43 Social Media Spike (daily)

Well we’re only counting this as one alert here, but it could be many. you could track the source traffic JUST from Facebook, or twitter, or your blog. Maybe you want to know if your Facebook Referrals are increasing dramatically so you can jump on whatever is happening as quickly as possible. Here I’m setting up a rough regular expression matching a bunch of social sources, and creating a custom advanced segment with them. Then we apply that segment, and watch for a spike of social visits.

Social Sources Custom Advanced Segment with Source matching regex of

facebook|twitter|t\.co|blogger|stumbleupon|naver|wordpress|hootsuite|youtube|linkedin|
answers\.yahoo|delicious|myspace|reddit|livejournal|flickr|typepad|vkontakte|netvibes|
ning|orkut|tumblr|diigo|fc2|nowpublic|buzznet|livemocha|weebly|ameba|gooblog|habbo|
okwave|oshiete\.goo|deviantART|instapaper|scribd|sharethis|xanga|answerbag|brizzly|
cyworld|multiply|ow\.ly|squidoo|studivz|wikia|wiserearth|associatedcontent|blogsome|
groups\.google|sportsnaviplus|taringa!|tuenti|wikio|babygaga|bebo|bitly|bloglines|care2|
circleofmoms|cocolog|couchsurfing|digg|douban|gather|hatena|ibibo|is\.gd|mixi|paper\.li|
photobucket|plurk|renren|skyrock|smallworlds|sonico|ustream|vimeo|weeworld|wikianswers|
XING|you?ku

Now those aren’t all, and you might not want to include some. Add or remove the social sources you want to that regular expression.

Applies to Social Sources Segment -> Visits -> greater than -> 250

44 through 55. Traffic

Lastly we’re going to watch our general traffic, both for internal site tracking errors such as self referrals indicating pages on your site that don’t have the tracking code installed, to changes in your organic traffic, or your non-branded organic traffic, or your BRANDED organic traffic. You might want to know if the traffic to your site with people looking for your company name has spiked. Maybe there is something going on in the news you need to get on top of with PR. Also a check for Non-Domain traffic indicating people maybe stealing your site content. A variety of alerts to indicate issues with your traffic sources, good or bad.

Self Referrals Occuring (daily)

source -> contains -> yourcompanywebsite.com -> Visits -> is greater than -> 1

Organic Traffic change

Medium -> matches exactly -> organic -> Visits -> % increases by more than -> 10% ->  same day in the previous week

Medium -> matches exactly -> organic -> Visits -> % decreases by more than -> 10% ->  same day in the previous week

Non-Branded Organic Traffic

exclude keyword matching regex -> your company name|companyname

include medium containing organic

Applies to Nonbranded Organic segment -> Visits -> % increases by more than -> 10% ->  same day in the previous week

Applies to Nonbranded Organic segment -> Visits -> % decreases by more than -> 10% ->  same day in the previous week

Branded Organic Traffic

include keyword matching regex -> your company name|companyname

include medium containing organic

Applies to Nonbranded Organic segment -> Visits -> % increases by more than -> 10% ->  same day in the previous week

Applies to Nonbranded Organic segment -> Visits -> % decreases by more than -> 10% ->  same day in the previous week

Non-Domain traffic (daily)

Nondomain Custom Advanced Segment with Hostname matching regex of

(not set)|domainname.com|example.com|etc

Applies to Nondomain Segment -> Visits -> greater than -> 40

Direct Traffic change

Source -> matches exactly -> (direct) -> Visits -> % increases by more than -> 10% ->  same day in the previous week

Source -> matches exactly -> (direct) -> Visits -> % decreases by more than -> 10% ->  same day in the previous week

Referral Traffic change

Medium -> matches exactly -> referral -> Visits -> % increases by more than -> 10% ->  same day in the previous week

Medium -> matches exactly -> referral -> Visits -> % decreases by more than -> 10% ->  same day in the previous week

So That’s 55+ Ways to Use Google Analytics Custom Alerts. Don’t let those limit you though. Think about the things you look for, or would look for, or might expect, that aren’t covered here and create an alert for that as well. Then even if you forget to check out your analytics on a daily basis, Google Analytics itself will still give you a poke if something interesting is happening.

Sayf Sharif

About Sayf Sharif

Sayf Sharif is a Web Analyst, and expert in Usability and UX, who has worked with businesses large and small to maximize their online presence since the beginning of the Web, winning numerous awards along the way. Sayf has studied human tool use from the stone age (he went to graduate school for Archaeology) to the information age (he started programing on his father’s TRS-80), and is always interested in what goals people wish to accomplish using their tools, and how successful that experience was.

http://www.lunametrics.com/blog/2012/09/24/55-google-analytics-custom-alerts-check-engine-light-data/

21 Responses to “55+ Google Analytics Custom Alerts – The Check Engine Light For Your Data”

Barbara says:

Hi Sayf! Thanks for some great ideas. For some time now I’ve been thinking how to set up an alert for checkout abandonment. Any ideas? Maybe with events?

Sayf Sharif Sayf Sharif says:

Hmm. Maybe you could set a visitor level custom variable when someone adds something to their cart, or has something in their cart.

Then create an advanced segment that only has people who have a value in that custom variable, so you’re only looking at people with items in their shopping cart.

Then have a Goal on your checkout completion.

Then if you create an alert that is just looking at that segment, and alerting when that goal decreases or increases, you have an idea on just checkout abandonment, rather than overall conversion rate on the site.

John Koenig says:

Thanks Sayf, great post. It’s worth looking at your standard deviation for the aforementioned metrics/segments to help determine what % change to choose. You’ll end up tweaking the rules to death if you don’t start there.

Although, simple WoW and MoM % metrics can miss the mark if there is a sustained % change. Nevertheless, a great start for most marketers unable to dig in regularly. Thanks for sharing.

Sayf Sharif Sayf Sharif says:

John, spot on and said better than I did. You absolutely should go by your own standard deviation to start, otherwise you’re just going to get hit by tons of alerts every day that then just become noise.

Also I agree that WoW type metrics can miss trends and sustained change, but HOPEFULLY people are checking in and not completely forgetting things. A weekly, or even monthly visit to the actual analytics will hopefully indicate general sustain trends to people looking at their data, while these are more to help indicate either good or bad things, that may need immediate attention in the data.

TJ Welsh says:

This is a fantastic list. We “SEO’s” tend to focus in on organic traffic and often loose site of what is happening with the other segments. Setting alters for direct and referral traffic is a quick way to monitor them.

Also, watching conversion rates is huge when dealing with large e-commerce sites. In addition to weekly updates I like to set them for monthly since weekly can get a little to granular at times depending on seasonality and other factors. Great staring points though.

Sayf Sharif Sayf Sharif says:

Thanks TJ. Yeah depending on the site you want to adjust the comparison. Each site needs to be tweaked once they’re set up so that the alerts fit each sites individual needs.

Jim Rudnick says:

nice list here…well done Sayf! will pass a few of these along!

:-)

Jim

Sayf Sharif Sayf Sharif says:

Thanks Jim, glad you liked it.

Really nice list here, best one so far online, keyword I used to find this site “analytics Custom Alerts”

Sayf Sharif Sayf Sharif says:

Just got sent some script which I think is useful to tack on.

First adding some javascript to the page…

window.onerror = function(message, file, line) {
var sFormattedMessage = ‘[' + file + ' (' + line + ')] ‘ + message;
_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Errors', 'Browser', sFormattedMessage, null, true]);
}

Then setting up an alert to track the javascript errors on the site. So you can get a custom alert from javascript errors. There will probably always be a bit of noise, but it might help you discover when something goes wonky and catch it sooner rather than later.

Jon S. says:

Great post, thanks!

The Social Media referral Regex was very helpful and comprehensive. I ran into some issues with t.co though. I’d suggest specifying a line start and/or line end (i.e. ^t\.co$) to avoid including all websites that end with a “T” and use a TLD that begins with “co” — somewebsitet.com, somewebsitet.co.uk, etc.

All in all, very helpful!

Sayf Sharif Sayf Sharif says:

Great pickup Jon! Absolutely, the more specific the possible there, the better.

Andrew says:

Hi Sayf, Thanks for a great article. I’ve been trying to set up an alert something like ‘When any single .htm page has a daily increase of 50% pageviews’ but I cant get it to work. Any ideas? Is this possible?

Sayf Sharif Sayf Sharif says:

Andrew,

The only thing you can do is to create a custom advanced segment, and then base your alerts off of that. Unfortunately when you filter a segment to show only say visits to single.htm it is going to show all the page hits to all pages during the sessions where someone hit single.htm.

You also can’t just have some generic one that looks at specific pages.

However, if your’e interested in a traffic change to a specific page, as long as it’s maybe a secondary or tertiary page, if you were to create a custom segment where you included visits to a page containing that page name, then you would be isolating that traffic down.

You could do this on your important pages, but in general this isn’t going to pick up on smaller fluctuations or even bigger ones across sites with thousands of products for instance.

In that case you’re probably better off setting the level of change to notify you in the alert to be finer, and then looking at the intelligence it gives you on those alerts, which will sometimes call out a specific page if it’s the cause of a change in pageviews or visits.

I feel you though, I’ve thought about how great something like this would be more than once.

Andrew says:

Hi Sayf,

Thanks for your reply, and the info. I’m working on a large (>20,000 pages) gov site. The content is mainly information, rather than transactional and I’d love to know when a certain page or section has a huge increase in traffic, and the cause in the community for that increase. e.g. tv news report on kindergarten causes spike in education pages or new years eve causes increased traffic in noise complaints.

I’ll try your advice, thanks again!

Sayf Sharif Sayf Sharif says:

Andrew, I definitely then recommend using custom variables to tag the specific pages for their sections. You could then base alerts off the sections.

That wouldn’t be perfect, because it would show all page hits during those sessions, not just to that one section, but if the changes are large enough they might trigger the alerts depending on our threshhold, and then give an indication of top pages causing the alert to fire.

Unfortunately there’s no perfect solution for what you want to do (there should be but there isn’t, so no you aren’t crazy).

Shams says:

Great article Sayf.

I started adding the alerts today and I’m looking forwards to seeing the results.
Just one thing: you’ve repeated the same paragraph for Non-Branded Organic Traffic and Branded Organic Traffic. I guess the only thing to be changed is “include keyword matching …” instead of “exclude keyword matching …”.

Thank you for sharing this.
Shams

Sayf Sharif Sayf Sharif says:

Shams,

good catch! That’s right.

Sunil Datar says:

Very Informative Google Analytics – Custom Alert information.
Will appreciate if you post more detailed resources on Segmentation and Advanced segmentation as well.

Thanks for Taking your time and sharing.

Sunil Datar

David says:

Sayf.. Great info thanks! I have a simple request … Just need to be alerted once someone goes to my landing page. My website has very little traffic … Actually each site is designed for an individual and I want to be alerted once they go to my site… Is this easy to do with google analytic?

Thanks,

Sayf Sharif Sayf Sharif says:

David,

you could just make an alert so that if the pageviews on that page are more than 1 you get an alert, if those pages are specifically for an individual.