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People often forget that analytics tools were once used for diagnostics. Diagnostics features can be handy for reaching a consensus on tasks like updating a website or similar.   

With so many teams now working from home, maintaining a journal like the one in the Google Analytics annotation feature can provide transparency that helps align remote analysts, managers and technical personnel.

Add Context to Google Analytics Reports With Annotations

Annotations is a text box feature where teams can share updates and report conclusions, helping all stakeholders keep an eye on historical trends and campaign changes. Without annotations a team would have limited insights into the marketing or technical events that impact the reporting. The annotation manager gives a practical context to data, making site and campaign maintenance easier.

Annotations appear at the bottom of the timeline graph of any standard Google Analytics report. When you click on a point along the timeline, a dropbox appears. The dropbox displays a date box, displaying the date you selected and a text box in which you can then enter the description of the technical or campaign issues.  

Tabs containing the annotation notes appear along the bottom of the timeline graph. Clicking on the tabs reveals the annotation text and dates for anyone who has access to the reports. Associating the notes within specific points in the data provides a clearer picture of what may be happening. 

The notes remain visible on any report, helping you see the note context against the report results.

A visibility setting next to the annotation text can set notes to shared or private. The private setting means notes appear only for that user, allowing personal analysis, while the shared setting provides visibility into notes to anyone who has report access.

Admins have access to an annotation manager under the view column. The annotation manager offers a special advantage: admins can add comments for future events, such as upcoming campaign start dates or events. This can help down the line when comparing traffic against real world events.

Related Article: What Are the Bare Necessities of a Remote Marketing Team?

Annotations Bring the Big Picture Into Focus

At this point you may be thinking, “What comments should I type in an annotation note?”

Usually notes are used to explain the potential cause for a spike in traffic, or a change in traffic due to a marketing campaign, when website or app changes were  made, as well as whenever technical issues arise.  

One of the best ideas I've heard for organizing notes came in an old podcast featuring visualization expert Lea Pica and Jim Sterne, founding member of the Digital Analytics Association. Sterne and Pica were not speaking about Google Analytics explicitly, but their conversation offered some good tips on using annotations to explain a narrative. Narratives help with remote teams as they keep teammates organized without having to slow down too much to re-explain details.

In the podcast, Sterne and Pica suggest keeping explanations simple so people can take action (They have a great discussion on what challenges occur in presentations. Sterne shares a good analogy to make clear why you shouldn't fall into the trap of explaining how hard something is.)

A good annotation should help simplify the core details of the condition associated with the data and what should be done. Your team can start with a short description that explains the issue, followed by another that gets into the tactics adopted as a result of the data.

The comments should ultimately help the team see a shared big picture narrative so they can rally around activities to improve results. The group will share an understanding of how the analytics is being managed, while better identifying the time required for immediate and technical tasks that impact the business.  

Annotations have been available since the inception of Google Analytics. Collaboration and productivity through analytics has become more complicated over that time, but with the right approach to using annotations for communication, users will make the most of marketing opportunities while working remote. 

Related Article: How to Build a Successful Data Analytics Team