How to Use Google Analytics Annotations to Stop Making Bad Decisions

Written by Zed on 12th December 2016

When it comes to analysing your website’s data, context is just as important as the data itself.

Context allows you to see why your bounce rate suddenly increased and why your conversions might have also dropped. That’s why today, I’ll be covering how to set up your annotations on Google Analytics.

It’s easy to be aware of some of the events and changes that impact your data today, but in 6 months time when you’re reviewing it, will you remember that small local news story that drove a ton of direct traffic?

That’s why using annotations is so important. Not only is it a reminder for yourself but it keeps the whole team aware of the context behind that particular data set.

It’s all good and well that you keep track of everything in your notepad or in that big old brain of yours, but what about that one day you’re on holiday and Carol needs to put together a 2 month review asap? What about if you leave for pastures new?

Carol might see a big spike in traffic and have no clue that last month there was actually a bug that duplicated your analytics tag, and tracked everything twice. So instead she’s now making a fool of herself in front of the board talking about how they had the best traffic in November this year.

Annotations save people like Carol from embarrassing herself, and save everyone from making poor decisions.

And it’s so simple to start using them, so there’s no excuses from leaving your colleagues red faced.

Here’s what you need to do:


Below any graph on Google Analytics, you’ll see that there’s a small grey arrow. When you drop that down, you’ll see a space that allows you to add, view and manage annotations.

It’ll probably look like this if you don’t have any existing annotations for the time period you’re viewing:


To get started it’s a simple case of clicking that ‘Create new annotation’ link on the right hand side, and you’ll be able to add it in.


Choose the date you want the annotation to apply to, fill in a brief description of what happened, and then click save. It’s that easy!

You can decide whether to make it shared (so everyone can see, the default option) or private to just you.

Once you’ve clicked saved, you’ll noticed a little speech bubble appears on the date range axis. Selecting one of those will open that annotations box and highlight it.

Now you’re able to see the context around any peaks and troughs in your data.

Let’s look at this example below.


We can see that towards the end of November this site suddenly get a spikes in traffic. Our immediate reaction is to celebrate – Awesome! Where has it come from?
However, looking at the annotations we can see this:


Huh, turns out that spike wasn’t actually real traffic*. We very nearly put ourselves in the same situation as Carol earlier…

*If you’re looking for a way to exclude the influx of spam traffic as of late, try this article.

As it’s a shared annotation, that means that next year when the team is comparing November 2017 to November 2016, they’ll know exactly what happened.

So there you have it, annotations within Google Analytics. Time for you to set aside an hour to get your account all up to date and start making better decisions!