Practical Uses for Real-Time Google Analytics

By Megalytic Staff - January 18, 2016

While historical analytics data can be used to guide long-term website strategy, real-time analytics data can be used to monitor and analyze website traffic on the spot. Google Analytics offers a real-time view that allows you to see how many active users are on your site right now , including where they’re located, how they found your site, what pages they’re viewing and the actions they’re taking.
This level of real-time analytics is helpful both for testing implementation of tracking code, as well as for monitoring site traffic when events dictate special attention to the website. Let’s talk about a few scenarios where real-time analytics may be helpful for marketers, as well as some tips for using the interface.

Real Time Google Analytics Excitement

Verifying Google Analytics Setup

Real-time analytics can help you to verify that Google Analytics is firing properly when you’ve just added the tracking code to a new site. As simple as setting up Google Analytics is for most sites, it’s still easy enough to paste the code in the wrong place or to not copy the code properly. With real-time analytics, you can quickly check analytics while visiting the site to ensure you’re seeing Sessions register.

Real Time Overview Dashboard in Google Analytics

Within the main reporting interface, go to Real-Time > Overview to see a summary of active website traffic. If you’ve just set up Google Analytics and are testing tracking on a brand new site, you’re likely to be the only visitor there. Once on the site, you should see yourself register in the report as an active user and can click through various pages to make sure Pageviews are showing up with the proper URLs.

Be aware that if you’re using a filtered View excluding website traffic from your IP address , you won’t see your own visits show up here. Normally, you’d want to exclude your own visits to make sure you’re not skewing data in reports. However, for testing purposes, you want your data to show up in your Google Analytics account. You’ll want to test using a View that includes all data or visit from a phone data connection outside of your internal network.

Testing New Tracking Implementations

Perhaps you’ve just set up a new tracking feature for Google Analytics, such as firing an Event on a video play or a Goal on a form submission. You’ll want to test any new tracking setups to ensure you’re storing the right information for all user interactions happening on the site. The real-time view can help you test and immediately see if data is showing up correctly.

Under the Real-Time section you’ll see Events and Conversions with recent Events or Goals that have occurred for each, respectively. You’ll be able to see these for either active users or for those that have occurred within the last 30 minutes.

Real Time Conversion Tracking in Google Analytics

If you fill out a form that’s tracked as a Goal in your Analytics View, you should see a Goal completion register in the Conversions report. If it doesn’t show up within a minute, you’ll likely want to recheck your Goal setup to ensure you’re tracking the form submission properly. See our article about analytics Goals for more detail.

Monitoring Traffic During Media Attention

Whether a planned TV appearance or your brand suddenly finds itself in the spotlight, media buzz can drive sudden interest in your brand. When people see you mentioned on TV, they will be more likely to search for you online and start hitting your website.

If you have a planned appearance on TV, such as an interview with your CEO, you’ll want to watch real-time analytics to see if traffic volume begins to pick up while he or she is speaking. You can also look at sources to see how people may be researching your brand; for instance, are they coming from search? Are they finding you on Facebook and then visiting your site? Use the Real-Time > Traffic Sources report to see specific sources listed with active users from each.

Real Time Traffic Sources in Google Analytics

If you’re airing a commercial promoting a specific product, it’s likely the commercial is directing visitors to a specific landing page or to use an offer code on your website. You can watch what specific pages are being hit to see if people are trying to buy the specific products you’re promoting.

If your organization is facing negative press and is suddenly thrust into the spotlight, people are also likely to be researching your brand. Real-time analytics can provide a picture of how many people are looking you up online while a media report is happening, as well as provide insight into the information they’re finding when they get there.

The geographic report will be helpful for national brands in discovering what locations show the most traffic to the site. This data will help indicate the regions where people are most likely to be interested in the brand. Note that you can click on geographic areas (starting with country level data) to look at more specific data, such as precise cities.

Real Time Location Data in Google Analytics

You’ll also see a breakdown of active users by device (upper left) so you can see the context in which people are visiting your site. Are they pulling out their phones to search from the couch while watching TV? Are they turning to a laptop or desktop to visit?

Monitoring Website Load for Developers

During events like livestreamed shows, keeping a website up and running is more crucial than ever. Developers responsible for maintaining a site can watch real-time analytics to get an idea of site load. In addition, they can see instantly if people are hitting 404 error pages, indicating that visitors are not able to properly access content.

Google Analytics adds an additional level of tracking to existing tools developers and server administrators may have at their disposal to monitor traffic levels. Keeping real-time data up in one window helps to flag times when visits are spiking and potentially overloading the site.

Setting Up Shortcuts

If you’d like to quickly look at real-time traffic to a certain page on your site, set up a shortcut within the Google Analytics interface. Simply navigate to the section of Real-Time Analytics where you’d like to return (in this case we clicked on a specific recipe page to filter to that URL) and click “Create Shortcut” in the upper right. You’ll now see a prompt to create a name for this shortcut and save it.

Create a Short Cut to Real Time Reports in Google Analytics

Moving forward, you’ll see your newly created shortcut listed under the “Shortcuts” section of the left sidebar. You can now view real-time hits to that page with one click.

Of course, you can set up shortcuts for any data you can view in the real-time interface: traffic from a particular city; hits to a select goal, like a contact page completion; or traffic from a specific source, like Google organic search.


If you haven’t been looking at real-time reports as part of your analytics workflow, look for ways to integrate them into your process. Use these reports to efficiently test your setup of Google Analytics tracking after launching a set. Double-check that conversions and events are firing properly. Finally, use real-time analytics to monitor site usage during media appearances or major events, both to gauge interest in your brand and to account for possible server overload.