Google Analytics Real Time: Big Brother is Watching You

Google is watchingWe cannot argue the fact that Google Analytics is probably the most used tool to track website performance. It is true there are many other tools in the market that are more robust and offer a better customization, however Google is still the preferred option for small and medium companies for two main reasons: it has an intuitive interface that allows new users to find the desired information very easily; and it is free, which is certainly an advantage for many businesses without a dedicated budget for Digital Marketing activities.

Being a free tool has also its downside though: users do not dedicate as much time to learn all its functions as they would normally do if they had purchased a paid platform. In fact, most companies use only a small amount of the options available and are not aware of other amazing features that could provide a lot of data, very valuable when developing their strategies and campaigns.

One of these tools is the Real Time Report.


As the name suggests, it is a report that shows how many active visitors you have on your website right now. But that is not all: it will also display some additional information such as: the keywords they used to find your site, from which websites they’ve been referred from, which pages within your site they are visiting, in which parts of the world they are located (beautifully displayed on a map)… and a time line showing when did they arrive – with details by minute and second!

Google Analytics Real Time

My Real Time report, 10 minutes after I published last week’s post.

This is probably one of the best things of this feature, as traditional reports on Google Analytics will only show detail down to an “hour” level (in some reports, only to a day level). So knowing how many people visited your site at a specific moment of time could be very useful on some occasions. But be careful, as too much information could also be confusing and you could end up staring at your screen without even knowing what information are you trying to obtain.


There are several situations where looking at up-to-the-second data could be beneficial. The following are just some examples:

  • Instant campaign monitoring: If you run a radio ad that is repeated several times in the same hour, you could see how your website traffic changes each time the ad is aired and decide which time frame was more effective
  • Evaluate the impact of Social Media: If you post something on Facebook that goes viral, you may want to know in which locations your post had the best penetration and decide to run a campaign only in these areas.
  • News and current affairs impact: At the news they have just announce the crime rate in your town has recently increased, and you sell security cameras: do you have extra visitors? and, which keywords did they use to reach your website?
  • Identify unusual patterns: You run a simultaneous campaign on 5 specific cities, but when it goes live you notice there are not many visitors from one of them. Why?
  • Prove on-line effectiveness: On a sales pitch you must show a client or investor how your online activity can drive traffic instantly.

Google Analytics Real Time Report is a powerful tool if used wisely, but it could be very distractive if there is not a defined logic behind. So it is very important to decide upfront what type of information you are looking for. Otherwise it would turn out to be only a nerd version of Big Brother.

In what other cases do you think you could use Real Time reports for? Have you already tried?