3 Tips for Tracking and Analytics During COVID-19


Adam Blackford-MillsDigital Sales and Marketing Director at MRS Digital

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The outbreak of the coronavirus has meant that businesses everywhere need to rethink their strategies. Effective adaptation requires staying abreast of new developments and market trends, and one of the best ways to achieve this is to put in place ways to measure digital performance.

Article 7 Minutes
3 Tips for Tracking and Analytics During COVID-19

Here are 3 tips to improve your tracking and analytics during the pandemic.

1. Creating custom alerts

The custom alerts feature in Google Analytics (GA) and Google Ads means that you can be automatically informed about any unusual changes. During the coronavirus outbreak, this could mean something like a sudden spike in the sales of a specific item, or more visits to a piece of content you have about remote working. In the event that you hadn’t already spotted these changes, a custom alert will give you that visibility.

Now, more than ever, it’s vital to make sure you respond appropriately to the changes you see. Understanding how your audience is interacting with your digital service while lockdowns and social distancing rules are in place will help you identify where to focus your efforts and improve your online offering. 

What to track with custom alerts

It’s possible to create a range of custom alerts such as:

  • No data – an alert could be the first indication that your site has gone down, or tracking has stopped
  • Noteworthy fluctuations in how your site is being used, i.e. number of users, views, and sessions
  • Significant spikes or dips in conversions
  • Notable changes in e-commerce metrics, i.e. transactions, revenue, average order value
  • Notable changes in PPC metrics, i.e. impressions, clicks, CPC
  • Considerable traffic coming in from new referrers

Setting up custom alerts in Google Analytics

Follow these steps to set up a GA alert:

  1. Go to the Analytics ‘admin panel’ under the ‘View’ column
  2. Click ‘+ New Alert
  3. Add an ‘Alert Name’. This should be descriptive so that you can clearly see what it does; when multiple alerts have been created a clear name is vital.
  4. In ‘Apply to’, you can choose additional views for your filter to be applied to. It’s possible to use this to apply your filter to multiple sites or Analytics accounts.
  5. In ‘Period’, you need to select the time frame for which you want Google Analytics to observe changes and dictate how often the rule runs. Here you should also tick the box to receive email alerts, and you can add additional email addresses if necessary, using ‘Also include’.
  6. Add in your ‘Alert conditions’ – the specifications that dictate what data changes will trigger an alert.

There are a number of Alert conditions options to choose from:

  • 'This applies to’ – allows you to choose ‘all traffic’ or select a specific portion of your data. For the latter, click ‘Custom segments’ to choose users or sessions from a particular channel, or to create your own data set. For example, this could be ‘only sessions in which a user accessed a product page’.
  • ‘Alert me when’ – here you can choose the metric for which you want the rule to apply. For example, sessions or conversions).
  • ‘Condition’ – use this to select the way in which you measure change in your chosen metrics. For example, if a specific threshold is met, or data changes by a certain number or percentage. The percentage option is especially helpful if you’re unsure about your regular figures.
  • ‘Value’ – this is where you add the value for the condition. For example, ‘25%’ if you have chosen percentage.
  • ‘Compared to’ – this is used to compare a certain period with another, such as month-on-month or year-on-year. It’s important to think carefully about this and consider the best time frames for your alert. The day-on-day option, for example, might not be suitable because you will likely receive an alert every weekend - when your traffic might naturally dip.

Google Analytics alert name and alert conditions

2. Using custom dashboards

As with custom alerts, custom dashboards can be used to help ensure you have adequate visibility over any changes to digital performance that might affect your business. The difference, however, is where custom alerts are designed to inform you about unforeseen changes, dashboards enable you to zero in on the data that is imperative to the business.

Custom dashboards allow you to stay organized by accessing the data that’s most important to you in one place. The platform allows you to perform analysis and run reports in a simple and digestible way.

Using Google Data Studio

Even though both Google Analytics and Google Ads have built-in custom dashboards functions, Google Data Studio offers a more comprehensive service that offers data visibility from multiple sources. This means you can run more informative reports and perform an improved comparative analysis.

Google Data Studio gives you the option to include external data sources, which can help you add context to your figures. It means you can see trends on your site against those of the wider industry, or even against the current climate during the coronavirus outbreak.

An example of this can be seen below. This graph shows the data of one company’s average CPC against the pattern of search using Google Trends. By looking at both data sets, a clear relationship between the current crisis and CPCs in the marketplace can be recognized.

Google Data Studio report looks at a company's site against external data sources

3. Using annotations in Google Analytics and Google Ads

The annotations feature in both Google Analytics and Google Ads is a simple function that often gets overlooked. It essentially enables you to add specific notes against certain dates, to allow you to better understand changes later on.

This is helpful when performing analysis, because an explanatory note can help you add context to your data. For example, if you run a report for the last six months and see an unusual spike or dip in sessions at a certain time, an annotation could explain this if one has been added.

Annotations may be helpful in these types of instances:

  • If a website update has taken place, such as significant content expansion or if a range of new products has been launched
  • Any site or tracking downtime
  • Specific marketing activity such as new campaigns
  • Updates to Google’s core algorithm

How to use the annotation feature in Google Analytics

Any Google Analytics report that has an ‘Explorer’ view (one with a graph at the top of the page), has the options to add annotations. To use this, click on the small arrow below the chart (in the center), and select ‘Create new annotation’.

Next, choose the date, add your description, and specify who can see your annotation. It’s also possible to ‘star’ your annotation, to highlight which ones are of specific importance. Later on, you can filter annotations to show only those that have been ‘starred’.

Google Analytics annotations

How to use the annotation feature in Google Ads

The annotations function was added to Google Ads in May 2018, and is referred to as ‘Notes’.

As with Google Analytics, a note can only be added to a report that uses a chart. To add a note, hover over any point of the chart and click ‘Add Note’ in the dialogue box that appears. Check the date is correct, and add your description as necessary.

Instructions to add a note in Google Ads

Helpful notes to add during the coronavirus outbreak

The effects of COVID-19 are likely to continuously change the marketplace, but it might be helpful to keep an eye on the landscape by adding annotations that detail specific dates relating to the crisis. For example:

  • When The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
  • When lockdown occurred in the countries where you operate.
  • When lockdown was lifted in those countries.

Ensure your analytics data is accurate

All the analysis and reporting you do is only truly valuable if it’s accurate. While the data provided by Google Analytics will never be 100% accurate, there are actions you can take to ensure that the information being shown portrays the closest thing to the truth.

To be sure of this, spend some time checking over your existing analytics and tracking set-up. Look at the following:

  • Make sure your IP filters are up-to-date, especially if staff are remote working
  • Check your channel groupings; are these all correct or is some organic traffic showing up as ‘referral’?
  • Ensure that timely email and social media campaigns are being tracked correctly

As businesses continue to deal with the impact of this unprecedented, but temporary, change in society, it’s vital to make sure that you can accurately track the ways your audience is interacting with your company digitally. Only by reacting to significant changes in the online world, as and when they happen, will your business be able to meet the needs of consumers and thrive during this difficult time.

Adam Blackford-Mills

Digital Sales and Marketing Director at MRS Digital


Adam heads up the team at MRS Digital, a leading SEO agency in Hampshire, UK. With over a decade of experience in the industry, Adam ensures that MRS are at the forefront of search marketing, utilizing the latest techniques and technology.


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