AnalyticsActionable AnalysisGetting Started with Real-Time Analytics

Getting Started with Real-Time Analytics

This emerging area of analytics is often misunderstood, but is infinitely actionable.

While many marketers are still learning to be data-driven and find the right talent, those who are advanced are continually pushing the boundaries with what they can do. An emerging area of analytics that’s frequently mentioned, equally misunderstood, but infinitely actionable is real-time.

Sample real-time report in Google Analytics

Real-time use case is across industries — as everyone has events that they have created or marketing tactics with a temporal nature, all of which offer opportunities for real-time analysis.

Areas within an organization that benefit from real-time:

Before we get into the how, let’s take a look at just a few areas within an organization that benefit from using real-time.

Marketing: Diagnostic uses of campaigns, real-time capitalization on trends/events, showcasing success to stakeholders, and personalization of content.

IT: Diagnostics/troubleshooting of sites, watching real-time in tandem with other metrics such as server load during anticipated spikes.

Customer service: During a crisis or customer service issue at scale, many monitor use of site content and ensure they have the correct response which is findable.

PR: Real-time content creation to capitalize on breaking news, events, showcasing success.

As you can see, real-time data is one which many areas of an organization may benefit from analyzing. This is just a shortlist to get you thinking; you’ll of course need to create the appropriate approach for your teams.

Next, let’s go through some use cases:

Real-time is the ultimate diagnostic tool: Digital marketing is a set of interconnected systems, an engineering problem essentially. There are search engines, Web content, social networks, etc., and when you start executing tactics it’s easy to get things wrong, but not always easy to understand what. The ability to see things in real-time can help provide a quick diagnostic view (answers the question: how did the system react to that instantly?). A simple example of this is to make sure campaign tracking is correctly implemented before launching a campaign. With real-time reports you can find out in seconds whether you’re getting the data you want in analytics.

Real-time provides alerting/intelligence: It can give insight into things that are new or different in addition to taking advantage of one-to-one marketing. The right alerts set up in real-time can give you peace of mind on important events for your business such as server-uptime or crashes.

Real-time can let you win social by capitalizing on trending topics: As the Web continues to move to focus on streams, understanding how to interpret this data becomes important. Observe, understand, act (i.e., if you observed you were starting to “go hot” on Google+, Twitter, or Reddit, you could analyze why and react by pouring fuel on the fire by quickly turning on paid tactics or ask influencers to re-share — gaining a multiplier effect. There is a very limited window to accomplish this and agility is key).

Real-time on-display during special events or at offices: Helps add energy/excitement to an office environment and can also act as social proofing to show popularity or marketing success.

Example: Reddit showing real-time traffic peaking during an AmA with President Obama on their office large screens(AmA = ask me anything, basically Reddit’s form of crowdsourced Q&A):


Additional potential use cases:

  • Segment and get more real-time data for specific portions of larger sites.
  • Double-check new profiles, work faster, and not second guess your work.
  • Create profiles for specific, short-term promotions that are important to see in real-time.
  • Create profiles for email or other recurring campaigns you might want to see in real-time.
  • Test virtual page views/other custom code faster.
  • Perfect timing on social sharing of content.

Just a few key metrics to look at in real-time (and questions they answer):

  • Visitors on site right now (new, returning — get a quick glimpse of who’s on your site right now).
  • Conversions in real-time (are visitors acting on an immediate offer?).
  • Top Referral sources (what sites are sending my traffic right now?).
  • Top Active Pages (page/number of active visitors per page — which pages are hottest?).
  • Top Social Traffic (source/number of active visitors — is social working for me?).
  • Top Keywords (keyword/active visitors — how are my organic and paid search campaigns working?).
  • Top Locations (country/active visitors — where are my visitors coming from right now?).

Quick wrap-up:

The Web is getting faster, and not just the speed of the pages, but also the speed of change. Before, it was fine to build a website and modify it only when new products were launched. But all of us avid analytics users know that’s just not enough. We need to be constantly on the lookout for problems and opportunities as they happen. This is what real-time can enable. I hope today’s post will inspire you to think about creating a strategy for using real-time as part of your analytics processes.

Bonus: For advanced users, check out a previous ClickZ column on how some brands are using real-time data through an API to improve their marketing while they sleep.

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