Annotations are missing in Google Analytics 4. Although this may change, your only option now is to use a 3rd party solution to put your data in a broader context…
- You cannot add your own custom annotations in GA4.
- This is a step back compared to Universal Analytics because annotations are a great way to enrich your data with important background information.
- Annotations are a treasure for data-driven marketers for several reasons.
- You can add annotations to your GA4 reports with the help of a 3rd-party solution.
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What are Google Analytics annotations, anyway?
Annotations in Google Analytics are notes you can add to the timeline of your reports. In Universal Analytics, you can distinguish between private and shared annotations. These help you remember important events later on.
At this moment, this feature is missing in Google Analytics 4. The new automatic insights are not a replacement for annotations.
And that is a shame…
What is the purpose of annotations in analytics?
Data doesn’t tell you the complete story. Many internal and external factors impact the amount of traffic your site receives and how users behave.
Annotations serve as an extended marketing memory for you and your team
I have split these events into 5 categories and give some examples for each of them. Do not confuse them with GA4 events and its corresponding report.
#1 Hot news
News events can lead to a sudden traffic peak on your site. If you have covered the topic in the past, visitors may dive deeper into your content to get a better understanding about news topics.
- A change in legislation can raise the demand of your services or products.
- An incident, or a positive news story, can raise awareness or demand of your products or services.
#2 Changes on your website
Small and big changes on your website can cause changes in performance, for the better or worse.
- Did you launch a new design?
- Added or removed a section?
- Or set up a new funnel?
- Maybe you published an article that caught the attention of your audience, or the search engines?
#3 Promotional campaigns
There are endless possibilities to attract visitors to your site. Alas, not all your marketing efforts will result in increased visits or conversions. Annotations help you keep track of your online and offline promotion campaigns.
- Did you post a guest post on another site?
- Did you publish a new video, article, post on social media?
- Have you launched specific paid campaigns?
- Did the click-through-rate of a newsletter outperform all your previous editions?
- Are your link building campaigns being picked up by Google?
- Did you take part in a trade show? Organized an event in your company?
#4 Holidays and seasonal events
The timeline in Google Analytics says nothing. If you can link them to holidays and seasonal events, a lot in your GA reports will make sense.
- Did a banking holiday, or any other official, religious, cultural holiday affect your data?
- Are people preparing for festivities, like Halloween, Thanksgiving…?
#5 Online changes outside your control
One last category of events that can highly influence your site performance are changes on the Internet.
- A temporary glitch of your hosting or website platform that results in the horrible server down nightmare.
- Platforms you rely on may have bugs, or suffer from outages.
- Your site got hacked.
- Changes in Google’s algorithm.
All external events are valuable explanations
You cannot be aware of everything. But you can make sure that superb and terrible events are recorded and kept close to your GA data.
Should you add annotations in GA?
Besides providing context, annotations have some less obvious advantages. If you would profit from one of these, you should start using GA annotations after reading this article.
- As head of a marketing team, GA annotations give you extra control over your team activities.
- If you and your team systematically add annotations, the awareness of threats and opportunities will improve.
- It will help you create more meaningful reports for customers or stakeholders.
- In the end, annotations will help you improve your site and future campaigns. Learning from past success and failures makes a business move forward.
Now you know why annotations are important, let’s answer one more question…
How do I annotate in GA4?
Since you cannot annotate directly in GA4, you will need a 3rd-party solution as a workaround. At this moment, you only have one option: Crystal Ball Insights, formerly known as GAanotations.
First, you need to register an account. Then you can choose the free tier, or any of the paid plans.
Login to both your GA4 and Crystal Ball Insights account and then follow these steps to get started:
Step 1: Install the Automated Google Analytics Annotations GA4-UA browser extension.
Step 2: Open a Google Analytics report and click the icon of the extension.
Step 3: Click on a red dot on a Google Analytics report to see the details.
Compared to native GA annotations, the tool offers a lot more possibilities.
To name a few:
- You can manually add annotations or upload them in bulk with a CSV file.
- You can add automated annotations with Zapier.
- The annotations are not limited to GA4. You can also use add them to other platforms.
- The extension shows automated annotations, such as website monitoring, news alerts, holidays, WordPress Core updates, Google Algorithm updates, weather forecasts… This saves you from a lot of manual work.
Google Analytics 4 is not a finished product. Currently, annotations are not included as a feature, but that may change.
You can wait for it to appear, or not. Meanwhile you can add annotations in UA, or keep track of important events in a calendar or a spreadsheet.
When you connect an annotation solution from a 3rd party to Google Analytics, you need to take possible privacy risks into account.
It’s wise to consult your legal department to make sure that you comply with local laws.
Thank you for your time. On behalf of the Data Driven U team, I sincerely hope this article will help you better understand your marketing data.