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Creating Comprehensive Custom Alerts in Google Analytics

Have you ever logged into Google Analytics to discover something went wrong with the data a week ago and you had no idea? Or your dev team changed the PDF download page and broke your GA tracking funnel?  Or maybe your IT resource spilled his beer on the web server?

Things happen and data can go wild, and unless you are logged into Google Analytics daily, you might have data problems without realizing it.

Google Analytics provides an incredibly helpful feature called Custom Alerts.  Custom Alerts can help alleviate the need for daily checks on your key metrics by providing email (and/or SMS text) alerts based on metrics and thresholds that you define.  As an added bonus, your friends will think you are really popular from all the texts!

In this post, I’ll walk through how to setup alerts, example situations that would require alerts, metrics I recommend when setting up alerts, and some best practices to keep in mind when you setup your own.

Where To Find Custom Alerts

After you login, click the Admin link at the top right of the main screen. Next, click Assets in the top left corner.  The next screen should be on the Profiles tab with the Assets sub-tab showing.  On this screen, you will see Custom Alerts in the assets list.

Click on Custom Alerts and then select “Create new alert”.

How To Set Up Custom Alerts

Now that you have clicked “Create new alert”, you get to actually define your needs and thresholds for the alert. Here is a quick rundown of the setup:

  • Name the alert
  • Apply to other profiles & recipients
  • Period (day, week, month)
  • Alert conditions
  • Dimensions and metrics thresholds

Here are the standards I usually implement for clients, and you can tweak for your specific needs. These include:

  • Visits increase/decrease 30% compared to same day last week
  • Bounce Rate increase/decrease 30% compared to same day last week
  • Visits increase/decrease 50% compared to previous day
  • Bounce Rate increase/decrease 50% compared to previous day
  • % New Visits increase/decrease 30% compared to same day last week
  • Visits flatline (drop 90% compared to yesterday)
  • Goals flatline (drop 90% compared to yesterday)
  • Pageviews flatline (drop 90% compared to yesterday)
  • Average Duration flatline (drop 90% compared to yesterday)
  • Events flatline (drop 90% compared to yesterday)

For example, you don’t want to see a flatline that looks like this:

Flatline Graph

Who Sets Up Custom Alerts

Custom Alerts are limited to a single login, so any alert that you add will only be sent to your login and will not automatically be shared to others who have access to the profile.  When setting the alerts, you can apply to other profiles and send alerts to other users.  You can customize the nickname for each email address you add, such as CMO, IT or My Personal Email.


Email Nicknames

When to Set Custom Alerts

This is a difficult question, and the answer isn’t black and white.  You should set Custom Alerts on all critical website metrics that signal a healthy (or unhealthy) data flow.   Before setting an alert, you should ask yourself, “Will this person actually care about this alert?”.  A CEO won’t care about page load times greater than 10 seconds, and IT won’t care about a record breaking sales day.  Don’t clog their inbox with useless alerts.

Best Practices

So that’s the who, what, when, where and why of setting alerts. At this point, I know you can’t wait to setup your own alerts. You might have even closed out of the window already and logged into Google Analytics.  If you haven’t yet, keep these best practices in mind:

  1. Name the alert something descriptive so you immediately know what the alert entails.  “Visit spike” or “Site Broken” aren’t helpful.  Instead, name the alert “All Visits increase 50% – Same Day Previous Week”.
  2. Try to avoid comparing to “yesterday”.  Your Sundays are probably a lot quieter than Monday, so then you’ll get bombarded with useless emails and texts on Tuesday.
  3. Know that a recipient does not have to opt into your alerts, but they can unsubscribe.  Be sure to let them know alerts are happening and why before spamming them, especially if it’s someone that controls your paycheck.
  4. If you care about metrics increasing a specific percentage, you should care about metrics decreasing as well.  Alerts are good for notifications for all fluctuations in traffic.
  5. Don’t go overboard and don’t get overwhelmed.  You will be getting regular notifications emailed to you, so be sure they are something that you will want to read and act on.  If you think “Okay, visits are up – neato!”, don’t set that alert.
  6. For the especially lazy efficient, you can view a trend graph and drill down to specifics on a dashboard by clicking here.
  7. Alerts can be added or deleted at any time. For example, if you want to see the traffic on a certain blog post, you can create a new alert filtered to that specific page to monitor data.  I’ll be monitoring this one, so feel free to delete your cookies and increase my number of visitors!
  8. Set “Cheerleading Goals.”  Look back at the past three to six months and find the high points for revenue, transactions, downloads, visits, etc. and then create an alert based on that value.  When you receive a notification, you can send a congratulatory email to your sales team and then pat yourself on the back because, hey, you deserve it.

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