Website Update? Don’t forget to Annotate!

Don’t forget to annotate changes!

Let’s say you published new layout changes to your website or you released new content or even a new landing page. How do you easily record such events so you can see what happens to your traffic? If you are using Google Analytics you can add annotations!

Simply put, annotations are short user notes (up to 160 characters) in the interface. They don’t affect the back-end data in any way. Think of them as sticky notes on your reports. After all the data has been processed and pushed into reports, you can attach notes and comments for specific dates.

They are a great way to spot correlations of data with external events.

AnalyticsMarket blog post

I use annotations to provide context to the days I make big changes. While I don’t do any marketing events or run A/B tests, I do occasionally make layout changes or update menus. Here’s what my recent updates look like:

A snapshot of my annotations (redacted for enhanced suspicion)

To create an annotation in Google Analytics:

  1. On your Audience Overview
  2. Click the small tab below the timeline
  3. Click ‘+ Create new annotation’
  4. Select the date for the annotation
  5. Enter your “sticky note”
  6. Select the visibility of the annotation (public vs private)
  7. Save

A sticky note showing what updates I made and when me make sense of data changes and trends in retrospect. Before I created a status page, I would use make a note of site outages so I could judge how reliable my web host was. (I should probably still do this). There’s far more I could do to be proactive but this works for now.

Learning about customers

Working for a startup company you go through a lot of problems, potential solutions and more problems. I was reminded of my company in the article by Startup Lessons Learned entitled Validated learning about customers. Eric Ries, who writes the Startup Lessons Learned blog, describes two scenarios with two fictional companies.

My company is like the first company in his post: the metrics of success change constantly and our product definition fluctuates regularly. Our development team is always busy but those efforts don’t exactly lead to added value to the product. We are pretty good at selling the one-time product but we have to put a lot of effort into each sale and so the sales process isn’t scalable. Worse it’s frustrating that management doesn’t see this.

At the end of the article Eric lists some solutions to companies with this “stuck in the mud” situation and I think the third solution is something my company should try: build tools to help the sales team reduce the time on each sale and try building parts of our product that make the sales process faster or the investment afterwards less. (I added that last bit). How good is your product if it requires customers spend large amounts of time, energy and money in order to make it usable? Shouldn’t the company make the use of your product as frictionless and automated as possible so it’s easy for customers?

After reading this article I’m interested in reading his full book: The Lean Startup.