Annotations are a core element of analytics because they give context. You can understand why a metric dropped or increased on a specific date or week due to that. Therefore, importing annotations in Google Analytics 4 from Universal Analytics and adding new annotations is one of the first questions I heard from my clients.
As a result, I wrote this article to explain how you can use annotations with Google Analytics 4.
What are annotations in GA4?
As I mentioned above, annotations are a context or a short description of the event that happened and the cause of the change of the metric in one or another direction.
If you know what happened on a specific date or week, you can better understand your business, figure out seasonality, and how public holidays impact your business’s bottom line. For instance, if you are an ecommerce company, you can find that on a specific date 20 times more people bought umbrellas, then you find that it was raining there.
So “The number of umbrellas sold due to bad weather in Florida” can be an annotation in this case. What other situations when you should make annotations?
Why do people use annotations?
The main reason why people use annotations is that our memory could be better, and we tend to forget things.
Therefore, we take notes and do annotations in Google Analytics. It’s tricky to remember every event causes a change over a year or 5 and relying on your extended (or second) brain can be highly suitable.
Analysts use different types of annotations. Here I collected the most popular ones, but you can extend this list to include the ones that matter to your business.
#1 Market News
If you are operating in a specific niche and your competitor tool hasn’t worked for a day or two or users had an issue accessing it, it can lead to a massive spike in your conversions, and such an event should be annotated.
For instance, while working with Mailbird we had many market news when some specific email service provider (like Gmail, Outlook) or email client wasn’t accessible for people worldwide, and it improved our metrics significantly.
It also means that you should have a system to track such events to adjust your marketing accordingly.
#2 Marketing campaigns | Promotions
Another type of annotation is marketing. You can conduct multiple seasonal ads campaigns, for instance, BlackFriday, CyberMonday, New Year, Christmas, Woman Day and others. All these small campaigns can change your business performance significantly. Therefore, you should annotate them.
#3 Dev Changes on Your Website
You can be the last to know that someone changed your website because your developers don’t think analytics is something meaningful for the business. Believe me; it’s so common.
Thus, talk to people, check your website daily and be all ears to know when something happens on the website, whether it’s a change in the blog exit pop-up or a change on the checkout pages. You should know about it and annotate it in Google Analytics 4.
#4 Public Holidays and Seasonal events
This category of annotations is close to the second one. New Year or Summer camp can change your business performance. Some business can rethink their spending and buy your software only in January every year. So perhaps, it’s something that you should keep in annotations and tell your marketing team about.
#5 Online changes
Last but not least is online changes. Google can change SEO rules, your site got hacked, or your hosting didn’t work for 4 hours.
If all of that makes a difference to your business, then you should annotate it.
If there is anything else I didn’t mention here, it doesn’t mean you should ignore it. You can comment below and let me know why you use annotations. I will be highly grateful because this exchange can also improve my and your business.
Now, after we have figured out what annotations are and why we should use them, let’s look at how to use them with Google Analytics 4.
Ways to annotate in Google Analytics 4
Unlike Universal Analytics, Google Analytics 4 doesn’t have an in-built feature for annotations. However, I will offer you two solutions for annotations with GA4 data.
The first requires you to use an external chrome extension, while the other requires you to have Google Sheets.
Using 3rd party chrome extension: GAannotations.com
An external freemium solution on the market can help you export your annotations from Universal Analytics and import them into Google Analytics 4. This solution is a chrome extension called Crystals Bell or GAannotations.
If you want to try it, download it here. You can also read the blog post on how to import your UA annotations.
There are two options to add annotations: CSV import or manual inserting. You can use both for free for 1 GA4 property. If you need more features, you can visit their pricing page.
After downloading the chrome extension and adding it to Google Chrome, you should follow the steps mentioned on this page:
- Check your GA4 property and see how it looks (sample annotation)
- Pin the extension in Google Chrome
- Create the account using your email address and password
- Add annotations using CSV import or manually
Using Google Sheets
The second method uses Google Sheets as the primary storage for all your annotations. It can be relevant for analysts or business owners who use Google Data Studio or Tableau because then you can use this document to show the annotations there.
The document format can differ, but, in general, you should have two required columns: a) date; 2) annotation. Some analysts add an additional column for who wrote the annotations and what kind of event it was; all of that is optional.
You can download the template I created here.
An annotation is a powerful tool for better understanding your business performance. Unfortunately, GA4 doesn’t have in-built annotations feature yet. Therefore you should consider using the Crystal Ball chrome extension or Google Sheets.
Have you found another way of managing annotations in GA4? Please let us know by commenting below.
Frequently Asked Questions
No, GA4 doesn’t have annotations. You can use GAannotations.com Chrome Extension. Otherwise, you can consider using Google Sheets.
There is no annotations feature in GA4. You should use an external chrome browser extension – Crystal Ball.
Annotations are a context or a short description of the event that happened and caused the change of the metric in one or another direction. For instance, paid ads budget increase, Google Search algorithm update, promotion, etc.