It can be difficult to keep track of what's happening on our websites if we don't have the time to log into our analytics all the time and take a look around. Let's face it, we're all busy people, and from time to time, we might not find out about a spike or a drop on a site for a few days (or longer) because we haven't found the time to see what the little blue line in Google Analytics is doing this week.

And this can be an especially big problem when you're monitoring multiple sites, possibly for multiple clients. How do you monitor them all, knowing what's happening on all your sites when you've got lots of other things to do?

Last October, Google announced Google Analytics Intelligence and Custom Alerts. This awesome feature can monitor your site for you and let you know when something unusual is happening. But what's interesting to this Google Analytics geek is that very few people seem to know about it, and even fewer people seem to be using it. You're missing out!

Google Intelligence & Custom Alerts

Here's how it works: You log into Google Analytics and click on the "Intelligence" link in the menu (note: if you have it). Here you can set up alerts that will email you when something unusual is happening on your website. This is a powerful tool that can free you from having to log in all the time to make sure you're on top of things.

And one thing we all probably want to do is monitor a website to see if there are any sudden traffic spikes.

Google Analytics Intelligence Linki

Let's say that something on your site is linked to from a major newspaper or blog, but you don't notice it because it doesn't show up in your monitoring tools. It would be great to be able to respond quickly, but you can't, because you don't log into Google Analytics every day for all of the 3 dozen or so sites you manage. You might find out next week, or if you're busy, next month, but by then it's far, far too late to do anything meaningfully responsive.

That's where Custom Alerts can make you more efficient, when you use it to set up an alert to email you when your traffic spikes.

How to Set up a Google Analytics Custom Alert

In the Google Intelligence dashboard, click on + Create a Custom Alert to set this up. Let's call the Alert "Traffic Spike", so you'll know what it is later. Leave the period to measure set to "Day", and check the box Email me when this alert is triggered.

In the Alert Conditions, leave All Traffic as the default setting for which traffic this alert should apply to.

Now, let's tell Google Analytics under what conditions we'd like to get an email. Change the Alert me when blue dropdown to Visits, and change the Condition to % increases by more than. Change the Compared to to Same day in the previous week.

Now all we have to do is decide how much of an increase in traffic means a spike for you. For most sites, somewhere between a 10% to 20% increase in traffic could mean a spike, but it depends on how much variability there usually is in the traffic, and also how much traffic the site usually gets.

For a site getting 200 visits per day, a 15% increase represents only 30 extra visits, so you might consider a spike for this site to be closer to a 30% increase in traffic.

For a site that gets 150,000 visitors a day, the amount of traffic needed to trigger a 15% increase alert is 22,500 extra visitors in a single day, so you might want to consider something closer to a 3-5% increase to trigger an alert.

Once you've decided what your threshold is for getting a Google Analytics alert, enter it into the box, and click Create Alert. Google Analytics will now email you whenever your traffic hits this amount in one day, so you know you need to go and investigate.

Voila! By setting these up (and changing the threshold for alerts appropriately), you can now pro-actively monitor several dozen sites and know when something unusual is happening.

How to Set Up a Custom Alert

Now the caveat

Google Analytics does not monitor in real time yet (it was never designed that way). So don't expect it to send you an alert when you're suddenly trending on twitter for an hour - it will be several hours behind, and these reports are designed to be daily, not hourly. If you need something more powerful, you'll have to look elsewhere, for now.

Introduction to Google Analytics Custom Alerts

Missed the original announcement? Not to worry, you can still see Google's official introduction to Custom Alerts here: