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August 21, 2015

How to Use Google Analytics Real-Time Widgets

Image courtesy of (Stuart Miles) /

A recent Google Analytics update has put into effect real-time widgets that can be plugged into any new or existing Google Analytics dashboard. This is the first time that real-time data has been possible in a dashboard widget, so this is exciting news; however you may be wondering what this means for you, how you can use these widgets, and even more specifically, how you can use them most effectively.

This new ability means that users can now use many different types of real-time analysis. After playing around with your options, you will realize that the widgets available to you can be combined and customized. Additionally, different filters will allow you to segment and compare data side by side. If you are a fan of some of your existing non-real time widgets, another awesome part of this new feature is that you can also set-up real-time and non real-time widgets on the same dashboard, called a Custom Dashboard.

Why Should You Use Real-Time Widgets and Data?

As opposed to data that was already available through Google Analytics, that took time to revive and parse, real-time data comes in live and is available instantly. To further break that down, what you are ultimately looking at is how people are using your site in real-time. As we will see later in the article with five widget examples, in many different circumstances you need to know what’s happening on your site at any given moment.

The truth is that it is often the case that reports a few days later are just not helpful in certain situations where you just need data now—when you’re running time sensitive campaigns, when you just launched a new product, when your site is back up and running after being down for several hours, and more. This will help give you instant data you need to know if you should make any instant changes. In general this data does cater more toward larger companies with a lot of traffic, but it’s something any size company can try.

Why is the Real-Time Dashboard better than Real-Time Reports in Some Cases?

Google Analytics has a lot of options for standard reports that you can run. One of the options is the standard real-time report. These can be great to run in many cases, but the problem is that they are very broad. In certain cases—like if you have more traffic or you have something major going on a particular day, you may want to look at specific traffic in the moment it is happening. There are two ways to compare a real-time report with a real-time widget:

  • One option that has been available on Google Analytics is running a real-time locations report. However keep in mind that this is for the entire world rather than a specific country or region.
  • Real-time traffic sources (which is further discussed in the table below) shows every source and medium and it can provide more specific details on where traffic is coming from at any given point in time.

Below is a chart we created that shows a few of the real-time widgets you have available, how they work, and how you can set them up:

WIDGET How You Can Use Most Effectively How-To Set It Up
Keywords Driving Traffic By creating the widget, you can now see the top 20 keywords that are driving traffic in real time (Not everyone has the need for 20 active search terms, so one thing to keep in mind is that when you’re viewing the Dashboard page, the widget contracts). This is a major improvement from the real time report previously, which only allowed you to view 10 keywords at any one time.  Click + Add Widget > Real-time: Table. 

Under Show the Following Metric select Active Visitors.


Under Display the following columns select Keyword.


Then you can show a table with 20 rows.

Articles & Their Source This widget will display:•   The top stories being read on your site.

•   A count of active readers.

•   Will be sorted by the source and the type of traffic.

This widget can be particularly helpful for publishers of articles or other cases where you want to see where traffic is coming from and what is popular on your site.

Click + Add Widget > Real-time: Table. 

Under Show the Following Metric select Active Visitors.


Under Display the Following Columns select Page Title, Source and Traffic Type.


Then show a table with “20 rows” (the most allowed).


Total Active Visitors by Medium This widget allows you to see the number of visitors on your website in real time with a percentage breakdown of the source of that traffic. For example: 

•   Organic

•   Direct

•   Referral

•   Social


This allows you to see very specific insights on active traffic. When you see an increase of active users, this widget can provide understanding of where those visitors are coming from.

Click + Add Widget > Real-time: Counter. 

Under Show the Following Metric select Active Visitors.


Under Group By select Medium.

U.S. Visitors by City Worldwide traffic is nice to see, but depending on the business you may want to parse the data to see what was taking place within the U.S. or even by specific U.S. city in real time. This will allow you to acknowledge East Coast and West Coast and check their social feeds at different times. This can also provide insight about what time people across the country conduct searches that land on your site. Click + Add Widget > Real-time: Geomap. 

Under Show the Following Metric select Active Visitors.


Under Choose a Display Mode select Cities. Under Select a Region select United States.

Social Traffic This social media widget will show the immediate effects of traffic generated from a post, tweet or pin. This widget will also define the actual source of your reading such as:•   Facebook

•   Twitter

•   Pinterest

•   Google+

This is particularly helpful for future strategy.

Click + Add Widget > Real-time: Counter.Under Show the Following Metric select Active Visitors.


Under Group By select Source.


Under Filter this Data select the drop-down Only Show then Traffic Type then drop-down Containing and then in the field type Social.

Example chart source: Forbes

Note: As shown in the graph above, the easiest way to set-up a real-time widget is to click the +Add Widget menu option from the Google-Analytics dashboard. You can learn more information here, otherwise below is a screenshot that shows you the button:


The screenshot below was taken from The Miami SEO Company. Analytics account and shows you what the real-time reports look like when they are put together in a custom dashboard. As you can see, they look just like any other Google Analytics report, so they’re easy to use.


The Takeaway

The best part about real time widgets is the fact you get data immediately. Although real-time data within Google Analytics is not new, the ability to customize the real-time data is. Additionally, as you can see from the examples in this article that there are many ways to use these widgets effectively to get the information that you need. Ultimately, I think that these real time widgets give users a better sense of the data with real time understanding of what is happening on the site and with their social marketing.

Have you used Google Analytics real-time? Do you have a favorite real-time widget that is now apart of your dashboard? Let us know in the comments section below.