Understanding The Google Analytics 4 Realtime Report

The Realtime report contains the most intuitive section of GA4. Although the real-time data is limited, the report can be valuable for developers and agile marketers. It is also an easy argument to convince your boss or clients to switch to the newest Google Analytics version.

Is Google Analytics 4 real time?

GA4 is not a real time analytics tool. All the data gets processed and is only available after some time. The Realtime report is the only place where you can see data from your site or app visitors almost as it is happening.

The GA4 Realtime report feels as if you are watching the stock market

Real-time data is more attractive and impressive for beginners than all other GA4 reports, which update less frequently.

Limitations of the GA4 realtime report

There are 2 main disadvantages of real-time reporting in GA4 when it comes to doing a deeper analysis.

Delay and incomplete

  • There can be a delay of several minutes.
  • The report doesn’t show all your visitors. GA4 processes the data to filter out traffic from spam and bots.
  • The real-time data of apps is updated in batch to save battery life.

Real-time data is stored briefly

  • You can see limited real-time data from the last 30 minutes only.
  • You can only share the Realtime report as a link. You cannot export it as a CSV file.
  • If you want data from a specific user, your best option is to take screenshots.
  • It is possible that the data you see in the real-time report will be excluded from reports.

Limited customization possibilities

  • Unlike most other reports in GA4, you cannot customize the Realtime report. You can add comparisons, as I will explain below, but that’s it.

Let’s move on and dive into the one and only report in GA4 that reveals what (almost all) your visitors are doing (almost) now.

Where can you find the Realtime report in GA4?

To access the Realtime report, go to Reports and then click on Real-time.

Here you can immediately see if people are visiting your site or app.

Sometimes, there will be 0 visitors.

That usually means 1 of these 3 things:

  1. There are no visitors. Luckily, being the only guest at a party can be fun too. Open your site in another tab and make that cursor dance on the screen.
  2. You have visitors, but their browser is blocking GA4.
  3. Your GA4 code is not installed (correctly). Check if it’s placed in the right place, or spend time to find out why GA4 is not working. In some cases, GA4 could be installed correctly but your real time report could still be working incorrectly.

If you can see visitors in the Realtime report, things get more exciting.

What can you find in the Realtime report of GA4?

The Realtime report contains two sections. On the top of the page, there is an interactive map of the world. The bottom part contains 6 Insight cards.

Let’s kick off with the most thrilling part of this report (and GA4).

#1 Interactive map that shows where your users are

This is one of the most intuitive elements of GA4. You don’t need to be a technical or analytical wizard to make some sense of the data you see on the map.

Where are your site or app users located NOW?

The growing and shrinking blue location dots yell “click on me”.

Hovering over a dot instantly reveals how many visitors from a city or region are on your site.

Please note that visitors may be using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to hide their real location. This is one of the reasons GA location data is not 100% reliable.

Always take real-time data in GA4 with a pinch of salt

When you click on the dot, the location is added as a Comparison in the Realtime report.

Your screen refreshes and you can now compare this segment (on the right) with all active users (on the left). The map section is, however, no longer a part of the Realtime report.

The data you can compare corresponds with the insights of the opening screen of the report. I will get back to this further below.

The location of real-time users is only one of the many comparisons you can make.

Which audiences are visiting your app or site now?

If you want to compare, in real-time, a specific segment of your audience with all your current users, you can best follow these simple steps.

Step 1: Scroll down to the Insights User card.

Here you can see all the audiences that are active on your site or app. This is an important step, because it saves you time. Users, and hence audiences, come and go at the blink of an eye.

Step 2: Click on Add comparison on top of the Realtime report.

Step 3: Click on Select dimension and scroll to Audience name.

Step 4: Select your Audience from the Dimension values dropdown list.

Step 5: Now you can compare All users with the Audience of your choice.

If you are finished with your analysis, you can remove a comparison (location, audience…) by clicking on X on top of the screen.

This will refresh your screen and show you the Realtime report, with new live data.

Besides audiences, you can also see live data of one user only.

What is the View User Snapshot in GA4 for?

To see data of one active user, click on View user snapshot on the right top corner of the Realtime report.

Google Analytics 4 now picks one random active user and shows you the activity stream.

Besides a timeline, the report contains a ton of data about:

  • The user's device
  • The app version
  • Location
  • Relevant user properties
  • Top events triggered by the user. These are marked with a circle in the timeline on the left. When you click on them, you can further select a set of parameters.

If the screen is not showing a lot, you can either browse to the next randomly selected user with the arrows, or exit the Snapshot report.

If you come across a (hyper)active user, you can pause the activity stream.

Now you have a better understanding of what the map can reveal about real-time users, let’s have a look at the second part of the Realtime report.

It is less exciting, but as with any data: the deeper you dig, the more gems you find.

#2 Real-time insights in GA4

The second section of the GA4 Realtime report shows 6 insights cards with information about users, views and events.

Alas, you cannot customize the insight cards.

Pro tip: When an insights card contains an arrow pointing down, you can click on it to change the dimension of the card. In the Realtime report, you can do this for the user source and audience card.

GA4 real-time user data

There are 3 cards with real-time user data

  1. First user source, medium, platform or campaign. In other words: how did your current visitors find your site? GA4 stores this data for longer periods than the last 30 minutes, such as for organic search and traffic resources.
  2. Audience: Users or New users. GA4 detects the distinction for you.
  3. User property. This contains specific data of a specific user.

GA4 real-time views

  1. Page title and screen name. Put differently: which pages are people visiting at this very moment. You can find historical data in the pages and screens report.

GA4 real-time events

  1. Event count by event name. What are people doing on your site now? Scrolling on a page, downloading a file or something else? The historical data is displayed in events report.
  2. Conversions by Event name. Conversions are events you marked as such. There is also a dedicated report for them in GA4.

Although it is impressive that you can see this amount of information about a user in real time in Google Analytics 4, the question is what you can do with this?

Use cases of the realtime report

Since the Realtime report is constantly updated, the data is not suitable for everybody. Yet, the report is not just a fancy gimmick. It can be useful to test your GA4 setup, your marketing campaigns and to intrigue new GA4 beginners.

Testing GA4 with the Realtime report

The Realtime report offers you a way to test your Google Analytics 4 setup and configuration.

But to be honest, this is awkward because:

  • When many users from your location are active on your site, it can be hard / impossible to find which user you are.
  • Watching real-time data of real users gives you no control over what you are looking at.

A far better alternative for developers and data-driven marketers is to use the GA4 debug view.

Agile marketing

The Realtime report can be interesting to check the instant effect of campaigns or app notifications.

This requires a goal, a plan, a team.

I will give one example that hopefully inspires you to come up with your own experiments. All depends, of course, on the technology you have built or integrated.

You can, for instance, send a notification to a selected audience of players of your game.

Be prepared before you push that button to nudge your users.

  1. Make sure you know how many users belong to the audience before you do anything else.
  2. Open the GA4 Realtime report. This way, you know how many users of a certain audience are already active.
  3. Follow the steps as described earlier to set up your real time report with the selected audience as a comparison.
  4. Send your app notification.
  5. Check if the number of active realtime users increases.

Even when you are not a big company or organization, you can still profit from this feature…

Warm up new users and your boss with the GA4 Realtime report

Real time data reporting is impressive. It quickly and implicitly tells a lot about the power of the tech behind it, as well as the amount of user data available.

  • Impress your customers, boss or team. Since this report, and especially the map, are one of the coolest and most intuitive aspects of GA4 for beginners, you can show it or have them play around in it. The chance that you can then sell GA4 services or get your team aboard will increase.
  • The real-time report is an excellent starting point to start learning GA4. Even if you don’t understand what is going on, the hyperactive real-time report of the Google Analytics 4 demo accounts invites you to gradually dive deeper in the possibilities of the platform.

Final notes on the GA4 realtime report

Google Analytics 4 is limited when it comes to real-time reporting. Whether that is a disadvantage depends on your business.

  • Real-time data is rather useless unless you have the resources to monitor and actually do something with it to boost your business.
  • It’s risky to make decisions based on (evaporating) real-time data.

But then again, GA4 is free and it luckily contains a Realtime report. Go and behold it with your own eyes. Then use it to your advantage. On behalf of the Data Driven U team, I wish you fun and all the best while doing so.

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