Testing Google Analytics in Real Time [3 Simples Steps ]

Testing Google Analytics doesn’t require much effort and no advanced technical skills. Yet, testing is important to ensure GA collects data about your conversions, events, and anything else that can help you make data-driven business decisions.

Before you dive in, make sure you have checked that Google Analytics is installed on your site. 

All good? Buckley up for a test drive….

Key Takeaways

  • Never assume that Google Analytics is tracking the data that is important to you.
  • Testing Google Analytics requires no special technical skills.
  • Using the real time report is the easiest way to test if GA actually collects your most valuable data. But it is not always reliable.
  • Make it a habit to test GA immediately after you change anything in your account. Or whenever you get a headache from weird or missing data in your reports. 

How to test if everything in Google Analytics is working correctly?

Testing if Google Analytics is working as it should,  is the easiest with the real time report. There are just three steps involved:

1) Setup and configure data collection 

GA collects tons of data automatically, but not everything. Before you test anything, make sure that whatever you want to check is enabled, configured, linked or installed. 

For example, GA4 can collect search terms but you need to activate Site Search in the enhanced measurement settings. If that is not the case, you will waste your precious time. 

That Would Be Great google analytics meme

2) Go to your website and take an action 

First, make sure you give GA consent to collect data. That can include:

  • Clicking on the “Yeah, yeah, yeah you can collect my data” button of a cookie banner.
  • Disabling anti tracker software.
  • Using a browser that doesn’t automatically block scripts.

The test itself can be as simple as clicking something that normally fires an event, such as video views, pdf downloads, etc. 

The test may also be a visit to your site with a mobile device. Or to check if GA displays your geographic location. If that is the data you are after, it is absolutely worth checking if GA even registers it. 

real time report google analytics 4 map

3) View the Real Time Analytics Report

In the real time analytics report, you should see the event that you just triggered show up as a recent activity. You can open the report under Reports > Real Time.

ga4 navigation real time report

This report shows all events for the past 30 minutes, so you should be able to see some data for your test session. 

As a digital marketer, patience is probably not your most developed skill. So I want to give you a slight warning. 

The data in your real time report might be delayed by a minute or two. It’s not a big deal, but it can be a little inconvenient for testing things. 

This is because GA4 is batching API calls instead of sending a separate request for each event. Analytics does this to create a smoother overall experience.

Let’s have a closer look at some things you can test in real time in GA.

How to test events in Google Analytics? 

It only takes two simple steps to test if GA tracks an event:

  1. Trigger the event on your site.
  2. Check the event card in the real time report.

Events are, for instance: 

  • Scrolling, file downloads and any other user activity you can track thanks to the GA4 enhanced measurement magic. 
  • Any custom event you configured with Google Tag manager, such as tracking email clicks.
  • Default actions for web shops, like displaying a promo, adding a product to a cart, checking out, and so on.

Do the testing thing. 

Then check the real-time event card in GA. 

Don’t panic or curse if you don’t see the event immediately. Instead use the navigation arrows at the bottom of the card.

test event card ga4

If you click on the event you triggered during your test, you can see the Event Parameter Keys. 

That sounds nerdy, but as in the screenshot below, think of it as anything that is collected when someone triggers the add_shipping_info event 

real time ga4 add shipping info event

You can even dive deeper. 

While you are at it, now is the perfect time to test everything.

Following the test example above, you can click on a parameter key to see which value GA4 registered. 

In the screenshot below, that should match the total shopping cart price. 

Event parameter value ga4 real time test

Does the value differ from what you entered during your test? 

  • Then you may be looking at the data of another real-time visitor. 
  • Or GA may not show the data from your test session.
  • Or something is going terribly wrong. In that case, I recommend that you switch to a more advanced GA testing technique, which is called debugging GA4.

How to test Google Analytics Goal Conversions in Real Time?

Much like tracking events in Real Time, tracking Goals in GA Real time is also quite easy to accomplish with 3 simple steps.

1) Configure your conversions in Google Analytics

In order to test your conversions in real time, make sure that there are goals configured.

2) Perform a conversion on your website

If your site does not get enough visits in order to have conversions happening within the 30 minute window allowed by real time analytics, you will likely need to perform the conversion action yourself in order to test conversion tracking. 

While this may skew your numbers slightly, it is a necessary element of goal testing.

3) Check the Real Time Analytics Report for conversions data coming in

If you look at the real time Conversions by event name card, you should see your conversions rolling in on the report. If you don't see anything right away, wait a few minutes to see if there is a delay. 

Google analytics real time conversions

If you still don't see any goals coming in, make sure that your profile is receiving any data in GA realtime. If you receive data in other real time data cards, your goals are likely configured incorrectly.

What else can you test real time in GA?

Besides events and conversions, you can also use the real time report to test if GA4 collects information about 

  • traffic sources and medium, such as referral, organic, paid, newsletter and so on
  • audiences 
  • page title and screens
  • and user properties. To give one example, you could test if GA tracks if users are logged in to your site or web shop. 
Ga test user property real time

You can test numerous things directly in GA.

However, keep the words of Jeff Sauer, founder of Data Driven U, in mind:

The real time report is wonky. But the simple policy of testing before recommending is not only common sense; it's also my responsibility as an analytics practitioner and instructor.

In practice, that means you need to take three things into account when using the real time report to test if GA collects data at all. And correctly. 

Limitations of real time testing GA4

Although using the real time report testing method in GA is easy, it also has some disadvantages.

  1. Data that is not showing up real time in your report is no evidence that GA is not working as you want it to.
  2. Not all data you see during a real time test will be included in the reports the day after. That is because GA processes data to filter out, for example, bot traffic
  3. This method is not fit to test everything in GA. For example, testing if GA registers your campaigns and UTM tags is hard. Once in a while, you can see a source show up, but it is not systematic.
testing campaign traffic ga4

Real time testing GA is a quick solution with its own problems. 

If you want to roll up your sleeves, you can better use the debug function of Google Analytics. This article will set you on the right path.

Real Time Analytics = the Ultimate Google Analytics Testing Tool (For Beginners)

With the real time analytics report, you should be able to test nearly every aspect of your GA installation in real time. 

It’s not perfect, but it saves countless hours of waiting and allows you to make updates to your Google Analytics installation without fear of breaking things. 

Whenever you make a change in your GA account or have doubts about the data you are seeing, use this technique to your advantage. 

Apply the above information about testing Google Analytics and you are one step closer to data-driven decision making. 

It’s that easy. Good luck!

If you want to learn more about the report and GA, here is a great resource:


Who is visiting your site right now?

One last thing. If you want to go from Google Analytics beginner to expert in no time, make sure you check out our GA4 certification courses.

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