Getting hourly visit data from Google Analytics

How can we use Google Analytics to investigate what visitors are doing on our websites by hour of day? It’s pretty likely that for most of us, traffic will nearly always follow a skewed bell curve, rising rapidly during the morning and fading away from mid-afternoon onwards. But do the visitors do different things at different times? Are there a lot of visitors before or after the office is open? Unlike daily, weekly or monthly traffic, Google Analytics hides away the hourly data, but it’s all there. Here’s how to take a look.

First of all, we need to create a custom report, so click ‘customisation’ in the sidebar. Then click ‘Custom Reports’ and ‘+New Custom Report’. Call it something like ‘Hourly Traffic Report’, then click the blue ‘+add metric’, type ‘sessions’ into the box and select ‘Sessions’ from the options. Below that, click ‘+add dimension’, type ‘hour’ into the box and select ‘Hour’ from the options. Click ‘Save’ and you’re done.

Once you’re back in the report, change the date range to the last year (or any long range). Now you’ll see the hourly traffic pattern for your site. Easy!

To be really useful though, we need to know more about what people are doing. So if we click on ‘Custom Reports’ again, and next to our ‘Hourly Traffic Report’, select Actions, then ‘Edit’, we can investigate different metrics. Click on ‘+add metric’, and select for example ‘Session Duration’ (or if you have Goal Conversions set up, here’s a great way to use them).

Save the report and you’ll be taken back to the results. Note that you’ll want to set ‘Show rows’ to 25, and click on the table heading ‘Hour’ (probably twice) to get things in order. You can also click on ‘Select a metric’ above the graph and add your second metric to the plot.

What you do with the information, or how you develop it, is of course up to you. As ever with website analytics software, never use any of this stuff just because it’s presented to you, or because you know how to do it. Have a serious think about what you need to know, well away from the temptations of articles like this and default reports in the application.