In our marketing operations center, we track real time site metrics showing traffic across our sites. Why track real time traffic? To make sure the web is sending you your expected daily amount of traffic each day. If the traffic is up or down, you want to know about it. Large changes up or down should be cause for investigation to understand exactly what is happening.
To monitor traffic in this way, you need a real time web site tracking program. Google Analytics has real time tracking. Using GA in this mode you could train yourself to understand the expected traffic on the site at a given point in time.
We don’t use GA for real time tracking because of this requirement to learn what is normal by observing traffic day over day. Rather for real time, we use www.clicky.com. Why? Clicky allows you to display a real time monitor of traffic but also includes a trend graph that shows the traffic during the same day a week ago at the exact same time.
What you notice when you observe traffic in this manner is that traffic patterns tend to be the same for a given hour for a given day of the week on a global basis. We run multiple global sites that are high traffic and you see the same patterns each day of the week at the same hour. Europe comes online driving traffic up, then there is a dip followed by the east coast of the US. If we see a deviation between the two lines, it is a strong indication to us that something is different between today and the same time 7 days ago.
Sometimes these changes are the result of holidays. Other times, news on a particular day might change the graph. Sometimes we just can’t figure it out, but at least we know there is a difference.
What does this have to do with Daylight Savings Time?
Last week, I came in and saw the most unusual pattern on my screen. You can see it below.
It took me a second to realize what I was observing was the impact of daylight savings time on traffic. People were basically just going to work an hour later but still doing the exact same things as a week prior. Hence, the magnitude of the traffic was the same, just its time series was shifted one hour to the right. Looking at the graph above you can also see what a typical day looks like for one of our sites. In this case, this site has heavy EMEA and Indian traffic which explains the early in the day peaks.
Real time traffic is a key component to making sure your site is running how you think it is.