Questions for Google Analytics: How many users were on my site?

Chip Oglesby bio photo By Chip Oglesby

There are a lot of really neat things that you can do with your Google Analytics data if you’re a Google Analytics Premium customer.

There are also times when you just want to ask your data questions without having a full-blown analysis in mind.

Recently I wanted to know “How many users are on my site at any given minute?”

Google Analytics does provide a real-time dashboard that you can monitor during special events, but since you can’t watch it 24/7/365, I thought it would be fun to run an analysis in BigQuery.

The GA export schema doesn’t provide you with a timestamp for each hit, so it’s something that we’ll need to calculate in our SQL query.

To calculate the timestamp for each hit, we’ll use visitStartTime and hits.time. The visitStartTime tell us the start time of each users session and hits.time will tell us the number of seconds after the visit start time when that hit occurs. Our formula will be: visitStartTime+hits.time/1000. This will convert our output to seconds which we will cast as an INT64 using SAFE_CAST, we’ll then convert that to TIMESTAMP_SECONDS and format it to minute using FORMAT_TIMESTAMP('%Y-%m-%dT%H:%M').

With this calculation done, we can then do a count distinct of the fullVisitorId, grouping by the minuteTimestamp. If you want to scan all of your partitioned tables in bigQuery, we can simply use a wildcard operator *.

For faster results you could also order by userCount DESC and limit the results to 10.

The full query is below, you’ll just need to change the xxx values for your own table.

  TIMESTAMP_SECONDS(SAFE_CAST(visitStartTime+hits.time/1000 AS INT64))) minuteTimestamp,
  COUNT(DISTINCT fullVisitorId) userCount
  UNNEST(hits) hits
  userCount DESC

If you want to take this further in R you could create a line chart of users by minute using tidyverse and lubridate to visualize your results.

How is this information useful? This information might be helpful to someone who is trying to figure out how many users your website could handle at any minute before it crashes from being overloaded.