For most publishers and businesses operating online, analytics has become an indispensible tool for understanding the audiences that keep the bills paid.

But in some instances, analytics is limited in that it generally provides a better view of the audience as it existed in the past (yesterday, a week ago, a month ago, etc.). For Google Analytics users, however, that is changing.

Yesterday, noting that “the web is getting faster” and “we need to be constantly on the lookout for problems and opportunities“, Google announced Google Analytics Real-Time, “a set of new reports that show what’s happening on your site as it happens.

The data Real-Time provides includes top active referrals, top active pages, and the percentage of currently active users who are new to your site and who are returning after a previous visit. Real-Time also breaks down where those users are located geographically.

There are obviously a number of use cases for Real-Time. Google highlights two:

  • The tracking of social media campaigns. If you’re tweeting a big announcement, for example, Real-Time could provide a valuable perspective as the tweet spreads through the interwebs.
  • The testing of campaign tracking. Before launching an important campaign, Real-Time makes it easy to test whether or not the tracking data you are expecting to be in Google Analytics is being collected correctly.

Of course, analytics junkies will probably also find Real-Time to be an entertaining and potentially useful distraction. After all, sampling the activity that’s taking place on your site at any given moment can be both intriguing and insightful.

Currently, Real-Time is being rolled out to Analytics users in a controlled fashion, and everyone should have access to it through the Analytics Dashboards tab in the next several weeks.

For those who want Real-Time right now, Google also has a sign-up form through which earlier access can be requested.