Experienced marketers will agree that crafting an engaging analytics dashboard with compelling data visualizations is just as much an art as it is a science. After all, analytics dashboarding is indeed data storytelling when done right.
Mastering the craft of analytics dashboard design and creating interesting data visualizations that resonate with stakeholders is easier said than done. But with some guidance from seasoned professionals, you can elevate basic data dashboards and reports into something your audience will look forward to.
This post distills some of our most fundamental analytics dashboarding tips, best practices, and data visualization examples to help tell your story.
Depending on whether you’re using Looker Studio or other reporting and dashboarding solutions, there’s a lot you can do to ensure your story gets across to your audience. Here are a few key tips and best practices to keep in mind.
One of the biggest mistakes we see with SEO performance dashboards and reporting is that many of the KPIs we're tracking are only shown as snapshots or single moments in time.
But where the real storytelling comes into play is looking at metrics as part of a trend or how rankings have changed over time. Additionally, we can better understand what activities can be linked to these changes and make better strategic decisions moving forward.
A common example of this mistake is reporting metrics like new versus returning users. Time and time again, we see this data demonstrated as a pie chart, so all we're seeing is one single snapshot in time of the share of new versus returning users. And that, ultimately, doesn't really tell any kind of story, like:
Those questions cannot be answered with generalized snapshots like pie charts or value pairs.
Rather, it's more about showing what's trending and articulating how we got there. So, instead of pie charts and basic data snapshots, further below we share some of our favorite visualizations that help tell a more meaningful story.
Include commentary on the report itself, such as what questions this type of data or content is answering. This commentary can help supplement the report with a narrative that might not otherwise be evident in the dashboard or report itself.
As an example, we may have a chart showing top landing pages, and from there, we can add commentary that speaks more specifically:
Adding commentary, especially when we're creating dashboards for executive teams, helps minimize the amount of hand-holding needed. For instance, if we're building a report that's likely to get passed off to other people or teams (and we aren't able to share a presentation or meet with a client and talk about it), will they still grasp the points that you want them to pick up on? Commentary can help bridge that gap.
Because SEO is a long game, we'll often want to see performance over the past year (and more), such as the month prior. As a general benchmark, we often recommend 14 months for a given report’s timeframe so we can see how the full trend has transpired.
For instance, if you just did August reporting, you'll want to see year-over-year metrics for August of last year, plus the month of July prior and the 12 months in between. Knowing how July moved into August of last year (and the rate of increase or decrease) can tell you a lot about whether an increase or decrease this year (at the same time) is due to seasonality versus good progress or issues afoot. With this long-term timeframe, we can truly start to see the trends and how data compares over time.
Color is a major component in making reporting charts and data visualizations more readable, engaging, and branded. For some of the more left-brain professionals who aren't design-savvy, don't be afraid to go to your design team or branding team and ask them for specific colors.
Aside from visually-appealing dashboard color schemes, using color in your KPIs and metrics is an easy way to indicate growth or loss. In the conventional sense, it's common to see dashboards designed using green for good (up) and red for bad (down) or for inverse metrics like bounce rate when more is bad.
Despite conventional dashboard design norms, we recommend refraining from using red for bad. Not only does it often draw all the attention (and thus obscures the story in the data), but red text is an accessibility challenge. Even people with good visions can have a hard time seeing red text as it often is blurry on a screen, so we use an alternative color to indicate declines and the like — such as orange, or mustard yellow.
Another common mistake we see is having one single analytics dashboard to contain all of the reporting data for everyone in the organization. Especially for larger organizations with multiple stakeholders involved, it's easy for information to get lost in a one-size-fits-all dashboard.
With platforms like Looker Studio, the great thing to keep in mind is that there's no limit to the number of dashboards you can create. Don't feel limited to having just one grand dashboard (that probably takes eons to load), consider creating more precise, segmented dashboard views allocated by stage, audience, and/or stakeholder group, even if there's some overlap.
If you're not solely relying on Looker Studio for your reporting and dashboarding needs, here are a couple of great tools that we recommend using:
Creating engaging and easy-to-read visualizations to articulate your data is a powerful asset in your reporting arsenal. Here are a few examples to help articulate your data and tell the story more clearly.
There are a few variations of stacked area charts, but one way you can go about it is 100% stacking as the Y-axis (like the figure below) and time as the X-axis. This format shows a visualization of how metrics have changed over the given time period.
When there are multiple variables involved, such as channels, segments, or pages, stacked area bar charts can be particularly useful and easy to read.
Similarly, using the stacked area line chart can help shape the overall trends behind the data and story you’re trying to tell. Like the example above, this variation is a compelling way to show the volume and impact of certain elements and data points but in a fashion that’s a bit chronologically easier to interpret.
Often hit or miss depending on the data, tree charts can either be very powerful and engaging or cumbersome and difficult to interpret. A good example of when a tree chart can be impactful is when we're talking about which channels or pages generated what percentage of conversions. The sizing of each element gives visual context to its conversion value, providing a simple view of each channel’s or page’s impact.
A creative way to demonstrate trends in data over a period of time is using a bump chart. This visualization can be effective when there are several data points that need to be conveyed across multiple points in time—like over the course of 13 months or other time spans with multiple intervals.
Here is a fun example looking at the color popularity of new cars in North America across a fifteen-year time period. The lines connecting the dots help us see how color popularity has shifted over time (clearly peach and green are just not as cool as they used to be).
These data visualization examples and dashboarding tips are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many ways to infuse greater creativity into your analytics dashboards and make them more engaging and compelling for your audience.