Analytics dashboards seem to be one of those things that everyone thinks is great in theory.
Theoretically, an analytics dashboard should remove the requirement for answering 1,000 questions a month from clients. They should reduce reporting needs and help us make informed decisions at every step.
In reality, you probably have one lonely unused dashboard that you tried to get a client or senior exec to use many moons ago, but the effort of telling them to log in every time they wanted information was actually greater than just finding the information yourself.
Most dashboards aren't really designed with the end user in mind. The information isn't always there or complete, or there's too much information for non-analytics users to really understand what's going on.
Here's one process to design a great analytics dashboard that clients will actually look at.
Step 1: Create a New Dashboard
When you look at the standard Google Analytics dashboard, it's like an information hoarder has been living there for a year collecting as much useless information as they can and stacking it up against the walls.
Start by creating a new blank dashboard. To do this, make sure you're under the page labeled "Home" from the top, orange navigation. Then, on the left-side under Dashboards, click the last link labelled + New Dashboard.
Name it after the person whose dashboard this will be. There, doesn't that look nice?
Step 2: Decide Which Reports to Add to the Dashboard
Now it's time to go through my emails from Bob where we have talked about analytics data, and figure out which three things Bob is most interested in. You will find that every time you do this that there is something a client or exec wants to know about more than anything else, so that's where we're going to start catering the dashboard.
Sometimes you'll get a client who goes through fads. This month all they think about is social, next month it will be paid, and after that they might want to know how many referrals they had from their wife's cat. For these people, you may need to create multiple dashboards on their areas of interest, but start with whatever is floating their boat right now.
Our theoretical Client Bob is particularly interested in PPC and referral keywords. He also wants to know how we're doing compared to his last agency as he has only been with us three months. So we add monthly visitors, visitors and goal by keyword, and new visits by referer type.
To do this, navigate to the report you want to see in the dashboard. Go to Standard Reporting or Custom Reporting from the top, orange navigation and find the report you want. Once you find the report, click the Add to Dashboard button. Google Analytics will pop up a box asking which dashboard you'd like to add the report to. Choose a dashboard from the drop-down list.
Next, you need to check which piece of the report page you want to add to the dashboard. This could include the timeline graph, if the report you are viewing has one at the top of the page. Or it could be one of the detailed charts. Whichever reports you want, click the check boxes, then click Add to Dashboard and the reports will show up in the dashboard you selected.
Step 3: Keep it Simple & Refine as Necessary
With just those three items on the board, we can be sure that every time we direct Bob to look at the dashboard he will be able to see the information he wants. There is little there that could confuse him or make him decide that he just wants you to look at it for him.
For some, keeping it this simple can even cause them to stop asking questions. It gives them a feeling of control.
Where possible, I like to continue to grow the dashboard with the client, based on the questions they ask. One way to do this is to get them to log into Google with you when there is a question that needs answering. Once you refine the data to something that they find useful, add it to the dashboard from the report you have run.
Another method is to respond to new questions they ask by saying, "I've added that information to your dashboard."
Step 4: Set up Automated Emails
There is little more satisfying than creating a wonderful dashboard that simplifies all of your client reporting needs, and having it emailed to them automatically according to whatever frequency you choose.
To do this, simply click the Email button at the top of the dashboard. Another pop-up will appear prompting you to enter an email address. This is where you enter your client's (Bob's) email address. The dashboard will be attached as a PDF file attachment.
This pop-up screen also prompts you to select how frequently and on what day you want the dashboard emailed. You can choose daily, weekly on a particular day of the week, monthly on a particular date or quarterly. You can even choose the email to be a one-time message.
When you've made all your selections, click the send button and your dashboard will be sent per the frequency you selected.
Thom Craver contributed to this post.