Five Rules for High Impact Web Analytics Dashboards

beauty left smallWe live in a world that is overflowing with data, the fundamental pace of business is accelerating bit by bit each day, our competition is coming from new and different areas and there is desire to have more accountability from our executives and businesses to deliver results.

Yet studies indicate that more than 75% of Marketers are dissatisfied with their ability to measure performance and have a really hard time making data driven decisions. This is not a problem of not having enough data or the right kind of data is just a small part of the problem.

The core problem is the inability to identify what the critical most impactful metrics are and to communicate performance for those metrics in a way that drives action.

In such an environment dashboards empower a rapid understanding of business performance by tracking the critical business data in an easy to understand manner. Effective dashboards can be a very powerful communication medium and greatly accretive to driving actions.

Dashboards can vary by industries, by business functions, by altitude (organization or decision maker level) and by the sophistication of available skills and tools.  Regardless of those differences here are so “rules” which will enable you to create dashboards that are impactful and geared towards driving actionability. 

Summary:

    # 5 Benchmark & Segment

    # 4 Isolate Your Critical Few Metrics

    # 3 Don’t Stop at Metrics—Include Insights

    # 2 The Power of a Single Page

    # 1 Churn (and stay relevant)

Here is each rule with context and details……

# 5 Benchmark & Segment

    Never report a metric all by itself. Period.

    Rule number one of great dashboards is that there is no metric on a dashboard that exists without context, because it is the only way to ensure insights jump out rather than questions.

    There are many ways you can show context. You can use benchmarks (internal or external), goals, or even prior performance to give some kind of context. But without context, it is impossible for a metric to provide any value on the dashboard, even if it is the most important metric for your business.

    benchmark

    The goal in a dashboard is to communicate not just the performance of one metric but also to improve actionability. Segmentation is a key tactic that makes it easy to understand what might be causing a great performance or a bad one.

    It is easy for you to look at any one of the color bar over time and see how it is doing and how it might be contributing to the overall awesomeness or suckiness of the performance. If the overall performance was by itself this dashboard element would only raise questions, or worse hide key insights.

# 4 Isolate Your Critical Few Metrics

    Often dashboards are not one page affairs (more on that below) but rather 28 tab excel files or 34 slide PowerPoint decks. Each track too many metrics, rarely attempts to segment and highlight performance. The net result is that it is nearly impossible to distill a cogent understanding of what happened and what action should be taken now.

    isolateMy advise is to spend lots of time trying to understand exactly what critical few metrics drive the business. As someone inarticulately put it: “What do we care about if the crap hits the fan?”

    Do you know what your bottom-line business critical few metrics are? Your answer to that question will make or break your dashboards ability to empower decision making.

    As a general rule of thumb, your dashboard should contain fewer than 10 metrics. Remember that you will need a goal for each of these metrics and you are going to segment most, if not all, of them (and represent the goals and segments on your dashboard).

    If you have more than 10 metrics for your dashboard then you just might not have identified just the critical few. It might be worth revisiting all the metrics and stress testing their importance.

# 3 Don’t Stop at Metrics—Include Insights

    No dashboard should exist without including a cogent set of insights (in words) that summarize performance and recommend action.

    insightMost often dashboards are a collection of numbers and dials and graphs, but they leave it to the awareness and intelligence of the reader to infer what all that data might indicate. Perhaps more sadly, what such insight-free dashboards are missing is the benefit of all the analysis that went into creating them. Even if they are segmented and trended, you have only summary-level data for critical metrics in the dashboard.

    Having a section for insights allows the intelligence from the analyst to bubble up to the highest level.

    Include a section, way up on top, in the dashboard that shares your insights (what were some of the causes of the hits and misses, what were the underlying shifts in businesses, what were the root causes) and recommended actions (what should we do next, how do we reverse the decline, what’s the new opportunity on the horizon).

    This sounds a tad bit evil but you don’t want your senior executives to think too much about the numbers, you want to put the analysis and recommendations front and center so that they can think of business reality and make decisions. If you give them only numbers then they’ll think and….. : ) 

# 2 The Power of a Single Page

    It might not be the most obvious rule, but if your dashboard does not fit on one page, you have a report, not a dashboard.

    Additional layers of this rule are as follows:

      • Page Size = A4
      • Print margin = minimum of 0.75 inch (all sides)
      • Font size = minimum of 10 (for metrics), minimum of 12 (for goals/benchmarks)

    That should not leave a lot of room for doubt or argument. Single page.

    dashboard 2Done 20pageThis rule is important because it encourages rigorous thought to be applied in selecting the golden dashboard metric. It acts as a natural barrier to cramming in too much information, makes data presentation easier, makes the dashboard more understandable (hence more likely to promote action), and makes it portable (don’t underestimate the power of being able to carry a piece of paper around with 100 percent of your business performance on it).

    It might seem like an easy-enough rule to follow, but the fact that this is a task for a whole day should reflect how hard it is to pull this off. Pull out any dashboard that you have handy for your company and try to apply this rule. You’ll see instantly how hard this is. But it is also absolutely critical if you are to communicate effectively and drive action.

# 1 Churn (and stay relevant) 

    Contrary to popular belief, dashboards are not carved in stone and hence are not permanent affairs.

    Everything evolves. Businesses change, people come and go, high-level priorities evolve, we become smarter (or we become dumber but acquire people who are smarter than us!), our competitors think of new and clever things, and so forth. Why should our dashboards and metrics on dashboards stay the same over the span of a year?

    Dashboards, like humans, should constantly evolve. That is exactly what your mindset for your own dashboards should be. This can be incredibly hard to put into practice because organizations like stability, and senior management often likes predictability when it comes to measuring success.

    In reality if you map want your dashboard to keep pace with the real change in the business environment then you can keep a few (25 percent) of your metrics stable for a long period of time (say a year or more).

    RIPYou should plan on the dashboard having some level of churn all the time (metrics should be eliminated, almost deliberately, as soon as it is discovered that they are no longer relevant).

    If you have a dashboard that measures monthly performance, then over the course of a year you should have churned out at least 15 percent of the metrics because as the Web changes, at least a couple of your key metrics will change with it.

    Planning for the evolution and churn is mandatory. Ensuring that evolution is the only way to ensure that your dashboards don’t become stale and end up as pieces of paper that don’t add any value and consume way too much of your time.

Everyone wants a dashboard, they are usually willing to pay lots to get it, yet after a few months what were awesome dashboards are programmed by recipients to be on their email auto-delete function. If you follow some or all of the rules above I think your dashboard won’t meet that sad fate.

(Also see: Excellent Analytics Tip # 4: Make Your Analysis/Reports “Connectable”.)

What do you all think? Have you tried any of the rules above? Do they work? Do you have rules of your own when it comes to hi-impact dashboards? Please share your tips / feedback / critique via comments.

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Comments

  1. 2
    Ned Kumar says:

    Great tips on dashboard guidance. I agree with you that a "chunky" dashboard is not a dashboard. And if you have too many metrics, it is possible that you are trying to measure multiple goals in your dashboard. One of my dashboard 'objective' is always to have any dashboard "focused" on one thing — I believe that you can have multiple dashboards (focusing on different things), but you shouldn't have a dashboard trying to keep track of too many goals.
    — Ned

  2. 3
    norman zyland says:

    How about adding #6: sometimes your dashboard needs external data to measure the impact of your website. If products sales are happening at offline retail locations you might want to add a buyer tracking survey, e.g. 'When did you last visit xxx.com?'

  3. 4
    Jonghee Jo says:

    What a great post. It's a valuable insight for my day-to-day executive reporting job regarding Web Analytics. Thank you very much Avinash!

  4. 5
    Anil says:

    This is certainly a great post,certainly isolation of key metric is the key which basically is the crux of analytic reporting.

    thanks again

    Anil Umachigi

  5. 6

    Simplicity & presentation quality is important for dashboards.

    Moreover, the proposal of a long list of metrics out of context, would probably introduce high overhead and limit their ability to justify their purpose.

    Metrics need to be classified to a smaller set for the senior management level & a broader more detailed & segmented set for line management.

    Thought provoking as usual !

  6. 7

    Thanks for the tips.

    I am working on a SEO Dashboard at the moment and you article was help full.

  7. 8

    Good outline. I especially agree with the notion of context. You don't know what the numbers mean to your business without them.

    "Sales today were $4 million," the report says. Is that good or bad? Depends on what sales were yesterday and what the boss expected them to be today.

    Revising your dashboard over time is also key. Your goals will change as will the drivers of your business.

  8. 9

    I think it’s excellent advise Avinash. Trying to get executives or those in charge interested in web analytics beyond the initial "new" factor is quite challenging. Thank you for your insights.

  9. 10
    Sivanesan says:

    Great tips, Avinash. Here is my suggestion/ addition to the tips.

    Dashboard should be Dynamic and flexible

    While I agree with the importance of the dashboard to be simple and presented neatly in a single page. But often there are different information needed by different actors/ stakeholders in the organization. Hence, it is vital for any web analytical tool/ Dashboard to be dynamic and flexible. What I mean by dynamic and flexible is providing option for the user to take complete control of the dashbaord without moving to different places/reports/pages for information.

    For example website owner should look at Page views, Visits and Visitors for the website as a whole, whereas the Business owner should be able to see the same metrics relevant to his business section/content group and an acquisition manager to see metrics like cost of campaign, leads/sale, cost per lead/sale. How about the same interface provide an option for the acquisiion manager to select all campaigns or specific campaigns?

    The power of flexibility to change options and dynamism to show relevant metric/data is very important for a dashboard. I personally like Dashboards created using Spreadsheet Pivot Tables or viewing it in a web interface than as multiple printouts.

  10. 11
    Tim Leighton-Boyce says:

    This post has prompted me to embark on a long-overdue project to simplify my current dashboard. At the moment it's all based around Eric Peterson's "Big Book of KPIs" spreadsheet. But it's grown and grown, when, in fact it clearly needs to be cut and cut.

    Are there any useful resources (the equivalent of Eric's books for example) on dashboards, I wonder?

    Although I suspect many of them would lead in the opposite direction from this post, by showing ways of cramming more in, I think it would be useful to mention any stand-out examples here.

    And if they do compress the maximum of 10 metrics then that will leave even more space for the vital insights section!

  11. 12

    Tim: A quote from one of my favorite radio personalities:

        "Not enough gets said about the importance of abandoning crap."
            — Ira Glass

    (Source: Presentation Zen.)

    This is not directly related to Web Analytics but I recommend this short video of Ira expressing his wonderful perspective on "telling great stories" – which to me is very much what a dashboard should do. YouTube Video – Ira Glass. I find a lot of inspiration in that video for work that I do.

    In terms of specific examples of great dashboards (and crappy ones) I like this:

    http://dashboardspy.wordpress.com/

    Hope this helps.

    -Avinash.

  12. 13
    Lloyd says:

    What a fantastic article Avinash. Thank you for your insight!

  13. 14
    sam says:

    Can you give an example or case study?

  14. 15
    sam says:

    Good post but i disagree with the inisght section. I believe a dashboard should be fully automated and therefore a section which needs to be writen in to add insight works against this. The data in a dashboard will be correct actual data, insight can be very subjective and sometimes wrong, i think a dashboard should contain only correct objective data with no spin. Also the audience should be aware of what to look for and understand the context of the data, if you need to spoon feed insight to senior executives then something is wrong.

  15. 16
    Chris says:

    I'm baffled by the idea of any "insights" coming out of a one-page report that has ten metrics. Maybe I have the wrong idea about what an insight is. "Overall traffic went down mostly because we lowered our PPC spending" – is that an insight? Seems like that's about all you can get out of a ten-metric sheet.

  16. 17
    Chris says:

    Having jumped over to your posting from a year later (on "Action Dashboards") I feel a lot more comfortable. What you describe in the Action Dashboards post is a far cry from the dashboard you show in this item. And a LOT more work.

  17. 18
    Norbert says:

    I just came across this article. Still very helpful. Thanks.

  18. 19

    I think this is a great advice for someone trying to build out dashboards.

    My dilema is that I don't see any solution out there that can automate the dashboard creation. The solution I am after is. Bring in the critical few with good segmentation and trend it over a period of time. The challenge is that site analytics tools provide the data but doesn't help with the dashboard creation where you really need to trend the data across multiple reports and profiles.

  19. 20
    Alex says:

    Thank you for great tips!

    Bye,

    Alex

  20. 21

    What a great article Avinash.

    Thank you for your thoughts and insights on this! I plan to implement these tracking techniques asap.

Trackbacks

  1. Five Rules for High Impact Web Analytics Dashboards says:

    [...]

    Businesses change, people come and go, high-level priorities evolve, we become smarter (or we become dumber but acquire people who are smarter than us!), our competitors think of new and clever things, and so forth. …

    Original post by Avinash Kaushik

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  5. [...] As inspiration, I’m digging through the archives and I’m sourcing a blog post from my favorite blog author, Avinash Kaushik, titled: “Five Rules for High Impact Web Analytics Dashboards“. (Note: he wrote this blog post 2 months before the current version of Google Analytics was released with its customizable dashboard and fancy AJAX-based functionality). [...]

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    Today is Labour Day in Australia, so it’s a public holiday. I don’t want to work on a public holiday, so today I’ll just point you to one of my favourite bloggers – Avinash Kaushik.

    Avinash is Google’s Analytics guy, a previous director of the Web Analytics Association, and writes some of the best and most relevant work in the industry.

    He speaks and writes clearly and intelligently, I recommend it for anyone who has a slight interest (or more) in web analytics, which we’re all interested in.

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    http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/2007/03/five-rules-for-high-impact-web-analytics-dashboards.html
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  10. [...]
    If you are in hurry, you can find some more tips on Panorama’s blog here. But if you are someone who does dashboard/reports/data visualization for living, I highly recommend that that you read works of the two prominent experts in the field.

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