How to Make Google Analytics Dashboards More Actionable with @AnnieCushing #vcbuzz

How to Make Google Analytics Dashboards More Actionable with @AnnieCushing #vcbuzzMarketing is multifaceted: You need to be all over the place, catering to various channels, creating custom conversion funnels for each of them.

However if you don’t measure it, how will you know what you did right, what you could have done better, and what each of your audience segments wants more of?

Smart digital marketing analytics helps a business understand what works and what needs to be improved. It keeps teams motivated by beautifying the data and making ROI easier to understand.

But how to go from data to actions? Let’s discuss!

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About @AnnieCushing

@AnnieCushing “makes data sexy” also teaching marketers how to do the same through a variety of training resources. Annie’s specialties include web analytics, SEO, PPC, social media, and competitive analysis.

Follow her blog at and connect to Annie on Linkedin

Questions we discussed

Q1 How did you become a digital marketer? Please share your career story!

I was working as an editor for a publishing company and had two companion sites I was managing. One of our articles went viral before that was a thing.

An illustrator who worked on “A Scanner Darkly” did a tutorial for us that demonstrated how to replicate the Scanner Darkly effect in Illustrator, and it blew UP. Within a week traffic to it eclipsed traffic to our homepage. I knew very little about Google Analytics, but I started digging to learn more.

went above and beyond the call of duty to answer my questions about . I credit him primarily for making me Annielytics.

Once I had that foundation, I felt much more comfortable testing and exploring on my own. And then I started blogging but with the intention of making complicated concepts as practical and actionable as possible, in plain English.

Q2 How to set up a Google Analytics Dashboard?

First, let me say that I’m not super impressed with Google Analytics dashboards. They are way behind the curve in terms of flexibility and sex appeal.

But there are things you can do to make them MUCH better than most GA dashboards I see out in the wild.

A few tips:

1) Use the single-metric scorecards. Upper management especially love to see that hundred-foot view.

2) Don’t default to tables. They’re the hardest to interpret and glean insights from because viewers’ eyes don’t know where to rest. And they’re ugly, especially in GA.

You actually have 12 chart types to choose from: column charts, stacked column charts, clustered column charts, bar charts, stacked bar charts, clustered bar charts, maps, heatmaps, line charts, pie charts, donut charts, and microcharts (e.g., sparklines). USE THEM.

Most people have no idea that there are so many chart types at your disposal in Google Analytics. I’ll share a resource that will help. Because Annielytics.

3) Get more insight by adding a pivot. For a bar chart, this is just going to break your bars into chunks.

For example, you can have a bar for each channel (organic, paid search, etc), then break those up by device (desktop, mobile, tablet).

4) If you have longer labels, use a [horizontal] bar chart over a [vertical] column chart. There’s more room for the label.

5) Remember to link to the report your widget references, but try to avoid using a hard link. Linking to the relative link isn’t that intuitive. You have to know the structure of where to find the report.

I wrote a post on how to get the most of GA dashboards. There are tips and tricks in that post that most people don’t seem to know, judging by the ugly dashboards I see floating around.

So I hit you with a lot (it’s what I do), but hopefully that post will help you up your GA dashboard game.

Ha! It’s so much easier to pivot in GA than Excel. People have pivot PTSD. I show how in the post I just shared.

Q3 Please list a few examples of useful and actionable Google Analytics Dashboards: When can they be used and how can they help a marketer?

This question will go faster because there are so few examples of good GA dashboards out there.

These dashboards aren’t sexy, but there are some useful ones. However, you can take them and sexy them up for your use (e.g., convert tables to charts).

There are also some decent examples in this post.

One last point about seeing more dashboards: Choose the Import from Gallery option when you create a new dashboard.

Q4 How to use Google Analytics to move from analysis to action? How to actually apply data to action?

This is the money question. The first step is to do adequate requirements gathering.

Unless you’re just pulling together a dashboard for yourself, you need to know what the users of your dashboard care about.

Next, you need to understand the scope of the dimensions and metrics you’re working with.

For example, if you need to connect content with results (goals, revenue, etc), you can’t use the Page dimension; you need to use the Landing Page dimension.

Google won’t always disallow you to stitch together dimensions and metrics that are scoped differently.

But landing page, for example, can be associated with conversions because it’s a characteristic of the overall session, just like the source, browser, country, device, etc. So you can link it to results.

A page might be one of 2 pages viewed in a session. Or 5. Or 12. So one page hit does not a conversion make.

The closest metric we have to tie conversions to a singe page hit is the Page Value metric, but that’s only applicable if you’re tracking revenue.

Aside: Don’t assign conversion values to goals if you’re an ecommerce site (ever, ever). It will make the Page Value metric unusable because GA combines rev from both, and you can’t separate them.

I actually rarely see a good use case for assigning a value to goal conversions. It’s usually the greasiest of math that’s applied. But especially not if you’re ecomm.

Also, you need to know how to tell the difference between fluctuations that are seasonal and those that caused by some action you’ve taken (or failed to take). If you tell your boss that month-over-month revenue is down for November and you sell costumes, you’re going to lose credibility.

Now if it’s down YoY, that could be noteworthy and begs more investigation. You might get a raise out of that kind of analysis!  Finally, be specific in suggestions. Employers hate bad news. (Correction: We ALL hate bad news, Eeyore excepted.)  If you come in with helpful and specific recommendations, it takes some of the sting out! And, again, makes you infinitely more valuable.

Q5 What are your favorite web analytics tools?

@Supermetrics is really fantastic for pulling data from all different sources into a single Google Sheet. And it has tons of great options for filtering, automatic data gathering, etc.

But, ironically, my fave [free] analytics tool is Google’s Data Studio. I wasn’t in love with it when it first came out. And I still wish it had more native integrations, like . But Google has really upped its game.

I was always more of a Tableau analyst. But the addition of data blending pushed me squarely into the Data Studio camp. Tableau sucks at scorecards and is unnecessarily complicated. The learning curve is very high.

Google came in and made it possible for non-analysts to build sexy dashboards in an impressively intuitive workflow.

The only reason I can’t promote them stronger is they don’t include filters in GA, only segments. It really limits advanced analysis. But no dashboard tool comes close to its simplicity.

Larger organizations typically can’t use community connectors for their data. I’ve run that issue with Tableau clients.

For more advanced users, Google’s Tag Assistant Chrome extension is also great.

Our previous web analytics chats:


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