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6 Tips For Giving Your Reporting Dashboards A Makeover

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6 Tips For Giving Your Reporting Dashboards A Makeover


In their new book ‘Making Numbers Count,’ co-authors Chip Heath and Karla Starr explain that our brains have not evolved to easily understand large numbers.

We really only have an instinct for small quantities – as in, five and fewer.

Beyond that, it’s just some vague notion of “lots.”

But with 2.5 quintillion bytes of data being created every day, dealing only with the numbers 0 to 5 in our reporting is a luxury we don’t have.

Data visualizations serve to transform and compare large amounts of data, but most reporting dashboards today are still like 1990s websites.

We put up with them, but they’re ugly and awful, and we wouldn’t trust them with our credit cards.

Non-strategic reports – dashboards that are too cluttered or too sparse to comprehend – make it harder for your clients and stakeholders to understand the data and take smart action.

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Here’s how to turn those clunky dashboards into useful analysis.

1. Get Rid Of Charts That Have No Purpose

Not every chart in your dashboard deserves to be there.

Image created by author, January 2022

Unnecessary charts distract and compete for attention with graphs that do matter.

They can also derail meetings, encouraging your client to focus on minutia and natural variance rather than the essential.

Not all data breakouts are useful. Some are just useless, and some are anti-useful.

Make each chart earn its place in the dashboard by removing everything that doesn’t:

  • Tie back to objectives.
  • Provide context.
  • Aid comprehension.

2. Get Rid Of “Unnecessary Ink”

Statistician and dataviz pioneer Edward Tufte explains,

“…clutter and confusion are failures of design, not attributes of information.”

Tufte introduced the “data-ink ratio,” which tells us to strip all decorative or extra “ink” from charts until we’re left with only the essential.

a side-by-side comparison of a chart with decorative background colors, and one with only the barsImage created by author, January 2022

Improve your data-ink ratio by minimizing or removing:

  • Any bevel or 3D effects.
  • Gridlines.
  • Redundant chart legends.
  • Chart borders and shadows.
  • Background color fills.

Tables are inherently busy, showing a lot of data all at once.

To make your tables easier to read:

  • Remove pagination and row numbers.
  • Use compacted numbers (12M instead of 12,000,000).
  • Remove truncation (“…”) by expanding the column width or wrapping text.
  • Remove decimals (when numbers are >1).
    Low data ink vs. high data inkImage created by author, January 2022

When you introduce white space and eliminate chartjunk, your reports tell a clearer story.

3. Fix Misleading Axes

Sometimes charts are so intentionally misleading that they end up making headlines.

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job charts sorted by various criteriaImage created by author, January 2022

More often, though, charts that mislead do so unintentionally.

Here’s how to find and fix common data visualization mistakes.

One common mistake is using a “truncated graph,” where the y-axis doesn’t start at 0.

Truncated graphs are so common that Google Data Studio uses them by default in some of its chart options.

The fix for this is easy.

Just set any “axis minimums” from auto to zero.

a chart with a non-0 y-axis corrected to 0Image created by author, January 2022 

While less common, charts can sometimes have an inappropriate maximum.

This can happen when you’ve hardcoded the max axis based on a previous data set, and you forget to update it when it’s using a different data range.

Also a very easy fix.

Another issue is using a “logarithmic scale” for your charts.

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When you’ve tried to get a chart to look a certain way and nothing else worked, you may have switched over to log scale for better visualization.

Unless you’re truly working with logarithmic data though, that’s not okay.

Change it back to linear.

4. Fix Poor Chart Selection

Chart selection is not as easy as just changing an axis. But it’s arguably more important, and easier to get wrong.

Campaign conversion ratesImage created by author, January 2022

Have you ever tried to use a chart selection guide, only to be asked whether your data is nominal or categorical?

If you’re not fluent in data visualization, then it can feel easier to just stick with trial and error until you land on something that looks okay.

Marketer’s Crash Course In Chart Selection

This is not a complete guide, but it covers a lot of dashboard mistakes:

  • Use scorecards for your big KPIs, even if the same data is in tables and other graphs in the report. It emphasizes what’s most important.
  • Use line charts to show trends over time. If your x-axis is anything other than a time series (continuous data), don’t use a line chart.
  • Only use pie/donut charts to show the composition of a whole, ideally with five or fewer categories. Need to compare pie charts to each other to show a change in composition? You probably need a different chart type. A stacked bar chart could be a good choice.
  • Map charts are a good way to visualize data across regions, and clients seem to like them. Be sure that you’re not just mapping population data though, which is generally not helpful in making business decisions.
  • Bar charts work well to compare category performance for a single metric. Think sales driven by (campaign, landing page, etc).
various chart stylesImage created by author, January 2022

5. Add Contrast

Removing “unnecessary ink” from your charts puts you on the right track.

This next step is to layer on “necessary ink” that focuses your reader’s attention and makes your chart even easier to interpret.

These three charts all use an identical data set:

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3 charts of identical data, with different lines weighted for emphasisImage created by author, January 2022

Chart A has no focus and feels “noisy.”

Charts B and C vary line thickness and color to draw your attention to a single line.

Even though you don’t know the actual metrics or dimensions in Charts B and C, you immediately know where to focus.

This is an example of using “pre-attentive attributes,” which our brains process instantly on a subconscious level.

When you want to emphasize a key point, you can increase contrast with preattentive attributes like:

Less content vs. more content chartImage created by author, January 2022

Don’t leave your audience asking “what am I looking at?”

Help them out with contrast and preattentive attributes.

6. Add Context

Context is another type of “necessary ink” that clarifies the meaning of your visualizations.

As a marketer and subject matter expert, you know what your charts are about.

You can survey all your dashboards and quickly identify trends and outliers.

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For your clients and stakeholders, that’s probably not the case.

The people on the receiving end of your reports are likely not intimately familiar with the acronyms and shorthand that’s obvious to you.

They need more context in the form of:

  • Chart titles and descriptions.
  • Acronyms that are spelled out and defined.
  • Annotations and microcopy.

Your audience also needs a better understanding of the factors driving the trends and data changes in the report.

The metric is the “effect,” but what is the “cause”?

Covid-19 impact on paid search chartImage created by author, January 2022

Look beyond the metrics themselves to find the narrative.

  • What are the internal and external forces that contribute to performance?
  • What backstory might they be missing (historical, seasonality, competition, buyer preference)?
  • Given current and projected trends, what needs to happen next?

Finally, don’t assume that your audience knows the targets, even if they were the ones who set them.

Help them out by comparing performance to goals and not just previous time periods.

Conclusion

‘Presentation Zen’ author Garr Reynolds said,

“…you can achieve simplicity in the design of effective charts, graphs and tables by remembering three fundamental principles: restrain, reduce, emphasize.”

Remove what is unnecessary, fix remaining problems, and add context and meaning to make your charts and dashboards as powerful as possible.

More resources:

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Featured Image: Saklakova/Shutterstock





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SEO

How Data Is Reshaping The SEO & Digital Marketer’s Landscape

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How Data Is Reshaping The SEO & Digital Marketer's Landscape

There is a new data revolution happening, and it’s sweeping across the industry so quickly that many SEO and digital marketers are struggling to make sense of the insights and intelligence at their disposal.

To utilize this opportunity, marketers need to evolve their mindsets and use technology to analyze multiple data formats and understand the new opportunities it can bring.

SEO marketers of today and digital marketers of tomorrow will need to extract, structure quickly, and manipulate data to drive the most critical business outcomes.

Data has always been mission-critical to digital decision-making.

The Economist, back in 2017, declared it the world’s most valuable resource.

Fast forward to today and the future, and we can see that the exponential growth of data fuelling this revolution is staggering.

According to the IDC, the amount of digital data created over the next five years will be greater than twice the amount of data made since the advent of digital storage.

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Think about that for a second!

Flash drives, for example, were introduced in 2000.

This means that in the next five years, marketers will have to analyze and make sense of 2x the data created in the last 22 years!

The Data Revolution Means More Sources & Complexity For SEO

The data revolution has gone on for some time now, and it’s changed our concept of what counts as “data,” rightfully so.

In the past, we thought only numbers mattered.

But, in this new digital world where everything is converted into ones and zeros, data is broader and contains text, audio, and visual information – all bits waiting to be processed!

  • Machine-based and human-generated data are growing at a rate of 10x faster than conventional business data.
  • Machine-created data is increasing exponentially at a 50x the growth rate. This data revolution is primarily marketing-driven and consumer-oriented who are “always on.”
  • In just the last 18 months, the volume of site processing data we have been generating at BrightEdge has increased by 11x!
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As a result of these increasingly demanding trends, SEO and digital marketers need to adapt and become more like data analysts and scientists in approaching the extraction of structured data insights and business intelligence – without adding more manual work.

Fortunately, SEO is well-positioned to take advantage of this new data revolution.

  • Increasing your keyword universe – More keywords mean more data points to look at with reporting and fuelling insights. While focusing on conversion rate metrics is very important, it wouldn’t be possible without opening the scope of your audience and getting more people in the door. SEO has drifted away from writing for a primary dedicated keyword and is now way more advanced with advancements in search engines like Google’s understanding of intent of searches through RankBrain and BERT.
  • Increasing your search footprint – will also help you discover unexplored of informing your future content strategy or ideate new keyword ideas. However, sometimes you might miss the boat, like the transition of Content Management Systems slowly turning into “Experience Platforms” as they offer more functionality to meet the needs of today’s webmaster or marketer.

Read More On SEJ

Data Is The Currency Of An Accelerated SEO & Digital Age

By 2025, Worldwide data will reach 175 zettabytes.

But unfortunately, the human brain can’t process, structure, and analyze all that data.

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So technology engines have to help, and digital marketers should be the driver.

There is a massive opportunity for companies that can utilize data to create more engaging experiences.

A recent study showed that 95% of business leaders recognize this as their biggest growth lever over the next three years, which means there’s plenty at stake here!

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Robust data analysis ensures decisions are evidence-based and have more accountability.

Drawing on existing and new data sources to fully integrate business acumen and analytical skills into decision making, sourcing, managing, and analyzing large amounts of unstructured data will ensure continued use and success.

SEO began with data and has evolved.

From the introduction of real-time SEO in 2019 and Page Experience Updates in 2021, SEO’s future lies again with data and the creation of intelligent systems. Here marketers can leverage combined data sources that structures data for them.

As a result, they can achieve business objectives and stay ahead during all data and digital transformation stages.

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Technology & AI Are Helping SEO Evolve

Advancements in technology and, in particular, AI and Natural Language Processing has meant that SEO and digital marketers can become data analysts without having to become an actual data scientist.

This is key to unlocking structured insights from your company’s big data to make more precise predictions about what is coming next based on existing information.

Digital marketers can evolve, understand key trends, and learn in new areas such as:

  • Predictive modeling of future trends and forecasting based on multiple types of data.
  • Real-time identification of opportunities and intelligence.
  • Digital research at scale with both historical and real-time data.
  • Leveraging automated visualizations for various stakeholders.
  • Improved data security and compliance.
  • Market and business intelligence at a macro level.
  • Consumer behavior at the most granular level.

SEO and digital marketers can learn critical skills such as statistics, data analysis, data visualization, and strategy.

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AI, NLP, and machine learning are helping them do this without needing expertise in computer programming and software applications.

What digital marketers must do is combine their communication skills and analytics skills with stakeholders who cannot think outside of the advertising box.

Read More On SEJ

Data Analysis & Intelligence As Competitive Advantage

The application of technology will be the driving force behind the next generation of data analysis technology.

Therefore, SEO and digital marketers of today should learn how to better utilize insights from data analysis.

It’s becoming more apparent that the marketing platforms of tomorrow will require the capabilities of data analysis and science infrastructure at their core.

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The future of marketing will blend technological know-how, business sense, and an understanding of data analysis.

The next generation of SEO will touch all components of marketing, from video, email, and voice, to digital performance of content.

SEO and data science will converge into one evolved discipline that drives omnichannel acquisition and democratizes data.

Marketers who embrace this new era of SEO will be well-positioned to succeed in the years to come.

Data is reconfirming its role as the new competitive advantage, and as SEO and digital marketers, you must evolve if you want to be part of the future.

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Featured Image: ra2 studio/Shutterstock

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