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How to use PageRank for ecommerce websites

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How to use PageRank for ecommerce websites


30-second summary:

  • The PageRank still exists and here’s a deeper look at how Google’s Reasonable Surfer Model plays a key role
  • A well thought linking strategy both internally and externally for your ecommerce site can amplify search visibility
  • Google expert, Susan Dolan and NOVOS’, Head of SEO, Daniel Cartland guide you ahead of the holiday season

PageRank is a patent Google introduced, which used links to help determine websites rankings in the SERPs. The algorithm was named after Google founder Larry Page.

The original patent has not been renewed and has since been updated by other algorithms, which work to achieve the same goal. However, by understanding the fundamental principles, we can better understand how to position our ecommerce sites to drive traffic and revenue.

PageRank key concepts

PageRank is passed between websites through links and can be distributed through a single website with internal links.

Some pages have a higher PageRank than others and thus can pass on more PageRank to pages they link to. When a page links to another, a dampening factor is applied. The original patent set this as 0.85 – so a page with a PageRank of one, linking to another page would pass 0.85 PageRank.

Key update: the Reasonable Surfer Model

Google’s Reasonable Surfer Model indicates that a link that is more likely to be clicked on will pass more PageRank than a link that is less likely to be clicked on. This is determined by a whole host of factors, including font size, color, and anchor text. However, the position of a link on a page is also something that we often have control over as SEOs and that we can, therefore, leverage.

Here is a simple, rather crude representation of how certain links will pass more/less PageRank based on the prominence of a link and how likely it is to be clicked on.

Build external links through to key pages

As linking pages pass PageRank, it stands to reason that we want to generate backlinks to key pages that we want to rank. For most ecommerce sites, the pages that rank for the highest volume and most revenue-driving keywords are category pages.

Wherever possible, we should therefore look to use tactics that support link building through to the pages that drive revenue, which for most sites looks something like:

  • Category pages
  • Product pages
  • Homepage
  • Blog posts

This is obviously easier said than done. Practicing these tactics with an overall aim to drive PageRank to your key pages. This reduces the dampening factors at play.

How to get past this

One common way to bypass this difficulty in building links to category pages is internally linking to key category pages we want to push from blog posts/Digital PR pieces that then get links themselves.

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Although the PageRank passed to the page we ideally want to rank will undergo a dampening factor, this can still be more beneficial than failing to get any links at all to your target page.

It is worth considering how relevant the category page is to the blog/PR piece it is being included on, as well as where the links are placed on the page, being mindful of the impact the Reasonable Surfer dampening effect can have.

1. Build links from pages with high PageRank

As any Digital PR will know, high authority pages or pages that have lots of PageRank to pass onto your own site are some of the most sought-after links to attain.

Most of the time, this is actually viewed at a domain level, however as is demonstrated in this great review of how PageRank works by Majestic, a domain that should theoretically have a high PageRank can actually be significantly decreased at a page level by its own internal linking.

One caveat for Digital PR teams in this regard is not being too reliant on domain-level metrics as a proxy for links that pass a lot of PageRank and are thus good for ranking. Exactly which pages have high PageRank is nigh-on impossible to know, and although an over-reliance on third-party tools is never optimal, they may be the closest we can get to figuring out PageRank passed by a specific page, rather than a domain.

2. Build links from relevant sites

As part of the Reasonable Surfer Model, it suggests that a link is less likely to be followed if the links are unrelated to the document:

“This reasonable surfer model reflects the fact that not all of the links associated with a document are equally likely to be followed. Examples of unlikely followed links may include “Terms of Service” links, banner advertisements, and links unrelated to the document.”  (Source)

As a result, building links from sites that are of higher relevance to your own site, is likely to pass more PageRank.

3. Remember it is not just about the number of links

Due to how PageRank is calculated, the PageRank value passed by one site can be drastically higher than the PageRank passed by the culmination of 1000s of others combined.

This is why the reliance on the overall number of links can be misleading.

Use internal linking to spread PageRank

We need to consider a few different methods while identifying pages that will benefit the most from ranking and how you pass PageRank around an ecommerce site:

  1. Link to pages you want to rank from pages that have high PageRank themselves
  2. Link to pages you want to rank more frequently throughout the site
  3. Give links to pages you want more prominently ranked
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1. Link to pages you want to rank from pages that have high PageRank themselves

Pages that have high PageRank, from which we can assume to be the pages most linked to from external sites, can be used to pass PageRank to – 

Homepage linking

The best example of how you can do this is through the homepage. The homepage for most websites tends to be one of the most, if not the most externally linked to page on a site.

This means that in terms of PageRank, the homepage has the most to pass on to other internal pages.

By carefully selecting which pages you link to from the homepage, and therefore pass the high levels of PageRank to the key pages you want to rank.

2. Link to pages you want to rank more frequently throughout the site

Another method to consider is how frequently you link to the most important pages you want to rank.

Considering that each page can pass PageRank on – this stands to reason that if a page is internally linked to more frequently, it is likely to pass on more as compared to a page less internally linked to (although obviously influenced by the PageRank of the linking pages).

Therefore, you should be considering where you can add internal links to ensure that important pages are linked to more frequently, including:

Global navigation

Due to being outside of the main body content of the page, we can reasonably assume there is a dampening factor applied to links in the menu. However, given its role in navigation, this is likely to be far less than in the footer. 

Therefore, since the global navigation is, as the name suggests, linked globally from every page on the site, the sheer number of links that will be passing PageRank is likely to funnel to those pages included in the navigation. These should therefore be the key pages you want to be ranking.

Breadcrumbs

As long-time fans of breadcrumbs at NOVOS, their benefit of passing PageRank to key pages should not be underestimated, due to the frequency with which different levels of pages are linked to.

The benefit of breadcrumbs on ecommerce sites (outside of usability benefits for the customers) is that they pass PageRank up to the core pages that generally rank for competitive keywords. They are typically helpful to rank the categories.

Most ecommerce websites have a pyramid structure with the homepage at the top, followed by some core categories, an increasing number of subcategories, and lots of product pages. By implementing breadcrumbs on the site, you use the pyramid structure to your advantage (both SEO and CX wise). Since every product page will link up to its relevant subcategories and category, and every subcategory will link through to its relevant category.

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In this sense, you distribute internal links as an inverse pyramid, concentrating the highest number (if we disregard the homepage) on the core categories that are the pages generally targeted for high volume keywords. In this sense, your ecommerce site stands a great chance of receiving large amounts of PageRank from internal links.

Product pages also generally are easier to build links to and also naturally generate them. The higher PageRank product pages can distribute upwards, the greater is the relevance – which implies lesser chances of suffering significantly from dampening factors.

Hierarchy of ecommerce site structure and how PageRank can be transferred

Footer

Based on the Reasonable Surfer Model we can assume that the PageRank passed by footer links is significantly impacted by dampening factors. However, the fact that these links are site-wide may mean that there is some benefit to including important pages in the footer for the accumulation of PageRank.

3. Give links to pages you want more prominently ranked

As the Reasonable Surfer Model applied to the likelihood of a link being clicked on a page, it is therefore worth considering whereabouts on a page. This could also mean considering page templates in general links.

For example, in a content strategy, where multiple blogs are being written on a given relevant topic to support a category page, linking to the category page early in the article, with clearly related anchor text, is likely to drive more PageRank than right at the end of an article. On a case-by-case basis, this distinction may appear trivial, however, on an ecommerce site with hundreds and thousands of blogs, the PageRank passed in total may be significant.


Susan Dolan is a Search Engine Optimization Consultant first to crack the Google PageRank algorithm as confirmed by Eric Schmidt’s office in 2014. Find her on Twitter @GoogleExpertUK.

Daniel Cartland is Head of SEO at NOVOS, Global SEO Agency Of The Year 2020 and 2021. A Brighton SEO speaker, Daniel has a particular interest in the quirks of how to optimize for different CMS. Find him on Twitter @DanielCartland.

Subscribe to the Search Engine Watch newsletter for insights on SEO, the search landscape, search marketing, digital marketing, leadership, podcasts, and more.

Join the conversation with us on LinkedIn and Twitter.





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10 Advanced SEO Skills To Level Up Your Career

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10 Advanced SEO Skills To Level Up Your Career


Many of us get to a stage in our careers as SEO professionals where we feel a little bit stagnant.

We’ve been optimizing sites for a while and feel pretty confident that we can do it well.. but there’s that nagging thought there’s more we could be doing.

That there is another layer of expertise that would make us more efficient, employable, and confident.

In this article, you’ll find 10 skills that can level up your SEO competency.

These aren’t necessarily essential skills for all SEO experts (you’ll find those here).

But developing these advanced SEO skills could help you go deeper within your specialism, become a more well-rounded marketer, and bump you into a new salary or freelance rate, too.

1. Intent Analysis

Intent analysis is the decoding of a user’s intention behind the keyword they enter into a search engine.

When someone types [pizza restaurant] into a search engine, what is the end result they are hoping for?

Do they want to know what pizza restaurants are nearby?

Are they in the market to open a pizza restaurant?

Are they looking for a job in a pizza restaurant?

Developing your understanding of the psychology behind what searchers want is a critical skill for those wishing to go further in their SEO competency.

This will help you both satisfy a user’s need when they land on a page and also increase your page’s likelihood of being ranked in their search.

It can’t just stop there, however.

You must also understand what the search engines perceive users to want from the content they are searching for.

For instance, from my location in the U.K., if I search for [pizza restaurants] in Google from my desktop device, I get a mixture of results.

I get the option to click through to search on other websites:

Screenshot from search for [pizza restaurants], Google, January 2022

This is followed by the Map Pack and then a mix of review and editorial sites and restaurants’ websites.

If I am trying to rank a website all about the history of pizza restaurants in my country, I might struggle.

Google has identified the user intent as being either navigation – wanting to go to a local restaurant – or comparative, as in wanting to compare options in the local area.

Resources To Learn More

2. Coding

There is no question that understanding HTML, CSS, and JavaScript can help you to ensure your websites are set up in a bot-friendly manner.

Although SEO experts do not need to be fully-fledged developers, having an understanding of code can help you to identify issues with rendering, indexation, and crawlability.

There are times when knowing the basics of how code is created, or being able to read code that already exists, can help your SEO.

It can aid your communication with the developers who may need to change it.

It can assist you in pinpointing incremental improvements to your site’s performance.

Learning to code is not a prerequisite for SEO, but it is arguable that knowing the fundamentals of these three commonly used languages is going to set you up well for your career.

Understanding the syntax of code, how it is formed, and being able to see how elements relate to each other can also help you get better at writing and debugging schema.

Learning Python and SQL can also help you to streamline your SEO processes by enabling you to automate labor-intensive activities such as mapping URL redirects and keyword research.

Resources To Learn More

3. Understanding Server Management

No SEO professional should really be the one responsible for ensuring that a server can handle a load of visitors to a site.

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However, understanding the basics of how servers can impact the crawlability, load speed and reliability of a website can propel your technical SEO understanding forwards.

The use of CDNs instead of static servers can aid in speeding up content loading, but without understanding the limitations of fixed location servers it will be difficult for you to argue the need for a CDN.

A better understanding of how web hosting can affect a user’s experience of your site and also Google’s ability to access it is necessary for strong technical SEO foundations.

You need to understand how aspects like uptime and location can impact your site’s performance in the search engines.

This is only the beginning of how knowledge of servers can aid your SEO efforts.

Better knowledge of server codes beyond the standard 404 and 301 can help you to communicate to those in charge of your servers where there are critical issues.

Know what a 502 error is?

Encountered a 504 status code before?

If not, this might be a quick and easy area for you to brush up your knowledge.

A 5XX status usually means there is something wrong with the server that is preventing the processing of a request from the client.

A simple way to find out what status codes mean is to look at httpstatuses.com.

From here, you can identify whether it is an issue with the client or the server and find a fix accordingly.

Resources To Learn More

4. Content Writing

Understanding the process of content writing is an important element of advanced SEO.

You may not be a great wordsmith yourself.

However, in order for you to better brief in copywriting for your colleagues who are, you need to understand what goes into a good piece of writing.

It isn’t enough to know that copy needs to be compelling and have sufficient relevancy to search terms used to discover it.

Get familiar with the process your copywriters go through in researching, writing, and editing their work.

This will help you to better ideate your own requests for copy.

Editing

Editing is another good skill to develop when working with content.

In many organizations, it is the job of the SEO specialist to take content created by others and optimize it further for the search engines.

In practice, this sadly can often result in well-written copy being butchered.

Adding keywords into the first couple of paragraphs to make them more keyword-rich might help you a bit with your rankings, but it could destroy your conversion and brand loyalty.

Learn how to take well-written copy and enhance it, not ruin it.

You may also benefit from having a conversation or two with your SEO copywriters and asking them for details of their process.

Better understanding how they go about copywriting could improve your abilities.

It could also streamline your processes when working together.

Resources To Learn More

5. Reporting

Being able to expertly communicate your progress, results, and reasoning behind your SEO work is crucial to being successful in the industry.

As an SEO expert, you are always juggling the needs and expectations of stakeholders, whether you’re working in-house, agency-side or freelance.

You will find gaining buy-in and budgets considerably easier if you know how to demonstrate the impact of the work you do.

Reporting isn’t just a case of adding labels to a graph or even noting down the cause of increases and decreases.

Truly good SEO reports allow readers to understand the context of the results, draw conclusions and make business decisions from them.

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SEO professionals need to get really good at helping stakeholders understand the priorities and limitations of the work they recommend (as well as mistakes to avoid when reporting).

They also need to help their interested parties recognize how the work will benefit them via data visualizations and their objectives in the long run.

All of this can be achieved through well-constructed, clear, and truthful reports.

Resources To Learn More

6. SEO Forecasting

Similar to the need to be good at explaining past results, experienced SEOs need to develop the ability to calculate likely outcomes.

SEO forecasting is a complicated science.

There are a lot of external factors that are hard to isolate and predict.

A change in competition, the market, or political situations could all cause well-thought-out estimations to go awry.

We should not be putting pressure on ourselves to accurately predict the exact volume of traffic, or visibility, our work might gain.

However, being able to put reasonable estimates and likely ranges into our recommendations can make the budget-holders a lot more reassured by the work we are proposing.

It isn’t enough to shrug our shoulders and cross our fingers when asked about outcomes.

We’re often requesting a lot of time, money and resources go into the activity were recommending.

SEO forecasting is a skill that will not only set you apart when looking for new roles or opportunities, it will also significantly improve the quality and reliability of your work.

Resources To Learn More

7. Log File Analysis

Log file analysis is the process of understanding the records of who or what has accessed your website.

They can tell you when people have visited a page as well as what device they were using to do so.

They can also tell you when bots access your website.

This is particularly helpful in understanding Googlebot and other search engine crawlers’ behavior on your site.

By analyzing log files you can better understand what pages search engine bots can or can’t access.

You can identify where there may be spider traps on your site or the frequency at which certain sections of your site are being crawled.

Log files can appear daunting if you have not spent much time around them.

Thankfully there are some great tools available that make analyzing them a lot simpler than just wading through the naked log files.

Understanding what to do with the information once you have it is the real skill. If you know that a certain area of your site is rarely crawled by Google that should inform your technical SEO next steps.

It should raise questions about your internal linking structure.

Getting familiar with log files is a great first step but to improve your skills make sure you are analyzing the files and drawing actionable conclusions from them.

Resources To Learn More

8. Website Migrations

Getting good at planning and executing website migrations is not easy. It really does take experience.

Many SEO professionals who have worked exclusively brand-side may find they simply have not had the opportunity to carry out that many website migrations.

If you face a particularly complicated one, such as multiple websites merging, it can be very daunting.

Chances are if you have spent any length of time in an SEO agency, you will have migrated a website or two.

It may have been a smooth process but more likely there were unforeseen complications that made the processing time and resource consuming.

There are not really just one or two skills involved in website migrations.

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They are usually a complicated mix of stakeholder management, communication, planning, processes-driving, technical understanding, and knowing when to say no.

But the skills you develop during website migrations will help you enormously with the rest of your SEO career.

Participate in one if you get the chance.

It can give you a great (albeit high-pressured) opportunity to see multiple moving SEO parts in play at once.

Resources to learn more:

9. Optimizing For Other Search Engines

If you truly want to advance your SEO skills, you might want to look further afield than Google.

We can often fall into the trap of thinking only about the traditional search engines when discussing SEO skills.

If we limit our training and experience to just these then we could be missing out on a much larger opportunity.

Traditional International Websites

Many search engines work on similar principles, but with their own specific nuances.

Traditional search engines more prevalent outside of your home region may be unfamiliar to you.

There are some great resources available to get you started in understanding the differences between them and the search engines you’re more familiar with optimizing for.

Nothing beats practice, however.

If you want to refine your knowledge and understanding of unfamiliar search engines then you need to try to rank a site in them and see what works and what doesn’t.

YouTube

For search engines like YouTube, the mechanics may be more familiar to you.

You will, however, still need to learn more about the algorithms in play to ensure you are carrying out the right activity to optimize your video content for the platform.

Other Non-traditional Search Engines

Don’t just stop at YouTube if you’re really wanting to advance your SEO skill set.

Take a look at some other search engines, like Pinterest and TripAdvisor.

These sites may not fit into your current remit as an SEO expert.

They are however still search engines that you can influence the success of your content in.

Resources to learn more:

10. International SEO

One of the most complicated projects an SEO might be involved in usually includes international elements.

It’s a complicated task because there are a lot of factors at play.

To optimize your website for international audiences you will need to employ technical SEO, digital PR, and on-page optimization skills.

There will be a range of questions you’ll need to ask yourself when you are considering expanding a website to international audiences.

These will include questions around the structure of the site – separate sites, sub-folders, or sub-directories?

Do you want to translate or localize the content? Do you want to target geography at the site or page level?

There are a lot of strategies and technical knowledge required to get international SEO right.

You may also need specific language skills or local knowledge resources.

Google has helpfully created an introduction to managing a multi-region website. It is a good place to start to identify the sorts of questions you should be asking.

You can also use it as a jumping-off point for further training or research.

This can help deepen your knowledge of the subject and sharpen your skills.

Resources to learn more:

Conclusion

These are just a few of the skills you can develop to become a more pragmatic SEO professional.

Even if you don’t want to learn all of them, it helps to have an understanding of what they all are.

Even more so, how they can help round out your skill-set as an SEO expert.

More resources:


Featured Image: Alexander Supertramp/Shutterstock





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How to Get More Reach and Shares on Your Social Videos

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How-to-Get-More-Reach-and-Shares-on-Your-Social-Videos


Video marketing is thriving. Industry thought leaders predict video to take an even firmer stance in the years to come, as people don’t want to read that much and images aren’t nearly as dynamic. Companies and small businesses realize the power of video and plug into the video making trend.

Maxwell Hertan, Director of Megaphone Marketing, put it best:

In 2016, Mark Zuckerberg told Buzzfeed News, ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if you fast forward five years and most of the content that people see on Facebook and are sharing on a day-to-day basis is video’. Well, here we are – take a look at your newsfeed. Mostly video? We thought so.

At the same time, there’s been a lot of talk about the new Facebook reach algorithm that makes it close to impossible to make your content seen organically. Some experts predict organic reach to decline significantly on Instagram, too.

In this competitive environment, how do you get more eyes on your video content on social?

Here are 9 surefire ways to give your videos a competitive edge and make them spread like a wildfire.

While you make your video…

In order for your video to get more reach and shares, it has to be engaging in the first place. Which means: your video needs to evoke emotion, be educational, fun, or cute. Preferably all at the same time.

Here’s how.

Make the first seconds count

The more viewers share your video content – the more reach it gets. The more reach it gets – the more new viewers might be able to see it. But before they share your video, the #1 task is to convince your viewer to watch it first. When scrolling through the feed, you only have fractions of a second to show your audience the video is worth seeing.

Add stickers and GIFs

Animated GIFs and stickers have been in the marketer’s arsenal for a while now. They have become a universal communication language, easily understandable by people all around the globe.

Add stickers and GIFs

By adding GIFs or animated stickers to your videos, you make them more relatable and fun, showing the audience you speak their language. GIFs and stickers can also make your videos more comprehensible, giving them an additional sense.

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To add GIFs and stickers to your videos, use tools like Wave.video or Camtasia. Another cool to create animated ads is called Creatopy. Using their “Animator” feature you can give life to any of your ad elements:

creatopy

State what your video is going to be about

To warm up the viewer’s interest, tell them what your social video is going to be about. You don’t have to reveal all the details: this way, it won’t probably be as interesting to watch. A teasing headline will do just great.

State what your video is going to be about

Don’t forget the subtitles

Since 85% of videos are watched with the sound off on social, it does make sense to optimize your video for this behavior. One of the best ways to do it is by adding subtitles or short text on your video.

Platforms like Facebook and YouTube allow you to add captions automatically. If the video doesn’t have a voiceover, you can simply add a short text to every scene, like in this example coming from National Geographic:

Don't forget the subtitles

When you share it…

Now, to create an engaging and fun video is only half the battle. The other half is to share it on social properly. Here are a few tips that might help you out.

Choose a catchy thumbnail

Just the other day, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I stumbled upon this video.

Choose a catchy thumbnail

Even though I wasn’t inclined to watch a video of a girl shaving her hair off, I simply couldn’t resist. I immediately had to know what’s going to happen next. Is she really going bald? (Spoiler alert: she didn’t).

Would I have watched the video if it had had a different, less catchy thumbnail?

Probably not.

So, when uploading your videos to social, make sure to select a catchy thumbnail. By “catchy” I mean a thumbnail that builds anticipation and thirst to know more.

Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube allow you to upload a thumbnail for your video.

upload a thumbnail for your video

Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube allow you to upload a thumbnail for your video.

Unfortunately, Twitter doesn’t have this option. So, make sure the very first second of your video is meaningful, as it’s what’s going to show in the tweet.

Twitter video

Twitter does not allow to customize the thumbnail

Add a catchy description

While a social video itself is a powerful marketing instrument, a description that goes with it is just as important. All the social media platforms allow you to add a post accompanying the video.

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Here are a few things that can help you increase the chances of your audience sharing the video:

  • Make the description intriguing. Use power words like “surprise”, “whopping”, or “scandalous” to heat up the viewers’ interest and make them crave for more.
  • Include hashtags. Using hashtags in your social posts might help you significantly increase the reach of your videos. Use tools like Hashtagify to help you find the right hashtags for your posts.
  • Tag people! It might sound obvious but you’ll be surprised to see how many businesses miss out on this opportunity. Mentioning people (or even brands, for that matter) in your social posts allows you to easily notify them that you’ve created something interesting and thought of them, too.
tag video

Mentioning people (or even brands, for that matter) in your social posts allows you to easily notify them that you’ve

Upload your videos natively

The #1 goal for any social platform is to make people stay on the platform longer. Thus, all major social platforms (including LinkedIn) are heavily investing in video, adding new features like live videos and Stories.

To increase the reach of your videos, it does make sense to upload them natively. This means that instead of sharing a link to a YouTube video (or any other video hosting platform, for that matter), I’d recommend that you upload your video directly to a social media platform using their uploading features.

There are some great advantages to upload videos natively:

  • They are auto-played if this function is not turned off in the settings
  • Reach is higher than that of simple posts with links
  • You can embed the video tweet on your blog or landing page and get more reach

Post at the right time

Even if you come up with the most fascinating video and a stunning description, only a few people will see it if you post it when all of your audience is asleep. For more reach and shares, make sure to post your video content at a time when your audience is most active.

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Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to recommending the best time to post. It depends on many factors: the social platform, your audience, type of content. Here are a few solid guides that can give you an idea:

Reshare far and wide

Once you’ve shared your video on social media, make sure to go back to your scheduling tool and schedule another round of shares. Chances are, some people might have just missed your video when you shared it the first time. Make sure to give it another go.

You can slice and dice your video, and share different parts of video at different times, with various messages. You can also use video content in your newsletter.

You can also repurpose your videos. For instance, create an Instagram Story from a horizontal video by adding margins and captions to it.

repurpose video

Create an Instagram Story from a horizontal video by adding margins and captions to it.

We took a horizontal video and repurposed it into an Instagram Story

With Instagram in particular, you can also reshare your in-feed posts to Stories. Chances are, in 2019 there are going to be more people who watch Stories than those who check out in-feed videos. So make sure you serve both.

Monitor your traffic!

Don’t forget to set up your monitoring routine to keep an eye on how your video content is growing and what type of traffic it is referring. I love using Finteza for traffic analytics because it allows me to see exactly how your traffic is interacting with your conversion funnel:

finteza-youtube-funnel

Conclusion

When it comes to promoting your social videos and driving more reach/engagement, here’s a path to success: have a great video first, post at the right time, and follow the social platform’s guidelines for native uploads.

What are your favorite tips on getting more shares on your social videos? Share in the comments below!

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Olga Bedrina

Olga Bedrina is the Director of Content Marketing at Wave.video, free online video maker. She is excited about video marketing, social media, and new technologies.

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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.

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.
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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.

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.

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?

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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:

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

Chart A has no focus and feels “noisy.”

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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.

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:


Featured Image: Saklakova/Shutterstock





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