Uses & Limitations of Google Analytics dashboards
Google Analytics is one of the essential tools that almost every website owner should get familiar with to better understand their visitors and how they interact with their site. For most, the free version will be more than adequate to gather and analyze the audience, acquisition, behavior, and sales performance data necessary to make informed, strategic decisions about what direction to take their particular product or service offering.
When it comes to communicating numbers into stories, good data visualization is often what makes the difference between bridging that gap and not, particularly for the large cohort of busy professionals who simply don’t have the resources to delve deep into the details. While Google Analytics does offer a range of standard charts and visuals that are intuitive, we also have the option of creating custom dashboards, which enable us to narrow the view down to only the metrics that matter for our specific business. These dashboards can be appropriate for many circumstances, however, there are a number of limitations that will have advanced users searching for additional solutions.
Here are some of the key uses and limitations you’ll find with a custom dashboard:
Tailor-made view of the metrics that matter – Dashboards give us the ability to combine various types of information and charts in ways that are typically not available in the standard reports. For example, we can create a view that outlines where users come from to access our site (Source / Medium), the split of total transactions by gender, and the trend of Average Time on Page and Bounce Rate, all in a single dashboard.
Scheduled emails for regular updates – With custom dashboards, it’s simple to create a scheduled email that will keep you updated with the latest sales and visitor figures on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, delivered to your inbox. The dashboard will arrive as a PDF file, making it easy to print although it won’t show any real-time ‘widgets’ that were included in the dashboard. To access real-time data, you are required to log in.
Easy sharing with stakeholders – In addition to scheduling regular updates to your own inbox, you can also add a list of email addresses that you want to share the report with, and who will receive it from your address, making it easy for them to reply and offer feedback.
If you are looking at how to automate your workflow, or better understand how to make full use of this free web analytics tool, consider joining us at our Google Analytics course!
Small selection of visualisations available – While there are enough options to get started, the range of charts available really focuses on covering the basics and nothing more. As such, we are restricted to a handful of chart types, some of which are only useful in very specific circumstances (i.e. geo-map, pie chart).
Axis and series labeling are not flexible – When communicating data, one of the most important considerations is to use clear labels that will not cause confusion. Unfortunately, there are no options to customize the labels and GA simply uses what it finds in the raw data, which can often be less than ideal.
Design and formatting of charts based on defaults only – When the data contained in a dashboard has been finalized, the next step is generally to apply some small design touches, whether to order the information in a more appropriate way or to align the colors with a corporate brand. Both are not possible with custom dashboards and it’s at this point that we may begin to consider alternatives.
Without doubt, Google Analytics custom dashboards are a useful feature to have and may be the gateway for many users into data visualisation and formatting. However, with a little practice and experience, you’ll quickly find that you’re searching for something just a little more powerful. Thankfully, Google already has such a product, and are continuing to develop and evolve it into a one stop data visualisation solution for just about anyone who has a website and wants more from their reporting.
Google Data Studio is available for free, and plugs straight into Google Analytics but does require a slightly higher level of ability and training to get the most out of it. Beyond that, we can consider enterprise solutions like Microsoft Power BI, Tableau, or Qlik, each of which is typically license-based and offer the latest technologies in visualization and analytics.
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Instructor: Bartley Sharkey
About the author
Bartley studied and has been working with online technologies since 2001. He built his foundation of search marketing knowledge while at Yahoo!