When you ask most people what tools they use to track what happens on their website they say, Google. When you ask them how often they look at their analytics they tend to say, not as often as they should. When you ask them if they understand what they are looking at you mostly get back blank stares. I’ve found that creating Custom Dashboards in Google Analytics makes most clients very happy. It puts their favorite numbers in one place that is easy to understand and check. It can even be set up to email a pdf report as often as needed.
But how do you go about creating the right Custom Dashboard? Do you put everything in one big dashboard or do you focus on just one aspect of your business on each one? For me the answer is a surprising, it depends on who the report is for. If it is a top level officer then a comprehensive summary dashboard works best, if it is for someone else in the company with a specific task to do then we create a dashboard for that person.
Before we get started building a Custom Dashboard let’s take a quick look at the one Google starts you off with. After logging in to your analytics account look to the left hand menu, the very first item is Dashboards. Click that then Private and My Dashboard to see the standard dashboard Google starts you with.
This Dashboard will start you with the basics, New Users, User, Sessions, Bounce Rate and the like. this is fine, but it’s, well, basic. we want Dashboards that provide us with actionable data. Something we can use and not spend a lot of time trying to find the pieces scattered through out Analytics.
Creating a Custom Dashboard
Building a custom dashboard isn’t too hard once you understand a few of the basics. The first step is to click the New Dashboard link in the menu and then select either Blank Canvas or Starter Dashboard and Create. I like to run my dashboards with 3 columns so the next step is to click the customize dashboard link and select the layout you want to use. (BTW – I’ll be giving you a few pre-built dashboards at the end of the this article – so don’t panic).
Next go to the areas of Analytics that you use the most, we’ll start with Audience Overview, the first place most people look to see their traffic. At the top of the page you will see an Add to Dashboard link, click that, select the Dashboard you want to add it to and then click Timeline and Add to Dashboard.
This gives is nice timeline example of our total traffic. But what if we want just the total number of sessions?
To change the dashboard widget click on the edit icon in the top right corner of the widget you want to edit (it looks like a pencil). this introduces us to a huge variety of options for this widget. But right now we just want the actual number count so we can click on Metric and then Save.
Now our Session widget looks like this.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Nearly every page in Google Analytics can be added to a Custom Dashboard just by clicking the Add to Dashboard link. the only issue is that in some instances you don’t get what you expected when you click the add button. Let’s say you want to look at where your traffic comes from. We can go to Acquisition -> All Traffic -> and then Channels. then click Add to Dashboard at the top of the page. This time we selected table because we wanted to see all of the various traffic sources at the same time.
The default settings are great, but what if we wanted something more CEO like and give them a nice pie chart in this widget? Simply click the edit link in the top right of the width to bring up the edit screen and click the Pie Chart option. While we are there let’s change the number of slices to the max allowed so that we can see everything and change the title of the widget.
Finally, let’s take a look at something a little more complex. One of the things I like to track for clients is their “brand traffic”. This can give us a great idea of how their overall marketing is doing since we are looking at just search traffic for their brand. Let’s go back to our audience Overview page and add another Sessions widget like we did above and this time leave it set as a timeline. Next we will click the edit button and start creating the magic.
First we change the title to Brand Traffic Organic (or natural or seo or search – it doesn’t really matter).
Next we scroll down to Filter this Data and Add a Dimension. In this case we want to use Traffic Type and Exactly Matching Organic. This gives us all of the sessions that are organic traffic (You can also use Social or Paid in here for more report options). Then we add another filter for Keyword and Containing your Brand Term. The nice thing here is that you can add multiple Brand Terms by simply adding more Keyword Filters.
As you can see, with a little effort you can create some very complex Dashboard Widgets to can give you a ton of information with just a glance. I find myself creating new widgets all the time for tasks that I have to do more than a few times. It just makes sense to use as much automation as possible.
Free Dashboard Examples
To help you get started I want to share a couple of generic custom dashboards to help you get started.
The Brand Monitor Dashboard allows you to keep a close eye on the terms that are most important to you. You can use it to track your primary brand, make copies of it to track important niches, almost anything. the only thing you need to remember when you install it is to go in to the various widgets and change the filter settings from Brand Term to the term you want to track.
The SEO Monitor Dashboard isn’t quite as useful as it was before Google started using Keyword Not Provided, but it can still give you a solid insight in to what keywords, phrases, and entities you are doing well for. If you look at the Landing Page Widget you can get a good idea of where you are doing well even without the keywords.
If you find these useful, please let me know and I’ll share more of my custom dashboards. In an upcoming post I’ll share some of my Custom Analytics Reports that can be of huge help as well. And, as always, please signup for my newsletter. I don’t send them out very often, I’m a lot busy you see, but when I do there is always a lot of value in them and usually links to more great free tools that I use or provide.