This is by no means a scientific study or an in depth view of dashboards provided by Web Analytics vendors, this is merely a reflection on the meager level of three select vendors. Google, Microsoft and Yahoo of course represent the somewhat cost free side of the industry, and my comments are by that fact likely to be skewed a bit toward the tail user and not the enterprise user. But with my frequent access to Omniture, Webtrends and CoreMetrics – I unfortunately have to conclude that the enterprise vendors are not necessarily that much better. I will leave the paid for vendor commentary for another post.
Before we move forward, I am of course forced to conclude, exactly how I define a Dashboard. And for that I actually believe that we can use any of the more reputable definitions out there. I am personally a fan of the clarity provided by Stephen Few, in his definition, as provided in his 2004 book on Dashboards.
“A dashboard is a visual display of the most important information needed to achieve one or more objectives; consolidated and arranged on a single screen so the information can be monitored at a glance.”
With that definition in mind, a general understanding of how to visualize quantitative information, and finally a look at the below screenshots of the Dashboard of Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! – we can partly conclude that:
1. Unique Dashboard
A dashboard is unique from company to company and from function to function and it is acceptable to have different dashboards for different objectives. That said, providing me with fixed preset dashboards is rarely of much value beyond making the tool look good. Glitter! The dashboard should, if we are aggressive thinking, be delivered blank, forcing the user to set it up.
- Random Dashboard – Google
- Random Dashboard – Microsoft
- Blank Dashboard – Yahoo!
Being completely fair though, at the tail-end of the market a preset (random) dashboard to get started on, might not be that bad an idea, for support, education and other purposes. However, we have to agree that it is not a dashboard then, but just a report collage. It might turn into a Dashboard at some point.
2. Dashboard Data and Visualization
Whether we have a preferred blank dashboard or a preset one, the most important part is that we can do two things; choose WHICH data to visualize (including context) and HOW it should be visualized. And data should in a perfect scenario be any of the metrics or dimensions you collected.
Such as revenue from paid search, compared to revenue from email advertising for the last 30 days running, displayed as a trend graph. Looking at the tools today, Yahoo is the only tool who partly understood that request, and I know I am being unfair here, as IndexTools, pre-acquisition, used to cater to a different market.
You can apply gadgets to the Microsoft Dashboard and there is a similar element in Google, but not the two step freedom in customising every item on the Dashboard. It should noted that Yahoo actually limits the metrics and dimension dependant on the chosen visualization.
3. KPI Context and comparison
You have to make your Dashboard actionable (otherwise and according to our definition from above, it is NOT a dashboard) – and if you cannot compare data or generally put it in context, there is little idea in presenting the data to begin with. Of the three Dashboards, Google probably provides the best context right out of the box, by focusing on trend lines and by applying the very insightful Sparklines in front of KPI’s. Whereas Yahoo provides the user with the opportunity to compare data columns and also define what is success and what is failure. Such as visualizing a conversion rate for a given segment where you determine below 4% visit to sale conversion is bad – and you want that marked.
Look at the Microsoft Dashboard below and tell me if things are OK? – you cannot! It is pretty much empty for comparison and provides little to no context.
4. Data/Ink Ratio
Neither of the three succeeded in displaying the information on a single screen, and that even with me using a huge 1920*1200 pixel screen. What is most noticeable though, is that all of them spend a unmerited amount of space on information that is not about presenting data. This is fair space when navigating the reporting tool and performing your day to day analysis, but a sin when developing a dashboard.
Screen real-estate used for data presentation in the below screenshots – bigger percentage is better.
- 54% – Google
- 43% – Microsoft
- 45% – Yahoo!
Essentially concluding that all the mentioned vendors waste half the potential data visualization space on items such as Vendor logo, Top menu, Left Menu and other navigational fluff. Yahoo could have increases the data/ink ratio and moved much closer to Google by deleting the somewhat useless drag and drop tip alone.
As a positive note, I would like to mention that Yahoo do allow users to remove the left menu, by clicking the hide button. It’s not default, but good thinking. It does not change the data/ink ratio as dashboard items are not resized to use the extra space though.
Finally, all of the vendors have an unnecessary tendency to clutter the dashboard items with Glitter. Some quick comments are; why the prominent borders? (1 point to Google for partly removing them), Why the dark headers? (1 point to Microsoft for not highlighting them), Why the dual data presentation (both visually and text wise).
Please have in mind that I in no way have tried to digest the actual information provided on the Dashboard, as in whether the right KPI’s that are presented OR whether the tool in question can track digest and segment that on the Dashboard.
AND the above is no complete list, far from, neither is it intended to be, but merely enough pointers, for you to agree with my conclusion.
Google, Microsoft and Yahoo Web Analytics Dashboards are, at worst, unfortunately just a report collage – and, at best, an aspiring opportunity for tail users to have an easy ascent towards true Dashboards. Yahoo is proving the best flexibility in what data to show and how to visualize it, but Google provides the best understanding of how to visually communicate quantitative data, where the Microsoft Dashboard lack both data flexibility and understanding of how to visualize it. Which leaves us with the question of whether Web Analytics tools to begin with, should even consider themselves Dashboard tools, or if they should comfortable acknowledge that they are meant for report collages.
I am however, personally, confident that we are moving in the right direction and that more true dashboards will evolve over time. Disclaimer: If you are not aware by now, by reading this blog, I am the Director of Data Insights at Yahoo! and working directly with the IndexTools programme.
YOUR book fame (a.k.a. contribution) opportunity starts here. I am dedicating a whole appendix and separate insert in my Yahoo! Web Analytics book to Dashboard’s and am very keen to include any dashboards, good and bad, that you would suggest for this section. Feel free to contact or connect with me and share some success or horror stories in the form of screenshots you believe need to be retold to a wider audience.
A: Google Analytics Dashboard screenshot
B: Microsoft AdCenter Analytics Dashboard screenshot
c: Yahoo! Web Analytics Dashboard (IndexTools) screenshot
D: An almost perfect Dashboard
– (using Microsoft Excel and BonaVista MicroCharts)
Find a few links on the dashboard subject that I personally think are worth your time, should the subject be of your interest.
- Five Rules for High Impact Web Analytics Dashboards
- Best practices for the use of KPI dashboards in web analytics
- Designing Web Analytics Dashboards