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FYI Corner: Google Analytics Dashboards

By Amy Sample, PBS Interactive

If you didn’t know, there’s a new version of Google Analytics with lots of great new features, including real-time analytics, visitor flow visualization, multi-channel attribution, and custom dashboards. Beginning in January, Google Analytics will transition exclusively to the new interface, so it’s worth learning it sooner rather than later. One of the most interesting features available for local stations in the new Google Analytics is custom dashboards.

What is a dashboard?
A dashboard is a special type of Google Analytics report that aggregates a collection of statistics on a single page. It is a way to view data that would otherwise be found in separate reports all at once on a single report. You can create dashboards...
  • For a particular role in the organization (e.g. manager, webmaster, or editor)
  • For a content area (e.g. news, schedules, or programs)
  • For a certain type of user (e.g. new user, return user, video user)
  • For a particular conversion event (e.g. sales or donations).
A dashboard should be an at-a-glance look at a few key metrics that tells you how you’re doing. Little tip: Resist the temptation to put too much information on your dashboard. Make sure it only contains the things you want to look at every week or every month. Google helps with this by limiting you to 12 modules.

What’s great about the new dashboards?
As you know, the dashboard in the old Google Analytics was a single fixed dashboard. You could add modules to it, but they really just linked to the underlying reports. In the new Google Analytics, you can have up to 20 dashboards per profile. So now you can make them very customized to a specific role or scenario.

You also now have more display options for the actual modules on the dashboard:
  • Metric: Shows the value of a metric and a sparkline of that metric over the selected time period
  • Pie Chart: Best suited for displaying breakdowns of a metric by a certain dimension. E.g., Visits by Browser Type.
  • Timeline: A graph of any metric over time. You can also compare two metrics in the same graph.
  • Table: Think of this as a mini-custom report. You can show one dimension with two metrics and up to 10 rows of data in a table.
You can mix and match these module types to display the information that is most important to you. You can also apply filters to these modules. This lets you display data for a segment of your traffic. For instance, you can display unique visitors to your homepage on your dashboard by selecting a Metric module, selecting Unique Visitors in the metric dropdown, and selecting to filter by the Page matching / (or whatever your homepage is).

Once you create your dashboard, you can look at the data over any time period you would like and make comparisons to previous date periods. The dashboard uses the same date control as every other Google Analytics report

Some Caveats about Dashboards as of December 2011:
  1. Dashboards are specific to your login. If you create a great dashboard, you are the only one who can see it. Other users will need to rebuild the dashboard under their own login.
  2. You can’t share dashboards - yet. There is no ability to e-mail dashboards or export them directly from Google. If you want to share your dashboard, you can paste a screenshot into your e-mail. Google says this functionality is coming soon.
  3. You are limited to the visualizations available in the editor. There are pie charts and line graphs, but no bar charts. For instance, it would be great to show visits by city in a bar chart, but for now you need to use a table to do that. You also can’t divide two metrics (e.g. visits/visitor). For now, you have to show the absolute number on your dashboard.
You will find the dashboards under the Home tab. Click +New Dashboard from the navigation to start a new dashboard. You have a choice of a starter dashboard or you can start with a blank canvas.

We here at PBS Interactive have created a step-by-step guide to show you how to create some common dashboards. Once you get the steps down, creating more dashboards is a cinch.
  • Management Dashboard
  • Site Search Tracking Dashboard
  • Social Media Dashboard
  • News
  • Visitor Technology
Click here to download a PDF of the guide and feel free to contact the SPI Team any time for more information.

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