Tracking what makes a dashboard successful

Published Mar 28 2024 5 minute read Last updated Apr 17 2024
tracking dashboard success
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  • Sean Dougherty
    Written by Sean Dougherty

    A copywriter at Funnel, Sean has more than 15 years of experience working in branding and advertising (both agency and client side). He's also a professional voice actor.

Pies, bars, tables, lines, trends, and more. It might sound like a hot new club or happy hour spot, but these are actually a sampling of some of the options marketers must consider when creating a new dashboard. And those are just the tip of the iceberg. 

Many seasoned dashboard designers will point to the need to keep things simple through uniform and readily understood color choices and font usage. But how does all of that translate to the visualization choices that you’re confronted with? 

Luckily, we could speak to an expert to help set things straight. Stephanie Hertl is the associate director for data operations at WebMechanix, a Funnel Solution Partner. There, she helps find the underlying impactful story in clients’ data and brings that story to life through various dashboards. We wanted to get her perspective on what makes a dashboard successful. 


Stephanie Hertl, associate director for data operations at WebMechanix

Getting a dashboard off the ground

Stephanie’s role is to build data-led stories across the full funnel of a client’s marketing efforts. So, with such a broad scope, how does she know where the first chapter begins? 

“It starts with who you’re telling that story to,” said Stephanie. “The person receiving the story can only absorb so much at once. I find that it’s best to start things at a high level.” 

In terms of dashboard design, that typically means that she begins with easily digestible visualizations like scorecards, trend lines, and basic charts. This allows her to lay a solid foundation to drill for further data. 

Regarding trend lines, Stephanie always tries to use them in a month-over-month view to provide context on where the performance is heading. 

“For some metrics, particularly major performance KPIs, it helps if the reader isn’t just looking at a single number on a scorecard,” said Stephanie. “The trend lines provide more context and understanding.”

Indeed, if the original Star Wars opened on a shot of a foreign planet, viewers might be a bit confused. Instead, the movie begins with the famous line, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” It immediately gives the audience an additional frame of reference. 

“Trend charts are big for us. If you understand how to group by time, they can be quite helpful in showing how a certain KPI is moving. You can then be inspired to drill down further to understand why it is moving,” said Stephanie. 

Those trend lines are a part of Stephanie’s go-to trifecta of any dashboard overview page: scorecards, tables, and tend lines. 

Hunting for insights

While Stephanie works with a wide range of clients, each with unique goals, two KPIs always seem to be on the scavenger list for a given project: cost per lead and conversion rate. 

According to Stephanie, with these two KPIs in hand, you can already begin to tell an impactful story around a client’s performance. 

“At WebMechanix, we do a lot of work around landing pages and optimizations,” said Stephanie. “If we can prove conversion rate has improved, it means that our optimizations are working on some level.” 

Plus, once the cost per lead and the conversion rate are determined, Stephanie will move on to determining the lead quality. With those three metrics, she can start making all sorts of data-driven determinations. 

For instance, imagine if the cost per lead went down, the conversion rate went up, and the lead score went down. That would mean that their latest efforts attracted leads more efficiently and that those leads converted on a landing page. However, a low lead score may indicate that those leads are lower quality. They may be dropping off earlier in the sales cycle or meet fewer sales qualifications. This could lead to less lucrative purchases, or a host of other issues that could impact the client’s business. 

If we invert the results of those three metrics (cost per lead up, conversion rate down, lead score up), the story could be quite different. Sure, they may be spending more to attract leads to a landing page, and those that do arrive may not convert en masse. But if those leads who do convert result in a much higher profit margin for the client’s business, it may be worth the less-than-ideal performance of the first two metrics. 

Expert tips and tricks

Stephanie builds most of her dashboards in Looker Studio, which has allowed her to learn a few shortcuts and go-to strategies to get the most out of her visualization and reporting for clients. 

Don’t start from scratch

One of her biggest tips is to avoid building a dashboard from a blank slate whenever possible. Especially for those who work in agencies, Stephanie finds it beneficial to repurpose templates from other clients. 

“Working from templates can really make things go faster,” said Stephanie. “You can get caught spending a lot of time formatting graphs and trying to get them to fit just right into a new dashboard design.”

Borrow from a client’s website

When setting up the first dashboard for a new client, Stephanie tends to head over to the client’s website to get direction on the ideal branding. 

“Go to the client’s website and hit ‘inspect elements’ in your browser,” said Stephanie. “Then, pull the colors, logos, and other style elements into your dashboard.”

Dashboards for senior leadership

In Stephanie’s experience, senior stakeholders, like marketing directors, spend most of their time working across multiple channels and layers of the customer journey. As such, they tend to ask for higher-level channel insights. They need a broader perspective that can inform their most impactful decisions.

“Directors need to know where and when to move their budget,” said Stephanie. “They are looking for your dashboard to provide the insights they need to make those decisions. They may want all their paid channels in one table to see overall cost and conversions.”

These senior leaders may also want to start modeling and predicting future moves. They may also be relying on your agency to provide data-driven recommendations, and your dashboards should reflect that. 

Advanced visualizations

According to Stephanie, projections are one of the hardest data sets and insights to visualize—particularly further down the funnel.

“You have to manage date fields to account for when the marketing team generated the lead and also when the trigger occurred in a CRM like Salesforce,” said Stephanie. “But then, you also have to attribute that lead backward to the day and date when they were influenced by something like a TV ad. The influence date and conversion date could be two or more months apart”

That kind of time scale and complexity can have knock-on effects on other areas of your dashboard. 

For instance, imagine that your dashboard shows a strong influx of high-value transactions that took six months to travel through the sales cycle. However, those leads are geographically unique and may coincide with a one-off connected TV campaign from eight months ago. To calculate the acquisition cost, you may want to determine the media saturation and ad spend associated with that campaign. Then, you may want to use that data to predict a future investment in the same media space. 

In short, it’s complicated. 

“When visualizing projections, you have to look at many different fields,” said Stephanie. “Clients may want to average a lot of metrics together for ease of use. But sometimes, you really need to stay granular because of different lead sources and cycle lengths.”

Once some of those factors are calculated together, you can lose some understanding of what exactly is driving that performance. 

The rule of three

Given some of the complicated questions that Stephanie is asked to visualize (like projections), it’s no wonder that she advises other dashboard creators to stick to her magic rule of three: simple graphs, trend lines, and scorecards. This simplicity allows her to create the initial chapter of the data’s underlying story in a format that can be easily shared with senior leaders. 

From that foundation, she can later drill into specific areas, examine more complicated hypotheses, and explore more granular data to uncover the next stage of her client’s stories. 

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