Seven Tips for Better SiteCatalyst Dashboards

In Adobe SiteCatalyst, you have several options for sharing information across your business—everything from scheduled reports to widgets to reporting APIs. A common and familiar approach for sharing online data is through dashboards. Whereas a simple report might focus on a single aspect or area of your business, a dashboard can provide a more comprehensive view of how your business is performing through a variety of high-level data summaries and visualizations. Generally, dashboards will appeal to a wider audience than individual reports and provide more coverage on what’s happening.

The two main methods for creating dashboards with SiteCatalyst data are within the interface’s drag-and-drop dashboard builder and with ReportBuilder for Excel-based dashboards. While you have more customization options with Excel-based dashboards, the SiteCatalyst interface dashboards can still play an effective and vital role in disseminating data. Having worked extensively with setting up various SiteCatalyst dashboards, I want to share seven tips for improving your SiteCatalyst interface dashboards that I presented at this year’s Adobe Summit.

1. Use descriptive reportlet titles

When you create a new reportlet for a dashboard (reportlets are the small report tiles that appear in an interface dashboard), the reportlet’s default title won’t be very descriptive. The reportlet simply inherits its name from the report where it was generated. For example, if I created a reportlet from the Pages report, the default title will be “Pages report.” Kind of underwhelming and uninformative, right?

Rather than relying on these default titles, you have the ability to create your own reportlet titles. It’s a great opportunity to provide more context for the data displayed in the reportlet. Without sufficient context, end users can misinterpret the data in each reportlet. Some helpful descriptive details you may include the reportlet’s title are its timeframe, dimension, metric(s), or filters. For example, without a descriptive title, an end user might not know whether the metric totals are for the week or month. Unless it’s specified in the title, they may not understand whether the data is for the entire site or just a single section. Clear, descriptive titles will reduce confusion and misinterpretation.

2. Choose the best graph

In SiteCatalyst, you have different options for creating the graphs that appear in your dashboard. You’ll discover that the default graph might not always be the best option, and another graph might work better. You might need to experiment with the different visualization options until you find one that communicates most effectively. For example, pie charts generally don’t communicate as well as bar charts because it can be hard to compare the relative sizes of the different slices.

In addition to choosing different graph types, you can also configure the graphs differently to improve how they communicate. For example, it might be more effective to show the data as percentages rather than raw numbers, which is a setting you can adjust in the report before you create a reportlet.

There’s a small nuance in how you create data ranges for trended reports that will actually impact your graphs. If you select “This week” from the dropdown list, you get a standard vertical bar chart. However, if you select the week from the actual calendar (click on the arrow on the left-hand-side), you will actually get two “bonus” trend lines for the prior week and 52 weeks. This trick also applies to a month view if you select the month from the calendar instead of the dropdown list. Having the trend lines in the graph provides more historical context to the end users, which helps them to understand how current performance compares with previous time periods.

3. Choose the right format

For most reportlets, you have the option to display graphs, detail tables, or both. In some cases, one format might be superior to another. For example, the heat map visualization from the Countries report doesn’t convey as much information as just a plain detail table, especially when the heat map is shrunk down to fit inside a reportlet. While tables can be less sexy than charts, they can sometimes communicate information more effectively. Alternatively, you might find a particular chart provides more meaningful insights than a table can.

It often comes down to testing the different display options to see whether one approach stands out as being more effective than others. In other words, don’t settle for the default chart and explore what options you have before pulling the trigger on a reportlet.

4. Emphasize comparisons

When building dashboards, comparisons are a great way to provide more context around what’s happening with your data. One graphical approach is to stack two or three different metrics side by side in the same row or use the key metrics report to combine multiple metrics in one chart. You can create the same reportlet but for different segments (e.g., first-time visits vs. return visitors), and then position them side by side for easier comparison.

From a table perspective, you can use date comparisons to see how different items change between two specified time periods. When you’re in a report if you click on the calendar, in the pop-up calendar selection tool you’ll see a separate tab for comparing dates. This option gives you the ability to select two time periods and then see the difference between them.

For example, you could select two seven-day time periods to compare the traffic top pages received the prior week. If you use this feature, you’ll want to make sure the data is sort by the right column (most recent time period) and not the left column (previous time period). In addition, you may need to make the reportlet span two or more columns to accommodate all of the data.

5. Don’t include current day in trended reports

You should consider removing the current day (today) from your rolling trended reports. This probably sounds counter-intuitive so you’ll need to hear me out. If you create a report by selecting “last x days,” the current day is included by default in the rolling date range. This can cause problems because the current day will never be complete when it is displayed. If end users are looking at a reportlet in the morning, today’s data might stand out as being abnormally low. In fact, it will be low throughout the day until most of the visits have occurred. If you’re comparing two consecutive weeks, the current week will often be lower than the previous week simply because the current day’s data is incomplete (7 days vs. 6.x days).

To avoid unnecessary false alarms and fire drills, I recommend adjusting your date selection back one day to skip the current day and only include completed days in your reports. You can actually use one of the dropdown selections in the report’s calendar tool, and all you need to do is move the start and end dates back by one day to avoid including the current day.

6. Use filters to customize data

If your end users are only interested in part of the data within a report, why not filter the report for just the information they’re interested in? Filtering a report by different search phrases or segments gives you the ability to create a variety of targeted, customized reportlets. For example, you could filter a pages report by a specific site section to isolate just the pages of interest to a particular group of end users.

With filtering you can also remove values in reports that result in more questions than answers. For example, you can remove the dreaded “None” value so that it doesn’t get in the way of the real insights you’re trying to share through your reportlets. If you’ve used special characters to filter report data in the past (e.g., – for NOT or “ “ for exact phrases), these characters are now only available in the advanced filter options, which is to the right of the filter search box.

7. Don’t forget the custom reportlets

When you go through the process of creating various reportlets for a dashboard, you may not realize there are some useful custom reportlets available directly in the actual layout tool. For example, the report suite summary provides a high-level summary of multiple key metrics where end users can get an at-a-glance view of what’s happening on the site. There are also a number of user content reportlets that can be used to personalize any dashboard. The text reportlet allows you to add text to dashboards such as comments or instructions. In addition, these reportlets can leverage basic HTML to insert images for branding purposes or links to point users to internal wiki pages or documentation.

The SiteCatalyst interface dashboards can be simple, efficient way to share data across your organization. They can be both accessed through the real-time interface or scheduled to be delivered to different stakeholders via email. Whatever way you choose to use SiteCatalyst dashboards, I hope you found one or two of these tips to be useful. If you have any additional tricks up your sleeve for SiteCatalyst dashboards, please share them.