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Dashboards 101: Using & Building Next Level Dashboard Tools

Dashboards are crucial to operating a productive business and have become key components of many companies’ day-to-day activities. Forbes even listed dashboards as one of the five most important technologies strategic to business intelligence. A dashboard is essentially a visual tool that can be used to track key KPIs and metrics. In this article, we’ll go through the basics of dashboards, including dashboard use cases and steps towards building your own dashboards. 

What is a Dashboard?

A dashboard is a tool that tracks key KPIs, metrics and other data points and presents them in an easily accessible, typically visual, format. The format of a dashboard can make an expansive and complicated set of data easily digestible in a few seconds. The best dashboards can update this data automatically with the ability to provide a team continuous feedback on its performance. 

A key strength of dashboards is the ability to make complex data visually simple.

This objective can accomplished through a variety of techniques: 

  • Tables are used to organize data into rows and columns. Typically only a few data points are exhibited, as tables with numerous rows and columns can be difficult to read 
  • Line charts are great for trend analysis
  • Bar charts can be used to compare data within the same categories
  • Gauges resemble the speedometer on a car and are useful to measuring progress toward an objective
  • Illustrations in combination with the graphical techniques above are great for tracking goal progress. For example, you could place a checkmark next to your sales tables that changes colors depending on the trajectory towards your sales goal

The dashboard you create can then be built into the cloud, so it can be accessed on either your phone or computer. The dashboard you eventually build can be visually striking and highly informative, while being accessible anywhere you go. 

person typing on mac keyboard with left hand and writing notes with right while viewing colorful charts

Common Use Cases & Benefits

Dashboards have a wide variety of uses cases and benefits. In this section we’ll go through a few examples of professions that can benefit from using a dashboard, as well as some benefits that any dashboard user can receive. 

Business dashboards were originally modeled after the dashboard in your car. In a car, the dashboard provides you easy visual access to a variety of controls and data that help you maximize the safety and performance of your vehicle. A business dashboard functions in exactly the same way for your business. 

Unlike a car dashboard, you can customize your business dashboard with any metric or KPI that is important to you.

Some easy metrics to include are simple KPIs like sales or customers. For specific users, these metrics can vary widely and we’ll go through a few common dashboard users below:

  • Salespeople can use dashboards to track key indicators of sales performance. Actual sales is a great metric to include, but granular measures of the sales funnel like monthly leads, month over month lead growth, and number of calls to prospective customers are where having a dashboard can make a difference. 
  • Marketers need to monitor a variety of marketing KPIs and dashboards provide them easy ways to do that. For example, a marketer may be using Google Adwords and tracking impressions, clicks, conversion rates, etc. These metrics can be tracked along with their monthly rates of change and presented in a convenient dashboard display. If this marketer also uses social media and/or other advertising, this data can be presented on the same dashboard to provide a coherent and thorough evaluation of current marketing efforts. 
  • DTC brands can use dashboards to track customer engagement with their brand. Many of the metrics that marketers use are useful for DTC brands. Besides those, DTC brands can also track sales trends for different products and granular customer shopping habit data, like the percentage of shopping carts that are abandoned. 
  • Bloggers have similar needs to DTC brands and marketers, with more of a focus on granular website insights. For example users, sessions, bounce rate, and organic/inorganic traffic are important metrics for tracking the performance and trajectory of a blog. 
  • Business executives use dashboards to promote alignment across the business and gain a high-level view of an organization. These people can combine metrics from different departments to promote mutual progress across the organization or use combined metrics to evaluate overall organizational trajectory. 

More so than other technologies and strategies, dashboards have wide appeal across job functions. If you have specific KPIs and performance metrics that you’d like to be continuously updated in an aesthetically appealing setting, a dashboard is the right tool for you. 

Building Next Level Dashboards

glasses sitting in front of a computer monitor with blurred out windows of data and code

Now that we’ve gone through what a dashboard is and a few uses for dashboards, we can get to the important stuff - actually building dashboards. There are a lot of different types of dashboards and even more ways to build them. Whether you’re an experienced coder or someone looking to quickly create a useful tool, we’ll go through a few different ways to create great dashboards. 

The first, and most important, aspect of a dashboard is the data used to generate your dashboard. This data can come from many sources and we’re guessing you already have a spreadsheet and/or database to keep track of it all. If not, you can learn more about spreadsheets in our Spreadsheets 101 guide. We’d recommend using Google Sheets for your dashboard, as it offers add-on optionality that is superior to Excel. 

Within Google Sheets, first install the Google Analytics add-on by clicking “add-ons” at the top of the screen. After that, click the “create new report” tab within your Google Analytics add-on to generate a new report. You can then add different metrics and timeframes to your report in combination with a variety of charts. For a more in-depth tutorial on building dashboards in Google Sheets, check our Google Sheets dashboard tutorial. The output is a functional dashboard that requires little work and zero coding. 

For dashboard beginners, Google Sheets dashboards are a great first step. As users get more advanced, building better dashboards either requires optimizing data within Google Sheets or technology beyond Google Sheets. Optimizing Google Sheets can be done through using alternative sources of data, like unstructured data, or find creative ways to analyze your data within Google Sheets. To learn how to optimize your Google Sheets data, check out this Advanced Google Sheets Features article. You can also play around with Zapier’s Google Sheets Integrations for more ways to use Google Sheets. Unfortunately, becoming a dashboard user usually requires you to go beyond just Google Sheets.

Imagine a dashboard that automatically draws data from every comprehensible data source and presents in an informative and visually impressive dashboard with little work on your part.

Fascinating, right? There are tons of different platforms that create these and most can create good looking dashboards with solid amounts of functionality. We’ve found that many struggle with complicated set-ups that drain the users time, while not including the granular data that really turns a dashboard into a tool that a business can’t live without. 

We saw these problems too and we’d be remiss not to toot our own horn. Lido is a simple no-code solution that can allow you to optimize data you haven’t even thought to utilize in a beautiful dashboard. Check out Lido or feel free to use some helpful dashboard resources we found while researching for this article. 

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