5 Questions To Create A Laser-Focused Dashboard

Dashboards exist to help make decisions. Unfortunately this principle is often forgotten. That is why many SEM’s moan and groan when it comes time to building dashboards. Without a specific end goal in mind, building any report becomes a frustrating mind reading game.

When you spend the time to clarify the decision that needs to be made before building anything, the details of a dashboard become clear to both the builder and the stakeholder. I offer five questions to ask your stakeholder (yourself in some cases) before building any dashboard that will help you to clarify the decision that needs to be made, and ultimately save you time and stress.

  • What is the decision that needs to be made?
  • How often is the decision made or reevaluated?
  • What level of detail does the decision apply to?
  • What metrics are available to help make the decision?
  • Who is making the decision?

1.  What Is The Decision That Needs To Be Made?

This is a simple question, but it is often ignored. It is really tempting to try and create “the one dashboard that rules them all”.

The problem with this approach is that having a massive dashboard actually makes it harder to find the data that is relevant to making a decision. Having a huge dashboard might make you look good in the short term, but it will ultimately hurt your program because decisions will not be made as effectively.

The flip side to building a kitchen sink dashboard is just to wait until stakeholders ask for data. This is a more preferable approach because stakeholders are more likely to ask for relevant data in a pinch, but it can also be very stressful. If you have ever had to stay late to pull together a last minute report, you will probably shy away from this approach.

The middle road between these extremes is to have a separate dashboard for each decision and only include pertinent information in each of those reports. Below are some examples of common decisions that need to be made regarding a paid search program.

  • How much money should we allocate to search?
  • On which Search Engines should we spend that money?
  • What messaging should I use in my next ad copy test?
  • What should I work on this month to optimize my program?
  • Do I need to change my spend pacing this week to stay within my budget?

Determining the decision is the first and most important step in any dashboard.  The remaining four questions work to clarify aspects of this decision that will lay a framework for building an excellent dashboard.

2.  How Often Is The Decision Made Or Reevaluated?

Many companies make budget decisions on a monthly or quarterly basis, but make optimization decisions more frequently. That means that a budget dashboard should show data in monthly or quarterly increments, and should only be sent when that decision needs to be made.

Having a weekly budget dashboard may have some value in terms of keeping everyone accountable, but it usually has very little value in making effective decisions.

3.  What Level Of Detail Does The Decision Apply To?

It is obvious that I need to see keyword level data to make bidding decisions, but for some reason the level of detail does not seem to be as obvious in budget decisions. If the budget is being determined for the whole paid search program, then the data should be rolled up to for the whole paid search program.

Giving keyword level data to a stakeholder that is only responsible for setting the overall budget will only help to distract that stakeholder from the decision that he/she is responsible for making, and will mostly come back to bite you in the form of irrelevant inquiries into your program.

4.  What Metrics Are Available To Help Make The Decision?

Notice that this is the fourth question not the first. This question is belabored because people erroneously think that having more metrics will help them ask the right questions.

We need to be focused on what decision needs to be made by asking the previous questions before we even begin to look at how to answer this question. The ironic thing is that once the other four questions have been answered, this question often becomes very simple.

For a budget decision, you really only need to know how much you spent and what the return was to make a good decision. (See this article for a great review on how to accurately measure return).

Only including the metrics that are relevant to the decision at hand will be the best way to help your stakeholder make a good decision.

5.  Who Is Making The Decision?

I often hear that you need to know your audience to be able to make an effective dashboard.  This is only partially true. Just by knowing your stakeholders name or what they like to eat will not help you to make a better dashboard.

By asking questions about the decisions they are trying to make, you will get to know your stakeholder needs which will help you make a useful dashboard.

The most important takeaway from this question is simply to know who to send the dashboard to. That may seem obvious, but in many large organizations, it may take some research to determine who is actually making the decisions.

Here is an example:

  • Decision = How much budget should we allocate to paid search?
  • Time Frame = This is a program where the budget is reevaluated weekly
  • Level of Detail = Paid Search Channel
  • Metrics = Cost per Acquisition(CPA in the screenshot), Conversions (provisionings in screenshot), Cost
  • Audience = Bob, the campaign manager of the business unit for who we are advertising

Notice that this dashboard is simple. It provides the right information to make a budget adjustment, and does not add information that might distract Bob from the decision he is responsible to make. With this information, he can easily compare the CPA’s from search and other channels to determine how much budget search should get in the coming week.

So why do SEM’s stress when it comes to making dashboards?

The answer is that the end goal has not been clarified. Asking questions to clarify the decision that needs to made before building a dashboard, will not only save you time, but will also result in a more effective dashboard.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Paid Search Column


About The Author: is an MBA candidate at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Prior to heading back to school full time, he was a worldwide search marketing manager for Adobe Systems.

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  • http://twitter.com/AnnieCushing Annie Cushing

    Great post. If you include an image with a lot of detail, like the dashboard, it would be really helpful to link to a larger image.

  • http://twitter.com/Journeyman328 Justin Conner

     Right click and open the image.


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