It's quite funny actually…
Here I am in the online marketing game and yet I don't really like numbers. Actually, it'd be more accurate to say that I don't like calculating numbers. Yet, here I am in a business which very much works by the numbers.
An online business is managed by real metrics. Things like:
- Conversion rate
- Cost per lead
- Cost per action
- Retention rate and/or churn
- Opt-in rate
The list goes on.
For longer than I care to admit, I operated my business by instinct. Sure, I saw my traffic numbers in Analytics. I saw my subscriber counts grow. I also (obviously) saw income coming in and I tracked it in Quickbooks. But, in between these big performance indicators are a lot of metrics which show how it is all happening.
And I wasn't watching. I'm more of a “big picture” guy. And numbers just make my head spin.
It is made worse by the fact that the raw numbers I would need to make some of these calculations were spread out all over the place in different systems.
I needed something simpler. Something that would compile all the metrics I want into one screen and all I needed to do was give it a glance. Hell, I could even get nerdy and show the thing on the TV in my office. 🙂
That's exactly what I did.
I set up a central dashboard for all the core metrics of my company. I used Cyfe to do it.
Your Options For Statistics Dashboards
There are several different options out there for creating stat dashboards. Some companies may even create their own custom setup in-house. However, there are several web apps which have done a lot of the work for you:
- Geckoboard. Straightforward pricing and easy to use.
- Guiding Metrics. Heard good things about it, but it is a custom option. In other words, expensive.
- Ducksboard. Looks nice, but lacks the flexibility of the next option.
- Cyfe. The one I went with. Simple pricing without the odd limitations. Lots of integrations.
The general way these dashboards work is that they give you a selection of widgets you can use to build your own custom dashboard. Each of these widgets are designed to tap into a third-party service and display certain data to you on the dashboard.
For instance, if you wanted a widget for your blog traffic, you could drag in a widget which works with Google Analytics. Connect your accounts, select the data you want to display, and your traffic data which be on your dashboard.
Once you assemble the dashboards you want, you're good to go. They'll just sit there and refresh automatically and you can keep instant tabs on your business.
Deciding What To Measure
Now, it would be really easy to just go widget-happy here and build a nice, pretty dashboard which shows you pretty much everything. But, that'd be a waste of time.
A business has certain key performance indicators. You need to know what they are and those are the things you need to focus on. Most likely, metrics like Twitter followers or Facebook fans aren't really important to your bottom line. You can have a dashboard for things like that (I do, as seen above), but the REALLY important metrics need to be shown front and center on your main dashboard.
You want to select those numbers which give a true numerical look at how the business is operating. You also want to select numbers which you can control. In other words, you need to be able to look at those numbers and be able to DO something to influence them. This is how you manage your operation.
So, I would concentrate on metrics like:
- Net growth to your email list
- Conversion rates on different sales page on your site
- Advertising costs vs. revenue
I also have a trio of 90-day indicators. I picked this up from a guy in my mastermind group. It is based on the 3 ways to grow a business, from Jay Abraham. They are:
- Get more customers.
- Increase the average transaction size.
- Increase how often your customers buy from you.
So, I now assign a KPI to each of those, based on a 90-day timeframe:
- # of Customers. The number of people who've bought from from me in the last 90 days.
- Average transaction value. The average checkout price.
- Repurchase frequency. The average number of transactions any person makes in that same 90 day period.
With those 3 KPIs in view at all times, it provides focus on what I do during the day. As long as I increase those KPIs, the business is growing. Calculating those metrics repeatedly would be mind-numbing. I could hand it off to my VA, but there's always the possibility of human error or schedule issues. In my case, I've automated it and it is on my dashboard.
So, the first step to building your dashboard is to sit down and decide what the really important metrics are. Choose metrics which are actionable and which are a direct measure of your business growth. Secondary to that would be your various vanity metrics like Twitter or blog comments.
Collecting All The Data Into One Place
As you assemble your dashboard, you'll find that some data is very easy to display because it is built right into the widget. Others are going to take some real thought and/or programming to pull it off.
For instance, just about any dashboard will have built-in Google Analytics integration. So, setting up a graphical display of your visitor counts would be very easy. It is built right in.
Other built-in integrations depend on who you're using. For instance, if you want metrics for your email list growth, Cyfe has built-in widgets for Aweber, Mailchimp, GetResponse and many others.
In other cases, you'll need to manipulate data to make it useful and/or get geeky. 🙂
For instance, let's say you want a Google Analytics traffic graph of one single particular page on your site. Perhaps a sales page. The widget is designed to show visitors, but it doesn't have the built-in ability to display visitors just for one specific page. The answer is to use Segments inside of your Analytics account.
- Go to Admin inside your Analytics account and then choose the site you wish to display.
- Click on “Segments” (under Personal Tools & Assets)
- Click on New Segment.
- Go to Advanced > Conditions.
- Select “Page” as your filter, choose “exactly matches”, then type the URL of the page you want to display numbers for.
Now when you set up the Analytics widget on the Cyfe dashboard, you select that segment to filter out your numbers.
This would display a graph of traffic specifically to that page (in my case, the Lab sales page).
Getting Custom Data And Calculations Into the Dashboard
You can get fairly far with widgets as they're pre-programmed, but to really take it up a notch and have a lot of the calculations done for you, you'll need to get really geeky.
With Cyfe, they have a number of custom widgets included.
These widgets allow you to pull in custom data and display it in unique ways.
- CSV File. You can either upload a CSV file exported from another system, or dynamically generate it using any system which can output a CSV.
- Google Spreadsheets. You can display all kinds of data (along with calculations) and display it on your dashboard.
- iFrame. Pull in external websites and simply display them.
- Private URL. A way to pull any remote URL which is set to display data in a particular way to be used by Cyfe.
- Push API. Allows you to have any data pushed into Cyfe on the fly for graphing, tracking. Zapier has an integration for this built-in, so you can push almost anything you'd want into this widget and track trends over time. For instance, I have a Zapier task that pushes into Cyfe each time a support email arrives in HelpScout, therefore giving me a trend of the volume of incoming support inquiries.
- SQL. You can query any remote database using any query you want and display the results. Powerful.
To give you an inside look at how this thing work internally here at BMA…
I have an internal database (basically a company intranet) which keeps track of things. Whenever a new lead signs up in Ontraport, a push notification is sent into my internal system, therefore allowing me to track leads and unsubscribes. Whenever a person buys something, it is all recorded inside my internal system. I use MemberMouse for all memberships and transactions here at the Academy, and MemberMouse communicates to my internal system using push notifications.
So, I have all this data being compiled in my own internal system. And I actually have a custom-built dashboard for all of that. But, I wanted it in Cyfe. 🙂
So, I set up some custom scripts to query my database and display certain data, and I use the “Private URL” widget in Cyfe to display that data in ways that I want. This gives me revenue stats and membership stats inside the dashboard.
For conversion rates, that's a function of traffic versus sales. So, I turned to Google Spreadsheets. Using the Google Analytics API, I pull in traffic counts to sales pages into a spreadsheet. Then I remotely pull in number of sales from my internal system. All this is done using Apps Script, which is a programming interface that works with Google Apps. Then, I run the calculation to get conversion rates and I display that data in the Cyfe dashboard using the Google Spreadsheets widget.
Not gonna lie… that's geeky. 🙂 And I don't expect that many reading this will be able to do it. But, you can always hire a coder to get it done for you.
In essence, the data you need is almost always there. It is just disconnected. And sometimes the act of connecting it and displaying it into an easy way requires you to do programming to make different systems talk to each other and make calculations based on that.
It is what it is. 🙂
Focus On The Numbers
I'll end off with this…
It is highly important that you manage and grow your blog-based online business using real metrics. Not fuzzy feelings or cute little metrics like blog comments, but real metrics which matter.
That is, if you're in this for the purpose of business. 🙂
You could go around and track your core numbers manually. You could even keep a running record of them in a spreadsheet and even have a virtual assistant update it for you. Good old “human automation” at work. 😉
But, if you want to take it up a notch, consider taking the time to set up a dashboard.
It is like the instrument panel for your business. Your car has one. Planes have one. Your business should, too.
If you want to dive deeper into this with me, consider joining us inside the Blog Monetization Lab. Very soon, I am going to be doing an instructional series and turn it into a new Action Plan… and it will be how to set up a dashboard like this. And in it, I'm going to be sharing exact scripts and getting deeper into the technicals on how to do it. If you want to be a part of it, you'll need to be a Lab member. 🙂