8 steps to build a custom Google Analytics dashboard

Do you need a little more from Google Analytics? A custom-made dashboard might do the trick. Here’s how to set one up.

I’m a bit of an analytics nut. Not only do I use Google Analytics, but several alternatives. I check out analytics blogs and have used custom dashboards and reports.

The one thing I haven’t done—until now—is create my own dashboard. I decided it was time to tackle the elephant in the room. Care to join me?

Step 1: Get started.

I logged into my Google Analytics account, but I hit a snag the minute I started.

Google’s guide says to click the home icon to get to the dashboard tool, but that didn’t happen for me. Clicking the home icon gave me an overview of the three sites I manage via Google Analytics.

Instead, I clicked on the name of the site I wanted, and then went to the “My Stuff” section in the menu on the left. The first sub-section was “Dashboards.” I was ready to get started. I already have quite a few dashboards, but I went to the bottom of that section to click the “New Dashboard” button.

Step 2: Choose your options.

Next, I had the option to add a starter dashboard or start with a blank canvas.

I chose the second option, but here’s how the first one looks if you choose it.

Step 3: Create your first analytics widget.

A blank canvas remains blank until you add some widgets. Clicking the “Blank Canvas” button takes you to the widget editor so you can do so. There are several display options for your widgets (metrics, pie charts, timelines, tables, geo maps and bar charts).

But for your widgets to be useful, you have to add some data. That’s what I did next.

Step 4: Set up dimensions and metrics.

The widget editor enables you to add dimensions and metrics. A lot of people get confused about the difference between dimensions and metrics, but Google’s explanation is pretty clear: Dimensions describe your data while metrics measure it.

I asked Google Analytics to create a pie chart for all new visits and to find out how many of them used a specific mobile device to visit the site. Adding the dimensions and metrics automatically populated the widget name area, though I had the option to change this if I wanted. I could also link to external sources—which is what DashboardJunkie does—within the widget.

Step 5: Use filters.

Another way to refine Google Analytics data is with filters. I tried this with a pie chart so I could see which mobile devices people use when they visit my site.

Pie charts can have between three to six slices. If I wanted to go further and be more specific about individual makes and models, I’d have to choose another way to display the data.

Step 6: Add more widgets.

Once I added my first widget, I used the “Add Widget” link at the top of the dashboard to add more.

This returned me to the widget editor. I could still edit a widget after I created it. All I had to do was hover my mouse near the top of the widget until a pencil icon appeared. This allowed me to change the metrics, dimensions and title.

Here’s an example of my new dashboard populated with a number of widgets. You can drag and drop widgets and rearrange them so that you have the most important data at the top of your dashboard.

Step 7: Add reports.

You can improve your dashboard even further by adding reports. All you have to do is go to the report section of your sidebar, open a report and click the link that says “Add to Dashboard.”

Then select the dashboard you want to add the information to, and it will convert the report into another widget.

When I tried, I got a warning that, because of the limitations of the widget, not all the report data would be converted. But I still got something useful.

Step 8: Export and share your dashboard.

Once you are happy with your dashboard setup, there are several ways to do more with it. For example, you can click the “Share” button to get a link you can give to others so they can use your dashboard configuration in their own Google Analytics accounts. Your data stays private, though.

If someone shares a dashboard configuration with you, you can click the edit button, see what data they used to configure the widget and use this as a starting point for a new widget of your own. I’ve done this with a couple of the widgets I’ve added to other dashboards.

You can also export the data as a PDF, or have it emailed to your inbox (or anyone else’s) at specified intervals.

Assessing the process

I found the process of creating a custom Google Analytics dashboard very easy. According to Google, you can currently create up to 20 dashboards (which is great) with up to 12 widgets each (possibly a bit limiting).

While I think the ability to add custom analytics dashboards is a killer feature, there’s still one thing on my wish list: the ability to drag and drop widgets between reports and profiles so you don’t have to start from scratch every time. At the moment, you have to use the share link to achieve this, which seems a little clunky.

What’s your experience creating custom dashboards in Google Analytics?

Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional writer and blogger. A version of this article originally appeared on The Daily Egg. (Image via)

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