6 visualisation techniques for post number 100

Wow, who would have thought it?  Almost three years ago when I started this thing I was sure that it was going to be a short little thing that would get no traction whatsoever.  But here we are looking down the barrels of post number 100.  And what a roller coaster it has been.  To celebrate the 100th post I am giving away a blog post about visualisation techniques that will change your life forever (ok for about the three minutes it seems to take people on average to read my blog – no really, I measure it).  If you’ve read all 106,821 words that I’ve written so far, then you will probably not be too surprised by the rest of this.  Most of these are going to be things from Google Analytics, because I’m going to try and show you how many people are looking at this blog.

1. Line graphs

How can something so simple, by so applicable in so many situations.  This is one area that Google Analytics does much better than SiteCatalyst, because it is an automatic time sensitive graph that is loaded at the top of every screen.  You can then drill down to each of the elements and still have the graph (ok, you’ll probably have to export into excel to do any comparisons).  SiteCatalyst on the other hand isn’t great for totals and it is annoying that you can only graph five elements at a time.  However you do have to change view to get to that trended option.

One of the things that I like doing is overlaying a segment on my Google Analytics posts.  In this case, you can see how my organic search traffic has been steady (with a nice increase in the last couple of months) despite the erratic total visits.

2. Treemaps

These are my favourite types of visualisation techniques and one of the reasons that I was thrown by Microsoft’s Gatineau (until it was renamed and then canned).  Fortunately not all is lost, as pointed out by Avinash recently you can do something pretty similar in Google Analytics if you have access to the API and are a bit handy with the developer software.

Personally I noticed that XCelisius 2008 was on a free offer recently and have downloaded it to play with.  It’s a relatively nice bit of software, even if it is a bit unreliable with Excel 2007.  What it does have is the ability to create treemaps, although I was slightly dissapointed that the only way of presenting them was to upload them into a spreadsheet and not to put them live on the web (I’ll save it and link to a live version later).

Particularly I was excited by the way that you can map a nice metric (like the one above) into various different boxed and then make it interactive so that you can find out more information about them.  Above I have an example of how my site’s traffic from the last 3 years splits in terms of where the users come from.  That big block in the top right is the direct traffic to the site and most of the big block to the top left is Google.  Interestingly the pink the bottom right shows how some of the more niche sites have a better traction with the site than the bigger ones (darker pink is more page views per visit)

In the next example I haven’t written any post names on, but these are my blog posts by years that they were written.  It’s interesting to look at to see how my 2008 posts seem to have attracted more visitors than 2009 (well they’ve had time to), whereas 2010 is going really strong.  But they all completely dwarf those visits looking at the home page (are you looking at the home page now?).  Even though this doesn’t really give that many actionable insights, one thing it can do is show you which areas you should concentrate on for improvement.

3. Maps

Ok, so you’ve got a view of your content based on how many people look at it, with different shades for how many pages, why don’t we do the same thing for where they are in the world?

This does start to beg the question though, is this good or bad?  What does it mean I should do?  Is it significant that there are so many more people in the States looking at my site (that’s the darkest green).  What could I do with this.  Well one thing you will have noticed is that I try to avoid doing things that are British English.  Uses of the word ‘colour’ (or ‘color’) are suspiciously absent and I don’t tend to talk about trends of things that are happening in a country too often (although, obviously occasionally).

Also, what is up with Greenland?  Seriously you guys, start reading my blog.

4. Motion Charts

My biggest regret of the motion charts in Google Analytics is that I can’t post one on the blog.  Instead I’m limited to showing you a still of what it would look like:
This is a brilliant way of taking a couple of dimensions and looking to see how it changes over time.  Personally you can see from my data that my organic search traffic has increased over time, but pages per visit decreased for that segment.  I need to increase my visits to other pages on the site by linking to them or encouraging users to stay around if they come to keyword rich pages.  This would obviously make much more sense if I had various campaigns running across this chart and I’d included a goal as an axis too – this would allow you to see if your campaigns were improving over time or not.
5. Dashboards

Dashboards are the bane of my life.  No really, they are.  Seriously I have written about Omniture Dashboards, HBX dashboards and Hitwise Dashboards.  Not to mention a large essay on how much time you should spend in your day on producing dashboards.  PS did you like the way that I went from talking about putting more links into the post to actually doing it.  You see I am learning!

Why are dashboards such an emotive subject?  Well everyone (and I do mean everyone) wants them to do something slightly different.  Your dashboard will never satisfy anyone, let alone everyone.  So your job as an analyst is to come up with something as simple as possible.  This is why the XCelsius product is good (in a way).

Image courtesy of DashboardSpy
One of the reasons that XCelsius appears to be good is that it is small and limited to one page.  There is literally only so much that you can fit onto it, but you can put lots of different types of chart on one page.  SiteCatalyst’s dashboards work in much the same way using the new mechanism, but having the option of putting more on it, encourages people to.  Effectively you end up with a big portfolio of reports that you want to see on a regular basis.  This dashboard option gives you just the headlines.  Want any more?  Well then you can ask about specific things that can be set up as an analysis piece, rather than regular reporting.
The other advantages of a dashboard like this is it takes your stakeholders focus away from hundreds of data points and brings it all back to your commentary.  That is the value add bit.
6. Wordle

Data isn’t just numbers, sometimes it is words and it is the way that you present the use of those words that can detail a lot about them.  For example we can use tools like Wordle to create a map of the most commonly used words, but what we really want to do is start grouping these together.  In fact, in a perfect world, we would take the entire lot and turn it into some gigantic tag cloud that shows what is going on with your site.  I’ve got an example below of my site from the tagcrowd website (work computers don’t like wordle).  One of the things that it shows me is that I’m doing something right.  The most common words are ‘analytics’, ‘user’, ‘web’.  I didn’t realise I wrote so much about cookies though, maybe I’ll have to stop doing that in the future.
created at TagCrowd.com

And I still haven’t mentioned Google’s new weighted search feature.  Who’d have thought it.

Posted in Google Analytics, Web Analytics, Xcelsius
2 comments on “6 visualisation techniques for post number 100
  1. Congratulations on #100 Alec, that is a great accomplishment.

    As they say here in the US… 90% of winning is just showing up consistently. : )

    The six visualization techniques are great. I am personally disappointed that more web analytics vendors have not embraced tag clouds and other such “non table” “non line graphs/pies” techniques. Hopefully we’ll see more innovation in that space.

    Congrats again!


  2. Anonymous says:

    I am glad you said that..

    Thank You,

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