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Data Visualization for Agencies: Key Concepts & Best Practices

When it comes to reporting, data visualization is one of the most important parts of effective client communication.

Data visualization transforms raw data in a way that communicates insights and meaning to your audience. There are many reasons that data visualization is crucial for reporting, although ultimately it comes down to helping both you and your clients improve decision making. 

With effective data visualization, you can provide more context and make data easier to understand for end-users, regardless of the client's level of technical expertise.

In this guide, we’re going to discuss exactly how agencies and marketers can use data visualization to improve client communication. In particular, we’ll discuss:

  • What is Data Visualization?
  • 10 Charts for Data Visualization
  • Data Visualization Best Practices

Let’s get started.

What is Data Visualization?

Data visualization is the process of taking raw data and representing it in a graph, chart, or any other visual format. 

Regardless of the type of analysis you’re doing, data visualization is essential for uncovering relationships, trends, and patterns in the data that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. 

For example, if you’re managing PPC campaigns for clients on multiple ad platforms, the amount of raw data available on each platform is often overwhelming. Data visualization allows you to take this huge amount of data and derive insights into the performance of each campaign, ad creative, platform, and so on. 

As Tableau highlights in their guide to data visualization:

Data visualization is another form of visual art that grabs our interest and keeps our eyes on the message. When we see a chart, we quickly see trends and outliers. If we can see something, we internalize it quickly. It’s storytelling with a purpose. 

Below, we’ll discuss exactly how you can use data visualization to tell a story to clients.

10 Charts for Data Visualization

Before we discuss data visualization best practices, let’s first review a few common charts that are useful for agencies and marketers. 

Choosing the right widgets to display your data can be just as important as the data itself. In AgencyAnalytics, there are a variety of widget styles that offer a wide degree of flexibility in your dashboards and reports. Specifically, widgets are broken down into three main categories:

  • Widgets with a dimension
  • Widgets without a dimension
  • Custom widgets

Widgets with a Dimension

Widgets with a dimension are used to display data that is separated by a range or category. For example, a dimension-based widget is useful if you want to break down data by age range, ranking group, or marketing channel.

Widgets with a dimension can be further broken down into the following charts:

  • Pie Charts: Pie charts show you a percentage that each individual category contributes to the whole. For example, with our Google Analytics integration, you can track sessions by source including organic search, paid search, and so on.

  • Horizontal Bar Charts: Horizontal bar charts are similar to pie charts as they display the proportional distribution amount among a set of groups. For example, horizontal bar charts can be useful with Google Search Console to display the proportional amount that each landing page contributed to the whole in terms of impressions, clicks, and so on.

  • Map Charts: Map charts provide the distribution of a given metric based on location. In Google Analytics, for example, you can select a metric under Audience -> Location and see where countries are contributing to the selected metric.

  • Table Charts: Table charts display a metric that is broken down by dimension and is useful when you want to see the exact value for each dimension. For example, table charts can be useful if you want to see the amount of social media engagement coming broken down each country and city.

  • Gauge Charts: Guage charts allow you to display a metric as a percentage of the whole. Gauge charts are useful if you want to show how well a category performed in comparison to the total or how well it performed on a given scale. For example, if you’re running a site audit, the tool provides an overall website score out of 100 percent.

  • Stacked Column Chart: Finally, These “Stoplight‘ charts are used in our rank tracker for monitoring SERP data. These column charts allow you to visualize the distribution of rankings over time. If your clients want to track major changes in SERP rankings, these stacked column charts are well suited. These charts are also useful in conjunction with a line chart showing the Google Change in the search engine.

Widgets Without a Dimension

Widgets without a dimension are used to display an entire data set that isn’t split into categories or ranges. These widgets are useful if you’re monitoring how a single metric is performing over time or at a snapshot in time.

  • Line Charts: If you’re tracking the change of a single metric over time, line charts are your go-to widget. These widgets are a great way to identify trends such as seasonality in the data. Line charts can also be compared against a previous time frame, allowing you to quickly compare data at a glance: 

  • Stat Widget: Stat widgets provide a single metric over a particular period. In addition to the raw data, stat widgets also provide a percentage change over the previous period.

  • Bar Charts: Similar to line charts, bar charts show the progression of a metric over time. Bar charts include the time period on the X-axis and on the Y-axis is each bar representing the metric in question on the given date. Bar charts are useful when you want to illustrate the relation of each data point to all data points. For example, below is a bar chart comparing new and lost links with our backlink checker.

Custom Widgets

Finally, in addition to the prebuilt data visualization widgets, custom widgets allow you to make a dashboard your own. Examples of custom widgets include adding titles to a dashboard, text boxes, and images.

Data Visualization Best Practices

Now that we’ve reviewed the various types of data visualization widgets you can use, let’s discuss a few best practices for agencies.

Add Context & Highlight KPIs

Since many clients often won’t have the technical expertise in marketing that you do, one of the most important things to do is add context and highlight the KPIs that are important that month. For example, all our monthly marketing report template starts off with a written section that includes:

  • A monthly summary
  • Recommendations for the account 
  • Work accomplished this month
  • Targets for next month

The point is that whenever a chart may be overly technical, you may want to accompany it with a text box that provides an explanation of the data's meaning and relevance to their overall business objective.

Avoid Clutter & Information Overload

In addition to providing context to the reader, you also want to avoid overwhelming them with too much data and clutter. To do so, you generally just want to stick to a few colors in your dashboard, use simple stat widgets wherever possible, and separate sections with clear titles.

Make Use of Data Storytelling

One of the most important parts of communicating your marketing results with clients is data storytelling. As discussed in our Guide to Data Storytelling, this refers to taking data visualization a step further and adding a narrative in order to communicate the significance of the underlying changes. 

The MIT Sloan teacher Miro Kazakoff calls data storytelling “the next chapter in analytics” and highlights that:

If you want people to make the right decisions with data, you have to get in their head in a way they understand. Throughout human history, the way to do that has been with stories.

One of the best ways to tell a story with AgencyAnalytics is to add annotations and goals to your charts. For example, if you’re managing a PPC campaign for clients, highlighting important changes to the account such as budget changes or new campaign launches provides a much more complete picture than just the chart itself.

To do so, simply open up the widget’s settings and you’ll see an option to add annotations and goals in all date-based line and column charts.

Summary: Data Visualization for Agencies

In the data-driven world of marketing today, data visualization is an essential skill for agencies. By combining data, visualization, and a narrative, agencies are able to communicate their results to clients in a much more effective way. 

Data visualization is a powerful tool for marketers as it removes many of the technical barriers related to data analysis and enables better decision-making. That said, charts alone don't provide much value to clients if you don't combine them with a narrative that relates the data back to the client's overall business objectives.

Written by Peter Foy

Peter Foy is a content marketer with a focus on SaaS companies. Based in Montreal, QC, when he’s not writing or managing ad campaigns, he’s usually studying data science and machine learning.