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Building better SaaS dashboards: the basics and the longtail features

Written by
Harry Marshall
last updated on
March 1, 2024

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Creating a functional dashboard for a SaaS platform might seem straightforward at first. However, crafting something genuinely unique that truly delights users involves much more than just an appealing design.

A big challenge is addressing the feature ‘longtail’ that caters to the diverse needs of your users, including the variety of ways they like to consume and interact with data, as well as the myriad formats they require to incorporate the date into their unique workflows.

For technology platforms, the iterative process of gathering feedback and implementing enhancements is crucial for developing a dashboard that not only meets basic requirements but also offers a deeply personalized and efficient user experience.

Having built Trevor.io and now Embeddable.com (this service!), we’ve collected such feedback over the course of several years.

Here's a closer look at some examples of the basics and the longtail features that can elevate a dashboard from ‘it’s ok’ to ‘wow, this is a reason I would choose this tool over its competitors’.

The Basics

(1) Interactivity: A fundamental aspect of an engaging dashboard is the ability to engage and interact with it in different ways:

  1. Filters: Let users view data by specific criteria, such as genre or artist on a music platform.
  2. Drilldowns: Provide deeper insights, like viewing detailed song plays from a monthly engagement overview.
  3. Dynamic Sorting: Allows rearranging data, like sorting by ‘most popular’ or whatever makes sense in the context of your business.
  4. Interactive Time Series: Adjust time ranges on graphs to explore different periods.

(2) Internationalisation: Many software platforms have an international, or sometimes even global,  user base. Internationalisation ensures the dashboard is accessible to people given their:

  1. local language.
  2. local number formats (e.g. in places like Spain and Germany, the number 2.3 is written instead as 2,3).
  3. local date formats (e.g. 5th February 2024 in the US is: 02/05/2024, and in the UK is: 05/02/2024).
  4. local timezone (i.e. when showing with dates).

(3) Downloads and Exports: This gives users the ability to actually do something with the data.  For instance

  1. Download as CSV (e.g. to manipulate the data in a spreadsheet)
  2. Download as PNG (e.g. to include in a presentation)
  3. Connect to Zapier (e.g. to build workflows across tools).

(4) Accessibility Features: Guarantees that the dashboard is usable for everyone, including individuals with disabilities, promoting inclusivity.

(5) Mobile Optimization: Ensures full functionality on mobile devices, allowing users to manage and monitor their services anytime, anywhere.

The Longtail

  1. Historical Data Comparison: The ability to compare time series data across multiple periods (e.g. this week to last week, or last month to the previous month).
  2. Self-Serve Functionality: This empowers users to tailor the dashboard to highlight or add metrics important to them, enhancing the dashboard's relevance and usability. Stripe’s payments dashboard is a great example of this.
  3. Custom Colours and Branding: Many customers, especially in the Enterprise segment, want to see their own colours and branding. It doesn’t come up that often as a request, but it allows for visual alignment with their brand and can improve the aesthetic appeal, especially if they’re exporting the whole or parts of the dashboard to include in company reports.
  4. Real-time Data Processing: Essential for platforms like music streaming services, allowing for instant insights into listener trends and behaviours.
  5. Advanced Analytics and Predictions: Utilizes past data to forecast future trends.
  6. API Integration: Enables seamless connections with other tools and systems, streamlining workflows and enhancing operational efficiency. Zapier is a great first option.
  7. Notifications and Alerts: This enables users to set up personalized alerts for specific metrics or events, ensuring they're always informed of significant changes or milestones.
  8. Dark Mode: A popular feature for reducing eye strain and saving battery life on mobile devices, allowing users to switch the dashboard's appearance to a darker color scheme.
  9. Advanced Customization of Reports: Beyond basic self-serve functionality, users often want to customize the layout, format, and content of reports directly within the dashboard. A great example of this is Salesforce’s report builder.
  10. AI-Powered Insights: This feature enables users to ask questions in natural language and receive insights directly from their dashboard. This capability makes data more accessible for users who aren’t used to looking at graphical charts. It can significantly enhance decision-making processes by allowing for quick, conversational data exploration and the generation of actionable insights based on historical data patterns and predictive analytics.

By deeply understanding and implementing these longtail features, SaaS platforms can offer more than just a dashboard; they provide a critical, customizable tool that meets the diverse needs and preferences of users.

These are also important features to consider when choosing an embedded analytics platform. Do they provide any of these features out of the box? Are they on the roadmap? Or will they be sorely lacking?

For a SaaS dashboard, it’s often this level of customization and flexibility that transforms the experience into a central component of users' daily operations and strategic decision-making, which ultimately leads to higher engagement and better user retention, which is the most important metric for most SaaS platforms.

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