Dashboards vs. Reports in Google Analytics


If you didn’t already know how much we love data, dashboards, and reports at Whole Whale, then welcome! You must be new here. Building a data culture at your organization doesn’t happen overnight, but we believe one of the first steps is making data as accessible as possible to everyone in your organization. What better place to start reviewing your website data than Google Analytics? The platform comes with lots of built-in tools that make it easy to compile, analyze, and share data with different people in your organization who can then use it to make strategic decisions. Today, we’ll be comparing two of our most used tools in Google Analytics: Dashboards vs. reports.

Pros of Google Analytics Dashboards

Data visualization

A a major pro of Google Analytics dashboards is that they allow you to put data into aesthetically pleasing, customizable, and easily digestible graphs and charts. Who doesn’t love a pretty chart? Numbers can be intimidating, especially to those who aren’t in the weeds every day. Make sure the data you’re pulling is formatted in a way that your specific audience can understand it.

Keep track of your KPIs

Dashboards do a great job at highlighting top level statistics and comparing them to a previous period. Did your Google Ads spend increase over the previous period? Are people staying on your content longer since you made those site updates? Dashboards do a great job of highlighting these key performance indicators that can help you quickly see if you’ve met your goals.   

Dynamically pull in data

Google Analytics dashboards can be built on a specific framework (i.e. how your organic traffic is performing), but can then easily pull data from specific time periods. For example, you can change the date to when a certain campaign was running, to dynamically update data and make it easier to understand.

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Cons of Google Analytics Dashboards

Only a 30k ft view

While dashboards can quickly tell you if you met your fundraising goal, it won’t tell you exactly what caused your success or failure. For a deeper dive, you’ll need the help of custom reports. Spoiler alert: We’ll go over those next.  

Beware of Dashzilla

A single dashboard isn’t meant to solve all problems, across all departments, across all of space and time. You might think that merging all of the useful metrics for your organization onto one dashboard is a great idea, but it will only result in scaring your employees, which detracts from any value the dashboard was meant to provide. To avoid Dashzilla, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to nonprofit dashboards that breaks them down into useful verticals like departments and topics.

When to use Google Analytics Dashboards

Google Analytics dashboards can be useful for high-level strategy meetings around the general direction of the company or to highlight changes in KPI’s to a board or directors. They can also help identify larger trends overtime and be used for annual or quarterly reports.

Pros of Google Analytics Reports

Get into the nitty gritty

Whereas dashboards can quickly answer the “How” of your organization’s site performance, reports allow you to answer the “Why?” Your conversion rate from Google Ads has nearly doubled, and that’s great! But knowing what exactly drove that increase and how you can drive similar results in the future, is far more valuable than just one number or delta. Building reports focused on Google Ads traffic, for example, can tell a fuller story. There are ways to add widgets to dashboards to provide more details around performance, but remember Dashzilla? You want to avoid that at all costs.


While Google has a solutions gallery filled with report templates that you can draw inspiration from, you can also create entirely customizable reports in the platform to only show the data that’s meaningful. You can pick custom dimensions and metrics that aren’t available out-of-the box in Google Analytics, like comparing City against a specific goal completion, such as Average Donation Amount to see where your most generous donors reside.


Cons of Google Analytics Reports

Little data visualization

Unlike dashboards, custom reports are usually more number-heavy and therefore require a bit more analysis to get value from them. There are a few visualization options, like your basic pie chart or bar graph, but we find in most cases reports provide more insight in table form if formatted correctly.

No annotation

Like we’ve mentioned, reports can do a great job at providing context for larger on-site metric changes, but there’s no way to nicely highlight these changes or provide annotations on the report itself. The work around for this usually involves exporting the data and inserting it into a different document with annotations and other visuals to help aid analysis.

When to use Google Analytics Reports

Reports are useful to identify why certain KPI’s either met or fell below expectations. If dashboards are your main dish, think of reports as ingredients. If people hated your soup, you can use reports to find out exactly what they didn’t like, and then the next time you make that soup, you know you should probably leave that ingredient out.

Feel ambitious? Try out Google Data Studio

Google Data Studio is a solution that combines the best of both worlds. They take dashboards to a whole new level in terms of customization ability, allowing you to utilize your brands colors in any type of chart you can think of. Reports can get crazy if you’re trying to add multiple data sources, i.e. Google and Facebook ads, but Data Studio has the ability to add multiple data sources to one report seamlessly. Interested yet? Check out our Google Data Studio How-To Guide —we’ve even included a template to help get you started.

Whole Whale Google Data Studio Report