How NOT to Use Pie, Bar, and Line Charts in Marketing
Written by Steve Medeiros and published
Graphs can be fun, they can be colorful, and they can help you tell a story. Done properly, charts and graphs make it easy for your customers to visualize what you are trying to say.
When reporting to clients, it’s important that you make the facts easy to understand. The text and any graphics you include need to be clear. If you want to continue handling a client’s data, you don’t ever want to leave them questioning your conclusions.
What NOT to Do
Just for the fun of it, here are some examples of how visual displays of information can also distort or confuse. In these cases, the visuals did nothing but create additional questions – the exact opposite of what they were trying to do.
Having seen all these bad examples, what can you do to avoid becoming the person who created “that graph?”
When to Use Different Charts in Reports
A great place to start would be to understand how each particular kind of visualization works best. Here, in no particular order, are the 5 common chart types and when to use them:
The KPI is perfect for stating a bare fact, such as we have sold X items in this month or had this many visitors to the website.
The table has been thoroughly discussed elsewhere – it has its uses. However, our focus is how best to visually display all that data in those situations when arrays of numbers aren’t going to get your point across.
The line graph, bar chart and pie chart are all excellent ways to impart information, but they are generally used for, and are best at, quite different things.
Use bar charts to show numbers that are independent of one another. An example might show a comparison of how many people like Chinese food vs Indian food vs burgers. This chart clearly shows how the number of site visitors fared during this period vs the previous period.
Use pie charts to show how a whole is divided into different parts. Unlike a bar chart, pies are effective at showing percentages. Rather than comparing which tower is the tallest, you can easily tell which option got the biggest piece of pie. In this case, referral traffic got most of it, leaving only a tiny slice for organic.
Line graphs are helpful for showing you how numbers change over time. You would use this when your data is connected and you want to show its progress. An example might be how many books you sold over the course of a month or how many visitors came directly to your site. The points on the line show how things change day-by-day.
Using these graphical elements, I’ve created a visually impressive sample report showing how a website might have fared in the month of December.
Here’s how to create reports like these in Raven. To do this, navigate to Reports > Report Builder and click the New Report button. This will create a blank slate for you to work with. The following steps show how to add one of the widgets from my example report:
- Click the Add button to bring up the Section picker.
- Choose the Google Analytics button from the menu.
- Instead of choosing a widget group like Summary, click the Create Custom Widget button.
- Select the Metric “All Traffic,” and set the widget type to Pie Chart.
You can see that there are a number of available options, I’ve kept this one simple.
- Scroll to the bottom, and hit Submit.
To get the Line Graph or Bar Chart instead, you merely change the Widget Type you picked on step four.
Remember, if you try to do more than simple comparisons, like the earlier soccer chart, your message gets muddled. Know when to avoid adding another layer of complexity just to add another “cool effect.” Also, you don’t have to figure out how to build your own graphs and charts. By using Raven for your reporting, you leave all those spreadsheets behind.
One very important lesson to take away from this? Try to keep it simple. Your clients will thank you.