Where to Start When Creating a Member Dashboard

Robert HoldemanWebsite Tips, Website Tools, Website Trends

Once you understand the potential for your company or organization in taking your website to the next level, building a community of users via a Member Dashboard, what’s next?  What’s your plan of action?

There are three main areas your plan should cover:

  1. Technical/Platform
  2. Content/Data
  3. Access/Flow

#1 – Technical/Platform:
Determine the eventual size and scope of your dashboard so that you can anticipate your future website hosting needs.  It’s generally recommended you start simple, allowing room for it to grow and evolve over time, with polishing and refining.

Size and scope relates to storage of files that your dashboard will have available, as well as the number of users, who will each require their own secure login.  Does your website hosting plan need a disk space increase?  Is your current website programmed to allow login by individuals and to display private pages?  If it is, you are halfway there – and probably won’t need a separate hosting plan, saving on monthly expenses.  If not, you can add that function to your website, develop a new site with greater capabilities, or even an entirely separate website in a sub-domain to better track visitors.  A new website lets you be free to explore new and more efficient web technologies than your existing site, along with other possible benefits, such as updated design.

Your Member Dashboards can be built completely from the ground up with custom code, which may be the best approach for the user and certainly the most costly.  It could be one of the commercially available dashboard packages that provide templates and widgets for a more standard approach, at the other end of the spectrum, yet still pricey.  You could try for something in the middle, using a website content management system with modules to perform the various dashboard functions you have envisioned.

This will depend on what you plan below.

#2 – Content/Data:
The most important thing to remember about what you choose to show on your dashboard is to limit it to what your users, i.e. members/customers, want to know.  The focus must be on them, with really relevant data that is easily understood at little more than a glance.  Use of graphic icons and buttons, charts and graphs is good, especially as opposed to displaying text and data in rows and columns.

Keeping the content up to date can be a challenge if you don’t plan for it.  Some content can be pulled from other sources, with RSS news feeds and the like, with no need to maintain it, while other content that is available for download, such as proprietary product installation manuals, reports, white papers, etc. will be somewhat static.  The most valuable data to your users may well be the content you generate, though, so take steps to minimize the process of updating it.  You don’t want to find yourself spending hours each week updating online information (unless there is a real, measurable ROI in terms of making those connections with your audience).  Where possible, connect to your enterprise system for current data.

#3 – Access/Flow:
Each user will require their own credentials to login to their own dashboard – don’t neglect to plan and communicate the rollout to your audience.  How will registration be offered and implemented? Administrative access by your staff will be needed to maintain the dashboard pages.  Both will require a database, if your website is not already connected to one.

The flow of the data you display is another important factor that will play a huge part in whether your dashboard gets used.  The dashboard should present a logical and progressive look at the data, with the user flowing from one point of interest to another, like a good conversation.  This needs to be firmly based in your knowledge of what your audience wants to know.

Next: “What Goes Into an Effective Online Dashboard?”