The Waterfall Chart

I recently took part in a challenge organized by Storytelling with Data to create a waterfall chart.

I rarely see this type of chart in digital marketing dashboards, if ever! The challenge wasn’t limited to data related to digital marketing but I wanted to find a use case for a waterfall chart in a digital marketing environment.

The Waterfall Chart

What is a waterfall chart

Waterfall charts are used to show how an initial value has increased or decreased by a number of values in between that lead to a final value. These intermediate values can either be time based or category based.

My challenge was not only to create such a chart for a digital marketing report but to also find real data.

A couple of years ago I started working with a client on their blog and content strategy. Since we started publishing content that is relevant but also targeting high volume search terms, their visibility improved significantly.

A Waterfall Chart To Visualize Online Visibility Improvements

This type of data is a great candidate for a waterfall chart that will show how the number of keywords ranking on the first page of Google has increased over a certain period of time.

Such data can also be visualized with a bar chart or even a line chart.

The use of a waterfall chart however will emphasize on the intermediate values or in this case the number of new keywords in high positions for the intermediate time period (each month in 2017).

With the inclusion of a takeaway title this visual turned into a great data storytelling example.

Here are a few other use cases for a waterfall chart to be used in digital marketing dashboards

  • Newsletter subscribers at the start and end of year with their intermediate positive or negative numbers
  • Number of external links at the start of a link building campaign and at its end
  • Number of acquired leads for the duration of a paid media campaign

You can create a waterfall chart in Excel 2016 and other data visualization tools like Tableau. I used Excel 2013 and this tutorial.

Data Storytelling With Excel – Episode I

This is the first of series I plan to do on how you can use Excel for pretty data visuals and data storytelling.

In this video I build a very basic Excel dashboard using data storytelling principles including:

  • Focusing audience attention
  • Removing clutter
  • Include insights and takeaways right into the charts

In this dashboard I use a 100% stacked area chart to visualize all users to a website and users who made a purchase on the website. The line where these metrics intersect on the area chart is the trend and the rate Made a Purchase/All Users. This visualization aims to show what percentage of the users who visit the website make a purchase.
There are a number of ways to visualize this, but I chose a 100% stacked area chart so I can focus on the rate. In this video the blue color on the area chart is for visitors who made a purchase on the website and the orange color is for all users.
Using a text widget I will include a clarification of what the white line between these two chart components is. This insight will also focus the audience attention on the rate which is what I aim with this visual.

The second chart in this dashboard is a simple line chart with annotations. It visualizes the trend for revenue made from website purchases. To be easier to understand the real numbers behind the trend I am including data labels and removing the vertical axis to reduce clutter.
Using a text widget I will insert a takeaway insight onto the chart as well as further takeaways on the right hand of the chart.

This is a very basic Excel dashboard, there are a number of other ways to make data look pretty in Excel which I will be exploring in future series.

Line Chart Examples For Data Storytelling

These line chart examples show how to use annotations to not only show a trend whether in traffic, conversions or user behavior on your website, but to tell the full story about performance with your data.

I use line charts a lot in my reports since they are one of the best way to report and visualize trends, whether it is a trend in traffic, conversions or user behavior on your website.

When the trend is consistently showing an increase or decrease or staying stale it might be a little easier to tell a story with your data with a simple line chart and couple of comments. But when a trend is fluctuating as a result of marketing activity a chart line might look confusing and the data story difficult to understand.

Below is a line chart showing the trend for social media traffic for 2017 for a certain website:

Line Chart Data Storytelling

Traffic from social media is heavily dependent on social media campaigns activity and trend has been fluctuating throughout the year.
In the line chart example I have simply visualized the numbers for traffic from Social media each month in 2017.

Upon exploring I understand that these fluctuation are resulting from advertising activity as well as success of the specific campaign.

In order to fully tell a story with the data and explain traffic increases and sharp drops an analyst might want to include annotation to explain each significant fluctuation in the trend.

Line Chart Examples With Annotations

Here is a line chart example of how I improved the visualization and insert explanation of why we are seeing big increases and decreases.

Annotated Line Chart Examples Data Storytelling new

It might make more sense than the first example however after looking at it I thought that the background color was not a good idea. I also thought there are options to improve the annotations and make the main takeaways more visible at first glance.

So I made a few changes:

Annotated Line Chart Examples Data Storytelling FINAL

I changed the background to white and did some styling to the annotations text. I also decided to remove the data points and the data labels. All this is to try and draw the attention to the traffic fluctuations and the main reasons for these fluctuations which is what I am trying tell with this data.