GA4 took away our ability to track performance across marketing channels in real-time. Although we’re extremely biased as Meta Ads was almost impossible to review in Google Analytics.
The most common solution today is simply to look at overall revenue and spend on the day and hope that the conversion rates hold.
There are many issues with this approach.
One being that when you want to see real-time data (big sale period and new product launches), you can’t necessarily believe that your usual conversion rates will hold. You can, therefore, risk:
- Becoming too careful and missing out on potential revenue
- Spending too much on the wrong campaign and missing out on profit
None of these options sound good when we talk about our big revenue days (i.e., Black Friday or big promotions).
To solve this, we’ve spent the last year reviewing platforms, and I wanted to share our findings as well as what we do today in most cases.
But first, let’s talk about why you should rarely use real-time dashboards.
Real-Time Dashboard Drawbacks
We all love to see live data. Ever since I would check in on my affiliate income every hour back in 2009, I’ve had an obsession with checking numbers.
Besides the time we waste doing this, there is a bigger issue at hand:
The data can make you focus too much on the day-to-day performance.
Customer journeys are real, and what you spend on marketing today will not equate to the revenue you get today. There are spillover effects, lag from previous marketing efforts, and plain word-of-mouth revenue that isn’t related to any ad spend.
So, other than putting off that report you’re supposed to do, there are no good use cases for checking live data on a random Tuesday in February.
Real-time dashboards are meant to be used for your big sales days to help you:
- Spend more on your most profitable campaigns/ads/keywords/products
- Decrease spend on low-performing campaigns/ads/keywords/products
Aside from the big days, you should trust that the algorithms know what they’re doing (because you don’t really have a choice anyway).
With this caveat out of the way, let’s dig into it.
Custom or Niche Platform? You’re Out of Luck.
Outside of the dashboards on Looker (an older Data Studio), I didn’t find any overall solutions for e-commerce businesses on custom platforms. If you’re using a less-used platform like PrestaShop, Shoporama, DanDomain, or similar platforms, you’ll notice the same.
There is weight in the Shopify ecosystem, and this is where you’ll find the best solutions to real-time dashboards.
The best solution if you’re not on Shopify is currently Reaktion.com. See a further description of the platform below.
Paid Platforms Are Not Worth It Unless You Use Them Fully
I’ve reviewed and used all the platforms on this list, and if you’re only going to use them for real-time dashboards, then I can tell you off the bat that they’re not worth it.
It’s too much money to spend on getting real-time data the few times a year you really need it.
Your counter-argument could be that you look at your numbers daily. In which case, I go back to my thoughts on the drawbacks of reviewing live data outside of your big sales days.
With this being said, many of the platforms on this list come with a range of features that I, for one, think should be used by every single e-commerce company:
- Contribution Margin (aka profit) dashboards
- Blended ROAS dashboards (pull all spend and compare against all revenue)
- New vs. Returning customer dashboards
- More extensive tracking capabilities
And more. So, if you are planning on getting into any of this software for real-time dashboards, make sure you also review them for other use cases. You might find that one fits your needs better than others.
7 suggestions for real-time dashboards ranging from free to paid:
Looker Dashboards w. BigQuery (All) – “Free”
- Somewhat complex to build, but there are services out there to get
- https://visionlabs.com/resources/realtime/ is an easy resource to get it from, or have someone build it for you.
Using Looker Dashboards is a bit of a workaround using GA4 data. You see, GA4 actually has the data stored live, but we don’t get to see it outside of the dreaded 24-hour lag in the platform.
The workaround is to use BigQuery to pull out GA4 data in real-time. This sounds really complicated, and actually, it is. However, there are services, guides, and templates that make it accessible for non-developers to implement.
The guys at Vision Labs have a free template and full guides to setting this up: https://visionlabs.com/resources/realtime/
You can also pay them to do it for you if you need anything customized.
- It’s almost free. The only cost is a minor BigQuery storage cost, and for most, these will amount to almost nothing.
- Easy to set up.
- Runs on existing data, meaning you don’t need to set up additional tracking
- Looker account
- BigQuery account
- GA4 account
- Customize the data points if the template doesn’t include the exact numbers you’d like
Reaktion.com (All) — $$
Reaktion.com was one of the only options (except for Northbeam) I could find that integrates with most revenue-pulling software:
With Shopify, WooCommerce, and Magento2 Reaktion is the only software I’ve found that isn’t just available for Shopify.
The reason for this is they’re Danish. In Europe, the e-commerce platform market is a lot more scattered than in the US, where Shopify is the dominant player.
Reaktion is a plug-and-play platform. This means you just integrate it with your e-commerce platform via a one-click connection and link up your marketing platforms.
This allows you to get a live overview of your data in the following format:
Shopify Marketing Dashboard (Shopify only) — Free (and $)
- Not fancy and doesn’t include spend per marketing channel (can be solved)
- Anyone can pull this data into a Google Sheet a few times a day, though, and compare to Shopify
- Tracking is UTM tags
- Some apps (like TrueProfit) can be used to pull marketing spend from Google and Meta into Shopify to combine these two data points.
- This expands the data to include profit, contribution margin, and more.
I actually didn’t know this existed. I saw it in a tweet by Cody Plofker (CMO at Jones Road Beauty). It was hidden away as a part of the Shopify Marketing dashboard (who ever goes there?), but you can see marketing channel performance in real-time directly in Shopify.
It uses UTMs, so it needs to be taken with a grain of salt over longer periods, but for reviewing performance on the day to decide what campaigns are pushing sales on the day, it’s a really good solution.
The challenge is that it doesn’t pull ad spend per channel out of the box. You, therefore, have to do one of two things to see your ROAS:
- Pull the numbers into a spreadsheet and do some mental math (not ideal, but doable for smaller e-commerce brands)
- Add an app (like TrueProfit) that can pull ad spend and the marketing channel data in Shopify into a simple dashboard for you to review in real-time
If you have a Shopify store and are looking for real-time data, then this is the simplest solution I’ve found on the market.
TripleWhale (Shopify only) — ($$)
- Founders dashboard is free
- Updates every 15 minutes
- Includes own pixel tracking to have real-time data on each marketing channel
- Additional features such as influencer tracking, ad creative analytics, and more
- $799/mo. for a $5m/year e-commerce brand
TripleWhale is basically like Reaktion.com — it’s a platform that pulls in your Shopify revenue from the backend and all your marketing spend.
It does more than that, but for our purposes, that’s the gist of it.
It does include its own Pixel, which means that just like Google Ads and Meta Ads have their own tracking codes,TripleWhale has its own tracking code you can install on your website. This promises to show a more accurate view of your data faster than Google and Meta can.
Explanation of the real-time data:
- The highlight ROAS list is the ROAS from the TripleWhale pixel. The ROAS from earlier is what Google and Meta have shown so far.
Polar Analytics (Shopify only) — $450/mo. and up
- The Analyze & Enrich plan contains real-time data
- Install the Pixel to get the most updated data
- Compared to TripleWhale & Reaktion, Polar Analytics is more customizable
- $705/mo. for $5m/year brand doing $100 AOV
- $1,575/mo. for $5m/year brand doing $50 AOV
- Polar Analytics charges per order, whereas TW charges on a revenue basis. If you have a low AOV, then Polar Analytics is the worst choice from a pricing standpoint, but it can be better than TripleWhale if you have a high AOV.
Polar Analytics is, again, more of the same kind of dashboard as Reaktion and TripleWhale.
The one thing that struck me with Polar Analytics was that it’s more customizable. Even in their demo stores, they’ve included various KPI setups from various people (Nik Sharma, Moiz Ali, and agencies).
If you’ve been stuck with the way other platforms showcase your data and want to see more of the engine room, then Polar Analytics might be the better choice for you.
Personally, I do enjoy the KPIs that TripleWhale shows me, and I think anyone but senior experts will be overwhelmed by more detailed options rather than getting any real value.
In the end it’s ecommerce. We track 90% of the same metrics, so the ability to add too many secondary metrics to your dashboard is in most cases more confusing than helpful.