We talk about integrating services and checking dashboards and relying on big data all the time at Content Equals Money. We can talk until we’re blue in the face when it comes to tracking visitors, improving lead nurturing, and monitoring website effectiveness. We love all this stuff, but there’s a slight detail we tend to forget about: it’s difficult to learn how to use it all the first time around. It’s all pretty useful stuff when you know how to navigate all of the different data points, but there’s one thing you have to know before any of it really starts to become useful: how to bring it all together.

You have all of this valuable data within your site metrics, your social interactions, and your response data from other content marketing efforts like email response and offline promotional materials. The trick is getting it all in one place so you can interpret all of your statistics and act on everything, instead of just a few insights gained from disparate, disconnected sources. There is all sorts of software that will help you do this, but you’ll easily pay upwards of $100 every month, if not more.

Today I’m going to look at building your own “Poor Man’s Dashboard.” With these free or relatively inexpensive tools, you’ll unlock your data’s full potential at a fraction of the cost major businesses and enterprises pay to do the same.

Inexpensive Apps That Do It All (Or Most of It)

You don’t have to go out and pay $100 every month to get awesome analytics software that helps you understand your site data more easily. In fact, for the price of a monthly magazine, you can get a powerful software suite that does all the heavy lifting for you, leaving you with more time to act on your data without wasting extra time figuring it all out.

ChartBeat is a great service that lets you monitor an incredible amount of space for not a lot of cash. Full disclosure: we personally use Chartbeat here at CEM, but it’s first for our recommendation not because we’re fans, but because of the price: $9.95 each month will provide most small businesses with more than enough site tracking potential. Chartbeat can condense all your site, social, and search data into one easy-to-read space that updates in real-time and shows you exactly what you should act on.

HootSuite is another great data monitoring service that gives you a few options for exactly what you want to track and hone in on. HootSuite is free for most beginning users, but offers a more advanced plan—that includes Google Analytics integration—for only $9.99 per month. HootSuite began as a Twitter client and exploded into an entire social media management service of its own, so if you’re looking for a social dashboard, HootSuite is great.

“Freemium” Alternatives: Pay A Little, Pay a Lot, or Pay Nothing At All

There are other free alternatives that we like, too: StatCounter and Piwik are good, free site statistics tracking apps—Piwik does require an extra amount of work to set up and get going, but it lets you fully own and manage your site’s data yourself.

Nimble is an awesome, free all-in-one communications dashboard that combines social media profiles, email, and organization tools all in one place—and it also lets you integrate your outside data from other powerful lead tracking services like HubSpot. MapMyUser is a neat little tool that helps you pinpoint where in the world your traffic is coming from, which can help you pin down demographic data and allow you to make more informed marketing decisions in the future.

If you’re a stickler for familiar tools, you can create custom dashboards within Google Analytics that show you exactly what you need to see, if you don’t mind spending the time to set it up. You can also download useful dashboards other users have made—like this one, a Google Analytics dash that focuses entirely on Social Media metrics.

Bringing It All Together

Knowing about all these services and finding out which is best for you is the hardest part of putting together a “poor man’s dashboard.” Once you’ve found services you like, all you have to do is sign up on them and synchronize your accounts and data across each one. There are a few tips you can use to bring them all together.

The best suggestion is to download an alternative web browser that is your “dashboard” browser, not your web surfing browser. (Keeping the two separate will keep you focused!) I recommend Google Chrome, but any other browser will do. Firefox and Opera are two other great browsers.

Once you’ve downloaded and installed a new browser, sign into all your new tracking services and group them all on the same window as tabs, in the order you want them to usually be in. Then, make a new Bookmarks folder called “Website Dashboard,” and add all of your new monitoring apps in this Bookmark folder.

I recommend Chrome because of the next step: whenever you want to check your website data, all you have to do is open one of those bookmarks—or all of them! In Chrome, middle-clicking a bookmark folder will open all the websites within it in one window. With one click, you have instant access to all of your necessary data; all it takes is a little effort getting everything set up beforehand.

This all sounds easy on paper, and it’s pretty easy when you actually sit down and do it. All it takes is a little patience and effort—just like content marketing! If you’re strained for either, and coming up with all your own content marketing and SEO writing seems impossible, maybe it’s time to offload some of your online marketing efforts to the pros!