Using variance to make your charts easier to read

A bar chart is quite often the quickest and easiest way of showing quantitative data.

If I wanted to plot how much I am spending in each area of my business it might look something like this:

On this chart I can see quite clearly how much I have spent on marketing and how much I have spent on operations. This kind of chart also makes it easy to compare spends but in reality there aren’t many times when I want to compare marketing and operations spends. What I really want to know is whether I’ve stuck to my budgets or whether I have an over or underspend.

I can fix this quite quickly by adding a second series, so now my chart shows my actual spend next to my budgeted spend:

This gets me a step further and I can see that I have really underspent on sales this year compared to what I had planned.

When putting together any kind of chart we always need to be asking ourselves ‘is this the best way I can display this information?’. That doesn’t mean coming up with ever more elaborate types of chart, sometimes it’s just a case of deciding which bit of the data to show.

In the case of our chart above I can display the same information as a single series and at the same time make it much easier to see at a glance whether I am over or underspending on things.

Using a variance chart - that is, a chart that show the difference between two values - I can see immediately whether I am over or under my budget.

It means shifting my data around a little but now my chart shows only the important stuff.


Men more likely to win award for killing themselves doing something stupid

According to BMJ, who analysed the winners of the Darwin awards (an award given to people that kill themselves in extremely stupid ways) over the last 20 years, men are far more likely to win the award than women.

Although this only proves men are more likely to win the award (and not that men are in fact stupid) it does correlate with MIT's "Male Idiot Theory". Oh.


Chart data labels

Since launching ChartBlocks the most requested feature, by far, has been the ability to plot data labels on charts. Over the last few weeks we've been working on this, along with some improvements to tooltips, which we think you'll love!

Getting started

Data label tool.png

Data labels can be enabled on any chart type, including existing charts, by switching them on in the "Labels" tool of the editor.

By default the series colours are used on the outside of a bar, pie slice or area but there are plenty of customisation options available. We look forward to seeing some funky data labels in the next few weeks.



Here we've got a bar chart, with data labels on the outside. By default ChartBlocks will use the series colours as the font color for each label but this can be set to a single colour instead.

On this pie chart I've decided to put the values inside the slices. The smallest slices aren't big enough to display a value so we automatically hide them.

Go forth and label

We hope this new feature meets expectactions, log in or sign up now to give it a try.


Places to post your startup - with (some) metrics

This is a list of places that I have posted ChartBlocks in order to promote it. It’s a work in progress - I will probably add sites as I find them and once I’ve been able to evaluate how effective they were.

Bear in mind that tracking where users come from isn't as easy as it once was so these aren't exact figures. We use Google Analytics' utm_source where we can but that's not always possible. Some of the data is even manually collected - a sudden flurry of users after a particular event gets noted down. Figures are also not completely comparable - some figures are collected over months, others might be weeks.

All of that said, I hope you still find some useful ideas you might not have thought about yet.

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 12.50.57.pngConsistently sending quality traffic, though not huge volumes. You get to benefit from your competitors’ brands, as people will often by typing in ‘Alternative to [competitor name]’ and Google will be sending them to the website.

More people who come from than any other site end up creating an account, presumably because they know exactly what they are looking for. This is echoed in Google Analytics' bounce rate stat of 24% compared with a site-wide 49%.

Hits: 800 Signups: 144


We’ve tried a few things with Twitter and it’s definitely going to be a staple of our marketing going forward. Twitter offers promoted tweets and promoted accounts, but you can of course just tweet and follow people.

Promoted tweets get good exposure but not a particularly high click through rate. My tweets were clearly not interesting or not click-baity enough.

One of the biggest successes we’ve had is from following people. We decided one of our target markets would be journalists so we made some lists and started following journalists. Almost immediately we had signups from the New York Times, Le Monde and Mirror Group newspapers.

Hits: 766 Signups: 81


Unless you somehow make the front page Reddit isn’t going to send you thousands of visitors but thanks to subreddits you can find good niche audiences that match your target perfectly.

One subreddit that was good was SideProject - You can show off what you’re working on and if your project is interesting you will probably get some useful feedback as well.

It seems to be 30 to 50 visits per post I’ve made (trying to post useful stuff rather than spam) and the conversion rate to signups is higher than most traffic.

Hits: 519 Signups: 65

Product Hunt

I tried posting on Product Hunt a couple of times but my hunts never made it through moderation. So, I came up with a plan to get some people to submit it for me.

Screen Shot of Product Hunt

The key thing here is that Product Hunt usernames are Twitter handles. I went onto the Product Hunt website, found a product with a few hundred upvotes, copied the HTML source for the list of people, stripped out their Twitter handles, pasted them into a mass following tool and started following all of them.

We appeared a couple of days later, having been submitted by multiple people, and managed around 160 upvotes which is reasonably good.

Metric-wise we had 2200 website visits and around 600 users in the 48 hours after being listed. A couple of weeks later and we’ve had another 1000 visits since.

I should note that this exposure also led to us being reviewed on a few other websites and tweeted about hundreds of times - we know get around 3x as many signups per day as we did pre Product Hunt. The follow on effects of Product Hunt have been great.

Hits: 3200 Signups: 844

Show Hacker News

I understand that if you get picked up on Hacker News you are going to get a lot of traffic so a few months ago we tried a Show HN post.

Rather than link to our website we thought throwing people straight into a demo of our app would be good so they could see if in action. Unfortunately at the time we had misconfigured the load balancer on AWS and all of the traffic was originating from the same IP - that of the load balancer. Within a few minutes our anti-spam triggers had detected tens of signups from the same IP and blocked it meaning no one could sign up all afternoon. Lesson learned.

I’ve also commented on something related to D3.js charting that came up on Hacker News and included a link to ChartBlocks. Even this, buried 50 comments in, sent us a handful of visitors and twelve signups. Note that this was only a single comment, and only when it was relevant.

Hits: 148 Signups: 12+


There was a question on Quora about charting libraries and one of our team added a response mentioning ChartBlocks. I have come across another Quora answer recently where someone recommended us as well. There’s also the option to promote the question to 100 people by using up 500 credits. I had 500 credits so you must be given them when you sign up. I promoted the answer that had recommended us.

Hits: 31 Signups: 2

YouTube videos

We’ve done three YouTube tutorial videos now, using titles like ‘How to make a bar chart’ and ‘How to embed charts in Wordpress’ in a very simple attempt at SEO.

The oldest video, which was posted about 3 months ago now, has had 900 views. I’m quite happy with that for something that cost $30 to make. Using screen recording software and then sites like PeoplePerHour for your voiceover means it costs next to nothing so trying a few videos is a no brainer. Conversion to signups is hard to track but the videos are useful as tutorials for existing users anyway.

Hits to the videos: 1019

Google Chrome Web Store

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 12.44.35.pngThe Google Chrome Web Store is a directory of web apps that you can add to your Chrome home screen.

We didn’t have to change anything in our app to make it qualify as a Chrome web app. With very minimal effort you can create a JSON manifest file (not as scary as it sounds, takes 5 minutes) and upload a logo to get yourself listed in the directory.

Over the past couple of months more than 1200 people have installed our Chrome app. Our stats suggest the majority have gone on to create ChartBlocks accounts. Not bad for five minutes work.

Installations of the Chrome app: 1237 Signups: 1020

Stumbleupon (“paid discovery”)

Stumbleupon offers something called paid discovery where they will drop Stumbleupon users on your site. Now, the success of this is definitely going to be dictated by your landing page (ours wasn’t great at the time) but we found it to be a complete waste of money. From a hits perspective it might look good but the $50 we spent on a small test campaign provided a 93% bounce rate and not a single signup.

Hits: 800 Signups: 0

This has saved us a lot of time and is great value for money, especially for the amount of work that would have been involved. They manually submit your startup to high quality directiories, review sites and blogs (40+). This inturn helps to drive traffic, acquire customers, and grow our follwoing. This is targeted at early stage and established startups, so is highly reccommended.

Translating the website

Not exactly somewhere to post your startup but I think it’s important to have on this list. As a European startup we’re very aware that not everyone speaks English. One of the best things we’ve done is translate our website into a few languages.

Most of the websites that I’ve mentioned above have global audiences. We’ve had numerous blog posts written about ChartBlocks off the back of appearing on sites like Product Hunt. So far they’ve mainly been in Spanish, French and Japanese - the first three languages we chose to translate the website into. One Colombian blog post sent us 150 Colombian user signups in a single day.

Foreign language blog posts about ChartBlocks: 13 (that we've found)


I will try to keep this list updated so check back soon.

Read more... adds support for ChartBlocks

No more enables developers, publishers and bloggers to embed rich content (think Videos, Tweets, Charts) in to their web site without getting their hands dirty.

Typically you'd search for the correct code to each bit of content you'd like to embed, then try to wrangle it in to your websites content editor with your fingers crossed that it actually works.

With, embedding is real simple. You take the URL of the content you'd like to embed (be it a YouTube video or a Chart), and paste the link in to your content editor - that's it! As long as the content provider is supported by you'll now see that content within your website or post.

We're really pleased to be among the provider list, and look forward to seeing awesome charts popping up in new places across the web.

Here are just a few of the places you can now embed your chart:

To see just how easy it is to install Embedly and start putting charts into your Wordpress blog, check out our short video below.