[ Updated Apr 8, 2019 ]
8-MINUTE READ · By Tina Arnoldi
Solid marketing reporting is about more than displaying numbers. There are best practices for creating reports that are useful for you as a digital marketer, your team, your executives, and your clients. We wrote earlier about why you should be doing marketing reporting, and in this post I will be sharing best practices in general – whether you’re an agency or in-house marketer, or it’s PPC, SEO, or social media data. These practices are broken down by who, when, what and how and together there are 14 best practices you can use to improve the way your marketing team reports on performance.
Your reporting requirements vary depending on who is reading your marketing report, whether it’s for your own use, your marketing department, your product management team, your executive team, or the wider company.
1. Show granular data for your own use
If the report is for you, the digital marketer, you want to look at granular details to know what to improve or work on for the next month across your marketing channels. It’s quite likely that the data you’re tracking on a daily or weekly level for your own use is only going to be interesting for you and it should inform you about where to prioritize and focus.
2. Show full-funnel and cross-functional impact to your marketing team
Your marketing team members will need details about their specific areas, whether they primarily work in PPC, SEO, or social media, but it is helpful for them to also have a high-level overview of other departments as well. Many channel managers work in silos by nature of their corporate structure so use reporting to develop, or support, a holistic marketing strategy.
3. Show business impact to your executive team
What about your executive team or CEO? They are less concerned about the specific tactics used and metrics of each channel. What they want to know is how marketing efforts impact the bottom line. Are your digital marketing efforts as a whole generating leads and sales? And are the results of these efforts trending up or down?
4. Show overall performance to everyone
The Google Analytics Traffic Dashboard from Supermetrics is a template that allows you to get a birds-eye view of your different channels with conversion data which is helpful in answering questions for all recipients. A report like this will give everyone an overview to the situation in real-time to follow the progress of your marketing efforts.
If automating marketing reports is a new process to you, scroll back through your email or task list for the last month to view previous requests from stakeholders. If you are uncertain who needs to receive reports regularly, note who you created Excel reports for – or lengthy emails – to share data in the past. Identifying who will help you develop a plan moving forward that includes the correct when.
In your role as a digital marketer, you may view activity on some channels daily, if not multiple times a day with large B2B campaigns. But most stakeholders would be inundated with that data because their role is not marketing. The CEO probably does not want a daily report of all available data in current campaigns. (And even if he or she claims to want it, we know it is not being read).
5. Report monthly to your executive team
Executives who want to have a pulse on what is happening, but do not need to know details, are probably fine with a monthly report. You can present a high-level overview of what happened, such as the year-over-year report below, and since you report more frequently for your marketing team, you have the supporting data if it is requested.
The frequency of reporting depends on the report recipient and the volume on a website. For a lower volume site, daily reports will not help much and even with high volume sites, executives will not have time to review and draw meaningful conclusions from raw data.
6. Report weekly to your marketing team
But for high volume sites, keep your tech team informed daily as well as updating those who run short-term paid campaigns. With ongoing campaigns, start with weekly reports for your marketing team along with a 15-minute meeting. This ensures the team is on the same page, is reviewing the data, and can determine data that is not needed – or is missing – so you have better reporting next time. You want the data to guide how you will work with future digital marketing campaigns.
7. Select the appropriate date range for everyone
With all report recipients, consider the date range since most data is not helpful in a vacuum. Compare weekly to weekly and monthly to monthly, as well as to a larger time frame. With a week-to-week report, you still may want to include a month. With a month-to-month report, you could compare it to the previous quarter. This technique allows you to see trends and make a meaningful comparison.
Now that you know who needs reports and when they need them, decide the what by considering the job functions and that data recipients need to perform their jobs. Sometimes stakeholders and team members do not know what they need so this is where you can help. If someone will not make a decision or take action from data, it is probably not something that you need to provide. Below are five helpful considerations for determining your what.
8. Look for quick wins
Start your reports on a positive note by finding some quick wins. A quick win is an increase in a positive number, such as conversions, or a decline in a negative number, such as incomplete forms. This data is often more meaningful when presented with percentages rather than raw data.
For example, is an increase of 10 MQLs (market qualified leads) one month good for a business? For a small business, it may be great, but for a B2B business? Not so much. However a 10% increase in MQLs is meaningful across the board. Another win would be a low cost paid campaign that increased new traffic to the website by 15%. Compare it to past campaigns that were expensive and did not generate new leads or sales. Quick wins are a great way to start – especially if some not so good news will follow!
9. View meaningful activity, not just vanity metrics
You want to avoid falling into the trap of following vanity metrics – numbers that might look good but don’t correlate to business impact. Looking at website traffic numbers in isolation can be one example as it doesn’t show you the quality of that traffic. While you need visitors on your site before they will convert, you need to get beyond those metrics and include what they did on site. This is where it is helpful to utilize Google Analytics to understand the full picture of activity.
Consider the metric of an increase in new traffic to the website by 15%. That is a great start, but if everyone bounced, you may not be attracting the right audience or your website landing pages are not compelling enough to keep them there. Your role is to determine the why for the numbers and consider the whole marketing strategy, not just the campaign that increased traffic. You need a good what before you can analyze the why.
10. Review ROI for channel – both time and money
This comes back to the quick wins. View how a channel performed and what it cost you in time and money. There is information available at an initial glance but you also want to drill into this data.
If your MQLs increased by 2% on a channel but the campaign responsible for that 2% increase used up 50% of your marketing budget, that is not be the best channel to drive leads! If, in your analysis, you discover another channel drove 5% of MQLs leads with only 20% of budget, that indicates a better ROI and the budget should shift accordingly.
11. Identify how channels work together
As noted above, you want to look at the ROI for each channel, but it often is not a direct, or last-click attribution, meaning there is not a clear cause-and-effect between a channel and someone’s behavior. A PPC campaign may seem to do fantastic in driving MQLs but when you dig in, you discover that many of your PPC visitors originated from social media. In this case, social media was not a direct driver of leads but it played a role in the overall attribution. This is why I caution people against working in department silos and instead encourage all team members to become familiar with data available in Google Analytics.
12. Distinguish Organic vs Paid
The misnomer is that organic channels are free. You do not pay to post organically on Facebook and you do not pay to show in the organic SERPs on Google or Bing. However, you do pay with time. View your organic and paid marketing channels separately but also keep in mind how they work together.
Now we know the who, when, and what, how do we actually report and visualize this information?
13. Be transparent
You have to be transparent in your reports showing the good and the bad of what happened with your marketing campaigns and efforts. This is why starting with quick wins mentioned earlier is nice if your overall report does not have the best news! But having said that, marketing reporting is not about making you look good, it’s about figuring out what is and isn’t working so you can make more informed decisions on what to do and where to focus.
14. Visualize your data the right way
With all recipients, include images and charts to ensure you visualize your data in the right way. People learn in different ways and someone who may not be able to draw conclusions from a table, or choose not to read your analysis, can glean information from an image, such as activity by state for campaigns that cover the entire United States. Since bar graphs, line charts, pie charts, maps, and gauges are better used in different situations, you should follow these tips and leverage these laws of UX to create the perfect marketing reporting dashboard.
If you do manual reports for your marketing efforts, it is time to change that. Today.
When you report manually, not only is it a huge time suck but it is hard to be consistent. And when you manually do a process each week, month or quarter, it is not a good use of your time. There are multiple ways to automate a report.
About Tina Arnoldi
Tina Arnoldi is Analytics and AdWords Qualified and one of the few people in the United States recognized as a Google Developer Expert (GDE) for marketing. Her agency, 360 Internet Strategy, is also a Google Partner. You can learn more about her on LinkedIn.
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