For most businesses with an online presence, digital performance reporting is a primary focus. After all, if you don’t have clear insight into the digital activities that you are engaging in as a company, it’s impossible to know which initiatives are working and which ones aren’t. Thus, digital performance reporting aims to provide the necessary data to make those assessments; however, the backbone of any good performance reporting program is the data it produces. Too sparse and there won’t be enough information to make educated decisions; too saturated and the truth may be buried and difficult to find.
Know Your Audience
When you’re ready to create a report and determine which key performance indicators (KPI) are most relevant, you must first ensure that you know your audience, the program’s goals, and the types of information that key employees within the company will need to make informed decisions. The reports that you present to upper management, for example, will most likely differ from those that are delivered to an analyst who is more focused on granular data. An executive might want to view a high-level report on a monthly or quarterly basis, while another lower-ranking employee will be most interested in data that is broken out on a daily or weekly basis. Depending on your audience, you may need to create multiple reports to ensure that the recipients of those reports are provided actionable insights.
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Identifying the Marketing Metrics to Report On
Performance reporting should focus only on what matters. It should concisely convey to all relevant stakeholders how a business is doing. A website, app, or other digital property can present hundreds—perhaps thousands—of actions that a user can make; and too often, we see tools such as Google Analytics cluttered with event tracking that logs every micro-action on a site. There is no real structure or strategy in place, which can make it overwhelming for a member of the company’s data or analytics team whose job is to glean insights from that data.
When working through a performance reporting project, ask yourself these questions whenever you consider adding a variable to your data pipeline:
- Can we accurately track it?
- Does it affect business KPIs and effectively demonstrate a return on investment (ROI)?
- Can it be passed through all relevant systems?
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These questions drill down on one of the core tenants of reporting: simplicity. Remember, the purpose of reporting is to convey pertinent information that allows the decision-makers at your company to confidently take action. Maybe you’ll need to generate a report with 20 metrics to accomplish this, but ask yourself if it’s possible to do so with half the amount. Oftentimes, the more information that’s provided, the more it inhibits action. Not only does it take longer to process more info, but those superfluous metrics also increase the risk of misinterpretation. By limiting the information that is collected and processed—in other words, by focusing only on what truly matters—you’ll remain more agile and also quicker to take action.
In close concert with the tenet of keeping things simple is the need to also remain consistent. If you’re running paid campaigns on multiple platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, for example, you’ll need to make sure that the campaigns are similarly named, especially if you’re promoting the same offers to the same audiences through each channel. Dedicating the time upfront to using consistent and descriptive naming conventions will make cross-platform data consolidation and future reporting much easier. It also sets up the company for overall success.
Make Reporting Easy
Reports can be easily generated or altered (by data experts who are properly trained), but only when a system is properly set up. In other words, adding new metrics into a report can be easily executed so long as the system was configured to allow for this type of flexibility.
The ease with which reports are generated or altered is often overlooked during a system’s inception phase, but it’s always felt down the line. We’re not talking about setting up a system that makes it easy for anyone to generate data reports—data experts exist for a reason, after all. What we are talking about is setting up a system in such a way that things can be easily added or changed without compromising the integrity of the system itself.
For example, if you initially track three data points –call them A, B, and C—and six months from now you need to add a fourth data point (D) to a report, ask yourself how easy it is to make that change. If these additions require the entire reporting setup to be reworked, chances are they won’t be implemented. And if they are implemented, the odds are greater that errors will be made along the way. Keep in mind, however, that not every variable requires careful tracking. Simpler reports are often the most effective. That being said, all businesses (and their reporting needs) change over time. By keeping the reporting system flexible enough to accommodate those possible changes, you’ll be better positioned for success.
Monitor Your System
The worst sentence you can hear is, “If only we’d known sooner,” especially if you’re the one tasked with troubleshooting an issue that arises. You might need to rebuild something or—for more significant problems—you may need to rework the entire system. You’ll want to avoid either scenario, regardless of the severity of the issue. Such troubleshooting practices detract from time and energy spent on more meaningful projects, and they could result in unusable data and a frustrated marketing team. Data quality issues can arise from API changes, software bugs, and server issues, among other causes. To safeguard against this, we recommend equipping a tracking or reporting program with a robust alert system, which can inform those who monitor it of any significant changes as they occur.
Turning Reports Into Action
Reporting efforts are meaningless if the data that’s collected can’t be converted into actionable plans. It’s important to consistently monitor your data, checking for trends that signify a program is either working properly or needs to be optimized. This is where digital marketing efforts have a significant advantage over other marketing initiatives—they can take real-time reporting information and turn it into action. Digital performance reporting can provide immediate insights on campaign optimization, and it can also positively influence content planning.
As mentioned earlier, the frequency of that monitoring will depend on the program and the audience. Analysts who manages PPC or social campaigns, for example, will want to review data on a weekly basis, whereas analysts who are focused on an SEO program will need to monitor results across multiple months, since SEO optimizations often require more time before they begin affecting performance.
When you’re ready to build a reporting model, here’s a tried-and-true example:
Reporting → Analysis → Conclusion → Hypothesis → Action → Reporting
After you’ve collected a meaningful amount of data from the reports that you’ve set up, it’s time to analyze the KPIs to determine an initiative’s effectiveness. A hypothesis should then be developed to explain why something may or may not be working, and you’ll want to test that hypothesis to be sure. It might be that the messaging on your paid landing page isn’t clear, or perhaps a CTA is non-existent. You could be targeting too narrow an audience for your social campaign, which will produce minimal impressions and resulting actions.
This is the time to take action and test your hypothesis. Once you make adjustments and collect a fresh set of data, you’ll want to study your reports to determine if KPIs have improved. If so, you’ll know that your original hypothesis was correct. If not, you’ll need to formulate and test a new one. To do all of this effectively, you need to develop a system that can produce organized reports that deliver data in an easy-to-digest manner. It’s the only way to confidently take action.