Let’s start with the data. If the numbers were good enough, a client would probably be happy if the information were scrawled on a bar napkin in crayon. We wouldn’t recommend that approach, but the point is – the data is the most important part.
We get a lot of our insight from places like Google Analytics, where there is a seemingly endless supply of numbers, stats and graphs. But which ones should you be reporting? There’s not necessarily a neat and tidy way to categorize all the data, but we can look at four distinct types that have a place in your reports.
Revenue and Lead Gen – Data that pertains directly to profits or goal completions that equate to leads belongs in every report. Period.
Performance – The data that indicates growth or decline in a website’s performance is important to showing and evaluating trends. This includes reports like overall traffic, user acquisition, entrances through landing pages and even ranking reports. These areas pertain directly to the work that is being done. This should also drill down into channels associated with specific campaigns like PPC, email marketing, social media and SEO.
Engagement – Not every completion pertains to a sale. Actions like email subscriptions or brochure downloads can also be telling. Studying how users pass through content funnels is also an important insight. Looking at how people interact with the site, the time they spend, the number of pages viewed and even user loyalty will help tell a story about how well a website and its content resonates with users.
Strategic – Also worth including are any reports that help guide tactical decisions. For example, traffic reports by device, city, state or country can suggest areas of opportunity. This can also include reports from Search Console or Google My Business that are imperative to defining the “next steps” of your strategy.
The reports you choose in each of these areas will be affected by your campaigns, your client’s business model and overall digital goals, but most of what you’ll need to report regularly will typically fit in these categories.
Does that seem like a lot of data? It should, because it certainly can be. That’s why one of the most important components of a report is the executive summary. The executive summary is a shortened narrative explaining what the data shows. Ideally your highlights should include things like:
Significant improvements – Anything that stands out as a positive growth number. For example, traffic being way up month over month or year over year, or if social media posts performed exceedingly well this month. But the number alone is available in the graph. The executive summary would focus on what was done to drive that result. Was there a new piece of content attracting new visitors? A ranking keyword that improved dramatically? Or was it branded search that added to these clicks? What kind of posts were posted or promoted this month that were effective on social media? Dig into the improvements and look for correlating factors. Even though correlation does not equal causation, it does help bring focus to what should be watched and improved further.
Significant Losses – On the flipside, did something go down? These unfortunate occurrences can’t be ignored even if they can’t always be tidily explained. If traffic or leads are down for a month it’s important to acknowledge that and pinpoint it as a place to watch as an anomaly or an ongoing pattern. If it’s the latter, this indicates a problem that needs to be addressed.
Work Done – The numbers and graphs can’t tell a client what you did this month. Branded search is up, that’s awesome! But if those spikes came from a city where a new commercial ran this month, that may not be immediately apparent in the data. Additionally, if an e-book received an unusual number of downloads, the executive summary might be the best place to note that they came from PPC, social and email marketing. Of course, it may be worth adding a breakdown of leads by channel to this specific asset in the report as well but without context in the executive summary, the importance of that data could easily be missed.
Work To Come – What you’ve accomplished is only as strong as what you plan to do now. That’s why the executive summary should outline your next steps. This portion of the narrative can also reference any of the included data that is informing your immediate action items.
These points are essential to framing the numbers and graphs that appear in a report. It’s this aspect of the presentation that differentiates a report from a dashboard.
The substance of a report is the numbers and the story that accompanies the data. But the format of the presentation can also impact how well it is received. There are several methods for communicating reports to a client, and each one has its own merits.
A Platform – Reports can be created and shared in numerous ways. One of the fastest growing options in the digital world is a platform that is built specifically for reporting. A system like Megalytic allows for the aggregation, assembly and sharing of data with the capacity to leave notes and provide insight and observations.
PowerPoint – One of the most well-known and used ways of creating and giving a presentation is PowerPoint or a similar tool. Slides built here can capture images and allow for bullet points, but they don’t automatically pull the requisite data and may require a significant effort to compile the appropriate information.
Print – Even a digital report can be effective in print. Especially in person, this format can be conducive to a conversation more than a guided presentation. Also, having printed copies available for all parties, rather than several individuals looking their own computer screen can also help keep the group focused on each item of data.
Screen Share – When you can’t meet a client in person, a screen share may be a viable substitute. Screen sharing over the phone can be a useful method for helping to guide a client through a report, point by point, to discuss each item of data and its implications.
Video – A video can be an effective blend of a screen share and a PowerPoint presentation. A pre-recorded video showing a screen and voice-over narration can be an impactful method for delivering a report when the communication isn’t in real time.
The optimal format is often dictated by the circumstances of the presentation, such as in person, over the phone, or direct communication vs. a delayed debriefing. But the audience is also an important component. Knowing what your client responds well to will also influence the format you use to deliver a monthly, quarterly or annual report. Whenever possible though, face-to-face communication will often lend itself to the most meaningful connection and the most fluid dialogue.
There’s no one right way or perfect way to assemble and deliver a report. But if you focus on the data that matters most to both progress and future initiatives and choose a format that best suits your client and the circumstances of the presentation, you’ll be off to a strong start. In this business everyone has their own style, and we’d love to hear your tips. So share your favorite reporting techniques and success stories in the comments!