Analytics Vs. Reporting: Adding Insight to Data

Published June 21, 2017
When someone is speaking, do you simply hear them or are you truly listening?
Listening implies a conscious choice, an investment in the words being spoken. With digital data, some of the same principles apply. Month to month, are you providing analytics to your clients or are you truly reporting?
In the case of analytics versus reporting, analytics is the numbers, the raw data that is captured by a platform like Google Analytics. Whereas reporting indicates an interpretation of that data. It is an effort to extract insights that can drive decisions and actions. The ability to distinguish between the two, and provide the latter, is what can make or break your relationship with clients.
Sounds easy enough, right? Unfortunately, sometimes the closer you are to the analytics the harder it can be to see them through someone else’s eyes.
As an online marketer, it’s all too easy to assume that everyone understands the meaning inherent in the data you’re immersed in every day. Your comprehension of how the AdWords bidding system works or how Google crawls page content is second nature. So when you’re going through reports in Google Analytics and exporting spreadsheets full of information, you may operate in a bubble where you’re ready take action on the data without a translation.
For instance, you may see that a landing page has a high bounce rate and low conversion rate from ads. Instinctually, you know to adjust the content on the page. However, when presenting this to a client, will they understand what bounce rate and conversion rate are, how you determined those metrics were poor and why that made you decide to change the content? Not to mention, do they understand how those numbers relate to whether or not their business is making money from digital marketing?
In this article, we’ll cover a few tips for adding insight to your data to ensure that you’re providing valuable, thorough reporting and not just raw numbers.


Megalytic Chart of Organic Traffic


Explain the Data

Whether you’re working with a pest control company or a jewelry ecommerce store, a client’s primary concern is return on investment (ROI). It doesn’t matter how many users visited a site, how long the average session duration lasted or what pages were viewed if the website is not driving profit for the business.

When you’re building a report, keep your client’s bottom line in mind. For instance, consider the following chart that shows key performance indicators from AdWords:


Megalytic Key Performance Indicators


Overall, this data shows excellent performance, especially considering the numbers that are most important to the bottom line (conversions). The campaign’s conversion rate has increased significantly, while cost/conversion has decreased.

However, without an explanation, a client who looks at this chart may hone in on the one red arrow showing that CPC has gone up month over month. In turn, they may question if this increase means the campaigns aren’t going well, while ignoring the conversion data.

In this case, a simple explanation will clarify that conversions deserve more focus than clicks. The reasoning here is that conversions relate directly to people contacting the business, while clicks simply mean a visit to the site. Ultimately, paying less per conversion outweighs how much you pay per click. In addition, the cost per click increase was insignificant month over month (a few cents) while it has decreased from the previous year at the same time. Since data may vary widely from month to month, in most cases, long-term change generally works as a more effective benchmark to pinpoint trends over time.

Adding commentary to the report defining each metric, showing what is most important and explaining why it is important and how it drives strategic change will help to assuage client concerns and differentiate a well thought-out report from a data dump.

Clarify with Visualization

Humans tend to be visual creatures, so graphs may speak louder than tables of numbers to show trends over time. For instance, look at the following table showing organic traffic numbers over a year:


Megalytic Table of Organic Traffic


You have to take some time to look through the numbers in order to determine which months were better than others. Of course, you can still discern that there was an upward trajectory over time, but the graph below makes this trend much more visible.


Megalytic Chart of Organic Traffic


Here, your client can see, at a quick glance, that organic new users have demonstrated a steady increase over time. The “rolling average” line helps to clarify this progression by averaging out data obtained over a longer period. Of course, you’d also want to add commentary to point out this improvement, along with a recap of the work you performed that may have contributed to the results.

Of course, choosing the right type of chart for the data you’re presenting is important. For more insight on this, see our series on Deciding How to Represent Website Data.

In this case, delivering either the table or the graph would constitute analytics. But reporting on the other hand is determining how to convey the data based on your understanding of what resonates with the client and determining the format that best illustrates the insights within the data.

Cherry-Pick the Most Important Data

When evaluating an analytics account, you may review numerous different metrics, assessing pages/session, bounce rate, events triggered and pages appearing in a conversion funnel to account for performance. However, unless your client comes from a highly technical background, too much data may just be overwhelming. Flooding a report with data can distract or obfuscate what’s actually important and relevant to their business.

In line with highlighting a return on investment and visualizing data where it makes sense, focus on the key metrics that actually best relate to your client’s business concerns. For instance, if you’re showing AdWords data, a CEO may not need to see pages showing the performance of every single ad and keyword in a campaign.

However, showing the top 10 ads and keywords can help provide a high-level view of key performing areas. In addition, a campaign-level breakdown shows aggregate data, which helps the client review the report quickly and see which areas are driving the most leads at the most effective cost. This can also help to show patterns that may drive decisions about bid allocations moving forward. All of which should be outlined in the commentary.

Of course, consider who you’re writing a report for. A marketing analyst may want to see more detailed breakdowns of specific numbers to help understand the performance of ad copy tests. But a “big picture”, higher level, executive will likely care more about the key performance indicators (KPIs) that are most directly tied to ROI, like overall leads (conversions), conversion rate, and cost per conversion.

Make Recommendations for Improvement

Turning analytics into reporting also means making recommendations for action that will help boost a client’s campaign. For instance, you may observe that text ads using a “free shipping” call to action (CTA) perform better than ads that say “buy now.” Armed with that insight, you can start featuring the “free shipping” message in graphic ads, taking advantage of the more effective CTA in other channels.

These recommendations show your client that you are not only actively monitoring their accounts but also looking for ways to improve their business. But take it beyond observation and make sure to communicate recommendations that relate to your client’s ROI. If you’re looking at bidding on new keywords, talk about user intent and how various queries can indicate prospective customers in market to purchase services.

As you move forward with additional tactics in campaigns, be ready to show results in the next report that you deliver. Notate benchmarks, study the data to see if new ad messaging or keywords worked to provide better conversion and continue to make recommendations based on that analysis.


As you build your next digital marketing reports for clients, think through the process of providing thorough reporting that goes beyond a wall of analytics data. Keep your client’s ROI-based priorities in focus and extract the most significant metrics from the analytics. Also include any data, positive or negative, that stimulates strategic ideas to show that you’re thinking forward. Finally, hone in on a method of displaying information in a way that provides clarity and accommodates their level of technical expertise. Anyone with access to their Google Analytics can see what you see, at least on the surface. What you bring to the table as an expert is your ability to see the messages inside the data. It’s also what makes you such an important part of your client’s campaign.


When the client first came to you, you talked up the value of Google Analytics. You emphasized the importance of seeing where your traffic was coming from. You went on and on about how Google Analytics can show traffic sources to pinpoint whether people came from search, social media or a specific site referral, and how valuable this data was. You sold them on it, so much so that your client looked forward to receiving that first report, the magical day when they would finally understand where visitors were coming from.
But then the report came, and it looked like this:



It showed that 10% of your client’s traffic came from “(direct)/(none)”. What does this label mean? How do you explain Direct traffic to your client? Better yet, how do you explain “none”?
Let’s take a closer look at understanding Direct traffic in Google Analytics and how we can address it with clients.
Digital marketers spend a lot of time focused on PPC and SEO campaigns in order to drive desirable traffic to a website. The phrases we’re ranking for and bidding on get meticulous attention, so much so that we often forget about some of the other ways that visitors find us.

We put a tremendous amount of the effort we put into reviewing organic search data and PPC campaign performance in analytics. But how closely do we monitor referral reports?

If that’s not a channel you review regularly, you may be missing out on seeing traffic that is coming directly from links you’ve obtained around the web, local business listings, news mentions, and more. Many times, links are only considered as a means to an end, a metric that Google uses in determining how to rank sites in the SERPs (search engine results pages). But the fact is, many of a site’s links may be directly contributing to its traffic.

In this article, we’ll review how to look at referral reports in Google Analytics, and some of the many ways to use that data to better inform your web marketing decisions.


Remember how your mom told you not to stand too close to the television because it might hurt your eyes?

The same rules can apply to data. If you’re too close, you may miss the patterns and trends that are crucial to understanding your website’s performance. You can’t judge a site’s performance looking at data in the bubble of a single day, you must consider any day’s traffic compared to the days before and after.

Google Analytics makes it fairly easy to analyze trends over long periods of time. But it also allows you to stand right in front of that TV, to look at more granular levels of time, right down to the hour.
There’s a better way to get that close to the data, without burning your retinas. We’ll cover how to analyze traffic effectively in today’s post.