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Custom Analytics Reports – How to Present the Right Data to your Client

Published January 16, 2015
For digital marketing agencies, custom reporting has become a fact of life. Clients expect data and they expect reports. But, that doesn’t mean they necessarily know what they want to see included in those reports, or even what information would be most helpful to see. And you may not immediately know either. Even as an analytics expert, it can take time and relationship building to truly understand the client’s business priorities and what’s most important to show them.
But you don’t always have time. You’ve been tasked with creating the client’s monthly analytics report today – now what? What do you include?
Luckily, there are a few rules of thumb to help guide you.
  • Use historical context
  • Include text to describe the data
  • Drill down on high level stats
  • Understand, define and report on Goals
This post breaks out how to apply the items above to create a custom analytics report for a client.

Image of Business People Reviewing Data

 

Use Historical Context

Pulling together data about your client’s business is good. But pulling together data about your client’s business when compared to prior historical periods is even more useful (and more interesting)!

For example, rather than simply showing them data for the last 13 weeks, compare those results with the same time frame one year ago.

The chart below uses Megalytic’s Metric Timeline widget to show weekly Sessions over the last 13 weeks.

 

Megalytic Chart showing last 13 weeks sessions

 

If you presented this to your client, they may not know if the results they’re seeing are good or bad. They may have immediate questions like, “What caused the spike on the week of October 12?” While this is an important question, it misses the bigger picture because you’re not showing them the big picture. You’re showing them data without the historical context.

However, if you show your client the chart below – which contains the same data, but compared with the year-ago period – they will ask different, more important questions such as, “How have we been able to grow traffic so much compared with last year?”

 

Megalytic Chart with Year over Year

 

The second chart, which includes historical context, is more valuable because it helps your client to see the big picture and to ask more telling questions. In addition to focusing on the spike during the week of October 12, they will naturally want to know how traffic has grown so much over the past year.

Megalytic makes it fairly simple to do date comparisons, as described in this support document. If you do not have a Megalytic account and would like to follow along with this post, you can create a free 14 day trial account.

Include text to describe the data.

Another best practice is to use text to describe the data shown in the charts and tables that you create. The combination of hard data – proving evidence of results – with a text description, will hold your client’s attention better than charts or text alone. It will also help your client to better understand what the data is telling them.

As you can see below, by using text to explain what the images convey, it makes it easier for the client to grasp and provides a lot of useful information for the client.

 

Megalytic Chart annotated with text

 

Drill Down in to High Level Stats

In the example above, your client will be thrilled to see traffic has grown by a factor or 2-3x over the last year, but will want to know more – specifically, where did the growth come from? Anticipate this question by including drill-down data for high-level metrics like Sessions.

Megalytic allows you to drill down along any number of dimensions (e.g., acquisition channel, campaign, geographic region, etc.). Select one or two drill down dimensions that you think will provide your client the most insight.

In this particular case, we would choose to drill down on Sessions by Channel, as the growth in Organic Search has been phenomenal and that is the insight we want the client to take away.

 

Megalytic bar chart sessions by channel

 

The chart above compares the last 13 weeks (orange) with the same period a year ago (blue). As you can see, there has been growth in all channels except Direct, but Organic Search has gone from a small contributor to the dominant source of traffic.

Along with this chart, you would also include text explaining what caused the huge growth in Organic Search – in this case, a combination of SEO, blogging and press relations.

Understand, Define and Report on Goals

Generic metrics like Sessions (website traffic) are often useful to analyze, but most clients will also want you to look at measures specific to their business. To provide these measures, you need to set up and report on Google Analytics Goals.

Goals measure specific actions on the website that are meaningful to the client’s business. Examples include ecommerce transactions, trial accounts, newsletter subscriptions, help desk tickets, etc. Knowing what Goals to measure for your client, and how to set them up, is something of an art (see: Translating Business Goals to Analytics Goals).

Once you and your client have decided what Goals to measure, the reporting will center on the Completions and Conversion Rate metrics. The Completions metric simply counts the number of times the Goal is completed – e.g., number of newsletter signups per week. The Conversion Rate metric is the ratio of Completions divided by Sessions – e.g., the percentage of visit that resulted in newsletter signups.

A simple, but useful chart is to simply show Completions over the last 13 weeks – or whatever timeframe is most relevant to the client. Slightly better is to show weekly Completions together with a rolling average.

 

Megalytic Weekly Completions Chart with Rolling Average

 

The rolling average (red line), as in this case, is useful because it smooths out the ups and downs in Completions from week to week. During this 13 week period, Completions ranged from a low of 44 to a high of 94 – but the rolling average shows the average number of Completions per week stayed relatively constant.

In addition to Completions, consider the Conversion Rate, which provides your client with a measure of how traffic quality is changing over time. If Sessions are increasing, but Conversion Rate is coming down, that indicates the site’s visitors are becoming less qualified.

Sometimes a lower conversion rate is the unavoidable consequence of growth. But, sometimes it can be a useful warning the client’s marketing campaigns are not attracting the right kinds of visitors.

It is useful to plot Conversion Rate in the same chart as Conversions, as show below. This helps you understand if your Conversion Rate is holding up as your business grows.

Megalytic Chart with Conversion Rate and Completions Together

Here, the client can see that conversions increased significantly starting in September. Even better, it seems as though the Conversion Rate (red line) varies around an average of 2.5%, and has increased slightly over this half year period.

Conclusion

Being faced with creating a custom analytics report for a client for the first time can be a daunting task and it can be hard to know what data to include. By following the guidelines outlined above, you can produce a useful starting point you can feel comfortable sharing with your client. Once the conversation is started, be sure to ask for feedback so you can continue to improve upon your reports.

[For more on the importance of getting feedback and talking with your client about what they want to measure, see: How to make a Web Analytics presentation to the CEO.]

ALSO IN THIS BLOG

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.
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.
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.