Elements of an Effective Web Analytics Report

Published September 17, 2014
You’ve been tasked with delivering monthly analytics reports to your boss or client. You want to make sure you show the right data and that anyone who reads the reports will understand the value the website is driving.
Sure, you can export a few quick PDFs from Google Analytics and call it a day, but how can you ensure the data makes sense to people who don’t spend every day looking at statistics and graphs? How do you create an analytics report that your client, and your important internal stakeholders, will understand, appreciate and – just as important – take the time to actually read?
Below we break out important tips for creating effective analytics reports. We’ll show you how to create a report designed to communicate the value of your online effort, built specifically for the people who need to see it, regardless of where they sit within an organization.

writing a web analytics report


Compare Date Ranges

Showing clients a list of numbers for one month’s statistics will tell them how many people came to the site that month and what they did. But without context from past months and years, this data tells them nothing about whether the number of users increased or decreased, or whether the conversion rate went up or down. Comparing data to previous time periods shows a client if improvement is taking place and offers perspective to the numbers they’re now viewing.

Depending on the business, you may want to compare data to the past month, past year, or both. If your business model is seasonal (say a ski resort that sees traffic increase as winter approaches), you’ll likely find more value in comparing data to the same timeframe of the previous year. You can identify if you’re receiving the same volume of traffic and leads or if you need to step up marketing efforts to improve.

If you run an ecommerce site that sells steadily throughout the year, you may want to compare data to the past month to see how profits have gone up or down. You may also find it useful to track how you’re doing compared to the last year, especially as peak buying times like holidays approach.

Luckily for marketers, Google Analytics lets you easily compare date ranges. Just click the date selector in the top right, check the “Compare to” box, and select the date range you’d like. Once you click “Apply” you’ll see the graph and metrics show stats for both ranges.


comparing date ranges in google analytics


If you’re using Megalytic for reporting, you can also easily compare date ranges within a number of widgets. For example, the “Period Comparison Table” widget shows stats and percentage changes for the date ranges range of your choice. Here, we’ve added the widget to a report, and given it the title “Site Metrics – Monthly”. Now, we just click the dropdown by the dates at the top of the widget and select the months you’d like to compare.


comparing date ranges in megalytic


Explain the Data

Anyone can export a PDF from Google Analytics and email it to a client. However, a PDF of graphs and numbers means little to the average business owner or head of marketing without explanation. Immediately, they’ll think of questions about the reports they see. How do the numbers relate to their business profits? Should they be concerned bounce rate has increased and shows up with a red font that screams “warning?”

Your job, either as an agency or in-house analytics professional, is to explain what the statistics mean. Using a reporting product like Megalytic allows you the advantage of adding comments within the report so it shows more than just numbers, percentages, and graphs but actual explanation and insight.

For example, let’s look at a table create by Megalytic's Monthly Site Metrics widget. Reviewing the statistics, we can see sessions and users went down from the previous month. This decrease, obviously, would flag concern for a business owner who is concerned fewer people are seeing his brand.


megalytic monthly website metrics


However, a closer look at the stats reveals that while the volume of sessions decreased, the volume of conversions increased, along with an improved conversion rate. In addition, those users who did land on the site spent more time and looked at more pages.

Digging even deeper into analytics reveals information not immediately apparent from this widget. While data shows exceptionally high traffic in July, much of the increase in visits came from a few blog posts ranking for high volume terms. However, these terms were not immediately relevant to customers looking for service.

All this information helps guide a client or boss to look beyond surface statistics to understand the actual state of the website’s performance. In order to ensure whoever reviews the report understands the context and explanation behind the numbers, add a comment in the report explaining any potential concerns and pointing to what you consider positives and negatives.

If you use Megalytic, you can easily add “Notes” widgets throughout your reports. Just select “Add Widget” and search for “Notes” to find this widget. You can then add whatever copy you decide to write up, ensuring your client or boss reviews the report with your reasoning and these insights in mind.


megalytic notes widget for adding comments


Here is what the Monthly Site Metrics table looks like together with a note positioned below it.


megalytic chart with a comment


If you’re presenting a report to a particular person for the first time, or expect people who are completely new to analytics to review the report, use Notes to also define metrics. For example, realize the average person won’t automatically know the difference between users and sessions or understand what bounce rate means. You don’t want to overwhelm with arbitrary lists of stats, so be sure to explain as much as possible.

For more thoughts on answering concerns from business owners, see our article on Translating Web Analytics Requests.

Segment Data by Source

While a report should include a big picture view of site traffic, you should also show traffic, engagement and conversion broken out by source. Since each channel differs in volume and performance, break out organic search, paid search, display advertising, social media referrals, and other key sources. For example, you may see a low conversion rate overall but find that sessions specifically from paid search are converting well. You may also want to identify which channels drive the most lead volume.

The Completions by Traffic Source widget in Megalytic uses channel groupings from Google Analytics to show where conversions originated. Ultimately, this widget helps show whether leads came from organic search, paid search, social media, email marketing, etc.


megalytic chart showing goal conversions by source


From this chart, we can see that organic search has driven the most leads for this particular site, by far.

Show ROI, Not Just Traffic

Ultimately, your reporting should point the reader beyond just looking at how many people came to the site to determining what kind of return the website provided for the business. In order to do this, you’ll want to show any data that points to return on investment, such as leads submitted, goods purchased, and resources downloaded.

Be sure to add in data about goal completions and conversion rates on top of sessions and users wherever applicable. The Completions by Traffic Source report shown previously provides a good example. In addition, if your site sells goods via an ecommerce setup, show data on purchase volume, revenue, and shopping cart behavior.

You want your client or boss to see how much value the website provides through SEO, social, and paid advertising efforts driving people to the site. Identify the statistics most vital to revenue for the company and report those through analytics.


In conclusion, an effective analytics report is one that communicates beyond arbitrary figures to actual business success. Understand your client and the metrics that matter to the business. Explain metrics that may not be readily understood. You deserve to get credit for work done on the web, but you need to be sure to properly communicate the work completed and successes seen through the data at your disposal in analytics.


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.