(1) Set goals and reporting expectations early.
Before undertaking a new project or signing any contracts, agencies should understand the client’s industry, opportunities, and unique challenges. Who are the major players in the space? What is the current demand for the client’s product or service, and how does the client differentiate themselves from competitors? Based on previous experience and industry trends, what type of media is their target audience most likely to respond to the best?
Through this initial research and conversations with the client, your digital marketing agency can help identify specific, measurable goals and create a detailed digital marketing plan designed to reach those goals in the short term and the long term. You should agree on metrics during these initial conversations. For example, publishers will be particularly interested in metrics related to web traffic and engagement, such as total visits to the site, bounce rate (how many visitors exit the site after visiting one page), and time on site. Nonprofits might focus more on email metrics, such as open rates, click-through rates (especially for call-to-action buttons asking for donations), and conversion rates, considering that an estimated one-third of online funds are raised through email.
(2) Establish a regular reporting schedule to track progress.
Reporting is an integral part of the digital marketing campaign process so that clients can see progress at regular intervals. The ideal interval is monthly so you can take stock of the campaigns each month, as well as keep track of larger trends that are unfolding for the quarter and year. Reporting more frequently often requires too much time and effort and fairly little additional benefit, while reporting once per quarter might cause you to miss out on important insights or identify and solve problems earlier.
Regularly scheduled digital marketing reporting is particularly useful for industries that have specific seasonal cycles, such as higher education, accounting, and travel. For example, a travel agency client might notice a significant spike in social media followers around the summer when school is out and might not need to worry if the increase in followers drops or plateaus in September. Similarly, personal accountants are more likely to see an increase in web traffic in the months leading up to tax season, and less traffic after April 15. Monthly reports that compare current statistics with the same month last year help the client stay focused on year-over-year improvement rather than the normal, cyclical, ups and downs.
Industries that are less cyclical can more easily compare the effectiveness of different campaigns over time and pinpoint which led to the most engagement. Did running a contest on social media in October lead to greater engagement than during August, when there wasn’t a contest? Did a redesigned website correspond with a lower bounce rate or more conversions? Questions like these lead to the next point:
(3) Determine which KPIs to include in the monthly client report.
It can be tempting to create client reports with as many metrics as possible -- number of Facebook daily likes, number of opened emails, number of Instagram impressions, etc. But using too many metrics makes it harder to separate the wheat from the chaff. By narrowing in on a handful of KPIs (key performance indicators) based on the client’s goals, your agency can determine more precisely which campaigns and which platforms are generating the most engagement and leading to the desired results.
KPIs should always be quantifiable and tied to specific client goals, making them relevant to highlight in client reports. For example, if your client is primarily concerned about brand awareness among certain demographics, focus on traffic metrics from the specific audience segments they care about. If your client cares about lead generation, report how many leads are gathered from online forms and which campaigns are producing leads with the lowest cost per acquisition (CPA). For clients looking to build their presence on social media, engagement metrics (likes and shares on social media) are more telling than impressions. Other metrics might include pay-per-click advertising results, open rates for emails, or number of website visitors in a given time frame.
(4) Use client reporting to build rapport and effectively collaborate on campaigns.
Regular client reporting shows transparency and engenders mutual trust, while helping you and the client stay aligned with goals and solve problems together.
For clients, reporting creates opportunities to communicate frequently with your agency and gain insights and education about their campaigns. Rather than a “set it and forget it” where most of the work is outsourced to the agency, clients are always integral to the conversation and ensure that their campaigns adapt in real time to the needs of the target audience.
Agencies can benefit from client reporting by getting the opportunity to build the relationship with the client even more and identify additional pain points that they can solve. Let’s say, for example, Agency X was running AdWords PPC for Client Y. Without regular reporting, the AdWords campaign was like a black box, and the client didn’t appreciate the work. After introducing reporting, the client was educated about the various campaigns and techniques being used. As a result, the client took an active interest and started to contribute keyword and copy ideas for improving landing pages. As a result, PPC results improved and the client decided to increase spending on AdWords and signed the agency to a larger retainer.
(5) Review reports together.
Client and agencies should review reports together. Encourage clients to make time to review the report with their representative from your agency each month. The more conversations and interaction between the agency and the client, the more future reporting can be refined to better address client needs. As an added bonus, your agency will often find that additional business arises from these regular reviews.
For example, if John, the Account Executive at Smith Marketing Agency, knows that his client ABC Clothing Company wants to increase sales through Google Ads, he directs more of the marketing budget into Google Ads and builds metrics from Google Adwords into the report. When Jane, the Marketing Manager at ABC Clothing Company, reads the report, she’s really curious about how engagement on Google Ads compares to engagement on Bing Ads. Bing Ads becomes a topic for discussion at the monthly review meeting – thanks to the report – and it leads to another project for the agency if ABC decides to pursue both platforms for SEM marketing.
Similarly, clients and agencies should always have detailed discussions prior to launching an A/B test, such as using different words on the call-to-action button on a website (“Sign Up Now!” vs. “Get Started!”), and analyze the results together after the test. In this case, the KPI included in the report might be click-through rates or conversions.
(6) Make reports as user-friendly as possible.
Keep in mind that most clients outsource to your digital agency for two reasons: to save time and to draw upon your expertise. Clients don’t want an massive dump of data--they want your agency to interpret that data and point them in the right direction for going forward.
Even after your agency reviews the report with the client, the client will likely want to reference it later, instantly understand what they are reading, and be able to explain the results to their colleagues. An executive summary on the first page can condense the most important information for easy reference and provide a high-level overview, which is often what the higher-ups are looking for. Further into the report where the nitty-gritty details are discussed, agencies should avoid industry jargon and opt instead for plain and simple language.
Reports should also include graphs and tables to help the client visualize the data. Where possible, agencies should use bullet points to summarize key insight and offer actionable advice based on findings. All visuals should also have a brief explanation. Instead of just showing a chart that indicates where leads from Facebook ads are increasing, add text to the report to explain what the chart shows. This text should include the observation that can be drawn from the chart and a possible reason for the observation based on current changes to the campaign. For example, “The chart below shows that leads from Facebook ads increased month over month. This resulted from focusing on the specific audience of men aged 35-44 living in the eastern United States, as well as optimizations to the landing pages.”
(7) Report consistently even when your client is changing.
You can use client reporting as a constant to provide stability even when your client is undergoing profound changes. Many businesses, particularly those at an early stage, are likely to experience changes in leadership, strategic vision, product offerings, or target audience. These periodic changes can be risky for your agency, as your relationship with the client may be reviewed as part of the shifting landscape.
But digital marketing reporting, when done at regular intervals and with consistent metrics, can provide a much-needed stable and historical point of view on how these changes are affecting campaign performance. When possible, keep reporting KPIs and schedules consistent, even when strategic changes happens within the brand or company. Consistency makes it easier for new people joining the project to come up to speed and judge the impact that changes are having. As a stable source of insight and a connection with historical data, your agency may actually prove more valuable, rather than less, as the changes are implemented.
While client reporting should be as consistent as possible, agencies should also be prepared to adapt as needed and add new metrics to the report. Before any major changes are made, conversations should take place between the agency and the client to ensure alignment of goals and vision. For example, if your agency has been consistently reporting email open rates for all subscribers ages 24-32, and the client has decided to shift its focus to marketing specifically to millennial women, you should adapt your reporting to incorporate the open rate for women ages 24-32 into the existing section about demographic trends.
(8) Save time and money by automating as much as possible.
Compiling the necessary data for a client report is labor-intensive and time-consuming, without even thinking about interpretations and recommendations. Downloading monthly metrics from different online platforms and reformatting the information so it is easily understandable can take hours. Luckily, much of the client reporting process can be automated with tools such as Megalytic. Using pre-set time frames and templates that gather and format data, Megalytic enables agencies to spend more time on analysis and really attending to each client’s needs. Megalytic offers a 14 day free trial for new users.