Web Analytics Reporting – Part II: Tell a Story

Published December 17, 2013

Good reports tell a story. When you are designing your web analytics report, think about the story you are going to tell when you present it to your audience. Even if you are simply emailing it to them - design it as if you were going to stand up in front of your audience and present it.


But, what story should you tell? That starts with knowing your audience, as we discussed in our last post. Ideally, you have had some discussions with your audience before creating your report. They should have told you what topics are of interest. From there, you should have applied your web analytics skills to decide which metrics are most relevant to those topics. If you haven't been able to talk with your audience, then hopefully, you have at least mentally put yourself in their shoes and thought about what you would be interested in if you were them.

For the purposes of this post, we are going to assume that your audience is the Marketing Department and that one of the topics they are interested in is website engagement. The have told you that they want to know whether visitors are engaged or not and what determines how engaged they are. Furthermore, they have told you that they consider an engaged visitor to be one who has viewed at least 6 different pages on the site.

Here is a sample report that you might have produced for the Marketing Department in this scenario. Have a look at it while you read the rest of this post. It illustrates the main points.

Use a Cover Page

A cover page is useful because it orients your audience to the content that they are about to read. A good cover page should tell the audience what important question the report answers. I like to use the sub-title for this purpose. In this example, the subtitle is "How engaged are our visitors and where do they come from?". This should be the question that the Marketing Department told you it was interested in. The title should simply tell them which report this is (as you may be providing them with more than one). "Engaged Visitor Update" is simple and to-the-point.

It is also a good idea to include some descriptive text on the cover page. This emphasizes who the report is for - "Monthly Report prepared for the Marketing Department". It also describes at a high level what the report contains - "Summary of trends and sources of engaged visitors to the website". If there are any terms which are important to define, this is a good place to do it. Here, we defined what and "engaged visit" is, reinforcing that we are using the definition provided to us by the Marketing Department.

Lastly, it is often a good idea to include some "key observations" in this cover page. These are the highlights or important insights provided by the charts and tables within. Include observations that you think will be of particular interest to the audience. Since the Marketing Department handles direct email campaigns, one of the observations called out here is that "Direct email campaigns are the fastest growing contributor to overall engagement".

Start General and Get Specific

It is usually a good idea to start with a general overview chart or table. Use something that will provide the audience with background that is relevant to the rest of the report. In this case, we are using a time series chart that combines visits, engaged visits, and the engagement rate (Engaged Visits %). This shows the audience, at a glance, what the trends are in traffic to the site and the percentage of that traffic that is engaged. This kind of background information serves two purposes. First, it answers one of the key audience questions about trends. Second, it provides context for the other charts and tables. For example, now the audience will know that when the see engagement rates in other charts that are above 5% - that is a good number relative to the site average.


As you see in the above image, it is also a good idea to include some summary text along with each chart or table. This reinforces the insight to be gained from the chart. In this case, we are pointing out the relative stability of the engagement rate, along with the decline in the last 3 weeks.

As you browse through the next few charts in the report, you will see that they are all general - Engaged Visits by Country, Engagement by Platform, Source of Engaged Visits. The next chart is also titled "Source of Engaged Visits", but it is more specific than the pie chart.

Introduce Time as One Method of Getting Specific

The pie chart shows the breakdown of engagement during an entire 13 week (3 month) period. The area chart shows how that breakdown has changed over time. One way of getting more specific is to segment the data along additional dimensions. In this case, we started with the source dimension (without time). Now, we are introducing the time dimension. The additional insight to be gained by getting specific in this way is that the "Email Referral" source has clearly grown in importance over the last 13 weeks.


Notice that in the case, the summary text for this chart points our the primary insight gained by drilling down along the time dimension. "Email referrals are rapidly increasing their share of engaged visits".


To summarize, a good web analytics report tells a story that your audience wants to hear. In the example report used here, the story is about engagement - a key issue that our audience has identified. The charts and tables all describe some aspect of engagement - the overall trend, its sources, its relationship to social media, the landing pages producing the most engagement, etc. We've also shown and example of one way that you can get more specific - by first segmenting data along one dimension (source) and then showing how that varies over another dimension (time).

The next installment in this series will look at how to best distribute reports and get feedback from your audience.

Part I: Know Your Audience
Part II: Tell a Story
Part III: Get Feedback


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.