What are your website analytics reports really providing you? So many people think that the aim of analytics reporting is to reflect on what happened (e.g. who came to our site and what did they want? how is our campaign performing? did we win or did we lose?). Yes, there are some historical elements, but I would also argue that the best reporting and metrics provide a window to what is next. In essence we can use the past to predict and control our future.
Last year, I prepared a presentation on how to Create a Marketing Dashboard. This information below contains pieces from that presentation, but primarily focuses on the process to build out a website analytics report for the first time. Please keep in mind that while there are reporting standards, there is no standard report. I prepare 10+ reports for clients on a monthly (and sometimes weekly) basis and none of them look alike. Your report should be as unique as the business for which you are preparing it.
To demonstrate each step more clearly, I’ll provide examples from a make-believe business. Let’s say we are preparing a report for a dentist.
A. Define business objectives
This may seen obvious, but I’ve seen plenty of metrics reports that don’t provide a clear indication of what the business is working to accomplish. Your business goals must be at core of your reporting metrics or else you are merely reporting less than meaningful data.
- Increase the number of new patients by X%
- Retain Y% of all current or previous patients
- Improve per patient revenue to $Z
Keep in mind that in most cases the website alone cannot accomplish your business objectives by itself. However, monitoring visitor behavior and website results can help to inform your overall business strategy and help you stay on target.
B. Identify questions the report must answer
Try to avoid pulling random site metrics out of a hat. Think carefully about what you want your report to tell you independent of any specific statistics or analytics-oriented data types (e.g. time on site, bounce rate, total pageviews, etc.).
- How many new patient inquiries did we receive?
- How many new patients called?
- How many new email newsletter subscribers did we earn?
- What other sales oriented actions did visitors take (e.g. visits to “Contact” page, driving directions, new patient Insurance forms, monthly special page)?
- What is the ongoing trend for visitors?
- How many visitors come to the site for the first time? returning visitors?
- From where are visitors and new leads coming?
- What dental services are most popular amongst visitors?
C. Match those questions with available metrics
Now that you know what you want to measure, you must determine if you actually can. This process involves either examining your current analytics data or placing tracking code from a tool like Google Analytics. Once you have your analytics house in order, you can begin to create question-metric pairings.
- How many new patient inquiries did we receive? –> Visits to the “Thank You” page
- How many new patients called? → Call tracking software. If you use Google Analytics, see this handy guide for phone call tracking tool integration.
- How many new email newsletter subscribers did we earn? → Visits to the “Sign Up Confirmation” page
- What other sales oriented actions did visitors take (e.g. visits to “Contact” page, driving directions, new patient Insurance forms, monthly special page)? → Visits to those pages
- What is the ongoing trend for visitors? → Monthly visit tallies and daily totals for the current month
- How many visitors come to the site for the first time? Repeat visitors? → New vs. Returning monthly visit tallies
- From where are visitors and new leads coming? → Visit tallies by traffic source
- What dental services are most popular amongst visitors? → Pageview tallies for each “Services” page
D. Construct the report and include notes
The notes should seek to interpret data charts on the report and uncover other interesting findings that may influence your decisions about site content and marketing strategies.
As my friend Chris Book would tell you, try to abide by the 80-20 rule with your report notes. Your notes section may only take up 20% of the real estate on your report, but you’ll likely spend 80% of your time to produce the report on this section. Take the necessary time to dig for game changing data points, extract meaning and provide thoughtful recommendations.
Check out the sample report for our make-believe dentist. Thanks to Bacon Ipsum for the incredible dummy text used in the notes section. Also, you may notice that I used Numbers from the Apple iWork suite for this report. While I prefer Microsoft Excel when working with data (sorting through data tables, creating formulas, constructing pivot tables, etc.) I like Numbers a bit better for reporting because of its ‘cleanliness’ and presentation quality.
1. Who is the ultimate audience for this report? Depending upon who is reading the report, you may choose to include a legend to help define metrics and what they mean. You should also try to avoid jargon or acronyms found in many analytics reporting tools. If you have multiple audiences with different agendas, you may have to create more than one report that are formatted differently for the appropriate people (e.g. CEO receives top level sales metrics and the Marketing Director receives campaign-specific reporting).
2. One page, please. Just because you can measure it doesn’t mean you should always report it. Stick to the most pertinent, goals-focused data. Avoid getting caught up in the minutiae. Assume that your report audience does not have an overwhelming amount of time to commit to your analysis. Make it digestible in minutes (if not seconds).
3. Beware of pie charts. Pie charts are visually appealing and can be an effective way to show percentage comparisons some times. However, when showing how fractional relationships change over the course of time, pie charts can be misleading and just don’t cut the mustard. Use bar or column charts instead.
4. Know that your report will likely change. Think of your analytics reporting as a living, breathing organism. It will adapt and evolve along with your website and your marketing campaigns. Alter the report and its format as needed to provide the utmost relevance.
5. If you are an agency, this report could be your meal ticket. I’ve gone so far as to encourage some of my agency clients to offer analytics reporting at a discount or for free in some cases. It allows you to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise while uncovering opportunities for new or simply more effective campaign strategies.
You may think of analytics reporting as a burdensome chore. In truth, it is a gold mine.