Stop Reading Your Reports Half Right

Let’s face it. Reporting has gotten out of hand. Once upon a time, measuring the success of your online efforts was pretty limited. Back in 1995, website “hits” were the only metric marketers had. Google Analytics delivered quite a shock when it came out in 2005.

Needless to say, things have grown in the last 25 years. Today, there is a plethora of analytic platforms for marketers to use. And they all report on more than 50,000 data points. Feeling overwhelmed yet? The good news is you don’t have to be a data scientist to make better use of your reporting.


Let’s start with the basics. Pretty much everyone looks at these 10 metrics:

  1. Visitors
  2. Referrals
  3. Bounce Rate
  4. Entry/Exit Pages
  5. Conversion Rate
  6. Click Through Rate (CTR)
  7. Impressions/Reach
  8. Cost per some unit of measure, like Cost Per Click (CPC) or Cost Per View (CPV)
  9. Page Views
  10. Advertising Cost


But are you really looking at these metrics correctly? Not if you’re looking at aggregate data only. Each metric has its own purpose, intent, and its own INTENDED data set. What do I mean? Well, some data sets apply to certain metrics, while others don’t.


5 tips to get back on track


With so many data points and each metric needing a specific data set, what do you do? Here are five tips to getting you back on track to better reporting your digital marketing efforts. 


Stop Data Dumping


Google Analytics aggregates over 50,000 data points. That’s a lot of information, and some of it is irrelevant to certain people. As marketers, constantly challenged to prove the value of our effort, we have a tendency to overcompensate by providing so much data that we confuse people. Stop it! It’s time to really think about who is consuming the report. Ask yourself some hard questions about your metrics.


Is this information relevant to the intended consumer?

Do they even care about these metrics?


When you start asking yourself these questions you start to narrow your focus and report the metrics that hold value to the intended audience. Remember, you’re creating a report for someone else, not yourself. It should report on the things that are important to them.


Focus on Business Objectives and Associated KPIs


Just like focusing on the data points that matter to the audience, make sure you’re reporting on metrics that tie to your business goals and objectives. Don’t get lost down the data rabbit hole. While every data point has some importance, reporting is about filtering high-level numbers that matter most.


Not sure what your key performance indicators (KPIs) are for your business goals? Find out, or establish them. Is brand awareness a goal? Try focusing on impressions, reach and video views. Whatever your goal is, there should be some measurement tied to it to determine success. That measurement is your KPI.


Beware the Outlier


Averages are crap. That’s right, I said it. Mathematically speaking, averages hold a lot of value but when it comes to the real world there’s a problem. They include outlier numbers that drastically affect the reality of your performance. Take two simple math problems with the same numbers.


What’s the average of 95, 25, 24, 31, 29 and 27? The answer is 38.5.


What’s the median of 95, 25, 24, 31, 29 and 27? The answer is 28.


Which answer is closer to the non-mathematical average, the reality norm? You’ll immediately see that the median, 28, is the closest answer. Bots and performance spikes from random marketing activities can be a major contributor to outlier data. These artificially inflate your numbers and give you a false sense of reality.


Now, I am not saying ignore your average numbers. Just be cautious. Think about how you’re slicing and looking at your data. Are you looking at it from a monthly, weekly or daily view? Aggregated or highly segmented? Just remember that outliers may be hiding in your data and could be affecting your averages.


Let your intentions be your guide


Each metric has an intended purpose with an intended data set. Far too often, people glance over metrics and accept them as they are without thinking about what the metric really means. Or even asking themselves, “Do I have the correct data set to accurately report on the metric’s intended purpose?”


When you look at total site visitors, of course, you want to include aggregate data. You want to see how many people visit your site, regardless if they engage or not. But what happens when we look at the metric “Avg. Session Duration”? This metric looks at how long people ENGAGE with your site. Why do I stress the word engage? The reason is, it doesn’t make sense to include users who bounce (i.e., don’t engage) when evaluating this metric. By removing Bounced Sessions, you’ll see a dramatic difference in your numbers.


Metrics should not only be reporting numbers. They should be evaluated for their intended purpose and should tell a story of their intended purpose. Just make sure you’re using the right data to tell the right story.


Benchmarks… Establish your own


Our mothers have all told us, “You are unique. Stop comparing yourself to others.” I have to agree when it comes to your business—with some grains of salt. Your business may have close competitors, but they are not a clone of you. They may have slightly different product sets or different media mixes. All of these factors affect performance.


It’s like comparing a Fuji apple to a Granny Smith. Both are apples, but still very different. So why only use generic or industry benchmark data? You should also be benchmarking against yourself. After all, you want to see how you’re improving against yourself since there is only one of you.


Start small by benchmarking a few key metrics, like CTR or bounce rate by acquisition channels. Look at how you did last year as a whole, then quarterly and monthly. By seeing how you’ve performed in the past, you’ll approach your own benchmark against which you (and only you) are accountable.


BONUS TIP 1: The KISS Principle (Keep It Simple… Silly)


As mentioned previously, reports have grown to the size of novels. Some are so complicated and convoluted they’re not worth a second thought. Someone (or many someones) put many hours and resources into building that report, just for it to be discarded as if it had no value. Reports that include mountains of data can be overwhelming and confusing. They don’t need to be. Include the information that is most important and most needed, and you’ll create something that is more consumable, engaging and useful.


BONUS TIP 2: Tell a good story 


You can start small and implement two or three of these tips to drastically improve how your reports are received. Remember, reporting is a form of storytelling. Are you telling a good story with a clear ending? Or are you simply reciting the almanac?


Vladimir Jones is Colorado’s original independent, integrated advertising agency, with offices in Denver and Colorado Springs. We believe in brilliant brands and love making the world love them as much as we do.

Vladimir Jones is Colorado’s original independent, integrated advertising agency, with offices in Denver and Colorado Springs. We believe in brilliant brands and love making the world love them as much as we do.