Digital Marketing Reporting – The Why, How and When

Tim Hopma 9 years ago

As marketing professionals, whether in–house or agency-side, we all have a need to visualise and understand the fruits of our labours. Primarily, this is so we can optimise campaigns, see what is working (or not!) and give ourselves the knowledge and insight to improve effectiveness.

The other side of the coin is that there are, invariably, other stakeholders that will need to see that insight.

There are many reasons for this, so…

Why does your boss/client need a report?

During my in-house days, reporting was all about understanding the numbers in a high level of detail. Every day was reported on in minutia, usually because the numbers you supply will be compiled into much larger team or departmental reports. Your boss needs your numbers for their own report!

Another reason for in-house reporting is budget justification. With spend monitored precisely, all in-house activity must be aligned to results and ROI, so internal reporting to do just that is key.

In-house, in reality, is always a case of proving worth, and that includes you and your role. Your reports are an important way of showing the value of your role, your channel, your team, and ultimately you! Use the opportunity that reporting presents to shout from the rooftops about the effectiveness of your channel.

Agency-side, it’s a somewhat simpler affair. Essentially, the client absolutely MUST see that their investment with your agency is providing results. SEO can muddy the water somewhat, with its results occurring over time rather than in real-time like, for example, PPC or display, however the agency should be in a position to explain trends and show progress in the mid to long term. Communication is key here so the client understands and their expectations are managed.

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In-house vs agency reporting requirements

The big difference between the two, in my experience, is the level of detail required. As a rule, in-house reporting requires more detail than agency reporting, however the big variable in agency is the client budget. It’s accepted that a bigger budget will require a more in-depth report, of course.

A good example of the differences is time periods. A ‘main’ agency client report will usually look at specific time periods comparatively, e.g. month-on-month or year-on-year, for a specified range of KPIs, whereas an in-house report might report daily, over a much wider range of KPIs in more detail.

Understanding objectives and KPIs

Ultimately, the purpose of any marketing report is to show success and contextualise losses. The key to being able to do this, in a true way, is to know what the measures of that success and loss are.

Objectives and KPIs are imperative to this.

In reality, no report will focus only on the KPI. Let’s say a team or agency’s KPI was cost per order; if all the report showed was the cost per order for the relevant time period, it would add no value to anyone. What the report must do is support the KPI metric with cause and effect. What happened during the time period and how did it affect the KPI?

And of course, it is always in the marketer’s interests, in-house or agency, to report on ‘other’ relevant metrics to show value in other areas. Remember, we’re all trying to prove value with our reports.

Despite this, the report should always focus around the objectives and KPIs and to do this, those objectives and KPIs must be defined as early as possible.

Measures of success

Further to the above, I have listed below some example organic metrics that typically might be used to report against defined KPIs. Your report might incorporate one, some or all of them!

Ecommerce focused:

  • Traffic volumes
  • Transaction volumes
  • £ Revenue
  • Conversion rate % (=<transactions>/<traffic>)
  • £ Cost per order (=<spend>/<transactions>)
  • ROI (revenue as a % of spend)
  • Device usage (the above, but split by desktop/mobile/traffic)

Content focused:

  • Reach of off-site content
  • Long tail rankings for target terms
  • Social shares of on-site content
  • Traffic into specific landing pages
  • On-site engagement (bounce rate, average time on site, average page views per visit)

SEO focused:

  • Key term rankings
  • Number of terms ranking
  • Ranking spread (number of terms in top 5, number of position 1 rankings, number of terms in top 10 etc.)
  • Search visibility (a trend of how visible your site is in search engines, based on what terms it ranks for and where it ranks for them)
  • Number of landing pages receiving organic traffic
  • Indexation status (number of SEO errors, e.g. 404s, duplicate meta etc.)
  • Brand vs non brand

Reporting the right data, and using the right data sources

A KPI, and therefore a report, is worth nothing if the data used is inaccurate. Understanding the right metric to use is key and often that data will come from quite a small number of sources. I have replicated the above list of organic metrics below, but with the addition of the data source you should use and, where relevant, where in each source you should look for your organic data.

N.B. I reference Google Analytics here, however your business, specifically in-house, may use other analytics packages such as Web Trends or Coremetrics. In this case please try to find similar data in those packages to ensure consistency with wider business reporting.

Ecommerce focused:

  • Traffic volumes – Google Analytics > Acquisition > Campaigns > Organic Keywords (Site usage view)
  • Transaction volumes – Google Analytics > Acquisition > Campaigns > Organic Keywords (Ecommerce view)
  • £ Revenue – Google Analytics > Acquisition > Campaigns > Organic Keywords (Ecommerce view)
  • Conversion rate % (=<transactions>/<traffic>) – Google Analytics > Acquisition > Campaigns > Organic Keywords (Ecommerce view)
  • £ Cost per order (=<spend>/<transactions>) – Google Analytics > Acquisition > Campaigns > Organic Keywords (Ecommerce view)
  • ROI (=revenue as a % of spend) – get revenue data as above and combine with your own spend tracking, then calculate manually or with a formula in Excel
  • Device usage (the above metrics, but split by desktop/mobile/traffic) - Google Analytics > Audience > Mobile > Overview > Add Segment (Organic Traffic)

Content focused:

  • Reach of off-site content – Hitwise (cumulative monthly estimated traffic of placement sites)
  • Long tail rankings for target terms – A specific rank tracker (Zazzle uses > track the terms your on-page content is targeting over time
  • Social shares of on-site content – > enter the content URL
  • Traffic into specific landing pages – Google Analytics > Acquisition > Campaigns > Organic Keywords > Set Primary Dimension to Landing Pages
  • On-site engagement (bounce rate, average time on site, average page views per visit) - Google Analytics > Acquisition > Campaigns > Organic Keywords (Site usage view)

SEO focused:

  • Key term rankings – once defined, use specific rank tracker
  • Number of terms ranking – Searchmetrics > Overview > Organic Keywords - updates monthly to show the number of terms ranking in the top 40
  • Ranking spread (number of terms in top 3, number of terms in top 10 etc.) – SEMrush > Organic Research > Positions > Select Keywords on the main graph – this will show terms in top 3, terms in P4-10, terms in P11-20 and total top 20 terms
  • Search visibility (a trend of how visible your site is in search engines, based on what terms it ranks for and where it ranks for them) – Searchmetrics > Overview – the main graph is the site’s visibility trended over time
  • Number of landing pages receiving organic traffic - Google Analytics > Acquisition > Campaigns > Organic Keywords > Set Primary Dimension to Landing Pages > Look for the number at the bottom right of the list, i.e. how many landing pages there are in the list (be careful not to do this while doing a date range comparison, as the landing pages for both date ranges will be included in the list!)
  • Indexation status (number of SEO errors, e.g. 404s, duplicate meta etc.) – Google Search Console (previously Webmaster Tools) > Crawl Errors - PLUS the output of a crawl tool such as Screaming Frog or Moz
  • Brand vs non brand – Follow my Google Analytics method outlined in this post I wrote for Econsultancy (look for the ‘Brand and non-brand’ section) > Track non-brand over time to show growth in ranking-related traffic

Being consistent

The above metrics and data sources are only reliable for as long as they are consistent. Once you firm up the source and method for extracting data, be consistent with it. Any changes, forced or otherwise, should be included in the report as a caveat.

A great current example of this is Google’s switch from Webmaster Tools to Search Console. Historically, there has been a section called Search Queries, a great source of data around keywords sending traffic, however, it has now changed to Search Analytics. In my experience with it so far, the new version is much more cloaked and no longer divulges full data sets. Shifting from the old source to the new source could create inconsistent data and this should be highlighted in the report, for example:

“Search query data source changed from Google Search Queries to Google Search Analytics as of July 2015.”

Consistency is especially important when trending info over time and, comparatively, against previous time periods.

Reporting against targets

We referred to objectives and KPIs earlier, and importantly that the report should be built around the metrics that measure those targets. When doing so, it can be useful to report differentials against target.

For example, part of a ranking target report might look like this:

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 15.30.58

Showing progress over time - trends, and direct time comparisons

There are 2 main points here:

  1. Graphs are your friend
  2. Time comparisons can give false readings, so use them wisely

Graphs are the best way of showing progress over time and tracking metrics across a number of reports. Pie charts can also be useful to show your channel’s performance in relation to other channels. For example, a pie chart showing that organic is the biggest driver of revenue at 40% ahead of PPC at 34%, is a positive indicator.

Graphs are also useful when annotations are added… highlighting on a graph when major changes or events occurred can add context to the performance of a trend. E.g. highlighting where a new website or product was launched can add real insight in relation to performance fluctuations.

The big factor to be aware of with time vs time comparisons is that they are not always true comparisons. For example, today vs yesterday might not be relevant because yesterday was a Sunday and it’s a quiet day for the site, and this month vs previous month might not always be the best comparison because last month might be December, containing a super-busy Christmas.

The ‘truest’ comparison we find useful is year-on-year.

Referring back to consistency, if week-on-week, day-on-day or month-on-month are being used, ensure to caveat with relevant insight where needed. The best place do this is in commentary…


Commentary is your opportunity to add flavour to your numbers, by picking out headlines, drawing attention where you want it and ultimately explaining why things have happened as they have.

My main advice here is to avoid storytelling. Stating what the numbers say is fine, but ensure it’s supported with reasoning. For example:

“Organic traffic is up 23% this month”…

We already know that! However…

“Organic traffic is up 23% this month, driven by a 2 position increase in rank for ‘insurance’ and a resulting traffic increase into the /car-insurance landing page. This has also been influenced by March having 3 more days in the month than February.”

… is an insightful explanation and one which avoids questions from the reader.


There are 4 main tools for building reports:

  • Word
  • Excel
  • Powerpoint
  • Online tool

The best one to use for your report will depend on its contents and your intention with regards to the message you’re portraying.

A data-heavy report would suit Excel, a commentary-heavy report would suit Word and an imagery/creative-heavy report would suit Powerpoint.

Online tools can be great in providing consistent formatting and templates, and each have strengths similar to Word, Excel etc. so make sure you pick the right one for you.

One of our favourites here at Zazzle Media is

Methods of delivery

Regular update reports should always be delivered by email and in a non-editable format, e.g. PDF. This may vary in-house where the recipient will need to copy or manipulate the data for their own reports.

Big end-of-campaign and review reports should be supported with face-to-face or conference call walk-throughs, whether that be in-house or agency.

Talking through / answering questions

As the reporter, it is your responsibility to ensure the report is understood and valuable. You can do the hard work with regards to this by building the most watertight report you can, with the best insight you can muster, however there will always be questions and queries, so always be prepared to back up your metrics and commentary with further explanation.

Frequency of report generation

In-house, it is likely that report frequency will be defined for you, however you may have the opportunity to flex the level of detail in those reports. For example your weekly reports might be top level and monthly reports may go into much more detail. Too much data too often can cause unnecessary panic!

On the agency side, frequency of report is a little more variable. A few factors to consider are:

  • Client budget – should we be spending 40% of the budget on in-depth weekly reporting?
  • Level of detail required by client
  • Breadth and depth of defined KPIs – more KPIs means more reports and more detail

Striking a balance between a fair level of reporting as a % of the budget and ensuring you’re giving the client what they need is the key.

Manual vs automation

For me, nothing beats a hand-built, bespoke report designed specifically for each client, however it isn’t the most efficient approach and can lead to huge time issues.

There are many tools out there that use Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to pull in data from various sources, however I am yet to find one that has the level of functionality to rival a manual report. There are even reports out there that claim to be able to write the commentary for you, however referring back to my point on ensuring commentary is precise, I’m not convinced this would give the level of insight I’d be looking for and would be storytelling, which I recommended avoiding earlier.

Looking ahead

Monthly, weekly, campaign and review reports are there to show performance and insight for that time period, however equally as important is a focus on what can be done with that information.

  • If things are negative, how do we fix it?
  • If things are positive, how do we maintain it?
  • What are the next steps?
  • What did we do wrong?
  • What can we learn?

Overall, remember the important points we’ve covered. In your report you’re trying to:

  1. Prove value in you and your channel
  2. Minimise kickback/questions
  3. Report progress against KPIs
  4. Give confidence
  5. Provide insight

Download the FREE marketing reporting template to unlock the above 5 points:


If you found this piece useful, you might like to explore our services page to discover some of the areas we commonly would report on.

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