Marketing reporting is a key part of a modern marketer’s role. It doesn't matter if you work in an agency, as a freelancer or if you are part of an in-house marketing team. At some point, people (clients, managers, stakeholders) will want to know how it is going. And so, digital marketing reporting is on your to do list.
In this guide, we try to cover all you need to know about digital marketing reporting
An introduction to digital marketing reporting
Everything we do, we can measure. That is the promise of digital marketing. While the results of traditional mass media marketing campaigns were hard to measure, the idea of digital marketing is that, through extensive tracking, we can understand exactly what we yield.
Is that really the case?
Perhaps not. Attribution, for instance, is still a challenge for most companies. But by organizing our data in a meaningful way and focussing on what matters most, we can create insightful marketing reports that help us to create data-driven, informed decisions on how to proceed. Digital marketing reporting can inform future marketing plans and strategies.
So, let's get into it.
What is marketing reporting?
Marketing reporting is the process of gathering and analyzing marketing data to create a clear report. The goal is to inform future marketing decisions, strategies, and performance. Great digital marketing reports uncover meaningful, actionable insights and inspire action.
Who needs to create marketing reports?
Digital marketing agencies often send out periodic marketing reports to their clients, to help them understand how their advertising campaigns are performing.
Internal marketing professionals create marketing reports to share with stakeholders, and sometimes to C-level executives.
Freelance marketers create digital marketing reports to share with their clients on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis, or ad-hoc – depending on the way they and their client like to work.
Why is reporting important in digital marketing?
Reporting is an important part of marketing for multiple reasons:
- Reporting provides insight into the activities and performance by the marketing team or agency.
- Marketing reporting can justify decisions to increase, decrease or completely cease certain activities (like advertising campaigns for specific products, on a specific platform, or to a certain target audience).
- Reporting can prepare stakeholders to the strategies and tactics planned for the coming period.
- And, finally, marketing reporting is important, because it helps justify the investment. Many advertisers will monitor KPIs such as ROI (return on investment) or ROAS (return on ad spend), in order to weigh the effectiveness of their advertising investment.
You might think that the more money a company spends on marketing, the more important reporting becomes. But, we need to view this relative to the company we are working for.
A small business, like a local florist, might invest $500 per month on marketing and feel very anxious about it.
They might say, "Is this a good investment? Are we seeing the results already?"
While $500 over a month might not feel like a large amount of money to invest in marketing, for small businesses and emerging entrepreneurs, it can be a serious investment. In that case, marketing reporting is very important to make sure the client understands how their money is being spent, why it is spent in that way, and what the results are.
So, marketing spend is relative to company size. Once marketing spend is large enough to matter, it is just as important regardless of the size of the budget.
How to write a digital marketing report
Writing a marketing report starts with the receiver of this report. Who are you actually writing for? Try to answer these questions before starting the report itself:
- Who will read this marketing report?
- What is their role?
- Will more than one person consume this report?
- How much knowledge do they have about digital marketing?
- What are the things (KPIs or metrics) they care about most?
- In what format would they like to receive the report?
- Do they prefer weekly, biweekly, or monthly marketing reports?
In many cases, it is wise to pick up the phone and simply ask these questions to your client. They can tell you if they will want to share the report and with whom, if they prefer a text-based document or rather see a presentation, and how familiar they are with marketing jargon.
If they aren't very knowledgeable about digital marketing, you might want to add a short explanation of the words and phrases you are using. This prevents you from sharing the report, and getting an email back with the question, “What are KPIs?”
As soon as you know what the reader of the report wants to see, you can start writing the digital marketing report.
What should a digital marketing report include?
We will keep this section brief, because we created a separate blogpost about this topic. Find that one here, or read the summary below.
In general, a good digital marketing report should contain the following elements:
- A summary of the marketing activities you have done
- Information about the results of those marketing activities (data)
- An explanation of what those results mean (insights)
- A summary of the next steps you are planning to take
Always keep in mind the recipient for whom you create the report. If they don't have a lot of marketing knowledge, make sure to include a list of jargon and their meanings. This will ensure your audience understands the vocabulary used in the report.
Another way to cater to your audience is to add or remove details. The CEO or CMO will probably have specific questions about the marketing campaigns of the past quarter. And those will not be the same as the questions your direct colleagues have.
You don't need to create different marketing reports for all the marketing strategies you are using. For instance, see if you can combine your SEO report with a reporting about your PPC campaigns. If your contact person is a general digital marketing manager, he will want to know how both campaigns are performing anyway.
However, if you have different contact persons or stakeholders for SEO and paid channels, it is wise to create separate, custom reports about the two topics.
Marketing metrics to report
What marketing metrics should your report cover?
It depends a lot on the scope of your work and the agreements you have made beforehand. If you focus on email marketing, it is of course not necessary to include social media metrics in your report. So, be sure that both you and the recipient of the marketing report have a clear understanding of the goals of your project.
Want to know which KPIs to report on? Make sure you always report on the right metrics with our Marketing KPI Cheat Sheet.
A good way to think about marketing efforts (and metrics) is to tie them to overall company goals. This can be done by creating a KPI tree. It might look like this:
In the above example, you can see specific campaign metrics in yellow. But by creating the KPI tree, it becomes clear how the campaign ties into the core marketing strategy of the business. Having this in place might help people with less marketing knowledge understand how your marketing work is impacting the rest of the company.
Goals vs KPI's
Key Performance Indicators (or KPIs) are the metrics that you decide are important for you. Not all marketing metrics are key metrics. Ideally, all primary marketing channels work with 3-5 KPIs. For instance, a paid search campaign could have these KPIs:
- Return on ad spend (ROAS)
- Engagements or clicks
- Average click-through rate (CTR)
- Average cost per click (CPC)
- Ad spend
If this is the case, it just means that those metrics will be closely monitored by the marketers working on the campaign. It does not yet say anything about your goals. However, the goals will be based on these KPIs. Let's look at an example of goals for these KPIs:
- Keep ROAS at 400% or higher
- Generate 700 clicks to the website per week
- Keep average CTR above 1%
- Keep the average CPC below €3
- Don't spend more than the budget
In the example above, ROAS will be the most important KPI and goal, but the other metrics are important to monitor, too. They are all connected. For instance, if the CPC increases to €5, it will be a lot harder to reach the 400% ROAS there (all other things equal).
Tip: don't use too many KPI's for your campaigns. Does your client really need to know the bounce rate of each landing page? Perhaps not.
If you want to report on the success of your campaigns, you need a way to figure which campaigns lead to which results. This is where attribution comes in - but it's not so simple.
Because it's an important and complex topic, we wrote a separate blog post about. You can read that here: The digital marketing attribution problem.
Benchmarks and seasonality
Now that you read about the recipient of your report, the KPI's and goals to report on and how that relates to the overall business... It is time to start creating your report. Let's take monthly reports as an example.
Say you work at an agency, and have a B2B company as a client. Your company does both SEO and paid search. In your report, you will want to report on these marketing channels and KPIs:
Search Engine Optimization
- Number of sessions (organic search) per month
- Number of leads from organic traffic
- Total website traffic
- Average cost per lead
- Number of leads from paid search
If you just share the numbers for the past month, your client will have a hard time understanding the true nature of the campaign’s performance. Are the digital marketing efforts performing as expected, or not?
Without data to compare the numbers with, it is hard to answer that question. Another way to say this, is that data without context is just "numbers". We need context to get value and insights from the data.
3 ways to compare key metrics
The better way to present the data, is to compare it with benchmarks. A typical marketing report compares the marketing results with at least one of these benchmarks:
- The previous period (month-on-month or week-on-week). This is valuable if you often change the tactics of the campaigns.
- The same period, a year earlier (year-on-year). Use the YoY comparison if seasonality plays a big role in your business.
- The goal or target set for the period. For KPIs that have a clear goal, always compare performance with that goal.
When creating marketing reports, we suggest you always use one or more of these benchmarks to compare the results. This will help you and your client or stakeholders to understand current performance and go from data to actionable insights.
A good way to display this is by adding the percent change next to the value. It can look like this:
There are even more ways to add context to data than the 3 ways mentioned above. A good read on that is this blogpost: Six Ways To Put Your Numbers In Context.
A note on seasonality
Seasonality in marketing and sales, is the predictable effect of seasons or commercial holidays in a year. This is different for every business. For instance, an ice cream company will expect to sell more ice cream in the summer than during the winter months. At the same time, a B2B company might expect lower leads and sales during summer, because their prospects will be out of office for summer vacation.
Also read: What is performance marketing?
When you start working for a new company or onboard a new client, make sure to ask if there is any seasonality in their market. You can also look at all the data available in Google Analytics or their advertising platforms to see patterns in earlier years. This is especially important when creating forecasts or budget planning.
Types of marketing reports
We have written about the 7 types of marketing reports before. From monthly marketing reports to specific social media marketing or SEO reports, you can read all about them there. But before you do, let's go into some other aspects of reporting that are important to discuss: formats and frequency.
Marketing reporting formats
When you know what your stakeholders want to see in their marketing report, and you have decided on the scope, you are almost ready to create a marketing report. There is only one thing to decide before you start: the format of the report. There are many options available. Let's take a look.
The easiest way might be to create a Google Data Studio dashboard. If you set it up the right way, it will automatically show the right numbers. Also, comparing data with a benchmark is pretty easy.
However, just sharing a link to the automated report might not be insightful enough for the recipients. Especially if their knowledge of marketing is below average, they might not be able to fully understand all the data.
Another option is to use your dashboard as a way to quickly collect the data, and paste it into a text document or presentation. Then, you can write the conclusion or insights next to each screenshot. This is a great way to make sure your marketing reports provide relevant insights, without taking up too much of your time. (Don't forget to download your document as a PDF and share it with your client or stakeholder.)
While a neat document in PDF-format is the best option for some people, other situations might require a different approach.
Imagine you work for a client that only wants to know some key performance indicators and doesn't want to spend a lot of time reading the report. In this case, you might propose to send them only the most important conversion metrics by email once a week.
A meeting (and a presentation)
Lastly, a meeting. Your weekly update emails may be sufficient for a while, but once every quarter, you may also want to present the results and discuss them in person. This also gives you the opportunity to propose new initiatives, or ask for a higher marketing campaign budget if that seems appropriate.
How often should you report?
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the best course of action is to discuss timing with the people you create the report for. The CMO at a large company may want to receive a weekly update about the marketing department's performance, while the digital marketers hiring an agency to run Google Ads campaigns are happy with a monthly report.
When discussing report frequency with your client or stakeholders, make sure to share all the options with them. Also, include the possibility to combine several report types, and share them at different times. For instance, share an automated marketing report every week, and create a monthly report with more insights once per month.
Monthly Marketing Report Example And Templates
To make things easy for you, we created multiple dashboard templates. Find our templates here:
Marketing performance report template
We also created a Google Doc for you to follow. Find it here. To use it, copy the document and edit it as needed. One way to do this is by creating a Google Data Studio dashboard first. Make sure this contains all of the data you want to report on in a nice, visually appealing way. Then, make a screenshot of the graphs and add them to the template. Repeat every month.