Ahh Metrics – either you love them, or you hate them. Some embrace analytics like a long lost friend, while others fortify their foray into data with a stiff drink and a valium. I am a graduate of the latter, and now a proud member of the former. Once upon a time, I despised analytics reporting – because math and numbers were NOT my forte. Then I realized I could turn those random numbers on a screen into a story – and it started to make sense.
Writing a story can be something that creatively flows from your brain and makes sense on the page without any thought to plots and characters – but lets be honest – that really doesn’t happen. Most of the successful writers we know use maps and outlines to put together introductions, story lines and conclusions in an effort to write something that makes sense. That’s what you need to do – write something that makes sense – to you, your boss, your employees, and your “audience” of readers.
Step 1: What’s the ending? (aka. What matters to your business?)
Many writers have a vision of the end of their book before they even start. They know rough outlines of characters and plot twists – but by creating the ending first, they feel they can get their characters there without loosing sight of where they want to be. Creating a report can use the same process. What, ultimately, do you, your immediate bosses, your employees, your clients, or the c-suite want to see? Profit? Engagement? Branding? Pick the end result and you can keep this in mind as you choose your metrics.
Step 2: Writing for your audience. (aka. Who is the report FOR?)
While you may be a marketing geek and live in a world of RPA and ROI and SEO and PPC and AOV and CPM – the recipient of your data may not live there. If you’re writing a report for a client, your boss, the c-suite of luddites you work for, or maybe publication for an advanced or beginner audience – then you need to write FOR them. You also need to choose data points that make the most sense. Here’s where we refer back to #1 – what matters most to the people who will be reading this report? Is it revenue? Branding? Engagement? Yes, HiPPO matters for many of us in the online marketing industry – so you need to be sure you’re not turning in a report that looks like gobbledegook.
Step 2.5: Understand you don’t have to look at and comprehend EVERYTHING in Google Analytics.
By answering 1 & 2 above -you can weed out a lot of the chaff and get to the wheat of what matters. Consider your report an abridged version of a book that cuts out all of the pretty words, and unnecessary details, and gets to the heart of the matter. What matters to your business is important, what doesn’t matter? review that yearly to be sure something doesn’t come on scene and you need to rewrite a character or two.
Step 3: Develop your cast of characters (aka. Find the data points that relate to your audience and your business)
Every good story has to have a protagonist. Who (what) is yours? Because we did our homework in 1 and 2, we don’t have to create some George Martin-esque haphazard gathering of data points that we kill off constantly because they really don’t matter in the end. (Yes – I’m still bitter about the Red Wedding – but that’s a different post) Nothing’s worse than a character that adds nothing to the story. Use your outline to pull metrics and build custom reports that create easy to understand conclusions from the data. Don’t just report on visits – boring character there. Add some interest by reporting visits by people from top 3 revenue sources and outline the pages they land on and how far down the page they scroll – show a funnel that reports abandonment by those people and analyzes where that abandonment happens. Reporting is about learning what to do better – not just talking about what you’ve already done.
Step 4: Set a realistic Timeline (aka: Don’t tell a year-long story in a 1 week timeline)
TIME is either your best or worst friend when writing. You can use time to build suspense, or you can use it to drag out your plot until you’ve beaten it to death with a stick. You can also tell a story too quickly and leave the reader wanting more. I think of a timeline for reporting when I look at #1 above. What matters to my business? Is it seasonal? Do I need to report daily/weekly? Can I actually change things that quickly that a weekly report will make a difference? I caution most clients to look at monthly reporting – or more – because a week of data can look terrible – while the entire month can be 1000% above last year. Telling the story in the correct amount of time is key to making it relevant, understandable, and actionable.
Step 5: Prepare for Plot Twists (aka: Google Analytics changes ALL THE TIME, get used to it)
Google likes to change things – and mix up reporting, and interfaces. Much like a plot twist you didn’t see coming – dashboard redesign, universal analytics and the dreaded “not provided” can throw a wrench in any story line. Take these twists in stride and be honest about them to your audience. Let them know there was a change in how things are reported and make adjustments to your plot and ending and keep the outcome as true to 1 & 2 above as you can.
Step 6: Go forth and spread the word (aka: DO SOMETHING WITH IT)
Now you’ve created a story that resonates with your audience and matters those who read it. The ultimate compliment to a writer is to hear that their work has been talked about, shared, recommended, and even learned from. Reporting is much the same. You’ve learned what pages are struggling and which are producing the most income. All done? Hardly. Reporting is just numbers and words on a page unless you’re prepared to do something with what you learn. No report is complete without a list of action items. What should you learn from the data, what should you do with what you’ve learned?