10 best practices for transparent reporting

Agree on clear numbers to consolidate the relationship with your customer


In online marketing we are fond of data, numbers and reporting. Data allows online marketeers to gradually optimize their running campaigns. They can spot the strengths and weaknesses and act accordingly. The wide range of reporting tools has made things a lot easier, not only for the people at the controls but also for the agencies’ customers to understand what they are doing with their investment.

Over the past few years, the multitude of reporting tools has allowed online marketeers to strongly visualize the plain and often dull numbers into comprehensible statistics for the customer. Google Data Studio is only the latest tool in this myriad of possibilities. However, there is a popular saying among statisticians, courtesy of a much more famous namesake of mine: there are lies, damned lies and statistics. Here I present 10 best practices for transparent reporting that can avoid a lot misunderstandings and can make your relationship with your customer a lot easier.

1. Automated reporting often doesn’t tell the whole story

Nowadays many agencies have turned to some kind of automated reporting. This makes perfect sense from their point of view because it’s a huge timesaver. Moreover, the customer will often be pleased to receive some kind of feedback from his agency on a regular basis. Do keep in mind that an automated report is only as precise as you set it up it in the first place. Aggregate numbers in this kind of reports often lack context which can be important to explain sudden drops or raises.

2. Agree with the customer about the rules

In the early stages of an online campaign, you will sit down with the customer to agree on the strategy you will follow and the goals that have to be reached. This is a good time to agree about the rules: what will you consider a conversion and what will you include in your reporting. This seems evident but even at this stage small misunderstandigs can have a massive impact as I will explain in the following items.

3. Decide if you consider phone calls to be conversions

An example:

I ran a Google AdWords campaign for a cab driver once. Obviously, I set a phone call as a conversion in my campaign but I didn’t consider how much time on average it takes to order a taxi by phone. By default: phone calls in Google AdWords are only considered to be a conversion from a duration of 60 seconds. Now think: does it take a full minute to order a cab? No, very often it doesn’t. And this is wat happened (on average per week):

phone conversions – default setting in Google AdWords (60 seconds or more)

number of callsCPA (€)
1315,38

Now compare that with the following result when we take the phone calls into consideration that took less than a minute as well:

phone conversions – all answered phone calls

number of callsCPA (€)
336,06

And it got even better. I found out that he never picked up his phone while he was driving. So if I calculated all the phone calls, even the ones he missed:

phone conversions – all phone calls (inlcuding missed calls)

number of callsCPA (€)
543,70

So here we have one conversion that can be measured in three different ways. In the third example we got a CPA less than a quarter of the CPA in the first example. I take this example deliberately because this was a very low budget campaign, nothing spectacular and you see the impact immediately.

This sparked a little discussion obviously because from the customer’s point of view, a missed call shouldn’t be a conversion while from the agencies point of view it should because we did what we were supposed to do: bringing in leads. This could have been avoided if we agreed on this from the start.

4. Make a clear distinction between micro and macro conversions

I like measuring a whole bunch of stuff on websites and it can reveal a lot about your visitor. But don’t overdo it. If you begin to measure every click on a button or on a link, it’s no surprise you conversion rate will begin to skyrocket. Ask yourself: do I need this? Is it worth it just so I can present a double figure conversion rate to my customer? I did some SEA audits in the past managed by competitors and found some dazzling conversion rates, only to find out they calculated a 15-second time-on-site goal as a conversion. So make a distinction between micro conversions (soft conversions) and macro conversions (hard conversions).

Micro conversions can be:

  • Specific amont of time the visitor spent on the site
  • Visit to a key page (e.g.: product offering, contact page)
  • Click on a button or link (e.g.: brochure download)
  • Subscription to a newsletter

And macro conversions can be:

  • A contact form that has been sent
  • An online purchase
  • An online booking or reservation

These things are open to debate but again: decide with the customer what you will include in your reports.

5. Think about your attribution model

A riddle for those who are not familiar with attribution models. Suppose you are running a CPC campaign, someone clicks your ad, has a look on the website and leaves. A few days later he returns to the website, by typing in the url directly into his browser and converts. Can we claim this conversion? In Google Analytics, it will be displayed as a conversion generated by ‘direct traffic’ but let’s be honest: he wouldn’t have found this website if it weren’t for the click on our ad a few days earlier, fair enough?

Again: open to debate and again: Google will apply the ‘last click’ conversion model by default. This can be important, especially if your customer is dealing with high involvement products. Think again about the example of our cabby above. There the situation was quite simple. Someone was in town, conducted a search on his phone for e.g.: ‘order a taxi’, saw our ad and clicked the phone extension. Conversion!

Now I ran a campaign for a company for swimming pools once and here it became quite a different story. You can imagine people will go through different stages, inform themselves and visit several companies before they decide to blow tens of thousands of euros to a swimming pool. In such a case, taking assisted conversions into your reports makes a lot of sense because it will allow you to drill down exactly to what level every channel contributed. Needless to say, this customer was dealing with a much more considerable budget than the taxi driver so obviously a more detailed reporting was appropriate.

6. Mark changes that are applied during a running campaign

Agreeing on the rules from the start is great but in online marketing flexibility is the name of the game. If often happens clients add elements and products or decide to sunset certain parts of their portfolio. This can have a massive impact on the numbers in your reports because it can change the whole dynamic. As an online marketeer it is important to take note, especially if you begin to compare certain periods of campaign with periods in the past. We all strive for improvement so suppose you had any given number of conversions at a certain price during a certain month last year, you want to present an improvement to your customer for the same month this year. Make sure you can do one to one comparisons.

7. Agree on the frequency of reporting

Reporting on a regular basis should be key but what do you mean with a regular basis? This depends on a number of elements:

  • The length of the campaign: campaigns that run for a period of a year or longer will benefit the most with a quarterly report. On the other hand: if your customer is running some kind of hard-selling promotional campaign over a short period of time, a weekly or monthly update can be considered.
  • How savvy or involved is your customer?
  • Is your customer a busy person. This means: is he really a manager who can dedicate some time to you or is he more someone who is literally on the job (e.g. roofers, taxi drivers, plumbers, locksmiths, …).

Try to agree on this before you roll out your campaign. It speaks for itself you should inform your customer if you think the time is ripe to apply major changes to a campaign that were not negociated beforehand.

8. Set realistic expectations

Definitely a no-brainer that is carved in stone in the textbook of every marketeer. Don’t be afraid to be frank with a customer or prospect if he asks you to do something that cannot be done from your experience or resources. In such case it can even be better to turn down the project because you risk to damage your reputation and to waste your time and the customer’s money.

9. Monitor your goals and avoid blackouts

Getting the whole thing up and running can be daunting if you don’t have all the elements in hand and if you rely on external people. Asking access to a customer’s Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager account is often the easiest step. It can become more complex if you have to set up the goals through a form of event tracking or if you have to set up entire product feeds for webshops. The good news is that these tasks have to be done just once. Unless an external party suddenly decides to apply changes to a website without any notification. Common things that can happen and result in a loss of data are:

  • Changes in destination urls, resulting in AdWords ads being disapproved or leading tot 404-pages
  • Modifications in sales funnels
  • Alterations in goal settings
  • Websites getting offline

It is important to act fast and to limit the blackouts to an absolute minimum when this happens. There are several ways to do this. Google AdWords offers many scripts that notify you when anomalies are spotted in AdWords campaigns. There is also a wide range of tools out there that alarm you when websites go down.

10. Don’t be afraid to bring bad news or to re-adjust your goals

In the perfect world, everything goes to plan without a glitch. Unfortunately, the world is not perfect and as an online marketeer, you will always have to improvise, make split-second decisions and walk into more than one wall. In such cases, it is best to be honest and give direct feedback to the customer so you can work out an alternative. Those things don’t always need a complete rethink of the inital plan but sometimes do force you or the customer to re-adjust the goals.

Posted on August 17, 2018 by , last modified on August 17, 2018

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