Reporting gives you the data you need to steer your marketing strategy. If you're not properly analyzing your marketing to see what's working and what's not, you may as well simply throw noodles at the wall to see what sticks. You’re whistling Dixie. You’re rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
All right, enough analogies.
Essentially, your digital marketing reports should tell you and your marketing team what’s working and what’s not, in clear and measurable ways.
And that saves you a ton of time and effort:
"At Clariant Creative, we use marketing data with our clients to ask better questions, think more strategically, and make smarter decisions about the marketing we produce."
— Beth Carter, Chief Strategist
OK, so now you know why gathering your digital marketing data and calculating your digital marketing ROI can make you a more efficient and effective marketer.
But how do you create the right digital marketing reports? By sticking to these three key analytics principles:
The best thing about digital marketing is that we can measure everything.
The worst thing about digital marketing is that we can measure everything.
Fortunately, you don’t have to measure every bit of data you get. There are, however, a handful of digital marketing KPIs that you truly need as a baseline.
Consider these marketing metrics your starting point – they’re like the vitals your doctor takes at a checkup. If any of these metrics show that something is off, that’s when you should dive deeper into the data, identify what’s happening and course correct.
When you’re measuring digital marketing effectiveness, you need to focus on two types of metrics: Business metrics and marketing metrics.
Real talk: All of your marketing efforts need to tie back to company revenue in some way.
That means every marketing metric needs to ladder up to your business metrics. And every business metric should ladder down to specific marketing metrics. If your marketing strategy isn’t tied to the company’s overall goals, then what’s the point?
Let’s look more closely at the business metrics you should keep on your radar:
Your sales data is pretty straightforward. You’ll want to report on:
For customer data, you should measure:
Remember when we said that business metrics and marketing metrics impact each other?
It’s great to know you’ve closed 16 new customers, but how much did that cost you? Was it done profitably?
Customer acquisition cost is an important business metric because it tells you how much you spend on average to get every new customer. And it’s relatively easy to determine:
Marketing and Sales Costs =
(salaries, commissions, bonuses) + (software, agency fees, advertising spend)
Marketing and Sales Cost = $2,000
$2,000 ÷ 16 = $125 per customer
Take all of your marketing and sales costs (i.e., how much you pay out to employees, software and agency fees, and your advertising expenditures) and divide that by the number of customers you acquire in a given time period.
In most cases, you want a low CAC. But there are legitimate reasons your CAC may be high or trending upward.
For example, startup companies can have high CACs because they have to spend more to acquire every new customer. The same goes for existing companies that launch new products or service offerings. However, if there’s no reasonable explanation for a high CAC, that’s when you start making adjustments.
In other words, you can’t look at your CAC in a vacuum. Measuring over time, monitoring trends, and considering other factors will help you see the big picture.
Now let’s look at marketing metrics.
Marketing metrics help you understand if your marketing strategy is on track to achieve your business metrics. Think of this data like an early warning system – they help you spot problems before they impact revenue.
Marketing metrics also highlight where you’re hitting it out of the park. That’s where you add more fuel, step on the gas, and surge ahead.
Typically, we recommend tracking marketing data by channel:
You can see from this image that within each channel, there are a number of marketing KPIs you should measure. This is by no means an exhaustive list! Consider these KPIs your starting points to give you a feel for how well each channel is working or not working.
Each channel has specific KPIs to track that can help you understand how effective that channel is.
Website metrics focus mostly on sessions and clicks.
A session happens when a user interacts with your site for a period of time. You may have heard the term “visit” – it’s the same thing. During a session, the user may visit multiple pages, interact with the site, make purchases or download content. A session ends when there’s no activity for 30 minutes or at the strike of midnight.
Clicks happen when a user follows a link on your website. You can find that data in your Google Search Console account.
Another helpful metric is bounce rate – how many people visit your website and just as quickly hit the exit. If your website is informative and engaging, the reader will stick around – translating to a low bounce rate. But if your bounce rate is high, that may be a sign people are not engaging with your content. Perhaps look at both your copy and the user experience; maybe people are bouncing because the page is a dead end with no navigation or CTAs?
But wait! What about search rankings?
But, it’s entirely possible to rank on the first page of Google for a great keyword and have zero clicks. In that case … Houston, we have a problem.
It’s not that we don’t think website ranking is a good metric – but it can be misleading. Instead, put context around those rankings by looking at your clicks per queries in Google Search Console. That will tell you which keywords are actually bringing in business.
Speaking of keywords, inbound marketing is designed to attract new leads with the information customers are already looking for online.
Organic traffic volume tells you how many users found your website simply by doing a search on specific keywords. This measures your keyword effectiveness.
By tracking website leads that originate from the forms on your blogs, pillar pages, and pillar posts, you can evaluate which of your blog posts and specific content offers are generating more leads – and where you may need to make adjustments by switching gears or even optimizing existing blog posts.
While many marketers like to measure the clicks their digital ads generate, your real goal with digital ads is conversions. Think of clicks as the equivalent to leading horses to water, but those horses have to drink for you to see any results. That’s where conversions come in.
But what constitutes a conversion? Is it a purchase, a registration, a download, a social media like or follow? In order to measure conversions, you need to know what you’re measuring for each digital ad.
With email marketing, we look at clicks as well as opens. Both are important, but the holy grail of email marketing is when the reader clicks on an email link.
By measuring both clicks and opens, you can evaluate the effectiveness of your subject lines, your email content and your CTAs. If you’re seeing low open rates but high click-through rates, it’s probably time for some subject line A/B testing. If you have the opposite problem, the content of your email may be the problem.
Email list growth measures if you’re reaching more people. This metric isn’t even on the radar at many companies, and it should be: A bigger email list means more potential leads, more clicks, more conversions, more sales and more revenue.
Generally, there are three metrics to focus on with social media. You may not get direct revenue out of likes, but they are a strong indicator of how engaging your readers find your content, which can work in your favor with the algorithms in these platforms, putting your content in front of more people.
Shares are the gift that keeps on giving. Not only do they extend your reach (for free!), they’re a great indicator of how buzzworthy the post is. If you notice a few people consistently sharing your content, you may be able to approach them with influencer or affiliate marketing ideas.
And clicks, as always, are key. Experiment with your messaging and monitor what changes result in better click rates.
While the data and metrics we recommend makes for a great baseline, you may need other data points.
For example, at Clariant Creative, we have about 90% repeat customers, so the new versus repeat customer business metric doesn’t help us much. However, a software company concerned about customer turnover would find new versus repeat customers an incredibly valuable metric.
The best way to determine which metrics to measure is by looking at the numbers that will tell you whether or not your business is growing, and whether your marketing strategy is truly helping it grow.
As you start gathering all the numbers from the marketing metrics we just reviewed, you’re going to learn things like this: Organic traffic generated 16 leads last month.
Is this good news or bad news?
When we create digital marketing reports, we're not just gathering numbers for the sake of the numbers themselves. We’re gathering numbers because those numbers need to tell us things.
And the way we get numbers to tell us things is to have a goal for every number we look at. And not just any goal – we need SMART goals.
SMART goals are:
Having SMART goals for your metrics creates purpose for your marketing strategy, so you know exactly what you need to accomplish … and how close you are to accomplishing it.
Test your skills: Is this sentence a SMART goal?
We want to grow revenue from $10,000 in November to $11,000 in December.
It’s specific. It’s measurable. It’s relevant. It’s time-bound. So far, so good.
Is it attainable?
Well, maybe it is and maybe it’s not. That depends on your resources.
To figure out if this goal is attainable, consider how you’re going to adjust your marketing strategy and what you’re going to do differently in December (or maybe even in October or November, depending on how long it takes your business to land a new client). Maybe you need to double down on advertising, or you might have to create an email campaign – whatever makes sense for your business.
You can have a SMART revenue goal like this and ladder it down to your marketing tactics, deciding what you’ll need to do to hit this revenue goal.
Then, you can set SMART goals for each of these tactics. And by tracking them, you’ll have a clear view of whether you’re on track to hit the SMART goal of $11,000 in December. You’ll also get to see in real time which tactics are falling flat and which ones are a hit, so you can adjust your budget on the fly and maximize your results.
That’s how it all comes together.
There are three ways to set your SMART goal targets.
It’s always best to set your targets using your own data. Start by looking at your company’s past data, calculating averages over specific timeframes, and then using those averages as the basis for your new goals.
Let’s say you don’t have much in the way of past data. Maybe you’re just starting up and you’re not sure what your goals should be. In this situation, industry benchmarks can be a good place to start.
The tricky part is finding comparisons across industry segments, geographic markets, business size and so on. For example, if you run a small consulting firm and you look at benchmarks for the entire professional services industry, is it fair to compare your company against behemoths like Deloitte?
It’s fine to use industry benchmarks as a gut check, but be mindful that you’re not comparing apples and oranges.
Now, if you’re looking for industry benchmarks, a good resource is eMarketer’s Insider Intelligence, which compares marketing performance across industry metrics.
OK, this may seem silly, but guessing which benchmarks to use isn’t the worst idea.
You can put a stake in the ground, set a goal, and do your best to reach it. Once you get more data, you can make adjustments to your goals and your guesses will become more educated and experience-based.
Now the question is, what do you do with the data you capture?
Like we’ve said a few times, you’re not gathering marketing data to satisfy some sort of analytical obsession. The point of this entire exercise is to determine if your business is moving in the right direction and your marketing strategy is helping you get there.
One of the biggest mistakes digital marketers make is focusing on point-in-time data instead of trends. Point-in-time data often doesn't have the context needed to be useful. You need your marketing analytics to answer questions such as, is your campaign performance getting better or worse? What trends are impacting your marketing ROI? Is a rogue data point just an outlier, or something more?
To make sure you’re capturing the complete analytics picture, set up a process and a schedule for gathering your metrics.
To make sure your data steers you in the right direction, you first need to organize it.
You’re going to be comparing data to recognize trends, so you’ll need to record it in a way that makes those trends stand out. There’s no need to invest in fancy digital marketing reporting tools. A simple spreadsheet where each row represents a metric and the columns represent time will suffice.
If your business is using a marketing automation platform like HubSpot, you’ll be able to find (almost) all this marketing data right within your software. If you’re not, you’ll have to go into each account – Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Google Ads, your email tool and social media accounts – to gather this data.
Certain metrics lend themselves to much more frequent monitoring, while others are little more “set it and forget it.” For example, a paid social media campaign’s performance should be monitored daily. Just reoptimized an old blog post? It’ll take awhile to see real results, so monthly reporting should be fine.
At Clariant Creative, our Inbound Marketing Specialists have a comprehensive list of marketing metrics they track and discuss with clients on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. Depending on the timeframe, the goal and focus varies.
Weekly metrics tend to be more tactical with a focus on wins to share and anything that needs to be fixed immediately. These include:
Our monthly conversations zoom out a bit and look at how well our clients are hitting their monthly goals. That’s when we talk about what’s working and what’s not working.
The questions you’ll want to answer are these: What should you keep, what should you kill, and what should you fix?
These three questions will give you the right context to evaluate each aspect of your marketing strategy, based on what the numbers tell you to do.
Quarterly reviews are considered the gold standard for when the rubber hits the road for any marketing team. By the end of a quarter, we have enough data to tell a story about how well our activities are fulfilling on a client’s goals. We use marketing metrics to plan future quarters, change course, confirm overall business goals, and take a general temperature of the marketing strategy.
For this example, we’ve pulled marketing data from a real Clariant Creative client. We measure a lot of digital marketing KPIs for this client, but for this example, we’re showing just a handful of the metrics we track.
You can see that this digital marketing report is just a simple spreadsheet. There are no bells or whistles, other than color coding, which makes it very easy to read and understand.
This client sells corporate wellness programs to large employers and health insurance plans. The best way for our client to reach their customers is through email, so we run a lot of email campaigns for this client. All of these campaigns link back to the client’s website.
Our goal with each of the emails we send is to have people open the emails, click on the links in the emails, and go to specific pages on this company’s website where we can educate them about all aspects of corporate wellness programs.
This is a big component of their marketing strategy, so let’s look at how well their email marketing and website strategies are working.
For this example, we’re tracking how many people come to their website, how many people come to their website via the emails we’re sending, email click-through rates, total new leads generated, and new leads generated from email campaigns.
For each metric, we’ve set targets based on the company’s 2020 data. You can see in the “Monthly Target” column that each target is specific, measurable, relevant and time-bound.
To make it easy for us to see whether we’re hitting these targets, we’ve set “conditional formatting” in this spreadsheet. If the number is equal to or greater than the target, the cell contents are green. If the number is less than the target, the cell contents are red.
If you notice, an interesting pattern appears across the months of April, May, June and July.
There’s a lot of red!
As a result, we have lots of questions and quite a few discussion points for this client:
Note that if we had only looked at the website sessions metric, we would have been in blissful ignorance.
But, because we have a great digital marketing reporting strategy in place, we can see there’s a problem to fix. That’s where the inquiry and troubleshooting begins.
We need to evaluate what we should keep, what we should kill, and what we should fix.
At the end of the day, that’s what your digital marketing reports should do – allow you to ask better questions so you can make smarter decisions. It allows you to focus your time, money, and efforts in the best way possible.
By following the recommendations above, identifying your digital marketing KPIs, SMART marketing goals, and using our simple process for evaluating your data, you’ll be well on your way to achieving your business and marketing targets.
To make it even easier for you, we’ve taken all of this information a step further and developed a digital marketing report toolkit that features pre-made monthly and quarterly marketing report templates in Excel to help you track the metrics that matter to your business.