Has your CEO ever wanted you to report on your online marketing progress, but you’re not sure how to present that data?
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Are you wondering how to create a dashboard that will be used to move your digital marketing program forward?
I can help because I’ve been there.
I once had to report SEO progress to the CEO across 6 different sites while working at the Environmental Working Group.
After hiring a consulting firm to clean up our Google Analytics accounts, and taking Avinash Kaushik’s Google Analytics training at Market Motive, I felt like I finally had the clean data and background I needed to start creating monthly reporting. That said, it was quite a challenge, and that was before the automated tools that are on the marketplace today.
So here’s the good news:
There’s a free tool called Google Data Studio which will make your monthly reporting easier. In fact, there are some great templates that folks have built for monthly digital marketing reporting like these:
- GA Acquisition Overview
- “Ultimate SEO Dashboard” – I particularly like the chart that highlights landing pages with high bounce rates and low conversion rates
- Lunametric’s Monthly Overview of Digital Data is also really solid
- Blog Content Performance – this is great if you need to track author performance
- Online Marketing Dashboard – where you can pivot and segment by marketing channel and device
- GSC Dashboard – Google Search Console dashboard. This report allows you to see what keywords you’re ranking for, along with CTR and impressions, AND you can also switch and see your CTR by landing page and keyword. It’s a great report for helping you improve you meta title and descriptions to see if you can increase your click through rate.
Here’s the bad news:
It’s so easy to create charts and graphs that there’s a good chance that you’ll report on EVERYTHING and then your CEO (and everyone else) will get overwhelmed by looking at too many charts.
Being overwhelmed by data is not ideal as it doesn’t allow the reader to quickly see the patterns that help tell your story of success or spot areas for improvement from the data.
Here are some guiding principles that should help you avoid that common scenario:
1. Write down your business goals
This one should be obvious, but if you’re just starting out this might be a new idea. Once you get into selecting your key performance indicators (KPIs) and adding charts to your dashboard, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You should only be reporting on items that ultimately drive to your business goals, especially in reports you share to your CEO.
2. Write down how your website (and SEO plan) supports those goals
If possible, but them on your new dashboard. Reference them often when you are questioning whether to show a report or not. If you’re stumped on how to create goals, check out my post that walks you through how to think about your website or SEO goals.
3. Brainstorm the marketing questions the data can help answer
BEFORE you create charts, brainstorm the types of questions you want your data to answer. THEN find the charts, graphs or tables that help you answer those questions. That way you’ll have charts that are focused on helping you take action versus charts you’ve added just because you think they look cool.
4. Keep context in mind
Make sure that EVERY chart that you use has context – i.e. it’s showing last vs this month to show growth (or decline).
You should check out this post by Avinash Kaushik if you want a great primer on the power of adding context to your data analysis and reporting.
5. Fall in love with tables
Don’t be afraid to use tables with indicators to show if metrics have moved. I know that the pie charts, bar charts, and other charts are tempting, but sometimes you just can’t read the data in that format.
6. Interrogate every chart
Ask the question of every chart:
“What is the question that this chart is supposed to answer?”
If you can’t answer that question, either modify the chart or remove it. You’re trying to shoot for fewer charts in your dashboard, not more. Don’t be tempted by the multiple pages in Google Data Studio. CEOs would love to learn the answer to their questions on a one-page report if possible. If you haven’t been exposed to great dashboard design, here are some critical resources:
- Information Dashboard Design
- Now You See It
- Edward Tufte – seriously if you can take his class, read his books.
7. Segment data to get to the real answer
All the data in Google Analytics and Google Search Console is an average across ALL of the data points. Almost always that number is not actionable and it’s hiding the real reason why you have a negative or positive trend.
In almost every case, you want to dig deeper to troubleshoot why a metric moved. Depending on the report you might want to segment in the following ways to get to a true insight:
- Was it a desktop or a mobile visit?
- Is this a returning or new visitor?
- Is this visitor from the US or from another country?
- Which channel did the user come from?
- Was this a visit from a web, video, or image search?
The above options are just a sample. Based on the report you’re looking at, think about what different user behavior or context would have skewed your metrics. Get down to a subset of your data where the trend is really prominent and then make some decisions about how you’re going to change your strategy.
NOTE: This only works in Google Analytics account where you have filtered out the activity from your employees, contractors, etc. If you only have one view in your Google Analytics account, you should contact me and I can help you ensure that you have clean data to start from.
8. Everything in your dashboard should drive action
Make sure that every chart, table, etc. drives action. If it doesn’t, remove it. Avinash provides some great examples of action inspiring dashboards.
Here are the types of actions the data should inspire:
- It tells the story about a positive result (great! We’ll keep doing it!)
- It highlights concern about a negative trend (shoot! Let’s troubleshoot and fix now!)
- It inspires creative thinking that will pivot your strategy in the immediate future (THAT site is linking to us? They look like a great new long-term partner! I’m going to reach out to them about our video series to see if they would be willing to share it in their email newsletter).
9. Add narrative
Every report will require some narrative to answer the questions the data and charts are going to prompt. You’re not going to want to try to figure that out on the fly in your 30 min CEO meeting or try to remember why your email channel was down this month. You’re also going to want to reference it in the future to investigate the reason once and write it down – add it to the dashboard.
10. Create more than one dashboard
The CEO/your boss is only interested in the answers to a set number of questions, and they are usually related to bottom line type activities (“Is this directly linked to an increase in sales?” “Which channel so that I can allocate budget?”). As a digital marketing manager, you will want to know more. Create a custom dashboard for that purpose. Your social media team might also need a custom dashboard. If you have writers that want to look at their own metrics…another dashboard! You get the idea. Ideally, everyone would look at the LEAST amount of data possible to make decisions about what they are going to do (or, not do!) to maximize results.
11. Keep SEO in the weeds items to a minimum
It’s really tempting as an SEO to report about everything that you’ve accomplished because it’s generally pretty slow to impact change, and personally, the small accomplishments keep you going day to day.
I get it.
I had a calendar on my wall at Ketchum where we marked down “small wins” to keep morale up across my team. But your dashboard is not the place to get lost in the minutia. You’ll end up creating a data puking dashboard.
How do you combat the tendency to over-report on data?
Make sure you keep your overall website goals in front of you – it will help you pare down the items you’re reporting on.
What should you report on for SEO?
If technical SEO issues are on your radar, you should report on your progress in reducing those issues, but I recommend adding a just a % complete number where you can see month over month how the pile of tickets is getting smaller with a narrative outlining what you’re working on next month.
It’s also important to track the number of landing pages receiving organic traffic over time, in addition to overall volume and how they are converting.
The progress that you’re making for your top topics/landing pages for those topics probably makes sense too.
The dashboards listed above should help you pull together that type of data. If you want to pull in SEMRush or Moz data, you can but you need to by purchasing and using the Supermetrics plugin and its connectors.
11. Be careful with color
Red draws your eye, so make sure you’re using it strategically. Primary colors right next to each other fatigue your eye, so avoid those types of colors in your charts. Color should help draw the eye to the point you want someone to see when scanning, not distract from the story. Here’s an example of a monthly report template taken from Greenlane Search Marketing.
12. Review before finalizing
Review the entire dashboard quickly like your end user most likely will when they see it.
- What drew your eye and what did you look at first?
- Is that telling your story?
- Have you preemptively answered any concerns the reader might have?
- Have you provided context to the data points that need them?
Hopefully, these steps will help you think through building a reporting dashboard that will work for your organization and will inspire or drive action for those who use the dashboard to evaluate your digital marketing performance.
PS: Thanks for taking the time out to read my post and geek out about SEO with me! I get my inspiration for post topics from other SEOs and in-house marketers struggling with SEO strategy and implementation questions, so if you like this post, please…
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