Whether you work in-house or agency side, heavily rely on automation or go the bespoke route, you’ll probably agree that reporting is a necessary evil.

Teams that prepare them dread them. Those who receive prefer to skim or have someone explain them.

But why? Surely there can be a better way.

Let’s consider five ways how to make paid search reporting into something that everybody can look forward to.

1. Tailor the Information to the Audience

Do you have a report template? If so, great.

Does every stakeholder at every client get the same one? That is less ideal.

Indeed, it is critical to producing reports quickly, with a consistent set of metrics.

However, anything not customized to a specific client’s business will fall short of being truly useful.

This leads to needing custom reports. Your team might need to work more for it or they could be less valuable if someone else ends up creating reports intended for decision making.

The solution is a templated format that varies by business vertical.

Besides the typical search-specific metrics, add industry-specific ones. This will provide much-needed context for otherwise bland results.

Additionally, look to have several degrees of depth. Too often, search dashboards show everything one could possibly want to see – from campaign level performance and engine level breakdowns to keyword level data and share of voice.

If a metric is reportable, it should not necessarily be part of a results update – at least not to all stakeholders.

I would suggest structuring any report in three sections:

Progress to Goal

This section is the executive summary designed to quickly show the likelihood of meeting objectives. There should be at least two goals, supplemented by a check on budget pacing.

Ideally using charts, this portion should allow the seniormost stakeholder to quickly assess if things are on track.

Including goals in reporting is key for success. If goals are not formalized, set temporary ones. However, all parties need clarity on what to strive for.

Without clearly documented targets, there is a recipe for misalignment on priorities and some parties being unhappy with their needs not being met.

There is also no easy way to check if one may have exceeded expectations, missing a moment for all to celebrate.

Top Changes vs. Last Reporting Period

Even if one is meeting or exceeding objectives, questions will still arise on how much better or worse one is than a year ago and vs. the prior reporting period.

YOY and QoQ or MOM progress is also a must to show. An overall view, as well as campaign or business unit details, can also be helpful.

Key Elements

As the most tactical view, this has the highest likelihood of getting perceived as most technical and deserving least attention.

This requires it to be actionable, covering elements that pertain the most to the overall strategy that would impact the most improvements in efficiency or growth.

One idea can be to look at YTD, QTD and/or MTD results by nature of traffic:

  • Direct brand.
  • Direct generic.
  • Remarketing brand.
  • Remarketing generic.

Similarly, results by business unit, geography or campaign can be also helpful.

However, be wary of reporting on factors that are interesting from a paid search point of view but, in the end, won’t lead to an actionable outcome.

2. Less Is More

Before adding more reporting views, ask yourself:

Will this lead to an actionable insight or, ultimately, just something that is merely a statistic?

Split Results by Engine

In most cases, Bing and Yahoo spend and results are lower than on Google by volume but better in terms of ROI.

For budget allocation, this leads to most advertisers maxing out on those engines first before funding Google campaigns.

Thus, showing a breakdown by engine is not particularly useful. No matter what the results, it is unlikely the approach would change.

Top Keywords

Not only top performing keywords are nearly always brand terms, but also they rarely change over time. Knowing what they are specifically, will not lead to doing something different.

Instead, looking at the fastest growing keywords by traffic and conversions will allow seeing what terms are having the most impact in the short term.

Then again, if a vast majority of the budget is spent on branded terms, even looking at fastest changing generics, will not have much impact.

After all, no matter what happens with generics, brand investment needs maximizing first. In those cases, one might as well still look at aggregate generic versus brand performance.

Ad Rank

While seemingly important, Ad Rank provides limited actionable insights.

I would recommend looking it periodically as part of quarterly or annual account reviews, but not including it in frequent reporting.

If an engagement is optimized to an ROI or conversion-related goal, the Ad Rank will naturally evolve as needed so long as these primary KPIs are met.

Similarly, if the goals are around site traffic and engagement, here too the Ad Rank will align with what maximizes those goals.

In fact, the only time Ad Rank is key to monitor is in competitive efforts when there is a deliberate decision to outrank another advertiser.

Then again, it is worth questioning any vanity driven decision for ranking first or above another player.

Front end visibility should be grounded in bottom line impact.

Any concerted effort to fight someone for a higher slot when one does not easily rank there entails paying a premium for your bid, which is bound to escalate making it unsustainable in the longer term.

3. Alter Format Throughout the Year

Let’s say you nailed the format and half a year goes by.

  • Does what you did in Q1 still matter for framing strategy moving forward?
  • Did the campaigns that evolved from early data no longer being a helpful reference?
  • Is there an easy way to see what YTD performance is vs. having to manually add up?

To remain useful, reporting should evolve as time goes by. However, that does not mean needing extra customization.

Think creatively how to set up YTD views from the beginning and create collapsible summary views that could hide detail which may not be as useful over time.

4. Include Commentary for Context

Reports are often developed without any insights.

Yes, one could voice over insights while presenting or include them in the accompanying email.

But what if a key stakeholder misses that update? Or if one needs to review reports down the road without these accompanying details at hand?

The real value of any report is the context behind the numbers. Several levels of insights are needed to guide how anyone reviewing the data should interpret it.

Goal Completion

As mentioned earlier, it is critical to monitor if campaigns are meeting overall objectives. Needless to say, the commentary should prominently call this out.

Yes, those top-level metrics in the executive view may prominently call this out. They still deserve some highlights describing how you got to where you did.

Budget Pacing

Aside from meeting performance objectives, any marketer also needs to gauge if they are on, over, or under budget.

Inevitably, budget pacing is always that secondary goal that can leave a sour taste at the end of an otherwise successful run if not carefully watched.

Set up a goal to monitor pacing, track it regularly, and ensure commentary is provided with recommendations on how to best manage it.

Key Learnings from Past Reporting Period

The journey is as important as the destination.

Externally and internally, teams should be capturing what tactics were undertaking and match them against planned strategies.

Often, success is achieved in unexpected ways. And even if new, creative tests did not materialize, that is also worth capturing to establish precedents.

5. Key Objectives for the Upcoming Reporting Period

Lastly, there should be a section on future recommendations.

Reporting discussions are an opportunity to review where an effort should go next, particularly if challenges need to be addressed or one approaches a new budget planning period, say at the end of a quarter.

Add to that a few charts for visual effect and make the report ideally available on demand in a proprietary format or within Data Studio and you are off to good start, with everyone having the metrics and insights they need at their fingertips.

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