How to Make Effective, High-Quality Marketing Reports & Dashboards

Do your reports help you make a decision? Are your dashboards effectively measuring goals and visualizing your data? For effective reporting, you need to be more diligent about the actual content of your reports. Dominic Woodman shares how to create intentional, high-quality reports and dashboards.

My current obsession has been reporting. Everyone could benefit from paying more attention to it. Five years, countless ciders, and too many conferences into my career, I finally spent some time on it.

Bad reporting soaks up just as much time as pointless meetings. Analysts spend hours creating reports that no one will read, or making dashboards that never get looked it. Bad reporting means people either focus on the wrong goals, or they pick the right goals, but choose the wrong way to measure them. Either way, you end up in the same place.

So I thought I’d share what I’ve learned.

Who is this data for?

This context will inform many of our decisions. We care about our audience, because they all know and care about very different things.

A C-level executive doesn’t care about keyword cannibalization, but probably does care about the overall performance of marketing. An SEO manager, on the other hand, probably does care about the number of pages indexed and keyword cannibalization, but is less bothered by the overall performance of marketing.

Don’t mix audience levels

If someone tells you the report is for audiences with obviously different decision levels, then you’re almost always going to end up creating something that won’t fulfill the goals we talked about above. Split up your reporting into individual reports/dashboards for each audience, or it will be left ignored and unloved.

Find out what your audience cares about

How do you know what your audience will care about? Ask them. As a rough guide, you can assume people typically care about:

  • The goals that their jobs depend on. If your SEO manager is being paid because the business wants to rank for ten specific keywords, then they’re unlikely to care about much else.
  • Budget or people they have control over.

Educating your audience

Asking them is particularly important, because you don’t just need to understand your audience — you may also need to educate them. To go back on myself, there are in fact CEOs who will care about specific keywords.

The problem is, they shouldn’t. And if you can’t convince them to stop caring about that metric, their incentives will be wrong and succeeding in search will be harder. So ask. Persuading them to stop using the wrong metrics is, of course, another article in and of itself.

Get agreement now

To continue that point, now is also the time to get initial agreement that these dashboards/reports will be what’s used to measure performance.

That way, when they email you three months in asking how you’re doing for keyword x, you’re covered.

How to create a good dashboard

Picking a sensible goal for your dashboard

The question you’re answering with a dashboard is usually quite simple. It’s often some version of:

  • Are we being successful at x?

…where x is a general goal, not a metric. The difference here is that a goal is the end result (e.g. a fast website), and the metric (e.g. time to start render) is the way of measuring progress against that.

How to choose good metrics for dashboards

This is the hard part. We’re defining our goal by the metrics we choose to measure it by.

A good metric is typically a direct measure of success. It should ideally have no caveats that are outside your control.

No caveats? Ask yourself how you would explain if the number went down. If you can immediately come up with excuses that could be answered by things out of your control, then you should try to refine this metric. (Don’t worry, there’s an example in the next section.)

We also need to be sure that it will create incentives for how people behave.

Unlike a report, which will be used to help us make a decision, a dashboard is showing the goals we care about. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one. A report will help you make a single decision. A dashboard and the KPIs it shows will define the decisions and reports you create and the ideas people have. It will set incentives and change how the people working off it behave. Choose carefully. Avinash has my back here; go read his excellent article on choosing KPIs.

You need to bear both of these in mind when choosing metrics. You typically want only one or two metrics per goal to avoid being overwhelming.