Annual reporting is typically a dreaded task. No one likes sorting through analytics programs, digging for abstract data to try to come to concrete conclusions, especially if there is a lot on the line depending on what those reports say.
At SEMrush, we found that each individual annual report takes an average of five hours to complete, and the reports may vary in accuracy depending on what they’re trying to assess. This can be stressful, and it’s time spent doing repetitive work that could be used to tackle other, more productive projects.
With the right tools and processes in place, however, you can make this dreaded task a lot more pain-free and much more efficient. In this post, we’re going to look at how to quickly create accurate annual reports that will wow your team, your boss, and your clients.
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Why you need annual reporting
Annual reporting will give you a big-picture look at what happened throughout the year on your marketing campaigns, but it will be able to do so accurately thanks to all the details and carefully-tracked metrics. They’ll help you see where you stand in the progress towards your goals.
These reports will give you insight so that you can go into the new year refreshed, with some new strategies, and sure that you’re on the best path possible based on all the information at hand.
For team members or agencies who are showing their boss or clients what they accomplished, this will give you something you can hold up to show them what they’re paying you for, making your value more clear. That being said, annual reports are important even just for internal teams, as it keeps all team members on the same page.
How to create accurate annual marketing reports quickly
All marketing teams understand the importance of annual reporting, and now we’re going to show you step by step how to create accurate reports quickly for your marketing team.
Create distinct reports for each marketing segment
Most businesses – even really small ones – will have multiple marketing sectors, engaging in strategies in fields like SEO, PPC campaigns, social media marketing, and content marketing.
Ideally, each of these sectors should have their own reports or their own distinct, separate sections within the report. Each specialty, after all, will have their own goals, their own KPIs, and their own initiatives. This separation makes it easier to assess what’s working in each so you can evaluate progress and decide if something needs to be changed.
Choose KPIs up front
Your key performance indicators (KPIs) should be specific and tied to your goals. They’ll tell you what you’re measuring and why ensuring that you compile the data that you need the first time in addition to hopefully optimizing for those KPIs throughout the year.
Make sure that you’re measuring concrete numbers. Trying to evaluate social ROI or brand awareness, for example, is complicated and inaccurate; looking at the number of mentions and clicks to your site, however, are exact and much more helpful.
While KPIs can vary from business to business and what your specific goals are, there are a few KPIs that you should be looking for in each key marketing sector.
SEO reports should be measuring:
- Position tracking
- Organic keyword ranking
- Site traffic
- Website issues, including technical errors that can be found through a site audit
- Number of backlinks
- Keywords targeted
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PPC campaign reports should focus on:
- Cost-per-click (CPC)
- Conversion rate
- Total ad spend
- Number of conversions
- Return on ad spend (ROAS)
- Keywords that yield the best results
- Position tracking for search ads
Social media marketing reports should be measuring:
- Actions like clicks to a site, or calls or messages to a brand
- Purchases made on-app
- Content saved by users
- Follower growth
- Engagement rate
- Impressions (but mostly to ensure that your content is on target)
- Audience overview and demographic information
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Content marketing annual reports need to look at:
- Keyword ranking
- Keywords that bring the most traffic to the site
- Source traffic
- Bounce rate
- Average time spent on the page
- Number of backlinks and sources they’re coming from
Use software to track the data
Ideally, you’ll be using software throughout the year to track your marketing progress. Many businesses, for example, often use Google Analytics to track site traffic and performance, and native tools like Facebook’s Insights to track social growth.
There are tools that you can use, however, that can give you more detail quickly, and can look at multiple areas of marketing all at once. SEMrush is one of those tools, and can quickly compile reports on everything from your social growth to your keyword position tracking overtime to your backlink profile.
Use tools like SEMrush My Reports to quickly create and download reports in every area of your marketing. These reports will even come with some visuals generated for you automatically, which you can use in your annual report. Read the full guide here.
Compile the data
You’ve got the data, and now it’s time to compile it. This is often the part of the process that most people dread, trying to assess how to break down the masses of numbers into something coherent.
Start by breaking the data down into sections. Then, once you do this, look for patterns in how the metrics are interacting. Look for overall trends in growth to assess impact.
At this stage, look for indications of success in each marketing sector and try to answer the question “why.” If your traffic to your blog increased, that’s good, but it’s not all you need to know. Is the source of the traffic from only a few select keywords, meaning that 90% of your posts aren’t doing you any favors? Or is the surge of traffic coming from a PPC campaign? The devil is in the details here, so look for correlations.
Once you do this, then you can start to piece it together; maybe that active social feed really did help your content marketing, after all.
Once you’ve compiled the data, create an overview that summarizes what you’ve learned, taking all those tiny details and listing them clearly and then adding a general summary to the front of the report so people know what to expect going in.
Make plans for 2019
After assessing the current year’s progress, most annual reports will benefit from some problem-solving and strategic planning.
Propose a plan for the following year for each individual sector. Even if this is just a quick one-page proposal discussing how you’ll take the information from the report and adjust the following year’s strategies accordingly, this can go a long way.
Note whether you’re suggesting to switch up the strategy, stay the course, or toss it out altogether. Explain why, and back it up by referring back to your data. Hard numbers and stats can’t be ignored.
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Annual report creation best practices
As you’re moving through the steps above, keep in mind that there are certain things you can do that will significantly improve your ability to create accurate reports that will appeal to everyone on your team while making your life a little easier.
These are the best practices you need to keep in mind when creating your annual reports:
- Include visuals, like charts and numbers. Graphs and charts make it easy to scan the report at a glance, and those visual aids can be particularly powerful. If you want to really show the impact your campaigns have made, showing a great big jump on a graph helps you get your point across.
- Give credit to team members and leadership. Everyone likes a pat on the back, and this is a good way to give credit where it’s due and show appreciation for your team. Take the time in the report to explain the initiatives taken by your team that led to the results you’re seeing now.
- Get started early. Even with great reporting tools, we can’t stress this enough. You need to ensure that your software has time to collect the data and that you aren’t left scrambling at the last minute to compile and interpret it. End of year is a crazy time for everyone, so get a jump start.
- Include year-to-year reporting. If you want to really track progress and see the effectiveness of new strategies, include a year-to-year reporting section. This will show not just how well your campaigns worked this year, but how much growth you’ve seen. Month-to-month reporting is also helpful, especially if growth is exponential.
What the experts say
We know that reporting is something that can be overwhelming and intimidating, so we reached out to experts in our network and asked for their best tips. Here’s what they had to say.
The main ingredients of good reporting
Here’s what Laura had to say:
“Reporting is all about showing your clients / stakeholders the value of the work you’ve put in. So the main ingredient of good reporting is a solid understanding of KPIs and how those fit into the wider stakeholder goals. For example, you might know your aim is to increase traffic but if you also know that your stakeholder is being tasked themselves to increase revenue of a particular product range, you can ensure your gains fit in with their aspirations.
One of the first things we do when onboarding a new client – whether that’s SEO, PR, PPC or a combination – is to identify tangible, measurable goals that tie into stakeholder strategies and overall goals.
It’s then essential to ensure every KPIs is measurable and tracked correctly. Sometimes, this is as straightforward as using Google Analytics to monitor traffic. Sometimes, it’s using tools like SEMRush to monitor SERP visibility. Sometimes, it’s more difficult, such as measuring the brand awareness impact of PR activity. Whatever it is, it’s important the metric be clearly defined and agreed between all parties and that those metrics are included in every report.”
Simon’s advice was similar, focusing on those key metrics early on:
“Before we think about reporting & data visualization, we need to begin by developing a framework for metrics and understanding the scope at which they exist. All metrics exist on a macro to micro scale, and all too often we fall into simply reporting metrics directly from an analytics or ads platform without thinking about their impact. These metrics often vary dramatically in scope and you’ll frequently see things like “Sessions” combined with “Avg. Time on Page” – but this isn’t helpful as these don’t exist on the same scope plane. It’s important to ask yourself several critical questions for each metric you’re planning to report on, such as, what can I actually do with this information? And what changes will we recommend making if this metric fluctuates up or down?
“As you begin asking these critical question, start developing a framework for where metrics exist (or don’t exist) across the granularity spectrum, and ensure your visualizations follow this framework. Every report should be able to answer a specific question that can enable a decision.”
The best method of formatting
Formatting is an essential part of reporting, so Laura Hampton weighed in on her preferred method of formatting for annual reports:
“We use Google Data Studio for our reports. The platform is highly customisable which means we’ve been able to develop well branded reports that facilitate free narrative as well as templated elements that pull in from external feeds like Google Analytics, AdWords, Supermetrics and STAT.
“Of course, it’s not just about monthly reporting – regular communications with our clients and clearly documented strategies mean everyone is on the same page at all time and we are always tracking results and evolving our strategies to deliver the best results.”
The key metrics to highlight
Our other experts have weighed in on the importance of focusing on the right metrics, and Scott Langdon from Higher Visibility shared his thoughts on how to choose the right key metrics.
Here’s what he had to say:
“As an Agency, we like to focus on what the clients should truly care about at the end of the day, and that is their revenue. We put greater emphasis on highlighting lead and sales growth versus search rankings improvement. You would think that would have been the focus for clients all along, but it really hasn’t. There are still plenty of clients that care about metrics such as wanting to rank #1 for a particular keyword. When looking at the data, that keyword might not really be leading to quality sales.”
Annual reports are so important. It’s essential to take some time at the end of every year to assess what’s worked well for you, what hasn’t, and the results and growth that you’ve seen overall. It will be essential to helping you evaluate your current strategies and decide how to move forward in the next year so as to best accomplish all your marketing goals.
For maximum results, keep these last few tips in mind when creating your annual reports:
- Remember that annual reports are all about getting a big picture view by looking at all the details that fell into place.
- Avoid trying to just cram everything into one disorganized report, and sort everything into sections.
- That being said, look at how different areas of marketing interact. Many businesses have integrated content marketing and social media marketing, for example; assess how the two are affecting each other.
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Guest author: Tanya Vasileva is a Product Marketing Manager at SEMrush — a leading digital marketing toolkit for SEO, PPC SMM and content marketing professionals worldwide. She writes about marketing, analyzes SEMrush data and interested in marketing strategy.