The 25% Rule For Reporting And Why It Matters
Are you spending too much time on reporting? Columnist Matt Umbro examines three techniques to help you improve your reporting efficiency.
Detailed and consistent reporting is vital to any online marketing effort because it tells the story of the work being done. Both the agency and the client need to document these initiatives to ensure that (ideally) progress is being made.
Unfortunately, an all-too-common problem is that too much reporting is occurring, hindering management and growth efforts.
In this post, I will discuss ways to minimize time spent on reporting while making it just as effective, but first I’m going to define how much reporting is too much. While I will give examples from the PPC space, where I work, many of the principles I’ll outline apply no matter what your marketing discipline.
Generally, reporting (including written analysis) should take no more than 25 percent of your monthly billable hours. For example, if you bill 40 hours, then at the most, you should be doing 10 hours’ worth of reporting. In other words, for every three hours of management, you are conducting one hour of reporting.
I’ve found that this threshold is enough to pull and analyze data while still leaving ample time to make account optimizations. Spending more time equates to busywork that often isn’t necessary.
I do want to be clear that I’m not discounting the importance of reporting. No client/vendor relationship can succeed without consistent reporting.
However, in the context of overall account management, it must be limited. Going beyond the 25 percent threshold doesn’t allow for necessary management time, especially with accounts that have capped billable hours.
If reporting is that necessary to a client, the project scope needs to be re-examined, or the agency’s role needs to be reassessed. (Perhaps the agency runs reports and manages only what is in the account instead of being responsible for growth.)
Let’s examine three techniques for better reporting efficiency.
Determine What’s Necessary
It amazes me the depth that some reports go into. For example, a report may showcase the top 20 of each of these PPC attributes:
- Ad groups
In addition, the data may be presented in a few different ways. One section may look at the top attributes by conversion and another by clicks.
All of this data alone could take up three pages of a report! Granted, there may be data pulling automation involved (more to come shortly), but that’s still a fair amount of data.
I’m not saying that every piece of data isn’t important to review, but think about your target audience. Is the data you are presenting too granular? Can you bundle the data up in a more holistic way that conveys the same information?
As an example, instead of creating four different tables of account attributes, consider creating one table of the top 30 keywords that also includes their respective campaigns and ad groups.
Furthermore, I will remove sections of the report if the client and I aren’t discussing them or if it’s clear they are being ignored. In this case, I act first and ask for forgiveness later.
If the client requests that the section be added back in, I will oblige, but nine times out of ten, it’s never mentioned again.
Finally, not all reports need to be equal. Everything you include in the monthly report doesn’t need to run in the weekly report. Perhaps the monthly report contains the top 20 of each PPC attribute, while the weekly does not.
Again, think about your target audience. You are summing up the highlights and areas needing improvement for your client.
There’s no specific minimum or maximum amount of information you need to report, but you don’t want your client (and yourself) getting lost in the data.
Automate What You Can
You can’t automate all of your reporting. As great as that would be, it isn’t in the cards, as all reports require at least some manual input.
It can also get cluttered. For example, you may run a custom report in Google Analytics and have it emailed to the client each week.
You may also manually create and send a report each week. Many report sources and formats can create confusion.
But even if you can automate one or two of the reporting sections you run today, it would be beneficial. Look into whatever platform you are using, and see what can be done.
You may find a section of the report that can mostly be automated, but one facet needs to be run manually. In this case (and if the section isn’t crucial to the client), I would take the same “act first and ask for forgiveness later” tactic.
Have An Honest Conversation With Your Client
If you are finding that even with the removal of sections and more automation, reporting is still taking up greater than 25 percent of your time, it may be worthwhile to speak with your client. I find it’s best to be honest about the problem. (Don’t sugarcoat it.)
I’ve told clients that reporting is taking up too much time, which is taking away from our ability to manage and grow accounts. I’ll ask the clients questions such as:
- Which sections of the report can be removed without affecting what we need to report?
- Can certain sections be reported less frequently (e.g., monthly or biweekly)?
- Can we have Google Analytics (or whatever platform) email you certain reports?
In many cases, clients aren’t aware that reporting is taking too much time. Especially if you make note of the management time being lost, clients tend to be fine with less or adjusted reporting.
In the case where the client needs a time-consuming manual report, try to meet halfway.
For example, for one client, I once ran a weekly AdWords report that I had to download and format. Due to the intricacy of the data, the formatting took at least 20 minutes every time. That was at least an hour and 20 minutes of report formatting each month.
I explained the dilemma to the client and asked if I could download the raw data report instead, and he could format it. He understood the situation and agreed to the proposed solution.
Reporting is unique for every client, and that won’t change. Thus, we need to devise solutions for more efficient reporting that allow for ample account management and growth.
The 25 percent time threshold is an attempt to focus reporting efforts on what matters most to each client. If you are spending too much time on reporting, it may be worth it to explore updates and have an honest conversation with your client.