How to become Champion in Data Reporting

 

I have faced many data reporting challenges in my career. Some of them even cost me dearly. No one is born with exceptional data reporting skills. People generally develop skills over the years and then refine them through hit and trial, through success and failure. Yet we all are expected to make it big in the very first go regardless of our background. Nobody expects mediocrity in the corporate world.

I am very impatient when it comes to acquiring knowledge. I don’t want to wait for years. I don’t want to do hit and trial or fail first to learn things the hard way. I want to learn everything right now if possible. I believe in head starting by learning from the top experts.  Why repeat the mistakes which others have made before you? It doesn’t make any sense.  Learn from other people’s mistakes, avoid them and make your own original mistakes.

You need to make mistakes in order to grow. So the first step in becoming champion in anything is finding the right mentor and learning from him/her the very best skills, tricks and tips. The second step is to question whatever you have learned. If you never question, you will never grow.  It is as simple as that. Question fundamental beliefs and best practices. I did it by questioning a well know practice called CRO through my posts:


Keep on refining your learning and streamlining your processes. You are here to perfect the system not to stick to the old system.  Don’t just blindly believe whatever you learn from others.  A good student never blindly believes whatever his teacher says. Moreover “you are rewarding your teacher poorly if you remain always a pupil - Friedrich Nietzsche”.

 

Get your thinking clean. Become a teacher

become-teacher

I learn best when I share what I learn. We call this ‘learning by teaching’. Learning a topic is one thing but teaching it is totally a different ball game. Teaching forces you to get your thinking clean to make it simple. This is one of the primary reason I blog. The more I will teach, the more I will learn. If I get the time, I will blog every single day. That’s why I urge you to blog. Share what you have learned. The more you give the more you receive.

“The easiest way to get what you want is to help others get what they want.” - Deepak Chopra

Don’t hold back your knowledge. The more you will hold back, the more you will loose. This is because you are going against the nature. You learn things and you pass it on.

Once you become a teacher, you will experience a dramatic improvement in the understanding of your subject/area. This understanding will reflect in your reports/presentation. If something is difficult for you to understand then how you can expect other people to understand it with relative ease. So make it simple by teaching others. Here is a small exercise for you:

Spend some time in explaining a concept like “Bounce Rate” to your colleagues. Once you have explained the concept, ask for the feedback. Now measure their level of understanding. If they can’t explain ‘bounce rate’ back to you in easy to understand words then it means you have failed as a teacher. Try again.

 

Don’t make the insight obvious. Spell it out.

We often hear this phrase ‘make the insight obvious’ or make that obvious. But the bottomline is that there is no such thing as obvious. What is obvious to me and you may not be obvious to someone else. So don’t make the insight obvious, spell it out.

obvious-insightI know the insight from the chart above is obvious to me because I did the analysis and I made this chart. But is the insight obvious to you? No. This is because you don’t know the context. Often the people who end up reading our reports are not us. So if they missed the context they missed the picture we are trying so hard to present.

So what is the solution?

First present the context, then the insight and then the data (table, chart, graph etc) to support your insight.

first-the-context

We often don’t present the context assuming that the recipient of our reports already knows about it. This is a serious flaw in data reporting. And to make the matter worst we present the data that support our insight before we present our insight. This can result in serious misinterpretation of your data.

No matter how hard you try to lay out your data in a hope that it is not misinterpreted, some people will always find a way to interpret the data in a way that they think is correct. To avoid this problem, always present the insight first and then the data to support your insight. In this way you are telling the recipient of your reports about how the data should be interpreted.

Always create your reports with this thing in mind that you won’t be there to present your data or point out the so called ‘obvious insight’.

Note: if you don’t want people to question your data then always specify data source and the time range.

 

Report something business bottomline impacting

bottomline-impacting

The marketer here is making two fatal mistakes:

1. He is reporting something as trivial as ‘bounce rate’ to a CEO of a big company. CEOs don’t care about bounce rate. They care about the big picture i.e. the business bottomline: net profit, ROI.

2. He is not reporting something business bottomline impacting. You need to tie every metric you report to the business bottomline metrics like revenue, cost, conversions and ROI. And if you can’t tie it then why you are reporting it?

 

A wise man once said, reporting without solid recommendations is data puking.  If you want your reports to impact the business bottomline then make sure your reports include solid recommendations. Because no amount of analysis and reporting is going to move the corporate needle if it doesn’t include solid recommendations.

Check out this post to know more about making solid recommendations: Excellent Analytics Tip #101: Getting your things done right now

 

Understand who your report is meant for

Before you create and send any report always ask yourself following three questions:

  1. Why I am reporting, what I am reporting? I am reporting because …..
  2. How does this affect the recipient(s)? I am presenting this report to the board of directors because……
  3. What actions recipient(s) should take on the basis of this report? I am presenting this report so that he takes this action………

affect-us

For example, when you choose to report ‘bounce rate’ to a CEO then what actions you want him to take? Do you want him to optimize the marketing campaigns and reduce the bounce rate? Do you want him to fire the marketing manager because he is bringing crappy traffic to the site? If you can’t think of any action that the CEO should take on the basis of bounce rate then why you are reporting him the bounce rate?

As we move up in an organization hierarchy (esp. in big companies) we tend not to bug senior management with minute details. Minute details are for the managers (because they have to manage the campaigns) or for the workers (because they are directly working on optimizing the campaigns).

So we should avoid presenting tactical dashboards (like copy-paste versions of Google Analytics screen shots) to senior managements and present them only business bottomline impacting insight possibly in few lines of plain English.

 

You are judging the people around you. Be very careful.

This section is specially meant for in-house analyst. The life of an in-house analyst is not easy. Why? Because if there are major business decisions (like firing) riding on your analysis then you can quickly find yourself being alienated from the rest of your team. What you say and what you report can result in the firing of an employee, can even result in the closure of the whole department or in worst case can result in large number of layoffs across several offices (depending upon the size of the company you work in).

judging

You are the Judge and the people you report to are the Jury. You have big responsibility on your shoulders. So you need to be very careful with the conclusions you draw from your analysis. You need to be very careful with the words you choose while you present your reports and even more tactful in avoiding any possible conflict with your co-workers during and after the presentation. Every time you present a report you are holding someone in your team responsible for the results (whether good or bad). And people will do everything in their power to defend themselves, to protect their jobs.

The best way I have found to avoid any possible conflict is to keep your team in the loop of your findings. Don’t give them any surprises esp. the nasty one. If you know that a certain marketing campaign is not performing well and the company is losing hundreds thousands pounds each day then don’t disclose this insight from your team or the people who are directly responsible for managing the campaign till the last minute. Tell them as soon as you know about it. Give them the opportunity to rectify their problems.

Help them in optimizing their campaigns even if it is not really your job. They will thank you for that. They will thank you for showing the team spirit and for being considerate.

Explain them that it is your job to present correct marketing performance reports to the senior management and tomorrow their job could be in jeopardy if they continue to manage the campaigns the way they have been doing so far. Your analytical insight should first benefit your team before it benefits the ‘C’ level executives.

It is wise to take a second opinion before you present a report which can have a huge impact on the business.

 

Keep it Short and Simple

I can’t put enough stress on the importance of simplicity. If you reports are not easy to understand than it won’t have any impact. It is as simple as that. So stay away from using industry jargons and ambiguous words as much as possible. If you can’t avoid using a technical term then explain it first each time you use it. Don’t assume people already know about it because you trained them once.

It took me several weeks before I could successfully retain the definition of a bounce rate in my memory when I first started to play with web analytics. So these technical terms are not as easy to remember as you may think esp. for the people who know little to nothing about web analytics.

Another way of keeping reports simple is through ‘data visualization’. Visualize your data wherever you can through diagrams, graphs and charts. Present less fluff and more substance. If your reports are 50 pages long then no one is going to read them let alone take any action.

 

Other Posts on Data Reporting

 

Now it is your turn. How do you do data reporting’? Please share your tips.

 Bonus Post => Super Advanced Not Provided Keywords Analysis in Google Analytics

 

 

Himanshu Sharma About the Author: is the founder of seotakeaways.com which provides SEO Consulting, PPC Management and Analytics Consulting services to medium and large size businesses. He holds a bachelors degree in ‘Internet Science’, is a member of 'Digital Analytics Association', a Google Analytics Certified Individual and a Certified Web Analyst. He is also the founder of EventEducation.com and EventPlanningForum.net.

My business thrives on referrals, so I really appreciate recommendations to people who would benefit from my help. Please feel free to endorse/forward my LinkedIn Profile to your clients, colleagues, friends and others you feel would benefit from SEO, PPC or Web Analytics.

 

 

  • Jan

    Wow, what an excellent post! I’m great at pulling all the data together, but really struggle with the “tell a story with it” part. This helps a ton, thank you!

  • shiv

    i agree with your post that the company owner will nevr mess with bounce rate and trafic, He need ROI.. But problem is,”in my case” , i have access of google analytics.. How can i make strategies…? i know data.. but to make story from data… i am unable to represent.. can you Show any path Or resource , from there i can learn……………

    Thanx …

    I am regular Reader of Your Blog.. Quite impredssed with your Skillss…

    • seohimanshu

      Before you present any data you need to know what is important for the business. What the business care about. Once you know the business goals, you identify KPIs which help in measuring those goals. You then set targets for each goal and identify the segments you need to analyze. In short you need to build a web analytics measurement model. Check out this post for more details: http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/digital-marketing-and-measurement-model/

  • http://www.medi101.com Emr Vendors

    Great read for sure

  • Raj

    Its really a good guidance, will help me a lot.

    apart from this I have a suggestion, why don’t you change your profile picture here, put one with more professional look.