Automated marketing dashboards

Useful link

Supermetrics - we use this extensively

Automated marketing dashboards

When running digital marketing campaigns, the question of how to report on performance is a key consideration. It’s natural for everyone involved in the campaign to want to know how it’s doing. With clear reporting, everyone can stay up to date and take part in decision making as the campaign evolves.

In this article, I will explain some of the key considerations for reporting on marketing campaign performance, and how we made the move from weekly reports sent by email, to online dashboards, available on demand. We’ll get to the big reveal in a moment, but first we need to decide what we should include in the reports.

Deciding what to report

The world of digital marketing is blessed with an abundance of data. Every element can be recorded, analysed and benchmarked, and with this wide variety comes a bewildering range of reporting possibilities. What should we plot, add to tables, compare with last month, show as a percentage? The approach at Strange is to keep everything client focused, so before we fill a report with click through rates, quality scores and impression share, we like to ask a couple of questions to help clear a path to the right choice;

  • What are the client's commercial objectives for this campaign?
  • Which actions of users on the client site relate to these objectives?

Keeping a close focus on the priorities of our client, and making sure that we can capture the required data accurately, is essential to produce a report that will be of genuine use to stakeholders. I’ll be covering tracking and tagging in another article, so for now we’ll assume that we’ve got the ability to capture all the data we need, and take a look now at the main reporting platform choices.

Google Analytics

Almost every website will have Google Analytics tracking in place, and with some careful setup of goals and Enhanced Ecommerce, a wealth of useful commercial information can be integrated into the various views and reports you can generate. Choosing Google Analytics as the system of record, and central reporting platform is a solid choice, but there are a couple of points that are worth considering before picking GA for your client reports. First, Google Analytics is complicated, almost to the point of being overwhelming. Certainly, for those not used to using it regularly, it can be difficult to find the view of the data you want. Secondly, the attribution settings in Analytics might not help you see the information you need. Out of the box, GA uses a last click model, with no attribution across multiple visits. This tends to favour PPC brand clicks and organic search visits, and can make it harder to understand the contribution of other media that have their interactions earlier in the user journey. Lastly, GA is also mostly blind to conversions triggered by ad impressions and to multi device user journeys, such as conversions on laptop following ad clicks on mobile. So, whilst Google Analytics is enormously useful, for a more accessible view, including a wider range of media attribution, something more tailored is required. The common choice here is Excel, where data can be combined and manipulated to produce the charts and reports you need.

Excel spreadsheets

With multiple campaigns and media channels, using spreadsheets to collate and combine data, allows almost unlimited flexibility in terms of reporting. For many years, we took this approach, pasting in data from various channel reports, and combining it into tables and charts, all focused on the KPIs that clients prioritise. Each week a PDF would be saved and sent to the client, along with commentary and analysis added by our team. There’s much to recommend in this, as it keeps everyone aware of the latest performance, includes as much data as you agree is useful, and is accessible with PDFs easy to work with and share. We’ve also found that weekly distribution helps maintain momentum on campaigns that run in the longer term, especially when paired with a conference call to cover the numbers and the actions that arise. However, despite the many benefits, we’ve spent time recently looking into how to make reporting better, and in particular, whether the process can be moved online and made automatic.

Moving to Google Sheets

For anyone that uses Excel as part of everyday work, the thought of moving to a different spreadsheet package might be daunting. Let me say right away that you should definitely consider trying it. Google Sheets is both instantly familiar and innovatively fresh, with the functions and controls you know, but with speed and collaborative flexibility that we’ve found to be a huge time saver. You need to put some thought into setting up your Google Drive securely, and get used to a different view of how files are stored and shared. But once done, you might well be like me, and wonder why you didn’t make the switch years ago.

Automating the collection of marketing performance data

Just the phrase ‘automated dashboard’ sounds like a big improvement over previous approaches, with the promise of up-to-the-minute data available without effort. To see how to get there, let’s tackle the automated element first. Earlier, I mentioned that there are multiple channel data sources that we will want to pull together to create our dashboard, and that the spreadsheet approach involved copy and pasting this data into some central sheet. By moving this process into the cloud, we can look to eliminate the copy and paste if we focus on how to collect the various reports and bring them together. The tools to automate this are readily available, with the market leaders able to connect to hundreds of services. Supermetrics is a specialist service for online marketers that automates the gathering of data from a wide range of online media channels. There are versions for Excel and Google Sheets, and with this latter option, we can schedule the collection of channel data overnight, so that by early morning our spreadsheets are up to date. This covers the main media channel reports, but we also have a number of other sources we like to include, such as the multi-click performance view from our PPC management platform, and other custom reports, such as order data from clients' Magento systems . These aren’t available via Supermetrics, so for automation of these tasks, we look to a new breed of helper services, specifically designed to connect together online tools. Perhaps best known is IFTTT, an automation service that uses triggers to launch actions. This is hugely popular amongst Smart Home enthusiasts, performing such tricks as turning on home lights as they pull into their driveways at night. The beauty of IFTTT is its simplicity, with the recipes that link triggers and actions very easy to put together. For our needs however, we’re looking to go beyond trigger and action, with the ability to manipulate data as it is moved from place to place, and alter the workflow depending on values in the data. Tools to consider here are Zapier, and Integromat, which also operate a trigger and action model, and huge range of connectivity options, but have a more business focused approach. After review, we selected Integromat for huge flexibility in workflow and data handling, the great support we received during our free trial, and especially useful for this project, strong integration with Google Drive and Google Sheets. So, via Supermetrics collection of channel data, and Integromat processing of this and other data sources, we have been able to automate all the steps we previously took in Excel using copy and paste. Plus, by moving to the cloud, the refreshing and data preparation can be completed in good time for the working day. Hours of time have been saved, and the data is updated every day, without our team once hitting CTRL+C or CTRL+V.

The online performance dashboard

So, our data is now collected, processed and prepared, sitting pretty in the cloud, and we’re ready to add it to our online dashboard. Once again, there is a choice of tools, and we have reviewed a number of them. But, in Spring 2017, a natural choice became available. Google opened up their Google Data Studio tool to users here in the UK. Data Studio is designed to do exactly what we’re looking to achieve. Clear performance reporting, available online, and reliably connected to our data sources. After all, if you want a company that plays well with Google Sheets, surely Google is going to be a top choice, right? Sure enough, Data Studio has connectors for Google Adwords, Analytics, DoubleClick, plus a number of beefy database tools and, of course, Google Sheets. Data sources are then added to your dashboard, filtered to the just the view you need. You can relabel and set display formats for the various fields, and add any custom variables you think you’ll need (so, no need to import cost per sale, or price incl. VAT, calculate it here instead). Building the dashboard itself is then a wonderfully simple exercise, with a library of chart types, data boxes, tables, etc. that you drag and drop and link to fields in your source. The default style is clear and clean, although the flexibility is there to embellish with additional logos or different fonts and colour schemes if you wish. With the notable exception of the dashboard not being responsive for view on a phone, we find it equally easy to view and use at our workstations, and up on the screen in client presentations. And of course, the dashboard can be interacted with, so different date ranges can be explored, campaign categories filtered out or combined, and lists and tables sorted to help understand where the performance was strongest and weakest. We’ve completed the switch to automated marketing dashboards, and use Data Studio to present all our clients with their own clear view of their marketing performance data and priority KPIs. They each have their own login, so when they wish to check on the latest performance, or remind themselves of sales from the previous week, month, or in fact any period, they can jump to the dashboard and grab it from the dashboard.

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