5 Ways To Turn Number Vomit Reporting Into Valuable Business Action

Number vomit. Ugh. It wastes more of my time than anything else during the work week. (With the recent exception of Candy Crush. I mean, are you kidding me with that game?)

It appears in many different forms: weekly search reporting, dashboards created to make C-level folks feel like they know what is going on, even in those five-year business projections the Board of Directors seemingly has you do every month. It comes in Excel sheets, PowerPoints, and even PDFs if you can believe.

Sometimes, it’s called a “search report” and other times, it’s a “business update.” But, no matter what form it comes in or what it is called, know this: it is a waste of your time, it is a waste of time for the people preparing it, and when you are done staring at it, you rarely know more about what’s going on with your business than before you read it.

Sample Report

If your reporting looks anything remotely close to this, you probably won’t like my article.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! Data can and should make our lives easier and our businesses more successful. And by simply refining our point-of-view and presentation of data, we can turn worthless piles of numbers into clear, actionable data for our businesses. While somewhat easier said than done, there are five steps we can use to try to keep our teams and our agencies on point.

1. Reporting Is Not The End Goal — Action Is

The vast majority of what we do is collect numbers and put them in a set format. We have big Excel sheets that have every number in the world on them (more on this in a minute), and we build elaborate systems to automate the collection and formatting of this data so that clients get their results as quickly as possible with as little work as possible from our teams.

The second the report is out the door, we check the box that the work is done. The problem is that reporting on its own is not nearly as valuable as the interpretation of the data in the report. The report shows me that CPC went up — the analysis tells me why, what it means for my business, and what I should expect in the coming week.

Without that critical analysis, we (business owners and agencies alike) are left with a vomit pile of numbers that we each will interpret and act on in our own ways — leading to wasted time and money and poor business planning. So, deliver your reporting, but know that the task isn’t done until you have analyzed the numbers and provided real plans of action and business guidance.

2. More Doesn’t Mean Better — Part I: Data 

This is one of the biggest and hardest issues to deal with. It usually starts off harmlessly enough (“Can we report on CPC?”), but then it quickly spirals out of control. “Can we see CPC by keyword type… then by match type… then by keyword… then by day….” Next thing you know, you have an Excel sheet with 42 tabs and 300 data points, none of which tell you what is actually going on.

Instead, focus on four things: Goals, Actions, Metrics, and Outcomes (I would say use the GAMO acronym, but not sure it has a memorable ring to it).

  • Goals are your primary objective for the week (e.g., I want to drive my CPC down).
  • Actions are the steps you took to achieve your goal (e.g., I eliminated broad match).
  • Metrics are the few key data points that define your goal (e.g., CPC for the areas you adjusted this week).
  • Outcomes tie your goals, actions, and metrics together to determine what happened and define the best next steps for your business.

While this approach seems oversimplified, it works no matter what level of business complexity you are looking at — from high-level CEO dashboards to tactical search or display tests.

3. The Rule Of Three

Earlier, I mentioned “action” being the end result — which is something that many people tend to struggle with, oddly enough. They have their 27MB Excel sheet of data, but can’t make any sense of it.

In those cases, follow the rule of three: what happened, why, and what should we expect next. Anytime you are analyzing data, if you can answer these three questions, then you will be turning number vomit into action that will guide the business forward.

4. More Doesn’t Mean Better — Part II: Analysis

There is an old saying that goes something like this: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Unfortunately, digital marketers tend to have a hard time understanding this one. Far too often, the data almost gets us to a definitive answer, but we choose not to act on it since the data doesn’t line up perfectly.

Surprise! Things rarely work out that simply or clearly. But instead of realizing it, making a decision, and moving on, we send our teams back to their nerderies to crunch more numbers, pull more data and analyze further.

When this happens, more often than not, we end up two weeks down the road with no more clarity, but a ton more wasted time and energy. I am not saying to make premature decisions based on bad data, but I am saying to know when to make a decision and when you are suffering from analysis paralysis.

5. Reporting Templates Are Your Frenemy

Every agency or technology out there boasts a quick, amazing, life-changing reporting system where you can see whatever you want whenever you want it. The problem is that these templates try to be everything to everyone but end up meaning nothing to anyone.

Look, there has to be some sort of template and some sort of automation for efficiency and consistency’s sake, but each business/client is different and without some extent of customization,  you are most definitely missing out on aspects crucial to your business.

Don’t believe me? Tell me the report for my custom cupcakes brand and my baby clothing/toy/registry client should be the exact same… especially given they have completely different business goals.

Final Thoughts

Let’s be clear: I am not a quant guy and I am not a tech-y report systems builder. But I have been lucky enough to be on both sides of this issue. I was at an agency that worked mercilessly to build automated reports that had a ton of metrics in them. And I have been on the client side where I got terribly automated reports with adjoining PPTs that contained screenshots of the terribly automated report that told me nothing about my business.

Neither of these situations were ideal, but as each progressed to include more of the above five aspects, we were able to take our respective puddles of worthless data vomit and turn them into something much more impactful to our businesses.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Analytics | Channel: Search Marketing | Search Marketing | Search Marketing Column


About The Author: is a New York-based digital marketing and strategy consultant specializing in retail. He has worked with Nike, Neiman Marcus, Staples, Michael Kors and many others to develop fully integrated digital marketing strategies.Follow him @VicDrabicky on Twitter.

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  • Pat Grady

    Loved your sense of humor! But can’t believe you left out “KPI”! :-)

  • Vic

    Glad you liked it! And totally hear you on KPIs. I originally started writing about them, but then it became an entire article only on KPIs vs. data vs. goals…it took up the entire article. But maybe next month?


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