Don’t Get Lost in the Numbers: Effectively Report on PPC Performance

Reporting on paid search performance is the single most impactful element of a PPC engagement between agency and client, even more so than performance. If you’re driving great results from your paid search campaigns and blowing past your client’s goals, what good is it if you can’t effectively communicate that fact or prove it through reliable reporting? Likewise, if you have a few months of poor performance, maintaining a good working relationship through quality reporting that provides insights and recommendations may be the thing that salvages it. It is vital that you report effectively.

Common Mistakes That Make for Ineffective PPC Reports

I’ve been working in paid search accounts for nearly ten years. I’ve seen—and made my fair share of—mistakes when it comes to reporting and communicating performance with clients. The following are some all-too-common practices that have destroyed engagements that need to stop happening in our industry.

Exporting a Spreadsheet and Sending it to the Client Without Any Edits

Seriously, an exported .csv file from Google Ads IS NOT A REPORT. The only time you should ever send an unedited export directly to the client is if they’re a data-savvy practitioner themselves and specifically ask for one.

Reporting on Too Many Data Points

Ever seen a graph like this?

Screenshot of a report with 10 campaigns represented by 10 different colored lines all on the same graphScreenshot of a report with 10 campaigns represented by 10 different colored lines all on the same graph

Can you tell at a glance what’s going on here? Neither can I. And neither can your client. Don’t do this.

Focusing on Data Points Irrelevant to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

If your client’s goals center on revenue, your KPIs for your paid search campaigns are probably metrics like average cost per conversion, conversion rate, or return on ad spend. Your reporting should highlight these metrics and focus on them. Don’t waste time highlighting metrics like impression volume or click-through rate; if they didn’t substantially contribute to their revenue goals, they’re not going to care.

Providing No Analysis, Insight, or Context With Trends or Visuals

If your reports are just some metrics highlighted on a page, your client’s response every time will be just a slew of questions: “So what?” “Is this good?” “What happened?” “What optimizations have you made?” “What’s working?” “What needs to change?” and so forth. Don’t send reports that create more questions than they answer.

Elements of Effective PPC Reports

An effective PPC report should clearly communicate the answers to questions clients will inevitably have with any regular update. They should also do so in a way that someone “not in the room” when you’re giving your overview would be able to quickly review and clearly receive the message you want to send them. After all, your relationship with your client is directly impacted by the story around your work and performance.

One analogy you could make is with the “blank sheet of paper test” digital marketing strategists use when analyzing content on a webpage. If all a user could see was a brief headline on a blank sheet of paper, would that person know what to expect from the rest of the content on that page? That same philosophy should apply to PPC reports: if someone were to skim through your report quickly, would they be able to ascertain the narrative you want to convey to them?

In order to do this, your PPC reports need to do four things:

  1. Primarily focus on a limited set of KPIs tied directly to goals and conversions
  2. Demonstrate trends visually
  3. Provide context and valuable insight (analysis)
  4. Keep granular details (e.g., keyword-level data) secondary to the focus on KPIs

Goals

Primary KPIs must correlate with the primary goal of your client’s paid search campaigns. For example, if their goal is to drive revenue at a certain threshold, then your main KPIs should probably be revenue and return on ad spend (ROAS). Furthermore, your KPIs should be limited to a small set of metrics (between one and three). You don’t want to have the client try and focus on too many metrics and create confusion.

Visuals

Visually demonstrating trends helps ensure the story you’re trying to tell gets through to the client. It’s one thing to write out what happened last month and why in paragraph form. It’s another thing to see your set of KPIs demonstrated in an easy-to-read graph than illustrates the story you want to tell at a short glance. Having clear visuals with contextual utility that emphasize your KPIs and analysis helps minimize confusion, as well as the chance of your client walking away with another interpretation of the data you’re presenting.

Analysis

Context and insight—proper analysis—are vital as they answer key questions your client will always have, which must be routinely addressed:

  • What’s happening?
  • Why is it happening?
  • Is this good or bad? Why?
  • Where do we go from here?

On top of KPIs and visuals, giving clear answers to these four questions in a concise written format will help ensure your client has minimal follow-up questions.

Secondary Details

Granular details and metrics can be helpful to a fellow PPC strategist or tactician, but shouldn’t be the primary focus of a PPC report (unless it’s a one-off request specific to a particular ask). Once you’ve finished highlighting the three key elements above for overall performance—which is what will apply to all stakeholders who may reference your report—then feel free to add secondary pages to your report which cover other details such as campaign-level data, keyword-level data, ad copy analysis, etc.

Here’s an example of the reporting we do at Portent. We use Google Data Studio to implement these four contextual elements in all of our client-facing reports:

Screenshot of a GDS report on campaign results across all digital channels, including goals, visuals, analysis, and secondary detailsScreenshot of a GDS report on campaign results across all digital channels, including goals, visuals, analysis, and secondary details

Screenshot of a GDS report on organic landing page results across all digital channels, including goals, visuals, analysis, and secondary detailsScreenshot of a GDS report on organic landing page results across all digital channels, including goals, visuals, analysis, and secondary details

In Conclusion

Effective reporting that is easy to understand and that supports your client’s primary goals is a key component of a successful PPC campaign. To make sure you are maximizing your ability to engage your clients with PPC metrics, take a look at the reports you’re delivering now and consider the following:

  1. Are you missing any of the key elements outlined above?
  2. What do you need to adjust to ensure you’re giving yourself every chance to make your client engagements successful and profitable to both parties?
  3. Make sure you’re avoiding common mistakes that may damage your relationship with clients and include these four elements in your paid search reports.

Keeping these things in mind will set you on the right path to a successful working relationship with your clients, built on efficient and reliable reporting.

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