Clients often ask me how often they should run website performance reports. The easy, canned answer is that you should run them once a month.
But for some websites, that’s too often and a waste of time. For others, it’s not often enough.
In actuality, the frequency of your reporting should depend on the size and scope of your website and business.
Let’s say your goal is to become a full-time author. You’ve written a business plan that starts with blogging actively for three years while you’re publishing your first two or three novels. You know your business will not generate significant revenue until you’ve published three or more novels. Because you have a day job and family responsibilities, you have very little time to spend on product development (writing). Should you cut into that time once a week–or even once a month–to run and analyze your reports?
My advice to someone in this position would be to pop in to your Google Analytics account at least once a month and spend no more than a few minutes getting an overview of how much traffic your site is drawing. I would recommend quarterly reporting to document website traffic and graph it against revenue from book sales (but only after the first book has been published).
There are two reasons for this approach: First, it’s a slow-build business, which means we know it will be a long time before the business is profitable. Second, there is a severe time limitation. It doesn’t make sense to spend even half an hour a month on reporting for an unprofitable business when that time would be better used producing product (writing books). Note that I’m not suggesting the author ignore reports but that minimal time is spent on them.
However, once the third book is out and the author ramps up marketing efforts, it’s important to also ramp up reporting efforts in order to track performance and understand the return on investment (ROI) of any marketing investments (whether the investment is time or money).
On the other hand, if you’ve got an e-commerce store and your site has been up and running for several years, you should probably be at a point where you’re reporting weekly. I’ve worked with clients who are in this position, yet they have never checked their performance reports and in fact haven’t even installed tracking software. They complain that sales are low, but sales aren’t the problem. First they need traffic. Had they set up sensible website performance reporting, they would have seen that.
A busy, successful, and profitable website definitely warrants weekly reporting, especially if the site is regularly running promotions, sales, and marketing campaigns. For a web-based business, integrating website performance reports with revenue and marketing reports makes sense, because often the marketing tactics are designed to draw traffic while the website itself is designed to convert that traffic into paying customers. If you’re not regularly measuring traffic against revenue and then comparing the numbers to the cost of marketing, how could you possibly know if your efforts are paying off?
Having said all that, for the vast majority of websites, monthly reporting is ideal. A bigger question for reporting is how to structure the reports and which data to include. Here are some questions to consider:
- Though reports are run monthly, should data be grouped weekly? It doesn’t make sense to compare data from a 31-day month with data from a 28-day month. But every week has the same number of days.
- Should reports look at heat maps to see what visitors click when they visit the site? This is particularly useful on busy websites with tons of content, banners, and links. For more simple sites, heat-map analysis may be unnecessary or even pointless.
- Do demographics matter? If you’re catering to a particular gender, age group, geographic population, or users of particular technical equipment, demographics in reporting can be extremely useful in assessing your site’s performance.
Reporting with Purpose
The takeaway here is simple: think about reporting frequency and establish concrete reasons for your reporting system. Be cognizant that if you’re running weekly ads but annual reports, you may be wasting valuable dollars on marketing efforts that don’t generate a return on your investment. You already know what you’re doing; make sure you know why you’re doing it.