Automated Reporting: How to Put Your Agency's Reporting on Autopilot
If you own or work at a marketing agency, you know that reporting your results to clients on a regular basis is essential to building trust, demonstrating value, and ultimately retaining clients over the long run.
When you’re just getting started, you’re probably doing most of your reporting manually, usually by piecing together a variety of free tools. As you grow your agency, however, you’ve probably noticed that the time you spend manually generating new reports each month starts to add up quickly.
The reality is, that while reporting is an essential part of managing and scaling an agency, it is not the highest value or revenue-generating activity that you should be spending your time on. In particular, the process of creating reports manually is not improving the results of your clients and it’s not helping you land new clients.
As a result, as agencies grow past the early stages of their business, the reporting process should be automated as much as possible using software so that you can focus on the consistency and scalability of your service offerings.
In this guide, we’re going to discuss exactly what report automation means, why it’s important for agencies, the different types of reporting tools, and finally we’ll review a step-by-step process of how to automate your reports.
The guide is organized as follows:
- What is Automated Reporting?
- Why Report Automation Matters for Agencies
- Reviewing the Different Types for Reporting Tools
- Step-by-Step: How to Automate Your Reporting Process
Let’s get started.
What is Automated Reporting?
The fact is that today’s digital marketing landscape often involves dealing with many different data sources on a daily basis. You may be trying to rank your clients organically in search engines, running paid Facebook and Google Ads, or be running an email marketing campaign. Regardless of the type of marketing activity you’re doing for your clients, you probably have more data coming in from each of these channels than you know what to do with.
As discussed in our guide on SEO Tracking, even trying to rank in search engines involves tracking many metrics, KPIs, and data sources. If you’ve tried to manage everything manually you know that things can easily slip through the cracks.
To help solve this challenge for marketing agencies, automated reporting software allows you to simply connect your account to a variety of data sources and automatically retrieve data from on a daily basis.
Automated reporting tools do this by using an API, or application programming interface, which essentially allows two systems to send data between each other.
Since the data you need to be tracking is automatically being pulled in from each platform, this frees up a significant amount of time when it comes time for reporting.
Before we continue, it should be noted however that even if you use an automated reporting software, it shouldn’t necessarily be 100% automated. In particular, you should still be reviewing your clients data and providing them with personalized comments and insights with each report. The process of personalizing each report is still much more efficient than generating the reports yourself and goes a long way in terms of providing a value-added service.
Why Report Automation Matters for Agencies
We’ve already discussed a few of the high-level reasons why automating the process of generating reports each month makes sense, but let’s now look at these in a bit more detail.
Before you decide to use an automated reporting software, you should first have a clear idea of what your current reporting costs are.
To give you an example, let’s review the reporting costs that a typical agency might incur.
Let’s say that the agency currently has 25 clients and you’re sending reports on a monthly basis. If each report takes just 5 hours each month and you're paying your staff an average of $35 an hour, that breaks down to $4375 of reporting costs each month, or $52500 per year.
As you can see, the costs of manual reporting add up quickly.
Automated reporting software may cost you anywhere from $50 to $500 each month, depending on the size of the agency, but as you can see a tool like this pays for itself very quickly.
If you don’t know what your current reporting costs are and want to calculate them for yourself, check out our cost calculator here.
If you’ve tried manual reporting for any amount of time you know that when the reporting period is almost over, let’s say at the end of each month, you know that it can often be a scramble to get everything prepared and make sure it’s sent off on time.
The employees who handle reporting may get sick, or a number of other projects may come up, whatever the reason may be without automating and scheduling reports in advance you’re leaving an essential part of running the agency partly up to chance.
With an automated reporting tool, on the other hand, after you’ve set up each campaign initially and connected your data sources you know that regardless of what happens, you’re consistently delivering the updates you promised to clients.
Another reason that automated reporting is so important for agencies is the scalability they offer. If you’re providing a valuable service to existing clients and working to generate new leads for the agency, it’s only a matter of time before you start to scale.
Also, scaling an agency can happen very quickly, and if you’re not ready with the right tools in place it can be disastrous. For example, if all your current employees are spending their time with manual reporting tasks, you may not have the time to hire more people to handle the influx of new business.
If you’re using a reporting software, on the other hand, scaling up your existing report generation workflow is often as easy as upgrading to a higher pricing plan.
Finally, delivering high-quality marketing reports is a great way to present new opportunities to your existing clients, which can often lead to upselling them additional services.
For example, if you’re running PPC ads for a client and you see an opportunity for them to rank in search engines organically, you could then use a competitor analysis tool and show them exactly what this could mean for their business in your marketing report. By having a tool that can automatically pull in all this data from various sources, all you need to do is explain to your client why it could be of value to their business.
Reviewing Different Types of Reporting Tools
Now that we’ve discussed why report automation matters for agencies, let’s review a few different types of reporting and analytics software available including the pros and cons of each one.
DIY Reporting with Free Tools
A common way that many entry-level marketers get started is simply by piecing together various free tools. This will generally include tools like Google Sheets or Excel, Google Docs for writing report summaries, and maybe PowerPoint if you want to send a presentation.
The obvious disadvantage of this approach is that it’s incredibly time-consuming, and unless you’re a pro with each of the tools, the end result is often less than impressive for clients.
The only real advantage of this approach is that it’s completely free, although if you add up the hours it takes to generate the reports, this really isn’t the case.
Data Analytics Dashboards
The next type of reporting tool are data analytics dashboards such as Google Data Studio]. While a platform like this is certainly a step in the right direction from a spreadsheet, it can still be quite time consuming to learn how to use it properly.
Another one of the main disadvantages of a platform like Google Data Studio is that it has limited integrations with other marketing platforms. In fact, if you read through reviews for Data Studio a common theme is that connecting to platforms that aren’t owned by Google is very challenging.
Business Intelligence (BI) Platforms
Business intelligence platforms such as Tableau and Domo are incredibly powerful tools when it comes to data analytics.
One of the major issues with these platforms, however, is that they require a serious investment in terms of learning how to use them, especially if you are not a data analyst. If you are a data analyst though, the benefit of these platforms is that you can use them for extensive analytics of big data across any industry.
That said, this can also be seen as a disadvantage for agencies since it means they are not specifically focused on marketing data. While you can analyze any type of data with these platforms, the lack of specialization in terms of data connections often makes them less than ideal for marketing agencies.
Automated Reporting Platforms
Automated reporting platforms like AgencyAnalytics are built specifically for marketing agencies, which means the data connections are focused on the platforms that your clients are using.
These platforms are also built much more intuitively than most BI platforms, which means that both technical and non-technical marketers can get value from them easily. As discussed in the previous section, after you set up your initial data integrations, the main benefits for agencies is the consistency for your reporting, the scalability of generating new reports, and the perceived value they present to clients.
Really the only downside of automated reporting platform is that they will cost you a bit of money, although since they end up saving you countless hours of manual work each month they typically pay for themselves.
Step-by-Step: How to Automate Your Reporting Process
Now that we know what report automation is, why it’s important, and the different types of analytics tools at your disposal, let’s look at a step-by-step process of automatically generating reports with AgencyAnalytics.
Step 1: Preparation
Before you start your reporting process in any capacity, it’s generally recommended to have the following things in place:
KPIs & Metrics: The first step to reporting is deciding what KPIs and metrics you need to include in the report. As discussed in our SEO Tracking guide, you can often figure these out by asking each client a set of initial questions regarding their business.
Reporting Frequency: Next you want to decide the reporting frequency you’ll be using. A lot of agencies go with monthly reporting, although if you’re using a report automation tool you can take things a step further and easily send daily or weekly reports. In addition, you can always choose to use a reporting dashboard and provide 24/7 access to your clients.
Assigning Roles: As mentioned earlier, even if you’re using a reporting software it’s generally best practice to personalize each one with commentary and insights into the reporting period. Deciding who will provide these insights for each client is another important step before you automate your reporting. If you choose to go with sending periodic reports instead of a dashboard, this can easily be done with a report summary as shown below:
Step 2: Creating a Campaign
After you’ve decided on the KPIs, metrics, reporting frequency, and who is responsible for reporting, the next step is to create a campaign for your client. In AgencyAnalytics, a campaign is simply a website, so in most cases each client will have one campaign unless they have multiple websites.
To create a new campaign, simply go to your root dashboard and click “Create Campaign”:
In this step you’ll be prompted to add basic campaign information like the company name, domain, and you can optionally specify a group to organize your campaigns.
Step 3: Connecting Your Data Sources
The next step to automating your reporting process is to simply connect the relevant data sources to your campaign. AgencyAnalytics currently offers 40+ marketing integrations for everything from PPC, social media, SEO, analytics, call tracking, email, reviews, and eCommerce.
For this example let’s look at connecting Facebook Ads for our reporting. To do so, first you navigate to the campaign and then click “Integrations”:
Next click on “Facebook Ads” from the list of available integrations:
Next, you simply need to click “Connect Account” and you’ll be prompted to select the account you want to connect.
Step 4: Choose Between Sending Reports or Creating a Dashboard
Next, you want to decide whether you’re going to give your clients 24/7 access to a dashboard or send them periodic reports. If you want to get your reporting up and running as quickly as possible, you can make use of our dashboard and report templates.
Below you can see an example of a dashboard template for Facebook Ads, which you can preview live here:
If instead, you want to use a report template, here’s an example of a Facebook Ads template, which you can preview live here:
Step 5: Customize Your Reports or Dashboards
If you want to customize your reports or dashboards, you can use our drag and drop editor. For example, below you can see how you can easily drag and drop widgets to your desired location.
If you want to customize a particular widget on the dashboard you can just click “Edit Dashboard” and you’ll see a gear icon that lets you apply your customizations.
Step 6: White Label Your Reporting with Your Agency’s Branding
After you’ve created your report or dashboard, the next step is to white label them with your own agency’s branding. The white label features of AgencyAnalytics include the ability to customize logos, color schemes, if you’re on the Agency plan or higher you can add your own custom domain and email, and if you’re on the Enterprise plan you can configure white label profiles for each one of your clients.
In order to white label your reporting simply click on “Settings” in the left-hand corner and you’ll see a tab called “White Label”:
Step 7: Create a Report Summary or Add Personalized Comments to the Dashboard
Next, if you want to add your own insight into the report the best way to do so is with a report summary. Here’s an example of a report summary from our Facebook Ads template:
Or if you choose to use a dashboard you can easily add a text box widget and specify exactly what you’ve achieved each month:
Step 8: Provide Client Access to the Dashboard or Schedule Automated Reports
The final step is to either provide client access to your dashboard or schedule automated reports on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
If you go with a dashboard in order to create a client account simply click the “Users” tab from your campaign and click “Create User”:
After that you’ll have the option to choose between a client or staff account:
If you decide to go with periodic reporting you can use our Scheduling Wizard to decide the frequency, day of the month, time of day, and the reporting date range:
You can then specify the contents of each report email that will be sent to clients.
Summary: Automated Reporting for Agencies
As we’ve discussed, while reporting is an essential part of running an agency, the act of manually creating reports each month is not a particularly high-value task.
Instead of piecing together various tools and trying to manually track data, automated reporting automatically pulls in this data through an API so that you can focus on the campaigns themselves.
While there are other types of data analytics platforms on the market, since they’re not focused on marketing agencies this means that the data connections are often not there. Not only that, but these tools are often designed for data analysts whose sole job it is to learn how to use the platform.
Automated reporting software, on the other hand, has all the marketing data connections you need already in place, so all you need to do is connect your accounts to start automating your reporting.
In summary, automated reporting software offers a number of time and cost benefits for agencies — a few of the most notable include the high-quality consistency of your reports, the scalability they offer, and the ease of demonstrating the true value of your services.
Written by Peter Foy
Peter Foy is a content marketer with a focus on SaaS companies. Based in Montreal, QC, when he’s not writing he’s usually studying data science and machine learning, you can learn more about him at mlq.ai.