Challenges with Annual Reporting

It’s that time of year again, time to summarize the performance of your website, search engine optimization efforts, and campaign spending. As you start your marathon of data manipulation, there are a few things you should keep in mind to avoid disaster.

Start with Good Data

While this may sound obvious, when you start pulling together information from various sources, be careful of where and how you get your data.

In Google Analytics, for example, if you grab a full 12 months of data at once, be careful that the data is not sampled; Google Analytics automatically samples data if there are over 500,000 sessions in the date range being used. See: minimize sampling errors.

In Google Search Console, if you grab a full 12 months of detailed data at once, you might not get all the same data as if you pulled it in monthly buckets. Best to check your numbers before you spend too much time with the report.

Know What You Are Working With

Do not assume that summarizing detailed metrics will yield the same numbers as a summarized query. Google Analytics ‘users‘ for example, cannot be added up for a total because of the way they are defined. If you want a monthly number, use a monthly query to get it.

Also, be careful when applying filters or segments to get measures of a portion of your website traffic, or making assumptions about what might be causing a metric to go up or down. Some metrics like Google Analytics ‘sessions’ or the Search Console’s ‘position’ can be affected in ways you didn’t expect.

Remember What Changed

A lot of things change over a year. Pages are moved or rewritten, search engine algorithms change, campaigns are tweaked. Make sure you note those changes as you pull your report together. If a page is moved, you may need to blend metrics from the old page URL with the new page URL. Website changes can also have a big impact in search rankings, and while the traffic may get redirected, the historical reports have to be blended.

Be careful when combining data; while simple measures like sessions and impressions are easily added, calculated metrics like CTR or Conversion Rate should use weighted averages.

Be Skeptical of the Results

Finally, before you commit to the final report, look at numbers with ‘professional skepticism’. You are the data expert, and it is your responsibility to make sure the report reflects an accurate picture. Annual summaries tend to affect strategic plans in ways people don’t expect, so don’t let your organization venture off in a new direction based on a wrong number.