The first time you're asked to create an analytics report for one of your bosses can be an intimidating moment, especially when you're not a self-proclaimed “data person.” And even if you are comfortable with data, it can still be a challenge to figure out what you need to include and how you should format it.
But that doesn't mean you can't do it — in fact, you can ace this assignment.
Whether this is your first report or your fifteenth, and whether you live and breathe data or are just starting on it, we're here to give you some expert tips. They'll help you put together a polished analytics report that your boss will thank you for.
Step one: Choosing metrics to include
Chances are, if you're data-informed, your team has some sort of KPIs and metrics that they track regularly. You should use these as a jumping off point to create your report, but also anticipate other metrics and charts that your boss will want to see.
You need to decide what metrics best support your team's current business goals. You want a comprehensive report, but don't make it a data dump. Your boss is asking you to curate and synthesize the most important things for them. You can always have supplementary data ready to be pulled, but your boss can't get the hour they went over extraneous graphs back.
The two main determinants of what metrics you should include are what stage your company is in and what the drivers are of your business. Let's look at some guidelines for choosing key metrics by company stage.
Choosing the right metrics for your company
If your company is early stage (10-50 employees and growing)
The metrics your business lives and dies by are critical. For early stage companies, you'll be looking directly at what keeps you afloat. This means metrics like churn and signups. With the data you provide, you should be able to answer questions like: How is my company attracting customers? How profitable are the customers that we're gaining? How healthy is our business?
At this stage, you probably won't have a great idea of what the best and most predictive user metrics are. That's fine — don't oversell your data to try and shoehorn a “key” metric. Instead, include a broader overview of user behavior that helps you answer your company's important questions.
You may have to pull info from different analytics tool (e.g. Google Analytics) and internal systems to get your report together. Make liberal use of help documents and online resources, and take your time to fool around with the system to explore different ways to visualize your data.
If your company is middle stage (50-150 employees and growing)
You should have a developed understanding of what it takes to grow your business and what metrics best help you understand your business and your users. This is the basis for your report. For example, you should know whether MRR is a useful metric for you, or what your target weekly retention rate is for new users.
Add any core business metrics that steer your ship. Keep in mind your company's context — if you changed your pricing two months ago, that's a core metric that you might need to contrast with earlier data, for example.
You might have to deal with more analytics tools. If you have a consolidated, central source of truth for your data that's great — familiarize yourself with it asap! If there's more of a patchwork, get into as much as you can. Seek out those who use those tools most often at your company for help pulling specific data.
If your company is established (150+)
You'll want to include all the same things that a middle stage company would include. The difference here is volume and storage of data. Your company should have a powerful, centralized store of data. This is good news for you, as it means it should be easier to pull a cohesive report — if the system is user-friendly. When your company uses a third party data provider, check their onboarding and support options to help you pull data. If you're using in-house tools, sit down with a heavy user of the tool at your company and pick their brain.
When in doubt
Putting together a report takes valuable time and energy. It's better to ask questions and get the report right the first time around then to make panicky guesses and end up wasting your workday.
Think critically about what questions you need to answer to understand the health of your business. Identify the things that you would want to know if you were responsible for making decisions on how to move the company forward. Look at archived analytics reports and presentations and note what they included.
Once you've got a decent idea of the landscape of your report, ask questions to fill in the gaps. Maybe that means running a preliminary outline past a colleague, or talking to people from different departments about what their most-used metrics are.
Ask for help before you've spent hours pulling and formatting data, and everyone will thank you — including your boss.
Step two: Crafting your analytics report or presentation
Once you've brainstormed your most important metrics, pulled your data, and assembled all that you need to create your report, it's time to get down to business.
The two most important things to keep in mind as you assemble your report are make it clear and make it well organized. Think about your audience — your boss — and how much time and energy they have to get through a single report. The easier it is to understand and the quicker it is to find relevant information, the better.
Crafting a clear and organized report
Here's some suggestions to make your report as good as possible:
Articulate a clear thesis at the beginning of your report. It doesn't have to be fancy — think something straightforward, like: “Our user acquisition numbers are on track, but our feature launches don't generate deeper use of our product.” Get right to the point here — lead with the most important takeaway. You're trying to write a clear report, not pull a reader in with mystery and intrigue. Something like: "Our user acquisition numbers are on track, but our feature launches don't generate deeper use of our product."
Split your report into a logical sequence of sections that support your thesis, and define the scope of each section clearly. Once you've defined the scope of your sections, add exactly enough data and detail to give a full picture that demonstrates only what's in that scope. For example, when you're in your user acquisition section, don't get into revenue and vice versa.
Pay attention to design— these details actually do make a difference in readability. Make a checklist to ensure that all of your charts are well-formatted and, if you have the option, enlist the help of your design team!
It's okay if you feel like your report is a little “dry”. The goal is to be as clear and concise as possible, not to write beautifully. Every single thing in the report must be articulated and easy to understand.
Explain any anomalies, big changes, or unexpected metrics. If there's a bump because your download link got retweeted by an influencer, don't just let it sit unexplained. Provide a hypothesis. Your boss should be able to get the full picture of what's happening with your users, business, and product without having to guess why unusual results are showing up.
If you are unsure of why a metric seems off, double check that it's right. If it is, you can make a note of it while offering suggestions as to why the data might look anomalous.
Anticipate questions. You should explain why you chose your time frames, where you got your data, the date the data was pulled, etc. If your boss follows up, you want them to follow up about big-picture ideas, not nit-picky questions you could've spent a few minutes typing out.
Make your report as “skimmable” as possible. Don't assume that people are only going to skim the report — it has to be quality all the way through — but again, imagine yourself in your reader's shoes. Does your boss have time to sit down and slowly read through the whole thing every time they want to reference it, or are they going to need to pick out key points in meetings? Bolding, clear headings, and obvious takeaways at the beginning or end of sections are your friend.
Last but not least, when you're done putting everything together, proofread! Yes, by the time you're done you will probably have gone over it what feels like a million times. But give your brain a rest and then do a final sweep to catch errors — a wrong date or decimal point can throw off your whole report. Imagine how devastating it would be for your boss to cite an incorrect metric in a meeting.
A little dedication goes a long way
Putting together an analytics report is about thinking critically and paying attention to detail. Start by thinking about what is critically important for your company, and springboard from there.
When it comes to pulling data, use all the resources available to you — in-house or online — and get the data you need. It may take a little extra effort to familiarize yourself if it's your first time using it, but it will become a valuable skill for you to have.
Then, as you write the report, be clear and concise. Keep your reader, i.e. your boss, in mind and get meticulous about formatting to make your report easy to get through.
An analytics report truly is as good as the hard work you put into it. A little dedication will make all the difference in turning your report into a home run.