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Client Reports: Do You Tell Clients the Whole Truth?

Client Reports: Do You Tell Clients the Whole Truth?
Key 'Takeaways' From This Post
  • 97% of digital marketers said they have never changed statistics/data in a client report

Here is an interesting topic that will no doubt cause a spirited debate among digital marketers – but hey, who doesn’t like a little bit of controversy; right? So here we go! In a recent poll we asked our audience this (anonymous) question: Do you ever change/falsify the stats you report to clients?

Now, this is a controversial subject right off the bat. What you report to clients is a bit of a taboo topic for some. But before we get too far into that, here are the results of our poll.  We had 683 participants take part in our anonymous poll and the results were surprising:

do you ever falsify seo stats

A whopping 97% of people said they have never changed statistics/data in a client report. Now, I have worked the agency side for some time, and I know many other high-level agency executives very well. My own experience (and what I gather from talking to others in agency roles) leads me to believe that with the best will in the world, these stats are wrong. Before I prepare to face the disgruntled faces of agency owners and SEO professionals everywhere, let me explain myself and my thinking behind this conclusion.

I’m not accusing a portion of our audience of being liars, it’s more a case of how you interpret the question. To the creative, problem-solving human mind, the interpretation of changing/falsifying and ‘selectively sharing’ is a fine line.

How much creative license is fine before falsifying reports becomes a reality?

Let me give you a loose example based on something that may or may not have happened to me at some point when creating client reports. (I’m in CYA mode, people.) Let’s say you have a display campaign set to go live on a specific date. Due to whatever reason (think integration delays or other real-life interruptions and distractions!) your campaign goes live three days late. When reporting the total number of impressions delivered over the campaign period, is it falsifying the data if you tell the client that the number of impressions was delivered during the original timeframe they thought it was going to run – is that falsifying data? Or have you displayed the impressions while creatively neglecting to include (or mention) the upfront delay?

Let’s face it, it’s common for agencies to be a little ‘selective’ when it comes to digital marketing client reports. When you’ve had a particularly average performing campaign for sales but the click-through rate or engagement rate is high, it’s only normal to pick out and highlight the areas you want your client to pay attention to. You wouldn’t be the first agency to remind a client about the value of producing lots of unique impressions with your ads and the significance this has on their long-term branding during a large campaign that didn’t quite deliver on the core KPIs – and you certainly won’t be the last.

The potential for damage

Essentially we’re talking about being selective — and maybe being a little crafty — about how we present statics and metrics to clients. With modern day data visualization, lots can be done to either highlight (or cover up) specific data in client reports. Of course, we must mention the risk involved in doing this and the peril in outright falsifying results.

There is something to be said for honesty and transparency. With increasingly more freelance consultants and small agencies popping up, your clients will want to get a true picture of the performance of your campaigns. They have expectations and to those expectations they have assigned value and agreed to pay for your services. If these expectations are not met, there will be friction.Going over client reports

BrightLocal is the Local SEO platform of choice for Agencies. The quality of data and professional presentation of white label reports has allowed us to deliver greater value, quality and professionalism.
Pete Nicholls
Brisbane, QLD

What’s the solution?

While a crafty nip and tuck on your PowerPoint slides and bullet point results summary will usually be safe, if a client does spot anything out of sorts and calls you out on it (regardless of the severity) it can have a detrimental impact on that client relationship. In some cases it can completely break the trust the client has placed in you as a professional agency or respected service provider.

Clients are people too, and they will understand that within reason, not everything will go according to plan. Often being open and honest and confronting short comings or performance hurdles head on and collaboratively is the best solution.

Educate your clients as to the difficulties ahead, what makes the campaign challenging and work out a way to solve ongoing obstacles. Always set realistic expectations. This will often result in a much-improved client and agency relationship and the trust will grow faster because of this collaboration.

We’d love to hear your thoughts

What would your response to this question be? We’d love to hear your thoughts. What has been your learning process with regards to facing client reporting challenges? Have you been tempted to indulge in the ‘selective sharing’ approach to digital marketing results? Or is it really just me? Let us know in the comments.

Sherry Bonelli
About the author
Sherry is the former Local Search Evangelist at BrightLocal. She led BrightLocal's Research and Content programs and championed the needs of their SEO Agency and SMB customers. Having worked in digital marketing since 1998, Sherry has a Master’s Degree in Internet Marketing along with numerous digital marketing certifications.