By Simon Hall Jan 27 2021 Blog

Creating The Ultimate Budget Pacing Dashboard

As marketers – and media buyers, in particular – a lot of money flows through our digital hands. Depending on company size and program ambition, it can be a daunting amount. The larger the budget, the greater the impact even the smallest mistakes can make.

This is where reporting and budget pacing comes in, playing an absolutely critical role in ensuring you avoid any spend disasters and stay on course to meet performance targets. In this article, we explore the extensive improvements you can make to your program and day-to-day processes by monitoring pacing effectively, and, more importantly, how you can do it.

How much have you been spending?

Budget pacing dashboards are arguably the most valuable that can be made. Understanding precisely how much you’re going to spend is equally as important as knowing how much has been spent. The manner in which you can expose such insights can be done in myriad ways, but the most straightforward (and therefore most common) is a linear calculation. It’s simply total spend, divided by days passed thus far in the period you’re reviewing, multiplied by the number of days remaining. Exposing this in visual form is an ideal way to learn if you’re on the mark, or if adjustments are required. If you’re managing multiple budgets, it’s easy to break these out by duplicating charts and filtering for the various accounts/campaign categories that you have. 

In the chart below, spend and forecast are showcased together in one column. It’s an essential visualization that quickly reveals how much you’ve spent, how much you’re forecasted to outlay, and where that forecast sits in comparison to your budget. It’s a simple graph, but it conveys a lot of information instantaneously.  

An alternative way to look at this would be via a running total. The line graph here provides an indication of how much you’ve spent, how you’re trending against your target budget cap, and whether there have been any major spend swings – or surprises – day-by-day in the budgeting cycle to date.

Where have you been spending?

Aside from uncovering the progression and direction of spend, it’s also vitally important that marketers know where their investments have gone. There are a couple of visuals to help with this that can additionally double-up in functionality and help expose any issues that need to be resolved.

The first is a simple pie chart that shows the overall percentage of spend coming from the main advertising channels, for which search is dominant. However, while this succeeds perfectly in telling a good story about where the money is going, there could be lurking issues that will go undetected due to the volume of data usually in play. A suspicious spike in spend on a single day, for example, may not necessarily be displayed clearly here as it becomes lost in the overall percentages.

For that reason, I also like to show the total spend across the given time period. As this chart is intended to look for immediate issues, it’s focused on just a short time period. These are stacked line graphs, which will clearly show peaks and troughs that may warrant further investigation. 

Both of these visualizations can, and should, be duplicated for the major areas of spend. Device, network, advertising channel, and publisher are all good starting points. If you’re running display or RLSA campaigns, an audience, or even demographic, set of charts would also be valuable to have on hand.

Reporting on your top spending campaigns

With the how and the where covered, I also like to have straightforward lists showing the top spending campaigns. It’s useful to understand what generally eats up most of the budget and it can be easily monitored for any outliers. I like to have, as a starting point, Campaigns, Ad Groups, and Keywords.

It’s about the details

The intent with all of these graphs is to help peel the covers off what’s going on with your campaigns; exposing the details and following the pennies and where they go. It’s incredibly easy for any campaign to have some measure of wasted spend, but these charts will help to identify and resolve some of them.

Not only do they help to understand where money goes, but they also help to monitor for issues. Any large swings in spend will be easily caught and remedied by simply having the right dashboard in place.

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