What really matters when it comes to investment in SEO? Ultimately it comes down to conversion and ROI. Whilst rankings can provide some level of indication as to how a campaign might be performing, the proof is in the pudding and that pudding is organic traffic, conversions and revenue.
‘This keyword moved up from position 28 to 27 last week, that keyword moved from position 13 to 14’. Interesting? Useful? No, it’s really not. Of course you should be continuously tracking ranking movements internally, but reporting on these changes on a regular basis is a waste of time; the days of inane focus on hundreds of specific keyword movements and trawling through a mass list of keyword rankings in your monthly report are gone.
So what should SEO reporting look like? It should be concise, transparent and easy to consume. It should provide a clear picture of the work being carried out and show how the impact of your efforts is correlating with business objectives and goals. This can essentially be grouped into two parts - proof of progress and actionable insight.
Proof of progress
If you don’t have accurate data, you can’t provide useful reports. Before you do anything, ensure you avoid this scenario by carrying out an audit of any existing analytics set up.
If you are using Google Analytics, the easiest way to gather data is to set up custom reports. Set the dimensions and metrics you want to report on and include filters where required. Set your required date range before exporting the data as a .csv file ready to be included in your report. Custom reports are ideal for automation each month as, once saved, all you need to change is the date range.
Goals and KPI – A means to an end
What you report on will, of course, be defined by agreed goals. These should be agreed upon by all parties involved before moving forward. Regardless of what these goals are, the likelihood is you can get the majority of the data you require for reporting purposes from your chosen analytics platform.
Reports should show end to end progress, this can be achieved by combining ‘means goals’ and ‘end goals’. A typical means goal would be a metric that shows progress towards an end goal - for instance, SEO visibility. While this is a compound metric, it is a very good indicator of progress towards achieving an associated end goal like organic traffic.
Other means goals can be fixed depending on the audience for your report. If you’re working to improve content (as most of us are these days) then metrics of user engagement and/or shareability vs competitors may be useful to include.
When it comes to those end goals you should be aiming straight at metrics that directly impact the business such as organic traffic, conversions and revenue.
If you are required to include some level of rankings data, a useful approach is to focus on keyword groups by URL as this is how search engines actually work. Focusing on positional change at a URL level provides evidence of any trends among a specific group of keywords. If using Google Analytics, ranking reporting at a page level over individual keywords allows much easier correlation with analytics data since the introduction of ‘not provided’.
Another thing to consider is the timing and regularity of reporting. For the most part, SEO reporting tends to be suited to monthly updates – showing monthly growth YoY can be something to shout about, whereas showing organic traffic fluctuations week on week tends to provide little value as there are far too many variables to consider, seasonality being a big one!
However, you may want to consider supplementing monthly reports with weekly monitoring. This way you can quickly identify sharp drops in rankings, allowing you to take action when required. At the very least, it shows you are proactively monitoring activity and helps to join the dots between monthly reports.
Establish a benchmark
As part of the overall reporting process, it’s important to establish the maturity level of your site. This should be evaluated through a number of essential SEO components and compared to competitor sites to establish a benchmark of where you currently are and what success might look like.
Along with top level progress on the overall goals - growth YoY etc - your report should include full details of activities carried out within the reporting period and show the impact these have made.
Impact of activities
Whether you optimised metadata across a specific set of pages, carried out a link development campaign or created content for a whole section of a website, report this information clearly and show the impact of it with data. Make sure to highlight data for the specific group of pages showing improved organic traffic, revenue or improvement in ranking positions. Relevant visuals such as data tables help to tell your story.
There is no point in gathering all this data if you don’t analyse it. Next steps should be provided in a clear and concise manner to ensure there is no confusion on what needs to happen to improve performance. As you have already detailed a list of actions worked on and the impact these have had, deciding on the required next steps should be straightforward – what worked well, what didn’t? What should be done to maintain the positive performance and what can we do to improve poor performance?
Following these steps should allow for a completely transparent reporting solution that provides genuine value and insight. SEO reporting led by smoke and mirrors can leave you on a one way track to failure. Creating a reporting solution that is open and transparent facilitates a relationship that is built on honesty and trust. Something that could be worth its weight in gold come budget discussion time…
Jonathan Swain, Insight Analyst, Caliber
Industry Insights features highly accessible and practical content from experts in the marketing services sector providing you with tools and resources to improve your business performance. If you would like to submit a report to the section contact firstname.lastname@example.org