How to find the right balance of details that helps you justify your SEO plans.
The closer you are to the day-to-day activities of an SEO effort, the more data you typically want to have. Yes, on the one hand analysis paralysis can be a real problem and on the other hand really broad trends are nice to look at, but it's finding the right balance of details that helps you justify your plans. The challenge is that the deeper you are in the weeds, the more likely there is someone higher on the corporate ladder who expects progress reports. And these folks tend to not have the time or inclination to look at the detailed data that you've gathered. Furthermore, the farther up you move along the ladder, the more concise the reporting has to be until all you've got is the space on one PowerPoint slide.
To further complicate matters, SEO doesn't just include optimizing a site, but rather it involves the optimization of digital assets on multiple sites - some owned and some not. As a result, you've got a bunch of metrics like visits, clicks, impressions, and shares that have to somehow be summarized in a way that, ideally, tells a positive story.
My preferred format for such deliverables is a graph that plots a trend, ideally one that rises as you move from left to right. It's usually unacceptable to plot a dozen metrics on a graph because it becomes incomprehensible. And trying to squeeze multiple graphs onto a single page isn't much of a solution.
So when faced with this challenge I opt for creating a new metric that is a combination of the other metrics, each with a relative weighting. The weighting can be based on pretty much anything, but I've found that a good way to proceed is to ask yourself what you would pay for one unit of a particular metric - e.g., if I had to pay for a Facebook like, what would I pay? Or, continuing with the Facebook example, if you can get your hands on a recent promotional effort, the output of which was likes, divide the budget for that effort by the number of likes to get the "value" of a like. What you'll end up with is a table like this (I arbitrarily chose weights for demonstration purposes only):
|Facebook Page Like||3|
Explaining, and maybe even defending, the weightings is often needed, so I would recommend thinking carefully about the weights you assign. I typically start with values set by "the market." For example, StumbleUpon charges $0.10 per stumble. At the time, let's say that you knew that someone at your company was already paying $1 for an industry tweet. You could then argue that the market has established a tweet to be 10 times the value of a stumble.
With your weighting chart in hand, gather each of the separate metrics and for each multiply by the weight. Then take all of these values and sum them. This final number is a new metric that I've called digital asset impressions (DAI). As you can see, without proper weightings the DAI value can easily become skewed by underlying metrics that aren't as meaningful as others - e.g., I'd take 1,000 visits from organic search results vs. 1,000 visits from StumbleUpon.
For the report that bubbles up to senior management, I'll plot the DAI value for every month. I may also overlay one additional line on the graph, which is to show the revenue that I can attribute back to my efforts. Why don't I just stick to the revenue graph? One reason is that if the business is subject to seasonality there will be a peak followed by a trough regardless of my efforts, and I like to be able to show progress at all times.
This single graph isn't going to satisfy everyone. And that's OK. This approach fulfills the original request to provide a single graph, and if you end up being asked for details, kudos to you for getting senior management's attention!
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Marios Alexandrou is the East Coast Director of SEO for Steak's Search Marketing team and has a background in web development and project management. While he loathes to tell people just how long he's been working with computers, he will admit that his first computer had just 16KB of memory.
His SEO experience includes work with both in-house and agency teams ranging from one-man shows to 20+ dedicated SEO strategists. He has worked with organizations of all sizes and across multiple industries including hospitality, financial services, publishing, and healthcare. He particularly likes to use his combination of skills to identify ways to scale SEO activities through process standardization and automation.
In addition to writing about SEO for ClickZ, Marios also writes on the broader area of Internet marketing for Infolific.
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