Improving on the Basics of SEO Reporting

Whether as an in-house SEO or while working at an agency, I’ve had to discuss SEO reporting for every site I’ve ever worked on. What data should we report on? How frequently should reports be created? What should the reports look like? On very rare occasions, the answers were entirely up to me to determine in which case I would fall back on years of experience to come up with a solution that suited the situation. More often though, I’m part of a dialogue where I try to translate what’s being requested into what is actually needed. And sometimes, although rare, it doesn’t matter at all what I say, as I’m given explicit instructions I have little choice but to follow. I’m going to look at the reports that I’m typically asked to deliver with the aim of describing a few tweaks that will hopefully make your own efforts more valuable.

Ranking Reports

No discussion about SEO reporting would be complete without mentioning ranking reports. While many would like them to go away, I’ve yet to work on an SEO engagement where ranking reports weren’t requested as part of the deliverables.

What to Do

  1. Try using weightings to highlight changes with important keywords while downplaying changes with less important keywords.
  2. Use categories and formula-based filters (assuming you use Excel) to help zero in on changes that indicate a trend rather than a random fluctuation.
  3. Calculate average rankings: i.e., the average of rankings taken daily over the course of a week or month. This has been particularly useful for preventing me from reporting a sudden, but temporary increase/decrease to clients.
  4. Report rankings no more often than weekly and preferably monthly. People can be easily distracted by ranking changes, so you want to reduce the number of times this happens.
  5. Segment your keyword list into a portion you report on and a portion that you use for diagnostics. As with the item above, the idea is to focus attention on what matters.

SERP Share of Voice

The share-of-voice report can be useful in highlighting how well-known or unknown competitors are performing in the SERPs (assuming you find rankings informative). In this report, the sum of rankings for each site for a given set of keywords is compared side by side typically using a pie or bar chart.

What to Do

  1. Your list of keywords should be tightly focused, otherwise the competitor set won’t be meaningful. It’s more informative to create multiple share-of-voice graphs each with a different sets of keywords rather than to try and pack everything into a single graph.
  2. Use keywords with similar search volumes, otherwise you could distort the data: i.e., if a site has visibility for a handful of low-volume keywords and another site has visibility for just one high-volume keyword, it will appear that the first site has a greater share of voice when in fact it doesn’t.
  3. Weight the position of a ranking so that a number one ranking contributes more to a site’s score than a number 10 ranking.
  4. Limit the frequency to once every quarter or less. A site’s share of voice typically doesn’t change all that much, so frequent reporting can be a waste of time.

Traffic and Conversions From Organic Results

If you could do just one report to demonstrate the progress of your SEO effort, reporting on organic traffic and the resulting conversions would be it. Such a report has the advantage of being easy for non-SEOs to wrap their heads around (as opposed to the share-of-voice report, which often causes a lot of confusion) while also showing the value of the SEO effort (as opposed to ranking reports, which just imply value).

What to Do

  1. Show traffic and conversions together to demonstrate that new traffic is high-quality traffic.
  2. Segment traffic by brand and non-brand keywords. I can think of exceptions to this rule of thumb in the pharmaceutical space or when the brand is an actual word, but nine out of 10 times I don’t even bother to include brand terms in my reports.
  3. For short-term trends, use weekly date ranges so that you avoid the impact of having a different number of days in reporting periods as happens with monthly date ranges.
  4. Pick a meaningful rolling date range for the report. I prefer to use a rolling 14 months. This time period allows me to compare the current month to the same month last year. I’m also able to determine if a change with the current month is seasonal or not by looking at the month-to-month movement 14 months prior. Reporting on more than 14 months just takes up valuable report space. I also doubt that anyone cares about what happened two years ago.

These three reports are the typical ones that I’ve been asked to deliver. There are, however, many more that I create to diagnose problems and to identify opportunities. These other reports aren’t deliverables in and of themselves, but the actions they inspire make them very useful. Of course, some of these other reports are part of what makes up this SEO’s secret sauce, but I’ll still share at least some of them in a future post.

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