The first week of a new month brings one of the few static tasks for an SEO: client reports highlighting the previous month’s campaign achievements. Seems like a simple thing, but like much of search engine optimization, the cookie cutter approach is insufficient. Many organizations, it seems, are satisfied with automated reports that may or may not tell the client what they need to know. But the “this is what you get” mindset is, somewhat obviously, less than optimal. So, what should go into a monthly report?
Depends on the client, doesn’t it? Complicating this supposition is the fact that many clients simply don’t know what to look for regarding an SEO campaign’s progress. As we’ve stated before, education is a huge element of SEO. One should take whatever means necessary to keep your clients out of the dark. Much of this type of discussion occurs prior to the start of the project: what are you (the client) looking for in terms of success? If it’s the number one position on a trophy term, well, we’d need to have addressed the folly of that approach already. Having established a clear idea of the goals of the campaign, we should be clear regarding what we’ll report once our work is implemented and we start gaining traction. You should also consider who’s ultimately getting the reports: are they going directly to your contact in the marketing department, or are they being sent to the C-level execs or business owners who are only interested in the bottom line? Be aware of your audience.
That said, our job is to parse the huge glut of data and create something that makes sense to our clients, who often have neither the time nor the inclination to dig into analytics on their own. Here are some elements to potentially include in monthly SEO reports:
- Increases in Organic Search Traffic – This one’s obvious. This is what the SEO campaign is all about. If you’ve done due diligence in keyword research and your ensuing optimization, your client will see increases in both key term and related longtail traffic. Keep an eye, though, on yearly trends. You may not see a consistent month over month increase, but that could be affected by seasonality and other variables. What you want to see is steady growth as compared to previous years.
- Increases in Non-Branded Organic Search Traffic – Trickier, thanks to Google’s seemingly ever growing percentage of encrypted searches. In a perfect world, increased traffic on non-branded searches would be the holy grail for your SEO campaign. In Google’s world, well, it’s unreliable. Encrypted search results kicked off in October 2011, so one would think you could rely on year over year data. Nope, because the percentage, which was initially relatively small, has grown considerably. Thanks, Google. Regardless, whether you report this or not, it’s still data you should be looking at.
- Increases in the Number of Non-Branded Search Terms Being Used – This one can be a bit difficult for clients to grasp, but it’s quite important. Your work will typically be based on a list of important key terms, but due to the engines’ increasing ability to contextualize you should see an increase in visibility and traffic on related long-tail terms. Educate your clients as to why this is a solid performance indicator. Again, though, where Google traffic is concerned, part of this data is unavailable. You have to work with what you get.
- SERP Positions – Seems obvious, but it’s not. Some SEOs don’t report positions at all. Some, unfortunately, only report positions. The former have a more solid argument, to my mind. Because what do positions really tell you? Sure, maybe the work you’ve done has landed your client in the top five results for every term you’ve chosen. So what? What if the terms you chose were fish in a barrel? Now your client has top positions for terms nobody’s searching for. No increased traffic, no increased conversions, no increased sales, but look – they’re DOMINATING the SERPs. We don’t typically rule positions out while reporting, but we emphasize that they’re just part of the overall picture.
- Time Spent on Site/Pageviews/Bounce Rate – If your SEO campaign includes content development, and it should in at least some capacity, you’ll be looking at these data. That said, you need to understand and communicate what you’re seeing. If it’s a blog and your client publishes regularly, you may see a relatively high bounce rate, but that’s because loyal readers are coming in to read the new post, then leaving. That makes sense. If the site has recently undergone a redesign that made it much easier for a user to navigate to conversion points, you may well experience a decrease in “stickiness” or time spent on site – if conversions are going up, that’s a good thing. Again, don’t just take and report the data at face value. Dig a bit, and educate yourself and your clients.
- Conversions/Sales/Events/Goals – This is the bottom line we’ve been talking about. Whatever the ultimate intent of your client’s site is, that’s what you want to see more of. The traffic coming into the site should be better targeted and more likely to convert (buy something, download something, contact somebody, etc.). If you’re getting a lot more traffic but conversions aren’t increasing, something’s wrong.
That’s an admittedly extremely top-level list of the data that helps your clients understand the success of your SEO campaign. Again, each client is different, and as such will have different goals. Whatever those goals are, your job is to help the client see that the work you’re doing is helping them get there. I’m interested: what do you include in your reports? If you’re working with an SEO vendor, what do you like to see?
Written by Christopher Carlson