The ability to spot small wins (or fails) in your SEO strategy can be invaluable. In this guide, 38 experts share SEO metrics they track on a daily basis.
Marketing | Mar 30
Elise Dopson on March 23, 2020 (last modified on March 30, 2020) • 22 minute read
Most marketers have a general idea of how their SEO efforts perform. They can tell you the number of organic visitors they generate or maybe even the number of keywords they’re currently ranking for in the top 10 search positions.
Beyond that, things get a little foggy.
So how can you build a more sophisticated keyword ranking report in order to better understand, and more importantly, optimize your content marketing efforts?
We asked more than 80 marketers to find out.
Their answers included:
*Editor’s note: Before we dive in with the details, let’s start with a basic question: Do you know which keywords are driving traffic to your website? Find out those phrases with this Keyword to Pageview dashboard, which shows the keywords driving the most users to your site:
According to Vanessa O. Piccone of Mangools, “goal setting is fundamental. Before anything else, create and discuss specific objectives with your client (remember setting realistic expectations!).”
“Let’s say they want to double traffic and you plan on achieving it through informative blog posts – organizing the data in ranking reports so they can quickly identify what objective/results/category each keyword belongs to, will help you offer insightful news, educating your customer in the friendliest way possible.”
It’s a tactic also used by Power Digital Marketing, as Annie Beltran advises: “Truly understand the goals and objectives that your client considers relevant to their ROI on SEO. Then paint the data in a way that is clear, concise and unequivocally ‘bottom-line’ focused.”
“Report to the most relevant information, the details behind your analysis and where your strategy continues from what you’ve learned.”
“Don’t get siloed to moving an individual keyword(s) needle, as keywords are fickle and can’t guarantee attractive results. Convey how SEO is moving the business forward as a whole –think towards a Rank Index or Average of Ranking Terms,” Beltran adds.
This comes in handy when putting together your report, as GetVOIP‘s Reuben Yonatan explains: “Knowing how you rank is all well and good, but if you’re not working towards an ultimate outcome, you’re basically wasting your time.”
“There could be goals like outranking the competition or establishing yourself as an authority in a new niche. Whatever the goal, it helps focus your efforts. Having a progress update on SEO keyword reports helps know if it’s time to adjust the strategy or to keep things the same.”
“While its crucial to know the rankings and search volume for keywords, knowing the intent behind each keyword is even more valuable,” says Joshua Waller of Ontario SEO.
“Including the intent for each keyword in a SEO keyword ranking report helps you start to prepare which optimizations or type of content is needed to help increase the keywords ranking. You could then, for example, take all the keywords with informational intent and use this as a base for a blog strategy.”
There are four main types of search intent, depending on the action people want to take after searching for that keyword:
Rashon Bryan explains how you can do this in your keyword ranking report: “Include KW intent (make a column for it) and put more weight on KWs with intent than without, even if the search volume is higher.”
In a keyword ranking report, Iacob Sergiu of Bannersnack thinks you should “identify the most valuable keywords for your business.”
“If you are running PPC search campaigns, you can easily do this by correlating the sales from search ads with the keywords you rank for organically. This will help you identify keywords you could and should rank higher for.”
Similarly, SH1FT‘s Aristide Basque advises to “focus on keywords that are bringing the traffic. You could be ranked 15th for a high volume and receive 15,000 visitors a month.”
“One important tip for your keyword rankings report is to include SERP features if possible,” advises Colin Mosier of JSL Marketing & Web Design.
“Including your keyword rankings is important, but it can show your clients that you are going the extra mile if you also show them which SERP features they are included in.”
“When performing a Google search, many people pay special attention to the featured snippets and local map packs. If you are able to get your clients the featured snippet or local map pack spot, there is a good chance they will receive a lot of extra traffic!”
Michael Keenan agrees: “When reporting, you want to show what snippets you rank for, how much traffic they help drive, and what keywords you’re working on to get a snippet. It’s a great way to show stakeholders that what you’re doing is working.”
According to Ben Johnston of Sagefrog Marketing Group, your keyword ranking report should “highlight movements of keywords within the SERPs, and take external factors into account.”
“Was there recently a Google Algo update? Is the tracked keyword getting more traffic based on seasonality or a current event? Have competitors started stepping up their SEO efforts or is there a new contender in the ring that popped up “out of nowhere”?”
(Remember: Google changes its algorithm hundreds of times per year.)
“All these have to considered to really deliver value in your SEO keyword report,” Johnston says.
Tung Dao of Avada Commerce adds: “Every SEOs who track their keywords know that they fluctuate. So make sure that when you create and present your report, give your boss or client the context of the whole SEO situation. Ranking is important, but it’s just one factor and it might not reflect the big picture very well.”
Plus, Kevin Dhimitri says that “recording a short video using Loom and showing them a ranking graph and what you did to increase ranking can also help the client understand what you do a lot more.”
The CPC of a keyword tells you the average amount that advertisers are paying to show for that term in Google Ads.
However, Tony Heywood of Dentons Digital recommends including this in your organic keyword ranking report “as the hard cash value gives you an idea of how well the keyword converts.”
“It might be a low traffic keyword but if the market is willing to pay top price for it then it is likely to convert at a good rate.”
Pelicoin‘s Sam Olmsted agrees that “keyword ranking reports are vital in any SEO report for a client. They want to see how they’re doing and how far they’ve come due to your efforts.”
“One tip for building an insightful keyword report is to include the search volume of the keywords you are ranking well for,” Olmsted advises.
“Anyone can write a 500-word article about an obscure topic and rank for it on Google. However, if you can create a landing page that ranks well for a high-volume keyword, you’re providing true value for your client. If you don’t include the search volume of your ranking keywords, you are, in a way, hiding the true nature of your results.”
It’s a tactic also used by Yisoo Training, as explained by Tyler Tafelsky: “This enables our team to understand which keywords have the greatest growth potential in producing organic traffic.”
However, Best Company‘s Rochelle Burnside has a word of warning: “When creating a keyword report, pull in more than one metric for the average search volume for a keyword. Instead, pull in data for each keyword’s monthly search volume (over a year) so you can see where it’s affected by seasonality and get a better picture of overall volume.”
“One of my favorite insights to include on keyword ranking reports is click-through rate compared to the average CTR for that keyword’s SERP position,” says Darin Evangelista of Lyda Law Firm.
“For instance, if my keyword is ranking in the #3 spot and my CTR is 8%, I know that I am below average for that position (which is currently 9.19% for mobile according to AWR). From this information, I can extrapolate how much more traffic I would get if my CTR improved to reach the average rate.”
Evangelista adds: “This is a great way to identify pages that could see an immediate boost in traffic with simple meta data tweaks.”
Google Search Console is one of the most popular tools used by SEOs.
“My one tip for an SEO keyword ranking report is to not take Google Search Console position at its face value,” writes Roman Kim of The Sleep Judge.
“The keyword/page position reports in GSC are averaged over time, averaged over location, and averaged over device types. There are too many moving variables that affect this one metric that may not reflect actual performance.”
“I’ve made the error of reporting on this GSC metric to clients in monthly reports in the past. How do you explain if GSC rank is 2 positions lower than last year, but we have more clicks? Sometimes increased impressions from seasonality or regional differences can skew the position numbers negatively, even when your overall performance is better.”
Kim advises: “A better way to report on rankings is to use a rank position tool (SEMRush, Moz, Ahrefs, or many others) that measures absolute position periodically, and from the same location. By taking consistent measurements, we can gauge rankings better over time.”
NorthSide Metrics‘ Dave Rohrer thinks you should “never report on a single keyword. It doesn’t matter if that is the most important keyword for your boss or client. Instead wrap that and others into either category, business units, or some other grouping that makes sense to that business.”
“This way a product manager or business line owner will see not just 1-2 keywords but 25-200 and how their whole vertical is doing in recent weeks and months. The focus on a single keyword simply hurts a business’ ability to focus on the big picture.”
This doesn’t have to be by keyword similarity, though. SoftwarePundit‘s Bruce Hogan shares four other categories:
Robert Taylor says that Advantix Digital‘s “clients always want to know how they rank for a specific keyword but there is more to the story than just a numerical ranking value.”
“Most folks just care about what position their site ranks but don’t ask which pages on their site ranks. This is why we always include the ranking page of the website in our reports, which provides insight into why that keyword is returning that page in the search engine results pages.”
Taylor adds: “Displaying the ranking pages in the keyword reports provides us with 3 important bits of information:
Similarly, Hung Nguyen of Smallpdf thinks you should “include all the URLs a specific keyword ranks for, rather than just the main page published for the purpose of ranking for that one keyword.”
“Doing so will allow you to analyze whether you need to update content to prevent keyword cannibalization, or to define a canonical page to avoid unintended loss of traffic.”
“When building an SEO keyword ranking report, benchmark the performance of important keywords against your competitors,” Synthesio‘s Anna Tolette advises.
“Are their pages consistently ranking higher than yours? If so, what about their content or SEO strategy is different from yours? Or, which of your own pages are consistently performing well compared to your competitors?”
Tolette explains: “This gives you insight into what topics or strategies are working for your brand. Constant evaluation and benchmarking keep you up to date on changes in the industry and your competitors’ performance.”
Dan Rawley of Twinkl Educational Publishing adds: “Benchmarking keyword ranking progress against competitors targeting the same terms adds context to ranking movements, and is a great way of securing buy-in from clients or business stakeholders.”
“In SEO, there are few things that will please them more than being able to see your rankings increase while competitors drop in real-time.”
Jesus Meca puts this into practice: “If the company ABC wants to rank for ‘credit cards’, we can compare ABC rankings with Nerdwallet, CreditCards.com, Credit Karma and Fool.com.”
“If ABC company is not ready to compete with the top, we can compare it with companies that are ranking between them and the top. This is a good way to celebrate progress when we surpass competitors rankings.”
Isn’t it frustrating when you open a marketing report and see a huge wall of text? (Or worse, a spreadsheet of numbers that make you feel like you need a mathematics degree to understand?)
“SEO ranking reports need to be easy to digest,” says Lisa Parmley of IP Enterprises. “Hopefully, you had goals you were hoping to achieve and you need to keep these in mind.”
“For instance, I’m currently working on another piece of pillar content. I have a primary along with several secondary keywords that I’m hoping to rank for.”
“I will organize all these keywords on the report and even highlight them with different colors (one color for the primary and a different color for the secondary). You can organize all the content from your site in this manner and see at a glance how your content is doing for specific search phrases.”
Wiza‘s Brooklin Nash also does this: “Including a visual element can be extremely helpful in getting the big picture month over month (and over an entire year).
*Editor’s note: You don’t need to be an expert in design to show your data in a way that’s easy to digest and understand. We have a range of templates that automatically pull your keyword ranking data from popular tools like Google Search Console, SEMrush, and Accuranker:
It’s easy to fall into the trap of only recording the keywords for your content marketing strategy. However, 46% of Google searches are for local businesses; you could be missing out on tons of keyword data by limiting your report.
Fannit‘s Neil Eneix recommends “including local city rankings in your keyword report so you client can see position 1-3 rankings you’ve achieved from city or county level searches.”
“Most typical keyword trackers don’t have this capability. It’s more expensive to track – we use agency analytics – but it provides a lot more granular data for growth and lead generation in targeted areas.”
Jeremy Cross’ team at Team Building Atlanta thinks “you should indicate whether individual rankings are trending upward or downwards” in a keyword ranking report.
“Sometimes a report can be misleading if, for example, it shows a top three ranking for the last 80 days, followed by a drop in the last 10 days. By providing an indication of upward or downward momentum, the person reviewing the report can take action on it.”
“In this way, you can focus on the keywords for which you are losing ranking, while also making sure that you put the necessary efforts into retaining ranking where you do well,” Mashvisor’s Daniela Andreevska explains.
Phil Forbes of Packhelp also thinks this is important because “time is a massive massive factor when it comes to keywords.”
“Where were you ranking for these keywords 12, 6, 3 and 1 month ago? Seeing their movement over time is crucial, your report is useless unless you can say why your keywords have moved the way they’ve moved.”
This might be why the majority of our experts create and deliver keyword ranking reports monthly:
Growth Hackers‘ Jonathan Aufray agrees: “For an insightful SEO keyword ranking report, you want to show the progress that has been made. In which position these keywords ranked last month or last quarter compared to now. This is how you show progress, growth, and results.”
“SEO is a long term game; you’re not going to rank first overnight,” Toni JV of JVT Media adds. “Instead, focus on reporting your keyword ranking over time. This also allows you to troubleshoot if something isn’t rising in the ranks.”
Remember how earlier, we mentioned you should use more tools than just Google Search Console?
Matt Slaymaker of Folsom Creative‘s advice follows a similar concept: “Never look at just one metric. Always cross-analyze your SEO keyword rankings with multiple metrics.”
“Instead of simply looking at keyword impressions, look at impressions and current position. Instead of simply looking at keyword clicks, look at clicks and CTR.”
“Doing so will paint a much more complete picture, and allow you to see not only the keywords that are being searched often, but how you currently rank for them, and what more you can be doing to boost your ranking for those particular keywords.”
Kyle Berkman of Hotels4Teams explains: “Between the constant Google’s broad core updates and fluctuation of resources at 3rd party services, you can never be sure you’re getting the whole picture, especially with larger projects.”
“I suggest utilizing standalone software, such as SEO Powersuite Rank Tracker, to directly verify all results, and don’t be afraid to spot-check those results with actual searches.”
It’s tempting to include all of the best data in your keyword ranking report. You want stakeholders or clients to think, “wow! They’re doing an incredible job.”
But a report isn’t just to highlight your wins. Use it as your way to find opportunities to pull up your keyword rankings even further, as Beaconstac‘s Sneh Ratna Choudhary explains: “Don’t leave out keywords that your page is ranking for on the second page.”
“Optimizing it with high intent keywords, long-tail keywords and adding structured data can improve its rankings.”
According to Igor Avidon of Avidon Marketing Group, “keyword rankings by themselves are fairly meaningless. They don’t say what the ranking does for the company on a business level (sales or leads).”
“The only way to showcase the true value of achieved rankings for any given keyword is to make sure you also show how that translates into business impact – how much revenue or how many leads the page drove.”
Directive‘s Brendan Hufford agrees: “Often SEOs like to show off the big traffic numbers, but keyword rankings should be focused on the higher ROI keywords that drive real business results, not just vanity metrics.”
This is why Claire Shaner warns to “never produce a report that just says which keywords you rank for. Also, include clicks from each of those keywords and actions taken on your site after the click.”
“Sometimes you rank in the top ten for a keyword but that ranking does nothing for your bottom line.”
“For example, here at ZooWho our features page ranks in the top 5 for a high volume keyword that’s the name of an unrelated business. The search intent of that keyword has nothing to do with us. Even though our site ranks highly for the keyword, the content that ranks does not match the search intent of the keyword and so it doesn’t do anything for our business.”
It’s a tactic also used by Adam Kirk’s team at Ketchup Marketing: “We convert that base metric into more valuable data, e.g. how many sign-ups/purchases come from people who accessed the site using that keyword.”
“By allocating keywords to specific pages, we are able to show actual business benefit – revenue, leads, etc – linked to improvements in keyword ranking.”
Summarizing, Matthew Woodward adds: “Everyone is obsessed with ranking number 1 for as many keywords as possible. But if those rankings aren’t sending you traffic that converts, then there is no point.”
“You need to build a report that shows you exactly what revenue each keyword is producing and act accordingly in terms of that data.”
“One tip for building an insightful SEO keyword ranking report is to always outline your procedure. By this I mean, outlining what you have already done to work towards meeting the SEO goals,” says Ellie-Paige Moore of The Bolt Way.
“This is also a great way to show off what you’ve completed so far as well to meet the other SEO goals, for example, writing missing meta descriptions, including alt attributes for images or fixing redirects.”
“This may seem an obvious thing but it can easily be forgotten,” Moore continues.
“People love to see the evidence of the investment they’re putting into yourself and any other third party costs such as SEO software. They want to know that it’s paying off, so always take care to remind whoever it is that you’re reporting to what they’re paying you to do and show how effective you’ve been already.”
“One tip would be to not waste time in reporting numbers that you don’t need,” says MintResume‘s William Taylor. “People often don’t know how much time some reports cost and therefore before starting to make the reports, you should know how valuable those numbers are to your business.”
“If you can’t influence the numbers at all, then what’s the reason looking at them? It’s a waste of time. Only report KPIs that show the results of the conversion optimization work, campaigns, content changes, etc. That makes it possible to act on them and continue improving.”
“Whenever I prepare a report for our team or for a client, I first delete the noise,” adds Alex Robinson of Team Building Hero. “Here’s what I mean.”
“Everyone ranks for long-tail keywords that are irrelevant for actual business purposes. For example, you may be a B2B business and in a specific article you mention a tiny town in rural Canada, and pick up some low-level rankings for that town’s name.”
“This ranking is just noise. It can be impressive to show that you rank for thousands of keywords, but I would prefer to show only the dozens or hundreds that actually serve a business purpose.”
Mike LaLonde of Londes Digital Marketing agrees: “As Google continues to build on its “synonym” engine that treats similar keywords essentially the same, the need to add variations for major keywords becomes less and less important. Or at least check on them much less frequently.”
“You can better summarize organic strength by looking at a handful of 10 unique keywords that cover a business’ services than 50 variations of the same words.”
“When [Kiwi Creative] create keyword ranking reports for clients, we aim for them to be immediately actionable,” says Giselle Bardwell.
“Within the report, we highlight keywords that our client ranks for, along with those that have the potential to rank. This creates a long list of keywords that have varying impressions, clicks, CTRs, and SERP positions.”
“However, we also aim to bolster this data, which is where our tip spawns from. A keyword that ranks low and seems relevant may not be worth strategy and content work if the search volume is quite low.”
Bardwell continues: “When creating an SEO strategy, it is best to target long-tail keywords with high search volume and SERP competition. Since we include the search volume in our reports, we can identify queries to target on pages two and three that have adequate search volume so we use our client’s budget most effectively.”
Augurian‘s Megan Upperman thinks that “part of building an insightful keyword report is to include highlights of the challenges that you’ll face in trying to improve rankings for your most important keywords.”
“I recommend including information about which pages rank for your priority keywords as well as sites identified as organic competitors by a tool like SEMrush.”
Dave Amoroso of Ron Sonntag Public Relations adds: “Assuming the data is accurate, the value of the report then depends on the thoughtfulness of the analysis.”
“You can have a dozen tools and bots scanning your site, but it takes a human to determine who this company is, who its customers are, what they want, and therefore where the keywords are falling short in the report’s data.”
Now you know how to create a keyword ranking report, there’s no excuse for relying on Excel sheets to show off your awesome results.
Put these expert tips into practice and you’ll be left with an engaging report to show how your keyword rankings change, the strategy you used to get there, and how you’ll improve even further.
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