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Case Study | Aug 10
Elise Dopson on January 2, 2020 (last modified on February 4, 2020) • 28 minute read
If you don’t know which areas of your SEO strategy are doing well, and activities you should steer clear of, how can you fly to the top of the SERPs for your ideal customers?
Unfortunately, creating an SEO report that your team or clients want to read is a tricky job.
It’s tough to know what you should include in an SEO report, the KPIs you should report on, and the detail your client actually wants to know. (Spoiler alert: It isn’t a 40-page document that waffles on and on.)
That’s why we asked 68 pros to share their thoughts.
We’ll share a complete 27-point checklist of things they recommend including in any SEO report, such as:
*Editor’s note: Every SEO expert has a goal of reaching the top positions in a search engine. You can identify areas for improvement, and view your most important metrics all in one place, using our Improve Your Google Search Position dashboard:
We all know the feeling: You open an SEO report and feel overwhelmed with the number of numbers in there. What do they actually mean? And where should you start?
“Too many marketers focus on raw data that is often presented in a difficult to understand way,” says Pixus‘ Atanas Valchev.
“Clients usually have little to no marketing experience so receiving a report without any sort of explanation can be frustrating.”
“It’s important to highlight the most important things about the report at the very beginning and explain what this means for your client’s business in simple terms. Go the extra mile by including an action plan for dealing with any issues and explore opportunities for improvement.”
Chances are, you’ve got a list of SEO tasks that you’ve completed for the website you’re reporting on.
Jonathan Kelly of 1st On The List thinks: “A summary/breakdown of tasks can go a long way to letting the clients know that you are actually spending time on their SEO when numbers, graphs, and stats aren’t always on the up.”
“Sometimes SEOs tend to overestimate how much their clients understand what they are doing. Offering insights into WHAT you are doing can go a long way in establishing trust and showing your clients the value of your work, as often the tedious tasks SEOs do are exactly why they hired you in the first place.”
Daniel Wittler explains how they do this at Stodzy Internet Marketing: “I love to show off are pages that have been optimized for SEO, simple yet effective stuff like title tag adjustments, some tweaks on meta descriptions, or filling out alt texts on images.”
“If you show someone the tweaks you have made to their site and then a couple of weeks later their traffic goes up, you look like a marketing wizard. It’s amazing what small changes can do to a website and it’s traffic.”
Promo‘s Andre Guelmann adds: “SEO is very complex and we don’t know and can’t control most of the ranking factors, so it’s important to understand, if something changes, if it is, indeed, the result of one specific action you took or something beyond your control.
Did you know that Google receives over 75,000 searches per second?
Some of our marketers think it’s important to know how many of those searchers turn into website visitors.
Vanessa Barthelmes of Jadore Vanessa explains how you can find this data: “I like to drill down to the acquisition reports in Google Analytics. This can show me the traffic difference based on traffic acquisition. Being SEO focused I focus on the increase of organic traffic.
“You can drill down to see which pages users are landing on. I look at the top 10 pages and see where they rank on Google. From there we can ascertain if we need to add more content to the page in order to increase traffic by rising up the rankings of Google.”
MintResume‘s William Taylor adds that you can “use the Source/Medium section of the traffic report in Google Analytics. It’ll give you more details on where the traffic is coming from. You can use this info to conclude where you should spend your time and money.”
Callie O’Grady of Kanuka Digital concludes: “All the SEO activities that we carry out are to ultimately get clients websites found in search results and to get then to click through to the website. So the higher the organic traffic then I know we are doing our job right.”
However, don’t fall into the trap of considering Google to be the be-all and end-all of organic traffic, as Futurety‘s Dinah Adams says: “Always include user acquisition from organic channels, including Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Duck Duck Go.”
“Most SEO experts focus their work on optimizing for Google, which means that organic Google search acquisition is most relevant for SEO reports. However, changes in other search engine algorithms can affect your traffic and should be monitored regularly.”
You know how many people are arriving at your site through organic search. But how much do you really know about them?
Jasz Joseph of SyncShow thinks “it is helpful to know where your organic sessions are coming from.”
“As Google is crawling sites mobile-first, it is important to know if your users are also coming from mobile. From there, you can optimize accordingly,” Joseph adds.
Amelia Whyman of Global App Testing thinks that within an SEO report, “you need to be able to see clearly which specific pages are getting more, or less, organic traffic, so you can track whether any changes you make have had a positive or negative impact on your ranking.”
“Let’s say you change the text on a pillar page, and the next month you notice a significant organic traffic drop. It could be plausible that your changes negatively impacted SEO, so this data could prove valuable in whether you should revert to the original text.”
Robbie Richards says: “One of the reports I like to provide in my Databox dashboards is a segmented view of organic traffic and conversions across the different areas of the site – blog, solution, product, feature and comparison folders.”
“This way, I can review overall traffic and conversion growth from organic channels, and then drill down and see how each area of the site is performing.”
“Clients really like this report because it allows them to get a more granular view into where, and how much growth is occurring. Overall traffic might be up, but the feature pages are declining. This reports quickly surfaces the problem and allows you to rectify it,” Richards adds.
“One thing that should be included in every SEO report is unbranded traffic. In other words, traffic from organic search queries that does not contain your brand name,” says Adept Marketing‘s Lincoln Rinehart.
“A website will always rank highly for its own brand in organic search. SEO really can only impact unbranded searches, and unbranded searches are the main source of SEO traffic and lead growth.”
Rinehart adds: “For this data, I refer to Google Search Console. I exclude queries containing the brand name. On a regular basis I also consult Google Analytics, Google My Business, and SEMrush.”
Given this usage, it’s no wonder why Google Search Console is the most popular SEO tool to pull data from:
“Generally, we want to see an increase in the number of keywords your site is ranking for. This means that you are casting a larger net and more people will see your website and brand,” Colin Mosier of JSL Marketing & Web Design says.
Nick Herntier of WebDesignsApp agrees: “I like to include the “organic” search results numbers from previous weeks and months [in an SEO report.] “This way the client can see if what I’ve been doing has helped increase their organic traffic (which SEO is meant to do).”
N2Q Consulting‘s Madison Hallen also advises to group “relevant keywords that are targeted toward buyer intent.”
“Searching for keywords on a tool may seem easy, but if you want to strengthen your SEO efforts, keywords must be creative, relevant, with proper searcher intent, with good search volumes and easy to average ranking difficulty.”
Fani Zacharopoulou of TalentLMS adds: “Looking at these frequently will help you understand how “visible” you are compared to your competitors. And it will help you identify issues that need to be fixed.”
Software Path‘s Michael Carr recommends to “always include keyword rankings for highest traffic pages in a monthly SEO report.”
“This allows us to quickly identify potential root causes for organic traffic increases or decreases, based on keyword movement which is important to evaluate performance and determine areas for improvement.”
It’s standard practice to monitor search rankings weekly. But monthly SEO reporting, like Carr suggests, is the most popular frequency:
Carr continues: “Should a keyword ranking decrease, we’re able to pinpoint specific pages that require more attention. When we track keyword rankings, we can more accurately measure the outcomes of our SEO work.”
“I always find it incredibly satisfying to see improvements in the rankings for keywords on a page that has been the target of SEO improvement. It allows you to celebrate your successes and demonstrate positive outcomes to your business or clients around the keywords that are important to them.”
“The one thing we put in every SEO report is the changes to keyword position in the search engine results page (SERP),” writes FlashPoint Marketing‘s Brian Swanson. “This permits clients to see how our work is resulting in short and long term changes to visibility. “
“Although the ultimate measurement of effectiveness is the number of inquiries through the site, this metric acts as a “midpoint” allowing the client to understand how day-to-day tasks and activities are impacting overall visibility.”
Jacy Johnson of Adams Media Group agrees: “This is also a good evaluation metric – an SEO project is nothing if not improving rankings for core keywords and this is a good litmus test for whether we are on the right track. It’s easy to present to both clients and executives.”
Jamie Steidle explains that you can find this through Google Search Console, “as these are the terms that people are using to find your website.”
“Seeing these can help you keep up with your keywords and latest SEO strategies so you can improve your content with keywords people are actually using to discover you.”
“Inversely, you can use this information to find what you aren’t ranking, determining this keyword gap can help you with new SEO efforts. This information is invaluable,” Steidle adds.
Jow Lawlor of Digital Dynasty summarizes: “Whether they’re increasing or decreasing – is the one thing that should be in every SEO report. It’s exactly what the client wants to know as well as it keeps everyone on the same page with whether progress is being made or not.”
UKAD‘s Bezvesilnyi Artem likes to “include the impressions metric in each SEO report both done for our clients and during the company’s promotion.”
It helps me to analyze overall websites’ positions, keywords performance and then look for a way to convert impressions to clicks, clicks to conversions, and finally conversions to profits. Otherwise, if I see only growing impressions with the same clicks amount and/or conversion rate, it’s time to examine the keywords pool or content relevance, or website usability.”
Artem continues: “Impression examination works very well both for eCommerce, corporate websites, governmental portals, personal blogs, even single-page landings. And it doesn’t require any paid tools, the only thing you need is access to Google Search Console.”
“This gives you a view as to which keywords outside of the top 10 are really starting to gather more impressions. And it’s these keywords that can often present clear opportunities for more focus and optimization on the associated landing page,” Alistair Dodds of Ever Increasing Circles adds.
Sem Poell of Webiteers agrees: “In every SEO report the number of impressions – of the most important pages – must be visible, combined with the corresponding keywords for each page.”
“These metrics must be compared with the previous period to quickly recognize positive or negative organic growth. By making a link with Google Search Console, these metrics can easily be retrieved.”
*Editor’s note: Keep track of how many impressions your keywords are receiving with our Google Search Console Basics dashboard. It’ll show you the most important metrics pulled directly from your account, including your top pages and queries:
When including keyword data in your SEO report, Ben Capu of Fu Dog Media also recommends adding the search volume: “Ranking for low volume keywords is pretty much a waste of time and effort.”
“Some SEO companies will attempt to pull the wool over their client’s eyes by showing them rankings for keywords and key phrases that aren’t used in organic searches by internet users.”
“If you want to devise a useful SEO campaign, you need to target both low volume and high volume searches. […] It is important to go one step more to look at the volume of a keyword, and reexamine it often to look for industry trends and changes in what people are searching for.”
But according to Alexander De Ridder of INK Content Inc, you shouldn’t just report on the search volume for a keyword. You should include trend patterns for search volume because “you can’t interpret organic search visitor count results without search volume trends.”
“One particularly great way to showcase your SEO results is by comparing your clients’ trends to their immediate competition and industry,” De Ridder adds.
“Clients care about ROI and calls/sales,” says Jason Eland of Eland Consulting. “Traffic without conversions are just vanity metrics. If you can not show how many contacts are coming from your SEO efforts then you won’t be employed for long.”
“The key here is contacts because you cannot control the client’s sales process. However, you can show and address the problem with conversion data.”
Eland continues: “We use CallRail for call tracking, UTM tags, Google My Business insights, Google Analytics events, and conversion tracking. You might not capture all conversions but it is far better than not having any metrics.”
But according to Adam Colbert of Rocket 31, conversions aren’t just sales. They should relate to your goals: “If it’s an ecommerce site, we include organic revenue. If it’s a lawyer, we include calls/leads generated from organic traffic.”
Webconsuls‘ John McGhee agrees: “Conversions are the culmination of every other digital metric, and typically the metric that is most important to the customer. Increasing conversions is the main goal of most marketing campaigns, and digital agencies should give updates on the status of conversion growth.”
Fueled‘s Max Falb adds: “From this data, you can also improve ROI by focusing on pages and outlets that can lead to high-quality leads and conversions.”
You don’t have to include the actual number of conversions in your reports, though. Blip Billboards‘ Auston Shong says: “Every SEO report should include the conversion rate for the website.”
Make sure you’ve got Google Analytics ecommerce goal tracking set-up to find this.
When you have, head to Conversions > Ecommerce > Overview. Click the “Organic Traffic” segment to view conversion-specific data from people who’ve arrived through search engines:
Shong continues: “Everything hinges on what percent of people complete a goal. It can be harder to justify organic efforts because results aren’t immediate but, keeping an eye on conversion rate is great for showing the impact of what you do.”
Online Hikes‘ Andrew Guh says: “Your traffic doesn’t matter, if it doesn’t deliver any leads, signups, subscribers, etc. And vice versa, if you only have limited organic traffic, but it drives conversions – this traffic is much more valuable.”
“Every SEO report needs to have the top landing page traffic gains and bosses [because] it’s hard to make accurate decisions when you’re staring at 1000 URLs. I believe to segment out the top 10-20 URLs that gained traffic or lost traffic over a time period,” says Evie Digital‘s Dwayne Hogan.
Search Optimism‘s Sam Olmsted explains how to find this: “In Google Analytics, filter your view to only see organic results. This allows you to block out traffic from ads or referrals.”
“From there, look at your top-visited landing pages so you can see the first pages that visitors are getting to on your site.”
Ellie-Paige Moore of the bolt way adds: “By looking at the page level traffic, you will be able to find trends and see what people are actually clicking on that is bringing you traffic. This will then enable you to make future recommendations and know if any improvements could be made to other pages that aren’t receiving a lot of visitors.”
“In any SEO report you need to show the correlation between a change in rankings with increased organic traffic and ultimately sales or vice versa,” says Globalx‘s Jonathan Bennett.
“Businesses don’t want to be #1 they want more leads or more revenue. When I’ve worked with agencies in the past they failed to relate revenue to rankings and justifying their fee. Now I handle it all internally, I not only report on our current status but also what we could achieve if we moved further up the rankings.”
“There are some tools like ChartMogul, or even Google Analytics, that can be tuned to monitor and track how SEO campaigns impact the financial performance of your clients,” Sergio Guillén of Accelingo adds.
SuperMoney‘s Yuris Bendiks agrees: “SEOs tend to get bogged down in clicks, visits, impressions, keyword rankings and many other metrics – but all of these are just roundabout ways of measuring revenue.”
“You should always find a way to demonstrate in reporting how SEO is impacting revenue to demonstrate value to your clients.”
“Google ranking, domain authority, and traffic are absolutely important. But, you can have all the traffic in the world if the visitors to your website don’t become your customers,” Stevan Milanković of Eton Digital summarize.
“I always include the value of search traffic in the SEO report. It’s the amount the company would have to spend on search ads to get the same number of visitors,” says Vishal Srivastava of Trainedge Consulting.
“It’s important because the role of SEO is to deliver targeted traffic. The conversion, and sales, are the end results but not something the SEO team can control. So the value of search traffic is the value the SEO team delivers to a business.”
You can find this data for any site in Ahrefs’ Top Pages report:
“You should always include page speed in your SEO reports,” advises Frank Spear of Awesome Motive.
“Sites that load quickly tend to have a higher SEO ranking when compared to similar sites that are not optimized for speed. Individual page speed reports can help you find a correlation between your SEO score and how fast your website loads. This factor is vital for growing your small business or helping your large-medium sized company thrive.”
“Based on 3G loading speed, users leave the page if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. Thus, slow page speed is penalized by the search engines. Hence, lowering the ranking on both mobile and desktop devices.”
It’s something that Simform‘s Hardik Gohil thinks “many marketers often overlook Page Speed Insights […] in the SEO report.”
“This, in my view, is one of the important parameters to ensure great user experience. Poor page speed can definitely harm the SEO performance,” Gohil adds.
Again, you can check the loading times for your website inside Google Analytics. Head to Behavior > Site Speed tab to find out how long it takes for your site to load, along with some suggestions from Google themselves:
Jessica Rhoades’ team at Create IT Web Designs thinks, “The one thing that I make sure is in every SEO report is the word count on their website. We want to make sure that we show a correlation with both their content marketing strategy, the growth on their website, shows along with their word count.”
“Yes, small sites can also rank well in the right niche, but competitive businesses need to rank for more words and we want to see the word count increase on their website.”
“At a minimum, [an SEO report] should include referring domains,” writes Eric Mellmer of Proline Range Hoods.
“Referring domains give insight into the scope of your website – in other words, how vast of an audience it reaches. These are a valuable metric because referring domains tell you that other people see value in your site (it’s content, your products, etc.)”
“If you can communicate to people that you can provide value to them, they’re more likely to link to you – and you’ll consequently obtain more traffic,” Mellmer adds.
Jim Milan of Auto Accessories Garage explains that “tools like Ahrefs allow you to filter out no-follow links which don’t contribute to your site’s domain authority.”
“You can export the followed links into Excel, sort the sheet by date (“First Seen”), and then eliminate any links that were not acquired since the last SEO report,” Milan adds.
Brooklin Nash agrees: “You should always include backlink monitoring, even if you’re not actively building links.”
“Report on new links from top domains, lost links and any domains that you’ve disavowed. Including backlinks in your SEO report will not only create a bigger picture of your client’s optimization but also give them insight into their organic presence elsewhere on the web.”
Artem Klimkin shares the link-related detail they put into SEO reports at Linkshero:
Summarizing, Virtual Storm‘s Storm McManus says: “You should always include an audit of the website’s backlinks in each SEO report and identify which are potentially toxic and which are deemed high quality.”
“This will give you a great idea of how to move forward with your backlinking strategy to support a website’s rankings.”
“The one thing that every SEO report should include is a list of any redirects and/or redirect chains that are happening,” says Jill Caren of 2 Dogs Design.
“This is something that many website owners have but do not know or understand how they are negatively impacting them.”
According to T3‘s Jordann Wilson, “every SEO report should include internal site search queries.”
“They are essentially a mini focus group for your website. These queries are a great source for guiding content creation and paid search keyword development.”
Google Analytics helps you to find the terms people are searching for on your site. Head to Behavior > Site Search > Search Terms:
Insightland‘s Irena Zobniów thinks: “Every SEO report should include keywords positions versus competitors’ positions. It helps you then plan your link building strategy and further actions. Thanks to it, you can see how the positions change in time and optimize your SEO actions.”
“Dwell time should be included in every report,” according to WPBeginner‘s Faizan Ali. “Dwell time indicates if the reader found the content useful and it is also one of Google’s ranking signals.”
“If a user visits your site, goes through the content and then quickly hits the back button then that means that your content didn’t not satisfy the reader’s needs.”
Ali adds: “You need to ensure that the dwell time of your site is high.”
Steve Yanor of Sky Alphabet Social Media also says: “If you are seeing dramatic increases [in impressions] across your target keywords it means you are on the right track so the next level you would want to improve is the click-through rate.”
Do you offer local SEO services? Google My Business listings are likely part of your service offering.
David Sanchez of Digitalis Medical thinks you should include the number of visits to that profile because it “shows how often your local client is displayed in the Map Pack above all the organic results!”
“It proves that your work is providing brand awareness in addition to organic traffic to their site. It also helps to diagnose issues with clickthrough rate, and any gaps in online reviews.”
*Editor’s note: Include key insights from your client’s listing inside your SEO report with our Google My Business Insights dashboard. It shows your top-performing listings, the total searches by source, and how many actions have been taken as a result of your listing:
“When you are creating a report for SEO the key performance indicators (KPIs) must be clear for those reading it to understand whether they are an SEO or a CEO,” says Michael Field.
“I often see SEO reports created that mostly report with no focus in mind and just comparisons of data with no clear story.”
Field explains: “Reports that contain KPIs should be in conjunction with a well-revised target to measure progress, be these sessions, links or certain user actions. Having this in place allows you to dove quickly into the items that fall behind yours or your team’s own expectations.”
“There is nothing worse than having an in-depth SEO report that is filled with stats and data points but no actionable items or analysis. For the client to value an SEO report, it needs to communicate why the numbers are important and what can be done to see improvements,” Joshua Waller of Ontario SEO adds.
Kumo‘s Tieece Gordon agrees: “It’s always important to remember that clients generally don’t have as strong a grasp on SEO as you do meaning it’s up to you to help them understand why things have gone the way they have – both good and bad.”
“It’s probably more difficult to determine a single element that’s applicable to every single report as they should be geared towards the website in question and its purpose.”
Gordon adds: “I’ve honestly wasted a lot of time in the past reporting on metrics that a client simply doesn’t care about.”
“Most clients’ eyes will glaze over when they numbers and data metrics from third-party tools,” says Igor Avidon of Avidon Marketing Group.
“Most of them don’t know the tools or understand the metrics’ significance. Therefore you should always explain in plain language in each report what the data says and what it means for the client’s campaign.”
Metrics and data don’t mean much if there isn’t any context around them.
That’s why Nick Eubanks of From the Future advises to “baseline data to benchmark performance against. Best practice is MoM, QoQ, and YoY, but for some industries are also good to include YTD as well as WoW performance; like Ecommerce for example.”
William Westerlund of Topgamersguide.com agrees: “I always include month on month growth when it comes to traffic, and by that I mean all traffic, organic, direct & referral. By doing this you’ll have a good sight of how the site is performing in terms of traffic.”
“If you notice you’re growing in traffic compared to last month, have a look at what you’ve done this month that made you grow. If you’ve lost traffic, you’ll be able to point out what you did the month before or dive deeper into your data to figure out where you’ve been losing traffic and why,” Westerlund adds.
Resume Pilots‘ Matt Glodz adds: “On reports, I recommend including a column showing week-over-week or month-over-month changes in position rankings for each target keyword to ensure your SEO strategy is on track.”
Reece Mack says Trek Marketing “likes to use set metrics across the board—total visitors, unique visitors, bounce rate, and time spent on page to name a few.”
“This allows the client to see the growth (hopefully) of our work over time and provides us with an opportunity to not only build trust and expertise but also to educate the client on how to read the data accurately.”
“Something which, surprisingly, many people miss off their SEO report [is] actions,” says Digital Quokka‘s Andy Chadwick.
“It’s all very well providing keyword ranking movements, increases/decreases in organic traffic or errors that are in Search Console, but what good is the report if you don’t explain to your client the actions and insights off the back of them.”
Chadwick continues: “By including actions and insights off the back of your report, you are not only signifying to the client you know what you are doing but you are being transparent as well as making it easier for yourself to prioritise and plan your own workload.”
BrandExtract‘s Michael Pyndus adds: “Seeing metrics and analytics is great but your client (or boss) needs to know what it means, why it happened and what you plan to do to rectify something or take advantage of positive momentum.”
Moosend‘s Téa Liarokapi thinks these next steps “should be actionable recommendations based on the report. The data of the report clearly shows what actions need to be taken next, in order for the goal to be reached faster, so it’s only logical to base short-term strategies on them.”
Summarizing, Niamh Hogan of Web Clare says: “Letting the client know what to expect going forward is a crucial aspect of keeping them engaged with the SEO process over time.”
Feeling prepared to create an SEO report your clients will actually read?
Regardless of which SEO metrics you’re using inside your report, Chris Makara summarizes: “The one thing that should be included in every SEO report are KPI’s that were defined at the beginning of the SEO initiative.”
“For example, if it is form submissions, be sure you have goals set up in Google Analytics to track them. If the KPI was top 3 rankings for core keywords, have that data in the report.”
“SEO reports need to get past high-level metrics and really drill down into insight that matters to the client,” Makara says.
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