The Art of Communication Through SEO Reporting
What is a report without an eye-catching design? A drab piece of paper filled with texts, columns, and rows. The creativity of SEO does not just stop at SEO. It continues throughout the reporting process and should be an important part of every portion of your SEO work. The three main objectives of building your own eye-catching, beautiful reports lies in the three letters of the acronym: ROI (there’s that pesky acronym again!).
Reviewing Performance and Analytics
Beautiful reports provide simple, easy to understand reviews of performance benchmarks, analytics goals, and a month to month, year to year identification of issues in strategy. These reports at the end of the day lend to an improvement in communication from the SEO to the CEO, and should optimize the reporting process and make everything more efficient. If discussion of analytics and all of these details turn into a long tome of useless information, it may be time to revamp your reporting strategy.
Ongoing Strategy Improvement
Using beautifully designed reports that display analytics data on a monthly basis will give you an opportunity to review and make adjustments to SEO strategy. Is what we are doing working or is it resulting in…no results? If the former, then you won’t have to make any changes. If it’s the latter, then you will probably want to re-examine and make adjustments to your strategy to take advantage of potential gains in traffic and conversions.
Improvement in Communication
Well-designed reports also provide an improvement in communication than what would otherwise be possible with the other variety. Using pretty graphs and additional creative flair in your reports can result in an improvement in communication when done right. Plus, you can also improve your credibility by using the correct flavor of reporting to communicate these all important factors to the CEO.
How to Communicate Through These Reports
For those who are newer to the industry, it’s a daunting task to go through all of the data and unlocking the secrets they contain. It’s even more intimidating to present this information to the CEO or owner of the company – the one you need to communicate correctly to in order to gain access to proper decisions that can move the company’s SEO strategy forward. However, to the SEO newbie, you may not realize that there is information that management cares about, and information that is useless.
Don’t Speak in Confusing Technical Jargon
If the Money Guys Are Interested, Discuss the Important Metrics They Should Care About
It is important to discuss details, yes. And you should even go so far as to start discussing the metrics that led to the improvements in results. Be sure to offer a solid explanation of what these metrics mean, why they are important, and why you are bringing them up in the meeting. This way, you can ensure that everyone is on the same page. But, if the CEO is not interested in technical jargon in any way, it’s usually best to go the simple route and communicate the overall improvement that SEO strategy has provided. Remember, you never want to mislead or lie or misrepresent results!! To do so would be foolish and could jeopardize your reputation later. Always make sure that you present results in a true to life, accurate fashion that provides real data that the CEO can then mull over later if they choose to do so.
It is important to communicate the CEO language rather than the SEO language. While the SEO is well versed in the many details involved in SEO and knows the difference between a Meta NOINDEX,NOFOLLOW tag and NOINDEX,FOLLOW, the CEO may not. Don’t bore everyone with all these details if it is not necessary. But of course, if they ask, it’s a good idea to go over them.
The Devil is in The Details: How a Single Metric Can Be Messed Up by Bad Interpretation
It happens. You have gone through hundreds of different situations where the data could be something else, but the interpretation always winds up exactly where it was before. But then, you realize that something else you did completely alters the results of the initial analysis. But, you come to this realization about two weeks after that last meeting! Bad interpretation of a single metric can mess up even the prettiest of laid out results.
If you don’t make sure that your metrics are accurate, how can anyone trust the validity of your reporting? Following this point during your reporting can help you make sure that you keep in mind everything that has gone into your SEO campaign. As your accuracy improves, you will see how quickly the validity of a report can become undone by the misinterpretation of a single metric.
For example, say that you try to attribute the fact that the 300 pages of content you added this month drove your improvement in traffic, but you built 8,500 links as well? If you built those links, then it’s also possible that the traffic came from those links and has no relation to the content you posted. Going through the content section in Google Analytics that discusses all of your individual pages will be able to help you determine what pages got the best traffic. Going through your list of links built will help you determine the exact pages you built links to, and can help you weed out those pages that have delivered significantly on traffic as a result of link building.
Don’t always assume that a metric you are reporting was attributed to content or links unless you have done a deep dive into the analytics and have weeded out the results that say it was links.
How To Generate Proper Reporting to Determine the Next Step in SEO Strategy
As is generally accepted throughout the SEO industry, building a solid SEO strategy requires solid SEO reporting. It’s important to obtain accurate numbers if you are going to move forward with real strategy. Without accurate numbers, if you don’t get results, then it’s usually down to a faulty strategy that’s based on industry assumptions rather than proper reporting that is correctly attributed to the website in question. So how do you use these reports to arrive at proper SEO decisions?
Well, first of all, it is important to build reports over time. A report that shows leads and analytics metrics generated month after month will be able to tell you everything about your strategy. If you made a change back in February that resulted in a dip, then you will probably want to bring back that modification and remove the new one. If, however, you made a change in March that resulted in a significant increase in traffic, of course you will want to keep that change. Using leads and many other metrics in this manner of trending reports will be able to tell you stories about your SEO strategy that could otherwise be missed if you didn’t include this information. By reporting like this, you can avoid industry assumptions and can just go by what your comprehensive data tells you.
For example, if your data says that an increase in leads was the result of a change made to the contact form about 5 months ago, you have cause for celebration. If a change you made to links across the website 4 months ago resulted in a dip in traffic, then you need to re-examine why you made that change and revert the website back to its prior state.
Using such trending reports will be able to help you communicate and show how your efforts have generated a positive ROI. This is always the best outcome – everybody’s a winner and everybody’s happy! The next step is to use these reports to determine the next move in your SEO strategy. To do this, it’s important to focus on the ongoing reporting of your strategy.
It’s Not Done At The Monthly Meeting: Ongoing Reporting
If you are new to SEO, you might be under the assumption that reporting for the month is over until the day of the next month that you have to build your reports. Not true. You should always have the mindset from one report to the next that you are going to be devoting a ton of effort to improving your website’s analytics by the day of the reporting. Not just hoping that that last push is going to save you for that month. You should always have a month to month focus on your ultimate goal to bring in even more leads and customer acquisitions month after month. No discussion of ongoing reporting is complete without the types of focus in SEO, so let’s discuss the different types of people in SEO and how they focus on strategy:
The Day to Day SEO Guru
This SEO specialist has a daily mindset. He keeps improving on his numbers day after day, always progressing and always growing. In his mind, it is progress that must be made. If he stagnates, he gets frustrated but turns that frustration into further improvement at the end of the day and channels it into positive productive energy. He works hard all day long rather than in spurts. He keeps up on his SEO knowledge, and has everything at his fingertips to tell him what’s wrong with a specific solution. Even if it’s not in his own mind. If it’s not, his mind can put together the solution in an instant using his own resources.
The Fly by Night Month to Month SEO Wonder
The focus of this SEO specialist is always the end of the month numbers. Everyone wants to see improvement at the end of the month. However, his sights are set so high on the end of the month numbers that he misses the day to day things he should be doing that are important that will show improvement. This kind of person darts from task to task, never focusing on any one thing long enough for it to get done efficiently. Unfortunately, this is usually reflected in results at the end of the month.
The Year to Year Committed SEO Wizard
This individual in SEO is committed day to day, year round, month to month. They can adapt their focus from the small picture to the very large picture. They can write code, they can create programs that will help their workload efficiency. They can identify problems in strategy that may not be readily apparent to the day to day or even month to month SEO wonder. They take on short term projects and long term projects, and know exactly how to stay on top of them to get things done. In addition, they are involved in the SEO community and can keep tabs on everything going on in search. They have a razor focused mind and can identify issues on the website itself quickly, oftentimes being able to do so without looking it up, because they have been through all the resources before. These are usually more experienced people in the industry, but less experienced people can also have these qualities. The trick is being able to identify them.
The year to year committed SEO wizard is someone you know who will get the job done and get it done right and not miss any details.
The Importance of Communicating Improvement in Ongoing Reporting
Anyone who has worked with SEO clients know that they expect results. If you have set your clients’ expectations properly, you won’t have to worry too much about communicating results at the monthly reporting session. If you have been doing your job properly, you will have improvement to communicate at every monthly meeting. While it may not necessarily be improved SERP results every time due to a wide variety of factors, you should still report on how the website is doing. And, report on the results of your work thus far. If you have built 700+ links, say so. If you have removed over 500 toxic links from the link profile, mention this ongoing effort too.
Don’t sugar coat or mislead your client into thinking there are better results when there aren’t. With your spiel pun the proper way, your client will come away from the reporting meeting satisfied that they are still seeing results. But, make sure that you are communicating the truth about what’s going on properly.
Proper Metric Benchmarks: Using Your Prior Website Data
Building a solid SEO plan means showing improvement month to month and year to year. You always want to be better! Using the prior website data in trend reports will show this. In order to properly use metric benchmarks, you want to use your own website data. Don’t just use general industry assumptions and information from self-proclaimed SEO gurus. If you use a cookie cutter method, you can expect cookie cutter results. If you are ever in doubt regarding the approach you should use when reporting results comparisons, always use prior website data as a benchmark. If you don’t have prior website data, then work extra hard to make the first year a year to compare next year against!
You should not be using another website’s performance indicators. Whether it is a website that you have built prior that is related to this one, or another site, using another website’s performance indicators will muddy the waters and give you inferior results. Use your current website and its existing analytics data in order to communicate proper improvement in results.
Communicating an increase in performance, of course, is essential. Always make it a point at your monthly meetings to discuss the improvement in website analytics metrics. This will require a deep dive into the nitty gritty details, but if you have been doing your job, you should have no issues communicating such improvement!
I Just Got Hit by Panda, Penguin, or Both: Building a Successful Case for Sudden Drops in Traffic
It’s the nightmare of every SEO. You sit down at your desk in the morning, and turn on your computer. You fire up analytics as you sip your morning coffee. Your heart sinks. You see a 50% drop in traffic overnight. This is impossible. You know you have been keeping up with Google’s guidelines. You know you haven’t done anything remotely “spammy” according to Google. So what went wrong? Zooming your big-picture, small-picture mindset in closer reveals that there was a penguin update last night. You realize that a lot of the links you have been building contributed to this decline. And, even worse – it’s two days before the monthly meeting. AGH!!! NOO!!
First off, don’t panic. Many SEOs have found themselves in similar situations since the beginning of the rolling updates occurred that included algorithm changes that stabbed the little bits and pieces of the Google algorithm that SEOs have enjoyed exploiting year after year. Once you have seen this hit your site, how do you build your case to communicate sudden drops in traffic without losing your credibility?
It is not about lying or manipulating. It is about telling the truth. No one wants a liar or manipulator in their ranks when monthly reporting is at stake.
Step 1: Audit the Changes You Have Made Over the Last Week
Assuming that you have yet to identify a major update that occurred overnight, investigate the changes you have been making over the past week. Make sure that every piece of content wasn’t even remotely spammy. Make sure that keyword cannibalization or overuse didn’t occur. Make sure that you didn’t do something accidentally that triggered an update against you. Make sure that the last 100 pages of content you added were not added so fast that it triggered a red flag for spam. Make sure you have not been building a ton of spammy links to your site.
Step 2: Continue Going Through Your Social Media Streams for Relevant Confirmations
If you have followed any SEOs on Twitter or Facebook for any length of time, reviewing your social media streams should reveal a number of website fluctuations occurring over the past evening. Further investigation should also reveal a possible update. Maybe Google even officially declared that an update hit (this is generally rare for Google to do, however).
Step 3: Research SEO News Sites For Confirmation
If your social media streams don’t reveal updates occurring, check the SEO news sites like SEroundtable.com or SearchEngineLand.com for confirmation of Search Engine updates. This should provide enough information that will allow you to proceed to step 4.
Step 4: Analyze Your Traffic For Proper Drops & Correlations
Once you have confirmed the existence of an overnight update, analyze your traffic for the drops. Usually, algorithm affected areas of your traffic will drop almost exactly 50% or so, give or take a few percentage points. Although, depending on your situation it may be even more. Identify the correlative drop in analytics traffic with the appropriate update that occurred, and you will be able to show that yes, your site was hit by an algorithmic penalty and you can pinpoint exactly when it happens.
Of course, as with any changes on the website itself, correlation is not always causation, so make sure that you are comparing apples to apples rather than apples to oranges when you’re making your case with your data. Don’t assume that something is the cause without a deeper dive and, if necessary, further testing to corroborate the initial results.
How to Trace Your Efforts through On-Going Analytics
It may seem obvious and simple to those who have been in the industry for awhile, but it’s probably not so obvious to others who haven’t been. If you want to trace your efforts through ongoing trending analytics, include all of those metrics that management cares about in your report. By using a comprehensive report, you will be able to identify weaknesses in your strategy and build a plan to improve them. Don’t just use three metrics or four, but include the details. Include how many pages you’re posting, how many links you’re building for everyone – like SEOmoz – be as transparent as possible. Your work will show in your efforts and everyone will be able to appreciate more of everything that you do as a result of comprehensive communication.
Final Notes on Conversions, Analytics, and Reporting
It’s never done at the end of the month!! The next month comes around, and you will need to do it again. As you become a more experienced reporting wizard, you will want to continue to keep your statistics from month to month so you can use your big-picture, small-picture abilities to make more effective SEO decisions. Ongoing tracking is so important, and it should be re-iterated here – ongoing tracking will help you identify issues in your strategy and overcome them so that you can improve your SERP positions. This is why it’s important to invest time in the details of those important metrics that your management cares about. This way, you will always be able to communicate with them properly so that everyone is on the same page every month.
Using analytics metrics to communicate results is important. You should be able to show a direct correlation between what you are outputting and the results that are actually occurring. If you are not able to show this, then it’s possible you are not doing enough and need to step back and re-examine your strategy. Or the search engines haven’t updated their algorithms with everything you have done yet (also important to mention). Or, you may need to completely revamp the strategy you are executing. Whatever your decision, be sure that it is backed by the metrics that are most important to the people who are involved at every decision point in the SEO process.