SEO Reporting: Going Beyond Rankings

Enterprise-level SEO provides consistently outstanding ROI over the life of the project. One of the best ways to substantiate this is through ongoing reporting.

In the past, many SEOs relied simply on providing visibility reports that detailed the rankings for particular keyword phrases within the top search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and MSN/Live Search. Although this type of data can still be an excellent illustrative example of the success of a project, there are many possible ways that reporting of this nature can be misleading or irrelevant from a conversion/revenue perspective.

This week, I’ll discuss the elements of the standard SEO reports that we provide to clients. This isn’t the only way to do it, but our reports are valuable in providing actionable insight into SEO campaigns. Please note that based on the client, we also provide modified/customized reporting formats and dashboards as directed by the project manager and, as possible, based on available resources allocated by the project’s ongoing budget.

Executive Summary

This provides an overview of the campaign performance and the activities performed during the last time period (typically one month). Additionally, this section can provide a number of other metrics, based on the particular client and their analytics tool(s) (such as Omniture, CoreMetrics, etc.). Executive summaries are typically crafted by the account’s senior strategist, and then edited by the project manager for style and consistency with other client communications.

Visibility Reporting

At the onset of an SEO campaign, iterative keyword research dictates the keyword phrases that are targeted for rankings. Ideally, once the keywords are chosen, a baseline or benchmark ranking report for positioning within Google, Yahoo, and MSN is established. This sample of keywords typically ranges from 200 to 2,000 (and more) phrases, and is measured against on an ongoing basis.

Our visibility report provides the baseline ranking, the prior month’s ranking, and the current month’s ranking. It’s important to note that these rankings should be considered as a snapshot in time, as they may not actually match the ranking of the keyword when the report is actually completed and delivered.

A word for the wary: the visibility report can be made intentionally misleading by an unethical SEO providing it. One can “stack the deck” with easy-to-rank-for keywords, if the proper questions aren’t asked when keyword choices are finalized. This can also happen unintentionally, if the SEO is not knowledgeable enough to know which words are important to track.

Analytics Reporting

Analytics should be the primary driver for actionable data included in the SEO ongoing reporting. A number of KPIs (key performance indicators) can apply, but typical ones include organic traffic (broken down into branded and non-branded searches when possible), organic conversion percentage, average order value, revenue per visit and, if possible, instances where organic searches occurred during the purchase path, prior to the final conversion happening via direct traffic or sponsored listings.

My agency is partnered with a company called ClearSaleing, which provides excellent insight into what they’ve termed to be the “Purchase Path.” It’s advisable to use some kind of analytics system that can measure multiple visits, or other ways to provide this kind of additional insight into “hidden” value from SEO.

In some cases, the analytics data will make it into the client dashboard, and in others, it’s sufficient to provide high-level metrics within the executive summary. That’s up to the discretion of the strategist and project manager. The most important thing to remember is that this is the information that should drive ongoing strategy and adjustments to the SEO campaign.

Don’t be fooled by a misleading visibility report! As an SEO client, you should demand further insight into as many metrics as possible, especially organic traffic.

Frank Watson Fires Back

Being informed by your SEO company is definitely something that should be part of your contract. All my clients get a baseline report at the start of all work. It gives you something to measure against. But more importantly, I think conversion and traffic numbers are the real indicator of success.

We have a tendency to look at optimizing and improving a site’s position in the SERPs as the main goal, but realistically, we should be looking at things in terms of conversion. True, the increase in traffic brought through improving SERP position usually leads to more conversions, but as much needs to be done to improve the site’s ability to convert.

Usability is a misunderstood term — we should really be working on convertibility. If you could increase conversion without increasing traffic, most customers would be pleased with the results. If you’re just tracking organic positions and nothing else, you’re doing a disservice to your clients.

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