The quality of SEO reporting is extremely important, because it is the main way clients get a grasp on how well their SEO investment is paying off. With this in mind, a well-designed SEO report is thorough, transparent, and perhaps most importantly, clear enough for the client to understand and interpret. Key elements of SEO reporting must include the following items:
The monthly SEO report should begin with an executive summary of the progress of the campaign strategy to date. It should state in clear terms what the agency said it was going to do, what actions were actually completed, and what activities are slated for the next month.
Strong SEO reports don't merely spew out data; the agency analyzes the data to provide the client with specific campaign insights. Examples:
- Traffic analysis — Decreases in organic and/or direct traffic can indicate section-wide or site-wide issues, a change in the percentage of desktop versus mobile users, or a drop in brand awareness. Sudden declines in referral traffic could indicate the loss of a strong inbound link.
- Backlink analysis — Increase in backlink quantity and quality may indicate success in off-site SEO activity, and/or some other factor(s).
- Content analysis — Reviewing data such a bounce rates, visits and page visit time provides important insights about which content is resonating with users, which content needs improvement, and the overall user experience of the website.
- Competitor research — Competitors, like clients, change SEO strategy and tactics over time. Competitor campaigns must be researched to maintain an SEO advantage, close gaps and prevent unfavorable gaps from opening.
A good deal of attention in the monthly SEO report should be dedicated to traffic, including month-by-month and year-over-year data, and benchmark comparisons. Reporting aggregate numbers for total organic traffic and new sessions, total referral traffic, total direct traffic and top entry pages for organic traffic is essential for understanding whether an SEO campaign is generating results. In particular, traffic coming from SEO-targeted entry pages provides valuable insights on whether keyword strategy and content composition are making, exceeding, or falling short of expectations.
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Ultimately, clients invest in SEO not to gain traffic, but to gain conversions — either sales leads or e-commerce revenue. Thus, SEO reporting must provide month-by-month, year-over-year, and benchmark comparison data for sales leads and/or e-commerce revenue. If enormous increases in traffic are not accompanied by increases in conversions, then the incremental traffic is likely not well qualified, and therefore the keyword strategy and other SEO campaign tactics are missing the mark.
As mentioned at the outset, clients should never be in the dark about what specific tasks their SEO agency is undertaking. In addition to a summary overview, solid SEO reporting should provide granular detail about what activities were accomplished and what activities are planned for the coming month. Sketchy information may be a sign that a client is not really getting the effort it is paying for. For example, a statement such as "We worked hard updating the link profile" should be supported with specific facts such as how many new links were earned, how many publishers were asked to update links, how many publishers responded to first, second and third requests, and how many links were actually updated. Only with this level of detail can a client be sure that effort is being put into the campaign, and results are being achieved.
Phone leads are extremely important, as they tend to be of higher quality and greater urgency than form submissions. Not only should the SEO reporting display data for the aggregate number of leads, it should also distinguish true sales leads from non-lead inquiries such as misdials, sales solicitations, and personal calls. Information such as the length of the call and nature of the inquiry should be summarized, along with recordings of phone calls. Again, this level of detail enables clients to accurately assess the productivity of their campaigns.
Form-lead reporting, as phone calls, requires detail to have any significant value to clients. In addition to reporting aggregate numbers, specific form-fill data should be provided, as well as making a clear distinction between actual sales leads and non-lead form submissions such as spam, customer service inquiries, etc. For both phone calls and form submissions, non-leads can comprise as much as 40% of aggregate inquiries, so without separating leads from non-leads, the SEO report may drastically overstate conversion effectiveness.
If you were considering investing in a company, and that company refused to turn over balance sheet and income statement information, you would run away from the investment as quickly as possible. The same dynamic applies to SEO. Reputable SEO agencies are never reluctant to provide detailed performance data in their reporting. In our case we take it a step further, in that we want clients not only to understand our reports, but also to ask questions and make suggestions based on the data contained therein. We have always found that informed, engaged clients have great contributions to make in developing the SEO strategy.