None of us have likely become an SEO for the love of reporting, in fact, it’s among the least favorite activities for many SEOs based on a poll I did a while ago.
However, decision-makers care a lot about reporting as it’s how we communicate and they assess the SEO process investment and overall success. In fact, the effectiveness of SEO reports can end up being the difference between getting fired rather than more SEO support or a raise by decision-makers.
Despite this, many SEO reports are broken as they’re just a compilation of dashboards automated via tools featuring SEO metrics. I asked over Twitter and 41% of SEOs who answered said to only use a dashboard with data for SEO reporting.
Data from our SEO dashboards can be included in reports but they can’t replace them as a whole: an SEO dashboard is a visualization resource that contains the most important, latest status of all metrics we want to follow up from our SEO process, to easily monitor its progress at any time.
On the other hand, an SEO report is a document featuring a collection of key performance indicators from a certain time period along with an analysis and conclusions, to be used for periodic analysis and assessment of the SEO process towards the achievement of its goals.
Using only automated SEO dashboards as reports can end up harming more than helping. They are filled with information that the audience – often non-technical stakeholders or decision-makers – won’t understand or care about, with no prioritization, insights, analysis, or outcome actions. This only generates more questions than providing answers.
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Even personalized SEO dashboards can’t achieve all SEO reporting goals – especially taking into consideration that a high share SEOs don’t always present their reports which are the following:
- Communicate SEO results: The SEO process evolution towards the established goals (what has been achieved vs. what was expected?)
- Explain the cause of SEO results: Why the different areas are or aren’t evolving as expected.
- Drive actions to achieve SEO results: Establish SEO-related activities and request support for the next steps to achieve goals.
The biggest challenge to developing personalized SEO reports is caused by timing restrictions as we tend to feel the pressure to develop reports fast to get back to “SEO execution,” but SEO reporting is also in most cases only a monthly effort too.
Ready to help effectively tackle your SEO reporting goals while accelerating the process? Here are three principles to follow.
1. Use only meaningful KPIs that communicate your results
Cut the noise and minimize doubts with the data you include in SEO reports.
Avoid using confusing proprietary metrics, as they’re unreliable and difficult to connect with your actual SEO goals.
Don’t add everything you monitor to reports either, only Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that show the progress towards those SEO goals the audience is actually interested in.
This is why the KPIs to include in each case should be personalized based on the audience profile and interests: the SEO related goals the CEO and CMO care about will be different (eg. SEO activities ROI, revenue and organic search market share) than those the head of SEO is interested in following up with (eg. SEO activities ROI, revenue and organic search market share along with other more technical related ones like non-branded commercial search traffic growth, top-ranked targeted queries, key pages crawlability and indexability, etc.).
Because of this, the KPIs used in the reports targeted to the former will be different than the latter, as well as the metrics to calculate them.
Here are a few steps and criteria to help you select relevant KPIs to include in your SEO reports:
- Start by establishing your SEO reports audience: Who will you report? Each audience will want to answer different questions about the SEO process’s progress. Ask each stakeholder about the SEO goals achievement they want to be informed of. Make sure these are actual goals that have been set for the SEO process and there are actions to be executed that are connected to their achievement.
- These should be “SMARTER” SEO goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound, evaluated, reviewed), connecting SEO efforts with business objectives. Depending on the stakeholder role, they can be operational or business-related: Agree on which goals progress questions should be answered with SEO reports. Once you have these questions, it will be easier to establish the KPIs to report, as well as the metrics to obtain and measure to calculate the KPIs. If you can’t establish meaningful metrics to calculate KPIs and answer goal progress questions, then the goal might not be a SMARTER one.
- Ensure metrics data sources are reliable and stakeholders trust them and establish a couple of methods to gather the same data for consistency check. If it’s difficult to ensure accuracy for some KPIs, ensure precision (its consistency over time).
- Confirm the scope, frequency and format to present the SEO report to ensure you use a medium to facilitate its consumption (Google Slides, Google Docs, etc.). Set expectations about timing to avoid unnecessarily too-frequent reporting (e.g., there’s no point in doing weekly reports if there won’t be meaningful changes during this period due to SEO nature and frequency of releases).
You now have the input needed to start collecting data and putting SEO reports together with only relevant KPIs for each audience and their understanding metrics. Here’s a Google sheet version of the SEO report Planner for using meaningful KPIs to facilitate this process further:
2. Ensure clear KPIs presentation to facilitate progress understanding
Your SEO reports KPI presentation efforts shouldn’t be about “creating a pretty document with beautiful charts” but about making the featured data easy to understand and achieving SEO reporting communication goals.
Sometimes a simpler scorecard will make it easier to understand goals achievement than a fancy time series.
This is why it’s fundamental to follow certain data presentation and visualization best practices when selecting how to feature your KPIs:
- Identify the best data visualization format for each KPI by asking a few questions, as described here and here, the most important being:
- What’s the story your data is trying to deliver?
- Who will you present your results to?
- How many data categories and points do you have?
- Should you display values over time or among groups?
- Test with real data to see if each KPI goal progress question can be answered.
- Communicate one major KPI in each chart to avoid confusing the audience.
- Remove pointless decorations and chart information that won’t help to answer the relevant KPI goal question.
- Add the relevant data source to each chart to establish trust and avoid potential doubts.
- Always label chart elements clearly and directly to facilitate fast understanding.
- Add the question to be answered with each KPI as a chart headline to facilitate storytelling.
- Use color with intent to facilitate KPIs progression understanding.
Here’s a Google Sheet checklist for KPIs clear data presentation that you can use to facilitate your decision-making process:
3. Leverage data storytelling to explain and drive action with your SEO reports
Data storytelling creates compelling narratives to help audiences understand and drive action from your data analysis.
As explained by PPCexpo, stories attract and maintain people’s attention for longer, numbers without stories can quickly become boring, and stories communicate insights with higher clarity. As a consequence, storytelling should help to communicate the value of the data you’re showing.
However, it’s fundamental to avoid misrepresenting the data and bringing it to the wrong conclusions when leveraging storytelling.
For this, it’s recommended to avoid cherry-picking data or manipulating scale. Always show the whole picture, giving full visual context and keeping visuals and language consistent across the report.
SEO reporting storytelling should explain and drive action from the data without misleading. Even if the results are not positive, otherwise, you will lose trust.
For this, craft a compelling narrative for each KPI using the three-act structure, asking the following questions:
- Setup: What happened? Describe “what happened” with each KPI result vs. expected goal progress, taking the audience into account.
- Conflict: Why did it happen? Explain the why behind the result, whether positive or negative and describe the cause of the results
- Resolution: How to proceed? What to do next to achieve the expected goal given the current results? Summarize top-recommended actions
Then to effectively structure your SEO report:
- Include a page or slide per KPI by organizing the pages to begin with, the most important KPIs to the audience.
- Add a data appendix at the end with additional evidence to refer to from the KPIs pages.
- Include an executive summary at the start, highlighting the main KPIs results and actions: It should be concise but include enough to stand by itself as a report overview.
It’s also important to remember that there’s nothing like presenting the SEO report yourself to facilitate understanding and get feedback to improve.
SEO reporting is critical for SEO success, and you should prioritize it accordingly. I hope these principles, guidelines and templates can help you with it as they’ve helped me.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.