“Let’s hop on a call to go over this report.”
Did you hear that?
That was the collective sigh of SEOs everywhere.
If we’re being honest, most of us probably view reporting the same way we view taking out the trash or folding the laundry. It’s a chore that robs us of time we could have spent on more important or enjoyable things.
Adding to the frustration is the reality that many clients don’t even read their reports. That’s right. All that time you put into pulling together your data and the report might be forever resigned to the dusty corner of your client’s inbox.
In the words of Mama Boucher, reporting is the devil.
Hear me out though… have you ever thought of reporting as a client retention tool? While reporting is something that takes your time away from SEO work that moves the needle, reporting is also critical if you want to have a campaign to work on at all.
In other words, no reporting = no value communicated = no more client.
The good news is that the reverse is also true. When we do SEO reporting well, we communicate our value and keep more clients, which is something that every agency and consultant can agree is important.
That all sounds nice, but how can we do that? Throughout my six years at an SEO agency, I picked up some reporting tips that I hope you’ll be able to benefit from as well.
P.S. If you haven’t seen it already, Moz’s own Meghan Pahinui wrote an amazing post for the Moz blog on creating relevant and engaging SEO reports using Moz Pro Campaigns. Definitely check it out!
1. Report on what they care about
I’ve seen my share of reports that highlighted metrics that just didn’t reflect any of the client’s main objectives. Your clients are busy — the first sight of something irrelevant and they’ll lose interest, so make your reports count!
My process for determining what I should report on is fairly simple:
- Identify the business objective
- Create an SEO plan that will help achieve that goal
- Execute the plan
- Report on the metrics that best measure the work I did
In other words, choose appropriate KPIs to match their business objectives and your strategy, and stick to those for your reporting.
2. Set specific goals
You: “Good news! We got 4,000 organic visits last month.”
Client: “Why wasn’t it 5,000?”
If that’s ever happened to you before, you’re not alone.
This simple step is so easy to forget, but make sure your goals are specific and mutually agreed upon before you start! At the beginning of the month, tell your client what your goal is (ex: “We hope to be able to get 4,000 organic visits”). That way, when you review your report, you’ll be able to objectively say whether you missed/hit/exceeded your targets.
3. Eliminate jargon
Your clients are professionals in their own fields, not yours, so make sure to leave the shop-talking to Twitter. Before sending out a report, ask yourself:
- Have I defined all potentially confusing metrics? I’ve seen some SEOs include a mini-glossary or analogies to explain some of their charts — I love this! It really helps disambiguate metrics that are easy to misunderstand.
- Am I using words that aren’t used outside my own echo chamber? Some phrases become so ubiquitous in our immediate circles that we assume everyone uses them. In many cases, we’re using jargon without even realizing it!
Simply put, use clear language and layman’s terms in your client’s SEO reports. You won’t serve anyone by confusing them.
4. Visualize your data in meaningful ways
I once heard a client describe a report as “pretty, but useless.”
They had a point though. Their report was full of pie charts and line graphs that, while important-looking, conveyed no meaning to them.
Part of that “meaning” comes down to reporting on the metrics your client cares about (see #1), but the other half of that is choosing how you’ll display that information.
There are some great resources on Moz about data visualization such as Demystifying Data Visualization for Marketers, a video of Annie Cushing’s talk at MozCon 2014, and A Visualization Prescription for Impactful Data Storytelling, a Whiteboard Friday video by Lea Pica.
Resources like that will help you transform your data from metrics into a story that conveys meaning to your clients, so don’t skimp on this step!
5. Provide insights, not just metrics
I remember the first time someone explained to me the difference between metrics and insights. I was blown away.
It seems so simple now, but in my earliest days in digital marketing, I basically viewed “reporting” as synonymous with “data.” Raw, numeric, mind-numbing data.
The key to making your reports more meaningful to your clients is understanding that pure metrics don’t have intrinsic data. You have to unify the data in meaningful ways and pull out insights that help your client understand not just what the numbers are but why they matter.
I find it helpful to ask “so what?” when going through a report. Client’s ranking on page 1 for this list of keywords? That’s cool, but why should my client care about this? How is it contributing to their goals? Work on answering that question before you communicate your reports.
6. Connect SEO results to revenue
I’m going to be honest, this one is tricky.
First of all, SEO is a few layers removed from conversions. When it comes to “the big three” (as I like to refer to rankings, traffic, and conversions), SEOs can:
- Most directly influence rankings
- Influence organic traffic, but a little less directly than rankings. For example, organic traffic can go down despite sustained rankings due to things like seasonality.
- Influence organic conversions, but even less directly than traffic. Everything from the website design to the product/service itself can affect that.
Second, it can be difficult to connect SEO to revenue especially on websites where the ultimate conversion happens offline (ex: lead gen). In order to tie organic traffic to revenue, you’ll want to set up goal conversions and add a value to those conversions in your analytics, but here’s where that gets difficult:
- Clients often don’t know their average LCV (lifetime customer value)
- Clients often don’t know their average close rate (the rough percentage of leads that they close)
- Clients know, but they don’t want to share this information with you
Everyone has a different reporting methodology, but I personally tend to advocate for at least trying to connect SEO to revenue. I’ve been in enough situations where our client dropped us because they saw us as a cost-center rather than a profit-center to know that communicating your value in monetary terms can mean the difference between keeping your client or not.
Even though you can’t directly influence conversions and even if your client can only give you a rough ballpark figure for LCV and close rate, it’s better than nothing.
7. Be available to fill in the gaps
Not everything can be explained in a report. Even if you’re able to add text commentary to elaborate on your data, there’s still the risk that a key point will be lost on your client completely. Expect this!
I’ve seen plenty of client reporting calls go well over an hour. While no two situations are alike, I think starting with a report that contains clear insights on the KPIs your client cares about will do wonders for shortening that conversation.
Your clients will be able to understand those insights on their own, which frees you up to add context and answer any questions without getting bogged down with back-and-forth over “red herring” metrics that distract from the main point.
I want to hear from you!
What about you? Every SEO has their own reporting best practices, wins, and horror stories — I want to hear yours!
- What reporting trick do you have up your sleeve that could help your fellow SEOs save time (& their sanity)?
- What’s your biggest reporting struggle and how are you trying to solve it?
- What’s an example of a time when reporting played a role in salvaging a client relationship?
We’re in this together — so let’s learn from each other!
And if you want more where this came from, please consider downloading our free whitepaper: High-Impact SEO Reporting for Agencies! It’s full of advice and helpful tips for using reports to communicate value to your clients.