If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you’ve been burned in the past by an SEO company. I am also going to assume that the reports you have received were often vague, providing little to no value.
They hit your inbox, you skimmed the content and were left with more questions than answers.
Sound about right?
This is the feedback I have received from business owners across the U.S on a consistent basis: If SEO reporting requirements and key performance indicators are not discussed upfront, you will be at the mercy of what your SEO company decides to send.
My goal is to help you understand exactly what you need and do not need from an SEO report. As a business owner or marketing manager, this is an essential skill set.
The concept of understanding how to uncover low-quality reporting disguised with pretty branding, pie charts, and bar graphs can save you thousands of dollars!
In this article, the key takeaways are:
- What is absolutely required from an SEO report
- Only Metrics? Which questions you should be asking about the report
- What platforms the data should come from
- What metrics and KPI’s and KPI’s should be included
Let’s start with what is absolutely required!
The SEO Task Items That Were Completed
SEO companies competitors will disagree with this particular section. That’s because leaving this section off reporting allows them to keep margins insanely high.
These are the companies that will continue to charge your credit card on a monthly basis but did not really do any work. At the end of the month, they end up sending you a deceiving report that portrays a full months’ work but is not.
Trust me when I tell you, the industry is full of these types of SEO providers. Buyers beware!
The first section of an SEO report you want to review is what specific work was completed for the previous month.
Before you look at keyword rankings and traffic improvements, you need to know if these changes are a consequence of the implementation of sound best practices or if they would have happened regardless.
If your current report is only data and metric oriented, email your SEO provider and ask the following questions:
- I reviewed the last 3 months of reporting and noticed they focused on data from tools like Google Analytics. Can you please itemize the task items that you and our team completed for the last 3 months?
- Moving forward can you please have the first section of the report detail the specific task items that were completed? This will help me understand what our overall strategy is and the monthly priorities. It would be great if you could organize this section by type of SEO, such as technical, Local, On-Page, Speed, Mobile, Conversion Rate Optimization, Content or Link Building.
What goes into this section specifically has a lot to do with the scope of services. Was the service hired to solve technical problems such as site indexing and continually server errors?
Was the project focused around creating SEO optimized content? Or was the project based on On-Page SEO aiming to optimize your website’s pages?
In any event, they should have no problem addressing the individual task items. Below, I have included common disciplines of SEO and listed three typical task items for each category.
- Added site to Yext, Synup or Moz Local to sync with 40+ citations.
- Built out service section of Google My Business page to include all service/product offerings.
- Manually built 5 niche citations. Links to citations would be included.
- Restructured the following URLs to be shorter and to include a keyword. URLs would be listed. Redirected old URLs to new SEO optimized URLs.
- Identified 404 errors, troubleshot and fixed the following URLs. URLs would be listed.
- Fixed broken sitemap. Recreated sitemap using Screaming Frog and submitted to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. Sitemaps are now successfully dynamically submitting.
- Homepage – Wrote Title Tag, wrote Meta Description and interlinked to key service pages.
- Service Page – Added relevant Alt Tags to images and added a call to action at the end of the copy.
- Service Page 2 – Copy was outdated and only 50 words. Rewrote copy to 1,000 words, wrote Title Tag and Wrote Meta Description to improve.
- Setup browser caching through WP Engine (the host).
- The images on the site were large files. Compressed images.
- Deactivated Plugins – There were some old plugins on the site that were not being used and slowing down the site.
Load time improved from 12 seconds to 3.5 seconds.
- Added Contact Us page to Menu Navigation – The site has a different menu for mobile and it was missing the “Contact Us” option. We added this to the menu options to make it easier for prospective customers to contact you.
- Fixed Formatting – The text on the homepage slider from mobile was running off the edges and was not completely legible. Fixed.
- Implemented Click to Call – We implemented click to call on all instances of the phone number.
Conversion Rate Optimization
- The contact us form had 10 required fields. This is deterring prospects from contacting you by using the form. We reduced the number of fields to 4: Name, Phone, Email, and Message.
- Sticky Header – Implemented a sticky header. This will ensure the header will be visible on scroll so your contact information will always be accessible.
- Added recent 5-star reviews to the homepage.
- Created a 2,000-word piece of content. Uploaded content to blog, optimized for SEO, added royalty free pictures and shared on Social Media.
- Optimized 3 old blog postings. Blog URLs would be listed.
- Conducted research and contributed 2 new ideas to the content calendar.
Have you seen transparent SEO reporting like in this past?
This is exactly what you are entitled to each month. This level of detail makes it crystal clear what was completed last month and provides context for a catch-up call.
Feel free to use the above to show your current or future provider the format you expect to be included in your monthly SEO report.
My one exception to the above is Link Building. I understand there are different pricing models for acquiring links. But, most reputable Link Building Agencies charge for the result.
If you hire someone to do custom outreach to acquire links at a Domain Authority of 30 or higher, they really just have to provide the acquired links. The size of their database of link prospects and how many emails they sent is not really of consequence.
If you plan to bring the process in-house than eventually, these metrics will become important. You will want to understand the resources required to acquire one quality link and scale up from there.
Link reporting should look something like this:
|Target Url||Acquired Link||Anchor Text||Domain Authority||Page Authority|
|A URL on Your Site||Backlink to your target URL||Anchor Text of Link||35||25|
|A URL on Your Site||Backlink to your target URL||Anchor Text of Link||40||28|
|A URL on Your Site||Backlink to your target URL||Anchor Text of Link||45||31|
|A URL on Your Site||Backlink to your target URL||Anchor Text of Link||53||34|
A quick word on Link Metrics. There are several ways to evaluate the quality of a link. These metrics come from SEO software giants like Moz, Majestic and ahrefs.
The most common way to evaluate the quality of a link is reviewing its Domain Authority.
Domain Authority = (DA) is a search engine ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERPs).
Remember, DA is not a Google ranking signal, but it is an industry standard method for evaluating the quality of a link. Acquiring links from sites with high domain authorities has been a proven way to improve rankings for many years.
What Platforms the Data Should Come From
Be skeptical if the reporting comes from an in-house product. There are a variety of industry respected tools where you should expect to see your data from.
Please note there are several software companies that empower SEO agencies to pull in data from different sources in order to create a centralized report.
Many of these tools allow SEO companies to white label the product by adding their branding. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these platforms. In fact, they are a huge time saver and a value add to clients.
But, the SEO company should have no problem revealing what platform they utilize. It should not be a secret. If they say the reporting comes from their “proprietary” tool, be skeptical! I’m not sure how you can ensure the data has integrity due to the lack of objectivity.
Another possibility is that they could be using external software and claim the reporting falsely as to their own. Either scenario is unethical and unacceptable.
GA is Google’s free web analytics platform. It is a wealth of useful and insightful information and great for managing Organic Traffic trends.
You most certainly want to see data from GA on a monthly basis.
Google Search Console
GSC is another complimentary tool from Google. It provides information on the technical health of your site, SEO performance, and opportunities. Make sure data from GSC is included.
Google My Business
GMB mostly applies to local businesses. This is yet another free tool from Google that shows how local users interact with your site on the Search Engine Results Page. Stats from GMB should be included in monthly reporting.
If your SEO company is not utilizing keyword ranking software, you need to move on from them. They are either too small to afford it or don’t understand the value. Either way, they are not the ideal fit for managing your monthly campaign. Stats and trendlines from Keyword ranking software should be included in monthly reporting.
Moz, ahrefs or Majestic
These are the top three Backlink software companies on the market. Each month your SEO company should be pulling data from one or more of these platforms.
Even if they are not actively Link Building, they should include data from these platforms. Links are a top 2 ranking signal and should not be overlooked in reporting.
What Metrics Should Be Included?
While SEO has many benefits, at the end of the day the goal is to gain more Organic traffic from Search Engines. You will want to see your organic traffic for the last month and more important trend lines. Here are a few great ways to look at Organic Traffic:
- Month and current year compared to a month and previous year.
- Last month traffic compared to the previous month.
- A custom report that shows Organic users by month for the last 12 months.
- Individual pages providing the most and least sessions from Organic.
- Organic traffic compared to other traffic sources. What percentage of overall web traffic was from Organic?
Reporting that includes this section ensures that a complete review of Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools was conducted. You’ll want them to point out crawl error data, indexing issues uncovered, broken links identified and more.
The technical issues are the fundamentals of SEO. Incorrect URLs in the robots.txt file instructs Google not to index certain pages. Broken links create bad user experiences and high bounce rates.
Part of the value of having your SEO professionally managed is the peace of mind of knowing the technical aspects are being monitored.
Statistics from Google My Business
Google continues to improve the data about how users interact with GMB. Here are a few great stats that could be provided:
- The number of people who asked for directions from your GMB listing.
- How many people called your business from your GMB listing.
- How many people interacted with your postings.
- Month over a month? Percentage gains?
At the beginning of the SEO campaign launch, you most likely had a conversation about which keywords are important to your business.
In the first report, your SEO provider should show you where you currently rank. You know where you want to be, but it’s important to also understand your current rankings and baseline metrics.
This information also helps with conversation around expectations, required resources, and estimated timeline to achieve your objectives.
Reporting on keyword rankings is very straight forward. You are looking for the following data:
- What position you improved to for specific keywords.
- What keywords if any lost rankings.
- You want to be able to distinguish ranking data for Organic and Map listings.
- You will want to know what geography the ranking change was associated with. For example, national rankings or a specific city.
Links play an integral role in rankings and referral traffic. You’ll want to know what new backlinks were acquired, their anchor text and what pages they link to. There are several link metrics that are an acceptable way of determining the value of a link:
You will also want to know the number of links you lost and why you lost links. Is a valuable blog post all of sudden returning a 404 error? Is a service page that lost a ton of links loading abnormally slow? If you lost valuable links, you will often need to launch what’s called a “Link Reclamation” campaign.
This is the act of fixing the root problem and then manually reaching out to publishers that dropped your backlink and asking for it back.
If your SEO company is not monitoring lost links, you may lose rankings and never know why.
Conversions and User Experience Metrics
While new traffic from Search Engines is a primary goal of SEO, you also need that traffic to turn into conversions.
If site users are having an overall great experience, they will turn into prospects and sales at a much higher rate. Here are some useful conversion and u/x reporting metrics:
Bounce Rates Per Page
A bounce is measured by a user visiting one page on your site and then leaving. If the bounce rate is high, the implication typically is that they did not find the information they were looking for and the user experience was low. High bounce rates are often correlated with low conversion rates.
Time on Site
If users are not spending much time on your site, they are most likely not happy with your content. Of course, if the bounce rate is high, typically the time on site will be low. On the contrary, if the time on site is high, they are probably enjoying your content and navigating from page to page.
Conversions per page
Conversions are setup as “goals” in Google Analytics. They most often measure form submissions, phone calls, and sales. But they can also measure events like accessing a certain page or clicking a certain button on your site. If Organic traffic is rising but conversions are not, you’ll need to work to improve your u/x.
Having an SEO professional provide u/x and conversion data each month, informs you of progress and opportunities.
If the reporting is really strong, they will include a list of specific suggestions to improve the user experience and conversion rates.
One thing I can not stand is business owners and marketing professionals being deceived by under-qualified SEO companies.
My goal with this article was to arm you with the powerful knowledge required to easily distinguish between strong transparent reporting and smoke and mirrors.
Keep this article handy and when the conversation of SEO reporting comes up, you will have the power of knowledge to stray away from false and deceiving SEO companies and their tricks.
As always, I want to hear from you below in the comment box. Are you happy with your current SEO reporting? Does it outline the work your provider completed or include solely metrics? Will you be having a discussion with your current SEO provider about reporting and asking them to update what they send monthly?
And of course, if you want a second opinion about your current reporting or you’re interested in a complimentary consultation, don’t hesitate to contact me today.