Accurate, well-designed reporting is key to any effective SEO program.
Well-designed reports provide management and other stakeholders with a clear picture of the value of your SEO efforts.
And what’s more, accurate reports are essential for informing future actions.
Notice there are two elements involved: accurate and well-designed.
Accurate reports not only contain correct data but also present it accurately. They tell the true story without distortion.
Well-designed reports are clear and immediately understandable. Anyone looking at them should be able to quickly identify what the takeaways are.
How can you ensure you are creating well-designed, accurate reports?
Start by avoiding these seven common SEO reporting mistakes.
1. Believing There Is One True Metric For “X”
In its early days, Google presented the same simple search results (the legendary “ten blue links”) to all users entering the same query.
Of course, that hasn’t been the case for a long time now.
For many queries, the results page is crowded with ads and various SERP features in and around the organic web results.
Plus, with the use of personalization via factors like search history and geo-location, it’s more and more likely no two users will get the exact same results.
All of this means that a metric such as the current rank for a given keyword is a much less certain thing than it used to be.
But search rankings aren’t the only metric that may not be as straightforward as we want to believe.
Another SEO-relevant example is search volume from Google’s Keyword Planner tool.
While Google should have the most accurate volume numbers, the metric for a given keyword may be inaccurate because Keyword Planner aggregates the volume for similar keywords.
For example, Keyword Planner currently shows a search volume of 1.22 million for [shoes] and displays that volume for both [shoes] and [shoe’s].
However, clickstream data shows that the [shoe’s] variant actually gets fewer than 100 searches a month.
There can also be discrepancies in the way any metric is measured and reported by different tools or sources.
Any metric is dependent on the source’s (perhaps limited) view of the universe of possible results, as well as the particular formula that the source uses to calculate the metric.
Remedy: Be aware of the potential ambiguities or inaccuracies of many metrics and adjust accordingly.
Where possible, find a more accurate source for a metric, such as a tool that reports search volume based on clickstream data over just relying on Google’s Keyword Planner numbers.
In many cases, it’s best to look at the trends of numbers over time rather than fixating on the precise accuracy of one occurrence of a metric.
And in most cases, the shape of the trend is fairly accurate, even if the individual points have some variance.
2. Paying Attention To The Wrong Metric
SEO experts tend to be fixated on ranking, believing that the ultimate success measurement for SEO is more keywords in higher positions.
This is based on the data from numerous studies showing a simple reverse-hockey stick curve for CTR as a function of rank position.
In these studies, position one takes a significant percentage of the clicks, and the amount decays rapidly as you move down the SERP page.
Leaving aside that some more recent studies using larger and more diverse data sources show the curve may not be as steep as we assumed (and lower positions might actually get a small “bump”), the important counter to that thinking is that higher rankings and more clicks don’t always equate to actual business goals.
More important metrics may be traffic from organic search and which keywords are driving that traffic.
Not all that infrequently, when a client experiences a sudden drop in overall rankings – perhaps after an algorithm update – we find when digging deeper that either traffic wasn’t affected much at all, or sometimes even went up.
What happened in those cases is that the keywords that dropped really weren’t responsible for driving most of the traffic to the site.
A step beyond traffic as a more important metric takes us to numbers that actually affect the bottom line of our business, things like conversions and leads generated.
Remedy: Align the KPIs in your reporting to emphasize those that actually have the most effect on the bottom line of your business.
3. Ignoring Metrics That Could Be Significant
As important as it is to determine accurate metrics and report on the ones that really matter, it is still possible you have overlooked some data that could make a difference.
An example for SEO is reporting on your visibility with certain SERP features, the non-traditional results that still could be sending you traffic.
Do you know how often and for which keywords you appear in a Featured Snippet or People Also Ask box?
Do you know how often your competitors did?
If you don’t, you might be missing out on an SEO tactic worth pursuing (or at least be able to tell if it’s not worth your time).
Remedy: First, investigate if there are any metrics out there that could be significant for you but don’t show up in your current reports.
If you find any, research what tool or data source might be able to show you those metrics.
4. Failing To Customize Reports For The Recipients
If you wanted to teach a child a moral lesson, would you hand them a copy of ‘Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals?’
Of course not. You’d probably read them a fable or a fairy tale.
Similarly, you need to tailor your SEO reporting for each intended audience.
Speaking of fables, a useful one here is the old story of several blindfolded persons examining an elephant from different sides.
In the original, the point was their impression of what an elephant is will be skewed by which part is within their reach.
But for our purposes, the moral of the story is that each stakeholder only cares about their part of the elephant.
The CMO might want to know how much exposure organic search is giving your brand, or where the competition is winning.
The CEO or CFO wants to know how much it’s contributing to revenue goals.
Product managers want to know which of their products get the most interest in search, and what else are people searching for who search for their products.
Remedy: First, determine who each report is for and what they care about.
Then use filtering and segmentation to create custom reports that narrow in on the specific interests of the report’s intended audience.
See ‘11 Stunning SEO Data Visualizations To Inspire Your Reporting‘ for more.
5. Didn’t Tie Results To Objectives
Any good storyteller knows you never jump right to the conclusion.
The ending to a story is only meaningful and satisfying if it is the outcome of a logical sequence of events that can be traced back to the beginning.
For your reports that are intended for eyes other than your own, you need to trace a similar story.
The objective of these external reports is to demonstrate the value that your SEO efforts have created.
If you only report results, even if the results are good, the recipient has no reason to associate those necessarily with your efforts.
Remedy: Make sure each KPI you report on is associated with something you did intentionally to produce that result, whether it was technical fixes, new content, a change in strategy, or whatever.
At my company, we teach our clients to title dashboards not with the result metric (such as “4th Quarter Traffic”) but instead with the objective they are tied to (so perhaps “Traffic from Women’s Jacket Content Hub Project”).
6. Failed To Include Extenuating Circumstances
This is really just the obverse of mistake #5.
By “extenuating circumstances,” I mean lame excuses.
No, seriously; this means leaving out relevant annotations and explanations for external circumstances that may have affected the results displayed.
That could include announced algorithm updates, seasonality, server downtime, and more.
These aren’t intended to be excuses (if the metric is down) or to diminish your efforts (if the metric is up), but rather to give a clear picture of why the data may be trending the way they appear.
Remedy: Place annotations of relevant events along trend lines and/or include narrative explanations so report recipients have a clear picture of everything that might have affected the outcome.
7. Forgot To Include Insights, Not Just Data
Raw data means little.
Interpreted data communicates.
Always keep in mind that the target recipients of your reports in many cases are not SEO professionals.
They don’t live in our world.
For us, raw SEO data creates an image like Mouse seeing the Lady in Red while looking at the streaming Matrix code.
But for others, it’s just numbers.
Remedy: Make sure you add interpretation to your data presentations. Explain why the data is significant, what it really shows, how it impacts goals, or what future actions it calls for.
The main takeaway here is to change your reporting from just another duty you are required to perform to a valuable broadcaster of the value your SEO efforts bring to your organization.
To do that, think like a good storyteller, crafting your plot and characters (your data) for the target audience of each report.
- The 3 Types of SEO Reports You Should Be Building Right Now
- 18 More SEO Issues That Cause Search Rankings & Traffic to Drop
- The State of SEO Report
Featured Image: fizkes/Shutterstock