We know there’s always a struggle to explain SEO to your agency clients. An abundance of graphs and tables can confuse them, while not presenting enough data can make them suspicious.
A lot of ink was used to explain the advantages of data visualization as a good way of presenting your pitches, results, issues, etc. and you’re already familiar with its principles and implicit psychological patterns. Yet, what can become a struggle is making those data sets compelling while implicit biases and fallacies may muddle the proverbial waters on both sides – agency and client.
So making our known unknowns conscious and our blind spots visible, let’s take a look at our ways of thinking and how the Tufte principles behind data visualization manage to break biases and fallacies – improving communications and relationships.
The Tufte Principles Relevant to SEO Agencies
How would Edward Tufte, the American statistician and a pioneer of informational graphics, go beyond the screenshots involved in client communications and make data presentations visually appealing and accurate?
After all, he designed six principles focused on making the most of quantitative data, keeping in mind what you want to do with it, who you’re making the argument for, and what you’re trying to prove.
As you’ll see in the following paragraphs, they appear quite simple and common-sensical, and you’re probably using them in your day by day actions. So, this is an invitation to revise them, with a different lens in mind:
How can they be misunderstood or misrepresented in practice?
Your SEO team wants to paint a clear picture of the campaign’s reality for your clients, so no cracks should remain.
This is a good checklist when going about a report or presentation:
Show data by comparison to highlight relevant contrasts and make the case for the bigger forces at play. Like how search intent changed from one month to another during the pandemic.
Another one that involves making the case for the context at large and its variables: show how specific data influence other data. One simple example in SEO is seasonality that influences particular search volumes during Christmas, for instance.
Present Multivariate Data
Explain a complex narrative/context with a variety of data for better comprehension. When you’re forecasting, you’re including keywords, search volumes, seasonality, and so on, to present a complete overview.
It’s important to present information in more ways than one (texts, numbers, formulas, etc.) and make sure you have each variable named or a legend for clarity. For instance, when you present a particular trend, you’ll include the name of the variables, a graphical representation, how it’s measured, and why it matters.
Establish Credibility (Document Everything)
Include data sources, explanations of measurements, titles, etc. Again, make sure you have the relevant information presented in a relevant way for your audience for the sake of transparency and straightforward communication.
Focus on Content (Always Give Context)
Show the most relevant data in the context of its reality. Make sure your audience understands what you’re referring to and the before/after process implied in the argument. Present your process.
“There are two major scenarios where biases and fallacies intervene: the pitching process and the monthly reports”
How to Use Visual Data Against Biases & Fallacies
But let’s return to the problem at hand: scrutinizing the common pitfalls in presenting data and how visualizing can help in getting our message across.
We identified two major scenarios where biases and fallacies intervene: the pitching process and the monthly reports – times when you’re facing the client and making the case for SEO performances and business results.
For Your SEO Proposal
From the start, presenting your SEO proposal means explaining a complex narrative in a concise and precise manner, while gaining credibility, with a relevant keyword selection, competitors overview, estimating the potential impact of your campaign in terms of CTRs etc.
There are many spots where biases and fallacies may intervene, but let’s look at the important steps in building your proposal and see how you can prevent this issue:
Fighting the Narrative & Availability Biases with Comparisons
When showing your deep understanding of your client’s market and industry, you’ll evaluate their status against competitors by comparison. Here’s where narrative or story bias can appear – a tendency to have a false sense of understanding of causality based on a crafted story, without taking into account or questioning all the omitted details.
That’s why it’s crucial to highlight that their offline competitors are not the same as their online competitors, and include the ones that get the most impressions from your selected keywords. Presenting the bigger pattern, the client won’t judge the online environment in the same way she’s used to judging the offline one.
Another frequent one that can show up is the availability bias: we tend to create an overview of a certain part of reality based on the examples and anecdotes we recall most easily. So we can jump to false conclusions fast.
Like promising to reach a certain rank, but not choosing the right keywords or not making the appropriate connection with the number of clicks and potential conversions that could mean improved business results – after all, the client needs to increase their business performance.
That’s why presenting multivariate data for competitors can shed light on the actual status quo, based on keywords and even their visibility score in a given timeframe:
At SEOmonitor, we calculate the visibility score as an impression share of a list of selected keywords whose rank changes are weighted with their corresponding search volumes.
Overcoming False Causality for SEO Performance
There’s this old saying that “All models are wrong, but some are useful”. We can’t predict results, but we can show an estimated evolution of traffic and its impact if certain conditions are met.
But first, we need to establish the truth behind the traffic SEO influences to show an accurate causality: organic traffic contains both brand and non-brand, but it is the non-brand organic traffic that can be optimized and interests the experts.
Splitting it in accordance is how you can fight false causality – a bias that establishes a false cause-and-effect relationship between unrelated variables – and correlate your SEO performance and the client’s business results.
Moreover, having a model that takes into account seasonality and year over year search trends, calibrated with the pandemic changes, you can make the case for how the client stands with and without the campaign: their business’ actual traffic, the projected traffic and the additional one.
Going Beyond the Overconfidence Effect With SEO Difficulty
Last but not least, you can establish credibility by presenting the raw data and the formula behind your SEO proposal. In order to gain trust and fight the overconfidence effect which implies overestimating the knowledge and ability to predict, you need to take into account all the forces involved in the SEO performance.
Apart from the YoY trends and search volumes, you can explain how SERPs influence CTRs and why you need a variable CTR model for each SERP, to establish the estimated number of clicks each keyword is driving.
We’ve included all of these variables in our Forecasting module to help SEO agencies present a viable solution for their clients, and we’ve also developed a difficulty scale to help you decide if your proposal is realistic or too ambitious.
And, to make it all easier, we’ve created an SEO Proposal Builder that pulls data from our platform and leverages the visual appeal of Google Slides for your agency, as simple as drag and drop.
For Your SEO Monthly Report
Here’s another relevant instance for effective communication that can lead to a stronger relationship or a drop in client retention: your agency monthly reporting.
Probably, even more scrutinized during the current crisis, the report is an opportunity to highlight SEO results and solve running issues in a visually compelling manner.
Set the right expectations without cherry-picking – a bias that so easily appears when selecting data – or putting everything inside the report, but focusing on SEO wins, technical issues to solve, new opportunities that can enrich your campaign, and so on.
Let’s see how that works in practice while minding the Tufte principles.
Averting the Outcome Bias for the SEO Objective Status
The monthly report will probably include a status update regarding your campaign objective, with an overview of the dedicated timeline.
By showing a monthly comparison, with a focus on your forecasted traffic versus the real traffic until the current month, you can fight the potential outcome bias of misattributing results or expecting the same results in the future without looking at the process.
This bias refers to an error made while you evaluate the quality of a decision based on the already-known outcome of that decision, ignoring the steps that led to it and the external forces implied.
Presenting evolution through comparison, while including seasonality data and reminding your client that she’s viewing non-brand organic traffic data will set a clear ground for analysis. You’ll also establish a direct causal relationship between the SEO campaign results and specific SEO wins, gaining in credibility and trust.
Fighting the Confirmation Bias with Visibility Performance in Context
Fight off confirmation bias – the tendency to choose the data that confirms a specific belief, conviction or story, without taking into account all variables – with the complete story.
Show both the Visibility performance across all included keywords and how particular Group Visibility scores fared, and what key rankings presented changes in the last month. If you focus on rankings only, you won’t be able to present the whole context and how those changes truly impact business results in terms of CTRs and conversions.
Furthermore, include competitors’ visibility scores and make an accurate comparison across the board, in order to completely fend off the outcome bias as well. The client will know where she stands, understand the market tendencies, and know what decisions to make.
Averting the Fundamental Attribution Error with Multivariate Data
Your monthly report is where key issues can be highlighted in order to become action points in your agency-client collaboration. Maybe you discovered high relevance keywords with missing landing pages that could improve organic traffic or maybe there are cannibalization issues to be solved.
Presenting them in their context not only allows for fast decision making, but can also address an interesting bias: the fundamental attribution error that describes a tendency to overestimate an individual’s influence over something while underestimating external, situational factors. You’ll be in control of the argument you’re building while explaining what relies on your agency work and what needs to be done on the client’s part.
In this case, to be fully transparent, you need to make good use of the multivariate data principle as well. Include the keywords you’re talking about, their search volumes, visibility scores, associated SERP features, associated landing pages (if available), and even YoY.
SEOmonitor’s Reporting Board includes a Google Slides Assistant that automatically selects the most relevant insights from the platform that you can choose from and insert with one click. The slides are also automatically generated, to keep visual consistency. You can select from SEO wins, opportunities, issues, competitor trends, and more.
Bonus: The Narrative Bias & Expertise
Setting all the expectations above in the right framework from the start will help you establish a good common ground and fight a different facet of the narrative bias: transforming previous experiences with digital marketing agencies into a general rule.
Your clients will understand your work ethic and the nuances of SEO, and you’ll be able to cater to a good agency-client relationship.
When analyzing and presenting data, there’s always a struggle to create an efficient narrative that is clear and accurate.
One way to look at it is to combine the Tufte principles of data visualization and cognitive biases knowledge to make your agency presentations effective:
- Use comparisons to overcome the narrative and outcome biases.
- Show causality while defining your variables in their full context and fend off false causality instances or the attribution bias, while establishing credibility.
- Use multivariate data when you need to paint the whole picture and fight the fundamental attribution error.
- Show context and data sources for every argument you make and overcome confirmation or outcome biases.
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