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This article is about the development and purpose of standard SEO reports in particular. Not to be confused with SEO platforms, like Conductor and Sitebulb for example, which are extraordinary in giving you insights to dig through. The result of those platforms would fit nicely with this post.

The SEO report. It’s a calling card for some agencies. These reports can be ornate or no-frills (everyone has their own style). Smart companies use APIs to compile reports without spending manual hours. Some rely on automatic SEO reporting tools. For other companies, it’s a time-intensive and considerably low-value exercise.

At the end of the day, the SEO report can be a tool by which you can gain insights and build powerful campaigns for organic search. They say, “teaching is the best way to learn.” We often think of this as a client deliverable, or a monthly expectation to appease your boss, but an SEO report provides the opportunity to dig into your data. It’s a tool to enhance your existing marketing acumen. It can cover everything from organic traffic, external and internal link building, social media, and more.

What is an SEO Report?

For those entering the field, an SEO report is the common name given to any type of document meant to inform the viewer of their SEO status. It can be built by tools, humans, or a combination of both. Most SEO agencies provide a monthly SEO report to their clients. Sometimes, however, it is more of a ticking of the box than a valuable endeavor. It’s one thing to export data from Google Analytics and rank tracking software. It’s another to inquire into what should get exported. There’s no value in creating any kind of website report if the data can’t help you answer questions.

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  1. What does the data tell me about our visitors?
  2. What direction should I take based on the data?
  3. Why is “X” happening?
  4. What dubious claims and theories can we correct?
  5. What campaigns should we renounce, and how can I change direction for the better?
  6. What data can I use to sell back the SEO investment?

Prospects often ask me what our SEO reports look like. For some, this client report is a staple in their previous agency relationship (or the “calling card” I mentioned above.) It’s a valid question, to which my answer can be unexpected and welcomed. I explain, “we develop reports with a data-first philosophy, to which the KPIs that move your business are primary. Sure, we include the obligitory ranking, traffic, and conversion data, but we want to benchmark against the particulars that your business is based on.” If the prospect hasn’t developed a KPI set or set goals in GA, we will help them. We do everything in our power to make sure rankings aren’t the main KPI.

I’m one of the many SEOs who don’t live and die by keyword rankings anymore. You won’t see me exhaustively tracking keywords before focusing on other performance indicators (like traffic, conversions, time on page, bounce rate, and revenue). Although SEO ranking reports are traditional, rankings are an imperfect metric. Expect flux in search engine rankings. Keywords that typically perform for a business can appear lower in the results on any given day. It’s important that a report doesn’t capture a snapshot of rankings (like a monthly report). If a keyword is down on the day you compile the report, but high on other days, you’re going to get a faulty signal.

Below is a ranking trend for a keyword that has much competition. If this report was made around 5/15/2018, it would look like a victory with a top 10 ranking. In truth, this is a keyword that is not performing well.

Keyword Rank Trend

Instead, you should make sure to reflect the average position. The average position for the keyword above is position 48. This represents organic visibility in a clear and digestible way.

It’s important to group keywords to appropriate landing pages. Instead of thinking of each keyword on its own, I prefer an organic visibility score for a page. This allows the target keywords and your non-target keywords to represent the traffic to the website. Identify the pages you are working on and average the ranks for all the keywords that are driving organic. Repeat each month for a trend. SEMrush now gives page level data so you can easily extract the keywords with a download or API call. That’s a very helpful addition.

Different SEO tools offer visibility scores of their own, using their own preferred formula. More than just averages, sometimes traffic and impression data is calculated. Here is a visibility score from Rank Ranger that’s telling me how well one of my important pages is performing (check out their calculation description). I’d rather learn from this report and drill into each keyword only as needed. It’s a perfect chart for any SEO reporting dashboard.

visibility score

Follow The Numbers

Rankings can help define traffic intent, but qualified traffic is the most important data in any Google Analytics report. After all, it’s why we are all so focused on studying Google’s ranking factors. We are looking to attract traffic that does something – make a purchase, become aware of a brand, inquire about a service, read content, and so on. The key to receiving qualified organic traffic starts with understanding your best visitors’ wants and needs. Every query done in search engines represents a need by a user. Your website data discloses what this need is, and it gives you the ability to update your website accordingly. As long as you take the time to dig into your organic search data.

If you have a website with properly themed pages, seeing the organic growth is telling. High click-through rates and engagement signals two things – you’re on the right track with your visitors, and you’ve convinced Google that you’re worth the traffic. Using the keyword groupings we discussed earlier helps paint an even clearer picture. A good SEO report should allow you to see this, and help you consider a need for improving the page or moving onto another SEO campaign. Alternatively, if your reports are not showing webpage success, it should report on the reasons why and suggest the efforts that should be made.

Your Time Is Too Important

Don't Be A Report MonkeyIn a past life, I was part of an agency that spent too much time – by hand – downloading Omniture reports (remember them?). I was copying and pasting cells, customizing charts, running formulas, and beautifying spreadsheets. I could make a spreadsheet look like a work of art, but it wasn’t the work I should have been doing. This exercise took 10+ hours a month. Clients would receive these reports in the middle of the month. In summary, my clients were paying me to be a report monkey. I was spending far too much time building spreadsheets, and not enough time analyzing. That’s a problem.

Improved technology has given SEOs various methods in which data collection can accelerate. APIs from Google Analytics and Search Console can plug into Google Data Studio or Google Sheets (with a plugin like Supermetrics). No longer do we have an excuse for being a report monkey. Instead, we can use this extra time wisely. We can use this available time to find the stories in the data. We can use this time to provide actionable insights pulled from the data.

As far as I’m concerned, there isn’t a need for a duplicated version of something that can easily be exported from an analytics tool. Businesses need our talents and research to raise the ROI. Keep that in mind as you draft SEO reports for clients, customers, or even your boss. It will certainly keep you held in higher regard as you continue your SEO journey together.

SEO Report Example

I’ve talked a bit about quality reporting, but I haven’t shown any examples of what we do at Greenlane. This is a default report designed in Google Data Studio. It’s our most current “out of the box” version (as of this writing). It has not been customized for client KPIs. But it’s clean and clear. If you’d like to download this to use as an SEO report template, you can download it here.

SEO report 5 SEO report 4 SEO report 3 SEO report 2 SEO report 1

So far, pretty standard stuff. So what happens when a client has their own SEO metric requests? You simply build them in (as you’re about to see).

Additionally, in this next example, you’ll see where insights tell the story of the data. The benefit to API driven reports, you don’t need to spend the time pulling data. They essentially become automated SEO reports. You can use this saved time to really understand what is going on with the site.

SEO Report Advanced 4SEO Report Advanced 3 SEO Report Advanced 2 SEO Report Advanced 1There’s no limit to how much customization you can do to your report template. As long as the data is relevant, and the insights are valuable, you’re on your way to creating the best SEO reports you can possibly deliver. Developing the template is certainly a bit of upfront work, but it pays off in the long run.

Bill Sebald
Bill Sebald
Follow me on Twitter - @billsebald

I've been doing SEO since 1996. Blogger, speaker, and teacher at Philadelphia University. I started Greenlane in 2005 to help clients leverage search marketing to hit business goals. I love this stuff.

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2 responses to “How To Make Better SEO Reports For Your SEO Campaigns

  1. Nice post Bill, I’ve always liked what Annie does in Excel with charts and pivot tables… Sometimes the clients won’t even bother to check a report that’s not nicely formatted or doesn’t have an TL;DR section.

  2. I once worked for an agency that did weekly SEO reporting. That was a huge time suck. Monthly SEO reporting is fine, since it moves at the speed of Google in my opinion. Client’s SEO reports always get the customization to meet their goals- I like that part.

    It would be cool if you could make your SEO report template available for download. Id love to compare what you have.

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