Ideas, musings and inspirations.

You’ve probably been through this before. The status reports you prepare (regularly or by request) are well-researched, carefully detailed… and they’re going right over the heads of less SEO-minded people at your company. Your boss, your marketing folks, your IT team: they want the highlights, and they want to know that everything is going ok (or not). But spare me the details, please, because I have another call at noon.

Call it lack of time or bandwidth on their part, but in the truth is, these internal “clients” just don’t speak your language. It’s not that they aren’t interested in performance, but everybody has a full plate of his or her own. They just want to get a high level survey and move on to the next thing on their busy agenda.

So let’s talk about your SEO reports. What can you do to streamline some of your more arcane data points and help surface your most valuable information?

Reset Expectations

Let’s start with shaping expectations. Remember, you’re the one responsible for SEO, so you’ve probably modeled and shaped the entire understanding of SEO at your organization. So you’re in a unique position to define a new focus for those expectations.

Consider moving away from a performance model based solely on rankings. Emphasize to your audience that truth which SEO insiders know so well: search rankings don’t tell the whole story. Thinking only about rankings can obscure the more revealing data points from each report. (For example, your overall SEO campaign can sometimes still be going very well even if your rankings drop a point or two.)

Here are the five most important items on any SEO report:

1. Halo Traffic for Targeted Keywords, Per URL

Each keyword you’re targeting should be optimized for a specific URL. Use your analytics software to pull the total traffic to this URL, including variations on the keywords you’re optimizing – but remove the branded keywords. For example, if your keyword is “top business schools”, a related keyword might be “top business school”. At Elliance, we call this the halo traffic: non-branded phrases, which relate to our link building and on-page optimization. They paint a fuller picture of how your SEO campaign is performing.

2. Halo Traffic for Targeted Keywords, Site-wide

As above, you’re going to be detailing halo traffic – but this time provide the number of non-branded halo visits site-wide. Why? Because it’s not uncommon for more than one of your URLs to surface in search results, and a visitor may wind up clicking on a different page of the website. You still want your SEO efforts credited with this visit!

The nice thing about reporting on halo traffic is they’re just numbers, and they can be represented as a percent up or down from last time period. This will answer the ubiquitous question, “Did my traffic go up or down this time?”

3. Top 10 (or 20 or 30) Non-Branded Terms, Site-wide

This is always a crowd favorite. It’s a list of the top non-branded keywords which drove traffic to the website as a whole. It allows your readers to see the positive effects of the many halo phrases you’re driving, and it gives them a heads-up on any unexpected trends. Plus it’s a great conversation starter.

4. Conversion Tracking by Keyword (if possible)

If you have conversion tracking enabled, it is absolutely invaluable. Either way, I’ve talked in the past about a robust way to calculate engagement, which your team would probably be very interested in.

5. Keyword Rankings

Perhaps you’re reporting on rankings by geography or across multiple languages or search engines. The truth is, only very sophisticated readers care about edge cases. Instead, consider focusing on the single configuration that is most important to your organization. Provide the most typical average ranking and save the details for follow-up.

As a final note of clarification, I am not suggesting that you somehow dumb down your reports. I’m certainly not suggesting you withhold information you might have previously shared. Instead I suggest you keep the main points on top, spend most of your focus on these five areas, and provide any additional information as an appendix of sorts. Your colleagues will understand a whole lot more about what’s going on, and maybe you’ll eventually be able to work them into some more detailed views.

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