Is Your SEO Report Actually Useful?

Tom Dempster

Tom Dempster

It’s the beginning of the month – and it’s the time when many agencies and consultants will issue your business with your regular SEO report, detailing your website’s performance. The report is likely to include performance data related to traffic, keyword positioning and other SEO-focused metrics.

Your report should help to inform the decision-making process within your business, but are you getting the value and information you need from these reports? Or are they simply too bloated, overflowing with superfluous data? In this article, we look at SEO reporting and examine some of the common pitfalls you should be aware of.

If your business has ever used a digital marketing or SEO agency, there’s a very high probability that you have received a monthly or quarterly report that shows how your website has performed over the previous period. The report might be a PDF written in Word or Google Docs, containing screenshots or annotations. It might be a complex spreadsheet with rows and rows of data. It could be a recorded presentation with slides. It may even be a combination of all three. 

The reality is that there is an almost endless stream of data available to SEOs, and there are just as many ways to report on it. When it comes to reporting, SEOs are limited only by their imagination. However, this is both a blessing and a curse.

SEO reports are for you - not the agency

In the quest to dazzle clients and justify their work, some SEO agencies aren’t producing reports that actually add value for their clients. Even worse, the reports can sometimes create more questions than they answer. You may find yourself thinking in a similar vein to a few of the business owners and marketing directors I have spoken with, who have forwarded me previous reports with messages along the lines of, “I don’t know what this report from my previous agency was supposed to tell me”. 

As someone who really loves numbers, a big part of the reason I love SEO is I get to work with them every single day – and there are obviously a lot of numbers that can give you an indication as to whether an SEO campaign is successful or not. With that said, I do feel there has been a temptation in some quarters of the SEO world to overwhelm clients with huge datasets, or produce reports with the primary intention of including as much green font (i.e. good news) in them as possible. When agencies take this approach, the report becomes a vanity pursuit for the agency rather than useful information for you and your business.   

The intention of this article is not to say that there is a right way or a wrong way to produce an SEO report. Reporting is a fundamental part of virtually every digital marketing agency, and there are a lot of different ways to do it effectively. However, I do think there are some best practices to be adopted. If agencies can lift the standard of their reporting, they deliver more value for you (and actually highlight the value of their work). 

Just as importantly, if you can take some time to inform the agency of what you need out of your reports, it can help to ensure that the reporting framework (as well as every other aspect of the SEO strategy) is set up to help achieve those aims.

hand drowning in data

What are the common problems with SEO reports?

There are four main problems it seems business owners and marketing teams face when they receive their SEO report from a consultant or an agency. 

  1. Data overload
  2. Irrelevant data
  3. Data with no context
  4. Cookie-cutter approach

Each of these issues is a barrier to you getting the most out of the report; when combined, they make the report unwieldy and difficult to interpret.

Data overload is probably the most common issue with an SEO report. This occurs when the SEO has so much data at their fingertips that they feel the need to unleash as much of it on their client as humanly possible.

 I have usually seen this when an agency is (very unsubtly) looking to position the report as a success by showing so many positive movements in the data –  they expect that the recipient will be blown away by the sea of green, and realize what an incredible job the SEO is doing. However, the actual result is that the recipient doesn’t know which data actually matters, and has no idea if this is helping to achieve their wider business goals. 

Irrelevant data is closely linked to data overload. This is where the metrics provided have absolutely no bearing on whether or not the SEO campaign is a success. 

For example, let’s imagine a small business based in Oregon, with aspirations of expanding in the northwestern United States. They might want to see a geographical breakdown of traffic growth in states like Washington or Idaho; however, they do not care about the three people who visited the site from Singapore last month. It doesn’t need to be highlighted or even included in the report. Providing meaningless data shows a lack of care and attention on the agency’s part. 

Data with no context is also quite common. SEO is an industry littered with jargon and terminology. Each individual who reads an SEO report is going to have a different level of understanding of what these terms actually mean. 

This is why it is important to choose the data carefully, but just as importantly, it has to be put in context. Why is it good news that the bounce rate for a popular blog article has plummeted? Is it important that people are spending substantially less time on the site on mobile devices when compared with desktop? Any questions can be addressed and explained within the report.

A cookie-cutter approach means that virtually every client on the agency’s books gets the same report, regardless of the client’s size, industry or business goals. This saves time for the agency because they can literally grab the report, write up a quick email, and send it out each month. 

The problem for you as a business owner or marketing team is that it may not provide you with the information you need to assess if the SEO campaign is working or not. Of course, from an agency standpoint, it is useful to have an element of standardization and reporting template –  but the specifics of the report should be tailored to the needs of your business, not simply ‘you get this report because it is what everyone gets’.

worker at desk overwhelmed by charts

How do we report at True Boost Digital?

It wouldn’t be fair or transparent of me to go through this article without referencing our own approach to reporting. Naturally, I am sure there are things we can improve, but this is where having great lines of communication with our clients is so valuable. In a nutshell, they tell us what they need; we give it to them. 

Our reporting is a constantly evolving process, but our guiding principle is to focus on what our end user is looking for. Who is actually reading this report? What information do they need to make better decisions? Is the content of the report relevant?

As one example, a marketing team which is part of a larger organization may need a lot of reporting granularity for their day-to-day activities, but they might occasionally have to report to senior management with ‘big picture’ figures – so a report which covers both of these scenarios is the best solution for them. Conversely, a small business owner may not have time (or the inclination) to delve deep and number-crunch, but simply wants to know that the main metrics (organic traffic, keyword positioning, goals, conversions, etc.) are seeing growth. 

Once we have that clear in our minds (and of course, it can change – whether it is new personnel on the client’s side, or simply a shift in overall business goals which necessitates a different focus in the reporting), the reporting process itself is straightforward. We do have access to so much data – Google Analytics, Google Search Console, third-party keyword tracking tools, social metrics – finding, pulling and displaying the appropriate data isn’t a challenge at all. The hard work has already been done by having those conversations which help us to understand what our clients are looking for from their reports, and we can tailor the framework accordingly.

For us, customizing our reports has improved client relationships and added so much value to our digital marketing services. Despite the fact that the end product for each client may look similar (we issue reports through Google Data Studio, along with accompanying explainers and supplementary reports), the focus of each report is actually quite different. As with most aspects of SEO, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t tend to work, and we have definitely found that to be the case with reporting.

In conclusion

If you’re currently looking through your regular SEO report and are struggling to see the wood for the trees, take a moment to ask yourself these questions.

  1. Is the data in this report relevant and useful to my overall business goals?

     

  2. Do I understand the context of the figures contained within this report?

     

  3. Would I prefer a stripped-back report (or at the other end of the scale, does the report miss some vital information that would be very useful)?

     

  4. Does this report help me to make better decisions for my business?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can provide feedback to your SEO agency. Engage with them. Tell them what reporting changes would be helpful for you when it comes to understanding how their work benefits your business. Any credible SEO agency will take the time to understand your questions and show flexibility with the report to help you derive more value from it – after all, the report is for you, not for them.

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