SEO Reports – What Rankings and Metrics to Include, and What They Mean
If you’re handling search engine optimization (SEO) for a variety of clients, then you should know that they’ll be expecting to see SEO reports that justify their investment in your services. You’ll not only need to provide them with key performance indicators (KPI), but you’ll also need to make it easy for them to get at useful information.
What are the basic principles of SEO?
There are entire books written on SEO guidelines and how to best apply them to your web sites, so I won’t get into too much detail here. However, in essence, these are the main points to cover during the optimization process:
- Page titles should be brief yet descriptive and accurate. You want the user to know exactly what he or she will find in the page.
- Page description meta tags are important and should be a short summary of what the page is about. Be careful not to simply repeat the title (since they’ll be be seen together), nor to go over 160 characters (anything over and it will be cut off anyway). This is a type of page advertisement, so use the space wisely. Although these meta tags won’t directly influence search ranking, it will encourage a user to click your link, which will increase click-through-rate, which will, in turn, influence search ranking.
- Along the same lines as the two points above, permanent link structure (aka. the format of the URLs) should be simple, short, and descriptive with proper keywords, with hyphens separating each word.
- Obviously, you don’t want your users to get a 404 error page. However, it’s bound to happen occasionally for various reasons. That’s why it’s important that the page they land on has a consistent design with the rest of your site, and that it offers the user the possibility to go directly to other pages of yours.
- Don’t knock the effectiveness of images to increase your standing in search engine rankings; users use images in their searches more and more, so clearly your site’s images need to be as optimized as the content. While captions are useful, so are the alt descriptions; don’t overdo keywords, but use this space to properly describe the image so that it can be found quickly during image searches.
- All text formats are not created equal: using H1 for your titles, H2 for your main headings, and integrating keywords in both, is an important way to optimize your page’s visibility on search engines for the keywords you’re targeting. While adding bold and italic fonts won’t directly affect your SEO, it will simplify the reading process for your user by allowing your main themes and points to come across in the first few seconds of landing on the page in question. User-friendly pages will be visited more often and for longer periods of time; this will therefore indirectly affect your SEO in a positive way.
- Internal and external links help create a web of connectivity from your website to the rest of the online world. It’s important to ensure that this web is as extensive and clear as possible. To help inter-page navigation, your pages should include links that point to other pages of yours (provided the connection between the two is not only logical, but also helpful). In terms of external links, remember to occasionally check these links to make sure that they aren’t broken or no longer in existence.
- Speaking of links, your off-site SEO is as important as your on-site SEO. Link-building, the process of getting incoming links from sites that aren’t your own (called backlinks), is arguably, the single most important factor affecting your SEO. Every year, Moz comes out with a comprehensive study of the most important search ranking factors, and back-linking and the like have consistently been at the top of the list.
- The web game changes over time, and one of the most important changes to address is the increase in traffic derived from mobile devices; mobile device usage has now overtaken desktop usage. With this in mind, it’s crucial that your website have a responsive design that will be super easy to navigate no matter what device on which it is visited. If your site isn’t optimized for mobile viewing, there’s a strong chance that it won’t even appear when users search on their mobile device.
- Finally, always remember that content is key: nothing mentioned above means much if the content on your site isn’t well-written, thoughtful, concise and regularly updated. Search engine algorithms are becoming more and more capable of judging content as a human being would; and since every search engine’s purpose is to understand what a user needs and deliver the best content based on that need, generating quality content should always be first and foremost in your SEO efforts.
What SEO Metrics Should I Show My Clients?
- Project Overview
A nice way to start a report is to highlight the objectives of the project, which ensures that the client is reminded why they are investing in SEO. Typical project objectives can be to “increase sales” or “gain more newsletter sign ups” from key phrases not related to the clients brand.
- Work Completed
If somebody is paying for your services, then it’s pretty likely that your client will want some form of evidence that you have done something!
If you’ve made any changes, such as page titles or descriptions, make a list of the pages and what you have done. If you have created and submitted a sitemap, include it. If you have resolved canonical issues or implemented redirects – include that on your list as well.
If you have acquired links to the website, then reference these. I like to be open with clients about the type of links I go after – if you have acquired a selection of links in a variety of quality, then perhaps just include the “better” links.
- Keyword Progress
Simple really! If the project is new, then it’s likely that the first report will be centred around the progress (if any) the website is making in the targeted search engines. What Search Engines to include? I tend to only include Google and Bing, as the other search engines won’t make an impact on the amount of traffic overall. In time if this isn’t the case, start to include Yahoo, Ask and any others you feel the need to.
- Impact On Traffic
It’s good to show how much of the traffic to the website is as a result of the increase in ranking in the search engines, or as a result of a piece of link bait, or if you are actively (or sourcing) blogs to help raise the clients profile in their niche.
- Goal Completion / Sales
I like to include this earlier in the report than it appears on this list – but the truth is you may not have anything to report on initially, so if you haven’t, don’t include it!
I’d suggest you agree and define clear goals at the start of the project and if they aren’t sales, if possible try and attain a monetary value to them, which can be used into the ROI. For example, a company may have a perceived value of £3 for every brochure request, based on other forms of advertising.
- ROI Figures
How often to include this is pretty debatable. For example if you were targeting competitive sectors with a low ranking or new website, then it’s pretty likely that the client wouldn’t see a return on their investment for the first few, maybe 12 months! Showing red figures on a monthly basis isn’t great.