Fundamentals of SEO Reporting: Crafting the Most Effective Message for Your Audience

Building effective SEO performance reports isn’t always simple.

We’ve all had that situation where the client doesn’t actually know what they want, but knows exactly (sometimes in excruciating detail) what they don’t want.

Gaining an understanding of your audience, your purpose for communication, and how to build an effective story with data will help to optimize your SEO deliverables.

Let’s walk through how to do just that.

Identify Your Target Audience

Understanding the target audience of the deliverable has huge implications for the content and presentation of a deliverable. If you can pinpoint your audience and know what information is most relevant and important to them, it will be easier to create the most effective report.

Many years ago, as an intern I was tasked with typing the notes of different members of the team for the same meeting. One thing I noticed quickly is that people pay attention to different things. The account manager wasn’t taking notes about technical CRM implementation and the CRM guy wasn’t taking notes on the client’s reactions.

The same applies to clients, as different people are interested in different elements of reporting. For example, a marketing director might not be interested in the ranking for a target keyword, but is likely extremely invested in the revenue gained from a particular initiative. On the other hand, an SEO specialist may be extremely interested in the ranking of a specific keyword.

The interests of the individuals in these roles often aligns with their level of expertise and how they are being judged on their own performance.

What is their level of expertise?

Harvard Business Review breaks down expertise into four levels: novice, generalist, expert, and executive. Determining your audience’s level will help you to determine how to communicate with them.

Novice

Novices can be defined as an individual gaining their first exposure to a subject. For example, a marketing manager working with SEO for the first time as a part of their marketing plan might be considered a novice SEO.

When communicating with novices, make sure they understand the jargon. Define any and all technical terminology and lay out benefits of your recommendations in a simple, visual way that’s easy for everyone to understand and communicate to other stakeholders in their organization.

Generalist

Generalists are individuals who understand certain aspects of a topic. As a consultant, it’s important to understand the Generalist’s level of knowledge to facilitate the most efficient communication.

For these conversations, quickly review the elements they understand (making sure to communicate the benefit of each initiative) and focus on building out and simplifying recommendations, which they may not have seen before.

Manager

Managers are controllers of projects. In communications, present the decisions and approvals needed as early as possible. Providing next steps and prioritized lists can help managers understand where their role and focus on the team should be.

Managers may have a certain level of knowledge about a specific field. Make sure to add a mix between a succinct review and more information describing elements they don’t understand.

Expert

Experts are individuals with a high level of knowledge on a particular topic. These people have been in the industry for some time.

Experts can often understand what your initiatives are getting at, but building out the “why” and reasoning for a particular decision will create strong communication. If you are able to justify all of your recommendations with the data you present, it will combine well with the expert’s technical knowledge. 

Executive

Executives are the owners of total site performance like CEOs, marketing directors, and heads of ecommerce.  Their jobs focus around driving KPIs for the entire online experience.

Because of this, many executive level members prefer impactful visuals relating to KPIs with notes explaining any fluctuation in the data. Align your data with requests of support need from executives and these initiative are almost guaranteed to get implemented.

Through aligning your understanding of the audience's needs, your communication will become more effective.

Purpose for Communication

Determining your purpose for communication will help you to craft an effective message. Some common purposes for client communication include:

Communicating a Success. If you’re looking to communicate your successes you might focus your report on organic search visit and order growth rate, ranking increases, answer box rankings, or increases in search share of voice.

Inspiring a Decision. Are you aiming to solve a problem? Outline the problem and solution, but don’t just tell your audience what you want, really arm them with the “why”. If you’re trying to inspire a decision, include historic metrics that support that initiative.

Identifying an Issue. If you’re identifying a site issue, you’re going to want to include when the issue started, what you believe the issue may be, how you came across it, and the expected impact. If appropriate, also include any potential solutions you may be able to suggest.

The idea here is to put yourself in your client’s shoes. Once you’ve identified a purpose for your communication, make sure your client can put your insights to use within their company. What questions will their boss likely ask? Will they need to convince another team to jump on-board?

If you can successfully prepare these questions beforehand, both you and your client are going to be more productive.

Building a Story with SEO data

Weaving a story with data is one of the most valuable skills of an analyst. Stories informed by data are powerful driving forces, which facilitate better communication and lead to success.

Transforming a data blob into a painting by numbers isn’t easy, but there are a few things to consider when establishing your story.

Summarize Your Message. Start by including a short one sentence synopsis of the data. The goal here is to create a title-tag-length comment of what you’re trying to communicate. The types of messages above (i.e. communicating success, inspiring a decision, and identifying an issue) are a good place to start to whittle down what you really need to say.

Build Out the Body. After determining your message, move into the “what” and “why” (i.e. the body of your story). In terms of communicating an issue that has been identified, you want to detail what happened as well as offer some additional details. Why did is happen? When did it start? When did it end? How did it affect KPIs? And one of my clients’ favorite questions - did we expect this to happen?

Most importantly, you want to communicate to the client what the next steps should be. Provide the most relevant details in the most succinct fashion.

Communicate through Data. Once you’ve identified your audience and your message, you need to effectively back up your points with data. Sometimes creating visuals out of data can help, as visual information tends to resonate better and is a large part in conveying a compelling story. Sometimes it’s best to just state numbers in plain language in the text. Consider how you can make the data as easy to understand as possible.

Evaluate Your Deliverable. After your report is built out, try to anticipate any additional questions your client may have. If relevant, make sure that those answers are included. Review your message's clarity, your body's succinctness, and the relevance of your supporting data.

Conclusion

Effectively communicating SEO performance isn't always a simple task. However, by understanding your audience, purpose for communication, and developing a story with your data, your SEO deliverables can help you to push through initiatives, return better performance metrics, and prove your value.

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