SEO Reports: 3 Problems with Showing Off Your Progress

SEO reporting

What is the second most dreaded aspect of your work?

To me (and I suspect that I am not alone here) it’s reporting – proving my progress as an SEO.

I bet it’s the same for you.

Need a proof? Just imagine it’s the end of the month and as every other month you push along the corridors of your office to deliver yet another SEO report. Your task: prove that you are making a progress to people who have no clue about what you are doing.

How does it feel?

With the landscape of SEO changing so rapidly, reporting on ones progress isn’t such an easy task anymore. With the growing competition, the expectations to what the organic channel should deliver are actually quite high.

Quite often the people you report to are seeking answers to such questions as:

  • How much money has this channel brought us recently?
  • What is its overall impact on the company’s business goals?
  • What have you personally done to help us achieve our online marketing goals?
  • How do you plan to achieve your objectives next month?

The trouble is that becuase of that you often have to report on those aspects of your work you have the least (if none) direct influence on.

Below is a list of the most common SEO reporting problems I identified.

The Sales Problem

At a first glance, the most noticeable aspect of our work are search rankings or online visibility. The majority of the time we spend working goes into gaining better positions in SERPs for specific keywords. Of course I am simplifying the entire process here but you know what I mean.

Therefore logically, reporting on keyword rankings should naturally be considered the top metric to measure our progress by. Yet, many companies require their SEOs to report on something completely different:

Generated sales

There is an ongoing debate whether SEOs can actually attribute any sales to themselves and should they report on those at all. One stand, often backed up by the old saying: “you can bring the horse to the water but we can’t make it drink” believes that the SEOs job is merely to increase web traffic, whereas the actual conversion is in the hands of other departments, IT, content, marketing, conversion and many others.

The other believes that SEO is a sales channel and making money is its primary objective.

Personally I am torn between the two approaches.

On one end, by increasing keyword rankings we should be able contribute to company’s sales.

On the other hand, I see SEO also as a brand awareness channel. Through various elements such as blog posts, landing pages and many others we can position the brand in front of buyers at various stages of the buying process thus influencing their purchasing decision from early on.

Such understanding of the role of SEO however requires a completely different approach to reporting, one that many companies aren’t really ready for yet.

A Possible Solution: Developing a specific set of KPIs that outlines the sales aspect of our job but also highlights the brand awareness activities we undertake in order to promote the company and the brand to buyers. It’s a bit of best of both worlds but sometimes it’s just the only way out.

The Branded Keywords Problem

Tying closely with the previous problem, the inclusion branded keywords is one of the ongoing reporting dilemmas. Should branded keywords be reported at all since quite often there isn’t much activity needed to gain higher rankings for them? This is especially important if you need to report on sales through the organic channel. Should you be reporting on conversions through branded keywords or not? Is it cheating to include those figures in your stats?

Again, personally I am torn and I think the way you report on branded keywords largely depends on your situation. If you have only started promoting a new website, chances are that it doesn’t rank well even for branded keywords. In such situation, ensuring high rankings for those should be your priority. However, if you work on an established website, including branded traffic in your report might be misleading about your work and the progress that you are making.

A Possible Solution: Spliting or even completely ignoring branded traffic from your report and focusing only on non-branded keywords. Naturally this will mean that your numbers will be much smaller, yet your report will be much more transparent and clear in showing what you have done for the company.

The Goals and Milestones Problem

It’s hard to report on something you are working continuously for a year or more. In fact, it’s almost impossible to tell whether you have made any progress on it in such situation. On the other hand, working towards wrong goals doesn’t help with proving your progress either.

Similarly, quite often we have to work towards sales goals, being required to achieve a specific level of sales each month. In my view, this makes our work more frustrating since we don’t have such a great incfluence on sales, nor can react and amend things quickly enough to improve the sales performance of our channel.

Moreover, working towards sales goals takes away our focus from what’s really important in SEO, increasing the sites online visibility. Not to mention the frustration of having to report on the sales you don’t feel you have contributed to in the first place.

A Possible Solution: Probably through education. Showing your company what SEO is really all about and developing a set of goals you should be working towards.


To me, reporting is by far one of the most dreaded aspects of my work. Not because of the fact that I make no progress. It is more becuase quite often I have to report on things I don’t feel I have much influence on in the first place, making the whole excercise pointless.

Creative Commons image by writetoreply / Flickr.

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