If you’ve invested time, energy and resources into hiring the right SEO agency, you want to know that your investment is paying off. As with most third-party service providers, SEO companies provide regular progress reports for this very purpose. However, SEO is a somewhat niche discipline with its own internal logic and industry jargon. It’s one thing to receive the report, it’s another to fully understand its contents so you can assess whether your partnership is yielding the results you’re looking for.
What is an SEO report?
An SEO performance report is a document or presentation produced by an SEO agency for their clients, typically on a monthly or quarterly basis, to evidence the ongoing execution and results of an SEO project or campaign. It has several purposes:
▪️ Update the client on rankings, traffic and conversions
▪️ List the work produced and undertaken during the timeframe
▪️ Provide context for gains and losses
▪️ Offer recommendations for growth moving forwards
It is not the same as an SEO audit, which is performed at the beginning of an SEO project to assess the site’s performance before any work has been done to identify immediate technical concerns, performance on SERPs and potential focus areas for improvement that inform the development of the SEO strategy.
Why do SEO reports matter?
SEO reports exist to maintain transparency with the client and justify the continuing professional relationship. They essentially function as a business case for SEO, both between the agency and the client and internally at the client’s business, particularly if they are working in a larger corporation or enterprise.
If everything is going well, SEO reports illustrate the growing impact of the strategy on the visibility of the client’s website and connect this impact to increases in revenue, allowing for ROI to be calculated. While it’s worth bearing in mind that SEO results can take several months to kick in after the initial changes have been implemented, if you’re 6-12 months into the project and your monthly reports still aren’t showing increases in rankings or traffic, this could be a sign that the strategy needs re-thinking or that the agency isn’t all they were cracked up to be.
How often should an SEO agency deliver a report?
It’s important that an agency demonstrates regularity in its reporting process. Google makes thousands of tiny updates to its search engine algorithms every single year, and the popularity of some search terms can vary. This means that rankings can stall for several months and then experience a sudden spike or drop overnight. It’s important that every day, week and month is accounted for in the performance report.
The most common rate for SEO agencies to deliver reports is monthly, although some agencies prefer quarterly reporting. But don’t worry, this isn’t the only communication you should be receiving from your agency. You’ll be signing off on all work to be completed on your site and have a main point of contact for any questions and queries.
Some clients also prefer to have weekly or fortnightly meetings with the team running their account while others are content with just the report, and the very best SEO agencies are flexible and accommodating to either approach.
What should an SEO report include?
SEO reports are generally broken down into a couple of sections. It should be thorough, but concise. This isn’t the Great American Novel, people - your clients don’t have time to sift through pages and pages of inconsequential data and paragraphs of text. The agency should stick to four simple “whats”: what’s been done, what’s working, what isn’t and what’s next.
An overview of the month
The first section functions as an introduction of sorts, refreshing the clients’ memory about the previous month’s report as well as any priorities that were outlined either in the report or in conversation. It’s all about providing context for the sections that deal with the work that’s been completed and the search engine data.
A breakdown of works completed
Nothing in this section should come as a surprise, as clients sign off on all content, link-building and technical SEO activity on their website. It helps if the agency provides brief additional context and/or clarification as to how each piece of work contributes to your wider SEO and digital marketing objectives.
The all-important data
The intent here is simple: where are we at? The data in SEO reports is generally imported directly from Google Analytics, as it is the industry standard search engine, although some agencies use third-party tracking tools like Ahrefs or Accuranker. The report might also feature a combination of these for tracking organic rankings, traffic and conversions.
Monthly findings and recommendations
Generally, an SEO report wraps up with an assessment of the strategy’s progress. Depending on how far into the project or campaign you are, this could be used to manage expectations about timeframes, evidence the efficacy of the SEO strategy using the data provided or suggest alterations to the strategy due to plateaus in any of the projects’ key performance indicators (KPIs).
The most important SEO tracking metrics
If you’ve hired an SEO agency, there are three main areas you’re probably concerned with:
These are your basic progress metrics: Are my rankings going up? Are people visiting my website? Are they converting into leads? This is the information that allows you to directly attribute revenue increases to your SEO efforts.
However, there are a large number of other metrics SEO agencies are interested in that are arguably more illuminating in terms of the successes and pitfalls of an SEO strategy. Tracking user behaviour across the site, for example, can give you insight into where people are losing interest or how they are (or aren’t) navigating towards a conversion, highlighting obvious areas in need of improvement.
The metrics included in your report also depend on the SEO KPIs established at the start of the project. For instance, tracking page speed and domain authority on a monthly basis might not be of much concern for a technically sound website that already has a high DA.
With that said, let’s break down some of the most common metrics that go into making an SEO performance report.
While SEO is a fairly foreign subject for those outside of the digital marketing world, if you ask someone who knows about it vaguely, their answer will usually include “keywords”. Optimising your website to rank for keywords your target customers will be using to search for services is the bread and butter of SEO. It’s therefore important to track your position and be able to see your website moving up or down (preferably up!) the results pages for your most important keywords.
The vast majority of search engine traffic understandably goes to the first few results that come up. After all, when was the last time you spent clicking through multiple pages of SERPs to find anything? However, even if you’re ranking first, it’s possible that you could be losing traffic to other results on the first page, particularly for informational queries and people looking for services. You need to know exactly how much of your website traffic is coming from your organic SEO efforts.
This is the first metric on this list that comes directly from your unique KPIs established at the start of the project. What constitutes a conversion is different for every website, and you could also choose to track both macro conversions - the primary goal you want website visitors to arrive at - and micro conversions - small steps along the way that might help get them there.
Examples of macro conversions include:
▪️ Booking a free trial
▪️ Completing a contact form
▪️ Scheduling a discovery call
▪️ Purchasing a product
▪️ Signing up as a member
▪️ Subscribing to a blog
Examples of micro conversions include:
▪️ Downloading an eBook
▪️ Watching a product video
▪️ Signing up to a newsletter or mailing list
▪️ Sharing a post on social media
▪️ Viewing a certain number of pages
▪️ Adding products to a shopping cart
Your organic click-through-rate (CTR) is a percentage of search engine users that see your result on SERPs and, as the name suggests, click through to your website. For example, if the monthly search volume of a keyword you are ranking on the first page for is 100, and 20 users click through, you have a CTR of 20%. If the search volume is 200 and 10 people click through, your CTR is 5%, and so forth.
Clicks can tell you a lot about how attractive your result is to search engine users. Try experimenting with tidying up URL structures, changing title tags and having more informative meta descriptions - you might find that your CTR increases from 20% to 30% even if you initially stay in the same place rankings-wise. It’s all connected, though, because that increase in clicks will eventually be read by search engines as a ranking signal, and they might push you further up the SERPs.
Backlinks and referring domains
Google was founded on the idea of natural, high-quality backlinks and despite what some people on the internet might tell you, this is still one of the most important factors in getting in the good books of the world’s biggest search engine. The emphasis here is on natural and high-quality: Google (and all search engines) see backlinks as a recommendation of sorts from one domain to another, and if that recommendation looks authentic and is from an authoritative source, it’ll be more inclined to consider your website authoritative as well. Your SEO project absolutely needs to include a link-building strategy, and backlinks, therefore, need to be tracked.
Satisfying the needs of users is the number one priority of any search engine: what they want affects what a search engine will consider when ranking results. The number one thing people using search engines want? Answers. And fast. If you can’t provide that, users will absolutely exit your site and go to a result that is, in a literal sense, up to speed. For this reason, Page Speed is a direct ranking factor with Google, and it’s vital that both you and your agency are aware of it (0-100, with 100 being the best) so that any changes can be monitored, fixed and celebrated.
Domain authority (DA)
Strictly speaking, domain authority or domain rating is not a metric known to be used by any search engine. It is instead an approximation, originally developed by Moz and now used in some form by all SEO reporting tools, of how trustworthy or ‘authoritative’ your domain is in the eyes of Google in the form of an overall score between 0-100. It’s an important metric nonetheless because it is thought to be highly accurate - it’s no coincidence high-DA sites often rank first in results pages - and is used across the entire SEO industry in areas like outreach, link-building and digital PR.
Remember when we said that if users aren’t immediately satisfied with an aspect of your website - the page speed, for instance - they will go back to the SERP and browse for a different result? This is yet another important SEO metric, known as the bounce rate. You want your bounce rate to be as low as possible, as the idea behind SEO is obviously to keep people on pages and convert them into customers, clients, subscribers… or at least earn their trust enough that they come back to you as a source for information in the future. Sites with a high bounce rate have a tendency to get pushed down the SERPs after a while as Google sees this as an indicator that users aren’t satisfied with the result.
Average session time
Not to state the obvious here, but keeping users on your website is generally considered to be a good thing. Once again, search engine users are not patient people: they want what they’re looking for and they want it now. If people are landing on your webpage and staying there for upwards of a minute, it means they’re probably taking the time to engage. They’re reading the content you spent so long crafting and maximising your opportunity to convert them, if not into a customer, into someone who trusts you as a source for information.
Average session time, also known as ‘dwell time’, is not a direct ranking factor, but neither is its closely related cousin ‘bounce rate’, which has been shown to impact rankings in other ways.
Pages per session
The perfect scenario, the absolute dream of dreams, when it comes to SEO, is that after landing on your website from an organic result, a user spends as much time as possible exploring your website and learning more about your company or brand, eventually resulting in a conversion. Even if the conversion doesn’t happen immediately, a user navigating through your website is an indication that they are interested in learning more about you and is a process that can be adapted to guide them through your site in a targeted way.
How to read an SEO report
“Okay… so what am I looking at, exactly?”
Even if you understand the value of all the metrics in your SEO performance report, it can still be a little overwhelming when you’re first handed a bunch of search engine data.
If you’re working with true experts, they should really have the production of an easy-to-understand report down to an art. The data should be presented with context and explanations of how it applies to your objectives.
An SEO report, when done right, is designed to inform and educate you, not confuse you, about the services you’re investing in and a trustworthy SEO agency should have no reason to skirt around transparency in their reporting. If your agency is making their monthly or quarterly reports hard to understand, it could either be a sign that they’re still learning to manage clients or that they’re purposefully trying to mislead you.
It’s also important to not judge metrics individually, but rather to take the data as a whole. It could be easy, for example, to get fixated on the fact that your website has dropped from third to fifth in a month and miss the fact that your CTR has doubled in that time, meaning that you’re actually getting more traffic despite ranking lower.
Remember that this is all based on a strategy that was agreed to and is geared towards KPIs you set with your agency. The important question to ask is, therefore: is the strategy working?
How long does it take for SEO to show results?
Ah, the million-dollar question. Or rather, the few-thousand-dollar question, depending on your SEO budget.
Listen, we get it. SEO is a substantial investment and people get impatient to see results, especially if there are multiple stakeholders involved. But SEO is far from an overnight process: it generally takes 3-6 months for the strategy to start paying dividends. That’s 3-6 months of reports showing few obvious signs of progress.
It’s understandably anxiety-inducing for the client to wait that long, and a large part of the agency’s role in the early stages of an SEO project is about nurturing trust and managing expectations.
The one golden rule when it comes to the timeframe of SEO is to stay away from anyone promising you fast results. The only way to cheat your way to the top of search engines quickly is through black hat SEO: short-term tactics that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and have long-term consequences for clients. Meanwhile, the black hat provider either skulks off with their money never to be heard from again or continues applying their ‘quick fixes’, solving problems by creating new ones.
While the wait for SEO results from a white hat provider like Reboot can be nerve-wracking, the long-term gains are worth it. Remember: that first SEO performance report that shows your website climbing up the rankings is just the start.