As an agency that delivers monthly SEO reports to each and every one of our clients, we’ve produced a lot of monthly reports in our 17 years in business. I review roughly 15 reports each month, and real talk, I’ve seen things that have kept me up at night. The challenge with reporting is that the data doesn’t always speak for itself, and as consultants, we need to back up our strategies with context and explanation in order to align on where we’re headed, and sometimes make a case for why we may need to pivot. All that takes words on paper; it takes savvy writing and the ability to convey a message on paper effectively.
In this post, I’m going to outline seven tips for writing better SEO reports, most of which have one thing in common: say less stuff.
1) Kill the Fillers!
Unnecessary fillers are your enemy when writing SEO reports. “Fillers” are words or phrases that don’t add value in the report. They give the reader no additional information and do nothing to tell your story or drive home a point. They are words that if said aloud, keep you going while you “come up” with the rest of your sentence and fill the silence.
Here are a few filler examples that you should watch out for and eliminate at first glance:
- “In the data we reviewed…”
- “We will monitor performance…”
- “After looking at last month’s report…”
- “When looking at…”
- “Once our recommendations are implemented…”
- “Given that…”
The next time you write a report, look out for words that if said aloud, would sound like fillers.
2) Watch your use of dates: “month over month”, “year over year”, etc.
What’s wrong with the sentence below?
“Organic sessions decreased month over month for the second month in a row (-19,110 sessions). In June, we observed numerous fluctuations in keyword rankings that caused month-over-month decreases in sessions…”
There’s no need to start the second sentence with “In June…” if we’ve already established that the analyst is reviewing Month-over-Month data within the report. There’s also no need for the first “month over month” if we’re offering that sessions decreased for the second month in a row. The sentence should be rephrased to:
“Organic sessions decreased month over month for the second month in a row (-19,110 sessions). We observed numerous fluctuations in keyword rankings that caused month over month decreases in sessions…”
While this may seem trivial, being repetitive distracts from the narrative and can leave your audience confused. Be careful with how you explain dates and time horizons that give context to your data.
3) Be Assertive
Remember that you are the expert, and whoever is reading your report is counting on you to understand exactly what’s going on. It’s also on you to not only explain what’s happening but recommend a cogent way forward.
To be assertive, look for phrases like “we would like to” and change them to “we will.” Take a firm, black-and-white stance on what is or is not happening, and what you should or should not do. Remember what Yoda said – “Do, or do not. There is no try!”
4) Be Consultative
Similar to being assertive, double down on being consultative. To do that, I recommend:
- That you look for the root cause, or the underlying “thing” that is producing whatever leading or lagging indicator that you’re reporting on (like keyword rankings or site sessions), and then highlight that root cause. For example, “our traffic declined 4% month over month due to seasonality, which we observed in June of last year and anticipated seeing this June, given the seasonality of our industry. We are not concerned with the 4% decrease, and expect traffic to rebound next month as we move into our busy period. ”
- Once you’ve outlined a root cause, explain exactly what you should or should not do given the new reality
- Eliminate words like “likely”, and “we think”, and instead take an assertive stance
5) Watch Your Tense
It pains me to say this, but I see so many folks mix up past, present, and future tense. Tenses convey things that happened in time, and when we mess them up in reports, we sound silly. For example:
- Past tense: Keyword rankings decreased
- Present tense: Keyword rankings are decreasing
- Future tense: Keyword rankings will decrease
I recommend that you proofread your SEO report multiple times, and in one of those reviews, look for tense errors only. For example “is providing a content audit” vs. “plans to provide a content audit” could be easily missed if you’re not reviewing specifically for tense.
6) Use Bullet Points vs. Paragraphs
Both of the below examples contain the same words, but one is much easier to digest:
Example 1: Month over Month
Organic sessions decreased for the second month in a row. (-19,110 sessions). Paid search contributed a +25% increase in sessions which could be a factor for fewer organic branded clicks in Q2 (-185,878). Seer expects efforts from paid search & organic to positively affect each other – these early efforts are likely due to the PPC restructure driving more paid clicks for branded terms.
The Homepage was the largest contributor to the decrease in organic sessions. This further indicates seasonality as the Homepage’s organic rank improved an average of +5 spots from Q1 to Q2 2019, however, this growth occurred past page 1. Seer plans to audit this page in July to offset seasonal declines.
Example 2: Month over Month
- Organic sessions decreased for the second month. (-132,107 sessions)
- Paid search contributed a +11% increase in sessions which could be a factor for fewer organic branded clicks (-171,203)
- Seer expects efforts from paid search & organic to positively affect each other – these early efforts are likely due to the PPC restructure driving more paid clicks for branded terms
- The Homepage (-6%) was the largest contributor to the decrease in organic sessions
- This further indicates seasonality as the Homepage’s organic rank improved an average of +5 spots from Q1 to Q2 2019, however, this growth occurred past page 1
- Seer plans to audit this page in July to offset seasonal declines
Bulleting key bits of information makes reports easier to understand because bulleted lists reduce the cognitive load of the reader. Also note the use of color in the text above, red indicates a decrease and green indicates an increase. Leverage color to drive your point home and further reduce the cognitive load of your readers!
7) Be Careful with Numbers
Use numbers for goodness sake, but explain what they represent and position them in a way that helps your audience understand why they are important. For example, mentioning that “traffic to the site is up” is great, but not specifying by how much and failing to mention what caused the increase in traffic leaves your audience guessing. Be more specific, for example:
“Traffic to the site is up by 8% this month, mostly due to the 7 content audits that were implemented in May of 2019.”
And remember that it always helps to understand exactly what your audience cares about, and report on your wins through the lens of their KPIs.
8) Review Your Report Three Separate Times
As I alluded to earlier, I recommend that you review your report three separate times. The first time, only look for grammar mistakes. The second time, give your report the “smell test,” i.e. ask the question “does what I’m saying here actually make sense?”
Lastly, you should review only for tense and punctuation issues. Reviewing for grammar, the “smell test”, and tense/punctuation all at once is really hard, which is why batching your reviews can be super helpful. Proofreading is extremely important, so don’t skimp out on it!
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