Building Narratives In SEO Reports
As SEOs, reporting is a big part of our day-to-day responsibilities. At Seer, we talk a lot about data storytelling (using psychology to improve data visualizations) but it’s important to remember that visuals are only half of a report. The other 50% is written analysis where storytelling is important, too.
Without a cohesive narrative, a report can be hard to get through (even if it’s full of pretty visuals) and worse, it can be overlooked entirely. The strategy behind narrative building is complex and probably better served with a longer resource. However, we’ve compiled a few tactical tips you can employ for your next report to start thinking with a narrative mindset.
Set Up Your Digital Workspace
Just like a painter sets up a workspace with an easel, paints, brushes and rinse water, SEOs need to prepare a digital workspace for reporting. You’re about to make a work of SEO art!
Open Diagnostic Tabs
Before you even open your report, open up the following tabs so you’re ready to diagnose performance from all angles:
- For Traffic: Google Analytics/Adobe Analytics or whichever platform your organization uses to monitor organic traffic
- For Click-Through-Rate, Search Queries & Technical SEO: Google Search Console
- For Keyword Rankings: SEMRush, STAT or other keyword rank tracking tool
- For Backlinks: AHrefs or other link-monitoring tools
- For SERP Research: Empty Google search
Working on a report on top of your other tasks can make for a hot week! The likelihood you’ll skip over an important question or insight for the sake of time is lower when you take time to prepare your SEO workspace. All of your diagnostic tools are now open and at the ready.
Open Project-Specific Tabs
In a separate window(s), open the following documents for your organization or client:
- Project Plan
- Log of Completed Initiatives
Most SEOs are juggling a handful of different tasks, and the priority of these tasks can change week to week. It’s easy to forget the metadata update you made three weeks ago, or the fact that you have a technical SEO analysis planned next quarter without having these documents ready to reference. We’ll get into how having this information on-hand is important in the next section.
Open Your Report
Step 1: Determine How You’re Progressing Towards Goals
Now that you have everything at your fingertips, open your report and begin updating any data related to progress to goal. 💡 How you’re progressing to goals will set the narrative for the entire report.💡
Update this information first, so that anything you learn in analysis later will be relevant and ready to support the greater narrative.
Step 2: Refresh Your Memory: What’s Been Done?
Before beginning your analysis, it’s helpful to remind yourself of the work that’s been completed since the last report. This will remind you to keep an eye out for changes that may have resulted due to that work that you can take credit for (if positive) or rectify (if negative).
Step 3: Refresh Your Memory: What’s Upcoming?
Looking at your upcoming projects can help you frame your analysis to align with work you plan to do next. If a page isn’t performing as expected, and you have plans to work on that page in your project plan, great! This is an opportunity to highlight your proactivity.
If an audit of this page isn’t in your project plan, having a pulse on what you may need to reprioritize will help you manage your time better.
Begin Your Analysis
1. Start At The End & Work Backward
A common mistake in SEO reporting is diving right into overall organic trends or goal performance without understanding the more granular elements that caused that performance.
Try starting your analysis in this order:
- Keyword ranking trends
- Landing page performance
- Site section performance
- Organic traffic and conversion performance
- Overall traffic and conversion performance
By starting with the analysis typically found back later report (because they’re more granular), you’ll understand the cause of the overall and organic performance. This will save you time flipping back and forth from different pages. Most importantly, you’ll avoid drawing conclusions at the start of the analysis before you’ve done any real digging.
2. Summarize The “So, What?”
Oftentimes we want to include all the information we looked into during our analysis, even if that information isn’t important to support the overall narrative of the report. If you’ve ever had a client or coworker ask you “so, what?” after walking through a report, then you’ve included too much information. Make sure to communicate the main takeaway.
While distilling your findings can feel painful (we want all the credit for the hard work we’ve done!), do your best to house all your notes in a separate document. From there, you can look at what you have, ask yourself “why does this matter?” and devise a summary statement to move into the report along with only the data points needed to support your statement.
3. Avoid Data Regurgitation
If you’re looking for ways to trim down your analysis to isolate the “so, what?”, start with any instances where you’ve simply written out data that’s included somewhere else in the report (whether in a visual or previous slide/page). We call this data regurgitation, and all it does is eat up valuable analysis space to build your narrative!
4. Tie Performance Back To Work You’ve Done
It’s challenging to show the value of SEO, but reporting is one of the best opportunities to do so! As you analyze performance, make note of any changes that happened as a result of your recommendations to lay the groundwork for future buy-in.
This tip isn’t just for instances where your work has led to positive outcomes-- it’s important when recommendations don’t go as planned, too! If a page you optimized isn’t performing like you thought it would, calling it out in the report (along with a risk mitigation plan) is a great opportunity to build trust with the reader.
5. Make Recommendations To Show Proactivity
If an optimization isn’t performing, don’t wait to address it in an upcoming deliverable! Let the reader know what you recommend doing next. If you already have plans to address it in an upcoming project, even better! Let the reader know to let your proactivity show!
6. Complete Your Executive Summary Last
Every report should start with an executive summary, which is defined as a single slide/page with only the must-know information from the report. At Seer, our executive summaries always include:
- Progress to goals
- What’s working or what to watch
These two elements give executives everything they need to know about SEO performance: is it working or not, and why or why not? While the executive summary lives at the front of the report, can you imagine how off-base it would be if we completed it first without knowing our narrative?
Always save this page for the very end of your analysis and it will be that much easier for the reader to know the main points they should be looking out for if they make it far enough into the subsequent pages or slides. Prepping for an upcoming meeting with an executive and want to learn more about how to use storytelling? Check out our post on the Story Method for meeting with executives.
While these tips should get you started, we know there’s a lot more that goes into a strong SEO report! Keep reading for more granular, data-related tips for SEO reporting. In the meantime, drop your SEO reporting challenges, tips or questions in the comments below!
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