Content is a difficult thing to sell clients on initially, and it can be even hard to convince them to keep signing on for it. In large part, this is because good content costs money — not everyone is cut out to be a writer (that’s okay, we all have our strengths) — but also because good content takes time.
But the other piece of the puzzle is showing your clients that the content you’re writing for their website is giving them a return on their investment, regardless of the goal. For example, some of our clients want more monthly visitors. Others want to see higher conversion rates — website visitors that have been converted into paying customers. Some want to see longer times spent on site.
All of these goals are easy enough to report on via Google Analytics, provided your client has them set up properly, that is. There are also some other tools that can help you gain additional insight into what’s working with your content and what isn’t.
Here’s how to write a comprehensive, helpful report for your clients, the tools you need in order to finish it, how you can use it to create tangible evidence of your ROI (return on investment), and we’ll even give you a free template that you can customize with your own branding.
Creating Professional SEO Reports for Clients
At the beginning of each month, we write reports for our clients — we call them KPI Reports, and their purpose is to measure key performance indicators. We take that time to compare the month’s data to previous months, check in on goals, and evaluate our progress throughout the contract. For example, if we’re wrapping up a contract, we’ll include a contract-to-date analysis, and if it’s the end of the year, we typically do a year-to-date overview to compare where we started.
Because we appreciate templates around here (and love how much time they save us), we’re providing you with the one we use for our SEO clients, but you should customize it however you feel necessary to reflect the goals of each client. Since each client may have different KPIs, you should make sure you’re reporting on the metrics that are most important in each case.
Building Your SEO Report
There are many different tools you can use in order to build your report. For the purposes of our examples, we’ll use the following:
- The client’s Google Analytics (overall and organic traffic, top organic pages)
- SEMrush (keyword data, backlinks)
- Buzzsumo (social shares of content)
You can also use Ahrefs instead of SEMrush, and Social Animal instead of Buzzsumo. In terms of analytics, your client should either have Google Analytics or use Hubspot in order to get their website traffic data. We prefer Google Analytics (largely because we’re accustomed to it at this point), but Husbpot’s platform has improved greatly in the past few years and can do just about everything Google Analytics can. Other analytics platforms are fine, too. The data is what matters most — not what platform you’re pulling it from.
Step 1: Creating the New Doc
The best way to start an SEO report for your client is to create a copy of a prior SEO Report, or create a copy from our free template. This can help you make sure you’re not missing any sections or data. You can do this by right-clicking (or control-clicking on a Mac) and choosing “make a copy” from the drop down menu.
If this is the first time you’re creating an SEO report for your clients, or this is the first report for a new client, this is a good opportunity to add sections that reflect your clients’ specific KPIs.
You may find it easiest to work your way through the report in the order in which it stands, or to skip around. You can do it however you like — it’s your report. Regardless, you need to make sure you’re not missing any sections. Pro Tip: Put the text you’ve not yet changed in red so you can easily see the sections you haven’t completed yet.
Step 2: Google Analytics
Google Analytics will be one of the most important tools for creating SEO reports for your clients. This is the tool that will show you exactly what pages on the website are bringing in exactly how much traffic and from where. While tools like SEMrush and Buzzsumo can help you determine which pages are drawing traffic, their data is based on estimates, not data that is being taken directly from your client’s website.
Alternatively, Hubspot would be a suitable substitute. If your client is already using Hubspot for their blog management, you can ask for permission to access their dashboard, which is where you can get access to their analytics.
A couple years ago, Hubspot dramatically improved their analytics platform and it’s pretty comparable to what you’ll find on Google Analytics. At one point, we were able to A-B test Hubspot Analytics to Google Analytics with the same client and found the data to be nearly identical, and the Hubspot platform was pretty intuitive. We can only assume it’s improved further since then.
You’ll see in our template that the first thing we do is screencap the overall traffic for the month compared to the previous month. As an SEO, you’re not necessarily responsible for overall traffic, but it’s important to have a benchmark here to compare how organic traffic is faring against other sources of traffic. Having this quick reference in your reports can help you answer questions if traffic is tanking later on — is it their referral traffic or are you losing organic traffic?
To find this data, open the client’s Google Analytics. You can find overall traffic changes by going to Audience > Overview.
In the upper right hand corner of the window, you’ll need to change the date range to the specific time period in question. Unless otherwise specified by the client, you’ll probably be comparing the month that just ended to the previous month’s data (i.e. comparing October to September). Be sure you hit “apply” and then double-check the dates after the page loads — you’d be surprised how many times this metric can change without you realizing it.
Because graphics tend to help demonstrate data in a more exciting manner, we use plenty of screenshots in our SEO reports. We typically begin with a screenshot like this one of overall traffic:
Next, you’ll want to check organic traffic. This is really where the fun begins for you because organic traffic is what you’re responsible for as an SEO. This is where you get to start bragging (humbly or not).
You’ll find organic traffic by going to Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium on the left side.
When the page loads, you should see something like this:
Before we get into the details here, we should discuss conversions, which are located all the way on the right side of this graphic. If your client has conversions set up, be sure to include them in your report. If not, you can skip that part of the screen in your screencap. However, we recommend that all of our clients set up conversions for a few reasons.
- Conversions help prove your ROI. If the pages you write are helping to convert readers into paying customers, you’re doing your job well. This should help you prove that you’re worth a steady spot in their annual budget.
- Knowing what types of content convert better than others helps you figure out how to tailor your content to what’s working.
- You can also identify content that is not converting well and revamp it to make it more effective.
- Finally (even though it has little to do with you), it can show your client which referral traffic isn’t yielding conversions, which can save them money in the long run and redirect their budget to more effective areas (like SEO!).
For the purposes of this section of the report, focus on “google/organic” unless your client has specifically asked you to look at Bing or Yahoo! organic traffic (if you have a client that gets a significant amount of traffic from either, please let us know that you found the unicorn next to the leprechaun and the massive pot of gold).
In this case, “google/organic” is right at the top of the list, but this is not always the case with every client. While you’re here, make a note of the percentage of overall traffic that organic is accounting for. In the graphic above, it’s about 84%.
Ideally, you want organic traffic to account for a fair amount of the traffic coming into your client’s website. This comes with time and keyword rankings, but it will keep overall traffic more level when referral traffic ebbs and flows, which can happen when your client is running sales, ad campaigns, or is getting traffic from backlinks and PR placements.
Next, click on “google/organic” to isolate organic traffic, and you should see something like this:
Because this particular client didn’t have conversions set up, we’ve skipped it in this screencap of the organic traffic. This is where you should provide a brief summary of the organic traffic changes from one month to another.
- Did organic traffic increase?
- Did it decrease?
- Is there any particular reason for these changes? (For example, if your client is a retailer and it’s holiday season, people may be shopping for gifts. This could be a cause for an increase in organic traffic, provided you’re ranking for relevant keywords.)
This is also a good opportunity to point out any milestones that might have occurred during the month. For example, one of our clients that has experienced steady growth since we started working with them recently topped more than 1,000 organic sessions in one week — a first for them, and definitely worth pointing out. A simple screenshot and an explanation of the dates is sufficient.
Top Organic Pages
Next, we evaluate the top organic blog posts/pages for the month. At this point, you’ll want to go to the upper right-hand corner of the window and take away the comparison to the previous month, so you’re only looking at the current month’s data. Be sure to hit “apply” once you’ve unchecked the box.
Next, you need to get to the specific pages bringing in the most organic traffic. To do that, you’ll need to set a couple more parameters. Go up to the drop-down menu that says “Secondary dimension” above “Source/Medium.”
Click on the drop-down menu and then choose “Behavior” from the list.
Another drop-down menu will appear. From that list, choose “Landing Page.”
When the page loads, you should have a list of the top 10 organic landing pages for the month. You can also expand this list by telling GA to show a larger number of rows (25, 50, 100, etc). This is definitely a place you want to include conversions in your screencap if your client has them set up.
This is a screenshot of a different client that has an online retail shop. Obviously for that type of client, it’s imperative that our content is making money for them — and as you can see here, it’s doing its job.
Below this graphic, we typically provide a brief overview of the changes month-to-month. Did one page or blog post drop down the list? Is another climbing? Is one suddenly bringing in more revenue (or whatever other conversion metric they use)?
This should conclude your GA requirements. Let’s move on to social proof.
Step 3: BuzzSumo
Some of our clients are far more concerned than others with social shares. In some instances, it’s just not important, so they don’t waste their time thinking about it. For others who may be trying to build their brand or online presence, it’s a critical measure of success for any given piece of content.
We typically include Buzzsumo data so the client can get an idea of how their content is clicking with their audience (no pun intended). The more engagements, the more the piece is sticking with people.
In BuzzSumo, we want to look at the Top Posts This Month By Shares, in addition to the Top Posts This Year By Shares. If you’re not using Buzzsumo, look for equivalent data that will demonstrate how content is performing in the short-term, as well as over a longer period of time.
If you’re using Buzzsumo, go to the homepage, hover your mouse over “content” at the top and choose “web content analyzer” from the drop-down menu.
When the page loads, type the client’s URL into the search bar and hit “enter” or click on “search.”
You can change the date range under the URL search bar to either be a specific date range (like September 1-30) or for the past year, or two years.
After you grab a screenshot (if data appears) for the month, switch this parameter to the “Past Year.” If nothing shows up, you can always extend the period to the “Past 2 Years.”
Be sure to provide a brief overview of changes on both of these graphics compared to the previous month. For example, if social shares were down from the previous, say so. If content fell off the Year graphic due to age, or if some posts gathered additional shares, say so.
Here’s another bonus tip for you to use from your SEO report for your clients. While you’re writing your report, you might as well gain some insight into future pitches and make sure you’re as educated as possible as to what content would best serve your clients’ target audience.
An awesome feature of Buzzsumo is their content analysis feature, which shows you what types of content are getting the most shares on social media. One of our clients tends to get more engagement from their “how to” articles than any other type of content — more than “why this” or “why that” articles, and even listicles. So we used that to create pitches for the next quarter’s content to help boost engagement. If you can make the social media marketer’s job a little easier, why not be a team player?
Again, this can all be done in other tools (like Social Animal) as well. What we’ve learned over the years is that this data (for both Buzzsumo and Social Animal) take time to populate. Sometimes shares don’t show up right away, or there seems to be a jump in shares when there wasn’t necessarily a reason for it. We chalk this up to the fact that they’re dealing with a massive quantity of data and sometimes, the data gets messy.
Step 4: SEMrush
Next up in the template is some of the most exciting (and also frustrating) parts of SEO reports for your clients — keyword rankings. As a general note here, we tell our clients (who monitor these sorts of things) not to pay attention to day-to-day movement. We’ll make the same suggestion to you here. Even month-to-month, there tends to be a lot of variability, even when you’re doing well. When looking at data, be cognizant of the details, but at the same time, always try to zoom out a little bit to get a full picture.
It’s for this reason that we prefer to include them in monthly reports. Doing so allows you to get an overview of what happened during the previous month and track patterns over time. Watching the daily changes will absolutely drive you insane — we don’t recommend it.
Log into SEMrush (or Ahrefs) and type in your client’s URL into the search bar. When the page loads, it should look something like this:
What we’re really here to focus on are the organic keyword rankings. To find these, you’ll look at the left side of the screen. Click on “Organic Research” under “Domain Analytics” and you’ll see a chart pop up that looks something like this:
Below this is a box indicating the organic keywords your client ranks for. This box will only show you a few, and you want to see all of them, so click on “View all X organic keywords” in the bottom left-hand corner:
When the page loads, you’ll see the graph still at the top, but (hopefully) a larger list appears below it. At this point, we find it easiest to download this list to an Excel spreadsheet. Having it in this form allows you to organize the data, leave whatever notes you’d like for your client, and delete information that isn’t relevant (do you really need a timestamp?).
On the right side of the screen, click the button that says “Export” and make sure that “All” is selected, rather than the “first 1000” and hit “Excel” at the bottom.
An Excel file will automatically start to download to your computer. If you still use Excel as a program on your computer, you can open it that way, but if you don’t, you can use Google Sheets to open it.
When you open the spreadsheet, there will be a lot of columns that aren’t necessary for your client to see, and can be overwhelming. As such, it’s a good idea to delete the data in the extraneous columns. We typically delete everything except:
- Previous Position (including this helps both you and the client recognize keyword movement and volatility)
- Search Volume
- Keyword Difficulty
The Competition column will be to the right of your URL column, so drag it just to the left so that the URL column comes last (it just makes the most sense).
We like to include a screenshot of the Top 30 Keywords. It should look something like this:
It’s also a great idea to link to the full spreadsheet in this section. Because we use a lot of Google Docs and Sheets at TCF, we typically just make the spreadsheet shareable and provide a link to the doc. Regardless of how you do it (such as attaching the spreadsheet to an email), your client should get to see their entire list of keyword rankings, so be sure to include it somehow.
In the analysis, tell the client about the changes from the previous month. Have they lost or gained keywords overall? What about in the Top 10 and the #1 spot? Has there been a Google update lately that could mean shifting in the rankings? Make sure you notify them of any wins, such as ranking keywords that are highly transactional and could lead to higher sales.
Wrapping Up Your SEO Report
At the beginning of each goal in the takeaways section, indicate whether you saw success or a failure that month. We typically say “Achieved and Ongoing” in green or “Stalled” in red.
Give a brief overview of the traffic chances and leave a bit of analysis for the client. Was there a Google update lately? Was there an external factor that brought in more traffic? How many months of growth have we seen? Are things looking up or down overall?
Next, leave a brief commentary on social shares. Provided that Social Media Marketing is not part of the contract, this analysis can remain brief. Be sure to encourage the client to continually share evergreen content — there’s really no reason not to.
Then, discuss changes in keywords over the past month. This could give indications of whether or not there were Google updates recently. If there were, be sure to warn the client that spikes or downturns right after updates can be anomalies and that only time will tell what the true effects of the update are.
Here is a sample conclusion from a previous client SEO report:
Finally, go up to your table of contents and click on the refresh icon in the upper left corner:
Doing this will update any of the headings in your Table of Contents so they don’t read “Top Blog Posts for September” in your SEO report for October.
Reviewing the SEO Report with Your Client
The final step — and perhaps one of the most important steps of all — is to review the report in its entirety with your client. This is something we constantly offer to do with our clients, and the reason for our insistence is that many clients don’t understand the data in the report, but they don’t want to ask questions.
The reasons that clients may choose to forego questions vary. They could feel awkward asking questions, or they may not want to show you that they don’t know what you’re talking about, or they may not care.
But this report is one of the best ways you can show tangible evidence of the benefits of your work. It behooves you to offer to go over the report with them on the phone (or Zoom, or Google Hangouts, whatever) so they have the opportunity to ask questions and you can further explain anything that might need to be addressed. We highly recommend pushing for monthly SEO report reviews with your clients.
It’s also important to remember that SEO reports are fluid. You may find that reporting on a particular aspect of your work isn’t very helpful to your client, or they may express an interest in a metric you aren’t reporting on. Regardless of the changes requested — or who is requesting the change — being flexible can go a long way toward keeping your clients happy.
SEO reports can be rather tedious to compile. It’s not difficult but it certainly takes time. It’s in everyone’s best interest to create the most helpful report possible. That way you’re not wasting your time, and your client is happy to see that their investment is paying off.
Learning More About SEO
Like any other profession, a major component of SEO is ongoing education. From the beginning, Google’s main goal has been to deliver information to the masses. As time has gone on, they’ve made important adjustments to their algorithm to make sure that the content popping up at the top of the SERPs answers the questions their customers have. As a result, SEOs have to be vigilant about these changes — or at least, what they’ll tell us about the changes.
At the end of the day, the most important thing you can do as an SEO expert is to write content that provides value for your client’s target audience. If you can meet that expectation, your content will perform better in the SERPs, which will be reflected in your SEO reports. (And don’t forget to download your free template here!)
If you’re looking for more information about SEO, SMM, or how to use PR to boost your client’s content, check out our blog. We also offer online training packages so you can fill in any knowledge gaps you may have (we all have some!). Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you have further questions or would like to discuss our services and offerings.