Let me let you in on a secret: half of being “good” at SEO is knowing how to communicate results to your current and future clients.
A lot of folks in the SEO business tend to think that higher-ups in marketing will just innately understand the value they bring to the table. They’ll typically think that showing a bunch of green arrows and big numbers will be enough. They’re wrong.
Building a GOOD SEO case study isn’t just about fancy graphs and arrows reaching toward the sky: it’s also about building a story, showing just what all of those numbers REALLY mean for clients.
What does it practically mean for clients to rank for keywords? What does a 500% increase in traffic really translate into?
If you work in SEO, you’re going to be screaming at your screen right now. “It’s an increase in traffic! What else needs to be said?”
Yeah. No — trust me, we get it. But clients won’t — and if they aren’t getting it, that’s your failure, not theirs.
So, let’s talk about how to make sure that doesn’t happen. (And we’ll even provide you with a free template!)
SEO Case Study Basics: Where to Begin
First, it’s important to understand what the point of a case study really is. Case studies are built to show clients that yes, you do know what you’re talking about — and that you have some experience in your field.
Think of them as brochures showing how your company has helped similar clients in the past.
Case studies (and what they exactly contain) will differ a bit from industry to industry (hence why this is the SEO case study guide and not, say, the marketing case study guide).
If you’re trying to build an SEO case study, you’ll have to do three things:
- Show the client what’s possible with SEO.
- Show the client how you are responsible.
- Show the client how it can work for them.
… and you need to do it all within a quick, easy-to-digest narrative.
Let’s break that down a bit:
Showing Potential Clients What’s Possible
This bit is simple: it’s just showing them what success looks like. While not every client you have will show smooth, linear progress, you’ll generally want to limit your case studies to ones that fit that bill.
You want their success to be easy to follow, because you want your future client to be able to imagine this path for their own company.
This is the part of the case study where you can show off all those fancy numbers. Keep it general, though — there’s no need to get hyper-specific. Talk about how many keywords you helped them rank for. Feel free to shout out any particularly impressive keywords you’ve snagged for them — but only if they don’t require much explanation.
Most importantly, though, you need to tie those numbers to dollars.
Keep this question in mind when writing a case study:
Did the client get a return on investment — and was it significant?
As an example here, we can use a screenshot from one of our clients:
One client paid us to write content for them. We did — and in six months one blog post had made $14,248.00 in revenue. It had brought in 186,751 sessions. And that was just one of many posts that generated thousands in sales.
We charged $2,000 for each of these posts. In total, they were worth $40,959 for this particular six-month period — and keep in mind, that value doesn’t just go away after a few months, either.
(You can get our generic proposal here, if you’d like to know more about our rates.)
This was in a hyper-competitive space and our client was being heavily outspent by competitors. Yet, this is what we were able to achieve in a relatively short amount of time.
Your SEO case study should show that money spent on SEO = an increase in revenue.
Of course, you won’t be able to do this all the time — but you should be able to say something like, “This led to an increase in X% more sales,” or “This led to an X% increase in new leads.”
Showing You’re Responsible
This is where that part two comes in: you’ve got to highlight what you bring to the table that no one else can.
We can’t tell you what that is, necessary. What is YOUR value proposition? What is your unique angle?
For TCF, it’s our expertise and our writing talent. We put our blog content up front in a lot of cases because we’re confident that our writers are better than… well, just about anyone.
We’re also confident in our expertise.
We can talk endlessly about how our CEO, Kari DePhillips, was named one of the top 3 women in SEO by Serpstat. Or how we practice what we preach and have driven our entire business through SEO.
Or how we were ten years ahead of the curve when it came to working remotely.
All of that allows us to weave a simple narrative in our case studies we hand to clients: SEO works, we’re better at it, and we can utilize our specific advantages to do incredible things for your business.
What Data Range Should You Include in Your SEO Case Study?
As a quick aside, it’s important to point out just what data you’re including. Or, more accurately, what data range you’re including.
The obvious answer is whatever shows your impact in the most dramatic way.
A little less obvious, however, is something standard — something that both shows your impact while being a relatively common metric of success. This is why we typically show year-to-year results in our case studies. When you start breaking things up into smaller units, it can start to look like cherry-picking.
Year-to-year results typically are big — and to marketers and execs in the know, they’re also impressive because they tend to include spin-up time. This means that they tend to be realistic, too — something that can earn you kudos in a space known for being, uh, let’s say a little less than honest.
As far as what data you’re showing, we suggest sticking to the big numbers: sessions or users, conversions, and number of ranking keywords. SEMrush can be useful here — we find their historical data to be the best. (PS: If you want to give SEMrush a try, you can get a free week by using our link.)
Showing It’ll Work For Them
This is a special bit that’s going to require us to go on a bit of a tangent.
At the end of 2019, a client came to us with a unique problem: their customer is a needle in a haystack.
They were convinced that they were different. They were the exception. SEO wouldn’t work for them.
Because they sell luxury doors, windows, and security solutions to some of the richest people on Earth. Basically, if you need a bulletproof panic room for your yacht, we know a guy.
Could SEO really help them find their target market? Were these hyper-rich folks really looking at Google to find the best security solutions for their home?
Maybe they weren’t — but someone certainly is.
We convinced our client that high-end architects and interior designers are absolutely Googling this sort of thing.
They want to know about the latest options and building materials to woo clients over. With the pandemic eliminating the ability to make in-person sales calls or attend conferences. Googling is the easiest and next best option
We were able to tell — thanks to keyword research — that security consultants were looking for options for their clients.
A year later, and surprise:
Before our client signed with us, he was going door-to-door around the United States trying to sell millionaires and billionaires these products.
Now? He gets clients coming to him — clients he otherwise would’ve never reached.
Big clients, with big budgets – even some famous people from Hollywood! Their security and interior design teams Google various terms we’ve optimized our client’s website for, and BAM.
Within six months, our client received so many new leads from SEO he had to hire new salespeople to keep up with demand.
But what does this hyper-specific case study show? How is it relevant to potential new clients?
That’s easy: because it shows we’re competent, and it also shows that we can develop an SEO strategy that works for industries that aren’t typically thought of as “SEO friendly.”
It’s for this reason that we think that any simple story you can tell about a client’s success is good — even if they aren’t in an especially common industry.
Good stories are good stories. It’s as simple as that.
Include a Narrative in Your Case Studies
Marketing is just storytelling. SEO folks tend to be very focused on the data — but the reality is, even good data can’t sell itself. You’ve got to include a narrative.
Why did your client come to you? What did they need? What were they struggling with? How did you solve their problem? How does that relate to the potential client reading the case study?
To make this easy, most of our SEO case studies follow a simple formula:
- The Problem
- The Strategy
- The Results
- What This Means For Your Brand
Here, the problem refers to the initial dilemma. Why are they coming to you? What do they need? What questions do they have?
The strategy is exactly what it says on the tin — just boiled down into a paragraph or two of easy-to-digest copy.
The results is where most of the three things listed above this section. We talk about the numbers, what they achieved, and what that means for the client.
Finally, the last section translates our past (or current) clients’ success into the potential success of the person reading the case study. We’re careful to point out how the client in the case study is unique, but at the same time, we make sure to point out that the nature of SEO is inherently universal.
That is, SEO can work for all businesses — it might not work in the same way, and it might not have the same results, but there’s a strategy there that CAN work to some extent for YOUR business.
What to Avoid When Making an SEO Case Study
Don’t fall into the trap of relying on big names.
Many of the folks on TCF’s staff have had the luxury of sitting on both sides of the table. That means that, in addition to having to pitch businesses before, many of our team members have also had to court agencies.
This means that we are familiar with what some of your pitch decks look like.
And… we have to be honest, we’re a little embarrassed for you.
Far too many big (like, if you work in marketing, you’d know their names) agencies rely on case studies that just name drop Fortune 100 companies, talking about how they “helped” them “achieve results.”
…but if you ask for details?
“Well, everyone said we did a great job!”
If you can’t cite specific details about the project and what you did, then you aren’t writing a case study — you’re just writing copy for your execs to high-five over.
Your case study shouldn’t look like an algebra quiz.
Numbers are good. They’re concrete.
But we’re marketers, folks. You’ve got to tell a story.
What problem did you help your client solve? Why did they come to you in the first place? What did you DO for them?
Numbers and graphs can help illustrate these points, but they aren’t the whole story.
Don’t just show green numbers. You’ve got to explain what they mean.
At the same time, you don’t want to go overboard here. Don’t start getting into technical details.
Your client probably doesn’t need to know the differences between sessions and users. They don’t need to know about algorithm updates, or E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness), or crawl depth.
They just need to know about results — and the general strategy of how you got your client to wherever it was they wanted to go.
Your case study shouldn’t look cherry-picked.
Your data should look honest. If it’s obvious you’ve been trimming down your graphs, or moving around numbers to make your impact look bigger than it is… well, your future client is going to have some uncomfortable questions for you.
It’s okay to only report on pages you had control over — or if you walk away from a client, only focusing on the time you were there (and the direct results that came from your effort).
Just keep in mind — you’re going to have to answer for any discrepancies.
What an SEO Case Study Looks Like (Download our Case Study Template!)
To help you figure out how to put a case study together, we’ve gone ahead and put together an SEO case study template just for this guide.
We’ve commented on it extensively, so you can see precisely why we’ve made the choices we have.
We’ve done this because — let’s face it — it’s one thing to tell you how to do it, it’s another thing to see it in action. (You can get our case study template here.)