As an SEO professional who has been in the industry for many years now, I have found that most clients that come to us for services were not generally given bad services from previous vendors. Instead, they just didn’t understand what was going on and how it was helping them in the organic search engine results. Could the vendor have provided more items in the retainer or executed better tactics? Most likely, but, for the vast majority, the main cause of frustration was a lack of communication about what was going on.
The main reason for this lack of understanding is that vendors don’t set clear expectations, and they don’t educate the client. They also tend to not report what is happening and don’t explain to the client how their services are helping them. If you don’t have solid reporting, then from your client’s perspective you aren’t doing very good SEO work. It is critical that you communicate the amazing work that you are doing because that is going to be the only way that they will know.
With that being said, here are the main things that you want to be doing to be more successful about reporting to your clients.
1. Pre-Sale Discussions
One of the largest disconnects happens when the client does not understand what you are doing. They just know they pay X amount of dollars per month and that they should expect results 4-6 months down the road. This might work for a lot of clients who don’t care, but the majority will want to know what is going on. It is up to you to educate them fully and get them to buy in to what you are doing — which is using the best SEO practices to make them more money.
Here are some pitfalls that you don’t want to fall into during the pre-sale discussions, which frames out the process of working together:
1. The client doesn’t read your proposal, welcome emails, or listen to your demos.
You have to make sure that the client is listening to you and that you are explaining everything clearly in this stage. They have to know what you are going to do for them in detail.
At Visiture, we do live screen shares, where we show potential clients our program. We also make sure to engage them with questions to make sure they understand. Sometimes, potential clients might not understand what you are talking about but don’t want to speak up.
2. The client doesn’t understand what you do.
This could pertain to a number of things — from link building to putting calls to action in information. Really dive deep with the client, show them how SEO works, and more. I like to ask the potential client their skill level or knowledge about SEO on a scale of 1-10 and then discuss our program based on how advanced they are.
3. The client doesn’t understand that it takes 6-12 months to get good results in SEO.
You should always try to frame the process so that the client will expect the work you outline to get done, but, other than that, they shouldn’t expect any results for 6-12 months.
There is a right way to look at SEO and a wrong way. You want to make sure that your client is looking at it the right way ― as a compounding customer acquisition channel. If they think they should see major improvements in four months, they will probably be disappointed, they will waste their money, and they will not be very happy with you.
4. The client is too used to their previous engagements with other SEO companies.
Unfortunately, I see this one a lot. Potential clients get stuck in their ways, thinking that all SEO companies are the same, and some have magical powers to give them instant rankings after 30 days. This cannot be further from the truth.
My counter to this is to really hammer home how much our company is different and how our services are different, and show how our engagement works. If you do not differentiate yourself from their previous engagements, then you will be the same to them.
5. You don’t include details in the proposals of your scope of work.
This is another huge mistake that SEO companies can run into. They try to simply do things to make it easier to understand and faster to onboard accounts, but all this does is create a higher turnover of your SEO clients. Spend the time to really get to know your customers, write detailed proposals/SOWs, and create custom proposals/invoices.
Spend more time in the discovery and onboard phase because that is what it takes to make your client succeed. If you must, make them sign longer contracts, but show them that you do it because you are spending the time to get to know them.
2. Organic Search Engine Revenue
After working on adjusting their mindsets and expectations during your pre-sale discussions, you want to look into how you report to your clients. The first and most powerful reporting concerns the revenue from organic search engines. You can look into this by going to Google Analytics & Acquisition & All Traffic & Channels.
Revenue from organic search engines is the most looked-at metric for the client because this is really all they care about. They don’t actually care where they rank in Google — they care about how much money it brings them. I generally like to look at this month over month and year over year. There are some great tools out there that can create dashboards showing these statistics.
You might be thinking, “But, Ron, I have lead generation clients. How can we calculate revenue?”
Well, don’t worry! It’s easy, and something good to have your clients do. If you have a lead generation site — say, like a law firm — you want to ask them how much revenue per lead they get. This isn’t too tricky and, sometimes, can be fairly easy.
If it is a small law firm, you can calculate how much their firm did in the past year and then divide that by how many leads they got from their website. Is this a perfect science? No, but it is a step in the right direction and it’s better than being completely in the dark. This works really well for lawyers who have low revenue per customer, like traffic or tax attorneys. For instance, say the firm did three million last year and had 3,000 leads. That means every lead should equal around $1,000 in revenue.
Now that you have that figure, you can set it up in Google Analytics as a goal completion, and you’ll know every time you get a lead from organic search engine traffic it will be around $1,000.
Also, it is important to consider that many customers will find businesses via Google and then come back later to convert. You will need to communicate this to the client or get fancy with attribution modeling for SEO. I just communicate it as attribution modeling for SEO. In my opinion, it is like throwing darts at a dartboard. You never know what you are going to get unless you are an expert dart player.
3. Organic Search Engine Traffic
You also want to make sure that you are reporting organic search engine traffic. This is pretty standard to report and, here, you also want to be looking at trends month over month and year over year. Throughout a one-year engagement, or whatever terms you have agreed upon, you want to see improvements in your search engine traffic and revenue.
If traffic is down but revenue is up, then this would be considered a success to report back to the client. A lot of times, customers would come to us who had previously targeted the wrong phrases, and we could change their content to the right phrases so they would convert more customers.
If traffic is up but sales are down, you can look into the reasons why sales are down. Frequently, I see customers increasing their pricing, getting rid of free shipping, competitors getting more aggressive with pricing, etc. There are thousands of reasons why revenue could decrease, and not all of them are rankings in search engines and traffic from search engines.
4. Keyword Phrase Rankings
This might seem somewhat contradictory, but it is the truth. We discussed looking at revenue and traffic from organic search engines, but the truth is we cannot make consumers search for our clients; nor can we make them buy products or services. All we can do is get our web pages ranking high in Google for those particular keyword phrases. That is why this is the third most important factor to look at when reporting.
If revenue and traffic are down, but keyword rankings are up, this can generally spell disaster — but it is something you definitely want to communicate with the client and help them overcome.
If you are in a situation where revenue and traffic are down but keyword phrases are up, you want to dig in deep with the client and figure out why.
Using Google trends, I can see if consumers are searching less often for phrases. You can see below, this particular keyword phrase has lost steam and, if it is losing steam, then other similar phrases will probably have been decreasing as well.
There are many causes for this situation: product lines have changed, there have been increases in pricing, or market demand is decreasing. These are not the easiest situations to report to your client, but you want to make sure you offer as much help as you can to help them understand why fewer people are searching and converting on their site.
I highly recommend using Semrush to report keyword rankings because you can look at the estimated traffic and their keyword rankings. I find it helpful to be able to export all of the keyword phrases a client ranked for — before they started working with us and after, to compare. It is harder to argue with data.
5. Off-Page Optimization Wins
Now that we have discussed the three main key performance indicators for SEO, we need to discuss the other big wins, such as backlinks acquired, social media signals, relationships built, outreach, and general off-page optimization.
For larger clients with a lot of consumers searching for their brand, it may be hard to show results. For example, we have one client that was on Shark Tank. Every time that the show reran that episode, their searches for the brand name would spike and throw off all of our results. Sure, we segmented out the branded searches, but lots of people would search and then find them through other searches. It is just impossible to segment it all out. This is why looking at off-page optimization wins is a good way to judge success.
Here are some key metrics you can show if you do off-page optimization for clients:
- Broken backlinks fixed or keyword audits complete
- Outreach emails completed
- Backlinks secured through outreach
- Social media shares created through outreach
- Relationships built with key influencers
Personally, I like to have these on spreadsheets that I send to the client to make it easy to read and understand. This way, the more advanced clients can dig into it and the less advanced ones can get a quick snapshot of what is going on.
6. Customize the Emails
If you are sending out automated emails from software and think you are doing a good job: STOP. You aren’t. You absolutely have to send customized emails that are relevant to your clients. Your clients might not be SEO whizzes, but they aren’t dumb. They can see email templates and dashboards. It is fine if you use a dashboard — but make custom notes in it. Maybe even do mandatory monthly meetings or bi-weekly meetings to discuss the automated dashboard monthly report.
However, you cannot send an automated dashboard report and templated emails and expect to have a high customer retention rate. Spend the time to really understand the report, think about what is going to be important to the client, and then report on those different items.
I usually spend 40-45 minutes on each report, compiling data and thinking it out, and each of my emails is like a long blog post. Then I try to jump on a call, if possible, to talk through it.
If you do not charge enough, then maybe it is time to start charging more to include time to do those reports.
* With Semrush My Reports, you can both automate and customize your report emails with sender's and reply-to addresses, message, signature, and more. Also, you can save your settings for future reports.
7. Summary of Work Completed
One thing that will drastically improve your SEO reports is a summary of the work that you have completed in the past 30 days and what you expect to do in the next 30 days. Clients love accountability and transparency. The more you can do that, the better.
8. Reporting Failure
The last tip I want to discuss is how to report failures. Listen, this is never easy, but you don’t want to just send positive emails with whatever data is convenient for you. You will have bad months; it happens to the best of us. If you have three months in a row of 15% month over month increases and then you go down 5% one month, from a compounding perspective you are doing amazing! You need to communicate those things to clients.
However, if you have 12 months of no results and no increases, then you obviously need to change something. As long as you are doing the best SEO practices, it may take longer. It took my agency 16 months to get a company to the first page for a keyword that had 300,000 monthly searches. For 15 months, there was no progress and then, in month 16, we went from page 4 to the #3 ranking.
SEO takes time, but I will admit that the entire 15 months that we had to report “failure” wasn’t easy. Luckily, they stuck with us because we didn’t hide anything and we used excellent SEO practices.
Reporting is difficult, for SEO, but, with these tips I have learned throughout my years, you will be able to retain clients longer and make them happier. It doesn’t matter how good at SEO you are. If your reporting is bad, they will think you are bad.
How long are your typical reports for clients? Do you use specific software to generate your reports? Share below!