SEO is the most undervalued marketing channel.
It gets a shoestring budget compared to PPC or TV ads.
And then it has to fight to justify its existence.
In this article, you’ll learn seven proven ways to explain the value of SEO.
Why most SEO reporting needs ripping up
Resource-strapped search marketers rarely do themselves any favors. They give data-laden reports that lack context.
Many read more like annual accounts, with numbers everywhere, arrows up and down. But these reports fail to take into account business-relevant metrics.
For example, traffic might be down. But it might be down for everyone in the sector, thanks to a change in the SERP structure.
Or, what if you’re a seasonal business? Your report will show a decline that’s no fault of yours.
Generally speaking, SEOs give clients too much data they neither value nor understand.
Treat sales data with caution
It’s common for SEOs to start claiming all kinds of revenue results.
This tends to ignore the business’s brand, product, social media, PPC, email marketing and any other type of marketing.
In reality, search – and customer acquisition – is a complicated business.
My parents are in their 70s and have only just made their first purchase from Amazon. It took a gift card.
Fair enough, if an SEO professional at Amazon wants to add my mom’s purchase into their analytics wins.
But it’s a lie. Gift cards caused a navigational search and allowed for zero-risk purchasing.
SEOs tend to get fixated on fighting other channels for budget, and we’ll claim any wins we can.
But while revenue might be something you can show, it’s not your default.
People purchase for a wide range of reasons. They also abandon carts for many others.
So show conversion data in your reports, but ensure the client clearly understands this is website performance, not necessarily SEO performance.
Many factors affect sales, and it’s rarely all down to website traffic.
1. Nearest competitor traffic comparison
Search is a marketing channel, a space that other brands occupy.
Comparison will be your largest weapon for proving the value of SEO.
By pointing out how your client’s competition is doing in search, you can show the value of SEO by taking them toward and past the competition.
Comparison can come in a wide variety of ways.
But in this first valuation, create a chart showing your client’s site’s traffic next to a competitor.
The one that they compete with most often.
In my view, use a simple bar chart. There’s nothing quite like a target to aim for.
As you go past them, keep changing the competitor. This will help the client to focus on short-term wins.
2. Share of search interest
Share of search is a metric Les Binet and the IPA proposed as a cost-effective way of measuring brand performance. It’s also a fairly simple metric to work out.
You can use Google Trends to measure the interest of your brand and the competitors and calculate your share of search interest.
This isn’t perfect for SEO because it shows search as a channel. This means that all of your marketing adds to this figure, but it’s a nice metric to:
Show how your marketing impacts your business.
Give you a warning, especially when there’s a decline in share of search interest. This data can provide six months’ notice about a change in business success, giving you time to take action.
3. Share of search volume
Share of search interest tells you how interested people are in your brand (compared with the competition), but what if you’re a small brand? And what about search traffic only?
Thankfully, share of search volume is here to rescue.
Tools such as Semrush and Ahrefs now allow you to see this easily.
Log into one of them, list your organic competition, and see how your share of organic search looks in comparison.
Although I don’t know of any SEOs conducting tests in this area, I feel (based on my experience) that search volume will tend to follow a similar path to search interest.
If you see a decline in traffic across your informational, brand, buyer intent or non-brand searches, it’s probably an indication that you need to take marketing action.
4. Branded search traffic
You’ll get two types of traffic for every business, brand and non-brand.
While an increase in branded traffic will not likely be down to you.
Depending on your business, capturing it can be part of the SEO’s role.
There are many ways to do this, of course, and it’s beyond the scope of this article to delve further.
Capturing as much brand traffic as possible ensures you show up for buyers.
Branded search traffic is a great metric to show key stakeholders. It can also be used to inform other marketing channels and help to plan marketing activities.
This is one of the reasons your SEO team should be in every marketing meeting. They have data that helps everyone.
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5. Informational, ‘messy middle’ search
Google has covered the messy middle of search in the past. It is a model for how humans use search engines to purchase and make decisions.
To paraphrase their research, people explore a subject, research and then evaluate their decisions.
This means it’s beneficial for your business to show up during the customer’s research journey.
So, showing up during the customer’s research phase and answering key questions is a valuable SEO tactic.
And one that you can prove with analytics.
You can use a custom regex to generate these metrics or a tool like SEOTesting to extract the data.
Now, you won’t want to give a spreadsheet to your clients (unless they want one), but a simple screenshot of Search Console data will be enough.
Alternatively, you can use spreadsheet reports to generate a better-looking chart.
6. Increased physical availability
Physical availability indicates the ease and convenience a customer can buy from your brand.
And yes, these are your buyer terms, the ones you’re likely bidding on and paying a fortune with PPC.
It’s these that you can track and show the clients that you’re ranking for. Once ranked, you can start experimenting with reducing PPC spend to reduce CPL.
I advise having the PPC keywords for your client and then tracking organic rankings. Produce this in a monthly chart for the client to show your organic rankings for these terms.
7. New visitor acquisition
Perhaps the most controversial yet valuable metric that gets ignored is new visitor acquisition.
New visitors are the lifeblood of any website, and showing where that traffic came from is essential.
Because it shows that your business is being introduced to new prospects, and this is how you grow a brand.
Cover reports: Your new best friend
Just because Google gives you analytics data doesn’t mean you need to use all of it for SEO reports.
For most, the data looks like a set of numbers, confusing customers. Your expertise is there to interpret that data for customers in meaningful ways.
Sure, give them the numbers, but I advise you to provide customers with a cover report.
A simple one-page report that highlights what I’ve shown above (or any metrics you like).
Not only will that reduce your reporting time, but it will also highlight your expertise in picking out relevant information.
We’re SEO specialists. We must ensure that this expertise touches every part of SEO, including reporting.
And by placing your data in context, you’ll increase your perceived value.
Or in other words, if your reporting calls aren’t interesting for clients, find a way to make the data far more relevant, and they will be.