If there’s one thing which many SEO agencies have in common, it’s the fact that they’re fixated upon reporting meaningless metrics to their clients.
It’s no longer 2012.
Long gone are the days when vanity metrics such as SERP positions and PageRank were all clients wanted to see in a monthly SEO report.
Times have changed.
As an SEO agency working directly with clients in 2018, you need to be able to justify to your clients where their investment is going.
Yes, that means being able to demonstrate the Return On Investment which your services are delivering.
Even in the early days of a campaign, knowing that it can take months to start to see the real impact, there’s certain metrics which don’t need to be obsessed over.
Client reports should be, in most instances, bespoke to each business you work with. The metrics which matter to one client probably aren’t as important to another, however each will have KPIs which need to be worked to and reported upon.
Stop thinking of reports as a way to bombard your client with stat after stat but rather see them as an opportunity to demonstrate your value.
If things are going well; great! Use your reports as a way to showcase this and demonstrate how further investment could take the campaign to the next level. If, on the other hand, things aren’t going so well; explain why that is the case and put forward your plan of action to turn things around.
Reports should be transparent and give a clear overview as to your performance against core KPIs.
Traditionally, looking back to say 2012, if you’d have taken 10 SEO reports, at least 8 of them would be reporting on exactly the same metrics, month in month out, rarely going above and beyond that which a client can pull down themselves from Google Analytics.
That said; here’s a look at 5 meaningless metrics which SEO agencies need to stop obsessing over (and why); rather focussing reporting upon those which matter to each client and which demonstrate your value as an agency.
1. Search Positions
If you’re reporting on search positions as a primary KPI of an SEO campaign; there’s a very good chance you’re struggling to demonstrate much in the way of value to your client.
Whilst once over, positions were a strong indicator as to the performance of an agency; those days are long gone and times have changed.
For starters, personalised search means it’s harder than ever to accurately report upon the positions of a set of keywords.
More importantly, however, is the fact that positions on their own mean very little unless used in context with other metrics.
What matters is the relevant organic traffic which is being driven to a site; not necessarily the positions which this originated from. We all know that the search traffic to any successful site is typically made up of a combination of head terms and long-tail terms and it’d simply be impractical to report upon every single one of these.
To a client, positions are simply a vanity metric, unless they’re driving targeted traffic which converts into leads or sales.
Of course, that’s not to say that tracking positions isn’t important for some purposes. In the early days of a campaign, tracking and reporting upon the position movement of core search terms is a great way to demonstrate progression…so long as there’s other metrics being tracked alongside this.
2. Domain Authority
A few years back, before Google discontinued updates to the toolbar, PageRank was one metric which SEOs were fixated upon. Nowadays, that seems to be Moz’s Domain Authority (DA).
This score serves a purpose when analysing either a link profile or when prospecting for link opportunities; as a way to gauge top-line authority of a domain.
Unfortunately, however, this isn’t the way in which a lot of SEOs use the metric for reporting.
Too many agencies repeatedly report upon the DA of their client’s domain; pushing this as an indicator as to their success. In reality, however, this is fairly meaningless.
Common conversations pop up between clients and agencies when using this metric surrounding the topic of fluctuations. DA is NOT an official Google metric; neither is it one which is used as a ranking signal.
It is simply an indicator as to the authority of a domain; relative to others.
In fact, Moz’s own definition of DA is:
…a search engine ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERPs). A Domain Authority score ranges from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank.
Domain Authority is calculated by evaluating linking root domains, number of total links, MozRank, MozTrust, etc. — into a single DA score. This score can then be used when comparing websites or tracking the “ranking strength” of a website over time.
What Moz also state, however, is that:
Because of how Domain Authority is calculated, it’s best used as a comparative metric (rather than an absolute, concrete score) when doing research in the search results and determining which sites may have more powerful/important link profiles than others. Because it’s a comparative tool, there isn’t necessarily a “good” or “bad” Domain Authority score.
For this reason, pinning campaign performance upon growth in DA is absurd, yet one which is commonly seen practiced amongst agencies.
3. Number Of Links
Once over; you could almost predict link by link the number needed to knock a competitor off the top spots on the SERPs. Pre-Penguin, the number of inbound links pointing to a page (not to forget the anchor text being used) was a major ranking factor, however, once again, times have changed.
No longer can you (or should you) determine the ranking strength of a page simply by the number of links pointing to it due to a number of reasons.
First things first; authority is now the key to driving success. A link from a high authority domain (think a leading publication such as Huffington Post), is a much stronger link than one from a forum, yet when looking at number of links, this factor isn’t taken into account.
Secondly; given the goings-on in SEO in recent years, there’s a good chance that at least a percentage of a competitor’s link profile has been submitted through the disavow tool. As such, how can the number of links picked up by third party tools be used comparably and as a metric to determine SEO success?
The number of links means very little nowadays; it’s all about the quality and relevancy of such links. For more insight into this, here’s a great post on ‘Evaluating Link Quality For SEO‘ from Search Engine Land.
4. Month On Month Analytics Comparisons
Month on month analytics comparisons can go one of two ways in many instances; they either look great or they look disastrous!
For this reason alone; month on month comparisons are fairly useless in measuring the impact which an SEO campaign is having upon the likes of traffic and conversions (and resultant revenue). Yes, it’s important to understand financially how a business is performing month on month, however that’s not what we’re referring to here (we’ll leave wider business metrics for another discussion). What we’re specifically looking at here is metrics relating to the performance of an SEO campaign.
When comparing month on month, there’s a strong chance that a certain level of seasonality is being seen; resulting in comparisons which either make the SEO campaign look great or like it’s quickly going down hill.
A far better measure across almost all metrics is to compare Year on Year. That way, you’re removing seasonal trends from your comparisons and comparing like for like. That way, you’ll get a much clearer picture as to the growth across KPIs.
5. Total Impressions
One metric which is increasingly being reported by SEO agencies is the total number of impressions served through organic search across a given period.
This is something which does, as you’d expect, have its uses and it’s definitely handy to be able to demonstrate how overall visibility is growing, however it certainly shouldn’t be used as a meaningful measure of success of a campaign.
What a look at impressions doesn’t do is give you the full story. Are these impressions turning into clicks? If not, why not? Did an external factor cause a spike in impressions this month, a result of an increased number of searches for terms you rank under?
Some users choose to show 100 results on the first page of Google; hence driving impressions even for sites which rank low down and which would normally be considered as ranking on page 9, as an example. Are these impressions turning into clicks? Hell no! They’re just inflating the total impression count.
Dig deeper into the Click Through Rate here. Receiving 10 clicks from 100 impressions is better for the bottom line of a business than receiving 10 clicks from 1000 impressions. The click through rate is 10x higher which typically means a far more engaged audience and better impact upon the metrics which really matter; financials.
By all means, use total impressions as a guide to showcase trends, however in the bigger scheme of things, there’s more important things to focus upon; those which truly demonstrate the successes of a campaign.
At the end of the day, the overarching goal of almost all SEO campaigns is to make money. As such, the duty of an agency is to demonstrate that they’re achieving that and long gone are the days when clients will accept fluffy metrics.
Report on that which matters and which truly demonstrates the impact which a campaign is having upon a business. Clients typically don’t care if impressions grew by 5% if revenue is shrinking; as an example.
Do your hard work justice and show how it’s driving revenue. In the end, this will build far stronger relationships which only benefit both parties!
Forget the meaningless metrics for reporting. By all means use these internally (as any SEO would be expected to) as indicators, however don’t obsess over them.
There’s better places to focus your attention!