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What an SEO KPI report is.

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The benefits of building an SEO KPI report.

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The difference between leading and lagging metrics.

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How to structure your report.

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    Transcript

    Anna Shutko:

    Hello Tyson, and welcome to the show.

    Tyson Stockton:

    Thank you. Good to be here.

    Anna Shutko:

    It’s awesome to have you here. And again today like always, we have a super, super interesting topic. But this time it’s especially interesting because we will be talking about SEO and not just that. So we’ll be talking about how to tie all the different SEO metrics into a funnel. So my first question to you, Tyson, would be what is an SEO KPI final report, and why should SEO specialists, digital marketers, and everybody else, whoever’s interested, build this kind of report?

    Tyson Stockton:

    Yeah. So I think for me, first starting with the why. I think there are two main areas or buckets for reasons why I advocate for people to use a full KPI funnel instead of just one metric. And the first one is typically an SEO what you’re wanting to drive is not going to be an immediate action response. So you have these leading versus lagging KPIs and indicators. And if you’re only looking at or only reporting on things like traffic from SEO or traffic from whatever channel, you’re looking at just the lagging portion and you’re not getting as much of a read of how the changes that you’re making to a website, how the website’s responding, how search engines are interacting with it. So you’re missing a good chunk of the information and data that’s going to give you the tactical guidance into how to further maximize your efforts. So that I would say is just the tactical. It’ll make your decision-making stronger because you have a better read on how your website responds.

    The other side is more in the bucket of evangelizing and selling SEO within the organization. I think a lot of times, and I’ve worked a lot of different companies, that is often the most challenging aspect. Where you can have a great audit or a good SEO and know exactly what a website needs, but getting those changes implemented and getting the organization on the same side is often where you see a lot of it unravel or not have as much traction. And so with having this funnel, you’re able to create more talking points and more transparency into the efforts around SEO. And then you can use that data and that information to then have those conversations with the different stakeholder groups that you need to have on your side to actually execute and implement the changes to improve your performance.

    Anna Shutko:

    That’s fantastic. I really love how you’ve put these into two different buckets. And definitely selling SEO within your org is super, super important. So I’m definitely with you on that. And my next question here would be if we could talk about these leading versus lagging indicators a bit more. So first of all, what are these indicators? And if you could maybe expand on why marketers should not get stuck with a lagging indicator.

    Tyson Stockton:

    Yeah. So I guess the first piece of what the lagging indicators are is that’s going to be typically revenue traffic to the site. It can even be in some cases I would put ranking in a little bit more in the leading area, but oftentimes those are the KPIs that people communicate and use the most for talking about how SEO is contributing to a business. And the problem with those is oftentimes there could be a lag of how long it takes for those changes to actually get implemented. And what I would say is from the leading piece, that could be something like SEO visibility or rankings where it’s we moved from position 30 to position 20. We’re not seeing any change in traffic from that, but that’s a positive signal that Google’s interpreting what changes we made as being positive and we can further kind of ratchet those up.

    So I think the main KPIs that I would put in the leading area could be something more qualitative, like the number of tickets completed and the number of tasks that you’ve gone through on your list. Also, I always like to look at things like crawl activity, how Google’s interacting with the site, what pages, what parts of the site are they spending more of their time on, and then also what’s the indexation, the number of ranking keywords, and all those pieces that give you a signal and a read of how Google’s really interpreting things, and that then should guide your tactics and then ultimately result in the lagging indicators and what you’re trying to ultimately achieve.

    Anna Shutko:

    You’ve mentioned quite a few metrics. So now let’s tie it all together and talk about all these different stages of an SEO KPI report. So first of all, what these different stages are, and maybe you could tell our listeners what happens during each stage so they understand when they have to take into consideration the leading indicators and at what point they have to move and then track the lagging indicators.

    Tyson Stockton:

    Yep. And so I would preface this answer with it’s not always exactly the same. So I’ll say kind of what I think is the most general or common funnel, but I’d say there could be additional ones or even removing some of them depending on the organization. And then the other kind of general piece to is to not be too hung up on the exact name because within different organizations they could use different terminology. And I think it’s always best to align to the terminology that your organization uses. And an example of that is I’ve worked with some companies that talk about traffic as kind of just what traffic’s coming in. Other people will say sessions, other people will say entries, but it’s all means the same thing. But it’s just using whatever’s consistent with your organization, and then that way you’re not educating on an additional item.

    But from what the KPIs are, usually, use the following buckets. And the first one is the crawl activity. So what is where and what is Google looking at on your website? So you’re looking at… And you can get this from crawl log piles, you get some of this from Google Search Console, few different other sorts. But I want to know what Google actually sees? The next stage of it is then going to be indexation. So what pages are indexed, what pages have a possibility of showing up in search. And then I’m going to be looking at more what I would call a ranking bucket, which could be a variety of different KPIs within that section. But that would be a number of ranking keywords. Typically don’t like to use a regular, just average position, but a weighted average position or SQL visibility, something that’s going to give me a read on that movement even if it’s not on the top of page one, but I can see overall what is the portfolio of key keyword words on the website or specific pages are ranking on.

    And then you get into really what you’re trying to drive and what you’re selling then is your success stories. And that’s going to be traffic sessions, whatever definition you want to give to it, but how many users are you getting to the site and to the pages that you’re working on. And then finally, what is the ultimate outcome you want from that traffic? So if it’s an e-commerce site, revenue, if it’s a lead gen it could be the number of conversions or leads that are generated from the site. But that one too, it’s going to be whatever action you want or whatever business value that you’re trying to achieve by getting users into the site.

    Anna Shutko:

    Right. I really, really love this structure. So thank you so much for outlining it for all of us. And at the very, very beginning of this podcast, you were talking about again, selling SEO within the organization. So now let’s talk about that a little bit. On the Voices of SEO podcast, you’ve mentioned that a funnel allows you to create a narrative of what’s going on with SEO. And I think narratives are super important because they help create a very structured story. So all this data storytelling helps everyone understand what’s going on with a particular KPI. So could you please explain this in more detail? How would you use a narrative within an SEO report to make sure that everybody within your org is on the same page and everybody is interested in learning more about SEO?

    Tyson Stockton:

    Yeah. And this can be one of the more challenging aspects. But I think one, building off the KPI funnel, you’re giving yourself more options or more possibilities. So if you think of it like you’re playing a card game, you have more cards in your hands, you have more possibilities of creating that narrative for the organization. I think one big value of it too is that within every company you have this variety and you won’t have a consistent understanding of SEO. And so if you’re only talking about how much traffic do we get to the site, well you’re not really speaking to the effort and the work that’s being done and how many things are actually going live to site. And so it really makes it more challenging, especially for people that are not as familiar with it, to then grasp the amount of effort, the amount of work that’s going into this area.

    So I think the main piece is one, I like to recommend using both quantitative and also qualitative information. And so you’re using that KPI funnel and you’re using it to give a consistent repetition of information. So you’re kind of conditioning other stakeholders of what to expect from it. But then you’re also putting in context what you did, what the result then was from it, and using some qualitative, whether it’s like a weekly email or a monthly meeting, things like that to paint everything in context And so an example of that could say you’re working on a content initiative. And so from that, you’re expecting, “Hey, we’re going to be launching X amount of new pages.” And so one of the narratives can be the release of pages. How many pages went live?

    Then the next stage of that is what is then the performance of it? How many keywords are on average ranking on each URL? What’s the expectation for traffic from those? And you’re really able to kind of get into showcasing what effort is going on within SEO. And again, like if we’re working on a content project, okay, that could be maybe six weeks in a good case scenario of when you’re going to really see some traffic from that. And so if you’re waiting six weeks and you have an impatient CEO or CMO that’s being like, “Why am I not seeing this? We put X amount of time or money into it,” you have talking points to kind of buy yourself that time into when you’re actually going to reach those lagging indicators.

    And so if you’re just saying, “Hey, we put all this money into content, please wait. We don’t have any numbers to show for it yet,” but then if you’re using the funnel and you’re creating this narrative of like, “Hey, great news, we launched 10 new pages this week based on the pages that were launched the week before they’ve been crawled, they’ve been indexed. Now we have X amount of ranking keywords in this average position,” and you can start giving information so that people also have more confidence in the effort that’s going in within SEO, which is then going to make your next initiative a little bit easier and you’re not going to be swimming upstream, so to speak, to get your initiatives picked up and actually implemented.

    Anna Shutko:

    Awesome. I really, really love how you mentioned inpatient CMOs. And I’m definitely sure that many, many markers can relate to this. So now if we expand on this a little bit further, are there any things marketers should take into account when they are presenting their SEO reports to the executive team? So you mentioned a couple of points again in the story of data narrative, but are there any additional tips they could use?

    Tyson Stockton:

    Yeah, I got a random one. And I think it’s a really tempting one for SEOs to do, but in general, I would say to not over-take credit for gains from an algorithm update. And this could be a scenario that there are exceptions it, but I think a lot of times say there’s an algorithm update, and then all of a sudden you start ranking better for the domain as a whole. And it’s really tempting to be like, “Hey, look at all this great work we did. And now we’re having these types of growth numbers,” but that pendulum can swing back the other way. And so if you really capitalize on taking credit when things go well with an update, well now you also have to hold to that same position and stance when something maybe doesn’t respond as well to an algorithm update.

    And so I think I usually like to focus during, like whenever there’s an algorithm update, focus the conversation around what is changing and what is going on within Google and within search as a whole, rather than, “Hey, this is what our domain did.” And that way, if you do find yourself on the other side, you’re not backed into a corner of taking too much credit for something that you didn’t really control. I would say a good exception of that is especially if you’re in more of the finance health category and you are negatively impacted by a core update, and then you put in all this work to recover from it. Oftentimes you don’t see those gains until the next core update or maybe even the one following and so it’s not like an exact science of when you’re going to see those. Those are cases that I think you kind of go the other way about it. But I think that’s one just in general is to avoid the temptation to take credit for gains that maybe you didn’t control or influence.

    Anna Shutko:

    This is awesome. I really love your point about the algorithm data. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything related to this on the podcast before. So thanks a lot for that. And now we’ve talked a lot about SEO data SEO leading, lagging indicators, and lots of other metrics. But my additional question to you is should SEO reports pull data from any other data sources other than marketing? You very briefly mentioned something about the finance data. Can you please expand on that? Are there any other teams that should also include SEO in their reporting? Should SEO reports include data coming from other teams? How would that work within an org?

    Tyson Stockton:

    Yeah, I think a few areas within it. One I think, and this is something that I feel like in general could be adopted more, is if I’m working or working with a company or working in house with a company or how I communicate SEO, I’m going to first look at how other channels are being communicated and then I’m going to want to use terminology that’s as closely aligned to it as possible. And the benefit of this is you don’t have to be reconditioning people into what information they’re getting. And so a lot of times within let’s say paid search or SEM, or even display advertising, they’re using impressions and things like that. Well, typically impressions aren’t used as common within SEO, but I think that’s something that then you could also align to, and so now you’re saying impressions, visitors, et cetera, and now you’re using the same terminology as those other teams so then the higher up stakeholders have some familiarity and you’re not having to teach that everything new. So I think that’s just one area in general.

    Also, I’m a big advocate for SEOs looking at search as a whole. So using and looking at paid search in the same kind of vein as what’s going on with SEO. Typically if you have a strong, healthy site, I would assume you’re probably getting more traffic from SEO. So also if you have SEO right next to your page, probably going to look pretty good for you. So that’s definitely a benefit. And that’s something that I think should be used by other teams, like absolutely your CMO and general digital marketing are going to be looking at SEO as one of the channels.

    But I think other parts of the organization can also be looking at that. Like if I’m on an editorial team, I would want to see what kind of traction my articles are getting, how many users I’m bringing them because it adds value to their work. And similarly, if I’m on the dev or product side, maybe it’s going to be a slightly different type of SEO KPIs, but I would want to be looking at things like Google Core Web Vitals. Like what is the site performance and how are we scoring against Google standards in that sense? And then using that as a validation piece for any sort of larger site release or site launch.

    Anna Shutko:

    Awesome. These are really, really solid communication tips. And I really agree with you on using the same terminology so you will not have to force the whole org to adapt and use your own terminology for reading SEO reports. And we’ve covered a lot of ground in terms of SEO reporting. So maybe you could also share whether there are any typical mistakes marketers make while analyzing their SEO KPI funnel reports.

    Tyson Stockton:

    Yeah. I think one common mistake, we talked about it earlier, but it’s just looking at the lagging side of the KPI funnel. The other one too, and I think this is more when you’re building your business case and how you’re selling SEO is to not just look at existing performance because then you have some ranking bias. And so if you were trying to say like, “Hey, we have this amount of potential within SEO or within search,” and you’re just looking at your existing ranking keywords and the search only with those keywords and how much additional market share you can capture from it, well you’re only looking at where your footprint is right now.

    And similarly, if you’re doing that only for one competitor, is you’re getting pieces of the entire market or the entire demand, but you’re not looking at the absolute. And so I think avoiding those domain biases to then create what is the actual search market potential and then how much of that can we realistically capture or own is ultimately going to give you a more accurate interpretation of what’s potential. And then it also typically being that you’re not just looking at a sliver of the opportunity, it’s typically going to be a bit higher so then you can get a little more buy-in, a little more interest because that ceiling of the opportunity just got a lot higher.

    Anna Shutko:

    Awesome, really great tip on the search market potential. I really like that one. And thank you so much, Tyson, for coming to the show today. I really, really enjoyed how you structured everything and broke down the process of SEO reporting piece by piece. So now if the audience would love to learn more about you, where can they find you?

    Tyson Stockton:

    Yeah, absolutely. So yeah. On LinkedIn, Tyson Stockton. You can find more information, stuff that I’m up to, work, that kind of fun stuff there. Also on Twitter @Tyson_Stockton. I do work with Searchmetrics, so obviously you can get some more information and articles on searchmetrics.com. And then also I have my personal website, tysonstockton.com, too.

    Anna Shutko:

    Excellent Tyson. Thank you so much for having a chat with me today.

    Tyson Stockton:

    Excellent. Thank you.

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