Figuring out what to include (or not to include) in your SEO agency’s reports can be puzzling.
Let’s imagine Sarah, a busy account manager, preparing to do a comprehensive report for a new SEO client. She takes great care to engage the extended team for updates on technical improvements, content performance, SEO campaign metrics, and so on. She spends hours upon hours checking the agency’s SEO tech stack for insights to be communicated. She makes many screenshots and arranges a carefully designed template for that client that she finally sends after more than 2 days of intense work.
She is happy to showcase everything the agency did, and she is convinced the new client will be impressed.
She fervently expects the client’s feedback, yet they remain silent.
When the first reporting meeting comes, she realizes they didn’t read the document at all. Plus, the client has many questions related to the agency’s actions that month.
It’s human nature to want to include as much information as possible to convey performance. Agencies often fall into this trap, cramming their reports with data, but not necessarily the metrics that directly prove business results.
That’s where subtracting knowledge can make a difference. By removing everything that’s not important when communicating how you’re achieving the client’s business goals, you help them understand how you’re moving the needle.
This process was first coined in philosophy as via negativa, Latin for “the way of negativity” – essentially, a method of elimination to reach the essence of a concept, belief, theory. By applying this approach to your agency’s reporting, you can save time and resources while ensuring reports focus only on the things that matter most to clients.
In the following sections, we’ll explore key questions to focus on, to get to the core of what your clients need to know and what truly matters to them:
“CMOs will use your report in their brand review report to key stakeholders. You need to make it easy for them to attribute positive business performance to SEO efforts.“
First, you need to dive deep into your client’s expectations. Clarify their intent during the onboarding phase, and set the key metrics they need you to improve. It’s how they evaluate you, based on their marketing objectives, that helps you leave the other intermediary indicators aside:
It doesn’t mean you won’t have the basics covered; it’s more about where to focus your client’s attention. By subtracting knowledge and reaching 1 to 3 KPIs that define success, you’ll already know what to highlight in your monthly reports.
“Don’t assume anything!” is what Reshma Vadgama, Head of Client Relationships at Liberty Marketing, pointed out when discussing how to manage expectations. Make sure you clarify everything when you gather new client data, create plans, report results, and manage client relationships overall.
In order to avoid any misunderstandings with clients, you need to double and triple-check everything, especially in the first few months of the relationship, Vadgama adds. In the beginning, success also means mapping out SEO activities so that clients know what each phase of your SEO campaign involves.
An SEO agency’s goal is to provide clients with a concise and actionable report. Following the subtraction logic, the key points need to be easy to understand and keep the client on track at all times.
Clients aren’t equally interested in all campaign results. Using the via negativa logic, now answer: What needs to stay out of the report to answer the above questions clear and on point?
For example, if you’re handling a web migration, your client won’t be interested in your long list of 404 errors. Still, a cannibalization issue on one of the high-intent keywords will spark interest and a list of fixes to urgently work on for their current landing pages.
A report might have several slides or pages, but you also need an executive summary for clients who have only a minute to spare.
Highlight what is the current status of the agreed KPIs and SEO objectives, concentrating on:
Think of it this way: CMOs will use your report in their brand review report to key stakeholders. You need to make it easy for them to attribute positive business performance to SEO efforts.
By reducing reports down to their most essential elements, you give CMOs a better chance of understanding your reports’ value when presenting them to stakeholders.
Make it easy for them to compare across months so clients see the long-term impact of SEO campaigns. You can do this by templating your KPI-focused reports, letting you consistently display key metrics and insights in the same format.
If clients can’t understand your report, they might dismiss it as irrelevant, and you consequently lose the opportunity to showcase results and receive quality feedback.
Take away anything that distracts – both in terms of the design and content of your visual data:
So, if there’s information that you can show instead of say, then do, but do it effectively.
You don’t want your team to spend hours churning out reports that could’ve been done faster with the right level of automation in custom digital tools. The elimination process here needs to take into account the tools’ capabilities to surface what’s crucial, be it:
Using software that automates the data gathering process and plugs it into pre-designed templates is one way of streamlining the most time-consuming parts of the reporting process without relinquishing control over quality or design.
Another way is to leverage critical SEO campaign data into tools that help you be concise. For instance, you can think about what needs to be left out of your Data Studio template so you get your monthly key messages across.
Liberty Marketing conducted a reporting process audit with interviews to help them adapt and adjust to any client feedback. That’s how they discovered and filled gaps in their Data Studio custom reports, with clients asking for specific month over month or quarter over quarter views.
Knowing what to include and what to leave out, even with automation features in place, supports you in winning time for strategy, planned activities, and explaining which SEO interventions impacted business results – instead of gathering redundant data.
While some clients don’t want to meet frequently, you still need to define multiple touchpoints based on their communication needs.
Reshma Vadgama says that the closer you are to clients, the more they’ll see your effectiveness. That’s because the more in touch you are with their strengths and weaknesses, the more effectively you can build reports – you’ll know what to say and how to say it for maximum impact to showcase how the project is doing.
“We take care of the ‘human element’ of our partnership with clients, making sure that we have a contribution to the growth in their company – and they see it.”
One of the ways the agency lives up to this promise is with its well-established reporting routine:
Plus, throughout their partnership, Vadgama’s team continuously interviews their clients to do quality-checks on the reports they send. This allows them to optimize for efficient communication.
The end goal here is not to overwhelm with too many communication channels or too much information, but to clearly define each touchpoint with its specific objective:
Knowing how to build an efficient SEO agency report is one thing, but it’s another to monitor all the reports being made, sent, and viewed by clients on a portfolio level.
While everybody agrees that reports are crucial in keeping clients happy, reports are often overshadowed by more urgent tasks.
We at SEOmonitor recognized this and created a Reporting Manager that supports you with the critical data you need to manage the reporting process without getting overwhelmed. After all, a dashboard is only as good as the actionable insights you include in it, and the nudges it gives you to stay on track – subtracting knowledge is more important than ever here, as you don’t want a screen with all the data you can get.
That’s why our dashboard gives you:
This lets SEO agencies build an insight-packed report, ensure that clients read it, and monitor their reactions to your performance – everything needed for establishing positive, long-term client relations.
The via negativa method of building reports increases your agency’s efficiency and makes it easy for your clients to absorb and engage with complex SEO data.
Presenting only the most critical metrics to clients:
All of this drives client retention and fosters strong agency-client relations.
You can use SEOmonitor’s Reporting Manager to simplify report creation in this way, starting with what matters the most to the clients and “trimming the fat” to eliminate distraction.
Join us in our journey to build stronger client-agency partnerships!