There comes a time in every search marketing strategy cycle when it’s time to adjust fire. A while back on my blog, I wrote a post about pro reports that search marketers could build to answer the “what have you done for me lately” questions clients tend to ask. But the strategy review is, more or less, the pen-ultimate in reporting for clients.
What’s The Point of the Strategy Review?
It seems like common sense to periodically review a search marketing strategy, but you’d be incredibly surprised how many “professional” companies never have paused to take stock of where they are now, where they were, and where they are going next. That’s the precise point of a strategy review, assessing the landscape of a client’s search program in order to craft a more definitive strategy for the coming months.
Sometimes in order to move forward, you’ve move backwards and retrace your steps. Or, if you subscribe to quotes, take Ferris Bueller’s quintessential quote: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” For the next few minutes let’s take a step back, take a deep breath, and dig down into your search strategy. By the end of this post hopefully you’ll have a good idea of what reports to include in your SEM strategy review and where to go next.
Reviews for CEOs and Geeks Alike
Strategy reviews have to fill the needs of every level of management. You need to build reports that capture a macro perspective, a total encapsulation of how the machine is working and producing, and move gradually down to ground-level for the primary points of contact. The real art of a strategy review? Creating a concise report that doesn’t slaughter a tree when you need to print it out.
Time Period Considerations & Tools for the Job
Strategy can be evaluated over a large chunk of time, but as this is client-facing report, comparing larger periods of time against one another will be the best way to show and evaluate how your current strategy faired. At a minimum I like to compare quarter over quarter, but my standard is to compare year-to-date over year-to-date (with the standard being 6 months). If you don’t have enough analytic data, then it might be a good idea to hold off on this report. Folding to close a time period can muddy the results, masking what was truly effective and what tanked. I use a few tools to construct these reports (outside of analytics):
- Microsoft Excel (2003 or 2007)
- Techsmith SnagIt
- DoPDF Maker (or another tool that converts documents to PDF)
- Link Tracking Suite: Link Diagnosis, Google Webmaster Tools, Yahoo Site Explorer, Open Site Explorer
- Raven Tools
- Aaron Wall’s RankChecker
CEOs and C-Level management love nothing more than dashboard reports. They want bottom-line results and bottom-line answers; did your strategy work and make us more money? I don’t know of a better report to lead off with than this. A great KPI (key performance indicators) report should bring home all the major highlights and bottom-lines of a search strategy:
- Total Visits (sessions) to a site
- Unique Visitors (cookied) to a site
- Total Goal Completions
- Total Goal Conversion Rates
- Total Goal Value
- Bounce Rates
- And any other metric(s) you know your client cares about
Nothing says, “Let’s get to the point” like a great KPI report.
How to Build a Custom KPI Report
Here’s the down and dirty to crafting your own KPI report, step-by-step:
Traffic Sources Reporting
It’s essential to know where your site traffic is coming from and how it compares to a previous period. Depending on your client’s preferences, you’ll know what they’d like to see, but I usually create the following reports:
You can take a snapshot of the Traffic Sources Overview report generated by analytics or, which I like to do, export the All Traffic Sources by Goal Set data over the time period and create a custom pie chart associating conversions in a breakout chart.
Search Engine Traffic Breakdown
This report starts the decent into ground-level reporting. The more granular you get, the more C-Level types begin to glaze over, and the more a main point of contact will perk up to the details. It’s important for the client to understand how the search engines are treating the site. This is the perfect report to succinctly show that. Additionally, if you’re seeing a drastic decrease in traffic, particularly with Google, you can add in a supplemental Google Insights snapshot (if it helps your case) on a few of the client’s major keywords.
Keyword Breakdown Reports
There’s quite a few ways to slice, dice, and display the data: showing segmentation by source, showing by custom segments, comparison date range, etc. Find the method that works best for your clients. Personally, this is where I export all the filtered keyword data and dump into Excel to build great data points. I filter the keywords using simple regular expressions to remove all branded/brand-related terms (by Goal Set). Export. In the end you end up with something like this; comprehensive, informative, and offers great talking points.
Another vital piece that your clients need to be aware of is the site’s link progress. Not only the quantity but anchor-text as well. To pull together this report I use Yahoo Site Explorer (the linkdomain operator) to get the total number of links to the site (excluding internal site links). Next, using either Link Diagnosis or Open Site Explorer, I run the domain through and get the top anchor texts to the site. In the end, I have a report that looks like this:
The Blender Report: Displaying the Keyword Targeting Process
Clients are always curious how we decide what terms to target, either through body content or linking efforts. So I created this report in order to try and explain it. Fair warning however, this report is the ground floor, usually gives clients headaches. However, that said, I think this report is equally as important as the rest of the reports. This report helps your client understand how you think about data, what parameters you use to assess data, and gets you both on the same page (hopefully).
Blender Report Columns
- Keyword Phrases: Taken from Client Analytics (usually the Top 100 Non-Branded Keywords) and SEM Rush organic keywords associated to the domain
- Estimated Cost-Per-Click (from GKWT with Exact Match Parameters)
- Estimated Monthly Ad Impression (a.k.a. Monthly Visits)
- True Keyword Visits (taken from Analytics)
- Number of Contacts/Conversions each keyword generated (taken from analytics)
- Current Google Position (using Aaron Wall’s RankChecker Tool)
- Previous Google Position (taken from Raven Tools SERP Tracker from the last SR date)
- Change in Position
The Complete Strategy Review
When it’s all said and done, you stitch all these reports together, plus some other customized reports that emphasize the direction of your strategy, to create one complete strategy review. In my opinion, a strategy review like this not only allows the client to have confidence that you, as their SEO/SEM, have looked at all the angles to craft the right strategy, but also gets them on the same page as you. Getting that all-important client buy-in.
These reviews are also good to get conversations going with your client. As much as we’d like to believe that we have solid communication flows between us and our clients, the simple facts are that business are made quickly and faster than real-time search strategies can be implemented. That is, what was true a few months ago for a client, is not necessarily true for them today. Priorities change; goals realign themselves elsewhere. Strategy Reviews make having these conversations a lot less painful.
What Reports Do You Use?
This is just a small sampling of reports that I think are really useful when assessing where a search strategy has been, where it is now, and getting data points to determine where it should be going. What reports did I miss that you’d include?