How to make better SEO reports for the C-suite

How to make better SEO reports for the C-suite

How to make better SEO reports for the C-suite

With a looming recession, every penny invested in marketing must deliver ROI. When misalignments exist between a CMO’s vision and SEO, getting buy-in won’t be easy. You must prove the value of organic search to the business and, ultimately, the significance of your job.

Have you ever submitted an SEO report and been immediately asked to “put something in the calendar” to go through it? Chances are, the report was too long to read, so they want you to present a summary in person. 

To avoid these time-consuming hazards, understand what information matters to the C-suite and what will likely be ignored. 

What makes an SEO report inadequate for the C-suite?

A poor SEO report for the C-suite possesses one or more characteristics.

Misalignment with the wider strategy

17% of marketers reported that their team was not closely aligned with the company’s overall strategy, according to a HubSpot survey. 

To ensure that SEO is seen as a critical part of the business, focus on creating reports closely aligned with the overall business strategy.

Poor emphasis on revenue

This is perhaps the most crucial element when sending an SEO report to your CMO. Reports that fail to emphasize SEO’s influence on revenue can make the C-suite think the channel is unproductive. 

For instance, reporting on a website change is insignificant for the C-suite if organic traffic and revenue impact is not tracked. 

Demonstrate SEO’s value in your reports by including metrics such as customer acquisition, conversion rates, and revenue from organic traffic.

Misconceptions about forecasting

Forecasting refers to making data-driven estimates on traffic, behavior, and sales. 

Predicting exact traffic and revenue figures for a set period can be problematic in SEO given the many variables that affect search. 

If not properly addressed, such growth and other metrics forecasts can cause confusion.

Excessive text and jargon

The C-suite will see through an SEO report containing jargon. Corporate fluff may lead them to perceive that nothing has been implemented. 

You’ll appear like you are struggling to get investment and as a result, SEO won’t be taken seriously.

Avoid jargon and technical terminology that may be difficult for non-experts to understand. 

  • Initialism: CWV, CSS, JS, API, GA4, XML, CTR, CMS, CPC, DA, LSI.
  • Jargon: SEO-friendly, link juice, PageRank, SEO quick wins, etc.
  • Corporate fluff: Circle back, touch base, agile working, low-hanging fruit, caveats, bandwidth, cascade to the wider business, take things on board, utilize all the tools in the box, results-driven, reinvent the wheel, etc.

As an in-house SEO, I have seen pitches from great people who clearly put in the effort. However, little correlation with revenue, insufficient images/graphs and excessive jargon distract from the overall messaging.

Your SEO reports should be as short as possible and include visual aids to help people quickly understand key takeaways. Less and simple is always more. Avoid the old 32 pages report or 60 slides deck. 

Lack of focus on relevance

SEO reports may not directly relate to the C-suite’s specific responsibilities. Your job is to connect the dots and present your report in a way that focuses on metrics relevant to each stakeholder’s area of responsibility (i.e., financial performance for CEOs, marketing results for CMOs, etc.).

Make daily annotations of every change deployed, new campaigns launched, new landing pages implemented, and more. Consolidate your findings and highlight how SEO initiatives drove traffic and revenue results. 

This is the kind of information the C-suite wants to see. Positive or not-so-positive, they prefer to see a strategy’s impact on revenue targets and how your work as an SEO agency/consultant will contribute to their objectives. 

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How the best-in-class communicates with the C-suite

To overcome these challenges and ensure that SEO reports are attractive to key decision makers, ensure the following.

Show value

C-suite executives always want to reduce costs and improve efficiencies, making SEO a vital boardroom item. (Here is an excellent article on effectively communicating SEO with the C-suite.)

SEOs must clearly:

  • Communicate and prove the channel's value to the C-suite and senior management.
  • Highlight the impact of SEO on key business metrics, such as website traffic, revenue, and customer acquisition. 
  • Mention when you delivered positive returns on the amount spent on paid campaigns.

Additionally, SEOs can work with CMOs and other senior managers to ensure they present reports in an easy-to-digest and relevant manner.

Alignment to wider business strategy

Focus on creating a documented strategy closely aligned with the overall business strategy. This helps ensure that: 

  • SEO is seen as a critical part of the business rather than a technical afterthought. 
  • The metrics and data included in SEO reports are relevant and meaningful to senior management.

Relationships and training

Do you hold a senior position in SEO in your company or agency? Great, if so, does anyone in the C-suite know your name? If not, then it is an excellent time to start working on building a healthy relationship with key stakeholders.

Being known doesn't mean you have to be attention-seeking on Twitter or the social channels in your company. Instead, when there are social events (i.e., company town halls, presentations or conferences), leave your comfort zone, let go of impostor syndrome, and chat with them. 

Report structure for the C-suite

An effective SEO report for the C-suite should follow a consistent structure and contain thorough, well-thought-out responses to the client's questions.

Important: Make it as visual as possible with graphs and charts. A report filled with text will make people instantly switch off and instead ask you for a meeting to "go through it" (which, as mentioned earlier, means TL;DR!).

Here is an excellent (paid template): Dashboard Elements PowerPoint Template.

An expert in effective communication, Barbara Minto is one of the first female consultants at McKinsey. She created the Pyramid Principle based on the idea that two things can't be mutually exclusive and collectively exhausting (MECE).

Pyramid Principle reporting structure

The MECE structure ensures that within each data bucket (like a single discovery) all information is:

  • Mutually exclusive (ME) – meaning either set does not overlap with the other set.
  • Neither group is missing important information or has clear information gaps.

To give the client useful advice, recommendations should be clear and to the point. Think of them as the main points of the report that are easy to remember and share with others. 

In a management consulting report, you can present recommendations in any of the following ways:

  • "To address X, we recommend introducing Y because of Z."
  • The results of our data study showed that applying Z can solve the problem X, which prevents Y from being achieved.
  • We used [the tool/method/technology] X to investigate the issue Y and recommend Z as the best fix.

The executive summary should be completed last. By writing doing so, you can select the most important results and ideas and place them at the beginning of the report. 

Riverside FM's Gerry White , who has worked in-house for BBC and Just Eat, conducted extensive research into successful SEO reporting for the C-suite.

Below is a diagram he suggested:

SEO reporting structure - Gerry White

Aleyda Solis's compelling Learn SEO roadmap has a comprehensive section on SEO reporting. Look at the resources and samples and adapt them to the process described here. 

Remember, always make it revenue-driven and relevant to the wider strategy.

In-house SEOs on reporting for the C-suite

I asked in-house SEOs for their insights on reporting to the C-suite. Here's what some had to say:

Ash New, SEO Lead, Virgin Mobile

  • "A senior business leader will usually not care about the finer detail of how one keyword group is performing over another. They simply want to cut through to the important details, such as:
    • How is this channel helping us hit our target?
    • Is this channel performing better or worse than we expected, and why? 
    • What does this channel need to do to reach the target? 
  • If you help them cut through the noise, they will be more interested in what you say. Of course, the finer details are great to have to hand should there be follow-up questions to your reporting."

Several in-house SEOs also pointed out the lacking elements in agency reports.

Dixon Jones, CEO, Inlinks 

  • "...[L]ack of 'what to do next'"' actions (with a why). A hundred actions/insights are no help. The next three 'to-dos' given with confidence is better (for me)."

Aymen Loukil, CEO, Speetals

  • "When doing reporting to C-suites or CMOs, be concise and go to the essential points. Also, include the wins and the losses with a short-term action plan to address issues."

Martijn Scheijbeler, SVP Marketing, RVshare

  • "Too much detail. Period."

Brian Sabin, SEO, Razorfish

  • "Data without context. Unless a report contains…
    • What this means.
    • Why it matters.
    • How you/the client should respond. 
  • …then, it probably shouldn't exist."

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