In-house SEO: SEO Reporting & Scorecarding for Management

One of the nice things about web marketing is the wealth of data available to use in decision making processes. Web marketing data also helps in getting and maintaining management support for SEO activities.

This SMX West session focusing on in-house SEO considered what data to present to management, when to present it and how to best present it. The line-up is an all star cast – two in house SEO practitioners at companies, that among other things, own search engines. As if that wasn’t enough, we also have John Marshall, founder and former CEO of Clicktracks. Rounding up the line-up is Jessica Bowman, a SEO consultant specializing in setting up and guiding in-house SEO programs.

Moderator: Jessica Bowman, Founder,


SEO at Yahoo!

David Roth, Yahoo!, begins. The website is front and center, not the search engine. Search is a marketing vehicle for a site. David warns that we will see real score cards but mocked-up data.

Some things Yahoo does are driven by their large size but most things are applicable to any business. Specifically on SEO, Yahoo! gets access to search product managers but not engineers. There is also access to some aggregated data but in general the SEM team don’t get special treatment.

Yahoo has lots of properties with different business models. Personals, travel, domain hosting and sales, etc. Each has different goals but there is a unifying quality. We need to think about value, lifetime value (LTV). We make some things complex because we’re Yahoo! and we make everything complex (In my experience, this is not limited to Yahoo! – Sean).

What is the lifetime value of a conversion? In other words, “what would I give up today to get three years of value from a person?”. This can be applied to SEO. You may need to make some guesses, just be sure to test assumptions.

The Opportunity report

One approach to SEO measurement. Establish predictive models for SEO traffic. Figure out where Yahoo! properties are/will be (clickspace). Compare “virtual” performance against competitors and attach a value.

Show me the money report

This represents what you leave on the table by not doing SEO. Look at competitors – how would I do if I had ranking?

SectorTotal ClicksMy SiteTop CompetitorOpportunityClick LTVOrder LTVTotal $ Value
(your data here)       

The SEO Referral gaps report

Gaps are searches we have content for but aren’t performing well.

The SEO Content Opportunities report

Opportunities are searches we don’t have content for but maybe we should.

Example: 33 state tax terms = a $3,600 opportunity for one month.

Measuring success

(shows photo of his kids)

Performance Marketing Scorecard

Colors green yellow red to highlight key areas, wonders if this is just a Yahoo! thing. (Traffic light metaphor is commonly used in business – Sean).

SEO Scorecard

Competitive visibility index (CVI) for keywords and competitors

PropertyTotal SEO TrafficYoY ChangeMoM Change$ ValueProperty CVI ScoreCompetitor 1 CVI ScoreCompetitor 2 CVI Score
(your data here)       

SEO Dashboard

Is provided to upper level management. A dashboard is easy to consume.

SEO Vertical report

New. Provides performance insight on web vs image vs video search across geographies.

Keep in mind: If you cannot measure it, it doesn’t exist. Estimates are OK.

SEO at Microsoft

Duane Forrester is team of two at Microsoft. As a large publisher, there is a lot of content generated that needs to be better managed, e.g. pages with a good header and footer, an http status 200 OK but the content has expired message in the middle.

Critical KPIs

Visits, Uniques, Page views (generated from visits & uniques), Conversions, Time on page, Other items consumed, % of traffic from organic v. mix of traffic, Bounce rate. You will need to make assumptions; make sure you verify and refine as time progresses. Track percentage of traffic from organic compared to rest.

Don’t try to bite off too much. Cover your broad strokes first (I’ve heard this called low hanging fruit as well – Sean).

SEO measurement web analytics data sources

Microsoft uses a broad range of data sources for SEO measurement: Omniture, WebTrends, comScore, Hitwise, Enquisite, Conductor, Google Analytics, Logs/Server stats. Don’t worry about Google seeing your data with Google Analytics (refreshing candor here! I’d also note the use of log files – some browser-centric (i.e. JavaScript based) tool vendors make shocking statements about log files as an inappropriate data source. Also note a lack of adCenter analytics on the list – Sean.)

Your website isn’t in an enclosed bubble

Look beyond yourself, e.g. take note of what is going on in the world around you. A season approaching? News? Algorithm changes? Something someone forgot to tell you?

Presenting the data

Use different reporting levels for different levels of the organization. Use “Go dos“: tell them what is actionable and who needs to do it.

SEO Scorecard

Track everything down to the URL level.

MSN has an internal management suite under construction.

Accountability: make sure you get buy-in, track things from start to finish.

When all else fails, shoot someone. That will get the SEO ball rolling (just kidding).

Advice from Web Analytics expert John Marshall

John focuses on getting things done with your score card. Building a score card is painful and less than intuitive. In his experience web based dashboards don’t work. It seems like they should. The exception is with some large companies or when the dashboard is extremely simple. Sometimes the problem is that data isn’t available in an API or the data format changes too frequently.

The high tech tool kit

John recommends using office productivity tools and email as the distribution tool. Management won’t use a login to access data in a dashboard.

Annotation, annotation, annotation

Scorecards and reports need annotation to be successful. For SEO, they contain the data you know and love, e.g. bounce rate, average order value.

Competitive data KPI

Share of search (relative to competitors). Sign up for if you cannot get competitive intelligence data (Hitwise, Nielsen and comScore are the big players here, but buyer beware). Google Insights will provide poor man’s competitive data.

Augment with survey data

Survey data can fill in gaps. John recommends a free survey tool from Avinash Kaushik, 4Q. (Avinash signed free copies of his Web Analytics book at SMX, thanks again Avinash – Sean).

Automating scorecard generation is a bad practice. Manual cut and paste forces you to think about every number; thinking needed to provide insight and or annotations.

Jessica Bowman

Jessica supports John’s manual approach for smaller businesses. There is no perfect dashboard. Jessica proceeds to present slides with the primary report metrics she suggests tracking:

  • Traffic, leads / purchases (conversion), over time
  • SEO Traffic by Search Engine
  • SEO Traffic Growth metrics

Annotate charts to make them clear (John Marshall stressed this as well – Sean). Provide year over year historical data as far back as possible. Keep seasonality in mind! (Duane Forrester’s admonishment to look beyond yourself – Sean)

What to track regularly

  • Total keywords driving traffic
  • Pages driving traffic – separately
  • Pages driving traffic – combined
  • SEO growth vs total site growth
  • Competitive intelligence data from Hitwise or Trellian

Adjust your chart to insure data tells your story. She shows elongated and compacted versions of the same data.

Questions and Answers

Jessica starts the question and answer session. Debra Mastaler, President, Alliance-Link, is the Q&A Moderator behind the Oz curtain.

  • Q: how do I get away from ranking reports?
    • Get a t-shirt which says “Ranking is not a metric
    • Use a multiple Google data center search to show results variation in any given moment
    • Don’t trust an agency which uses ranking reports as a metric
  • Q: .. on competitive intelligence tracking of conversion
    • Conversion metric in hitwise is tracked by user changing from http to https, i.e. moving to a secure session, presumably to conclude a transaction. Not exact, but probably good enough
  • Q: Should the number of pages indexed be tracked?
    • Yes. But the actual number may not be too relevant.

SMX West Logo Disclaimer: this post aims to capture the essence of this session. It is based on the live twitter blogging I did while at SMX West 2009. It is not a word-for-word transcription nor necessarily complete. Use accordingly :-). If you found this interesting, I strongly suggest you attend a future SMX conference in person for the full 3-D experience and the slides!

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About Sean Carlos

Sean Carlos is a digital marketing consultant & teacher, assisting companies with their Search (SEO + SEA = SEM), Social Media & Digital Media Analytics strategies. Sean first worked with text indexing in 1990 in a project for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Since then he worked for Hewlett-Packard Consulting and later as IT Manager of a real estate website before founding Antezeta in 2006. Sean is an official instructor of the Digital Analytics Association and collaborates with the Bocconi University. He is Chairman of the SMX Search and Social Media Conference, 12 & 13 November in Milan. He is also a co-author of the Treccani encyclopedic dictionary of computer science, ICT & digital media. Born in Providence, RI, USA, Sean received Honors in Physics from Bates College, Maine. He speaks English, Italian and German.