Search Engine Rankings Reports – In Defence

Google apparently started blocking ranking software like WebCEO and WPB a few days ago. The subsequent horrified outcry followed by hard-line rebuttals of ‘sooo old hat’ and worse was really interesting to watch and read.


At the risk of putting myself in the firing line, I’m going to try to put my point across in defense of rankings reports. I’m blogging it here as it will take somewhat more than my 140 character tweet allowance…. Before you nail me in the comments, please read the full post J


Ranking Reports

These are reports provided by software programs like WebCEO which send automatic queries to Google and the other search engines to determine rankings on a range of keywords or phrases. They show increases or decreases in rankings of selected phrases, as well as total number of selected keywords ranking from a submitted universe.


My defense of ranking reports – a rebuttal of anti-ranking-report arguments over the past few days

Ranking reports are an easy sell. SMB clients (in general) have no understanding of log-files or analytics, let alone what a SERP is. They do however want to know that there will be reporting they can understand regarding the efficacy of the SEO efforts they are paying for.


Hang-on… Read me out

  1. I am not saying that ranking reports are what you should focus your actual reporting on
  2. I am not saying that ranking reports are always accurate, though in my experience they are not that far off despite different data centers
  3. I am saying that it is counter-productive to baffle clients new to SEO with a long-winded attempt at education on the wonders of log-files, keyword analytics, keyword to conversion rates, relative estimated SERP position CTR rates, eye tracking heat maps, affect of images and news results in the blended search results on CTR and so on and so forth. I am going to expand on this point below…


New to SEO? Can I confound you and take your money please?


I know that’s an exaggeration, but SEO’s who live and breathe the subject tend to forget that there is a whole world out there who does not know what a META description is, why keyword research is important, or who Danny Sullivan is.


In many cases, though not all, the longer you have been in the industry, the less tolerant you are with practices you know to be old-hat, incomplete, or inaccurate in any way. That’s a good thing. But it’s important not to forget about the great multitudes of potential clients with sites who really have no clue.


No, they are not stupid. No, they are not ‘uniformed’. No, they are not gullible. But they are, in many cases uneducated, and they need their fears to be assuaged. The whole SEO, SEM, SMM, internet band-wagon in general seems to be a massive juggernaut out of control. They want to understand that they will have something tangible to show for ‘it’ that they understand even though at this stage they don’t really ‘get it’. It’s their hard-earned dollars designated for marketing for which they fight to get approval… Their spend options are pretty big.


They may have heard of search engine optimization. What they probably have heard is that people who ‘do’ SEO can make them rank number 1 in Google for their brand name and lots of other ‘important words’. What they have not been told is that ranking on ‘fake Nike trainers’ if you sell real Nike trainers is not a good idea, and they probably haven’t thought that far yet as the whole concept of ranking in the search engines without paying for it per-click (if they have even heard of that) is new to them.


How to deal with this and where ranking reports raise their ugly/helpful heads depending on your point of view:


1. It is important to set expectations. This does not take a half hour lesson in SEO basics. Assuming the SEO has checked out the site, knows there is no redesign budget, and hasn’t found anything totally dire with the coding, and assuming there are no analytics, it’s relatively easy to simply give the client an elevator speech that will not confound them entirely in the early stages; something along the lines of:


“In order to figure out how best to position your site in the search engines, we need to determine what keywords we want to optimize your site for. To do this we need to conduct online keyword research to determine what your target market is actually searching for online.


We do this by utilizing a number of specifically developed keyword research tools that provide us with the keyword use of your target market when they are looking online for the service you provide. These keywords are the actual keyword terms or phrases that people like you or I would type into the search box on the search engines when we are researching or looking for a product or service online (show them an example on your laptop).


We then figure out which keywords are going to provide your site with the greatest effective exposure in terms of potential ROI when we target them by applying SEO best practice. The Recommendations Document we provide will explain everything in detail, and we’ll follow up with consultation time to explain terms and concepts that are new to you prior to integrating the recommendations, based ofcourse on your approval.


We cannot guarantee or promise you the number one position in Google or any major search engine for any term or terms, though there is a very strong likelihood that your brand name will rank very well. What we can begin to show you once the optimization recommendations are implemented is how your rankings on key identified and selected terms for optimization are improving by utilizing what is called ‘ranking software’.


This software will show you how your rankings on the key terms identified for the purpose of increasing your exposure in the engines have improved once the SEO process has begun. These rankings may take from a few days to weeks to months to show any significant improvements due to a number of factors. This will also be explained in full in the recommendations.


The recommendations document will also contain information on a vital element of SEO called ‘web analytics’. This section will explain what your real key performance indicators (KPI) should be, how we measure them, and how we will report those to you.


We also need to make very clear at this juncture that if all of our recommendations are not implemented, either by ourselves, or by your in-house team in close consultation with your provided lead SEO consultant, that any results will be negatively affected, and possibly entirely disaffected.


Note to SEO experts reading this post. Yes, I know there is a lot more to SEO. You know that too. The average SMB contact is probably already crossing their eyes. This is all new to many of them. But they probably need to be convinced of some kind of immediate ‘reporting’ structure that they can understand and feed on to other members of their team or corporate board. Ranking reports provide that initial toe-hold for them to get excited, involved, interested in learning more, and most vitally, which will convince them to proceed with the initiative.


2. Follow up this conversation will a full Recommendations Document, explaining everything; from definitions to visual examples of what a title tag is (for example) how the title tag is viewed in the SERPs, where it is seen in the browser, and so on and so forth. SnagIt is great for these grabs. Make this document usable  on a page-by-page basis showing what ‘is’ and what ‘should be’; e.g. current title vs. recommended; current META  description vs. recommended; etc, and if you do SEO copywriting, which I personally think is important, then show them old vs. recommended utilizing highlights to show difference and changes. Reassure them that their brand message is not being lost, and explain why each element you are recommending is included.


Attach a full keyword research document based on all keywords gathered in alphabetical order including search volume, KEI (with definition and explanation), and competing sites. I know KEI is not the be-all and end-all, but it does give guidance and support to your argument on review that perhaps trying to rank on ‘used cars’ will be a lot harder for them to realistically achieve when compared to ranking on ‘used dodge caravans orlando’. Don’t ‘prune’ the keyword document too much apart from totally irrelevant terms; e.g. a cancer foundation will not be interested in words around ‘cancer horoscope’ or ‘tropic of cancer’.


Through your client’s eyes…

At this stage the search engines are your new-to-seo-client’s ‘oyster’. None of their competitors, friends or business acquaintances has heard of it or implemented it, so they must really be ahead of the curve! This is the time to gently explain that SEO has been around for over a decade, and is a highly competitive and sometimes combative practice. Show them some examples without terrifying them and losing their will to continue. Support your initial statement that we can ‘improve your exposure, but not guarantee your rankings’. Assuming you’re white-hat. I probably should have started this post by saying ‘black-hats-ignore’ ;).


3. Run an initial benchmark (horrors!) ranking report along with ensuring that the chosen analytics program snippets are coded in.


Apply the recommended SEO changes to the site, start the backlink campaign, and run monthly ranking reports to support and supplement your real KPI analytics reporting.


As soon as your client ‘gets’ your real analytics reports with KPI data based on conversions, returns, interaction, registrations, whatever, you can wean them off the rankings reports in favor of the more detailed, accurate and insightful web-analytics.


In Closing

Ranking Reports are not perfect, not infallible, and not what you should by any means focus on in terms of reporting standards for your clients, but they do have their place. I think it would be a sad day for the industry if the possibility of utilizing them became defunct.


(Final comment; a friend ran a report for a client using WebCeo on the 7th after speaking with the team at WebCEO, and it worked fine.)

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