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Proving the ROI of SEO: A Guide to Executive-Level Reporting [SEO Report Template]

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Effective SEO reporting to the C-suite shouldn’t be a nightmare. Follow these communication guidelines to educate your executives and demonstrate the value of SEO effectively:

Do:

  • Keep it concise
  • Make it credible (and consistent)
  • Make it compelling
  • Compare results to the competition

Don’t:

  • Fail to connect outputs to inputs
  • Confuse the SEO picture by inflating results; keep it non-branded
  • Provide too much detail
  • Use excessive SEO jargon
  • Skip over issues or negative trends
  • Fail to pre-brief findings and strategy

As economic uncertainty looms, executives want to reduce costs, improve efficiencies, and focus efforts on channels with the highest ROI. So where does that leave SEO? Despite significantly impacting website performance and lead generation, the challenges associated with SEO ROI reporting leave most executives in the dark about the actual value of organic marketing—leading to reduced SEO investments, headcount, and prioritization.

The effectiveness of your SEO reports can make or break executive buy-in. However, most SEOs prefer to focus on taking action and driving impact rather than building (mostly manual) reports that make executives’ eyes glaze over within the first few minutes.

SEO reports are created for the C-suite for a variety of reasons. You might be building a deck to show the value of SEO to secure an increased budget or headcount investment for the year. But what we’ve found when talking with our customers and SEO experts is how challenging it is to build routine SEO performance reports to convey current impact and increase visibility of SEO among executives.

We get it. Our downloadable SEO reporting template will help you save time, provide valuable insights, and actually engage your executives. But first, let’s set you up for success by digging into why SEO visibility among the C-suite is so important, our top do’s and don’ts for your SEO performance reports, and the most effective communication guidelines to follow for this audience.

Why is visibility with the C-suite important for SEO?

As the saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know. And the same is true for the C-suite with SEO. They can’t recognize the value of SEO if they can’t see tangible results from their SEO and organic marketing investments.

The reason paid marketing budgets are rarely questioned or reduced is because the wins are visible and easily understood. You invest X amount of dollars in a paid search or paid social campaign, and you’re provided with proven clicks, conversions, and revenue generation. With SEO, it’s not as simple due to complex attribution challenges and less clear-cut results.

Oftentimes, organic gets buried in the marketing noise. Executives understand that they have to do organic marketing. But without insight into the core ROI of SEO, they are more likely to question if it’s really a key area of priority or importance.

Jess Jurva, Chief Customer Officer, Conductor

This is why increasing visibility of SEO efforts and results with the C-suite is so important for organic—arguably even more so than other channels. If executives are clear on what SEO is driving, they are more likely to support your efforts and respond positively to future investment asks. A better understanding of organic performance also helps contextualize the results of other channels. If your CEO knows organic search drives over 50% of website traffic, they will be all ears when you flag a potential organic threat or website issue that puts those numbers at risk.

If executives are attuned to their organic performance, the cost of inaction, like losing market share to top competitors, becomes a very real (and preventable) threat to business growth. And the best way to get departments to prioritize SEO in their workflows is when the C-level leader they report to knows the value of doing so and checks in on related efforts.

The do’s and don’ts of SEO reporting to the C-suite

There are some common mistakes and best practices when building an SEO performance report for the C-suite. Here’s what we recommend you avoid and a few key themes to center your report around.

A checklist of the do's and don'ts of SEO reporting to the C-suite

Common mistakes to avoid in SEO reports

1. Not connecting outputs to inputs.

The biggest mistake at the strategic level for SEO practitioners is focusing only on the outputs and not tying to clear inputs.

Tom Critchlow, Founder of the SEO MBA & Strategy Consultant, SEO MBA (opens in a new tab)

As Tom highlights, a critical mistake to avoid is failing to draw the connection between SEO inputs and SEO outputs. Metrics like traffic and revenue are lagging indicators of success, so it’s important to show input metrics that are leading indicators and things SEO efforts more directly influence.

2. Confusing the SEO picture by inflating results.

You want to show that SEO is just as important as paid, but remember that the size of the wins doesn’t tell the whole story.

There’s a problem of accountability in the SEO industry.

Tom Critchlow, Founder of the SEO MBA & Strategy Consultant, SEO MBA (opens in a new tab)

As SEO expert Tom Critchlow discusses in his SEO MBA newsletter , accountability is a significant issue in SEO. A classic mistake many SEOs make is to account for branded impact in overall results when reporting to executives. Instead, they should be focused on the non-branded SEO impact, which is a more accurate representation of genuine impact.

Executives are quick to invalidate inflated results like SEO producing $8M in results because they assume most of that is driven by branding. Hold yourself and your team accountable to tangible non-branded results to build trust among executives on the accuracy of your reporting. Incremental success is still a win. Take a page from the paid team’s book and look at results incrementally.

3. Providing too much detail.

SEOs love being in the weeds. You want to know which search resultSearch Result
Search results refer to the list created by search engines in response to a query.
Learn more
types you’re winning, which on-page optimizations led to increased traffic, and the MSV for targeted keywords in an upcoming piece of content. Executives don’t need (or want) this level of detail. Keep the conversation strategic and high-level. You have all the details, but your job when reporting is to focus only on the essentials.

4. Using excessive SEO jargon or lengthy explanations.

Your goal is to educate executives, not make them tune out because they don’t understand the excessive technical SEO jargon you’re referencing.

Keep your messaging aligned with phrasing and terminology they are familiar with. And keep your takeaways clear and concise. It shouldn’t take 10 minutes to explain a slide or data point. Focus your report and talking points on what you did, the impact it drove, and how it supports business objectives.

Sometimes, communicating bad news is even more important than good news. If organic traffic is trending down, then call this out. It may require additional investments from the development team to improve the technical aspects of your website, which you’ll need C-suite backing to accomplish.

Let executives know if a competitor is suddenly winning out on the primary keywordKeyword
A keyword is what users write into a search engine when they want to find something specific.
Learn more
for your most important product category. Highlighting how they outperformed your content can help executives connect the value of ongoing content investments in retaining market share for the search phrases most popular among your target audience.

6. Not pre-briefing findings and strategy.

If you're expecting a decision on your SEO strategy or want to report on results to your executives and guarantee a home run, set up pre-briefs, according to Martijn Scheijbeler , SVP of Marketing at RVshare and SEO expert.

These should be more intimate conversations 1-on-1 with involved stakeholders to run through your presentation or key takeaways ahead of the meeting.

Setting up pre-briefings with key executives beforehand helps you:

  • Get ahead of any questions they want to ask.
  • Create buy-in because execs will now have a say in the result.
  • Avoid tangents in the meeting.
  • Improve credibility by walking them through your work.
Martijn Scheijbeler, SVP of Marketing, RVshare (opens in a new tab)

The presentation becomes a formality at that point, often leading to less meeting time required and a more detailed discussion about the results.

Additional SEO reporting mistakes to avoid:

  • Underestimating follow-up questions. Conversations with executives are well-known to go down rabbit holes or get derailed by unexpected questions. Prepare accordingly. Consider the main priorities of each C-level leader and identify a few likely follow-up questions for each one so you know how to respond.
  • Providing data without context. Total organic traffic from the previous month is useless on its own. Make sure to provide reliable benchmarks to contextualize the results you’re reporting on so executives fully understand the significance.

Key themes to focus on in SEO performance reports

A successful SEO report for executives should focus on being:

  • Concise
  • Credible (and consistent)
  • Compelling
  • Comparable

Keep it concise

As Tom Critchlow puts it, executives are busy and prone to interrupting . Focus your SEO report on being as clear and concise as possible. Have more detailed backup slides prepared for follow-up questions, but keep the main deck focused on the core takeaways you want leaders to remember.

Ask yourself: if the C-suite only takes one thing away from your presentation, what do you need them to know? Lead with this.

Jess Jurva, Chief Customer Officer, Conductor

Make it credible (and consistent)

Executives are skeptical by nature. It comes with the territory of keeping their departments focused on achieving KPIs. Keep your projections realistic and convey exactly how you plan to deliver results. Focus on true SEO impact and avoid inflating results.

If you provide a monthly SEO performance report to executives, keep it consistent by focusing on the same SEO KPIs and metrics each month so there’s a clear throughline to follow.

Make it compelling

Ladder up insights into the core concerns of each C-level role. This will get their attention and keep them invested in ensuring your efforts succeed since it also helps them move the needle on their top priorities. Translate your pain points and goals to the corresponding pain points and objectives of the C-suite.

Compare your results to the competition

Drawing a clear comparison between your organic results and your top competitors’ results provides helpful context to underline the value of SEO in the minds of executives. If they understand what they have to lose—market share, traffic, digital visibility—and which competitors will benefit from those losses, they will be more apt to implement your recommendations or requests.

The importance of consistent reporting on SEO performance to the C-suite

Another critical consideration is the SEO reporting frequency for your executive audience. It’s something many SEOs and marketers struggle with, but the right monthly and quarterly reporting cadence is critical to increase SEO visibility, showcase progress against goals, and address any issues or wins in real time with the C-suite.

We recommend providing a monthly high-level SEO progress update when reporting to executives. Ensure you’re contextualizing your performance results with a snapshot of your progress against your goals in these monthly touchpoints. For example, if your goal is to influence 300 SQLs quarterly, and you’re one month into the quarter and have influenced 100 SQLs, then you’re on pace with your goal and should communicate this. Doing so helps the C-suite understand if you are on track, overperforming, or underperforming.

If you find you’re short on your target, set expectations by providing a forecast if you project the goal will be missed or advising on whether future goals should be adjusted. If you’re overperforming against your goals, highlight the key wins that contributed.

It’s important to keep monthly SEO reporting discussions focused on the overall impact rather than that month’s efforts, as it will take time to see the results of the actions you are currently taking.

Dig deeper with quarterly SEO performance reports where you can speak to more of those monthly efforts and the direct impact they had. Additionally, look for benchmarking opportunities in monthly and quarterly SEO performance reports to contextualize your performance. Benchmarking is notoriously tricky. Who should you benchmark your performance against and why? We recommend benchmarking against yourself. Speak to the progress and improvements year-over-year (YoY) or quarter-over-quarter (QoQ or Q/Q), depending on which metric you are measuring.

How to communicate SEO results to the C-suite

Communicating SEO results to the C-suite effectively requires some strategy. Pulling the data is only half the battle. The real challenges come when translating that data into the language of C-level leaders.

You have to approach your SEO reporting from the perspective of an executive. What is most important to them? Along with the standard best practices and common mistakes provided above, here are eight critical communication strategies to focus on when reporting to executives on SEO strategy and performance.

1. Identify your key objective & tailor the report accordingly

First things first, identify the key objective of your report. You need to tee up the situation.

Here is SEO expert Tom Critchlow’s go-to guidance on mapping the objective of the report to your need:

  • For reporting: focus on the situation. What has happened? What are the most important results to convey?
  • For a specific request: establish and communicate a baseline. It’s important to ground the ask in what you are currently producing. Additionally, make sure you account for the entire investment you need and tie it to results you can deliver.
  • For strategy: compress the entire ask (situation, diagnosis, solution) into the first five slides. Add in color, detail, and commentary after. The most important thing is to get through the entire strategy arc before you add detail, or you’ll never get to the ask.

2. Speak their language

Choose your words wisely with this audience. You’ll lose them with technical SEO jargon. Instead, take the time to make your words count by translating the SEO terminology you typically use to the language of the C-suite.

Use the following table as a jumping-off point to rethink how you refer to specific results and SEO initiatives.

SEO Terminology

Corresponding C-Suite Language

SEO

Organic search channel

Algorithm updates

Google updates

Keywords/queries

Topics customers search for most often; intent

SERP rank and rank change

Organic search performance

Optimizing

Improving

SEO data

Audience and customer insights

Competitor analysis

Market share

Along with these are some additional language and terminology considerations to prepare for. When speaking to leads vs. conversions, you want to make sure you’re using these terms correctly. A conversionConversion
Conversions are processes in online marketing that lead to a defined conclusion.
Learn more
doesn’t always translate to a lead, which is a critical distinction to get right with the C-suite. Align with your marketing operations team on the proper terminology, as every organization has its own interpretation of specific metrics.

Don’t get hung up on clarifying between traffic, sessions, and pageviews. That’s too granular for this audience. Focus primarily on traffic when presenting results to the C-suite. If a C-level leader wants to know what traffic refers to in this context, be prepared to explain that it refers to sessions. We recommend sticking with sessions as it allows you to marry Google Search ConsoleGoogle Search Console
The Google Search Console is a free web analysis tool offered by Google.
Learn more
data (clicks) with Google Analytics data (sessions).

3. Align results to business objectives

You want to convey that organic search and SEO are central to delivering on core business objectives. Showing how SEO efforts ladder up to these objectives is the hook to get the C-suite bought in on the value of organic marketing.

Consider what your organization’s core objectives are. For most companies, that boils down to business growth, improving the customer experience (CX), staying ahead of market trends, improving cost efficiencies, increasing market share, and product improvements.

What you are trying to do is make your SEO initiatives strategically important in the eyes of C-level leaders. The best way to do that is by positioning your efforts as the way to achieve or support key business objectives.

Tom Critchlow, Founder of the SEO MBA & Strategy Consultant, SEO MBA (opens in a new tab)

By doing so, you position SEO as a strategically valuable function and team, not a technical lever to pull when needed—a key understanding you want to move towards with your executives for continued support and investments.

Here is a helpful visualization to show how you can start to align SEO results and initiatives to business objectives.

Business Objectives

How SEO Supports

Growth

  • Produces qualified traffic and leads
  • Drives increased sales
  • Increased brand awareness

Improved CX

  • Digital improvements (website, social, apap)
  • Value-driven content marketing
  • Branded SERP ownership

Market trends

  • Search intent analysis
  • Search demand / MSV trends
  • Device usage

Cost efficiency

  • SEO and PPC alignment to conserve spend
  • Cost-efficient long-term website traffic and visibility

Increased market share

  • Organic traffic analysis of competitors
  • Competitor dashboards

Product Improvements

  • Analysis of website usage behaviors
  • Recommendations based on search patterns

4. Identify the metrics that matter most to executives

Once you’ve aligned SEO efforts to business objectives, the next step is honing in on the metrics that matter most to executives.

If you know the key business objective and know how the executive will measure it, then that is the metric you want to focus on. You need to show how SEO specifically drives improvement on that metric.

Jess Jurva, Chief Customer Officer, Conductor

Don’t overcomplicate it. As Tom Critchlow calls out in his recent article , “Some of the best reports I’ve seen are *just* traffic and revenue, sliced multiple different ways. It’s… an understanding that SEO metrics are not relevant at the executive level.”

Skip the granular views of specific keyword or answer box wins and focus on the big picture. Use this chart to translate your SEO results into the metrics each C-level leader cares most about.

C-Level Role

Key Metrics

CEO

  • ROI
  • SQLs / Sales
  • Market share

CFO

  • Operational costs
  • Budget efficiency
  • ROI (as it compares to other channels)

CMO

  • Conversion rates
  • Acquisition costs
  • ROI (as it compares to other channels)

COO

  • Operational costs
  • Compliance
  • Contribution to cross-functional goals
  • Cost savings with automation
  • Business intelligence

CTO

  • Website performance
  • Product development
  • Adoption

5. Cut through the noise

As discussed earlier concerning the importance of SEO visibility among the C-suite, organic results tend to get lost in the marketing noise. Cut through that and make the value of SEO clear by ensuring the KPIs you include are easy to follow and understand.

What you want to do is make SEO as transparent as possible. Don’t go down the SEO black box with an overwhelming amount of confusing data or technical tangents that lose your executive audience at the first mention of schema or hreflang.

Tom Critchlow, Founder of the SEO MBA & Strategy Consultant, SEO MBA (opens in a new tab)

Instead, make your inputs and the corresponding results crystal clear. For example, you published X number of content assets last quarter, which drove X% of our quarterly organic website traffic. You want to show exactly what you did and what it produced in the simplest way possible.

Providing your SEO report in a slide format? Conductor's CCO Jess Jurva's top tip is to make sure the title of each slide is the core takeaway you want them to know. At the very least, executives will always read the titles. Use them as an opportunity to convey your most important info.

6. Tell the right story with your SEO data to drive action

People forget the effectiveness of storytelling when building corporate presentations. Communicating the value of your data through storytelling is the best way to maintain the attention span of your executive audience. You want to show the path the strategy took, the impact it had (positive or negative), and the next steps or additional opportunities uncovered.

Another way to tell the right story with SEO data is by providing context through competitor benchmarks. Establish a straightforward narrative around your top competitors’ SEO performance and how your efforts compare. By doing so, executives will understand what they have to gain through increased SEO prioritization and investments. And more importantly, they will recognize what they have to lose to top competitors—like market share—if SEO is not a priority for the business.

Where you can, use your benchmarks. It’s important to tell the story of where you were, where you are now, and where you’re going. Also, incorporate SEO performance benchmarks for key competitors to contextualize your data and tie decisions to positive or negative outcomes.

Jess Jurva, Chief Customer Officer, Conductor

7. Deliver SEO report ahead of time for review

One of the things Conductor’s CCO Jess Jurva highly recommends is providing executives with the SEO performance report in advance. (This is especially important if you're unable to connect with all involved stakeholders one-on-one ahead of your presentation.) This gives C-level leaders the opportunity to review and come prepared with any questions they might have. Better yet, prompt them to send over any initial questions ahead of the meeting so you are prepared to address them and can adjust the report accordingly.

The goal isn’t to get through every single slide. The goal is to talk about what will make the most impact for that exec, which can vary based on the role and organization.

Jess Jurva, Chief Customer Officer, Conductor

8. Read the room and be ready to pivot

Be ready to read the room during your presentation and pivot as needed. This is especially true for the data-heavy world of SEO. Don’t bog your C-level leaders down with more data if they start to look disengaged. Pick up on cues and be ready to go wherever the conversation and input from leaders take you.

Imagine you only have 10 minutes to communicate to your executive what’s happening in SEO and organic marketing. What would you say? What do you want to share?

That’s how you have to approach your SEO performance reporting because that is the only time you’re going to get.

The best SEO report template for executives: How to get started

Now that you know how to communicate monthly SEO reporting insights to executives, it’s time to start building the report. The best SEO reports should include the following:

  • Agenda
    • Use this as an opportunity to set the stage for your presentation. Provide a duration length and a high-level overview of the main elements you want to cover.
  • Executive summary
    • This section should focus on recapping the stats and performance snapshots execs are most invested in. *Note: For all elements listed below, it’s important to provide QoQ and YoY comparisons for context.
      • For B2B that includes:
        • Refresh of core SEO goals for the given time period
        • Actual performance compared to goals
          • Include: Revenue, SQLs, and MQLs generated by content, along with website visitors
        • Performance summary: Outline primary strengths and growth opportunities
        • Performance comparison to top 3 competitors
          • Highlight non-branded and overall market share category breakdown to provide the full picture
      • For B2C that includes:
        • Refresh of core SEO goals for the given time period
        • Actual performance compared to goals
          • Include: Revenue, conversions, website visitors, and overall market share ownership
        • Performance summary: Outline primary strengths and growth opportunities
        • Performance comparison to top 3 competitors
          • Highlight non-branded and overall market share category breakdown to provide the full picture
  • SEO performance in detail
    • Detailed insights on revenue, SQLs, MQLs, and website visitors generated by content
      • Optional: Include the top 3-5 content assets that produced the largest share of results for each category
    • Organic visibility and keyword rank analysis
    • Non-branded organic traffic analysis
    • Keyword group performance, territory breakdown, and funnel stage influence
  • Takeaways
    • In this section, reflect back on the core results and insights you want execs to walk away with, including:
      • A refresher of SEO goals and performance results
      • Performance summary for helpful context
      • Updated goals for the next quarter or year
      • Concise outline of how these goals will be achieved
      • Call for any questions

While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, our downloadable SEO report template provides the best starting point and structure to use as a guide. The good news? Our sample SEO report template includes all of the above and more.

Stop dreading SEO performance reviews with executives and start viewing them as the best way to engage the C-suite when it comes to SEO. Download our SEO report template to increase buy-in from C-level leaders, one slide at a time.

Learn how Conductor’s powerful reporting technology, Workspaces, can transform how you report on SEO ROI.
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