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How the Walker Sands SEO Report has Changed Through the Years


In our last move, we uncovered years old reports (archeologist style) from filing cabinets, desk tops, and flash drives. Strata of old paper reports came crashing down as we moved some people’s (John’s) desk. I decided to take a look at these reports and see how the SEO world has changed in the past few years, how we’ve changed our approach, and what exactly people did around here before I started.

Things have really changed in the SEO industry. Used to be that SEO was like alchemy, you’d talk to a client, tell them you could turn lead into gold, show them some shiny bits of metal, and they would leave convinced. This made it easy for low quality providers to take advantage of clients and made it difficult for hard working agencies to prove their worth.  Not enough people (clients or SEOs) knew the right metrics for explaining what was happening and how things were working.

Alchemy turns lead backgrounds into gold?

So we tried to find all sorts of ways to tell our partners what was working and what wasn’t. But that means the report slowly grew to where it is now: 14 pages of detailed information. (If you’ve never had the pleasure of going through a Walker Sands SEO report, you’re missing out.)

Enough of my rambling, let’s get started. I’m looking at 3 reports for the same partner. One from 2009, one from 2010, and one from just a few months ago.

2009 was a simpler time. Like film from the before the era of Technicolor, there is almost no color and graphs are hard to come by. And it printed in landscape, which should only be used for March Madness brackets.

Perhaps not the most visually interesting report

But the skeleton of the SEO report was there. We reported on over all traffic, how much of that traffic came from organic search using what keywords,  and what pages got visited and landed on.  These are still important parts of our reports.

This particular report also includes a bit of data that has floated in and out of reports since the beginning: the industry-wide search trend. John and I really like this data, but it is, without a doubt, the most irritating piece of data to gather. So we pull out that chart when we think it’s needed, and then we have a very special episode of the monthly SEO report.

This report looks like it took an hour to put together, doesn't it?

This nine page report gave a lot of information, but the story it was trying to tell was hard to follow. Over the next year, we (meaning John) refined the report and took us to SEO REPORT 2.0.

A lot changed in 2010. Google updates made rankings (an already tricky thing to report on) even less valuable by providing every user with their own personal results page. Now what was #3 for you might not even show up in my top 10.  Rankings went from something we would report on quarterly-ish, to something that we didn’t report on at all.

How did the rest of the report change? Well, it went from focusing as tightly as possible on search information to including some larger picture data. Instead of only covering search traffic, we detailed all major sources of traffic including direct, referrer, and paid traffic.

In my mind, the biggest addition was talking about keywords and landing pages. In a lot of ways, this is the Walker Sands replacement for rankings. We tell you how many different keywords are driving traffic to your site and how many different pages that traffic landed on. When you’re on a content-creation driven SEO program, this is a strong indicator of how successful the program is and whether the tactics are working.

Part of this changing keyword data included marking off whether the top keywords were branded or non-branded. This might not sound like a big deal, but branded searches should always end up at your site, so knowing what non-branded keywords are driving traffic will inform you on how search engines and users see your site.

Goals also show up for the first time in 2010. Are the people who are getting to your site converting? Now you know. If you’ve never lived without knowing conversion data, you don’t know how big of a change this was.

If you aren’t incredibly bored already, next week, we’ll have a blog post about what changed in 2010 and 2011 and how the report changed with it. Hopefully, we’ll see you then.