Let me tell you a story.

I just started implementing the SEO strategy for a new client and he asks me to set KPIs for the next 2 months so he can track performance of our SEO efforts.

I tell him the number of users and Domain Authority would make sense. This would turn out to be a big mistake.

So he says let’s get 500 unique users for month 1, and 1000 for month 2.

I tell him politely that will (probably) not happen. We’re creating and disseminating a lot of content but we don’t have the resources for to get those numbers in just 1 month.

But he insists. He is aiming to get the business off the ground before his money runs out, he tells me, so we need to be aggressive with the KPIs. (The date by which you need this company to generate revenue doesn’t impact the effectiveness of the strategy, I say to myself. But oh well.)

That’s not all.

For the Domain Authority, he asked what would be a good target for the first month. I said it probably won’t increase much or at all in a month. I suggest having a target for 3 months away, by which time our link building efforts might show some results.

But no. He says let’s set a target for a DA 25 for the 1st and 30 for the 2nd month.

Bear in mind the site has a DA of 13 at this point.

I tell him politely that is somewhat ambitious, to put it mildly. But he’s the client and this is what he wants. I want to keep his business so I’m forced to acquiesce.

Now I’m in a position where I have unrealistic targets I probably won’t meet. I might lose this client because we have unrealistic targets. I started to wonder if I shouldn’t have suggested DA and traffic as a performance indicators.

I thought about this a lot and no, I shouldn’t have suggested DA – because that’s kind of out of my control. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of it is in my control, but if increasing DA mostly depends on improving the link profile, you need a budget to do the outreach or buy links. And ours is small.

In terms of traffic, I have implemented a blog strategy based on long tail keywords. We’re creating solid content but to think that we’re getting to page 1 for high volume search terms in 1 or 2 months is unrealistic.

Fast forward 2 months and how have we performed? Have we met our targets?

Well, somewhat predictably, no.

SEO KPIS To Suggest For the First 2 Months

SEO is an art – you do things in this field without really knowing how it will turn out. So for KPIs, we need to make sure they’re within our control as much as possible. So what is within our control as SEOs? Well, a good start is indexed pages.

Show Your Client The Increase In Indexed Pages

Sure, if we create 20 blog posts over a 2 month period, you don’t know that Google will index them for your preferred search term. But from experience we know that if you have researched search terms with low keyword difficulty, we can most likely rank for many of them. Maybe not highly at first depending on how competitive the industry is, but we can rank.

Here how we ranked for our blog posts after the first 2 months.

You can see where we started in February, and where we are now In April. We went from 16 to 88 in 2 months. Not bad. This is a KPI you can be confident of delivering on.

Show Your Client Where You Rank For Keywords

Below you see the actual rankings for these keywords. We have only 1 low search term on page 1 but we’re in the hyper-competitive travel space so again, it’s OK.  We have one on page 1, two on page 2, four on page 3 etc. None of these are driving traffic yet but what we communicate to our client is that this is an excellent start.

It’s important to Put this is language your client will understand. You client now has a website that Google is showing to people looking for content in their niche.

You can follow up by saying that we can get more page 1 results as our link profile improves, which is a great to get them to understand why they’re spending money on link building.

Show Evidence Of Pages Being Shared

Get into your SEM tool and look at new backlinks. If somebody has naturally shared a page of yours, then take a screenshot and send it to your client. It means that your content is high quality and people are becoming aware of the brand. Sure, it’s not a big win like ranking on the first page for a commercial search term, but it’s small victory and clients like this kind of thing. What’s more, it’s a lot easier for clients to understand than other metrics.

Show Links You’ve Bought

OK, so if you’re buying sponsored posts then it’s no great achievement to get backlinks. But having your url on another site indicates to your client that the money they’re spending is having an effect they can actually see. You can send them a screenshot of your url being linked to, and if it’s on a site with great DA, then explain why that is a good thing for the link profile, and how that will help the site rank in future. If it’s a site with lots of traffic, explain that the brand will get great exposure.

Bonus Tip: Show Your Client Social Shares

Now I know what you’re going to say – social signals don’t impact search ranking, at least not directly (or do they?), but there is a proven direct correlation between social signal and ranking and indirect benefits from social signals like branding.

SEOs Need To Learn Soft Skills

Managing unrealistic expectations isn’t unique to SEO or digital marketing. Everybody in any job, at any level, in any industry that is accountable to a boss or client has to manage expectations. Communicating what can be done and when, is part of the soft skills we all need as people operating in a business environment, whether you’re a marketing manager at a big corporate or a freelance SEO consultant. Soft-skills and communication are key, even for freelancers.

Bottom Line

Showing your client social shares on LinkedIn, Facebook or whatever, is a good way to show that your content is high quality, and you can relate it to higher rankings in Google.

The main issue with SEO is that:

  1. We do a lot of thing clients don’t see, and
  2. Clients have unrealistic expectations/know nothing about SEO

Because they don’t see a lot of what we’re doing, there may be tendency among clients to think we’re not actually doing much. This isn’t a problem when we have big successes like getting on the 1st page for a high value search term which speaks for itself. But in the first few months you need to show incremental progress and small victories and put it in front of your client’s face and explain what it means and how it will translate to rankings in the future.