SEO practitioners don’t typically share their operational methods. Our sector is reliant on gaining competitive advantage through hoarding methods and techniques for just long enough to benefit from them, and then sharing them to gain some love and respect as a bonus.

This also extends to methods for displaying SEO data and visualising performance. For instance, search agencies never willingly allow their reports to be seen by their competitors.

Therefore, I want to break rank somewhat and present three interesting ways to display SEO data and information, methods that I’ve not seen others use out there and that are increasingly becoming standards within my own companies.

The SEO TreeMap

The SEO TreeMap is a method of visualising a site’s SEO performance from 30,000 feet, making it immediately obvious which search terms or search term categories you excel within natural search and where you perhaps need to work harder.

The visualisation is built up from a comprehensive taxonomy, whereby all relevant search terms are first hierarchically categorised.

For instance, the keyword ‘flights to Spain’ is added to a category called ‘Spain’, within which we would also put ‘flight to Madrid’, ‘flights to Barcelona’ and all other relevant terms and their variations.

The keyword ‘Cyprus flight deals’ would be placed in the ‘Cyprus’ category. And so on, with increasing complexity as you dig deeper and deeper into your search term universe.

Once you have a fairly comprehensive taxonomy, you can then use search volume data from Google (or any other method of search term quantification) to build an SEO TreeMap chart like the one below.

The entire rectangle represents ‘audience size’, i.e. the total number of searches made per month against your keyword universe within the major search engines.

In the example below this adds up to 2.2m searches each month for keywords relevant to the website in question, i.e. the total rectangle represents 2.2m searches.

The many rectangles within the overall rectangle, i.e. the nested rectangles, then break down this number of searches into categories and sub-categories.

The categories and subcategories house continent, country and city destination search terms. Drilling into these rectangles would reveal the keywords that each group is actually composed of.

(Click image for larger version)

Now for the clever bit. The colour of each nested rectangle shows you how well you rank (in aggregate) for the keywords within each category. Red means your rankings are poor, green means your rankings are great, and of course coloured gradations in between identify gradations of performance between those extremes.

In practice, therefore, you’d look for the biggest red rectangle to identify where you really need to work much harder because your rankings are very poor, practically making you invisible for those keywords.

In our example this would be keywords in the ‘Qatar’ group. The fact that this keyword group performs far worse than any other might suggest that there are technical problems with the Qatar page/s.

A big orange or yellowy-green rectangle would represent a great candidate group of keywords to undergo some quick-wins work as it would identify a voluminous opportunity that isn’t far from being in money-making ranking positions.

The visualisation above therefore uses relative rectangle sizes to represent opportunity sizes (number of physical searches people make out there) with the colours showing how well you rank against that audience.

This gives you immediate and easily consumable insight into you performance. Furthermore, with the right data inputs you could change the SEO TreeMap to show even more meaningful information.

For example, the size of each rectangle could represent commercial opportunity (e.g. how much each keyword and category of keyword is worth to you in actual monetary terms) with the colours again showing how well you perform.

Alternatively, the rectangles could represent the size of the opportunity for each search term category and the colour could show link weight, which would immediately show you which parts of the site are getting more or less of their fair share of link juice from your link building campaigns.

A quarterly review of performance taking a three month old SEO TreeMap and a current one may quite possibly be the most effective way of determining very quickly how your SEO performance may have changed during that period.

To build a SEO TreeMap you need to engage a tiling algorithm, it isn’t something you can just create in Excel unfortunately. Type ‘treemapping software’ into Google for some options, or engage with the One platform from Hydra where SEO TreeMaps are a standard and automatable reporting template.

The SEO Scatter

While the SEO TreeMap is great at providing immediate high level insight into your natural search performance to help deliver a rapid SEO SWOT, it works best as a visualisation method for groups of keywords and sites in their entirety.

This is great because sometimes (and for some people in some organisations) you just need some aggregation to help make big decisions or illustrate general performance, particularly if your keyword universe is thousands or millions of search terms.

Where it is less effective is in identifying which of your specific search terms represent the best opportunity for increasing clicks or revenue with the least effort. 

This is where the SEO Scatter comes in. Below you’ll see one in action.

The X axis gives you Google search volume, the Y axis your search engine ranking, and keywords are then plotted against those data sets.

Therefore what you’d look for as an optimiser is search terms that are searched for a lot (keywords/nodes plotted furthest to the right) but where your rankings are poor (keywords/nodes towards the bottom).

(Click image for larger version)

This can tell you where the least pressure could be applied for the biggest visibility in the search engine results pages. A node far to the right that has a ranking position of between seven and 20 could be moved up the rankings relatively easily with some content tweaking and link building, and the SEO Scatter can show you quickly and easily which keywords those might be.

A third, fourth and even fifth dimension in the SEO Scatter is possible by utilising the size, colour and shape of each plotted node to show even more information.

In the above example, nodes do not only have a X-Y placement, they also have a colour, so utilising a traffic light method. Green represents keywords where the associated page has no technical SEO issues, amber represents the existence of technical issues, and red identifies critical show stopping deficiencies.

Just like the SEO TreeMap, you can change the X and Y axes, nodal shapes and nodal colours to show you precisely what you need to see to make real decisions. For example, you could illustrate:

  • Keyword profitability versus rank position.
  • PPC keyword performance vs SEO keyword performance.
  • Keyword rankings vs SEO investment.
  • Keyword rankings vs associated page latency.
  • Keyword rankings vs whether the associated page suffers from duplication or not.
  • Keyword rankings vs content quantity.

The possibilities with the SEO Scatter for not only presenting insightful data but also discovering deficiencies in your SEO strategy are far reaching.

The SEO Race Line

SEO is a competitive sport. To win, you need to be performing better than those competing against you for the rankings that you want.

To that end it’s incredibly useful, and insightful, to illustrate your SEO performance relative to everyone else in your space. An effective way of doing that is with what we call a SEO Race Line.

Here's an example:

Interpreting this is simple. The X axis plots your SEO visibility as a percentage of all possible impressions you could secure if you ranked on page one, position one for every keyword you care about, so your site will essentially be plotted between zero and that maximum number, i.e. representing 100% visibility (100% total impressions).

Against that scale you plot your site and each competitor to see how far ahead or behind you are relative to the group.

In addition, The SEO Race Line can also accommodate a further dimension as you can add some useful data for each competitor.

For example, data representing number of pages in each competitor site, number and quality of inbound links, and other SEO health scores could be added below each logo for information purposes.

As SEOs, you’ll know how important it is to consider SERPs as a competitive battleground. Every ranking that your competitors have above you is at your commercial expense, so you should at least have one charting option to help illustrate what you’re working towards and who is in your way!.

Final thoughts

SEOs spend a huge amount of time painstakingly ensuring they are up to date with the latest algorithmic changes, as well as the mania of the actual task of optimisation itself, but little attention is given to what comes after, i.e. presenting the results in interesting, innovative and ultimately strikingly useful ways.

SEOs need to remember that their job isn’t done until someone can very quickly see the results and therefore appreciate all the hard work!

Andreas Pouros

Published 11 January, 2012 by Andreas Pouros

Andreas Pouros is COO at Greenlight and a cotnributor to Econsultancy. You can connect with him on Google+.

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Comments (11)

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Brian O'Grady

What a great article. Thanks for putting it together. Your closing paragraph hits the nail on the head: it doesn't matter how hard you work or how well you succeed if you can't demonstrate it and explain it quickly and easily to your client.

over 6 years ago


Ed Lamb

Some really interesting visualisations!

Completely agree with your point that visualising results (or opportunity) so they can easily be interpreted is critical. Perhaps difficulty in interpreting a multitude of data is one of the reasons that SEO budgets tend to be disporportionately low compared to the ROI they return.

One point I wouldn't totally agree with would be the "huge amount of time" required to keep up to date with algorithmic changes. If you approach SEO authentically based on answering user needs then your site only benefits from algorithm changes. Some checking to ensure you're taking advantage of the latest opportunities is required, but nothing too obsessional!

over 6 years ago

Alex Moss

Alex Moss, Director at FireCask

Although this post is informative, is it coincidence that Hydra has the same address details (both for London and New York) as Greenlight, the company at which you are COO - or does Greenlight own Hydra? If it is the latter then surely this is just a self promoting post?

over 6 years ago

Andreas Pouros

Andreas Pouros, Co-founder & COO at Greenlight

Hi Alex, Hydra is indeed part of the group, yes. The whole purpose of the post, outlined in the opening paragraphs, is that I wanted to share presentational methods 'that are increasingly becoming standards within my own companies', so I wasn't being deliberately secretive. But I agree that I could have been explicit.

over 6 years ago

Alex Moss

Alex Moss, Director at FireCask

"Could" being the operative word. If this was indeed objective there would be more than one tool you would share with readers, giving them options other than a tool you have a vested interest in.

over 6 years ago

Andreas Pouros

Andreas Pouros, Co-founder & COO at Greenlight

No, not true Alex. As I mentioned in my initial response to you, this article was about visualisations that I have been using and not seen elsewhere. If I've not seen them elsewhere then I can't reference other tools that deliver them! If you know of any tools that provide SEO TreeMaps, Racelines and tri-variable scatter graphs, then please by all means let us know.

over 6 years ago

Robin Moore

Robin Moore, Head of Consultancy at Coast Digital

Thanks Andreas. I like the diagrams - numbers in tables are good as a back-bone to client reports but charts like this appearing in a dashboard view is very interesting.

Q: Do you use these charts for monthly reporting (i.e. static images) or in a client login area where the data is more live/fluid and constantly updating?

I guess the former because the data will be a snapshot in time but it would be intersting to know Greenlight's frequency of reporting.

An element/function in the charts that identifies big changes in the results would be good... otherwise the viewer needs to run a 'spot the difference' challenge every time they look at an updated chart.

over 6 years ago

Robin Moore

Robin Moore, Head of Consultancy at Coast Digital

Why does every comment I submit end up in SPAM?

I have to send a chaser EACH AND EVERY TIME.

Comment was on this post at 10.10PM Wednesday 25th January 2012 GMT

Please sort your spam rules out! If there is no link in the comment, its probably safe and not spam.

over 6 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Marketing Consultant at Atomise Marketing

Hi Robin. I'm really sorry that you keep getting flagged. I run through our comments every day and manually unflag any mistakes that our filters pick up, but sadly they are over enthusiastic to say the least. The system should learn semantically what is and isn't spam, especially if it's been manually corrected each time so hopefully things will improve going forward.

In the meantime, I'll make sure any comments you post are published, but there may be a small delay before they appear on site if the system keeps picking them up. It's not perfect but we are working on changes so it will improve. Apologies again for the trouble.

over 6 years ago

Andreas Pouros

Andreas Pouros, Co-founder & COO at Greenlight

Hi Robin,

Thanks for the comments.

We've found that the answer is both to be honest. Static images for monthly and quarterly reviews work perfectly but for ongoing planning you really can't beat the ability to log in and interrogate the freshest data possible, for example to review how your rankings might have changed following a big SEO change you made a few days ago, or how a new PPC campaign might have affected your natural search traffic levels.

In terms of showing those movements/changes at a glance, the Treemap for example can accept a data range, i.e. to show you with colours which rankings have improved or worsened between two dates (i.e. before and after a major change).

over 6 years ago



Thanks designed for sharing such a pleasant thinking, piece of writing is pleasant, thats why i have read it completely

about 6 years ago

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