Creating detailed and actionable client reports has become a vitally important skill for any agency SEO to hone. Often we’ll spend 20-30 hours composing a veritable treat of a read for our clients, a hand crafted sluice for a torrent of brilliant ideas, delegations, and requests that will certainly lead to a better performance in the SERPs once put into practice… but, as we’re all painfully aware, sending over these floods of text and screenshots often fails to get stuff done. It seems that often these reports get stuck in the quagmire of uncompleted items lurking at the bottom of our clients inboxes for weeks; to end up competing with a perpetual inundation of other requests, constantly clamouring for attention and requiring immediate action. And it’s no surprise that these reports often fail to make the impact we have in mind for them.
Consider a typical reading list for a web marketing type on a Monday morning. It’s probably going to look something like this:
Google Reader – News & Articles.
If you’re anything like me, this list is going to feature well in excess of a hundred items, the vast majority of which you will only skim read and deal with quickly. As technology thunders on, accelerating global connectivity and productivity on an exponential scale, this brevity and superficiality of attention span is likely only to expand; threatening the practical viability of our beautifully crafted and detailed client reports.
How Can We Communicate Detailed Concepts and Suggestions to our Clients More Effectively?
The obvious answer is to do more phone-calls, lunches, video-conferences and direct face to face communication with the client so you can explain things and answer questions when you have their full attention available. However, most clients are typically busy and over-loaded people like us, sometimes based in different time-zones, making this approach rarely feasible.
At Distilled, client reports were taken to the shearers a while back. It’s now company-wide policy to send out succinct, simple, bare-bones reports a maximum of 3-4 pages long, which focus purely on the actionable and achievable aspects of all the findings from our 20-30 hours of research.
But just recently, we’ve also started trying out a more creative method of communicating complicated tasks and ideas to our clients and colleagues – demonstrating our thoughts and suggestions through recorded video.
Without going into too much detail, below is an eloquent summary of our findings so far from my colleague Tom Anthony:
Written reports – 20-30 pages = very little shit gets done
Distilled reports – 3-4 pages of actions = lots of shit gets done
Video report – video(s) + 1 page summary w/checklist = masses of shit gets completely annihilated
Why Go To The Effort?
There are some unique benefits of using video to communicate with clients as a supplement to email and telephone calls….
1. It’s different and fun
Video doesn’t feel like as much of a chore to plough through as emails or reports and this helps it to stick out from the remaining mass of inbox clutter and generate interest.
2. It’s a great teaching environment
If you’re client is not particularly SEO savvy, video is an efficient and easy way to practically explain some of the basic principles driving the ranking factors.
3. Clients can’t skim read a video
You cannot skip through a video as innocuously as you can skim through an email or document; it requires conscious effort to avoid.
4. It’s easy and quick to make
If you become practiced and efficient at making videos, it can be an extremely fast process and take less time than composing a long email.
5. You can demonstrate complicated technical issues as if explaining them in person
It can be easier to explain complicated design and technical considerations with screencasts and diagrams, rather than through extensive writing and annotated screenshots. Problems with UI and design are often better looked at than talked about.
6. It can be edited
As with an email, but unlike a phone-call or video conferencing; a video allows you time to consider your response and suggestions before sending it.
7. It lives on after it’s been created
Unlike a phone-call or VC, videos can be watched back by multiple people at their leisure. This can be a great way to help clients and as can keep the video for future reference, as well as showing it quickly to colleagues.
8. It can be rapport building
Videos can also be a fantastic tool for building rapport with your client. If they happen to live a long way away and are on different time zones, so you’ve never met, allowing them to see your face and hear your voice on a regular basis is a great way of building trust and mutual understanding. You can also convey emotion through video where you would struggle in formalised written word.
9. It’s not Rocket Science
While is fantastic to have a top-of-the-range camera and microphone to work with, you can still create relatively high quality videos with modest resources.
Was recorded and uploaded using this…
Common Pitfalls When Making Videos
Although videos can be an incredibly useful resource when integrated into a holistic approach to communication, it is incredibly easy to undo the potential benefits videos offer…
1. Thinking Video Can Work for Everything
I’m not suggesting here that video is an all an out solution for all communication, but rather that it works when included in a holistic approach encompassing email, phone-calls and traditional reports. Video is particularly valuable when you don’t have the opportunity to meet with your client and explain things to them in the flesh, such as with International SEO, but it doesn’t replace traditional methods of communication.
2. Lack of Clarity
The best thing about email and reports is that they can be edited down to succinct actions points, which cut out the prognostication and deliberation populating everyday phone-calls and conversations. To make effective instructional and informational videos – always stick to the point at hand and avoid meandering tangents. Videos are only valuable in as much as they maintain an audience’s interest.
3. Inability to hone in on specific points
If you’re going to end up putting your video on YouTube, then an interactive transcript can be used to allow your client to skip to relevant points within the video. If not, then creating a contents list with corresponding time-codes for your video can be a great aid for efficient viewing.
4. Low Quality
Having good picture quality and clear audio is essential when producing a video. Especially when discussing complicated technical processes, there cannot be any compromise on this. Ensure you record all content at high resolution and avoid microphone interference.
5. Difficult to work out actionable tips
Clients aren’t going to want to watch through your videos multiple times and transcribe the point you make in order to ascertain appropriate action points. Whenever you send a video, ensure it comes complete with a list of jobs to be undertaken, which you’re client can study while watching your presentation. This will focus their mind to the practical essentials of what you are trying to say and ensure stuff gets done.
How to Convert a Written Report into a Video Report
Decide the form appropriate form the different parts of your report should take – which bits are best shown through a screencast and which bits would work best with a whiteboard Friday style talking head presentation?
Convert your report into a script, removing any descriptive passages which can be displayed visually – If it makes sense within the context of your report; write a script for multiple videos covering a single subject on each one. Six 5-minute long videos are easier to digest than one 30-minute video.
Practice speaking through your script in time with your screencast a couple of times before recording, ensuring you cut out any “umms” or “likes” opting for pauses any time you are unsure what to say.
When recording, always talk slightly slower than you would in everyday conversation, as the nuances of corporeal expression are inevitably lost through the cables of a microphone — Speak at the speed where it just starts to feel uncomfortably slow. In most cases, when you listen back to your recording, you’ll be surprised how slow it doesn’t feel.
For any talking head passages of your recording, always look straight into the lens of the camera.
After recording, trim out any sections which lag or feel unnecessary to make the overall points.
Add zooms, markers and annotations where necessary.
Export your content to video and upload to a cloud hosting service if necessary.
Creative an executive summary of the key points in text and create a contents checklist for your client to use to navigate to relevant points in the video(s).
Last week Rand published a blog titled The Best Kept Secret in the SEOmoz Toolset, which explains how to access the new SERPs analysis tool. I’ve taken the process he explained through text and diagrams and put together a tutorial video which works towards the same purpose. Using Rand’s post as a script, this video took roughly 10 minutes to make using Camtasia for Mac.
Do you find it easier to watch through the video or read through the post? Please let me know your thoughts!
If anyone would like to see further practical demonstrations of turning a written report into a movie, then i invite you to email me over your content (firstname.lastname@example.org) and i will use the above formula to convert it into a video and share it in the comments section.
If you’re interested to know more about the practical process for making awesome videos, please checkout a post I created a the Distilled blog last month – Creating Awesome Videos for SEO.