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SEO Forecasting

SEO Forecasting

I hate having to put out a 12 month forecast for organic traffic. There’s just so much of it that’s not in our control. PPC forecasting is breeze in comparison. You know impression data, CTR, conversion rate per keyphrase etc etc. Before all you PPCers out there get up in my grill about forecasting PPC…yeah…it’s not simple but you gotta grant that it’s better and intrinsically more accurate than we can ever get for SEO.

What’s the number one hold up for SEO results? Clients. If you can’t get your recommendations implemented (or implemented correctly) then how can you expect to meet any kind of forecast?

The other piece of forecasting seo is a pure lack of data. In the PPC world we simply have more data such as CTR and impressions to make projections on. Also, we can bid to position to an extent and we know we will be there or not and we can adjust on the fly. SEO doesnít work that way.

Even if we knew total impressions for all keywords we couldnít get at much because we donít know click through. We can make some really terribly vague guesses like:

Letís pretend we know there are 100,000 impressions for some keyword every month. We also know that #1 organic will get clicked on roughly (very roughly) 7 times more often than #1 PPC (right side of page). What we donít know is how often weíre #1 on organic due to fluctuations. If we drop from #1 to #3 what does that mean? Nobody really knows exactly but we know itís a geometric (or logarithmic or some other math I don’t know) drop off of some sort. Every element of the equation is more vague than the previous and at the end of it all the number is largely meaningless.

At the end of the day a forecast for SEO is not even worth the paper itís printed on. There are simply too many factors out of our control. I understand that your client thinks your current forecast it too low but thatís based simply on the fact that they want bigger numbers. Does the current forecast make them money? Does it show a positive ROI? Are you meeting the expectations you set at the commencement of the contract? Iíd much rather put out a forecast thatís positive but conservative and then impress a client than put out a huge forecast that falls short. No matter how much money you make the client in that instance theyíll not be happy. 20 to 1 isnít acceptable if you predicted 25 to 1 just to make the client happy.

Set your client’s expectations at the outset and do your level best to ball park what you feel is an attainable ROI on natural search. Don’t let them move the goal posts on you during the game. Try to avoid getting tied to % increases from a specific search engine or on a specific phrase. You simply don’t have enough data or control to build a 12 month Excel spreadsheet that can predict with any accuracy at all what the monthly growth will be.

Do you forecast SEO results?

Comments

  1. Brian Mark says:

    Even worse is trying to build a budget based on anticipated organic traffic like I get to do every year. I don’t know what Google’s got up their sleeves, so the fact we’re relying almost entirely on organic traffic for our business is quite scary. We do supplement that with minimal PPC, shopping engines, base and a few others, but for the most part we’re selling based on organic listings. So how do you make a guess how much you’re going to sell 12 months from now? Ugh.

  2. Thogek says:

    Add to all of that the feeling that (at least in my semi-limited experience on the subject) many SEOers who do give remotely precise forecasts of SEO performance are usually the shadier ones of dubious trustworthiness. (Or the more clueless ones of dubious capability.)

    Sure, classic used-car salesmen tell you whatever sunny spiel you want to hear about that shiny new-to-you auto, but eventually, when enough of those autos fail to live up to the spiels, he gets a reputation for being less than realistic, less than honest, and… then what?

  3. POOPeGIFTS says:

    I use MarketingSherpa data for CTR (based on the spefici top ten positions) and Conversion Rates. Use word tracker for traffic estimations. Then I compile a spread sheet that estimates the traffic if the client averaged a ranking of 5 and of 10. Then if average order value is available, use that and the marketingSherpa conversion rate (unless the client does know their converison rate), can estimate an ROI if the client averages a top 5 or top 10 placement for all their terms. With the goal to rank in the 1st position, averaging top 5 usually isn’t too hard, and top ten should be easy.

  4. Dal says:

    I never forcast results. I will mention previous types of situations (no personal) and tell them what was applied and the results attained. I do agree with Todd about clients always pressuring but not making your updates a priority. I do on hand give them hard data and statistics to form part of our thought process.

    -Dal

  5. Home says:

    SEO forecasting is just impossible! Even using the same terms that one uses in PPC is useless. One position makes a difference in many terms, especially in competitive terms where the user may not even look further than the 4th position!

  6. The only forecasting that seems to be accurate is when you get a client that hasn’t done SEO before, but otherwise has a well-established site. No I won’t share what estimate I provide in such cases since that will just result in people getting all in a tizzy.

    I did have a manager once that wanted me to pick a percentage increase for a client 12 months out and then backfill in expected quarterly growth to hit that percentage. I felt it was a waste of time, but I did it anyway. The client then proceeded to not implement anything for 5 months.

    Thanks for putting this post together though. It’s nice to hear that others have the same challenges I do :-)

  7. john andrews says:

    Nice post, Todd. Of interest in my office as well and we’ve been testing a few algorithms.

    @Marios – it might be that they decided to “not do anything” to see a baseline for non-seo, organic traffic growth. In other words, are we paying this guy and only getting what we would have gotten anyway? I’ve seen that before (5 months is about right). I takeit as a sign of trust… and usually there are other signs if you look closely.

    I find a portfolio of past success works, even though not relevant. It shows what can happen.

  8. Amy Balliett says:

    This is a great post! I’ve learned that SEO forecasting depends on the client as well as the team. In other words, are you relying on yourself to sell your services and deliver? Or do you have a sales team, an SEO team, as well as other client services members? When you have multiple customer facing employees, it’s safer to have a written forecast (or at least a nice estimate range) to ensure that the customer is always getting the same information regardless of whom they are speaking to. If you are the only one in contact with your client, then a portfolio of past work should suffice, and your communication of knowledge should be more than enough to ensure trust and instill confidence. In other instances, some clients want to have all of the details laid out on the table before spending their money, because they are afraid of a gamble. Ultimately, this is where SEO forecasting becomes a double edged sword. I agree that PPC Forecasting is by far easier (at least in the accuracy sense of things), but definitely think that using similar PPC Forecasting tactics in your SEO efforts will help achieve your goals. The methods used by POOPeGIFTS are a great start! Similarly, it’s always important to give a positive, yet conservative forecast, thanks for that great tip!!

  9. SEO says:

    I agree there is no way to forecast SEO results. You can however “guesstimate” at best.

  10. Seo kent says:

    It’s difficult to forecast as Google can sweep the rug out from underneath your feet at any time!

  11. The_man says:

    I bet it’s going to be a tough one trying to forecast SEO, at least not with Google holding the key. :lol:

  12. Vic says:

    Especially with the so sudden changes that Google does. Right now I am still trying to figure out how Google is treating dot info domains as in some types of applications even getting them indexed is hard. I would say way easier to predict years ago then these current times.

  13. Rob says:

    On one hand it’s important to forsee changes in SEO but on the other hand Google does what Google does and more often than not doesn’t bother to tell anyone what it’s up to.

  14. Gab says:

    SEO forecasting is just a mistery, because as soon as Google decides to change something internally you can say bye bye to the accuracy of the forecast.

  15. George says:

    All the changes that take place at Google and the other search engines make it hard as well. A lot of time can be spent just figuring out these things.

  16. Mouse says:

    SEO forecasting no… but I don’t believe for one instant that people can’t pick up the Google trail and try to game it. I guess it’s who first develops Google *hindsight* before it changes the algorithm again.

  17. Mike says:

    That’s why It amazes me that companies can guarantee results in google thanks to their “amazing” seo skills. It is impossible to be 100% sure of the results of a SEO strategy.

  18. backgammon says:

    I think it’s a good time for SEO and the field is booming too. Internet has made the world more accessible for everyone. If you have a website designer with out the knowledge of search engine optimization, then you need to wake up. This is the only sure way through which you can attract thousands of visitors to your website.

  19. John says:

    Exactly, SEO Forecasting is very important i’ve been trying tons of methods online to promote my sites to get more backlinks and build pagerank, but its very hard and most of them don’t work, thanks a lot for the article

  20. Brad says:

    With all the possible variables that come into play from the SEO end, it’s almost impossible to accurately forecast organic traffic. Everytime Google updates, it causes a shift in our organic traffic. Sometimes it goes up and other times it goes down.

    Although I’ve read some thoughts on various SEO forums reporting that organic traffic isn’t directly tied to pagerank, I’ve found that isn’t the case with our site. When PR goesdown, rankings go down, which is followed by a decrease in traffic. PPC traffic is easier to control, but, IMHO, doesn’t convert nearly as well as organic traffic.

  21. This is something I reaaaally struggled with for a LOOOOOng time. I was working with an online retailer who use forecasts for budgeting, and this was a misery. The thing is that most of their marketing is direct-response: email, portal buys… So it’s not hard at all to forecast what numbers you’ll see on those, since you’ve seen them in the past and can control all the variables !

  22. anchal singh says:

    I think SEO forecasting is itself a secrete.No buddy can predict about this.But some good experiences in SEO field can only predict or the person which are in search engine algorithm design algorithm.

  23. With custom results becoming more common in the SERP and hence personalized search results varying not only by location but also on an indivisual basis (see “Ranking is dead”), this is going to be tough to forecast organic traffic !

  24. Well yes it is rather hard to predict the future of organic listings; impossible in fact. If you think about it, Google can make a change in their algorithm at any time, reeking havoc on our rankings!

  25. rankings, but thatís diminishing every day as they fluctuate constantly. Itís already hell to project how your SEO ROI is going to look, and the trend towards it is only getting

  26. Rankings is always changing so you need to make adjustments for your site to reach the upper rankings. :) I learned a lot! thank you!

  27. I think SEO forecasting is itself a secrete.No buddy can predict about this.But some good experiences in SEO field can only predict or the person which are in search engine algorithm design algorithm.

  28. frank says:

    Seo forecasting very important to all, this is best way to promote
    our website, i’ll try this one

  29. SEO can be difficult to forecast. But I think people are looking at SEO in a way that it can’t ever be forcasted. All we can know forecast from SEO is the number of average hits a keyword will have in a month in Google. That we can tell using Google’s keyword tool other than that I would not attempt to make some sort of forecast. Just as I could not forecast how many clicks someone will get if the run an AdWords campaign – all I would be able to tell them is that we could have up to X number of click on your ad based on the amount of money we have allotted for a keyword.

  30. Yes, setting expectations is highly important.

    I show all clients the seobook website’s % of clicks per ranking result. That thing really shows that unless your #1 you won’t even see 41% of search traffic.

    Then from there, discussing 10% is even a reasonable fetch with a top 10 result and good SEO copy. Not just a regular title tag, but an exciting one packed with benefits & keywords.

  31. Elena says:

    Yes, I do forecast my SEO results. Although, I don’t expect to see dramatic changes but any slight increase is acceptable. As you said, there is no way that we can forecast and promise the ranking for certain keywords as it is not in our hand. Too much backlinks might trigger spam net and get us penalty. I think, going specific forecast for SEO is not possible.

  32. Dixon Jones says:

    (Sorry I’m late to the party…. again.)

    Bill Hunt uses a different way to help clients without commiting to physical numbers – he uses the concept of a “missed opportunity matrix”. In other words, he can use (say) PPC tool data to give some kind f estimate of how much traffic a customer MIGHT achieve from SEO in any given vertical if the client really put their mind to it in that verticle. He doesn’t commit to saying the client will get the traffic i three months… instead he uses the matrix to help the client decide whether to cover the baes by PPC, Organic, both or not at all.

    This seems to work quite well for large clients (by large clients I think I mean ones with complex and varied products or services) because the client needs to get active in helping to define the direction of the SEO efforts.

    Doesn’t mean they’ll get any traffic though… I agree that clients are the graetest holdup in Client seo!

  33. matt says:

    it is a mistery of google.

  34. I try to go for trend driven rather than forecast driven campaigns – the hard thing about that is getting them started first without the forecast. But showing people what you’ve done for them every month in terms of links, unique visitors etc etc really helps, especially since we get a lot of reports of SEO companies just disappearing off the radar for a lot of the time – customers don’t hear from them so just assume they’re not doing any work, which isn’t always the case.

  35. Utah SEO says:

    I’d have to say that you can forecast a websites traffic. You can’t control if google boots you, but you can forecast traffic. It gets easier as a site has more analytic data saved up. You can see which keywords drive the most traffic, which times of year, month, and week have better traffic coming in from the search engines. And you can estimate based on current rankings the traffic you’d have if you were in a better position in the SERPs.

  36. seo forcasting impossible?

  37. promo says:

    I don’t think that SEO forecasting is possible. There are millions of websites and everything changes ever so quickly. In that context no one is able to forecast about SEO. Even Google cannot predict anything.

Trackbacks

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