Getting to grips with SEO forecasting

Rick Davidson, SEO Account Director, discusses the importance of forecasting

An efficient SEO forecast can help you and your clients estimate expected organic growth for the year ahead. A bank of historic data with layers of trends analysis and insight baked on top will ensure you build an accurate one.

Forecasting is an essential component of managing any SEO activity. It sets performance expectations for a digital discipline notably difficult to monitor. The challenge is that we simply don’t know the precise weighting of Google’s various ranking factors. How the algorithms will treat our optimisation efforts is unpredictable to say the least.

Add in other variables such as competitor activity and ATL campaigns, and the whole optimisation process risks losing focus.

To navigate this possibility, we rely on empirical evidence to estimate the effectiveness of the actions we undertake. This evidence forms our SEO forecasts.

Forming the data foundations

Collecting data will always be the first port of call in developing any forecast. It’s time to dig in to as much performance history as you can get your hands on. A year’s worth of basic metrics is a minimum requirement here.

Essential metrics to gather and analyse are:

  • Natural search volume
  • Sales
  • Revenue

As you begin to collect the necessary data, list them in Excel by month to form the foundation of your forecast. A handy spreadsheet will streamline the data mining. Any additional information such as keyword data and competitor considerations can then be added. This detail will help build an in-depth impression of your client’s current organic profile.

The data’s been collected and your spreadsheet is looking healthy. But, what does it all mean?

Context is key to understanding the bank of data you’ve got in front of you and the data needs to have a story. Analysing the data alongside a map of seasonal trends provides a great opening chapter.

For example, a spike in search volume might represent an algorithm update or a site change. Overlaying previous years’ data in your spreadsheet will alert you to what’s seasonal and what’s not. It’s then easier to spot anomalies, too.

Building the forecast

Importantly, your forecast should always be rooted in reality. Echo the key milestones set out in your SEO strategy.

I always begin by listing out what’s planned over the course of the year that will effect performance. This is where your strategy and forecast entwine. Improving technical stability, utilising local SEO, and content campaigns should all be included when applicable. It’s also essential to put a due date against each activity.

Your spreadsheet will now contain a lot of readily accessible data, simplifying the forecasting process.

Begin by extending the existing traffic, sales and revenue strands of your historical data into a new year. This gives you a basic performance level. It will already include seasonal fluctuations and provides the perfect groundwork from which to proceed.

Layering is the key takeaway in assembling an SEO forecast. Modifying the basic performance level of each month to reflect key project milestones provides detail and expectations on top of the raw data.

Although the forecasting structure may look rigid, we must allow for flux. Estimated moderations are part and parcel of an SEO forecast. We can estimate that adding 500 words of optimised content to 20 landing pages may deliver a 2% uplift in traffic, for example. But, Google’s complex algorithms prevent anyone from a guarantee.

It’s natural to feel trepidation when building a forecast for the first time. Client expectations will be front of mind, so be open with them about your estimations to prevent uncertainty on both sides. If you have the contextualised data to back up your decisions, however, you’ll be able to defend your forecast and deliver the expected growth.

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