Subscribe to our newsletter

Get the State of Digital Newsletter
Join an elite group of marketers receiving the best content in their mailbox
Help us understand what topics we should be writing about!
We would like to help you get the best content for your role
* = required field
I want the...

What alerts do you want to receive?

What topics do you most like to read about?

SEO Forecasting: How the SEO Professionals Feel

Yesterday I shared the results of some discussions we had with SEO’s and a survey around the topic of SEO Forecasting. The survey gives a nice indication of how the industry looks at and uses Forecasting. For this exercise we also reached out to industry professionals to ask them how they felt about the importance of SEO Forecasting.

Image source: http://www.caughtoffside.com/2012/12/05/darts-live-stream/

Image source: http://www.caughtoffside.com/2012/12/05/darts-live-stream/

Here are the results!

David Sottimano — (Twitter)

“Forecasting in SEO is extremely important. Forecasting provides you with a general idea of how much organic will contribute to the business as a channel, where to focus your efforts, and how hard you need to push to hit targets. While I don’t necessarily put 100% faith in the numbers, I’d much rather have an idea than nothing at all.

It’s extremely easy to forecast organic and conversions from organic based on historical data, and it can be done in minutes. Forecasting SEO activities is much, much more difficult as we all know. For example, trying to estimate growth for canonical tag implementation is silly, but trying to estimate potential traffic gain by targeting new keywords isn’t so crazy.”

Paddy Moogan (Aira) – (Twitter)

“The importance of Forecasting varies a lot from client to client. Some clients really need you to do forecasting in order to get budget sign-off from their bosses whilst others don’t worry too much. If forecasting is important to a client and it’s required to get sign-off on an idea or campaign, then I feel it is important. However, I’d rather focus on objectives and what we’re shooting for over the course of 6-12 months rather than worrying about exact forecasting. We should have a target to work towards, put a strategy in place that works towards this, and then do it! 

It’s worth it if it helps a client get sign-off. However, the nature of what we do means that there are many factors at play which can make a forecast useless after a few weeks. There are too many signals that can affect you, many of which you may not even control. So forecasting with so many variables in play can make you look very silly, very quickly!”

Forecasting is time consuming

Louis Venter (Mediavision) – (Twitter)

“Forecasting is hugely important. We have two levels of forecasting, one that is client facing and one that is internal. The internal one is aimed at what we feel the results would need to be to be award worthy and we set all our internal expectations around that. The client facing is agreed with the client and still aggressive but often quite a margin lower than the internal targets.

It is definitely worth it. Our aim is to deliver work that our peers would be impressed with so forecasting is an essential part of that process. It also helps trigger performance reviews if we are lagging well before clients become unhappy which helps retention too. It also highlights gains based on targets and helps clients justify and highlight your efforts to their team. We take forecasting a step further and include it in our new business pitches which often unlocks a strategic decision higher up to reallocate budgets based on ROI.”

Gianluca Fiorelli – (Twitter)

“Forecasting is still important, but – IMHO – less important than it could be in the past because:

1) Not provided;

2) How SERPs have changed (hence the CTR value)

3) Semantics and Hummingbird

Actually I tend to use Organic Session Conversion Value as KPI, as well explained by Ian Lurie here:

Forecasting more and more I consider is worth the time spent!

Barry Adams (Polemic) – (Twitter)

“Forecasting is a tough one. Clients want you to forecast what they’ll get from their investment, but seasoned SEOs know it’s an almost entirely futile exercise. Personally I don’t bother with forecasting; clients pay me for my effort and my expertise. Results are implied but there’s no way I can make guarantees. We’re aiming at fast-moving targets after all with too many variables to make forecasting even remotely accurate.

The SEO forecasting models that I’ve seen are indeed time consuming and based on a lot of assumptions and wishful thinking. I don’t believe that’s worth the effort, as inevitably the actual results will be vastly different. Instead I believe it’s smarter to focus that effort on educating the client and showing them what does in to good SEO, so that they get a good understanding of exactly what your added value is.”

Bill Hunt – (Twitter)

“SEO Forecasting is still important as many companies will not allocate development or copywriting resources unless they can see some sort upside in traffic and/or revenue just justify the allocation. 

SEO Forecasting, while time consuming, and sometimes nearly impossible to do, it is the only way to justify resource allocations in many companies.”

Forecasting results are often close to actual outcomes

Mark Jackson (Vizion Interactive) – (Twitter)

“I will tell you that unless/until I can project an ROI for a prospect or client (at least determine if there’s a possibility of an ROI and/or determine if the client is willing/able to wait out the approximate time it might take to achieve it), I will walk away from the opportunity.

Projecting is extremely important.

Now, forecasting specific results is very challenging, if not impossible. As much as we might like to think that SEO is akin to an assembly line approach, where you do A, B and C and get D result, it simply doesn’t work that way; at least, not under most circumstances (there are still some easy wins out there if, for example, a site has technical roadblocks to their success).

What we can do, as SEOs, is project the possible reach of an effort and calculate the possible number of visits that can be gained. From there, using historical data, we can project – based on existing conversion rates – what we might anticipate in growth of sales/leads. There are also a number of great tools that can highlight the relative success of competitors and provide insight as to what may be possible, and identify how competitors got there (content/links, etc.). Often times, this is enough insight into the possibilities that clients can at least understand the obstacles/challenges and make a determination as to how any gaps can/will be addressed. While you can’t project the same results by “X” date, you can project what is possible and what it might take to get there.”

Simon Heseltine (AOL) – (Twitter)

“Forecasting helps to solidify the editorial calendar for a site, if you know when a particular topic is going to start to take off, or when it’s going to peak, you can be prepared with content that’ll get you as much of a share as possible.”

I forecast the output of my activity and-or receive forecasts from partners-1

Daniel Bianchini (White.net) – (Twitter)

“Forecasting for SEO can be a double-edged sword. If done well, and understood it can be powerful, but conducted badly, it can be very damaging. With so many different factors and changing variables within SEO, forecasting can be very difficult to predict.”

Kristine Schachinger (The Vetters) – (Twitter)

“Forecasting is a very difficult process, that is typically inaccurate and highly dependent on the industry, vertical and the level of involvement you have in the planning of a company’s internal efforts.

While it makes sense to spend time forecasting when you are an internal SEO, as it affects many aspects of the business organization including staff and resources, it does not make much as much sense to provide future forecasting when your role is external consulting or support without effective process control. In these cases, you have too little ability to affect the outcomes to predict the future and it becomes more of a guess.

In our case we know the strategies, the plan, our ability to affect change and the likelihood of success based on previous experience with similar scenarios. The past predicting the future is often a much better indicator of outcome, than guessing at an unknown future with thousands of unknown variables. 

However, if you do decide to work with forecasting it is important to understand the guiding principle must be based on the uncertainty of the effective environment. Be like a tree, know what direction you are growing, but you must be willing to adapt on the way.”

Read more about the survey results on the post I wrote yesterday here and here.



Kirsty Hulse is Head of SEO Best Practice at Linkdex and has six years experience defining search strategies for some of the world's biggest brands, as well as small E-commerce start ups.
  • Roque Lage de Llera

    I´m with Barry Adams on this; forecasting in most cases is time consuming and not much productive, but as Bill Hunt says, its used to justify amounts invested

    I would rather focus on other things, that some clients demand this specifically