One of the major talking points that came out of the recent Manchester SEO mini conferences related to the subject of forecasting for SEO purposes. As Head of SEO for a number of high profile search organisations within the UK, forecasting has become part and parcel of my day to day role, both in terms of providing a commercial rationale for undertaking a SEO campaign for the client, but also a way of providing a rational framework to the SEO project, one that has the end goals of the client at its heart and takes into account their fundamental reach and response requirements from SEO.
The main issue with forecasting has and will for the foreseeable future be search data, in particular an accurate number of potential searchers within a particular sector, and even more so on particular keywords. Yes ,there are various tools on the market such as the Google Keyword Tool/SK Tool, Webmaster Tools, Raven or even old school tools such as Elite SEO however the fundamental issue remains in terms of data integrity and robustness particularly when one compares this to a real time environment. Further to this, many of us are lucky to have clients which have 100% coverage on 100% off their keywords, 100% of the time, and without such data, it is very difficult to provide absolutely on the money forecasts.
Further to this clickthrough data is another topic often open to interpretation. Data varies reasonably significantly depending on source and as such there is no definitive holy grail on which to base 100% reliable click through data. That said leaked 2007 data from AOL or more recent Chikita data, provide a reasonable starting point from which to base an initial forecast model – robust enough to provide an initial framework for forecasting
Whilst I appear to debunk the potential for forecasting, I am merely trying to caveat SEO forecasting against that of other online & offline channels. These forecasts do provide a reasonably solid framework – however the data should provide a benchmark for proposed activity, after all we haven’t factored in any consideration for the fact that organic search is based on an algorithm, and thus to a large degree we cannot guarantee visibility nor placement based on proposed spend.
Before you start:
One would suggest before you start forecasting, you should already have a fairly clear idea of what terms you will be optimising for. Solid keyword research is often the foundation for any successful SEO campaign, and even more so in the case of forecasting. Initial data should include at the very least
Initial activity should focus on providing a baseline for subsequent activity. IF nothing else, this provides a clear starting point for further KPI’s to be developed and provided to your client/boss. In order to
Developing the forecast
Once you have an initial baseline you are ready to start. There are a number of ways such forecasts can be developed. Neil Walker did a very good way of the way Just Search approach their forecasting for SEO purposes. This takes the shape of a blue sky framework using aggregated clickthrough data to determine potential click through to the website.
However given the tools at your disposal, such a framework can be taken far more indepth to include:
Dont stand still
The search engine landscape is a constantly changing environment, and as with this landscape you should revisit the forecast on an ongoing basis. Blended search may provide more short term opportunities, particularly with the introduction of the recent Google Places Search results.
One should be revisiting your keyword research as a matter of course, and as a result the potential of your campaign changes in line with your keyword revisions. This should act as a sanity check as to whether your campaign is going to plan – and whether there is further requirement for increased campaign activity to achieve required results.
The financial factor
This is a debate that many have an opinion on – however one that still splits opinion. However by the mere fact that we are able to determine potential traffic via the forecast, it is possible to associate a financial return on the campaign and ensure that the campaign is financially attractive to both you – and more importantly your client. By integrating conversion rate and average order value into the baseline and 12 month forecast, it is possible to associate a potential return on investment to proposed activity and increased visibility.
As I said earlier, any forecast should act as a guide. Very few forecasts (of any sort) are 100% accurate and SEO forecasts are no different. However what they do provide is a sanity check of the commercial fundamentals of your campaign, and an indication of just whether your campaign provides the financial justification for the investment in it.