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How to forecast SEO ROI

The importance of forecasting

Whether you are working with a client or on your own product, forecasting
is an important first step in SEO work. Not only will it provide an idea of the
direction, it can create the necessary accountability for later measurement.
While forecasting may not provide 100% accuracy, it can provide a glimpse
of what to expect from SEO efforts. And at times, the forecast results can
save many future headaches.

A simple glance at the outcomes you anticipate can quickly identify
whether you are about to invest an exorbitant amount of time and
money into a project that physically cannot yield the results you want.
For example, if your website is built in a way that already limits your SEO
effectiveness, like a single-page application design which you have no
intention of changing, it’s entirely possible that you will not drive enough
additional inbound traffic to justify the effort you put into optimizing your

How SEO forecasting relates to ROI

Your forecast can give you clues into what your net return on investment
might be. If you anticipate that you will drive 10,000 additional organic
users to your site each month, that can be a great starting point.

Assigning value to forecasted SEO performance will indicate how much
achieving those goals is worth. Comparing that value to the amount
needed to be spent in order to drive the projected results will indicate
whether the investment is profitable or not.

Without overpromising on what SEO can deliver, it is a good idea to shoot
for a truly great ROI rather than a net positive. However, as forecasting can
never be truly precise due to unforeseen variables (e.g. your costs might
increase, or the Google SERPs can change causing you to drive lower
traffic), you should aim to create a strategy that results in a big enough ROI
to ensure you’re not left in the red should those circumstances occur.

How to develop SEO projections

Depending on the type of business you have, your projections should
reflect the biggest areas of impact. It makes little sense to do full-year
projections on seasonal items that sell only during one month of the year.
Conversely, calculating projections for a quarter for products that drive
revenue all year is the wrong path to take.

It’s important to remember that SEO is a unique marketing channel that
can continuously drive results even after you’ve completed the difficult
technical work and are simply maintaining the site. For example, while
revenue driven through direct ads will cease as soon as your ad campaign
ends, SEO work can continue driving results long after you’ve finished
optimizing your site. It’s thus important to give your SEO campaign ample
time to prove ROI as revenue will not rise in tune with spending at the start.

Method 1: Annual projections

If you are a year-round business and anticipate that SEO will impact the
bottom line throughout the year, then you should calculate your projections
based on a full calendar year. The way to do this is look at the areas where
you expect to see impact and give a conservative estimate of projected

Here are the steps to forecasting annual SEO ROI. We’ll use a sports site as
an example to illustrate the process.

1. Compile the data on the historical performance of unbranded
keywords for your site in Organic Search by exporting from Google
Search Console. For maximum accuracy we recommend pulling data
via the Google Search Console API. For illustrative purposes we will be
using the 1000 results from the export in the user interface.

The exported data will look like this in Excel:

2. Google Search Console gives an average position value, we want to
calculate a CTR curve, so we need to round up to a Rankings value. Do
so by creating column F and performing the =ROUND(E2,0) function
and fill down.

3. Create a pivot table of Ranking vs the Average of CTR.

4. Using Rankings 1-10 create your CTR Curve. For extra insight, you can
consider pulling live data from AWR’s CTR Study to compare your
performance against others in your vertical.

5. Identify the annual search volume of keywords that you do not rank in
the top 10 for. You can do this using third party keyword research
tools. Also, collect the Organic Search conversion rate, and, if
applicable, the average order value. Multiple the CTR by the
Conversion Rate to get the amount of potential traffic.

6. Multiply the traffic value by the Organic Search conversion rate to
compute the number of potential conversions.

7. Multiply the conversion value by the average order value to determine
the potential incremental revenue that this effort will yield.

8. Ultimately, this yields a range of potential incremental traffic and
revenue. Be sure to couch these numbers against goals and what you
think is reasonable for your team to execute.

9. Optionally, you can take a more granular approach here and project
the improvement in rankings per keyword. In this approach, you
would apply a projected ranking to each keyword and then associate
the expected CTR from the CTR model above via a VLOOKUP. Using
an individual CTR per keyword rather than reviewing a range of
opportunity yields more specific projections.

10. To calculate the ROI, you divide the sum of the net returns per keyword
by the cost of the work you completed and this will be your annual
projected ROI. In the above example, assuming that we achieve
position 5 for all keywords, and the agency we hired for the effort cost
$250,000 then the ROI is calculated as ($1,605,425.02 –
$250,000)/$250,000 or 524.17% in incremental revenue on a $250k

Method 2: Seasonal projections

Seasonal SEO projections will greatly resemble your yearly projections
but will have the nuance of specific date range. The projection steps will
remain the same but the search volumes for the months you’re looking at
will need to be checked individually. Last year’s monthly volumes can be
used for these projections.

When making projections that are seasonal, it’s important to take into
account changes from year to year. If you are in a market that has become
more saturated since the previous season, this is something to take into
account. Check the SERPs that you’re anticipating the work having an
impact on. It’s extremely important to know where you can move the
needle and where you cannot. Informational searches will often favor sites
like Wikipedia, for example. Similarly, competitors’ branded searches will
be virtually unattainable. Other than that, are there companies that entered
the industry since last year? Are any competitors no longer there? Adjust
expectations and projections in accordance with this knowledge.

If you want to get more specific and have the time to create a truly
standout projection, then leveraging some Python and Google Trends
might be a great way to do that. Tyler Reardon created a step by step
process on how to leverage an API to predict where your traffic driving
keywords might be in the next season
that is well worth the read. This is
an advanced SEO project, however. But if you think you’re up to the task,
you essentially need to complete these steps:

1. Export monthly organic traffic for the entirety of last year
2. Export top organic queries by clicks from Google Search Console for
the same dates
3. Use PyTrends API to leverage Google trends and pull a seasonality
index for these keywords and then map them to each month in the
last year
4. Using this seasonality index acquired through Google Trends, you
can create a projection model that shows month over month traffic
expectations based on seasonality.
5. In a separate column you will project growth of traffic based on SEO
6. Finally, you can plot the seasonality model and growth model on the
same chart to see by how much you expect to outpace the standard
seasonal changes. This is the ROI as the seasonal trendline is the

How to communicate SEO projections

Once you’ve gone through the steps of creating SEO projections, you will
need to share them with stakeholders. But if you’ve been paying attention,
you’ll understand that projections are anything but definitive. The best
way to communicate your SEO projections is to ensure stakeholders are
educated on how these projections were calculated, and what factors may
affect achieving them. You may very well exceed your own projections, but
should you fall short, due to factors beyond your control, this education
goes a long way to help buffer end-of-year reporting.

Rather than simply presenting your projections in an attempt to win
business or sell a product, use it as information to build a case. Your
SEO projections may show that the return on investment is not what
stakeholders would like to see in the short term, but can help solidify
an expectation of future positive ROI. If nothing else, this may provide
an opportunity to identify quick wins, and regroup to discuss a different
approach that will provide maximum value.

How long will it take to see ROI on SEO?

SEO results are unique to the optimization that was done, the content it
was done to, and the website it was done on. Established, authoritative
websites may begin to see results in hours, while others may take months.
The time it takes comes down to implementing updates and affecting
change in search results.

For impatient stakeholders wanting to see ROI quickly, it’s important to
keep them educated on the process, updated on progress, and informed
of anything needed to ensure results are seen. ROI is usually calculated
and reported on the end of a campaign, or at critical points along the way.
In order to keep stakeholders informed of performance, identify key SEO
performance indicators that can be reported on regularly to show positive
changes towards improving business objectives.