In episode 7, Mike King and Zach Chahalis of iPullRank share their thoughts on whether SEO forecasting is truly providing real value to the C-Suite.
Mike and Zach discuss why you can’t depend on data from forecasts to give concrete insights and how to avoid guarantees.
They also give some insight into the alternative methods that can be used in conversations with the C-Suite to showcase the value of SEO.
SEO forecasting can help to maybe prove your case when you’re working with a client.
So the question I always get in working with different folks throughout my career is, “What’s that going do for us? What’s that going to do to the bottom line? What’s that going to do in terms of traffic?”
It maybe gets to a different topic of whether it’s flawed or not, but the general idea is can we project out? What is the impact of doing something? Can we say, we think that you’ll generate this much traffic if we were ranking here? Or, we’re currently ranking here. Here are some things that we want to implement or fix or change to do that.
If that allows us to move from 6 to 3, we could possibly see this increase in traffic based on your conversion rate, based on your average order value. Here’s what you might expect to see potentially the bottom line.
I’m laughing because there is none.
And what I mean by that is, it’s an exercise that you’ve got to do to get buy in, but the reality is that there’s so many moving parts to SEO, which everyone knows. Everything from the search volume can change, an algorithm update can happen, and then what mattered before doesn’t matter as much.
So, you can forecast all you want, you can do all the statistics, you can do all the math. You can use profit from Facebook, you can use all these tools and plug those numbers in, and build a model. But more often than not, what actually happens is not what that forecast says.
But, you’ve still got to put something together that’s defensible. You’ve got to do things to get buy-in in an organization. You’ve got to effectively do what other channels are doing. If someone ask you if you want to invest in social media, cool. What are we going to get out of that? If you wanna invest in paid search, okay, that one’s a little easier because the mechanics are pretty much you put a dollar in, you get $10 out or whatever the number is, and that’s something that you can count on, but with organic search, you can’t.
And so, it’s really an exercise that you’ve got to do because businesses expect it, not necessarily one that’s going to yield intelligence that is going to come out the other end that looks anything like what your projection said.
In that way, I agree a lot with Mike. The actual value of forecasting and the actual accuracy of forecasting, it depends on how you’re looking at it. So for me, it is just the number of times I’ve had a client say, “We’re fighting up against all these other asks for a development to all these things that we need to accomplish in this period of time. How does this item stack up against these other items where we can say this is going to drive this amount of revenue?”
So it allows us to at least have that conversation and get in the door on it. But I do agree 100% around the accuracy of it because there is so much influx with organic search, with the algorithm, with SERPs themselves, that the level of accuracy with it is really tough to say.
There really is none.
But it allows you to at least have that conversation and provide some things that could happen or at least help to try and justify the case a little bit. But you need to be very careful about how you use and talk about that data. Because if you’re going to hedge all your bets on “If you do this, you get this number,” you’re setting yourself up for failure.
I think there’s a lot of things that go wrong with how people calculate them. So fundamentally, when people are doing any sort of SEO projection, (particularly a top level projection) where we’re gonna use search volumes, multiply by click through rates, multiply by conversion rate, average order value, to get to like a dollar figure for which you can expect for ranking for whatever keywords.
One of the big mistakes that people make is they use anecdotal click through rate models. So they’re just looking at, let’s say AWR or looking at one of the older studies and saying here’s the click through rate model. You should be using the click through rate model for your own website.
So you should be downloading that data from GSC and then building that model and then using that. You also need to segment out branded versus non-branded queries on both sides of that because branded performance is obviously far better than non-branded. And so, if you just leave that all in, like one rolled up number, you’re, you’re, you’re really skewing the numbers dramatically.
The other thing is that if you go the other way where you’re like, let’s model this based on traffic we got from organic search. Well, again, you have no idea what’s going to happen, right? Consumer behavior can change, similar to what we’re seeing right now in, I guess you’d call it the post pandemic world.
So it’s very difficult to get anything that’s gonna be meaningful because the inputs are inherently skewed. And then the environment that you’re talking about is dramatically skewed as well. So I think the problem is that people expecting projections are expecting a more static environment, when that’s just not possible.
I think the conversation has to be approached from a slightly different perspective, right? Because if you’re starting to tell the C-Suite, based on your numbers, based on our projections, you’re gonna see 2 million sessions next year, and that’s gonna lead to this amount of revenue, again, if you’re setting yourself up for failure with either bad data coming in or not, factoring in economic changes, model changes, search intent, and volume changes. There’s a lot of that that’s going to impact it.
So there’s kind of an idea of using that data as a guide, but providing and being transparent that there are factors that can impact these models that may impact this. There also may be the general idea of being slightly conservative in some of the numbers that you’re looking at, in that way. I certainly work with clients over the years where they ask for a projection, but also ask us to be conservative on it.
We want to be able to try and quantify this to our C-Suite, but we also don’t want to set ourselves up for failure too.
It’s kind of estimating, if we were to do this, we think we can go from here to here. And then trying to lead into the model based on that. But to Mike’s points, the model needs to be constructed with all the factors in mind that you can work with, but also knowing that those factors themselves can be flawed, again, post pandemic world.
Right now, I’ve seen a site where their rankings have actually improved, but their traffic dropped off because their entire demand was around something that took place two years ago, and now that demand is gone, but they are more visible with it, right?
So if I went back with that model to a C-suite and said you guys went up a position on average here, but you actually lost 20% in sessions year over year, that’s not gonna be received very well by a C-suite.
My counterpoint here is a lot of what we’ve been talking about has been on the tactical side of this, where you’re thinking recommendation by recommendation what should we expect? That sort of thing.
If I’m speaking to someone at the C-level, I’m not having that conversation.
I’m having a different conversation where I’m saying, generally speaking, your organic search visibility or traffic or whatever looks like this, the competitor you’re going after is here, and I think if you make this investment, we can get you to somewhere between there.
Andthat number’s gonna be a function of, let’s say we’re talking about a financial services company that’s getting crushed by Nerd Wallet because they all are or Bank Rate because they all are. And so, Bank Rate for this specific category, they’re driving X, you’re driving Y. If you invest A then we can get you to Z.
That tends to resonate a lot more than going the other approach that you typically use when you’re talking to a manager or director or whatever, because they wanna see the big picture, they don’t necessarily care about, if I do this one thing, this one keyword go, will go up.
Unless it’s one of those vanity keywords that they care about. But typically what they want to know is like from a big picture perspective. How much money can this drive and how much of our market share can we snatch from our competitor? So that’s a much better way to have that conversation in my experience.
Title: Founder and CEO
Bio: An artist and a technologist, all rolled into one, Mike King is the Founder & CEO of the enterprise SEO and content strategy agency, iPullRank. Mike consults with companies all over the world, including brands ranging from SAP, American Express, HSBC, SanDisk, General Mills, and FTD, to a laundry list of promising eCommerce, publisher, and financial services organizations.
Mike has held previous roles as Marketing Director, Developer, and tactical SEO at multi-national agencies such as Publicis Modem, iAcquire, and Razorfish. Effortlessly leaning on his background as an independent hip-hop musician, Mike King is a dynamic speaker who is called upon to contribute to conferences, webinars, and blogs all over the world.
Title: Director of SEO
Bio: Zach Chahalis has over a dozen years of experience in digital marketing focused on developing and executing SEO strategies for Fortune 500 brands including Genuine Parts Company, GameStop, Michaels Stores, Sodexo, CoStar Group, and Global Payments Inc.
Zach also has experience working both agency-side and in-house with companies of all shapes and sizes ranging from local universities and regional home builders to national hotel groups and multinationals. Additionally, Zach leverages his experience and degree in business administration to develop data-driven marketing strategies beyond SEO, including developing several national loyalty rewards programs as well as leading analytics implementations and PPC campaigns for large brands.
Zach is also the co-founder of the ATL SEO organization.
Referree: Garrett Sussman
Title: Demand Generation Manager