A decade ago, I had an incredible opportunity to work at an amazing organization called The Bradford Exchange. Most people have never heard of it, but it is the world’s leading direct marketer of limited-edition collectibles and jewelry.
What made my experience at Bradford so incredible was their meticulous attention to detail and single-minded focus on driving their business by numbers — something that has been ingrained into me ever since my time there.
The part that wasn’t so fun at Bradford was being the only search marketer in a half-billion-dollar organization trying to build up a fledgling organic search program. The same attention to detail and data-driven approach that I call my “second MBA” made it a nightmare to try and get anything done for SEO.
How do you convince executives to commit resources to a channel where the drivers of results were the least understood and the influence a marketer had on those drivers are seen, at best, as “black magic”?
Today, as I work with Enterprise SEOs at global organizations, I see the same challenges coming up over and over again: convincing everyone from the executives to the tech teams to prioritize their projects over the multitude of other projects vying for their attention.
So how do you bend an Enterprise to your will as an SEO? How do you get the tech team to pay attention to the SEO projects you bring to the table? Most importantly, how do you build a business case for SEO that adds to your credibility and trust within the Enterprise?
Having a defined process to project the impact of SEO efforts is one of the most powerful tools in an Enterprise SEO’s arsenal to win buy-in and get their projects prioritized.
Call it forecasting, call it estimating traffic or call it a SWAG (a scientific guess). Regardless, the method and process of coming up with it can help tremendously in your life as an Enterprise SEO.
Creating a forecast for SEO efforts is a simple, five-step process. It’s one you can apply at a domain level, site section level or at a page level.
Here is an outline of the framework I utilized:
Back in the day, I could simply log in to my analytics platform and download every single keyword that drove traffic to the site (or keywords relevant to a section or a page). This would serve as the input for all the remaining steps in the process.
Today, while secure search has made it that much more difficult to determine the keywords you are already getting traffic from, there are plenty of large scale data sets available that can give you the same results in a fraction of the time and cost.
Large keyword indexes like those offered by SEMRush or seoClarity provide the ability to view the keywords you rank for across tens of millions of keywords, complete with information on search volume and rankings for each. The ability to get to all this data quickly means that Step 1 and Step 2 in the process can be handled in a single action.
However, getting a download of all the keywords you already rank for is just part of the equation and simply shows you where you stand right now. As the following diagram displays, your keyword universe consists of irrelevant keywords, keywords you are relevant for (but not ranking for) and keywords that you rank for (mostly that you are relevant for).
The next step is to find keywords that are relevant to you that you do not rank for. The wisdom of the crowds methodology I covered in a prior column is my favorite tactic to quickly discovering those hidden gems of keywords which I should be targeting but have not yet succeeded with.
Scenarios for a forecast allow you to evaluate a range of possibilities from the best-case to the worst-case.
There are two ways to create your growth scenarios:
A “snapshot in time” approach is a simple model that assumes you can get all your keywords to position one and base your traffic estimates on that. In my opinion, this is overly simplistic and ignores the fact that different keywords are most likely in different starting rank positions — meaning they may take different amounts of time to get to the top positions.
A more sophisticated approach involves applying a rank estimate at the keyword level or a percentage improvement in rankings off of the base rank. You can then plot the month-over-month improvements for the number of months that you expect the benefit to accrue until you reach a reasonable point of rankings for each of your keywords.
For example, you may want to build a spreadsheet as follows:
With the hard part out of the way, on to the easier part — estimating traffic!
You’ve probably seen a ton of research studies on the click-through rates for different rank positions in organic search. Take your pick and then apply the CTR for each rank position for each month you have estimated in the prior step to calculate estimated traffic from that keyword for that month.
At this point, you have your forecast!
But wait; that’s not the last step.
It’s easy to think that building a forecast is the end of it. However, if you want to maintain any respect and trust within the organization, there’s one more step: track your performance against the original forecast.
Share the results with the team — even if things don’t actually turn out like you expected. An honest, open approach to explaining reasons why something may not have met targets goes a long way toward building trust. This is serious:
Do not undertake forecasting if you don’t plan to follow through on comparing to actual results!
Once you start working the numbers, I guarantee you will be blown away by the upside potential for your SEO program. Balance this with a healthy dose of critical self-evaluation, and you will have a robust forecast so you can walk into any meeting and make a case for your projects.
It’s important that you set up your Excel templates to allow you to play around with growth projections and make tweaks to anything that might not pass the sniff test.
Follow this model, and you’ll eventually start building trust as someone who has hard data to back their efforts. This will make all of your future projects that much easier to prioritize.