What Is SEO Forecasting and Why Is It Important?

You tackle your SEO to find the best keywords, and you create an optimized blog post.

Spoiler alert: It doesn’t perform well.

What gives?

It’s possible that you put all that work in without looking at your past trends. You thought you chose a solid strategy, but you didn’t have evidence that it would probably work.

If you feel that your SEO planning needs more focus, consider using your website’s historical data to get a feel for the results you can expect. In this article, we’ll walk you through how to forecast SEO growth.

What Is SEO Forecasting?

SEO forecasting is the method of predicting how SEO will impact search traffic in the future. The goal is to pinpoint the SEO efforts that (1) require the lowest amount of effort and (2) result in the highest return on investment (ROI).

Unfortunately, SEO forecasting isn’t straightforward — there isn’t one way to do it or a proven process for getting it right every time.

That said, it’s still worth your time.

What Are the Benefits of SEO Forecasting?

There are a lot of perks to estimating how your SEO efforts will impact traffic. In general, being able to set expectations helps make sense of what can often feel unpredictable.

Competitive Edge

Knowing how SEO performed in the past is only part of the puzzle. Taking that knowledge and applying it to future projections can set you apart from the competition.

Trying to convince your clients that SEO is a sound investment “just because” isn’t nearly as powerful as showing them how you expect their SEO strategy to result in revenue.

Resource Planning

Having an idea of how SEO will impact traffic lets you back up your requests for devoting a bigger budget to your SEO and marketing efforts. With SEO forecasting, you can explain where to invest and why to invest in those areas.

Also keep this statistic in mind when arguing for a bigger budget. According to the 2019 SEO Services Report from Backlinko , small businesses in the U.S. spent an average of $497.16 per month on SEO services. However, clients who spent more than $500 per month were more satisfied than those who spent under that amount.

Developing Trust

Showing clients that you’re doing more than guesstimating helps them trust you more. And client satisfaction is something that a lot of SEO providers can’t brag about — according to Backlinko, 70% of clients would not recommend their SEO provider.

Forecasting helps you show that your work will lead to the results that matter to your clients, like increasing brand awareness, converting new customers and, of course, more profit.

How to Forecast SEO Growth

As mentioned, there isn’t one tried-and-true way to forecast SEO results. Instead, consider the following popular methods and choose the one (or ones) that feels most right for you and your business. You can always tweak your process or try another technique later on.

Choose Your Metrics

To properly analyze past data and forecast future performance, you need to know which metrics to look at. These are among the most common metrics to add to an SEO forecast:

  • Average order value: The average value of all orders placed.
  • Bounce rate: The percentage of users who leave your site after visiting one page.
  • Click-through rate: Clicks to your site for a specific query divided by impressions.
  • Conversion rate: The percentage of site visitors who take a desired action, like making a purchase.
  • Organic traffic trend: The amount of organic search traffic you get during a certain time frame.
  • Search intent: The reason the user is searching for a query.
  • Search volume: The number of queries for a search term in a single search engine for a specific time frame.
  • Seasonality: Seasonal spikes for specific keywords.

This graphic goes over the different parts of SEO forecasting that some of these metrics help with:

Semrush chart that explains different SEO forecasting metrics and why they're important.

Basically, knowing your data shows you either (a) where your strategy is working or (b) where improvements are needed. You can then forecast results based on your plans.

If you’re going to continue with your strategy as-is, the forecast will likely remain the same. If you’re going to make strategic changes, your forecast in those areas will likely improve.

It’s normal that the metrics you track now won’t be the same metrics you track later. As you tweak your business goals and your SEO forecast, metrics will change too.

Select Your SEO Forecasting Strategy

There are a number of SEO forecasting strategies to choose from. Select one of the following or combine a couple of methods to forecast more accurately.

Estimation

This is the most general and simplistic of SEO forecasting methods. You may even be doing this already without realizing it.

With this strategy, first look at your historic organic traffic performance. That may be for the past 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, or multiple time frames for comparison’s sake.

Whatever time frame(s) you choose, take note of the differences, both positive or negative. For example, if you look at a five-year history, did your traffic decrease 3% year-over-year (YOY)? Or maybe it grew by 8% YOY.

You can then estimate that you’ll see the same results if you put in the same amount of effort. Additionally, you’ll find pages that need improvement as well as high-performing pages. You can then plan SEO content to round out information or take advantage of a post that’s already getting a lot of attention.

What this method lacks is accounting for the competition and search engine algorithms, both of which can impact your SEO success. That doesn’t make it a bad forecasting method, just a basic one. And it’s a good place to start whether this is your first time forecasting or you plan to adopt additional techniques.

Analytics Analysis

With this strategy, you’ll use Google Analytics 4 to learn about conversions, traffic and user behavior on your website. By knowing how users interact with your website, you’ll see if they’re doing what you want them to do. You can then figure out how to optimize your site for search visibility and possibly how to improve the user experience (UX), too.

That lets you forecast performance improvements based on the changes you make. Or, if you don’t find any areas of improvement, you can predict that future behavior will follow past behavior.

The biggest drawback of this strategy is that analyzing so much data can be overwhelming. Narrowing down your objectives will help. Also, know that some factors are outside your control, like a search engine’s algorithm.

Competitor Research

With this SEO forecasting strategy, you analyze the SEO strategies of your competitors and compare yours against them. From this, you can discover the following:

  • Areas your competitors are covering that you should cover as well.
  • Backlinks that your competitors are receiving that you should pursue.
  • Gaps that your competitors are missing that you can then fill in.

Knowing what’s working for your competitors gives you a goal to surpass. And knowing what they’re not doing lets you better serve your audience and attract the traffic that your competitors are missing out on.

Competitor research lacks accounting for SERP competition outside your industry. However, it’s still a good method to add to your organic search forecasting strategy.

Keyword Tracking

With the keyword tracking method of SEO forecasting, you look at keyword rankings to estimate future trends. As you monitor rankings for specific keywords, you’ll be able to see changes on search engine results pages (SERPs) and tweak your strategy in response. You can also identify the keywords that you need to improve your rankings for, then develop content for them.

Moz has an in-depth guide to keyword tracking if you need to learn more about the topic, but here’s a brief overview of the process:

  • Compile a list of relevant keywords for your business.
  • Monitor keyword performance with a dedicated tool.
  • Analyze the data to spot trends.
  • Decide how to best optimize your content.

Like any strategy for how to forecast SEO growth, keyword tracking has its drawbacks. First, you may not capture all the relevant keywords to track for your website, so you’ll miss out on important data. Second, different tracking tools have differing levels of accuracy.

Use an Excel Template to Organize Forecasting

To organize and visualize your SEO forecasting all in one place, turn to one of the simplest business tools out there: a spreadsheet. In addition to organizing all your data, built-in functions can handle calculations for you.

If you’re not sure where to start, SEO and growth expert Kevin Indig created a Google Sheets template for SEO forecasting. You can learn more about it here.

Sample SEO forecasting spreadsheet.
Sample SEO forecasting spreadsheet from Kevin Indig

4 Tools for SEO Forecasting

There are a lot of tools that you can use for SEO forecasting, whether you want an in-depth resource or just a simple one to supplement your strategy.

Ahrefs

Ahrefs lets you look at historic website information and rankings to predict future performance, like in the graph below.

Sample of an SEO forecasting chart.
Historical data with future prediction. Source: Ahrefs

You can also analyze the competition, monitor backlinks and a lot more. Its suite of software includes Site Audit to optimize your website, Keywords Explorer for SEO research, Content Explorer to discover content ideas, and Rank Tracker to keep an eye on your ranking progress over time.

Google Trends

Google Trends tracks the popularity of specific keywords and queries over time. Knowing how keywords are trending lets you find opportunities and adapt your strategy to take advantage of them.

For example, I plugged “Orlando travel” into Google Trends. These are the results for the past 12 months:

Google Trends results for help with SEO forecasting.

There’s a big spike at the end of September and the start of October. If you run a website related to Orlando travel, you could plan content for that part of the year that focuses on “Orlando travel” and related keywords.

Google Trends gives you additional information about a query, too, such as interest by region, type of search (news, web, YouTube, etc.), related keywords and more. And the Google Trends landing page has information about current trends that people are searching for now.

Neil Patel’s Backlink Checker

Backlinks are links from another site that point to your site. Figuring out which sites are linking to your competitors’ sites is a good way to seek out websites that may want to link to your content.

Neil Patel’s free Backlink Checker lets you plug in a competitor’s URL and run a search for sites linking to it.

Backlink Checker results.

Neil Patel’s Ubersuggest

Ubersuggest, also from Neil Patel, is a keyword tool that shows details about how certain keywords perform in search. It’s pitched as a free tool, but it’s limited until you pay to upgrade. Still, with a free account, you can find an overview of your keyword (search volume, difficulty, etc.), related keyword ideas and content ideas.

Final Thoughts About SEO Forecasting

Forecasting allows SEO providers to create a worthwhile plan for the future, not just the present. And letting clients, stakeholders or even other team members in on the strategy improves relationships and communication. Clients respect SEO providers who can forecast results for two reasons:

  1. Proof: Clients don’t just see the plan; they also see how the plan will work to their benefit.
  2. Transparency: Clients want an SEO provider who will openly communicate with them.

Forecasting SEO traffic is as unpredictable as any other type of forecasting. This is partly because search engine algorithms are constantly changing. You can use calculations and well-informed guesswork to figure out how to make Google happy with your content, but there’s no surefire way to foresee the future.

But the purpose of SEO forecasting isn’t to get it 100% right. It’s to make the most of the information you have, form an idea of where performance is headed, and adapt your strategy so it’s in the best position to succeed.

You may also be interested in our free SEO checklist , which walks you through every step to take to get your site as optimized as possible.

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