When it comes to SEO, forecasting can be a tricky concept.
You’re trying to predict the future of your website’s traffic and search engine rankings, and oftentimes, it’s difficult to know what metrics to focus on, or if they are really giving you, your team, or your clients an actual picture.
In this article, we’ll discuss what SEO forecasting is, and where it is and isn’t effective. We’ll also look at the different types of forecasting you can use, as well as the pros and cons of each method. Finally, we’ll cover some of the overall limitations of SEO forecasting as a concept, and what you may want to consider instead.
Let’s start by discussing the potential value of SEO forecasting in the first place.
What Is SEO Forecasting and Why Does It Matter?
SEO forecasting is the practice of predicting and estimating changes in your website’s search engine visibility. This includes factors such as organic traffic, keyword rankings, and more. By trying to predict the future, you can plan ahead and make educated decisions about how to best optimize your website for search engine results pages (SERPs).
For example, let’s say you noticed that your website is losing traffic due to changes in the SERPs. In this case, you may try to use SEO forecasting to help you identify potential issues and strategize how to improve your website’s visibility.
Knowing where your website stands in terms of SEO today is important, but understanding where it’s going in the future is even more critical. With SEO forecasting, in theory, you can identify potential problems and take action to address them before they become a reality. This could include creating content around specific topics or introducing new strategies like link building.
When used in the right context, SEO forecasting can help give you an idea of performance over time, so you can track progress and adjust as needed. It may also help you stay ahead of the competition and ensure your website is always optimized for success.
With that said, whenever someone asks my NP Digital team about forecasting, we always try to provide a clear picture of what forecasting can and can’t do.
An SEO forecast isn’t going to magically predict the entire future landscape for you. There are just too many factors to consider, from seasonality to greater economic trends, that can affect your organic growth and won’t get tracked in any forecast.
So when we talk about SEO forecasting and its benefits, they are best served to help you make decisions, not be your sole source of truth. In addition, if you decide to use them, that needs to be done alongside general best practices like experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T), as well as your previous successes or struggles.
Remember, you can’t truly pinpoint search performance until after the fact, which applies to just about any marketing context, really.
With that said, let’s talk about some of the SEO forecasting methods that can be useful when used in these situations.
Types of SEO Forecasting
There are several methods to use when forecasting SEO. Some of the most common ones include keyword tracking, analytics analysis, and competitor research. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
This type of forecast uses keyword rankings in order to predict future trends. By monitoring how specific keywords rank over time through keyword research, you can identify any potential changes in SERPs and adjust your SEO strategy accordingly.
For example, let’s say you run an e-commerce store that sells athletic shoes. To begin tracking keywords, start by compiling a list of relevant keywords that potential customers might use to find your products, such as “running shoes,” “athletic sneakers,” and “cross-training footwear.”
You can then use a keyword tracking tool to monitor how these keywords are performing in search engine rankings over time. By analyzing this data, you can identify trends and make data-driven decisions to optimize your website’s content and improve your search engine visibility.
Pros of Keyword Tracking
- Quick and easy to set up
- Can easily track changes in keyword rankings over time
- Allows for more immediate action when SERPs change
Cons of Keyword Tracking
- May not capture all relevant keywords
- Results can vary depending on the accuracy of the tracking tool used
Source: Google Help
This method involves analyzing website data using Google Analytics for insights into user behavior, traffic, and conversions. By looking at this information, you can get a better understanding of how users are interacting with your site, and whether that aligns with your goals for their behavior. This helps you optimize for organic search so that your website is more visible to potential customers.
For example, let’s say you run an e-commerce website that sells pet supplies. By analyzing your website traffic data, you notice that the majority of your traffic comes from mobile devices.
However, your mobile bounce rate is higher than your desktop bounce rate, which indicates that visitors may be having trouble navigating your site on their mobile devices. To improve the mobile user experience and decrease the bounce rate, you could invest in a mobile-responsive website design, improve site speed, or simplify the navigation menu.
Be aware that Universal Analytics is sunsetting in July 2023. But no worries, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will be available after that point(and hopefully you have been tracking in GA4 for some time now). GA4 is the latest version of Google Analytics and comes with a range of new features and capabilities, including enhanced cross-device tracking, machine learning insights, and deeper integration with Google Ads. So, if you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to start planning your migration to GA4 to ensure you have uninterrupted access to valuable website data.
Pros of Analytics Analysis
- Provides valuable insights into user behavior and website performance
- Helps identify areas for improvement and optimization
- Enables data-driven decision making for SEO strategy and content creation
- Allows for tracking of key performance indicators (KPIs) and ROI
- Provides a better understanding of the target audience and their needs and preferences
Cons of Analytics Analysis:
- Data can be influenced by factors outside of your control, such as changes to search engine algorithms or user behavior
- Requires time, resources, and expertise to set up and manage effectively
- Can be overwhelming or confusing to analyze large amounts of data without a clear objective
In this type of forecast, you’ll analyze your competitors’ SEO strategies and compare them to yours. This helps you identify any potential weaknesses in their approach so that you can take advantage of them and stay ahead.
For example, let’s say you own a small boutique that sells handmade candles online. By researching your competitors, you can identify what keywords they’re ranking for, what types of content they’re creating, and what backlinks they have. This information can then be used to inform your own SEO strategy.
Maybe you notice that one of your competitors is ranking well for the keyword “natural candles.” By creating high-quality content centered around that keyword and building relevant backlinks, you can improve your own chances of ranking well for that term.
Similarly, you may find that your competitors are creating video content to promote their products. By following their lead and creating your own videos, you can increase your visibility and engagement.
Pros of Competitor Research
- Allows you to see what’s working for your competitors
- Gives you insight into which SEO strategies are most effective in your field
- Shows you an industry benchmark for you to overtake
Cons of Competitor Research
- Doesn’t necessarily account for SERP competitors outside your industry
- Results can be subjective depending on the source of data
Overall, SEO forecasting may be limited in some ways, but can be valuable if you are realistic with its limits and pick a specific style that has benefits beyond pure prediction.
With this in mind, now we need to discuss the metrics you will be tracking with these methods.
What Metrics Should You Track In Your SEO Forecast?
When it comes to SEO forecasting, every company has different goals and areas of focus. These metrics will generally appear in most forecasting strategies, though:
Organic Traffic: Organic traffic refers to the number of visitors who land on your website through organic search results. It is important to track traffic because the higher your organic traffic, the more likely you are to attract potential customers to your website. By analyzing your organic traffic, you can identify which pages are performing well and which ones need improvement. For example, if you notice that one of your blog posts is getting a lot of organic traffic, you could consider creating more content around that topic to attract even more visitors.
Keyword Rankings: Keyword rankings refer to the position that your website ranks for specific keywords in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Tracking your keyword rankings is important because it helps you understand how well your website is performing for certain keywords. By analyzing your keyword rankings over time, you can identify which keywords you are ranking well for and which ones you need to improve on. For example, if you notice that your website is ranking poorly for a specific keyword that is relevant to your business, you could consider creating more content around that keyword to improve your ranking.
Backlinks: Backlinks refer to the links from other websites that point to your website. They are important because they signal to Google that other websites consider your content to be valuable and authoritative. By analyzing your backlinks, you can identify which websites are linking to your content and adjust your strategy accordingly. For example, if you notice that a competitor is getting a lot of backlinks from a specific website, you could try to get backlinks from that same website to improve your own visibility. Check your backlinks now with my easy-to-use and free Backlink Checker.
Bounce Rate: Bounce rate refers to the percentage of visitors who leave your website after viewing only one page. A high bounce rate can be a sign that there are issues with your website’s user experience. By analyzing your bounce rate, you can identify which pages are causing visitors to leave and make improvements to those pages. For example, if you notice that your bounce rate is high on a specific landing page, you could consider making changes to the layout or content to make it more engaging for visitors.
By understanding these metrics, you can get a better idea of how your website is performing, what your target audience is interested (or not interested) in and what changes need to be made in order to improve your ranking in the SERPs.
What Tools Can Help Me With My SEO Forecast?
In order to keep track of all these important metrics in an accurate and organized way, you’re going to need help. Here are some of the most effective tools you can start with.
- Google Trends: Google Trends is a powerful tool that allows you to track keyword/query popularity over time. By understanding how keywords are trending, you can identify any potential opportunities and adjust your strategy accordingly.
By entering the keyword “running shoes” into Google Trends, you can see how search interest for this term has changed over time. In this example, you notice that search interest for “running shoes” tends to spike during the months of March and April and again during the winter holidays, which suggests that these are peak months for the running shoe industry.
Armed with this knowledge, you could optimize your website’s content and marketing campaigns to capitalize on this seasonal trend and maximize your traffic and sales during these months.
- Ubersuggest: Ubersuggest is a free keyword tool that provides detailed information about how keywords are performing in search. By analyzing this data, you can gain insights into your website’s performance and make any necessary changes to improve rankings.
For example, let’s say you run an online clothing store that sells sustainable fashion. You could use Ubersuggest to analyze your website and identify keywords that are relevant to your business, such as “sustainable clothing” and “ethical fashion.” Ubersuggest would provide you with insights into the search volume for these keywords, as well as other related keywords that you may not have considered. You could then use this information to optimize your website content, such as product descriptions and blog posts, to better target these keywords and improve your search engine rankings.
- Ahrefs: Ahrefs allows you to track your website’s ranking performance over time, monitor backlinks, and analyze competitor strategies.
For example, let’s say you run a website that sells organic skincare products. By entering your website’s URL into Ahrefs, you can see an overview of your website’s performance metrics, including its domain rating, organic traffic, and backlinks.
Pros and Cons Of SEO Forecasting
While there are certainly benefits to SEO forecasting, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons before diving in.
- Helps you identify potential opportunities for improving your website’s visibility in the SERPs
- Allows you to track competitor activity and adjust your strategy accordingly
- Provides valuable insights into how keywords are performing in search
- Can be time-consuming if done manually
- Requires a deep understanding of the SERPs and SEO strategies
- Can require a significant investment in tools and services
- No guarantee of accuracy. Like a weather forecast, SEO forecasting can give you educated predictions, but they can still be off.
Where Should You Not Use SEO Forecasting?
SEO forecasting is a tool, and like any tool, there are situations where it should and should not be used.
Many well-meaning digital marketers either use SEO forecasting in situations to fully guide their own plans or their client expectations, and this could be setting yourself up for failure.
It goes back to what I said before that you can only have pinpoint performance readings after the fact. An SEO forecast can be rendered obsolete very quickly if something happens that would radically affect organic growth that your model can’t account for. For example, if you were doing an SEO forecast for a client, and all of a sudden, a new technology/product comes out that changes the landscape of search demand/keyword intent, the actual SEO landscape is going to be very different than what your forecasting model predicted. And then you have things like COVID or recessions that can’t be predicted that can change an entire industry overnight.
Another situation that a lot of digital marketers may hear from clients is whether or not it’s possible to forecast the impact a given change or move could have on overall SEO. Examples of this could include:
- Meeting core web vitals
- Adding more content
- Installing a plugin
- Adding a new product category
- Migrating a site
On paper, you may be able to say that these items are a net positive. However, it can be easy for people not in the know about SEO to think forecasting can show the potential growth, or even ROI, of one of these single moves. But again, any one of these changes doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and there are many other issues that could impact overall organic growth in spite of these changes getting or not getting made.
While an SEO forecast may be useful in some situations, at the same time, they can be very volatile because so many factors can impact their potential accuracy. So when it comes to the potential ROI of forecasting, especially for a client, be ready to think really hard if there is another option on the table. There are alternatives out there, and we’ll talk about some of those now.
Are There Alternatives For SEO Forecasting?
If you’re not ready to invest in SEO forecasting, or realize it’s not for you, there are still some strategies that can help improve your search engine rankings and be forward-thinking.
- SEO Best Practices: These best practices include optimizing your website’s structure, improving page load speeds, using relevant keywords, and building high-quality backlinks. This also includes creating helpful, quality, and authoritative content. Google rewards websites that provide valuable information to users, so it’s important to focus on creating content that addresses the needs of your target audience.
- Branding Efforts: Building a strong brand can help attract more traffic to your website and improve your online reputation. By engaging with your audience on social media and creating buzz through digital PR, you can increase your visibility and drive more traffic to your site.
- Staying Informed: Following industry resources like my blog can help you stay up to date on the latest best practices, algorithm updates, and emerging trends. By keeping informed, you can make more informed decisions about how to optimize your website for search engine visibility.
Developing a comprehensive SEO forecast involves more than just making educated guesses about future trends. It requires a deep understanding of how the search engine results pages (SERPs) function, including how keywords and backlinks impact rankings.
To create an effective SEO forecast, you’ll need to analyze data on your website’s performance, such as keyword rankings, organic traffic, and domain authority, as well as track changes in the search algorithms that could impact your rankings. It’s also important to keep a close eye on your competitors’ activities and identify potential opportunities to improve your own SEO strategy. By bringing together all of these components, you can create a robust SEO forecast that helps you stay ahead of the competition and achieve your goals for online visibility and success.
SEO forecasting can provide valuable insights into how your website is performing in the SERPs, but it’s impossible to accurately forecast SEO growth. As search engine algorithms and user behavior are constantly changing, predicting future performance can be difficult. However, by tracking trends and analyzing data, you can gain a better understanding of how your SEO strategy is functioning and make any necessary changes to try and improve rankings.
There’s no single set method that will predict SEO results with pinpoint accuracy. There are outside factors that can impact organic growth (economic trends, company changes, technical issues) that even the best SEO forecasting model can’t cover. With that said, SEO forecasting can be useful in some contexts, when combined with general best practices is the best method for predicting organic growth results.
The benefits of SEO forecasting include:
1. Identifying potential opportunities for improving website visibility
2. Tracking competitor activity
3. Providing valuable insights into how keywords are performing in search
4. Helping you stay ahead of the competition
5. Allowing you to optimize your website for specific keywords and make any
necessary adjustments to your SEO strategy accordingly
SEO forecasting can be a helpful way to stay ahead of the competition and achieve success in search engine rankings, but it’s important to keep in mind that it may not always be the most accurate or efficient approach.
That’s why it’s worth considering a variety of alternatives to supplement your SEO efforts, such as following best practices, building your brand through social media and digital PR, and staying up-to-date on the latest marketing trends by reading blogs and other resources.
By taking a well-rounded approach to SEO, you’ll remain competitive, ensure your sales forecast model is effective, your website is always visible, and reach your target audience more effectively.
Which method will you try first?