Written by Ric Rodriguez, SEO Director at iProspect
Predicting the ROI of any SEO project is difficult; regardless of how data-driven the methodology is, you’re ultimately relying on the experience of the expert that is making the prediction. However, for campaigns, it can be easier as the impact of driving self-contained growth to a section of the site (often via link-building, content expansion and optimisation) can be understood from your starting point, the opportunity and your competition in the space.
A note on the methodology:
In the following piece, I’ll aim to describe a “quick and simple” process for creating a campaign forecast, but it’s important to consider a few caveats, before using the output in your next board meeting. First, any forecast – be it SEO, paid media or your company revenue projections for the next year – carries an element of uncertainty. It may be possible to refine this process to mitigate some of this, but it’s impossible to know how the landscape will react for certain, regardless of the variables you consider. Secondly, while this process will endeavour to provide you with ideas for presenting an ROI case (for investment or prioritisation), it’s based on “industry benchmark” data, which may not be correct for the specific ranking pages you’re looking to impact or even the industry you are in. As such, I advise using first-party data (e.g., your own click-through data) where possible or, if not possible, presenting a range of scenarios, based on different factors you believe could happen.
Finding your “current situation”:
So, on to how to do this. Firstly, you’ll need to identify which part of the site you’re looking to impact. This may be a high-profit, but overlooked section of your product catalogue or service that you want to push harder in the coming months across your media. Once you have established this, you’ll need to do keyword research. This should be as extensive as you need to make it, but the goal is to keep it as closely mapped to the section you’re looking to impact (i.e., if your category is around “bike parts”, you may want to include terms around “bike pumps”, “installation”, etc – but not about “cars”, “steering wheels”, etc). You may also wish to include brand terms here, to get a “fuller” view of search impact, but important to note that these searches will typically have a higher click-through rate and (unless you’re competing with an aggregator or marketplace) will frequently already sit in a high position, with little to no additional value to drive.
Once you have compiled your keyword list, you’ll need to find your current rankings and search volumes for your keywords (for the latter, an average of the monthly searches, as provided by Google Ads, would work for this – but you could also use seasonal data for more realistic results). This will give you a good idea of the size of the opportunity – you could filter out by any term above page ten and use that as a rough “size of the prize” type metric, as click-through rates often reduce significantly past that point; but we can go one better, by using industry benchmark CTRs (e.g, this one from Advanced Web Ranking). This will enable you to work out your current estimated traffic vs the potential (i.e., the total clicks if you were in position one for all terms).
A further point here: click-through data can change dramatically between search results page and your estimated may differ from your actual traffic. The percentage difference between your projected existing traffic and your “actual traffic” could be used as a variance metric to provide further “reliability” context to your forecast, but remember, your goal is to provide an indication of growth, not a definitive figure – so this may be unhelpful in reality. You can typically work out a “working version” your own brand / non-brand click-through rates using data from Google Search Console, compiled over a few weeks, although this also carries a number of considerations.
Working out potential growth:
At this stage, you will have a good view of your current position for the terms and the potential traffic they could drive. You could work out the difference as a percentage of the total and use this in support of your case, but this is a dangerous path to tread – it’s unlikely that your site will rank in position one for every single term (even without personalisation and location factors impacting the results individuals see, this would be a tall task!) Instead, it’s better to work out a growth model and use that. For simplicity, you could model different increases in average rank across all of your terms (and the traffic this would drive), based on the campaign timelines. Or your model could be more complex, taking into account the fact that many higher traffic terms will often be harder to impact than lower value ones. You must also consider what is “achievable” in your calculations.
Remember, both internal (budget, deployment timelines) and external (competition, search demand) factors can impact the results you see. In this case, I’d always recommend taking a conservative and realistic approach. If you’re trying to impact a high-value term that is dominated by Amazon, it’s unlikely that’ll you’ll achieve a top three spot, unless you’re a massive multi-national brand, with a huge site. In this case, while you can typically use formulas in Excel or Google Sheets to help you in to demonstrate this increase in position, it’s important to sense check the data for any results you feel are not achievable from your research (or you’ll end up setting yourself up to fail from the start).
However, by forecasting average ranking increases in this way, you’ll be able to give an indication of the increased traffic a campaign can drive. From here, you can apply your website conversion rates and average order value (if you have one), to work out the return on investment for the campaign. However, as I mentioned earlier, this is a quick and simple process and the method makes some significant assumptions – as such, I would always advise presenting this data as both a percentage growth factor vs an absolute number and as a range from “low – high’ expectancy and set traffic as your primary campaign key performance indicator (vs visibility, revenue or conversions, which can be difficult to measure or impacted by non-SEO factors).
A final thought:
While this process will provide you a “quick”, data-driven way to predict the SEO return from a campaign (with some hefty caveats), it won’t take into account other, highly valuable factors, such as social shares or improved brand awareness (which are incredibly difficult to forecast). In fact, the impact of a strong campaign may be felt across a range of different channels, from increased PPC clicks to higher impressions through retargeting activity. With this in mind, whatever your campaign focus may be, your end user must always be at the heart of your plans. Often SEO campaigns can be carried out in isolation (sometimes even against the main marketing narrative for that period); but, more often than not, the best results can be achieved through collaboration with other teams and channels, creating joined-up experiences for your audience. With this approach, you may exceed your campaign expectations.
About the writer:
A self-taught digital marketer, Ric Rodriguez frequently champions search within well-known brands. A fierce advocate of the agency world, Ric is SEO Director at iProspect, based out of their central London office. Prior to this, he led organic marketing activity for B2B leaders IWG, with a remit stretching across over one hundred markets and three thousand brick and mortar locations – a project which earned his team a Drum Search Award in 2018. You can find Ric on LinkedIn, Twitter and online.