If you’re going to invest in SEO, you deserve to receive a good return on your investment. At Yard, it is the foundation of all we do. We forecast how much traffic, sales and revenue we will deliver over the next 12-24 months. These forecasts form the KPIs of our activity and we report on the performance against forecast on a monthly basis within Cubed. 

According to a recent Search Engine Journal State of SEO Report, only 10.6% of SEO professionals, think demonstrating ROI is important. It should be 100%.  

Yard are experts in forecasting, with proven experience of exceeding ambitious forecasts. We wanted to share some of the thinking behind our methodology to help you consider what kind of organic growth your business can achieve. Hopefully, it’s with Yard. 

Data Gathering

Data makes up the majority of our forecasting but there’s also over 30 years of SEO knowledge behind them.  

We start with the client and getting to know them better. 

Client Questionnaire

  1. What have your organic traffic targets been for last 24 months and have you achieved them?
  2. Can you attribute an RPO to organic traffic?
  3. What are your core categories / areas of focus? (Please list them in order of priority)
  4. Do you have existing organic traffic forecasts? If so, can you share them?
  5. What are your current KPIs?  
  6. What goals/events/micro or macro conversions do you track in analytics and which ones are important to you? 

Analytics 

Google and Adobe Analytics has always been the first port of call when it comes to gathering analytical data as it gives insight into performance.  

It has become normal to expect maximum of 2 years data due to the default data retention settings within analytics packages, due to GDPR. While this has impacted insights into historical performance and trends, it is enough historic data to get the following information: 

  • Previous 12 months traffic 
  • Traffic change YoY
  • MoM traffic percentage change (12-month trend) 
  • Sales 
  • Revenue 
  • Conversion Rates

The view of the data we take is client dependant but will include the above metrics segmented by product, content categorisation or URL. 

Traffic numbers are verified via Google Search Console by pulling all keyword data via the API along with landing page at a monthly view and then segmented the same way as the analytics data, detailing brand / non-brand splits for each segment. 

While analytics and search console data will never match up due to the differences in tracking methodology and lost clicks due to privacy challenges and cookies being declined, it is expected that overall trends should stay relatively similar and numbers will be within 15% of each other in most cases. 

Comparison of the two datasets allows for a level of verification that the analytics data is correct and there are no tracking issues.  

Another advantage of analysing Google Search Console data is the ability to spot abnormal spikes to traffic that would not normally be expected, allowing for these to be normalised in order to gain a view of what normal would look like. 

Keyword Research 

Two core approaches include focused research for high value pages and whole-of-market research. Both types of research have their own pros and cons and the methodology used will be directly tied to the client’s requirements and the budget available. 

Yard have traditionally favoured the whole-of-market approach as it helps uncover content gaps and helps give a view of how a client truly stacks up against competitors when all keywords are being tracked – also giving the opportunity to analyse what content is working for competitors at scale. 

The methodology currently used is: 

  1. Export all current rankings from Semrush
  2. Export rankings of core competitors and combine reports
  3. Add keywords from Google Search Console and remove duplicates 
  4. Clean the data, removing brand terms and any irrelevant terms 
  5. Segment the keywords into top level categories and subcategories 
  6. Look for related keywords based on the highest search volume keywords within each top-level category 
  7. Do the same for the top keywords in each sub category 

This will give a good keyword set to work from and can be expanded further in the future if some categories are found to be lacking the same detail as others. 

The next step is to fully categorise the keyword set to allow for easy drill down and analysis, this is done by assigning groupings such as: 

  • Product (i.e., VOIP) 
  • Category (i.e., Conference Calls) 
  • Child Category (i.e., Hardware) 
  • Subcategory (i.e., Small Business) 
  • Intent (i.e., Transactional) 
  • Content Type (i.e., Product Page) 

Once this is complete keyword groups can then be mapped to pages on the website, this allows for identification of where content gaps may lie, especially when keyword intent and content type is taken into account. 

Keyword Trends 

The only way to know how a keyword will perform over time is to understand its history, the best way to do this is via Google Trends. While the data is sampled and can give some questionable figures for low volume keywords, it is still far better than any other data set available. 

5 years trend data is usually pulled for every keyword identified, this is then aggregated into product, category, subcategory and URL views so that it can be easily matched up with the keyword research. 

The following metrics are then generated from this data to gain an understanding of each segment: 

  • Average percentage change by month 
  • Percentage change by month over the last 12 months  
  • Average percentage change per year 
  • Percentage change YoY 

It’s important to look for anomalies within these datasets, for example impact of COVID so that these insights can be considered when forecasting. If there are large anomalies within the dataset then it’s important to try and gain a normalised view of what the 12-month period would have looked like. 

Once the data is at a point where it makes sense the trend for the next 12 months can be forecasted and applied to keyword search volumes to gain a view of what the market will look like. This can be done by multiplying the average search volume by the average percentage change per year or a corrected figure if anomalies were found, then use the trends to calculate search volume by month.   

Forecasting 

The following process can be extremely accurate over a 12-month period if the supporting strategy is implemented to achieve the KPIs. Forecasts become less accurate if forecasted beyond a 12-month period due to a large number of factors being involved i.e., algorithm updates and changes to trends: 

  1. Start with the most recent months traffic figures and split into brand / non-brand using the data within Google Search Console. 
  2. Use brand trends and average YoY increases to forecast brand traffic, ensuring that the YoY increase is a gradual gain during the year. 
  3. Apply non-brand trends to non-brand traffic to gain a baseline for traffic over the 12 months. 
  4. Pull rankings for non-brand keywords and determine how much organic growth can be achieved for the budget. This can be applied at scale by building an excel formula to assign ranking increases based on competitors, search volume and difficulty. 
  5. Work out traffic increases based on the calculated rankings. 
  6. Apply traffic increase to forecast, ensuring that the traffic gradually increases through the year. 
  7. Apply conversion rates and AOV 
  8. Calculate ROI based on incremental revenue YoY vs budget. 

The most crucial factor when forecasting is to stay realistic, understanding what can be achieved within a set budget and not setting goals that are out of reach.  

Reporting 

Traffic, Sales & Revenue 

Reporting on traffic, sales and revenue is the foundation of reporting, taking monthly data from an analytics package and comparing against forecast and the previous year. The standard Yard monthly report contains the following metrics (where available) at an overall and product / category level: 

  • Traffic 
  • YoY percentage uplift 
  • Percentage of forecast achieved 
  • Normalised traffic uplift 
  • Sales 
  • Revenue 
  • ROI 
  • Ranking performance 
  • Visibility & MarketShare 

While most of the above metrics are standard, Yard have created custom metrics to better demonstrate performance, these are Normalised Traffic and Marketshare. 

Rankings, Visibility & Marketshare 

Visibility is a weighted scoring system, like visibility metrics offered by 3rd party SEO tools such as Search Metrics and Sistrix. This metric gives Yard and clients more insight into organic performance than traditional ranking reports as instead of producing a meaningless list of 1000’s of keywords along with rankings, Yard can show an aggregate value for a Keyword group, sub-group or page. 

Visibility scores are also aggregated to produce Marketshare, showing the percentage of owned organic real estate for keyword groups against competitors. 

These metrics also allow Yard to be much more transparent about how our services are impacting rankings within search engines, with every non-brand keyword being considered instead of focusing on one or two core keywords.  

In addition to the above, using this type of scoring can help identify and isolate potential challenges quickly by being able to pinpoint exactly where rankings have been negatively impacted at a granular level. 

Normalised Traffic Uplift 

Normalised traffic uplift is a simple metric that looks at what traffic would look like with seasonal trends removed. The requirement for this metric was driven by the substantial changes to search demand (seasonality) from month to month which can heavily impact traffic numbers and mask performance gains or declines. 

Normalised traffic uplift gives a true representation of MoM traffic gains from organic search and clearly align with other metrics such as rankings and Marketshare, showing clear correlation monthly. 

Forecasting and Reporting at Scale 

Yard are currently going through the process of fully automating everything detailed within this document to ensure we can offer an efficient approach to SEO campaigns. These tools are being built directly into our attribution platform Cubed, with a few already being launched (Forecast vs Actuals reporting, Google Trends Aggregation & Marketshare) and a few others close to completion (automated keyword research, rankings dashboard & full monthly reporting). 

We’d like to talk to you about forecasting your SEO potential and showing how much ROI we can deliver for you.  

Barry Begg