Important decisions over budgets are made based on SEO forecasts, but it seems that these aren't always accurate. 

Indeed, just one in four SEOs say that their forecasting is accurate, according to a new study from Linkdex

SEO forecasting is used to give clients and decision makers an idea of the results they can expect, and budgets and resources are often allocated based on this information. 

Forecasting can help push decisions from clients, as Bill Hunt points out:

It is still important as many companies will not allocate development or copywriting resources unless they can see some sort upside in traffic and/or revenue just justify the allocation.

As the chart shows, most SEOs are using forecasting at least part of the time... 

However, forecasting can be time consuming for SEOs: 

The problem here is that only one in four SEOs believe that their forecasts are close to the eventual outcomes. 

However, forecasting is still regarded as being useful, as David Sottimano states: 

While I don't necessarily put 100% faith in the numbers, I'd much rather have an idea than nothing at all. 

According to the survey, over 70% of in house and almost 60% of agency SEO’s say important decisions are being made based on forecasting. 

Almost 7 out of 10 SEO’s are (positively) managing client expectations based on forecasting.

These results suggest that forecasting, while potentially useful, has to be treated with care and the outcomes should be interpreted in the right way.

Graham Charlton

Published 13 March, 2015 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is editor in chief at SaleCycle, and former editor at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (4)

Ed Lamb

Ed Lamb, Client Services Director at Propellernet

It's an interesting one. We know that forecasts are always inaccurate but the hope is that various factors even each other out to make them in the right sort of area, and our experience is that we generally net out somewhere near.

From an agency point of view, so many factors that dictate the speed and quality of SEO programmes are unknown at pitch, so forecasting at that stage really is educated guessing. All that you can do is show what's possible. Once you've worked with the client for a while you'll have an idea of how long it takes to barge your way into the dev queue, what quality content is being produced that you can latch onto for SEO gain, and also whether you're given access to all media or have to work within constraints - all these will influence the numbers if you're trying to estimate what's realistic as well as what's possible.

over 3 years ago


Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

> While I don't necessarily put 100% faith in the numbers, I'd much rather have an idea than nothing at all.

Well, from an evidence-based perspective - that approach is open to mis-use.

If the forecast is known to be only accurate to within say +/-10%: well that is strong, evidenced data: and the 10% can be factored in when making decisions on the data.

But if the true picture is that the forecast is a guess - well, you would be better off without it. Having just 'an idea' is as likely to result in poor decisions as good ones.

Of course, we are all taught to think ROI in a business-like manner and so it feels uncomfortable to have no forecast of the expected outcome.

But sometimes that is the reality of the situation: and we have to be aware of it.

Of course the SEO sector in general has a common meme: of over-promising with 'we guarantee first page' sales messages: which are probably very effective at winning new clients for SEO suppliers! But may across the sector suggest that SEO forecasting is more easy that it really is.

over 3 years ago

Ben Potter

Ben Potter, Director at Ben Potter - business development mentor

Forecasting has become infinitely more difficult in recent times. For example, we used to forecast the potential traffic / sales uplift we would see from a specific keyword by analysing the competitive landscape and making certain assumptions around likely positions we would gain (and typical CTR's from those positions) as a result of our recommendations (there was more to it than that but you get the idea!).

However, as SEO has moved more away from granular page-by-page optimisation and more about content 'themes' (not to mention search results personalised to user search history, preferences, etc), such assumptions are pretty meaningless.

At pitch stage, we tend to avoid forecasts altogether. A rough idea of potential impact yes, but anybody going into a pitch situation and making hardened promises on traffic / sales uplift will frankly be making it up. There are simply too many unknowns.

Even an educated forecast once the client is on board takes a huge amount of analysis, that goes beyond keyword tools and the like. Broader business objectives, challenges, market data, trends, in-house resource, developers, etc all need to be accounted for.

It doesn't surprise me at all that SEO's find this a challenging area.

over 3 years ago

Luciano Borg

Luciano Borg, SEO Analyst at Frontloop Media Startup Consultancy

Not surprised at all. In the revolutionary world of SEO, Search Engines are continuously changing and tweaking ranking factors, so it is obvious that forecasts are less accurate than they could ever have been a few years ago. For example, Google's latest update will allow company statements to top news searches. With this update Google is “going backwards” and I am sure (or really hope) that this will be reversed. Companies and brands will now start oozing PRs like rain water until Google decides that SEO value should not be granted to PRs, and just like Article Marketing was killed in 2011/2012, so will this Ranking Factor be wiped off the list!

over 3 years ago

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