One of the most difficult questions that SEO clients always ask is “How should I expect SEO results?”
If you have a website, you probably are familiar with spam promises for “achieving the #1 ranking on Google in a month” for whatever keywords from overseas SEO firms. Most of us know that this kind of SEO claim is not ethical. If they are not hoaxes, they can only be achieved with black-hat SEO tactics which are harmful.
So what about “white hat” SEO? For those unfamiliar, “white-hat” SEO is the SEO approach that drives results by enhancing website quality to deliver a better search experience for users, instead of trying to game the search engines.
However, a major challenge of the “white-hat” SEO approach is that it could take a long time to truly grow organic traffic. And it is very difficult to tell how fast keyword rankings could increase over time.
Thus, more and more digital agencies now tell their clients, “Because we do ‘white-hat’ SEO, it will take a long time to gain results. Therefore, we cannot estimate SEO return. You have to think long-term in SEO.”
As a client, what would you do? Of course, you will not go the “black-hat” route, but are you comfortable betting your marketing dollars on “no commitment SEO?”
Is this concept of not providing result estimates valid for a “white-hat” SEO firm?
No. While it is not ethical to game Google, it is also not acceptable to offer SEO consulting that takes no responsibility for delivery. SEO is a marketing channel. Like any other marketing channel, we always need to set growth projections in the midst of various unknown factors. While projections are not always exact, they provide critical benchmarks to adjust our strategy.
Why SEO projections are few.
Because providing SEO projections is hard and takes a lot of SEO experience. You need to look at various factors such as the search landscape, the competitors, number of targeted keywords and their search volume, current rankings and projected rankings, the available resources and levers, etc. in order to estimate organic traffic growth within a time frame.
Furthermore, only after you have done SEO for a lot of Web platforms in various verticals at different scales, are you able to develop a sense for how fast a website can grow organically and what factors could be the main drivers.
Doing SEO for a 1,000-page corporate website is not the same as doing SEO for an online marketplace with 2 million pages of content. And optimizing a 5,000-product retail website is very different from a 50,000-article publisher website.
If you are not seasoned enough, it is really hard to give SEO projections that make sense. Thus, many digital agencies often offer “generic SEO” advice that will be “good for SEO in the future” without knowing the practical outcomes.
How to approach SEO projections.
We can give the best shot estimate of SEO growth by looking at all relevant sources of data, site analytics, industry benchmarks and our SEO experience.
Here are some factors you should consider when you create a SEO growth plan:
Major keyword segments you want to target, their estimated total search volume.
Your current keyword rankings in each segment, and the projected ranking improvements: Do you have many good keywords in top 10 that can be pushed into top five? Top five to top three? Or top 30 that can be pushed to top 10, within the next six to 12 months?
Your current amount of content and your content growth plan. The faster you create fresh content, the better chance you can gain rankings and increase your organic traffic.
Your current technical SEO situation. Fixing fundamental SEO errors often leads to a big jump in organic traffic.
Other available resources and levers of your platform.
Major competitors, their content volume, their traffic growth history, their top keyword rankings, their strengths and weaknesses versus yours.
Growth history of similar platforms: If you are an online marketplace, you would want to look at the growth history of other online marketplaces. If you are a college, you would want to look at other colleges at similar level.
Search Industry reports and other benchmark data for your vertical. For example, the search behavior for news consumption is very different from the travel industry.
Your past SEO growth experience for similar platforms. This gives you a strong sense on how fast a site can grow and why.
It would be hard to estimate short-term growth, but if you consider all the above factors, you will have a good picture for where you could potentially be in six to 12 months. This will help you not only to communicate SEO expectations easier with all parties involved, but also create a powerful SEO strategy to reach your goal.
This article was first published on Entrepreneur magazine.