How Accurately Can You Predict the Results of an SEO Campaign?
by Jayson DeMers
If you’re thinking about launching an SEO campaign, one of your biggest concerns is going to be whether it will yield a positive ROI … and how fast you can make it happen.
If you’re planning a campaign for a client, you’ll also want to be able to estimate your effectiveness as a selling point. But is it possible to estimate or predict SEO results with any accuracy?
Why SEO Results are So Hard to Predict
As you’re well aware, the SEO industry is extremely variable. Not only can Google push activity in an entirely new direction with little more than a simple algorithm update, but trying to figure out what the search engines want often seems like trying to shoot a moving target.
There are plenty of signs that suggest how you might proceed, but you aren’t likely to stumble upon the perfect solution.
Herein lies the problem. As an SEO specialist, you have a fairly advanced grasp of what does and doesn’t work, but many factors remain outside of your control.
You can make all the right moves, but at some point, you have to let events happen on their own and trust that the process will unfold according to your plan. In addition, you have to assume there won’t be any significant changes between the moment you execute and the period when the results start to pour in.
“SEO is highly technical and creative at the same time. You can’t just follow a formula and expect to get the same results every single time,” explains Kyle Sanders of CWR SEO. “As any experienced professional in this industry knows, every campaign deals with a unique set of factors. It would be foolish and irresponsible to make wide, overarching projections when there’s so much variance.”
It’s not just the search engines that shift over time, though. You also have to consider the butterfly effect of content popularity.
One small, uncontrollable alteration in the marketplace can have an outsized impact on the type of content that will be most effective thereafter. Thus, while you might be able to design a stellar SEO campaign around a promising set of keywords and topics, only a small shift could suddenly transform your best predictions into anyone’s guess.
Obviously, there will be factors outside of your control, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make any predictions. Clients have a right to request an estimate and hold you to it. After all, they’re paying for a service and expect value. Your mission is to tap into your experience and don’t make promises you can’t keep.
SEO thought leader Stephan Spencer likens SEO to a fitness routine. It’s possible to create a plan, but everyone’s body responds differently.
You can tell someone that he or she will lose weight by burning more calories than the person consumes, but specific steps will still have to be executed and results may vary depending on such details as metabolism, body type, and age.
Furthermore, in order for the desirable results to be achieved, you have to stick to the routine and take it slow.
Four Tips for Estimating Results as Best You Can
Refusing to offer predictions probably isn’t an option. When a client asks you to project future results, you should be prepared to provide an informed answer. The essential strategy is to proceed with caution and avoid making promises you can’t possibly keep.
Here are a few tips that many in the SEO industry have found helpful over the years:
1. Focus on Achievable Goals
“As with your own personal fitness, often it is best to focus on small, achievable goals that are right in front of you. Doing so allows progress to happen, less inhibited by the constant worry of where you are in comparison to the mountain of work ahead of you,” Spencer says.
“Instead of trying to succeed at SEO with a single herculean effort, you can create something great, measure its performance, and then create another starting point from which to continue improving.” In other words, don’t bite off more than you can chew.
When you break the SEO campaign down into digestible bits for your client, you can make more accurate predictions and enjoy plenty of small “wins” along the way.
2. Compare Apples to Apples
If you’re going to go out on a limb to make a prediction for a particular SEO campaign, make sure you compare apples to apples. Just because you achieved a specific result last month with another client, this doesn’t mean you can replicate it utterly today.
Take all of the vital factors into account and only make cross-campaign comparisons when the proper details line up accordingly.
3. Look for Actionable Changes (Not Win-Loss Results)
It’s crucial that you set up clients for positive changes that you can control, especially in the early stages of a campaign. Identify items you are fairly certain you can fix immediately, such as correcting 404 errors, improving site speed, and fixing NAP information on major directories. This will enable you to make concrete projections on the front end and looser estimates on the back end.
4. Project With Past Experiences and Results in Mind
We’ve all had those moments when we read a new article written by a respected expert in the SEO industry, and become excited about applying a new technique or concept. Sometimes these new techniques work and other times they don’t.
The point is you can’t possibly know until you try them out. Avoid making predictions about an SEO concept you’ve never personally employed. It’s best to project with past experiences and results to back you up.
Transparency is the Best Policy
It’s always preferable to under-promise and over-deliver. Clients may try to pressure you into providing quantifiable projections, but do your best to avoid placing yourself in a position you’re liable to regret later.
It’s impossible to predict SEO results to perfection, but you should be able to make fairly accurate projections by leveraging the right resources and sticking to the techniques outlined above.
At the end of the day, transparency is the best policy. Explain to clients why it’s difficult to make accurate predictions, then supply them with the most realistic projections you can.
That’s how to convey value without getting yourself in trouble down the road.
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