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Why You Must Account For Seasonality In SEO & SEM Projections
Contributor John Lincoln provides tips for how to create projections for clients that take seasonality into account when estimating the impact of your SEO and SEM efforts.
Digital marketers must often make projections when creating strategies for search engine optimization, PPC, social media and even conversion rate optimization. This usually happens when a client or prospect asks for some idea of what can be achieved when signing up for the service. Or for an in-house SEO or SEM, it would occur at the beginning of a new project or campaign.
After years of doing online marketing for many large and sophisticated projects, we have developed a pretty good system for putting together client projections. While I will not reveal our model in detail today, I will provide the basics and discuss why skipping seasonality implications can become a major issue.
Let’s start by talking briefly about online traffic and seasonality. In certain industries, the traffic plummets some months and surges in others. Consider an eCard company or online floral retailer. What do you think their traffic looks like in the week leading up to Valentine’s Day, compared to the week after? I’ll give you a hint: It is way higher.
Due to this fact of operating a seasonal online business, marketing professionals have to account for the historical business numbers. The agency or in-house marketer can’t take credit for a surge in traffic when it is clearly seasonal, and they shouldn’t be looked down upon for a seasonal drop.
Let’s now cover some background on reporting and SEO projections. Then we can get into seasonality.
Always Know The Average Baseline Of Traffic For The Previous Year
It is nice to have baseline traffic numbers that you can reference any time. This is more of just an “FYI” number so that you know the mean of traffic. To get the mean, take your total annual traffic and divide it by 12. You now know your average traffic number each month.
Once you have this information, you can be aware of where your client is in comparison to this number in any given month. It’s a good number to have in your head for your own personal knowledge and the client’s.
Look At The Year-Over-Year Increase, Not The Traffic Number
Of course, one of the most important things you need to consider is the percentage increase year-over-year. If your client is experiencing a 10% year-over-year traffic increase in month 1 and month 2, that means your traffic growth is flat. If you are at 12% year-over-year in month 3, you have grown 2% since the year started. It’s all about understanding these margins and if there is margin growth based on your baseline of growth that already exists.
Of course, you need to be careful how much weight you give to increases and decreases. SEO can be fickle, as we all know. Some months are up and others can be down — the main goal should be to see a clear upward trend over the course of the contract, with positive year-over-year numbers.
Have Go-To Third-Party Tracking Tools Installed
One thing that is nice about third-party tracking tools is that they do not generally take seasonality into account. Instead, they look at monthly averages for keyword traffic numbers, and rankings simply are what they are. So, if you have these tools to rely on, you can get a gauge of how the account growth is looking without muddling it with seasonal fluctuations in an analytics account.
Be Careful With The Period-Over-Period Reports The Same Year
A lot of big companies, especially those with investors, are really big on quarterly reports. (It is just what business-minded individuals are used to looking at.) These reports generally look at quarter-over-quarter growth numbers.
There is nothing wrong with this as long as everyone understands the industry and how the seasonal numbers relate to it. If the businesses biggest quarter is Q1, how do you think that Q2 report is going to look? It is going to look down. Now, if the investors don’t understand the seasonal implications, you could lose that client.
On the opposite side, it is the responsibility of the internet marketing company to be honest if it is the other way around. If Q2 is the biggest time of the year, the company should not be taking credit for seasonal growth in Q2 that seems too good to be true when looking at quarter-over-quarter.
Be honest and clear in this situation; it builds trust and is just the right way to do business. Also, make sure to note that the year-over-year numbers are always the main indicators of success.
How To Do The SEO Projections When Considering Seasonality
Now that we have all of that out of the way, we can talk about how to do projections for SEO that take seasonality into account.
First, determine how much you think you can grow the traffic each month based on the strategies you are going to implement. Do you see 1,000 pages in a template that you can unblock and optimize on a high domain authority site? Or perhaps you have a plan to add 10 new pages for highly targeted keywords a month?
Whatever your strategy, pick the projects you’ll be doing, figure out the potential traffic numbers, and then provide low, medium and high success metrics. This will allow you to see how much traffic you can feasibly add to the site.
Every SEO has their own way of approaching a project, so I will leave this part up to you. But generally, you should be looking at the number of keywords you are targeting, the rankings you think you can get for those keywords, the estimated CTR for that position, and the average conversion rate you expect for that traffic. Once you know these numbers, tie the estimated sales back to the average revenue per sale and the profit margin per sale. Add up all total profit and back out your fees — you now have your ROI number. Keep this model in mind for the next step.
Now we will talk about the seasonality part. Take these organic traffic growth numbers and add them to a monthly calendar that spans the length of the projections. Next, overlay the additional traffic you will be adding on to last year’s numbers, making sure to do this for low, high and medium. Now you will have 2 things:
- Low, medium and high traffic growth numbers separate from the analytics account numbers.
- Low, medium and high traffic numbers added to monthly analytics. This will take into account seasonality.
Make sure to follow the steps above to get all your numbers on the low medium and high scale such as increase in transactions/leads, revenue growth, profit growth and ROI.
A Few Important Things To Keep In Mind
- Traffic will not always increase when looking at period-over-period reports for the same year due to seasonality, as we discussed. Make sure you are clear about this with the client.
- Things happen to jeopardize data all the time. Did the website break? Was there a penalty? Did the analytics tracking code get deleted? Did someone block the site in the robots.txt file or slip a noindex nofollow into a page they were not supposed to? If you have any major errors or outliers in the analytics account from the previous year, that basically makes that baseline of traffic useless. You need to account for that. Also, it is very important to be clear about why the numbers are the way they are with the client. Make sure to note any anomalies in your reports.
- Make sure you also have a landing page include filter in analytics that reports on the projects you’re working on. I like to create shortcuts that provide insight on the pages we have actually targeted/touched. That way, if something happens to another section of the site, I can show growth to the sections we have worked on.
- Make sure you set up your tracking tools right. If you are using a third-party tool to track rankings over time and general estimated traffic growth, that can really come in handy if the analytics install is jeopardized for some reason. The more analytics programs you have to turn to, the better. Make sure you have a good combo of third-party and first-party tools. Here is a list of tracking tools I worked really hard on.
Be Honest, Know Your Data, Understand The Concepts, And You Will Win
At the end of the day, you need to get things implemented on-site and off-site to see SEO traffic growth. Make sure you do great work, stay on top of the project, and have the right strategies in place. Track everything you do with the most detail possible and provide low, medium and high projections that are feasible, take into account return on investment and seasonality.
The reason this post is so important to me is that I know we have all been in a situation where numbers seem lower, but it is clearly due to seasonality. We all need to be aware of how seasonality plays into traffic, account for it and be clear with people on the project why numbers are what they are. Now if you can take that a step further and work the implications of seasonality into your SEO projections, you are a rockstar!
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.