What is search prediction and why is it important?
Digital marketing is about combining art and science, fusing creative ideas with actionable, trackable steps.
But before you optimize your on-page content or restructure your website, you need to know what is already working well and where you have potential for growth.
This is where search prediction comes into play.
What is search prediction?
Search prediction is the practice of predicting what your organic traffic will be like.
All good SEO strategies start with hard data. That should ultimately determine your next move – not the best of guesses and assumptions.
With the data in hand, you can predict what search traffic might look like for your business and use that data to plan your upcoming campaigns.
When working on organic traffic predictions, keep the following important details in mind.
Focus on the right metrics
Starting with keyword research is really the backbone of any SEO strategy.
You may think you know exactly what search terms are most beneficial to your business, but it’s best to put those assumptions aside in a separate column of your spreadsheet and look at the actual data.
There are dozens of possible metrics you could look at when it comes to keyword data.
Regardless of the industry you work in or the type of content you work with, your research should include data or evidence on:
- Estimated search volume.
- keyword difficulty.
- Your business’s current ranking position and the URL for that ranking for relevant keywords.
- search intent.
- Click through rate (CTR) estimates.
- Find out about the type and quality of content ranking in your desired position.
- Related searches and your relative ranking position.
If you can’t find data for some of these, your predictions won’t be as accurate, but they can still be valuable.
The most accessible is search volume data – you need to know if your traffic targets match actual user behavior in search results for the keywords you intend to use.
The rest of the metrics here help you prioritize beyond search volume and make more realistic predictions.
They give you important insights into how competitive certain phrases are, where you rank among the current players in search engine results pages (SERPs), and where there are opportunities for additional optimization to capitalize on changes in user intent.
Use tools to help you
You’re not expected to conjure your keyword data out of thin air, and there’s only so much your own website tracking can tell you.
But the Google Search Console (GSC) is a good place to start.
Where other tools can tell you general keyword metrics, GSC provides you with business-specific historical data to give you a good (internal) benchmark to work with.
Bot traffic can affect anything in GSC, and when you’re trying to rank for local results, the search volume depends on where a search is actually being made from in relation to the keyword being used.
There will also be differences in the numbers pulled by GSC versus Semrush, Moz, Ahrefs or any other SEO tool you might be using.
However, once you put everything in a table, the average values are enough to make a reasonably reliable prediction.
Google Keyword Planner may be another option to try but has questionable accuracy.
In many cases, search volume data is exaggerated based on combined estimates using similarly worded keywords, so take this data with caution.
You may find that this type of data is better used to calculate ad savings after rankings are tracked as another data point for organic search return on investment (ROI).
Don’t forget the competitors
If you’re specifically venturing outside of keyword data, consider using competitive analysis as part of your overall traffic prediction.
See who is already appearing on page one of the SERPs you want to appear on.
Paste competitor URLs into keyword tools to see what they’re ranking for and more importantly, what they’re not ranking for. Combine some of this data with your own keyword research to find opportunities.
This is where it can be helpful to know the keyword difficulty.
When competitors rank for phrases that have good volume but low difficulty, you may have an opportunity to produce better, more helpful content and differentiate yourself from that competitor in the SERPs.
Of course, this will change some of your search volume predictions if you can move from page two or three to page one.
This is also the time to assess whether some related requests might also include content updates or development opportunities.
Are your competitors still using a single keyword per page strategy? (You’d be surprised!)
This is where you can gain some ground by building keyword families.
View seasonality and trend data
Whether you’re working on a year-long SEO strategy or a fixed-length campaign, understanding your business and keyword seasonal pattern is essential.
One of the most important things to remember about seasonal traffic, and something that many people get wrong, is that the busiest time of year for your business doesn’t always equate to high search volume.
Customers don’t typically buy right away, so you often have weeks or even months to go from high search volume to noticeable sales increases.
Depending on what industry you’re in, you might already be working on this type of accelerated marketing plan. Retail is a prime example of this – spring/summer collections for the following year are already being presented during the fashion weeks in early autumn.
And for most product companies, you’ll be looking forward to the holiday season in May or June, certainly no later than July to start planning.
It’s important to know what your lead time is from search to sale, as it not only impacts your search traffic predictions, but also the content strategy you create based on those predictions.
Launching holiday gift guides in November in the hope that you’ll rank well immediately through good search engine rankings and make big sales within the first week is just not realistic.
(If you want to do that, paid advertising is a better option.)
Tools like Google Trends can be useful for getting general estimates of when search volume for seasonal searches will start to increase.
Use this data with what you know about your own business outcomes to figure out how far ahead of the search surge you need to publish and optimize for traffic leaps.
Not everything is predictable
While we already know we can’t account for mass changes to search algorithms or unexpected world events, there are other unpredictable factors that need to be accounted for on a smaller scale.
In product-based businesses in particular, other marketing efforts can have a positive or negative impact on your overall search predictions.
Products can quickly go viral on social media without extensive marketing efforts on your part.
When this is the case, search demand can increase significantly in ways you weren’t prepared for.
And when you run those searches through SEO tools, they won’t account for this unexpected surge in traffic.
Reactive versus predictive demand, especially when you’re making a similar or counterfeit product to a viral product, is almost impossible to plan for.
If you find yourself in such situations, take this into account when possible when predicting search traffic for years to come, and reallocate your resources accordingly.
Why is search prediction important?
Predicting your organic traffic means you have a rough idea of the expected results if conditions stay as predicted.
It allows you to better allocate internal resources and budgets for your upcoming campaigns and set internal benchmarks. This can cover everything from expected new traffic when rankings are tracked to increased earnings based on current conversion rates.
Knowing this information up front can be crucial to gaining stakeholder buy-in, especially if you work in corporate SEO and your growth goals are set once or twice a year.
If the estimates don’t match expectations, you have the option to request a revised goal or additional resources to make those expectations more achievable.
Of course, there must be a disclaimer here.
Major algorithm updates, a new website design, changes in user behavior and search trends, or even another round of “unprecedented times” will all have a drastic impact on how search results look in reality.
It is almost impossible to plan or predict the exact impact.
But problems aside, it’s still worth investing time in SEO forecasting.
You don’t have to be a data scientist to predict your search traffic.
With the right tools and approaches, you can get a good picture of what to expect in the coming months and set more realistic benchmarks for organic search growth.
The goal of predicting your organic search traffic is to help you make more informed decisions about your ongoing SEO strategy.
There are opportunities, you just have to find them.
You’ll always face obstacles with forecasting, and they’ll never be 100% accurate, but with solid data to back it up, you’ll have a good benchmark to build on to create a strategically sound search marketing plan.
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