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How to Forecast Natural Organic Traffic Growth

Forecasting organic SEO traffic to fit in a digital marketing plan is a very difficult task to do, there are many variables controlling organic traffic and many of them are not under our control. Let us go through the most popular forces behind organic traffic growth and try to evaluate their impact on our forecast:

Population and internet user growth of the target country:

Most countries grow their population by a certain percentage annually, here in Canada we grow by 1.4% annually, so if all things equal organic traffic should grow by this percentage. Internet user growth (internet penetration) can contribute also to organic traffic growth (please note that there is some overlap between population growth and internet user growth), in Canada our internet users grew by 1.5% last year, for most advanced countries this number will be low, but it could be much higher for developing countries like India where it reached 18% last year.

Do some research and some estimation to come up with a number that you feel comfortable with, if this number is 2.9% and the population of the target country is 1,000,000 then you will get 40,000 extra visits next year through population and internet user growth.

Popularity growth (brand awareness) :

Brand popularity can grow in many different ways:

  • Off-line advertisement (e.g. old media like TV, radio and newspapers).
  • Online advertisement (e.g. Google and Facebook ads).
  • Word of mouth (great products can generate a lot of word of mouth popularity).

First time advertisers in traditional media like TV can expect a large increase in their branded traffic (you can track that number in Google Search Console by monitoring branded keywords impressions and clicks), if branded traffic is 10,000/month a good ad campaign can take it to 20,000/month and that is a 100% YOY increase in branded search, the annual traffic growth as a result of that = (branded traffic grow/last year total organic traffic), let us assume this number is 2%

Please note that an increase in brand awareness can also improve the overall organic traffic for all keywords as people tend to click more on brands that they know in the SERPs (higher CTR is expected in this case).

Authority growth  (link profile):

Link profile's strength is the most important ranking factor with all major search engines, if the website you are working on has:

  • A weak link profile.
  • Large number of quality unique pages.

Then you know that a with a good link building campaign you can possibly double this traffic, on the other hand if you are working on website with a strong link profile, a good link building campaign will have a smaller impact (in the single digit range at best).

Please note that brand popularity growth should help with link growth as more people will be talking about the brand on social media websites, forums and blogs.

I am going to assume that link building can provide a 10% YOY traffic increase.

Content growth:

Websites grow their content by adding more pages on a regular basis, it is very difficult to grow marketing pages (pages where products and services are sold) on a high rate, that is where a blog can be a good tool to keep a high content growth. First you need to check the average traffic on posts that are 1+ month old that were published in the previous year, then multiple that number with the number of posts you are planning to publish next year to get the traffic gain forecast.

Content enhancement:

There are three type of content that you need to optimize and enhance on a regular basis:

  • Pages that are losing traffic YOY, this content could be expiring/outdated content that needs to be refreshed or it is content that is getting a lot of competition and needs enhancement.
  • Content that is not getting any organic traction (could be thin content or low quality content), this content needs to be enhanced otherwise removed or redirected.
  • Content that ranks at the bottom of the first page or at the top of the second page in the SERPs, with some extra work this content can gain few more spots in ranking which can make a big difference in the amount of traffic it can generate.

It will be very difficult to estimate the amount of traffic growth that content enhancement will generate without going back to historical data and calculate the growth, so for this one you need to wait for year 2 to come up with the right amount, for year one you can:

  • Assume you are going to restore the lost traffic for pages that are losing traffic.
  • Use search volume on the keywords you are optimizing for and assume you can double their CTR.

The tally:

Once you have the percentages or numbers from the four items above just add them up to find the organic traffic increase forecast for next year.

Disclaimers you need to include in your forecast when you submit it to your manager for review:

Make sure your manager understands that this is an estimate (educated guess) and there are many variables that can throw this plan off like:

  • Popularity decline as a result of a brand crisis.
  • Algorithmic update (Google does multiple updates every year that can affect rankings positively or negatively).
  • SERPs layout update (Google keeps changing SERPs above the fold area by adding featured snippets or more ads which can negatively affect CTR and traffic).
  • Technical issues (the website can go down for a while or the technical team can make a mistake that can cause traffic loss like blocking Google bots form crawling the website).
  • Production delays (executing the SEO plan is not guaranteed especially in a tight resource situation).

Another disclaimer that you need to include,  the website will go throw a traffic loss situation in a case your SEO plan is not approved. The risk of stopping or slowing SEO efforts could result in:

  • Website/content stagnation which is a bad signal to send to search engines and it can cause reduction in authority (if you are the authority in your space you are expected to produce and refresh content on a regular basis).
  • Expiring/outdated content (e.g. legal related content will lose ranking YOY if stayed unchanged).

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