Proving SEO Value Using Forecasting, Competitors, or Attribution | Linkflow
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Proving SEO Value Using Forecasting, Competitors, or Attribution

June 19, 2024
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SEO value is the amount of money you save on AdWords, PPC campaigns, and other paid marketing efforts by replacing that traffic with organic search traffic.

It’s somewhat abstract, since it’s based on hypothetical paid traffic and conversion rates. That’s especially true in the B2B space, where dozens of SEO touchpoints can contribute to a final sale.

That said, using forecasting, competitors, and attribution models, can give you a solid understanding of the SEO value of your website.

We get this question all the time…

Is it even possible to measure SEO value?

The short answer is yes, but it’s not a straightforward calculation.

For pay-per-click (PPC), the value is easily calculated based on the cost per click (CPC) and conversion rate.

But measuring your SEO efforts is a bit more tricky.

SEO typically takes a long time to show results.

Unlike PPC advertising, which can provide immediate feedback, SEO changes can take months to manifest. The lag makes it difficult to correlate specific actions directly to outcomes.

It’s hard to attribute conversions solely to your SEO strategy.

A customer might find your site through organic search, but convert through another channel like a paid ad or direct visit. Converting an Awareness-stage customer to an MQL requires an average of 54 unique touchpoints, for example. This complexity in user journeys makes it hard to pinpoint the exact impact of SEO on conversions.

Some SEO metrics are deceptive when viewed in isolation.

For example, tons of organic visits might not translate into high-quality leads or conversions. High keyword rankings are beneficial, but if your content isn’t aligned with search intent, rankings alone won’t provide a full picture.

The initial data required to predict SEO performance is often limited.

Before implementing SEO, there is often insufficient data to predict its potential impact accurately. Additionally, metrics like organic traffic and keyword rankings provide limited insights without a comprehensive view of user behavior and conversions.

Different attribution models distribute credit for conversions differently.

This variability can lead to different interpretations of SEO’s effectiveness. For example, a last-touch attribution model might underrepresent SEO’s role if it mainly drives initial awareness rather than final conversions​​.

SEO performance is influenced by factors beyond your control.

These include changes in search engine algorithms or competitor actions. Those types of factors can make it challenging to isolate the impact of your SEO efforts from other variables​.

3 methods for understanding SEO value

There are three ways you can quantify the value of search engine optimization for your business:

  • Competitor analysis
  • Attribution tracking
  • Forecasting models

Here’s a brief overview of each method and how to use it:

SEO is a zero-sum game

If you aren’t at the top of search engine results pages, someone else is. And they’re the ones getting all the organic traffic you could otherwise have directed to your site. That’s why competitor analysis is an essential part of understanding the value of SEO.

Start by looking at your nearest competitors’ traffic vs. yours. Is your site outperforming them, or vice versa?

You can find an estimate of this using Ahrefs (or another keyword research tool).

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Once you know their numbers, compare them to yours in Google Analytics or Google Search Console. If yours are considerably lower, you know you’re leaving money on the table by not making SEO part of your marketing strategy.

Next, calculate your share of search interest compared to theirs. This is a predictive metric introduced by Les Binet and the IPA. It shows the total number of searches on Google for one brand as a proportion of all searches for that category.

Calculating it is easy:

Share of Search Interest = # Searches for Brand / Searches for All Brands in Category X

While this is more a measure of brand health, it’s also a predictor of future market share. Since search engines are the primary way people find things today, share of search is closely correlated with market share in various studies.

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The high share of search without any content presents an opportunity for your business to capture demand right away. A low share of search despite creating and optimizing content means you need to revamp your strategy to make it more valuable.

Finally, determine your share of search volume. While search interest tells you how much attention your brand is getting, search volume tells you how much traffic you’re getting.

To calculate this, navigate to Ahrefs or the keyword research tool of your choice. From there, head to Organic Competitors, list your competition, and see how much traffic each one is getting out of the whole.

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If you see a decline in traffic across your searches, it’s a sign you need to take action. Increases in search volume share against your competition tell you you’re likely getting value from ranking on search engines.

Set up attribution tracking yesterday.

For those who have already been using SEO, to calculate the ROI of an SEO campaign, you need to know how it impacts conversions. The basic SEO ROI analysis answers these two basic questions:

  1. How much organic traffic did we bring in, and how much would it have cost to get that traffic through Google AdWords?
  2. What was our total SEO investment, and how much revenue did that generate?

Answering the first is simple. All you have to do to find the cost-per-click (CPC) for the keywords you generate website traffic from. Then, multiply that by the click-through rate (CTR) and number of organic visitors (which you can find in GA4) and compare it to the total you’ve invested in SEO services.

The second question is trickier because it deals with your SEO conversion rate. Whichever tool you use for website analytics (Google Analytics 4 or any of the more advanced and expensive ones), you have to know (a) which page led to a conversion and (b) which marketing channel(s) contributed to the final conversion.

There are a few different ways to set up attribution, and the type you choose will depend on the product you sell and the length of your sales cycle.

  • Simple attribution models like first-touch and last-touch are great for credit easy-to-track conversions (e.g., ecommerce SEO).
  • U-shaped, W-shaped, and Z-shaped attribution models do a better job of accounting for multiple touchpoints but are harder to set up.
  • Complex sales cycles, like those seen in B2B SaaS, generally require custom attribution or marketing mix modeling.

Google has helpful guides to getting started with attribution modeling and creating conversion events in GA4.

Make sure to set it up by channel to isolate the impact of organic search from other marketing channels. And create conversion events for multiple important points in the customer journey (e.g., newsletter signups, free trial signups, product demo requests) to understand how smaller SEO wins contribute to the final sale.

Try a forecasting exercise.

To get set up, follow these four steps:

  1. Collect data from GA4, Google Search Console, and third-party tools like Ahrefs or Semrush. If you integrate Search Console data with Ahrefs, Ahrefs will automatically create custom CTR curves and use them to forecast your organic traffic.
  2. Assess your website’s keyword rankings. Track the ranking positions of your targeted keywords over time to measure improvements and identify opportunities. You can find the basic overview in the Ahrefs Site Explorer and get more granular from there.
  3. Identify keywords your competitors rank for that you do not. Conduct a keyword gap analysis, find areas where your keyword coverage is low. These are areas you can invest in SEO and content marketing.
  4. Categorize and estimate traffic potential for keywords. Group keywords into categories based on intent and potential traffic volume to prioritize SEO efforts.

Once you’ve found SEO opportunities, you can estimate the future value of an investment in three simple steps.

1. Estimate the true value of additional traffic.

This represents the potential returns you’ll see based on  the estimated traffic (shown in your keyword research tool), your organic conversion rate, and the average deal size or order value.

Estimated SEO Value = Traffic × Average Organic Conversions × Average Organic Deal Size or Order Value

As an example, if your site has a 2% conversion rate and you expect 10,000 new visitors, you can forecast 200 additional conversions. And if each conversion is worth $100, then 200 conversions equate to $20,000 in projected revenue.

Make sure to isolate the averages per-channel — it’s entirely possible your AOV and conversion rates are much different for organic traffic versus paid or direct.

2. Evaluate your SEO costs.

These are variable, depending on whether you plan to hire an SEO team or outsource it to an agency.

Broadly speaking, we can break costs into three categories:

  • Resources (devs, content writers)
  • Tools (Ahrefs, Screaming Frog)
  • Hourly or retainer-based SEO services (outsourced link building, on-page optimization)

This is the approximate total cost required to execute on your SEO initiatives.

3. Project your final return on SEO investment.

From there, compare the estimated value from organic traffic to the cost of your SEO efforts.

(Value of SEO Traffic – SEO Costs) / SEO Costs

Suppose we keep the same example as above ($20,000) and the cost of your SEO efforts is only $5,000 because you chose to hire an agency, which is generally much more cost-effective.

In that case, your SEO value would be $15,000, and your ROI would be 3x. Now, you have a tangible return metric for your SEO investment.

Check out my guide to SEO forecasting for a deeper dive into how you can estimate the future value of SEO and plan your investment.

When to start investing in SEO

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While practically every company can benefit from higher organic search rankings, whether or not you’re actually ready for it depends on a few factors.

If any of the following three situations sound like you, get the ball rolling ASAP:

You did that forecasting exercise, and it’s a no-brainer.

If your forecasting exercise shows that the potential return on investment for SEO is significant and achievable, it’s worth at least getting on a call with an agency to see how they can help you take your existing momentum and amplify it.

Be aware, though: in some cases, your forecasting exercise may show that you need to increase organic traffic by tens of thousands of monthly visits to see a significant ROI, which may be difficult for a small business.

Also be aware that you operate under a few assumptions when estimating SEO ROI:

  • Search volume estimates are accurate.
  • CTRs are valid.
  • Conversion rates are accurate and up-to-date.
  • You can actually rank for the keywords in question.

You’ve had success with paid search.

Paid search is keyword-based. Having success with that channel means there’s validated interest in your product or service on Google search.

Investing in SEO can help you capitalize on that while reducing your overall customer acquisition cost (since organic visitors don’t cost anything to obtain).

Plus, if you already know what keywords are driving paid conversions, you can start your SEO strategy on the right foot by developing content that ranks for those terms.

Your competitors are getting quality organic traffic

Again: SEO is a zero-sum game.

If your competition is getting meaningful traffic from organic search, it means they’re gaining market share over you simply by showing up when your target customers type something into Google.

If they’re on page one, it’s a clear indicator you could be getting that traffic if you were to invest in SEO.

We can help you set everything up

At Linkflow, we’re all about return on investment.

Most agencies don’t have a process for forecasting SEO value, so rarely do they do anything beyond the basic calculation of “this is how much traffic we got you.”

We’re different. From the beginning, we help you get your analytics in order so you can always prove how valuable your choice to invest in SEO has been.

Organic traffic is only valuable if some of it converts into leads and sales. Keep that in mind when you’re evaluating proposals from agencies.

Book a call.

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Brittney Fred, SEO Analyst
Brittney has been working in SEO and digital marketing for ten years and specializes in content strategy for the B2B SaaS industry. She is based in Denver, CO and absolutely fits the Denverite stereotype. You’re just as likely to find her hiking, snowboarding, or doing yoga as reading sci-fi or playing video games.