Forecasting SEO: How Do I Determine the Value Of A Keyword?

Perhaps you’ll agree with me when I say:

It’s REALLY hard to know how valuable a new keyword is before optimizing for it.

Or is it?

Well, it turns out, you can forecast traffic for a set of new keywords including number of leads and sales by using a few metrics and tools…

…metrics and tools that forecast monthly traffic, number of leads and revenue a set of keywords can bring to your business based on the historical performance of your site in Google.

And in today’s post I’m going to show you this stuff and some practical ways SEO pros forecast SEO.

Clickthrough Rate Study Graph
Clickthrough Rate Study Graph

Evaluating keywords for SEO seems easy, but most people fail to understand what is really happening and this leads people who run online businesses to make judgement and management mistakes.

People who run online businesses think in terms of buying keywords (both SEO and PPC). Your goal shouldn’t be to buy keywords, your goal should be to buy customers. And in order to buy customers you need to buy sales.

Perhaps you are asking the wrong question.

“I’m projecting that we need to acquire at least X customers to be profitable this year.”

or to hit our revenue goal;

“we need to make at least Y sales in order to win those customers and allow no more than Z returns/refunds.”

Moneyball: The art of winning an unfair game
Moneyball: The art of winning an unfair game

You’ve likely heard something like this.

If you know the XYZs, you need a formula that builds in all the intelligence to project keywords and forecast sales. It’s about getting things down to one number. Using big data and knowing how to read it, you’ll find valuable keywords that nobody else sees.

Then you can say something like this,

Of the 20,000 keywords for us to consider, I believe that there’s a small group of keywords that we can afford and help us achieve the goal because everyone else in our industry undervalues them and/or the competition is reasonable to overcome.

Think Moneyball; think keyword intelligence!

Here are concepts, metrics, tools and indicators to select great keywords for your business that will enable you to project sales from them.


Search Term Conversion Rates

Most people have one of these four aims when searching:
Informational searchers: The majority of people use search engines to find info and once they get it they move on – using search as an answer engine. Informational search terms yield low conversion rates.

Research intent searchers want to make an informed decision. Conversion rates from people in research mode are moderate and may be worth targeting for product sales, lead gen, growing your list and brand name awareness.

Purchase intent (a.k.a. commercial intent) searchers are ready to buy and therefore, conversion rates are high and worth targeting for product sales and lead gen.

Navigational intent searchers want to find your website. Rather than typing the web address in the address bar of their browser they simply search for it, or they search for the name of your business. Conversion rates from navigational intent search terms are very high and your business name should rank your website #1 on all search engines.

Commercial Intent

When a prospect is ready to buy, their research is done, they know what they want, but they aren’t sure who to buy it from yet. The key phrase may contain modifiers like buy, for sale, purchase, rent, join, etc. And people with commercial intent search for the exact name of the product, part number and things that specifically describe that service/product, often without a modifier.

There are indicators to help identify commercial intent in a keyword, but most of it comes with knowing how real customers search.

Monthly Search Volume

Most people view this number as most important when selecting a keyword, but if your goal is to buy customers, search volume should not be at the top of your priority list, but a factor in forecasting.

Search Engine Data

Bing Webmaster Tools and Google Search Analytics provide specific keyword data about your site for a given period:

  • Impressions – how many times a page of your site appeared in the SERPs for a specific keyword
  • Average CTR – the number of clicks divided by impressions for the keyword
  • Average position – the average position in the search results for the keyword

Average Conversion Rate

The closer you can get to a monetary value for a keyword over a period, the easier it is to forecast keywords. This starts with the conversion rate for each keyword. Due to Google and Bing’s “not provided” issue for organic keywords, it’s not as straight forward to get to this level of keyword valuation.

I use a python script that syncs data from Google Analytics and Google Search Analytics, then organizes it all into a spreadsheet showing me revenue generated for ecommerce sites and leads generated for business sites from organic search keywords.

This allows me to see the average conversion rates for brand vs. non-brand keywords and targeted keywords. So, when considering a new set of keywords to target, I have a conversion rate I can use for forecasting.

Not provided Python
“Not provided” words from Python script

Content and New Keywords

To effectively compete for top 10 rankings for a keyword, time and money must be projected. What percentage of the optimization work will your in-house team perform and what percent will be outsourced?

Content Relevancy
Multiple factors influence keyword relevancy to content:

  • What motivates the searcher
  • Where are they located digitally
  • How they interact and participate in conversation
  • The prospect’s stage within the customer journey

SCOT is a tool designed to appraise the on-page content of a website in a similar way to how search engines would assess it for quality and relevance. This includes scoring the content on known ranking factors, including technical and engagement metrics.

Content Gaps
When a keyword aligns searcher intent perfectly with the content they want, we have keyword to content alignment; but, when a keyword is not a good match for the content, we have a keyword to content gap. Content can be adjusted to align with the searcher’s intent or else new content should be created.

If you take the keywords your competitor ranks for and subtract those that your site ranks for, you are left with potential content gap keywords. Ahrefs, Serpstat and SEMrush all have tools to identify content gap keywords.

Keyword Kombat by SpyFu allows you to analyze the keywords of your site and two different competitors so you can see all keywords combined, the common keywords, keywords that competitors rank for but your site does not, and keywords that your site ranks for but competitors do not.

Content Production
How many content pieces must be created to effectively satisfy searcher intent? You’ll want to estimate the cost and/or time involved to produce new content.

Content Promotion
New content that is promoted earns links faster than content that is not promoted. You’ll want to estimate the cost and/or time to promote new content.

Topical authority

Site authority for the topic
At the enterprise level MarketMuse Keyword Relevance Engine™ generates relevant topics, computes relevance to your focus keywords and identifies topical gaps on your website.

Share of Voice
A technology developed by BrightEdge helps brands see how much of the keyword market share of a topic their brand controls compared to competitors. Alternatively, you can calculate share of voice for your site using this resource.

Content Volume of Keyword Competitors
Sometimes large sites have a ranking advantage over average or smaller sized sites, especially if the site is authoritative for the topic. Use a SERP analysis tool like SEOquake to get the number of pages indexed.

On-Page Content Suggestions
Moz provides topics based on the keyword you are targeting that are influencing the SERP. Incorporate the topics into your content and it may help with your topical authority.

Determine The Level of Competition
Let’s say you are evaluating two different competitive keywords; one has 17 aggressive competitors while the other only has 2; assuming all things are equal, which one requires less effort to gain a top ranking? Obviously you wouldn’t know that without doing a little competitive analysis for each keyword.

Keyword Difficulty
SEMrush defines keyword difficulty as an estimate of how difficult it would be to seize competitors’ positions in organic search with a particular keyword (1-100%).

Moz difficulty score takes into account the Page Authority (PA) and Domain Authority (DA) scores of the results ranking on the first page of Google’s search engine for the given query. PA and DA are scores developed by Moz that predict how well a website or a specific page will rank on search engine result pages (SERP).

The keyword difficulty metric is merely a starting point and is almost meaningless if you don’t know how your site fits into the keyword/topic marketplace.

Keyword Opportunity
Moz opportunity score uses an averaged CTR algorithm to build this metric and apply it based on the features seen in Google’s results pages.

Superior to Moz scores, which are normalized for all kinds of websites, you can evaluate keyword click through rates based on your own site’s historical data using Google Search Analytics. This can be used to estimate the traffic and lead potential for new keywords: Google Ranking Positions and %CTR Estimating Search Engine Visitors.

SERP Analysis
Keyword competitors can be quickly analyzed with browser tools like SEOquake, Ahrefs, MozBar and others which display details about each listing on any SERP page. Enter your keyword and below each result you’ll see all kinds of delicious competitor details.

I particularly like to examine these from the SEOquake tool (a product of SEMrush):

  • Domain score – measures the quality and volume of links pointing to the domain. The closer the score is to 100, the higher the quality of the domain. Similar to MozRank.
  • Trust score – measures the trustworthiness of the domain based on how many trusted backlinks the domain has. MozTrust is similar.
  • Page backlinks
  • Domain backlinks
  • Number of pages indexed

Click on a parameter and a browser window opens showing more details from SEMrush. Open the SEOquake SERP Overlay Preferences and tick as many of the 30+ parameters that you want. Plus you can export all SERP analysis for easy number crunching and forecasting.

Traffic Cost
Traffic Cost (SEMrush) is how much an advertiser would have to spend on average per month in Google AdWords to rank for the keyword(s).

Serpstat provides the visibility trend, a relative index which indicates how often a domain is shown in search results for the keywords the domain is ranking for. This tool not only reveals the competitor landscape but shows the visibility index for each domain.

Keyword in Anchor and Title
To get an idea of how many web pages are specifically targeting a keyword, you can use these search operators in Google and Bing:

  • Intitle:”keyword phrase” – displays all web pages that contain the key phrase in the title tag
  • Inanchor:”keyword phrase” – displays all web pages that contain the key phrase in anchor text links

Wordtracker’s keyword tool provides IAAT – the number of web pages that contain the keyword in both title and in anchor text pointing at the page.

Competition keyword metrics to ignore:

  • Keyword density – This is an outdated technique that Google does not honor, and going too far with the use of a keyword on a web page can push it into an “over optimized” category.
  • Number of results – Whether there’s a million results for a keyword does not matter since most people look no further than the first page of results.
  • Adwords CPC – Google Keyword Planner and many keyword tools provide cost per click metrics for keywords. Instead of using CPC for competitive analysis, it makes more sense to use it as an estimate value for SEO.
  • Adwords competition – Google Keyword Planner simply shows Low, Medium or High competition, a non-specific designation for evaluating SEO competition.

In part 2 I’ll show you how I use these metrics and tools to create the formula and do forecasting.


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