You can invest a lot of time and money in Search Engine Optimization, focusing on improving the rank of relevant keywords that will hopefully bring visitor traffic to your website. But how much traffic can you expect as a result?
Two variables that directly determine the amount of traffic you’ll get for any particular keyword are search frequency (SF) and click-through-rate (CTR). Search rank matters too but only indirectly — you’ll see why in a minute.
SF is the number of searches made per month on a particular keyword. Google provides estimated monthly search frequency data in its Keyword Tool. You have no control over the search frequency of a keyword – that’s determined by Google users, and it can vary seasonally for some keywords, or spike due to current events.
Keywords can have variations in word order, singular vs. plural, misspellings, etc. Then there are keywords that have a geographical component. Let’s say your business is selling car insurance. Do you sell car insurance in a small region because you’re an agency? Or are you a nationwide carrier, hoping to draw clicks from anywhere in the country? A keyword like “car insurance” will have a much higher search frequency than “car insurance Milwaukee” for example, but will also be a lot harder to rank for. Google’s keyword tool will give you estimated SF for both terms, but only for the whole U.S. It won’t tell you how many searches there are for “car insurance” in the Milwaukee metro area.
Here’s a tip: be sure to enter all keyword variations you can think of and select “Exact Match” when using Google’s Keyword Tool to gather SF data. And remember, you’ll still get data that’s not very accurate because Google can’t tell how many searches are legitimate and how many are from people like you and me checking on our rankings. Someone who is checking on their ranking is not going to click through to your site.
If someone performs a search, and your website listing shows up in the search results, that’s called an impression. CTR is the ratio of clicks to impressions. In other words, if your listing shows up 100 times from searches on a particular keyword and results in 1 click, then your CTR is 1% for that keyword. There are several things that can help or hurt CTR, and you have some control over them.
Search rank has a huge impact on CTR. All other things being equal, the higher your site ranks, the higher your CTR. A study published by Optify in 2011 showed the #1 listing getting an average CTR of 36.4%, the #2 listing getting 12.5%, and the #10 listing at the bottom of page 1 getting 2.2%. To the extent that you can improve your search rank for a keyword, you can greatly affect your CTR. That starts to explain why SEO is such a hot topic.
Remember, your search results listing competes for clicks not only against the other listings on the page, including images, videos and Google Plus pages but also against a bunch of carefully written ads as well. The content of your listing in the search results affects your CTR. For example, are headlines and subject lines well-written? Do your listings include sitelinks? Can you include Review data? These bits of eye candy have a big impact on CTR, and you have some control over them.
SEO Traffic Estimation
Now that you know all this, how should you go about estimating the traffic you’ll get from an SEO project? First create a list of all keywords and keyword variations that are relevant to your website. Make sure keywords are specific and indicate targeted interest in what your website promotes.
Copy and paste the list into Google’s Keyword Tool. Select “Exact Match” and run the tool. Google will suggest other keywords you can add to your list. Export your keywords and exact-match search frequencies to a spreadsheet. Use the Global Monthly Searches numbers if your website is designed to market to the entire world. If your business is US-only, then use the Local Monthly Searches numbers. If your business targets a portion of the US, then you’ll need to set up a formula to take a percentage of the local number for keywords that don’t include a geographic description.
To use our previous example, where you sell car insurance in the Milwaukee metro area, you might determine that your target territory has about 5% of the US population. So, for a keyword like “car insurance” you would estimate 5% of the Local Monthly Searches as your potential SF. For a keyword like “car insurance Milwaukee” you could estimate 100% because someone in New York performing that search may well be looking for a company like yours.
In a new column of your spreadsheet, enter a number for each keyword that indicates your estimated CTR. As an option, you can add a column with a target rank for each keyword, and use that rank to help you estimate the CTR. How high you will ultimately rank for a keyword depends on how well you do your SEO work in relation to other sites competing for the same keyword.
To get the estimated traffic from each keyword, simply multiply SF by CTR, then total up the values from all the keywords to get your estimated total organic search traffic.
If all this sounds like one big, educated guess, you’re right. It’s hard to predict where you will end up ranking for a keyword, and CTR can vary significantly among different topics even if you could predict your ultimate rank. But at least it’s a start.