Ian Lurie // Sep 7 2011
Prospective clients always want to know: What kind of impact will SEO have? How much traffic will I get?
I’m an empirical guy. I want to give an answer. But based on what?
Well, I did some serious digging into traffic patterns over time across 200 Portent clients, and I have some answers. Warning: This data heads into seriously touchy-feely statistics. Use with caution.
Oh, and I refuse to make an infographic.
I pulled data as follows:
For all data, I used the last day of the month as that month’s result. So month 1 traffic data is what the client saw after a full month of SEO.
Clients working on both on- and off-site SEO saw the biggest percentage growth the first month—over 100% rise in non-branded organic traffic. But overall growth stayed strong and continued to rise over six months. Overall results? 300% growth.
‘Non-branded organic traffic’ means traffic from natural search results, not including queries on the clients’ brand names.
When I went through the data, though, I noticed a lot of outliers:
If you’re a statistics geek, month 1 saw deviation of 2.4. Ouch. In non-nerd terms, that’s like aiming for New York and having a good chance of missing the city and the planet, and landing in the Sun by mistake.
After month 1, the deviation drops fast: .4 deviation in month 2, then .3 in month 3, then .12. For month 6, the statistical gods gave me the finger: Deviation shot back up to .24. Which, if I were aiming for New York, would put me in the Pacific Ocean. Probably somewhere shark-infested.
Still, none of this made me super-confident. My data seemed to show there was no pattern, at all.
Then I started pulling things apart a little, and it made more sense.
Clients who let us do onsite SEO but skipped offsite for one reason or another showed big initial growth, then a fast drop off to nothing:
That doesn’t mean onsite SEO is only worth doing for two months, by the way. Stop doing onsite SEO, and problems creep back in, you drop out of the rankings, and traffic goes down again. That’s not a statistic—that’s Uncle Ian’s School of SEO Hard Knocks.
I’d love to do a chart of folks who stopped doing onsite, but most of them don’t want me to have their data. Can’t imagine why.
We’ve also had clients over the years who only let us do offsite SEO. The results, if we stick as close to white-hat link acquisition methods as humanly possible, aren’t that exciting:
Not shocking. If all you do is offsite SEO—guest blogging, link bait, link detective work and such—you pick up momentum, but it takes time. It also keeps paying off, by the way, forever.
Offsite’s a little difficult to attribute. Part of offsite is writing onsite content. That could, theoretically, impact onsite SEO as well. So I only picked sites that were utter onsite catastrophes, where I knew the relevance impact of new content would be zilch.
When I analyzed the balanced data minus the just-offsite or just-onsite SEO crowd, the results stuck, and the deviation numbers were far lower. So I’m willing to stick with this version:
SEO pays off big over time. It may pay off big, fast, but that depends on your team, your site, and the resources available. I’ll revisit this data periodically and see how the numbers change. For now, I’ll be keeping this around as a general guideline that I follow with lots of disclaimers.
Please don’t go stake your career on these graphs. I have a BA in History and a JD. My qualifications as a mathematician are purely genetic. Plus, I have enough guilt in my life.
I picked six months as the timeframe for three reasons:
Ian Lurie is founder and CEO of Portent Inc., an internet marketing agency that has provided internet marketing, including PPC, SEO, social and analytics services, since 1995. Read More