Estab­lish­ing a base­line and under­stand­ing his­tor­i­cal trends helps fore­cast traf­fic trends and alerts you when traf­fic changes. Con­trib­u­tor Simon Hes­el­tine lists steps you can take to pre­dict incom­ing traf­fic and changes to your site.

Have you ever had this con­ver­sa­tion with some­one from upper man­age­ment?

Boss: “If we imple­ment your rec­om­men­da­tions, how will this impact traf­fic?”

You: “It depends.”

Boss: “If we cre­ate a new con­tent project, will it gen­er­ate a lot of traf­fic?

You: “It depends.”

It depends” is the typ­i­cal response by a search engine opti­miza­tion spe­cial­ist (SEO) to ques­tions about traf­fic pro­jec­tions and is a top response that infu­ri­ates man­age­ment.

As any SEO knows, you can’t pre­dict with any accu­ra­cy what a change will do to your traf­fic, since there are numer­ous exter­nal fac­tors you have no con­trol over.

But — you can give your boss an idea of incom­ing traf­fic while address­ing and tak­ing those exter­nal fac­tors into account.

Let’s look at what we can and can­not con­trol, the impact cer­tain issues may have on traf­fic and how to pre­dict incom­ing traf­fic to your site.


The first step is to estab­lish your base­line by estab­lish­ing where your traf­fic is com­ing from and how much you’re get­ting. Be sure every­one is using the same data and is look­ing at it in the same man­ner. Ide­al­ly, have a dash­board that’s shared by all, so every­one who needs to can look at the num­bers when­ev­er they want.


Next, you need to look at the impact that sea­son­al­i­ty has upon your traf­fic num­bers. Look at how your traf­fic has trend­ed month over month over the last three to five years; there should some be con­sis­ten­cy in sea­son­al trend­ing from year to year.

For exam­ple, for a warm weath­er-based prod­uct, per­haps your sales peaked from June to August and then dipped from Novem­ber to March. A retail prod­uct may peak over the hol­i­day sea­son and dip for the rest of the year. Aver­age these trends over the data peri­ods, and remove any out­liers, such as your atyp­i­cal­ly low­er num­bers for one month in 2016 when a large por­tion of the site was noin­dexed dur­ing a site relaunch.

Annual trending

Next, look at how traf­fic to your site has been grow­ing year to year over the last few years. If your typ­i­cal growth is 5 per­cent year to year, that’s what you should most like­ly expect as a base­line growth. Look at your his­to­ry to see what projects were done over the years to get an idea of the impact they may have had, above and beyond the base­line trend­ing.

Now you have expect­ed num­bers based on both annu­al and sea­son­al trend­ing. They are the num­bers you should work to hit unless you have a major project come along.

Upcoming projects

Obvi­ous­ly, no one can pre­dict the future, but if you have projects in the wings and some you want to imple­ment, you should take them into account when fore­cast­ing traf­fic.

Based on past project per­for­mance, you should have an idea how long it would take them to gen­er­ate traf­fic once a project was imple­ment­ed and what the growth pat­tern should look like. When adding upcom­ing projects to the base­line traf­fic mod­el, think about a best-case sce­nario and an expect­ed sce­nario. These two sce­nar­ios give you a range you can use to project traf­fic num­bers.

Of course, those traf­fic num­bers could still be suf­fixed with “it depends,” as there are a num­ber of fac­tors you have no con­trol over that can adverse­ly impact the actu­al num­bers, like inter­nal staffing changes and eco­nom­ic impacts.

Anoth­er key point about fore­cast­ing project traf­fic: If you have an idea of which projects brought in the most traf­fic, you will have a good idea which projects you want to imple­ment in the future or drop from the plan­ning sched­ule. No sense in repeat­ing poor per­for­mance.

Search engine algorithm updates

Search engines change their algo­rithms con­stant­ly in their con­tin­u­ing effort to improve search results. These changes may neg­a­tive­ly impact your traf­fic. If you’re doing some­thing against their web­mas­ter guide­lines, then you may expect this to hap­pen, but that’s not always the case. Some­times the search engines change how they present data in order to improve user expe­ri­ence, which may impact how your pages are dis­played, ranked and clicked on.

If your web pages are neg­a­tive­ly impact­ed by a search engine update, all you can do is exam­ine what’s changed and see if there’s a way to recov­er the traf­fic you’ve lost.

Competitive changes

Your com­peti­tors can change their sites at any time and try to copy your SEO efforts by opti­miz­ing for the same key­words or cre­at­ing sim­i­lar con­tent. This can have a neg­a­tive effect on your traf­fic stream.

This is a pri­ma­ry rea­son why an SEO can nev­er stand still. You must keep an eye on your com­peti­tors, as well as your site and traf­fic, to iden­ti­fy oppor­tu­ni­ties or changes ear­ly on. Best to be proac­tive rather than reac­tive.


Mis­takes hap­pen to all of us, that’s a giv­en. When some­thing is missed in the qual­i­ty assur­ance process, changed in an update or a third-par­ty tool mal­func­tions, traf­fic has the poten­tial to drop. This is anoth­er rea­son why proac­tive­ly mon­i­tor­ing all ele­ments of a site is very impor­tant.

Expect change

There will always be an ele­ment of “it depends” when pro­ject­ing SEO traf­fic lev­els, that’s a giv­en. But estab­lish­ing a base­line and under­stand­ing his­tor­i­cal traf­fic trends will give you an idea of what to expect and alert you when traf­fic lev­els fall.