Realistic SEO goals: How to calculate them

Those of you who work in the sector will be familiar with the question: “how much can we grow in SEO?” Excluding the evident answer of “100% for new projects”, its complexity is the growth estimation for websites with history.

¿Can it be estimated?

Committing to SEO traffic growth without first calculating its feasibility is to jump to the deep end. We are not alone in Google, i.e., many factors influence, directly or indirectly, our strategy. See as examples: 

  • Google Algorithm Updates
  • Changes in SERPs results: increase of SEM ads, local results, Knowledge Graph, zero results, etc.
  • Competition: changes in strategy or new competitors


If the implementation of SEO recommendations depends on a supplier or the client’s internal department, it is hard to control.  If the timing is not respected, it will affect the delay of SEO results.

For paid campaigns, the competition factor also affects the strategy, but with more control over it and the possibility to establish much more feasible and objective estimates than for SEO.

What we can do, however, is to carry out a study to assess whether this increase in traffic is realistic in terms of market possibilities.


How do we calculate the SEO traffic growth of a project?

Some clients are the ones who indicate to the agency the business target or the percentage increase in visits they expect to achieve. Our job as consultants is to analyse if it is a realistic goal and whether it is within the possible growth margin: is the target above or below the market peak point? 

To calculate the SEO growth potential, the following formula should be used:


If the maximum organic CTR is reached in positions 1-2, to estimate the SEO project potential we will have to:


Search volume varies not only by terms but also by location. Is our business national? Local? Where do we want to grow? Follow these tips to find out possible searches: 

  • Do not use Keyword Planner: The search volume for each term is calculated for broad match, not for exact keyword (the “old” Keyword Planner). According to the Google Ads Help, in the new planner, we can use the matches to see the estimated impressions, but there are differences between the broad and exact matches:
  • Use AdWords Change History Tool: If your project has a history in AdWords and bids for all services/products, you are in luck. To get an approximate idea of the market searches:
    • Select only Non-Branded search campaigns. That is where the growth potential is, branded SEO keywords should be in the Top 3, where the organic traffic will be maintained, not necessarily increased. Read this article to find out when to bid or not to bid for your brand.
    • From these campaigns, extract the search terms, the impressions, and the percentage of lost impressions. That is where the growth potential is, branded SEO keywords should be in the Top 3, where the organic traffic will be maintained, not necessarily increased.



We can cross-reference the data with Search Console to know the average position of these terms in the target market but, if we want to reach that position by locations within a country, we will have to carry out a ranking study for Local SEO. 

This is where the questions arise: what room for improvement in rankings do we have, what kind of results make up the Top 3, is it realistic to enter the Top 3? It is not always achievable. If we analyse the hotel sector, where hotel search engines dominate the first page in rankings for most locations if our client is a local hotel, we cannot promise to reach a top 3 position, but we can certainly calculate the market top.



The average CTR for keywords in position 1 will vary depending on different factors:

  • Keyword type: informational, with purchase intent (head-tail, long-tail, etc.)
  • SEM results
  • Local results
  • News carousel, videos, etc.
  • Type of results in SERPs: zero results, other user queries, etc.


Depending on all these elements, the CTR of Top 1 may vary when other elements appear in the SERPs that shift the display of the first organic result. But what we can do is, from the generic queries (not branded) positioned in Top 1 for the project, estimate an average CTR to calculate the potential traffic of the market.



Logically, this study will tell us the SEO traffic potential we can aim for in the project sector. However, we must consider that this is for a set of keywords, preferably the head-tail ones if a percentage of incremental traffic in long-tail keywords and new queries that generate users will not be considered in this study. 

We do not recommend setting goals for SEO growth in stable projects without calculating the traffic potential of the sector beforehand. In any case, SEO objectives should be viewed as “ideal goals”, not necessarily achievable even if they are below the maximum potential number of visits. 

More realistic, honest, and reassuring for both client and consultant.

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Marta Romera

Consultora SEO y SEM en Internet República. Licenciada en Publicidad y Relaciones Públicas por la Universidad de Sevilla, sumergida en analítica web y Search Marketing. Entiendo la comunicación como la pata de un negocio, Internet como oportunidad de obligado uso, el Search Marketing como herramienta indiscutible para llegar al pódium y la analítica como pasado, presente y futuro de la estrategia.
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