SMART goals for SEO

As 2017 comes to a close, many SEOs will be looking forward and setting some goals for their campaigns in 2018. In this post, I am going to take a look at the SMART goals methodology that can help you set and achieve aggressive, yet realistic goals.

SMART goals

SMART goals set out a series of criteria that can be used for setting marketing objectives. This is all wrapped up in the clever mnemonic acronym — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timelined — which makes SMART goals so easy to remember.

S — Specific

Specific objectives are crucial to success in any marketing campaign. We need to know what a goal or conversion is for your website and how this relates to the broader business objectives. It is easy to think, “We want to rank #1 for various search terms,” but that’s just a detail. What we really want is more exposure, more visits and more leads or sales.

It’s essential to ensure that our goals are crystal-clear and connected to our business objectives so that everyone from the boardroom to the marketing department understands what success looks like.

M — Measurable

The promise of digital marketing is that everything can be measured. But simply installing analytics is rarely enough. We have to be specific regarding our SEO goals so we can ensure we know how to measure these goals and then how to illustrate that improvements in SEO metrics are clearly correlating with improved business results. As an example: a 50 percent rise in organic traffic resulted in a 50 percent rise in conversions from organic traffic.

There are many business and SEO KPIs we can track here, but here are a few to consider:

SEO metrics

  • Rank for main converting keywords (local/organic).
  • Rank for secondary benchmark keywords (local/organic).
  • Citation Flow.
  • Trust Flow.
  • Trust & Citation Balance.

Link-building metrics

  • Total links built.
  • Number of links from authority sites.
  • Number of links from relevant sites.

Real-world metrics

  • Increase in organic traffic.
  • Increase in number of pages on the site that generate traffic.
  • Increase in non-branded search traffic.
  • Percentage increase in organic conversions.
  • Organic Impressions (Search Console).

A — Achievable

This is a big one with regard to planning. We want to set aggressive goals so we aim high (maybe our chance of hitting the goal is 50 percent), but we don’t want to set our goals too high such that they are simply unattainable.

Key areas to consider here are:

  • SEO feasibility: Can you target the keywords you are going after?
  • Situation: Are you in the same league as the big players on the first page?
  • Resources: Do you have the resources to hit these goals?

Developing SMART goals will often be an iterative process as we consider what we want and what is achievable in our campaign window with our available resources.

R — Realistic

Setting realistic SEO goals requires a solid understanding of the search results for the search terms you are targeting. If you are a national business and results for the keywords you are targeting show only local business results, then ranking in the top three may be an uphill battle. However, you may be able to generate first-page visibility with really well thought out location pages.

Realistic has to take the following into consideration:

  • Can this be done?
  • Do we have enough resources to do this?

So, you may decide that you can achieve your objective, but your goals for 2018 are to move you 80 percent of the way toward the finish line.

Realistic vs. achievable is an important distinction, as it plays into the short- and long-term nature of SEO as a marketing tactic. You may have to invest for 12 months to reach your goal, so ROI during this period may be low, and you have to factor this into your budgets when lining SEO up against more instant forms of marketing like PPC.

Note: “R” can also stand for “relevant” when considering SEO goals. It’s important to ensure that the keywords or traffic we are targeting are relevant to the products or services we provide. If we increase rankings and traffic without seeing an improvement in conversions, odds are the traffic is not relevant enough.

T — Timelined

Time is hugely important when setting SEO goals, as SEO will often take far longer than other forms of online marketing. PPC delivers visibility and traffic instantly. And no objective can ever fail if it is not timed. So we have to be realistic about what can be achieved in a given time period.

It is not always easy to determine how long SEO will take or cost, yet we must do all we can to estimate timelines and use our KPIs to track progress toward the goal.

Using SMART goals for SEO

At Bowler Hat, the SEO agency I run in the UK, a good number of inquiries will simply state that they want to rank #1 for a given keyword (or set of keywords). This is not a SMART goal. SMART goals need to state why that goal will help achieve the business and marketing objectives.

SMART goals don’t have to be complicated and will look more like:

“We want to achieve leads from organic search by 50% over 12 months. We will do this by moving our target keywords from the bottom of page 1 to the top half of page 1.”

  • Specific — We want to increase leads from organic search by 50 percent.
  • Measurable — Easily measurable through rankings, organic traffic and results.
  • Achievable — Rankings can always be improved, so this is achievable.
  • Realistic — This is an improvement to an existing lead source.
  • Timeline — 12 months gives us a deadline.

This approach also allows you to conduct a simple situation analysis and identify if elements of your digital marketing toolbox are not up to the job. Maybe you are lacking in content assets for your SEO campaigns, or your website SEO is just not dialed in. Whatever the issue, setting SMART goals will help you identify problems and sharpen up your SEO and digital marketing in 2018 and beyond.

SEO SMARTer, not harder

In the rush to go digital, it is all too easy to forget to get the foundation of your marketing dialed in. Tools like the 4 Ps, SWOT Analysis and SMART goals can ensure your SEO is strategic to maximize results.