In today’s ever-evolving digital marketing landscape, it is crucial to establish clear and measurable goals for successful marketing campaigns. Setting clear goals and objectives is particularly important in search engine optimization (SEO).
In my work as an SEO consultant in Hong Kong, I frequently encounter website owners who allocate substantial budgets to SEO without defining specific and tangible goals. For example, they have vague and insufficient objectives like “gain extra leads” or “acquire more traffic”. However, increasing organic traffic and improving keyword rankings alone do not constitute clear SEO goals. These are simply the desired outcomes or metrics for your SEO campaigns.
In my practice, I’ve found out that integrating SEO techniques with traditional marketing theories and approaches is an effective way to structure your campaigns and achieve results. That’s why when I work on clients’ SEO strategies, I always start by identifying my client’s SEO goals following the SMART goals technique.
In this article, I’ll explain what are SMART goals and how they can be applied to your SEO campaigns.
The Importance of Establishing Goals in Digital Marketing (and SEO)
But first, let’s discuss the importance of identifying clear and measurable goals for SEO and how this process can shape your SEO strategies.
Whether you are a small business owner or working for a large corporation, having well-defined digital marketing goals will drive your business forward and ensure that your efforts are aligned with long-term success.
Let’s look at the main reasons why establishing clear goals for digital marketing campaigns is crucial:
Identify the right KPIs
Establish a roadmap
Secondly, clear goals provide focus and direction for your marketing efforts, ensuring that you stay on track and avoid getting lost in the process.
Having clear SEO goals helps build a clear roadmap for your SEO campaigns. Without clear, time-bound objectives, it’s impossible to place the various stages and campaign activities over time, to track progress and measure the effectiveness of your SEO strategies. Your SEO roadmap should serve as a visual representation of the campaign’s goals, timeline, tasks, and the resources required to achieve those SEO goals.
Track your progress
Third, SEO goals help you to track and measure your progress. Seeing your progress towards a desired goal and objective can give you and your team a sense of achievement and motivation to keep pushing in spite of the times when managing SEO can seem too demanding.
One key advantage of all digital marketing campaigns is the ability to easily measure return on investment (ROI). ROI, or Return on Investment, is a measure used to determine the profitability or effectiveness of a marketing campaign. It is calculated by dividing the net profit from the marketing campaign by the cost of the marketing campaign and multiplying the result by 100. The formula for ROI is:
ROI = (Net Profit / Cost of Marketing Campaign) x 100
A positive ROI indicates that the marketing campaign resulted in a profit, while a negative ROI indicates a loss. It helps businesses understand the financial impact of their marketing efforts and make informed decisions about allocating resources.
By determining your specific SEO goals and exact KPIs, you can easily identify what “success” is. Then use the ROI approach to make informed decisions when it comes to allocating budgets and human resources and optimizing your marketing efforts.
Ensure Team Alignment
In addition to helping identify KPIs and measure ROI, setting goals in digital marketing also enhances collaboration and alignment within your team. When working with clear SEO goals everyone has a shared understanding of what needs to be achieved, it becomes easier to coordinate efforts and work towards a common goal. This synergy encourages cross-functional collaboration and fosters a culture of accountability and achievement.
Gives a sense of purpose and a long-term vision
Lastly, establishing goals in marketing creates a sense of purpose for your marketing team and even for your business. By identifying your marketing objectives (including your SEO goals), you define where you want your brand to be in the future. You create a vision and a desired outcome for all your efforts. This vision acts as a guiding light, inspiring you and your team to go above and beyond to achieve greatness.
What are SMART goals?
Using the SMART approach to establish goals is not a recent trend. In fact, this is a popular technique employed in various fields such as project management, personal growth, and psychology. The SMART goal approach is also extensively studied in traditional marketing theories and many marketologists see it as an essential aspect of any successful marketing campaign. It provides a clear and structured framework for setting objectives and tracking progress towards achieving them. The SMART acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
For the purpose of this article, let’s examine the following SMART goal and break it down letter by letter:
Increase website traffic by 20% within three months
First, a marketing campaign goal should be “specific”. It should clearly define what is to be achieved and provide clarity to everyone involved in the campaign. In our example, the goal to “increase website traffic by 20% within three months” is specific because it clearly states the desired outcome.
Secondly, a marketing goal should be “measurable”. In other words, you should have a way to track progress and determine if the goal has been achieved. Using the previous example, website traffic can be easily measured using website analytics tools (such as Google Analytics) to determine whether the 20% increase has been met.
Furthermore, a goal needs to be “achievable“. It is important to set realistic goals that can be accomplished with the resources and capabilities available. If a goal is too ambitious or unrealistic, it may demotivate the team and hinder progress. In our example, a 20% increase in website traffic within three months may be achievable depending on the available resources, website history, and the marketing strategies used.
A marketing goal should also be “relevant” to the overall business objectives. It should align with the company’s mission, vision, and values. This ensures that your marketing efforts contribute to the overall success of the organization. In our example, it is quite relevant for a company to want to increase its website traffic, especially if they do online business. But if the main company’s objective is to increase brand awareness, a relevant SMART goal would be to “increase social media followers by 15% in three months”.
Lastly, a goal needs to be “time-bound”, meaning that there should be a deadline or a specific time frame within which the goal should be achieved. This adds urgency and ensures that the team stays focused and motivated. In our example, the goal of “increasing website traffic by 20% within three months” has a clear time frame.
How to establish SMART Goals for SEO?
I like using well-established and time-proven marketing concepts in my digital campaigns. For example, if I’m working on a content strategy for a website I will consider the traditional consumer decision-making process and suggest content that influences users on at least 3 levels of the customer journey. I often use the RABOSTIC planning model to plan an SEO/PPC campaign, or I will develop a digital marketing mix following the PESO model. In the same spirit, I use the SMART model when establishing goals for any digital marketing campaigns, including SEO.
Generally speaking, the goal of an SEO campaign is to improve a website’s visibility and rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs) for relevant keywords. You want to use your website as a tool to engage with prospective customers on search engines. That’s why in order to measure the success of an SEO campaign, most people will look at keyword rankings, organic visits and impressions, click-through rate, and the engagement of organic traffic.
In my work as an SEO consultant, I’ve spoken with many website owners who simply state that they want “to rank #1” for a given keyword or they want to “increase the organic traffic and leads”. But these are not SMART SEO goals. Identifying the desired outcome or the metrics to measure is not setting SMART SEO goals.
Now, let’s dive into some examples and try to understand how to set up SMART SEO goals that can help you.
S: Be specific and precise
As previously explained, the first letter of the SMART model stands for “specific”. Your SEO goals should be specific and clearly stated.
“Rank on the first page” is not a specific goal. “Generate more organic traffic” is not a clear SEO goal either. Instead, a more specific SEO goal would be to “achieve a top 3 position for the keyword “vanilla scented candle” or “increase organic traffic by 25%”.
This is important to be specific, because, the more precise the goal, the easier it is to identify the methods and processes to achieve it. A specific SEO goal should answer the following questions:
- What are you trying to achieve?
- What do you need to do to reach this SEO goal?
- How this SEO goal contribute to your overall marketing objectives?
And by answering these 3 questions, you can make your SEO goals even more specific:
Achieve a top 3 position for the product keyword “vanilla scented candle” by developing a silo content strategy for this keyword.
Increase organic traffic by 25% by improving the organic rankings for all our product keywords on our category pages.
As you can see, I’ve specified my initial SEO objectives even further by identifying the exact actions that need to be taken to achieve the goal. This ensures that my team knows not only the goal but also the ways to achieve it. Of course, it is also essential to ensure that these specific SEO goals align with the company’s ambitions and overall business goals.
M: Create quantifiable and measurable goals
The second letter in “SMART” stands for “measurable”. Indeed, in order to evaluate if progress is being made towards a given goal, the SEO goal must be quantifiable and measurable. Luckily in digital marketing, almost everything is measurable: from the number of website visitors to clicks on specific buttons and sales. There are dozens of SEO KPIs that will help you track your SMART SEO goals. The most important is to ensure that you select and track the correct KPIs depending on the specific SEO campaign and the desired outcome. Below, I’ve listed some of the most popular KPIs that can be used per SEO category. Understanding the metrics associated with this activity can be helpful in determining the efficacy of these strategies.
Popular KPIs to track and measure per SEO category
Popular KPIs and metrics to measure search engine visibility campaigns:
- Rank for main product keywords (local/organic).
- Rank for secondary product keywords (local/organic).
- Organic clicks (Search Console).
- Organic impressions (Search Console).
- Organic CTR (Search Console).
- Organic average position (Search Console).
Popular KPIs and metrics to measure link-building campaigns:
- Rank for product keywords used as link-building target keywords.
- Total links built.
- Number of links from authority sites.
- Number of links from relevant sites.
- Increase in DA (Domain Authority).
- Increase in TF and CF.
- Increase in PA (Page Rank) of the pages used as link-building targets.
Popular KPIs and metrics to measure website traffic (for SEO campaigns):
- Increase in organic traffic.
- Percentage increase in organic conversions.
- Increase in the number of indexed pages.
- Increase in the number of pages that generate organic traffic.
- Increase in non-branded search traffic.
- Organic Impressions (Search Console).
A: Be ambitious but realistic
The third letter of the SMART model stands for “attainable”. An attainable SEO goal is a goal that is feasible and can be accomplished with the available resources and skills.
In my experience, this is one of the goal-setting aspects where many companies have difficulties in applying the SMART model. Rather than shooting for the stars and missing, it is essential to set goals that are aggressive but achievable within the given resources (money, manpower, etc.) and within the reality of the market. One reason why companies exaggerate and set unattainable SEO goals is that they can’t correctly assess the feasibility of their SEO objectives. As a result, they have unrealistic expectations from their SEO campaigns.
How to easily assess the feasibility of your SEO goals?
Working out what is achievable in SEO is no small task. Usually, it’s a job for an SEO specialist or a digital marketer with a good understanding of SEO and SERPs. Many SEO tools can help to analyze your market and competitors, but many small companies don’t take their feasibility analysis that far. During my practice, I’ve developed a very simple “approach” to explain SEO feasibility and manage the expectations of my SEO clients. Before we discuss their SEO projects in further detail, I will simply ask them to:
- Think of 3 keywords (usually product keywords) for which they want to rank in the top 3
- Do a Google search for each of these keywords and take a careful look at the results (SERPs)
- Try to answer the following questions:
Who are your top 5 competitors for each keyword and how does your website compare to theirs?
Is your company of the same size? Do you think your marketing capabilities are comparable to theirs?
Are you in the same league and do you stand a chance?
- To take this analysis further, you can also consider your competitor’s website metrics, such as DA, PR, number of backlinks of the ranked pages, etc. How does your website compare to theirs?
Based on the answers that my client will give, we discuss and evaluate together the SEO feasibility of their goals and the resources needed to achieve their SEO goals. In one of my next articles, I will explain in detail the process of SERP analysis and how to build an SEO strategy to outrank your competitors, but for this article, it’ll stop here.
R: Stay relevant
The fourth letter in the acronym “SMART” stands for “relevant”. It is crucial to ensure that your SEO goals are significant and are related to your business success. Describe how accomplishing each SEO goal will help you grow your business and achieve your marketing objectives. This will help you further validate your SEO goals and their relevance. You can also use available web analytics or paid search data to prove the goal’s relevance.
Ideally, the goal’s relevance should even be included in its definition. For example, we could further specify our SEO goals as follows:
Achieve a top 3 position for the product keyword “vanilla scented candle” by developing a silo content strategy for this keyword. This will help us to increase sales for the selected product. Our paid search data has indicated that this keyword has a conversion rate of 6%, thus we know that we will generate more sales by improving our organic visibility for the targeted keyword.
Here’s another example of a SMART with a proof of relevance:
Increase organic traffic by 25% by improving the organic rankings for all our product keywords on our category pages. This will help us improve our organic visibility on the market and will consequently lead to more enquiries and sales. Our web analytics data has indicated that our category pages have a conversion rate of 8%, which is 13% higher than the average website conversion rate, thus we know that increasing traffic to our category pages will lead to an increase in leads and sales.
I truly believe in the importance of documenting and communicating the business relevance of your SEO goals, because some stakeholders may not see how your SEO actions relate to the business success. This is especially true for company stakeholders who are not directly involved in digital marketing (developers, product teams, operation teams, etc.). By adding relevance and documenting it, you ensure that all company stakeholders understand the importance of the goal, and can see how it relates to the overall business objectives and you justify the marketing resources you engage to achieve this goal.
T: Give a Deadline
And finally, setting and achieving goals requires assigning a deadline. Having a clear deadline is essential to ensure that progress is being made and goals are being met.
But keep in mind that, compared to other digital marketing channels, SEO takes a longer time to bring results. It is unlikely that your SEO actions will bring tangible results (more leads or more sales) within a short time frame. As a general rule, I recommend setting SEO goals within at least a 6-month timeframe.
While estimating the time you need to achieve a specific SEO goal is difficult, it’s important to research and analyze the current state of your search engine visibility and set achievable SEO goals within a reasonable deadline.
How to Develop and Revise Your SMART SEO Goals Over Time?
Don’t forget to regularly assess your progress towards your SEO goals. This will help you quickly identify and resolve any issues that arise with your SEO campaigns.
If you conclude that your progress is too slow, you could consider modifying your SEO goals. For example, if 3 months into the campaign you see that you’ve made just a small progress towards your 6-month SEO goal, you can decide that your advancement is insufficient and extend your goal deadline from 6 to 12 months. Or, if a few months into the campaign you realize that the initial SEO goal is unachievable, it’s recommended to revise it entirely instead of forcing your team to work towards an unattainable goal.
In the fast-paced and competitive world of digital marketing, those who set goals and continually adapt are the ones who succeed.
Track Your SEO Efforts Effectively
Setting up SMART goals for your SEO strategy plan can be an effective way to maximize your search engine optimization results. Moreover, the SMART goal-setting approach allows organizations to better analyze their strategies, evaluate their progress, and make informed decisions on how to optimize their efforts.
Therefore, it’s important to have an in-depth discussion within your company and with your SEO consultant to identify, discuss, and document your SEO goals. Using strategies such as the 4 Ps, SWOT analysis, and SMART goals can help create an SEO plan that will deliver the best possible outcome.
In conclusion, goals are vital in marketing as they provide direction, enable measurement and optimization, foster collaboration, and create a sense of purpose. Whether it is enhancing brand awareness, driving sales, or building customer loyalty, setting clear and measurable goals ensures that your marketing efforts are purposeful and aligned with your overall business objectives.
I am a digital marketing consultant and SEO expert based in Hong Kong. With an impressive track record spanning over 11 years, I have helped numerous clients from China, Europe, and around the globe achieve remarkable results. In this blog, I share his extensive experience and proven methods in SEO, PPC, and digital marketing strategies.