Beginner's SEO

How to set SMART SEO goals

Written by

Haley Carroll

Successful people learn the value of goal-setting early on. This applies to success in every activity and industry you can think of, from working out to writing novels.

Whether you’re trying to improve your physical fitness or become a published author, you won’t be able to make any real progress until you’ve established what the specific, measurable goals of your initiative are.

Search engine optimization follows the same rule: executing an effective SEO strategy first requires you to figure out exactly what you’re trying to accomplish.

Most people discussing SEO will talk about keyword research, backlinks, and blogging. These are all very important topics that contribute to a successful SEO campaign. However, there’s something missing from the conversation, something that often gets overlooked. And that’s the process of setting SEO goals.

Today, we’ll be tackling this seldom mentioned topic and taking you back to basics. Goal-setting may seem simple, but you need to make sure you’re going about it the right way. If you don’t identify the outcomes that will help your business the most, you’ll be squandering precious time and resources.

Do yourself and your business a favor by paying attention to our process and tips for setting SEO goals, and you’ll get it right the first time around.

How to start setting SEO goals

Before you dive into setting goals for your SEO strategy, there are a few things that need to be squared away first. It starts with taking a step back and examining how your SEO strategy fits into the wider context of your business.

This means you need to understand the overall goals of your business first. What targets are you aiming for this month? This quarter? This year?

Understanding these high-level objectives will help inform your marketing goals. Remember, your marketing activities exist to help advance your company towards its goals.

The purpose of your marketing strategy is to guide people through your customer journey in the most seamless manner possible; to get more people to trickle down the conversion funnel, focusing on the stages that need the most help. Look at the journey of your target customers and figure out where people need help getting to the next phase — this will lead to more conversions.

If you’re looking to get people near the top of your funnel onto your website, your SEO strategies are going to look very different than if you’re trying to reach people in the bottom of the funnel.

With these high-level goals sorted out, you can start to determine your SEO goals. If you’re feeling a little lost in this process, don’t worry. It can be difficult to see the forest for the trees when you’re running the day-to-day operations of your business.

To help you out, here’s a list of questions (and some possible answers as examples) that can set you down the right path:

Questions to Ask That Can Inform Your SEO Goals:

  • What does your company want to achieve in the coming year?
  • Gain market share
  • Differentiate from a close competitor
  • Attract a new customer segment
  • What key performance metric do you own?
  • Cost per acquisition
  • Conversion rate
  • Return on ad spend
  • Average order value
  • What marketing objectives support that metric?
  • Increase online sales
  • Reach customers in new geographic segment
  • Increase average sale amount
  • What SEO goal offers the most direct route to your marketing objectives?
  • Increase organic traffic
  • Rank higher for targeted keywords
  • Get more returning visitors
  • Improve the clickthrough rate

What metrics should I choose for my SEO goal?

So, you’ve identified your goals, but how will you be able to tell if you’re getting closer to them?

This is where metrics come in, and it’s critical to use the right metrics to track your progress. Measure the wrong thing, and you may send your site’s ship sailing in the completely wrong direction. Proper metrics will keep you on course for success.

While there may be a seemingly limitless number of key performance indicators (KPIs), we recommend you start with these five:

  1. Impressions
  2. Clicks
  3. Organic Traffic
  4. Organic Leads
  5. Organic Revenue

Let’s talk about what each of these metrics are and how to interpret them for your website.

Impressions

Impressions measure the amount of times your website is seen in search results; for example, as a result in Google Search, Discover, or News. Impressions are a kind of visibility metric, meaning it’s one you would pay attention to when you’re trying to get in front of as many potential customers as possible.

Impressions are tracked in Google Search Console. Generally, if your website is listed on the current page of the SERP the user is looking at, it will be counted as an impression whether or not the result was actually scrolled into view. However, on mobile search results, independently scrolling, or expanding items, the listing must be scrolled into view in order to count as an impression. Scrolling/paging away from a result and back will not count as multiple impressions.

Clicks

Clicks measure the number of times your website is clicked on from a page of search results. Clicks fall under the category of traffic metrics, which indicates how motivated people are to actually visit your site. If your goal is to get people to visit your site, you’ll want to be paying attention to these metrics.

Like impressions, clicks are also tracked in Google Search Console. If a user clicks on your website from the SERP, goes back to the SERP, then clicks on your site’s result again, this only counts as one click. During the same session, if a user makes any query refinements, this counts as a new search and another click to your website is possible for each refinement.

Organic Traffic

Organic traffic measures how many people visit your website by finding it as a result on the SERP. It does not include any website visits made from sponsored rankings or ads for your site (that’s called paid traffic), but instead from the ranking that’s assigned to your website by Google for a search query.  

Not surprisingly, this is also a traffic metric. Much of SEO is focused on tailoring your website to get as much organic traffic as possible, with one of the most popular strategies being providing quality, relevant content on your site regularly. (As you may be able to tell from our blog, there’s a lot more to SEO than just that, though!)

Organic traffic is tracked in Google Analytics. To see your website’s organic traffic, you’ll need to access the Channel Grouping report by navigating from Acquisition to All Traffic to Channels. From there, you can see the different sources of website traffic and look at Organic Search.

It’s important to view this report, and you can also use it to analyze more in-depth metrics, such as which keywords and landing pages earned the most organic traffic.

Organic Leads

Organic leads measure the prospective customers that find your website through organic search results. They are a kind of conversion & revenue metric, which measure turning people from visitors to your website to customers. If you are looking to attract new customers and gain more conversions from your website, organic leads are important to pay attention to and increase.

Like organic traffic, organic leads are also tracked in Google Analytics. Organic leads can come from a variety of sources, you’ll have to set up Google Tag Manager to record them in Google Analytics.

Organic Revenue

Going one step further, organic revenue measures the revenue that’s generated by conversions from organic search. This is often referred to as the ROI of SEO. The ROI on organic search is 5.3x higher than paid and 10x higher than social media! When you want to have the biggest impact possible on your company’s growth, look no further than SEO.

Organic revenue is another conversion & revenue metric that is tracked with Google Analytics.  

So, now you know the basics of the five major SEO metrics. While you’re looking into other metrics to evaluate your website’s progress, here’s another thing to note - avoid using vanity metrics. This means using metrics that are irrelevant to the actual goals you’re setting, even if they may be impressive numbers.

For example, trying to rank #1 for as many search queries as possible will only get you so far, but driving highly qualified traffic and establishing high-converting pages on your site will get you much further.

However, your metrics will mean nothing if your actual SEO goals are out of line. Let’s discuss how to refine your SEO goals so they are SMART goals.

What are SMART SEO goals?

SMART isn’t just an adjective, it’s an acronym. It stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable
  • Realistic
  • Time bound

When setting goals, it is important to be SMART. Let’s break down each piece to understand what it really means to be SMART.

Specific

Specific goals align with a KPI. However, “more clicks” or “more organic leads” is not specific enough. Don’t just say you want to increase something — attach a number to it! Assigning real numbers to your goals will help you measure your progress and hold everyone working towards that goal accountable.

Don’t underestimate the power of clear expectations: “increasing this year’s clicks by 50%” not only sounds better than “getting more clicks,” it will also increase the likelihood of achieving this goal.

Measurable

Similar to the above, make sure your goal is measurable in your analytics tool of choice. If the goal is not measurable, you won’t know if you’ve hit it. This means you should get comfortable using Google Search Console and Google Analytics, two free tools available to web creators.

For help getting set up with these platforms and access to other SEO tools, Centori offers a range of services you can check out.

Actionable

Are you able to achieve your goals with the resources available to you? If not, you may have to rethink them. Of course you want to swing big, but if reaching your goal means spending more time or money than you have, then it’s probably not a very good goal for your team right now.

That’s the distinction between dreams and goals: dreams can only become goals if you’ve figured out how to make it happen, and you have the capabilities to do so. Don’t let go of your dreams — work on converting them into goals.

We can’t stress enough the importance of creating a plan and a reasonable budget to execute that plan.

Realistic

Like the previous section, the goals must be realistic. Shoot high, but give yourself a chance to succeed.

If your goals are unattainable for the company, this will only end up disheartening you and your team. On the other hand, if you set goals that are too easily reached, you may risk falling into complacency.

Finding the balance between these two extremes will keep everyone motivated and maintain a high morale. We’ll go even further into this later.

You must also consider which goals will realistically help your business the most. What can you work on that is relevant to your business? This is why it’s so important to tie your SEO goals to your broader business goals.

Performing an SEO competitor analysis can help you determine this, and we have a guide on how to do it. If you know what your competitors are focusing on, you can set goals to start doing it better than them.

Time bound

Think about a timeline for your goal as well — is this a long-term or short-term objective? What is a reasonable length of time it would take to reach this goal?

Give yourself an end date for when you want this goal to be accomplished, and it will force you to make decisions that ensure success and hold you accountable. Due dates are important to keep things moving along.

Don’t just have one due date, though. Set milestones along the way to make sure you’re staying on schedule or need to reevaluate the strategy.

An additional perk to setting milestones is being able to celebrate once you’ve reached them. SEO is a long, tough journey, so it’s important to cherish the wins that you experience along the way!

How do I set realistic SEO goals?

Now you have a SMART goal set for your team, and you’ve picked a metric (or a few metrics) to track against that goal — but how do you make sure that it’s really realistic?

Base your goal on historical performance

How has the past quarter or year gone? It’s great to say you want to double organic traffic in the next six months, but if you’ve only grown 5% in the previous six, that’s a tall order.

If you’re seeing little growth, just know that these things can be exponential. Small improvements at the beginning of your journey can be just as big or even bigger than huge jumps for more popular websites.

Remember, before you dominate the competition, you have to get yourself on the map first.

Benchmark against your competitors

How much traffic do your competitors get? It’s one thing to say you want 10,000 organic visitors per quarter, but if no one in your industry comes close to that, then it’s not a realistic goal.

This is where the competitor analysis that we talked about earlier can come in handy. Start with being the best at what you do (that’s hard enough!), and then focus on growing the industry from there.

Swing for the fences

Given the above, try to aim high. Know that the web is a vast place, and it’s not easy to get people’s attention. To do it, you need to get a little aggressive (while still playing fairly — we don’t condone black hat SEO tactics on this blog).

The fact of the matter is that SEO is a zero sum game: for you to win and make it to page one of Google, someone else needs to lose. If a 10% increase in organic revenue is easily attainable based on your history, shoot for 25%. By raising your sights just a little bit higher, you may be surprised by what you’re able to accomplish.

SEO goal examples

Some say it’s best to teach by example. Based on that wisdom, here are a few examples of solid SEO goals that align with the overall objectives of the company, in the hopes that it may provide inspiration and guidance for your own SEO goals.

Example - Best Day Ever Planners

Best Day Ever sells an assortment of daily and weekly planners on their website. Planners are a popular item to purchase online, and there are many brands offering them online. Best Day Ever is a fairly new company, and wants to grow their customer base of folks who already buy and use planners. To do this, they want to reach customers in the Consideration phase of the buying process. So, what should the SEO goal of Best Day Ever be?

Let’s break this situation down.

Company goal: Gain customers in the planner-user segment. Acquire 4,000 new customers in the next 6 months

Marketing goal: Reach customers during the Consideration phase of the buying process. Increase brand relevance when people are looking at different brands to buy from

SEO goal: Incorporate factors onto the website that users search for during the Consideration phase of the customer journey

Sounds like we’re headed in the right direction, but now we need to turn our SEO goal into a SMART one.

SMART SEO goal:

WHAT

  • Increase organic traffic from people looking to compare planner brands

HOW

  • Create assets that people in Consideration stage will find helpful: comparison sheets of competitor’s offering, video demos and tutorials, and free trials
  • Incorporate keywords that indicate buyer intent: best, affordable, comparison, review

WHEN

  • Roll out these changes to the website in 3 months, with check-ins every 2 weeks

MEASURED WITH

  • Organic leads
  • Organic revenue

Conclusion

So, is setting goals for your SEO strategy a little more complicated than you thought it would be? Perhaps, but they’re also the foundation of your SEO success. With a little soul searching and some deliberate planning, you can set your website up to grow a lot faster than if you went full steam ahead with poor preparation. If you set SMART goals in the beginning, you’ll save yourself a great deal of time and frustration later on.



Updated on:

July 26, 2021

Get our exclusive SEO tips that we only share with subscribers

We’re always sharing insights, findings, and case studies with our subscribers. Sign up to get our best SEO tips and advice in your inbox.