When you start your SEO journey, whether on your own or with an SEO agency, a critical first step is to set SEO smart goals that speak to what you want to achieve. As with any trip, if you don’t know where you want to go, you won’t know when you arrived (or if you’ve lost your way).
But, how do you set SEO goals that will help you choose the right tactics, which metrics to measure, and help you determine the return on your SEO investment?
How to Get Started With SEO Goals
Understanding that you need to SEO smart goals and knowing where to start are two different things. Because my personal tendency is to become very detail-oriented about what I want to achieve, I have to remind myself to start with the forest, not with the trees. In other words, when you’re setting SEO targets and goals, zoom out and start with high-level thinking.
How to Measure SEO
Download this guide to the concepts & tools to help you track your SEO success.
Great SEO Goals Start With Business Objectives
Before you get into the weeds of choosing of SEO goals, start with your company’s big-picture objectives. Your digital marketing plan is probably already built around supporting overall business objectives, and your SEO plans should be too.
Questions to Ask That Can Inform Your SEO Goals:
- What are the company-wide objectives for the coming year?
- What key performance metric (KPM) do you own?
- What marketing objectives support that KPM?
- What SEO goal maps directly to your marketing objectives?
For example, let’s say that your company’s annual objective is to capture a bigger portion of your industry’s market share. In support of that company objective, maybe your KPM is the number of qualified leads. Your marketing plan likely includes several initiatives designed to bring prospects into your marketing funnel and nurture them into qualified leads.
How Can SEO Smart Goals Support Your Marketing Objectives?
Set Realistic SEO Goals
SEO doesn’t lend itself to instant gratification. Smart, sustainable SEO strategies take time to implement and start producing results. Think marathon instead of sprint. That doesn’t mean that you won’t experience incremental improvements early in your campaign, but real progress happens over time. Setting realistic expectations for your SEO objectives will help your team, and your stakeholders stay patient while achieving cumulative gains toward your goal.
Base Your SEO Goals on Historical Data
If you want to develop realistic goals, the best place to start is: 1) where you’ve been; and 2) where you are. Examine past analytics and draw predictive conclusions based on existing data. For example, suppose last year’s analytics show that organic traffic to your site increased by 20% without a concentrated SEO effort. In that case, you could reasonably expect your investment in SEO to double that percentage and set a goal to increase organic traffic by 40% YOY.
Be Realistic AND Swing Big
While it’s essential to be realistic when setting your SEO goals, you also want to have some stretch goals. If you set the bar too low, you’ll hit your easily attainable goals and see some results from your efforts. But, you could set effective objectives that push you to go a bit beyond your comfort zone, get creative, and make the most out of your SEO campaign. It’s better to aim high and fall a little short than to pay the opportunity cost of keeping it comfortable.
How to Set SMART SEO Goals
Call me a word nerd, but I do love a good acronym. To make sure your goals are clear and reachable, each one should be:
Be specific about exactly what you hope to accomplish with your SEO efforts. “More traffic” or “more leads” are not specific goals.
Put a number on it.
If you want to generate “more leads,” ask yourself, “more leads than what?” Last quarter? Last year? What’s the exact number you want “more” than, and how much more do you want? If you generated 1,000 leads in the previous year, a specific target might be 50% more than that, or 1,500 leads during the coming year. Nailing down a concrete number sets a clear expectation for stakeholders of what your successful SEO campaign will look like.
What metrics will you use to determine progress toward your goal? If it’s a long-term goal, create milestones to guide you toward the finish line. Say you’ve decided you want to generate 1,500 leads in 12 months. If you develop quarterly milestones to mark your progress, you’ll know that if you aren’t closing in on 375 leads by the end of Q1, you’ll need to adjust some tactical levers to pick up the pace on meeting your year-end goal.
Can you accomplish your goal with the resources you have? If you aim to produce 400 times more leads in the coming year, do you have the budget and team to get you there? To the point I made above about swinging big when you set your goal — if you have a reasonable idea of what it will take to hit that homer and those resources are available to you, then you’ve set an achievable goal. If you don’t know how you’re going to make something happen, it’s time to reconsider your plan.
What’s the point of your goal? Does it map directly back to your overall KPIs and company objectives? You want to ensure that your results will move the needle on company goals.
Ask yourself, “Will this accomplish something for the company as a whole?” If so, specify that in the goal itself: “Increasing leads by 50% year over year will help the company move closer to its annual goal of capturing a bigger portion of market share.”
Establishing an end date for your objective keeps everyone’s priorities aligned and sets expectations for pacing toward the finish line. Knowing there’s a hard stop gives everyone the impetus to drive activities to achieve the desired result within the allotted time. It’s also easier to set incremental milestones on a fixed timeline.
SEO Objectives Examples
Your SEO goal might fall into one of five broad categories:
- Site Traffic
- Brand Awareness
- User/Customer Engagement
- Lead Generation
A SMART site traffic goal might be:
- Increase total unique web traffic YoY by 50%.
If you’re hoping to increase awareness of your brand, you could set a SMART goal to:
- Achieve first-page ranking for this [specific] keyword set within 12 months.
If you want to move people through your marketing funnel, you might focus on improving customer engagement on your website. In which case, you could set a SMART goal to:
- Increase the average session duration on our blog pages by 33% by the end of the year.
Let’s pull down the lead generation example from above. If you want to bring more leads into your marketing funnel, your SMART goal might be:
- Generate 1,500 leads in the next 12 months.
If you want to increase the value of your organic traffic, you might focus your goal on growing revenue-producing conversions on your website:
- Increase online sales from organic traffic by $3M year over year.
Measuring Success – Choosing Key Metrics
As I mentioned above, you want to identify a measurable way to define success. The metrics you track should speak to the specific goal you set.
SEO Metrics Defined
There are some general SEO metrics to consider when deciding how you’ll measure progress toward your goal.
In SEO, visibility is about getting your website in front of as many potential customers as possible.
Visibility metrics include:
- Impressions in search results.
- Organic ranking positions for keywords.
If visibility is about how many sets of eyes see you in search results, traffic is about how many people are motivated to click through to your site.
Traffic metrics include:
- Traffic sources.
- Organic search traffic.
- Referral traffic.
- Direct traffic.
- Click-through rate.
After prospects have clicked through to your site, engagement metrics measure how they interact with your content.
Engagement metrics include:
- Time on page.
- Session duration.
- Bounce rate.
- Pages per session.
- Page/Scroll depth.
Conversion & Revenue Metrics
Often associated with making a purchase, conversions are more broadly defined as an action someone takes on your website that converts them from a visitor into a potential customer. Conversions could include:
- Email signups.
- Form completions.
- Visits to a key page.
- Phone calls.
Technical SEO improvements are often invisible to the casual observer. Still, when something’s wrong with your technical SEO, those unseen metrics become an invisible wall that can make your site difficult to access or impossible to enjoy.
Technical metrics include:
- Page Load Speed.
- Pages Indexed.
- Crawl Errors.
Google has no single authority metric but instead uses a collection of signals to determine authority on a page-by-page basis. While Google won’t provide specifics about exactly how those determinations are made, Paul Haahr, a Senior Engineer there, points to quality as a primary concern.
Our goal in all of this is that we are increasing the quality of the pages that we show to users. Some of our signals are correlated with these notions of quality.
Don’t be confused by domain authority scores that third-party companies like Moz and SEMRush have developed. These are trailing metrics designed to gauge a site’s potential to rank higher than its competitors in search engine results — they aren’t Google ranking factors.
Put Your Goal In Writing
Writing your goals down helps you gain clarity on what you want to achieve and gives you space to work through the SMART process. In addition, your goals are a touchstone to return to throughout your campaign, allowing you to check the reality of where you are versus where you intended to go. Whether you’re working with an internal team or an SEO agency, share your written goal to keep everyone on the same page.
FAQs About Setting SEO Goals
How often should I review my SEO Goals?
In general, how often you review your SEO goals could depend on a few things.
- Have I achieved one goal and need to set a new one?
- Have my overall business objectives changed?
- Are there economic or social factors that require a significant pivot to sustain viability? (Think COVID.)
- Was there something I didn’t know when I set my goal, which I need to address?
- Is the goal I set misaligned with the KPIs I’m responsible for?
How often should I revisit my SEO strategy?
It’s a good idea to review your SEO strategy at least once a year. With so many variables — both inside and outside of your control — that factor into your SEO success, I recommend you conduct regular reviews of key metrics so you can fine-tune your efforts and your strategy. At Victorious, we constantly monitor our customers’ SEO health to make real-time recommendations in response to fluctuations in search, changes in the competitive landscape, or social concerns that could impact their visibility.
How often should I review my SEO metrics?
That’s a great question without a simple answer. It depends. In general, how often you review your SEO metrics depends on which metrics you’re looking at, the average length of your sales cycle (if your goal is revenue-based), and any seasonal fluctuations in your business that you need to monitor.
Here’s a basic framework:
Before you get into the habit of checking metrics weekly, ask yourself if what you’re looking at is essential enough that you would prioritize taking action on it. It can be crazy-making to spend a lot of time tracking metrics every week that have no tangible impact on your bigger goal and that you wouldn’t take action to change.If you’re looking at a weekly metric, pick the single one that you know will be a key indicator for your long-term goals.A specific metric you might want to check weekly is organic traffic.Check organic traffic every week to look for unexpected or inexplicable dives that could be red flags for significant issues that need to be addressed immediately. A one-week dip might be nothing, but watching week-to-week trends in organic traffic can give you the context you need to better understand your monthly trends, especially when you’re looking at longer, less drastic movement — like small but steady traffic losses each week that could indicate a complex issue like keyword cannibalization.
Looking at your metrics monthly usually provides a large enough window of time that any improvements you’ve made — like adding SEO content — have been indexed, and you’ll be able to see results from those activities. Comparing metrics month-over-month will provide information about trends that may be related to smaller fluctuations you’ve been tracking every week. Monthly trends might also be relevant to milestones you’ve set for longer-term goals.At Victorious, we review metrics with our customers every month to assess incremental progress on their campaigns, provide context for fluctuations, and make recommendations for improvement.
As you zoom out to look at quarterly views, you’ll start to build a picture of how longer-burn SEO activities are performing. Making quarter-over-quarter comparisons can clarify what kind of impact your keyword strategy is having. As with monthly metric reviews, quarterly assessments of your key metrics will tell you if you’re tracking to your milestones.
Year-over-year data views provide valuable insights if you have a seasonal business. Likewise, if you’ve set a year-long goal, this is your chance to take a long view of the progress you’ve made. Although, at this point, there should be no surprises because you’ve been tracking to incremental milestones since day one.
How do I set goals without historical data?
I understand all too well that this can be a paralyzing problem. If you don’t have any historical data to inform goal-setting, ask yourself:
- What previous experiences can you draw from that might inform how you set your goal?
- Are there industry benchmarks that can provide a framework for your (and your stakeholders’) expectations?
- Are there internal or external subject matter experts that can provide a reality check to the goals you’re setting?
Chances are, if you’re operating without historical data, you’re building something brand new and setting up systems and processes as you go. If that’s the situation you’re in, set growth milestones along the way that account for the likelihood that you’ll build momentum as you progress through your timeline. For instance, if you want to bring in 1,000 qualified leads in a year, don’t just set milestones to bring in 250 leads per quarter. Instead, plan for smaller gains early on that increase over time.
What if I need to move the needle on multiple objectives?
If you were standing at the bottom of a mountain with five boulders that you needed to push to the top, what would you do? You’d push them up one at a time, right? Trying to divide your energy to move them all simultaneously won’t get you there. Pushing boulder #1 halfway up and then running back down the mountain to start pushing boulder #2 is a sure-fire way to lose all the gains you made with boulder #1 as it comes rolling down the hill after you.
The moral of the story is to prioritize the one activity that will help you build momentum. What matters right now? Narrow your scope and apply pressure to the goal you can build on once it’s complete.
The first step in getting somewhere is to know where you want to go. Setting clear SEO goals helps you map your journey, track your progress, and refine your processes along the way as you reach your target objective.
At Victorious, we’ve seen the power of setting clear goals with our customers designed to impact their overarching business objectives. (As you’ll see in these SEO case studies.) No matter which SEO service we’re providing, the first step is understanding where our customers want to go. Then, we work diligently to get them there.
Are you looking for a partner to walk by your side to SEO success? Let’s talk about getting your business the attention it deserves.