Setting SMART goals for Search Engine Optimisation


One of the critical aspects of SEO is to establish realistic goals, and in the past, it is something we have not always done ourselves for our own projects, as well as some of our clients. It is all too easy to look at a website and say I want to rank for X, Y, Z.

Quite often we have had clients wanting to rank for entirely unrealistic terms, which are both impossible to rank for but also would provide no return on investment. Other times their goals are more realistic, but just assigning a ranking goal for search terms again often offers a poor return on investment.

Following one of Googles seminars that were pushing SMART goals for businesses, which is a simple marketing objective that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timelined.

Using this approach, we can manage client’s expectations while also focussing on goals that have a positive ROI.

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 want is more exposure, more visits and more leads or sales.

M — Measurable

There are a lot of key performance indicators with SEO and online marketing, but it is important to choose something quite specific. Ranking for generic terms is no good if no one ever contacts you using that term.

A better approach in relation to ranking would be to focus on the rank for main converting keywords. Obviously, if you don’t already rank for this term, identifying it can be difficult, but things like AdWords can be used to experiment and find the best fit for yourself. You could also look at your analytics and see what products and pages perform well, then try and focus on broader terms for that specific product or page.

Alternatively, a good option is to look at the organic traffic. So, a specific, measurable goal might be to increase organic traffic by 50%.

A — Achievable

This is the downfall of many, often including our own projects. Obviously, we would love to rank for Web Design, but in reality, this is not very achievable regardless of the time and effort put in. To identify what is achievable a bit of common sense goes a long way, but also just examining what your competition is. If I were to set up a new electronics store selling TVs, do I have time, and money to go up against Amazon, Currys and John Lewis?

R – Relevant / Realistic

The R in SMART can stand for either relevant or realistic. The realistic goal is similar to achievable in SEO. So, is ranking for Samsung TVs a realistic goal for a new small company?

Alternatively, is the goal relevant? In the past we have had some very ambiguous keywords thrown at us by clients, an example being the keyword Logistics for a company that specialises in transporting artwork. Technically the term is correct for what they do, but the actual search term Logistic is neither achievable or relevant in this case.

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.

If no time goal is set, then the SEO campaign can never fail. A timeline needs to be established and be realistic so that the goals can later be reassessed when the goals are achieved, or the timed goals fail.

Constant failures to hit your goals within a set timeframe is not ideal, but at the same time, an SEO company (or yourself) should not be classed as a failure just because the target was not achieved. It often just means more realistic goals need to be set for the next time around.

So the final result of our SMART goals might end up being:

“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.”

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