Your SEO goals need to be realistic, logical and drive action.

What specific, measurable goals do you want your website to accomplish? What does your website need to do for your business?

Goal setting for search engine optimization (SEO) can feel like grabbing arbitrary numbers out of thin air, making striving for them feel pointless. Instead, your goals need to be realistic, logical and drive action.

To set targeted, realistic SEO goals that deliver results, follow these guidelines:

1. Align SEO Goals With Overall Business and Marketing Goals

What’s important to your business right now? If you’re an e-commerce business, maybe you’re trying to increase sales of a certain product line by 30%. If you’re a service business, maybe you want double the business in a nearby suburb or need to bolster awareness about a new service you’re offering.

Reach across teams — sales, marketing, leadership, etc. — to define and align your goals.

Once you have a handle on these specific overall business goals, you can tailor your SEO strategy and marketing plan to match.

SEO Goal-Setting Example

Let’s look at that e-commerce business trying to increase sales of a certain product line by 30%. To find your specific, parallel goal, you’d use analytics to determine just how much you need to increase your overall traffic to those pages to accomplish a 30% rise in sales. How many new users do you need to drive to your website to make the increase in sales?

Consider implementing some or all of these strategies:

  • Buyer persona creation or fine-tuning
  • Competitor analysis
  • Analysis and updating of on-page SEO elements on product pages
  • Content creation around the product line
  • Link building around the product line

To create a measurable goal, take the "improve brand recognition" idea and decide what that means in metrics.

2. Create Specific, Measurable Goals

This seems like an obvious thing to point out, but you’d be surprised how many teams put something like “improve brand recognition” in their goals.

Sure, brand recognition is a great thing to improve, but a vague goal or one that’s difficult to measure will create frustration. You need to distill that goal down into SEO key performance indicators (KPIs).

Let’s think about which SEO metrics point to brand recognition:

  • Branded organic keyword searches
  • Direct traffic
  • Social media profile views
  • Brand mentions on social and/or across the web

To create a measurable goal, take the “improve brand recognition” idea and decide what that means in metrics.

Measurable SEO KPIs:

  • Number of users
  • Organic traffic
  • Referral traffic
  • Content grouping traffic
  • Queries and keyword rankings
  • Bounce rate
  • Backlinks
  • Conversions
  • Conversion rate
  • Average session duration
  • Pages per session
  • Site speed
  • E-commerce sales
  • Cart abandonment

Create your measurement plan before you start working on your goal. Some SEO KPIs (such as conversions and content grouping views) can be tricky to measure, and you don’t want to be figuring that out when you’ve already started your work.

Use tools to your advantage. Here are a few to consider:

  • Keyword-ranking trackers (Ahrefs, SEMrush, SpyFu)
  • Content-management tools (CoSchedule, BuzzSumo, Airtable)
  • Social media- and web-monitoring tools (Hootsuite, Google Alerts, Sprout Social)
  • Google Alerts
  • Google Analytics content groups
  • Google Analytics campaigns
  • Google Search Console reports

3. Focus on the Right Rankings

Rankings are certainly important, as higher rankings = more organic traffic. However, it’s imperative to focus on the rankings that are the most meaningful, and the ones that are going to make the biggest impact on your bottom line.

There are 2 traps that you can fall into when it comes to rank tracking:

Focusing Too Much on the Number of Ranking Keywords

Your number of ranking keywords is a great basic metric to look at to get a feel for your overall organic visibility. For instance, going from having 8 keywords on the first page of Google’s SERPs one month to having 15 on the first page the next month is certainly a win, but what matters most is what those keywords are and whether or not they drive traffic that converts.

For instance, if multiple of those keywords you moved to the first page get a very small number of monthly searches, you may want to focus on keywords that are more valuable.

When goal setting, choosing specific, valuable keywords to move up in rankings rather than the overall number of ranking keywords is likely to result in bigger wins for your team. Think quality, not quantity.

Focusing on Vanity Metrics

We all want to rank number one. Of course we do, as that would pretty much guarantee the highest possible amount of organic traffic. It’s one of the most desirable objectives of SEO.

You can always work toward ranking number one for your bread and butter keywords, but when setting goals (especially shorter-term ones), try focusing on specific goals that’ll drive action, such as organic click-through rate (CTR) for those keywords or creating a specific number of links or content pieces around them.

What matters most is how many qualified users are clicking on your website and converting. SERPs (search engine results pages) are usually pretty fluid, so your rank might change often. Don’t become so laser-focused on ranking number one that you lose sight of your most important metrics.

Analyze your competitor’s performance with an analysis and allow it to inspire your own goals

4. Base SEO Goals on Competitor Analysis Findings

Have a competitor that’s doing something well? Maybe they have more visibility than you do around a certain keyword phrase, or maybe they have a certain piece of content that brings in a lot of business or maybe they’re totally rocking their online reputation.

Or perhaps you just have a competitor that seems to be doing well across the board. If so, it’s time to analyze their performance with a competitor analysis and allow it to inspire your own goals.

Let’s say you’re a company that provides information technology (IT) consulting services, and you have a direct competitor that does well in search. When you perform a competitor analysis, you find that they focus a lot of effort on their content strategy. They’ve got thought leader pieces published on several big-name IT blogs and online magazines, giving them a rich backlink profile and a lot of visibility on those topics.

Use your findings as inspiration for your own SEO goals. Using the knowledge you gained, maybe you decide to focus on publishing 3 thought leader guest posts in the next quarter.

Bonus Competitor Analysis Quick Tips:

  • Check out what keywords they rank for to find new ones you hadn’t considered
  • Review their backlinks to look for your own opportunities – this is called the Skyscraper Technique
  • Mine their content for inspiration–what topics do they tackle that your audience is interested in?
  • What social media platforms are they on, and what are they doing well there? How can you use the ideas you gain here on building your own brand, connecting with your audience, and building your authority?

5. Expand Upon Proven Tactics and Strategies

What are you already doing that’s working really well? Your goals don’t need to reinvent the wheel or be extra creative in some way–they just need to drive action.

If you’ve been adding content to your product pages to increase your visibility there and it’s working, make a goal to continue doing the same with another set of products. If you’re consistently ranking in the top 5 for a certain keyword phrase and getting a high number of qualified leads, keep working on bolstering that.

Use historical data to pinpoint what works and build your SEO objectives around your findings.

You also can use a plan you made in the past on something new. For instance, let’s say you made a detailed strategy to increase your visibility for a certain service you offer. If it worked well, why not use the same strategy on another service?

6. Keep SEO Goals E-A-T Focused

According to Ahrefs:

E‑A-T stands for expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. It comes from Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines, a 168-page document used by human quality raters to assess the quality of Google’s search results.

Keep those words in mind when determining any strategy for SEO. While the thought that Google gives your site an E-A-T score was debunked, it’s proven that showing your expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness to Google will help you achieve SEO greatness.

To form your goals around these ideals, think about them like this:

Expertise: Are you displaying your deep knowledge about your industry on your website and in content posted elsewhere? To improve your expertise:

  • Set out to answer important questions about your niche topic. Always use SEO keyword research to inform your content strategy. What does your audience want to know?
  • What makes you an expert? Display your credentials. Tout your experience.
  • Post content on other industry-specific websites that are widely known as experts.

Authoritativeness: Does Google see you as an authority in your area of expertise? To improve your authoritativeness:

  • Make all your website pages and content relevant to your niche.
  • Build relevant links from high authority websites.
  • Increase brand awareness.

Trustworthiness: Do your readers trust you? Does Google? Are you a credible expert? To earn more trust:

  • Get more reviews.
  • Have a privacy policy and list an easy way to get in contact with your company or brand.
  • Use author biographies on your blog.

7. Consider Setting Short-Term Goals

We all have huge goals for SEO. When goal-setting, though, those that are shorter term will drive more action.

How to Turn a Huge SEO Goal into Shorter Term Goals

Let’s say you’re a software-as-a-service company offering a new online payroll software for mid-range companies. Your ultimate goal is to rank on the first page of Google results for “online payroll software.” That’s an incredibly competitive keyword and it’s going to take some time to break through.

While it’s great to have that lofty goal, break it down into smaller quarterly goals that’ll help you work toward it.

Examples of shorter-term goals:

  • Perform keyword research for long-tail keywords and phrases you can gain visibility for more quickly
  • Create X pieces of long-form content that support your ultimate goal keyword
  • Build X links on authoritative, quality websites
  • Grow overall organic search visits by X%

8. Let Shifts Happen

Be open to shifting your goals when things aren’t working out, when something more important comes along or when it becomes apparent that your focus needs to be elsewhere.

The SEO industry changes at breakneck speed and you must adapt along with it to stay ahead of the game. Google is constantly tweaking its algorithm, making your organic visibility a bit fickle.

For Instance

If you’re building links, content pieces and media mentions for one particular keyword phrase and it’s just not working, lay that goal to rest for a little bit. Move onto another goal that’ll show quicker gains. Or maybe you’re working toward one goal when Google’s algorithm changes and suddenly there’s a new tactic you should work on now instead. Be ready to pivot as needed.

It also is possible that working toward a goal will throw light on a shortcoming you need to address.

Let’s say you’re working on building your brand awareness through link building and creating more top-of-funnel content when you realize that your Google My Business listing doesn’t look great and is likely making some brand searchers go with a competitor instead. You’d want to shift your focus to your listing before continuing with increasing branded searches.

It’s OK to make these shifts in the middle of the quarter, or whenever you need to. Be flexible.

SEO Goal-Setting Wrap-Up

Did you know that nearly 60% of the pages ranking in the top 10 Google results are 3 or more years old (Ahrefs)? That’s years, not months. So when you’re working diligently on rankings and visibility using all of these goal-setting strategies, going for that coveted keyword phrase is going to take some time, especially if it’s a competitive one.

We’re not saying don’t shoot for the moon, but give yourself some time to get there.

Keep in mind SEO goals don’t have to be shots in the dark. Motivate your team by creating straightforward, achievable goals that bring in business.

Make goals that are measurable, based on SEO data, focused, and fluid when they need to be, and you’ll see results.

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