Getting SMART with SEO Strategy

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Back when I was a young, wet-behind-the-ears, first-year MBA student, I was amazed at the program’s persistence on setting individual goals for the course. Having been a Political Science major during my undergrad years, I wasn’t very exposed to strategic thinking and cause-and-effect measurement. Like any role in the digital space, search engine marketers have a responsibility to get results and illustrate what they’ve done to move the needle. Through trial and error, I’ve found that setting goals at the onset of an engagement will help set the stage for success and effectively help manage client expectations.

The Need for Goals in Search Engine Marketing

A goal, be it for personal or professional applications, inspires you to do more and stay motivated to achieve success and exceed expectations. Whether your intended result is to become an industry thought leader or to increase your client’s organic visibility on Google and Bing, there’s one big advantage to setting it up as a goal: the fact that you put it down on paper. Accountability for actions and their intended (or unintended) results builds trust through transparency and shows your clients that you have a vision for their brand.

It’s About Time to Get SMART

I was first introduced to SMART goals by one of my professors, and I have since applied it to the majority of SEO accounts that I manage. SMART goals have since kept me on track and helped me illustrate value to clients big and small. SMART Goals are, by definition:


Do you have a specific outcome you’re seeking, and is your goal well defined? Lame, boring goals like “I want to increase organic traffic” are not specific enough to be SMART. How are you going to do it? What strategies and tactics will you employ? Get specific, and spell it out.


Everything we do in search is measurable, be it through analytics platforms, paid search ad management systems, or in-bound call centers. If you’re going to have a goal that includes online-to-storefront metrics, make sure you have an effective way of tracking success.


Is your goal realistically in reach, or is it so far out there that you’ll only end up looking like a fool for trying to accomplish it? I’m not suggesting that you lie back and make a goal that’s easy to achieve. Do your research first, and then shoot for the moon if it’s achievable.


Is the goal relevant to the overarching purpose you have in the relationship with your client? Think in scope versus out of scope. You wouldn’t want to have a goal including an increase in email open rate if you were hired to only do search.


Timing is everything when developing an accountable SMART goal. Whether it’s short-term (i.e., four weeks to three months) or long-term (i.e., six months and up), add a reference to timing. Goals like “I want to increase the number of organic landing pages receiving traffic by 20% in August using a refreshed keyword targeting strategy” hit the nail on the head.

Putting it Together: An Example Goal Using the SMART Model

The best part about a how-to article is the practical example. I’ll cut to the chase and illustrate the thought process I used on a recent goal-setting exercise.

The Goal: 10% increase in organic revenue by the end of Q4 by optimizing CLIENT-NAME’s website using SEO best practices.

The Process: Ask yourself, is it…

Specific: I would like to increase revenue generated through organic search.Measurable: Using tools like Google Analytics, Omniture, and Webtrends, it will be easy to measure this goal.

Attainable: Through a full-scale audit, I’ll be able to identify some deep-rooted technical issues along with some low-hanging fruit to tackle right away.

Relevant: Because the client was recently hit by Penguin, I believe this goal is realistic because there’s no place to go but up!

Trackable: By Q4, I’d like to have increased revenue for the client by 10%. Who knows what 2013 will bring.

I’ve dabbled with a few other goal-setting models in the past, but have found the most success using the SMART Model. If you’ve ever tried using SMART or have had success using any other framework, feel free to share in the comments!

Anthony Piwarun
Anthony Piwarun is a Milwaukee SEO/a> who manages a Search Engine Marketing team at Zeon Solutions, an Inc. 5000 award winning company specializing in ecommerce Web development. Keep in touch with Anthony on Twitter @apiwarun.
Anthony Piwarun
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  • well said anthony, we need to be very specific with our goals in SEO otherwise it will be difficult to achieve the targets.

    Great post and explanation.

    • Thanks Chris! Everything in online marketing is measurable and it’s easy to get caught up in the “effect” without applying it to cause.

    • Thanks Chris! Everything in online marketing is measurable and it’s easy to get caught up in the “effect” without applying it to cause.

    • Well said. If you don’t have specific measurable goals you don’t have a road map of where you are going and where you want to be.

  • Excellent tips Anthony. This is the first I’ve heard of this SMART strategy. SEO is getting harder and we need more specific and intelligent strategies like this to get results.

  • While setting goals is important, I tend to avoid putting a specific number (like a 12.5% increase in visitors over the next six months) because there is just no way I can guarantee that. I will certainly work towards that goal for a client but there are a lot of things out of my control that could influence how well I achieve that number. For instance, let’s say my company managed the onsite and link building but the client wanted to handle their own blog. If they don’t write any new content for 3 months that is going to impact their long term SEO.

    • Excellent point Nick. At the onset of an engagement, I typically set these types of goals and report on what’s been done to achieve them. At the end of each monthly report, I remind clients what they need to do on their end to support it. In your case it would be creating that blog.

      An analogy comes to mind when I think of that type of situation: that of the personal trainer. We as digital strategists can guide our clients success, like a personal trainer, but if they start off each morning with donuts (i.e. not taking our advice), then there’s nothing we can do.

  • Great insights on this article, Anthony. I, myself, put priorities in setting time for every goal I have. Thank you for this post.

  • Thank you, Anthony Piwarun, for the post. It is fine that we need to be smarter, not harder in SEO. I used to be spending too much time in building low quality backlink, but it is not useful now when the Google’s algorithm changed.

  • Norma Frey

    SMART goals are great but if we are struggling with finding goals that are measurable. WE process retirement and 401k distributions and are the call center. There are 5 employees all have various duties as far as processing. They process what comes in no matter how long it takes and they answer all the calls in the order they come in. What would you use for goals when so much of what you do depends on the work that comes in?