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Creating SMART SEO Goals For Your Enterprise Business

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Creating SMART SEO Goals For Your Enterprise Business

A goal is only as useful as the thoughtfulness of creating it.

Like many overused marketing terms and cliches, a “goal” can become an overbearing or meaningless word or purposeless objective.

Employers may hand them down without fully understanding the feasibility of accomplishment. Employees may feel pressured to meet assigned goals, realistic or unrealistic, without a plan for how to reach them.

In particular, marketing leadership often overlook SEO goals if they assume organic is a cost-free acquisition channel that will automatically work for them behind the scenes.

Those who’ve worked in SEO for even a short time know that’s not how it works.

Especially in enterprise organizations.

While it can be challenging to determine the full impact of one’s SEO efforts, there are multiple KPIs and productive methods of tracking the effect of optimizations.

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The most useful method of creating meaningful goals is applying the SMART framework to your KPIs.

You can apply the SMART framework to any goal, company, or business. But for SEO, there are particular considerations to include in your goal-building process.

And by layering SEO throughout this process, you’ll find goals that accurately reflect the impact of your SEO efforts and demonstrate you can deliver what you promised.

What Is A SMART Goal?

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic (or Relevant), and Timely (or Time-bound).

When creating any goal, ensure that those five dimensions apply to your goal.

As part of the goal-setting process, ask yourself each of these questions:

  • What specifically is it that you plan to measure?
  • Do you have a way to measure the KPI?
  • Can you make an actionable impact on this KPI?
  • Is the specific item you’re aiming to improve realistically changing based on your actions? Is it relevant to your company objectives?
  • In what timeframe do you estimate showing your efforts’ impact on the KPI?

Go through these and only proceed to the next question if you can determine a reasonable answer to each.

Once you’ve answered each question, transform your findings into a definitive statement. And there you have it.

Applying The SMART Goals Process To SEO

The five principles of SMART can be applied to any business, company, or client.

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But when creating SMART goals specifically for SEO, here’s how you should think about applying each to your goal-building process.

Specific

The purpose of SMART goals is to demonstrate the impact of specific marketing efforts, or in this case, your search and site optimizations.

Ultimately, you want to prove that your optimizations increased your business’ or client’s objectives and goals

Therefore, start the set-up of each SMART goal by choosing one particular KPI.

Limiting each goal to one KPI helps ensure the accuracy of the remaining four qualifications of SMART.

When picking a KPI for SEO, start by checking if you can tie your SEO KPIs into broader business goals and objectives.

That way, you can demonstrate how your search optimizations support your company or client’s marketing conversion funnel.

Within the funnel, these KPIs often start with total impressions on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page)and end with sales, purchases, or other financial transactions.

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SEO KPIs Across The Marketing Funnel

Top Of Marketing Funnel (Awareness)

  • Total impressions.
  • Page 1 search volume.
  • Clicks from search engines.
  • CTR from search engines.
  • Users from search.
  • Pageviews from search.
  • On-page conversions from search traffic.
  • Earnings from search traffic.

Bottom Of Marketing Funnel (Conversion)

You may be inclined to rely on other SEO metrics such as specific results types, including Answer Boxes (also known as Featured Snippets), or People Also Ask placements.

However, there are two reasons to avoid those types of metrics.

They can drastically fluctuate in unrelated ways to your efforts, and more importantly, they don’t directly tie to the bigger picture business goals of traffic and conversions.

See also  Local SEO Guide For Ecommerce & Online Ordering

In contrast, Page 1 placements represent the number of times your content shows up on Page 1 of the SERP. There’s less than a 2.5% chance of a click if your content is not on Page 1.

So your presence on Page 1 is a huge indicator of the organic traffic you may be able to drive.

Similarly, conversions and earnings from search are particularly powerful KPIs to include in your goals as they help prove SEO and Content Marketing ROI, both critical determinants of marketing success.

Overall, it’s essential to ensure that our goals are crystal-clear and connected to our business objectives so everyone from the boardroom to the marketing department understands what success looks like.

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Measurable

Fortunately, most SEO metrics are easy enough to track, as long as you have the right platforms, tools, and/or software set up to ingest your data:

  • Website analytics, traffic, and acquisition sources can be tracked through tools such as Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, or other tracking software.
  • Search engines let you track your visibility, rank, and clicks of keywords that show your website through tools such as Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
  • Platforms such as  BridgeEdge, Conductor, and Semrush capture your keyword rankings, rank changes, keyword MSV, result types, and so on for keywords you’ve tracked and those you research. Some have integrations that allow you to ingest your website’s data and crawl it.
  • Site crawling can also happen with separate tools like ContentKing and DeepCrawl that track technical SEO components, such as title tags, meta descriptions, and alt tags, flag site errors, monitor Core Web Vitals like site speed, and more.

Before adding any of the metrics from these sources, you’ll need to establish a benchmark for it.

Timing and reporting will be discussed in greater detail when we get to the T in SMART, but essentially, your goal needs a comparison between two different points in time.

To compare data effectively, you’ll have to establish the baseline for the previous month, if not the year.

Unfortunately, it can be especially difficult to prove certain changes resulted in specific measurable metrics for SEO. And that needs to be expressed clearly when constructing and explaining your goals.

However, using segments to track specific pages you’ve updated and keywords for which you’re trying to optimize will help demonstrate whether results improved after your optimizations.

And by trying to ensure that you (or your content or web team) make your optimizations as close together as possible, you’ll have an easier time tracking changes over time.

Attainable And Achievable

There are many achievable and actionable ways to impact organic search performance.

SEO initiatives include keyword research, competitive analysis, site auditing, data analysis, resulting in optimization recommendations for new content, existing content, and technical fixes that improve the conversion funnel.

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And hopefully, helps you beat out your competitors.

But not all SEO efforts can be tracked or clearly measured. Some challenges include not knowing the following:

  • When Google crawls a new web page or recrawls an optimized one.
  • When the SERP is updated to show optimized content.
  • If the content is still relevant to consumers at that time to encourage clicks.
  • If anything breaks on your site that causes errors or hurts rank or Core Web Vitals.

That last one represents why site health, internal/external linking, or other technical SEO metrics aren’t recommended for SMART Goals. There are just too many variables that you can’t control.

But by constructing your SMART Goals in a way that follows the conversion funnel, you can see the full picture that should more clearly highlight trends in organic success.

See also  7 SEO Insights Search Analysts Need To Succeed & How To Find Them

If any part of the funnel fluctuates unexpectedly, that may help flag external issues negatively impacting your success.

Plus, as long as you plan out your optimizations in advance, you can align your monthly goals to the level of impact you plan to have.

As long as you make those updates, you can get a sense of what you can achieve a month after each round of updates goes live.

Even if you don’t have SMART Goals for all parts of the funnel, tracking them will still help you better understand the role of organic at each stage and help you evolve your goals.

Realistic

Achievable also means realistic. Regardless of leadership expectations or the desire to set aggressive goals, you need to set reasonable expectations.

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An up-and-coming company or one with very low SEO maturity may be able to set steep goals, at least initially, if they plan to implement improvements to the basic tenets and foundations of SEO.

A company already has a fairly high level of SEO maturity if they’ve optimized technical components, they are monitored frequently, and content is optimized regularly. It may only grow 7%–12% in metrics like organic traffic year over year.

So company context is key.

Before choosing specific metrics and estimating the improvement you’ll make, ask yourself:

  • Can you realistically make headway on the keywords that you’re going after?
  • Is there actual interest in the pages you’re trying to optimize?
  • Will your optimizations actually go live?
  • Do you have the resources to do the necessary SEO research and publish changes?
  • Do you have the reporting set up to measure your KPI?
  • Does the expected impact you intend to have on SEO match the SEO maturity level of the company or client you’re optimizing for?

Any one of these should be considered blockers when creating a SMART Goal.

Some versions of SMART use Relevant as the R.

But incorporating specific KPIs from within the conversion funnel that aligns with broader business objectives and goals – all of which are already built into this process – will ensure relevancy.

Time-bound And Timelined

Results should be demonstrable within an allotted time frame.

Establish a timeline with start and end dates to track when you expect to see your desired results based on when you begin your work.

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This drives you to accomplish your goals in a set period and proactively manages leader and colleague expectations if someone asks you to speed up your efforts or asks why you haven’t achieved any of your goals sooner.

The actual optimizations you’ll want to measure, whether they are content or technical, can often be counted as soon as they go live, especially when SEO experts have direct access to edit their website.

But to adequately measure the impact of SEO efforts and prove effectiveness, either content or technical, you generally have to wait at least a month to begin measuring meaningful results.

Their impact could be visible as soon as the search engine crawls the page where the change happened.

But their impact needs at least a month to account for delays in crawling, for the change to reflect in the SERP, and for users to start engaging with content.

Especially if you have a site that is crawled less often, it may take Google an extended amount of time before it recrawls your site, allowing it to recognize the change.

Considerations Of SEO SMART Goals

Once you have considered all five of these components, carefully consider how they apply to the work you do regularly.

See also  5 Times You Absolutely Must Hire An SEO Pro

If you don’t find that your projects allow you to establish such goals, then perhaps it’s time to rethink your efforts or connect with your manager on expectations, available resources, and tracking options.

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Framework For Creating SMART SEO Goals

To start building your own SMART goals for SEO, apply this process to each:

  • Pick any of the KPIs. One at a time.
  • Ensure that it aligns with broader business goals.
  • Review all SMART concepts and confirm you can apply the principle to your work using the following matrix.

SEO SMART Goals Matrix

Examples Of SEO SMART Goals

Based on this framework, you might create SEO SMART goals such as:

  • Move 20 optimized pages currently on Page 2 to Page 1 between 2022 Q2 and 2022 Q3.
  • Increase clicks from Google by 6% MoM (May to June 2022).
  • Increase organic traffic to your website by +10% by August 2022.
  • Maintain a base of 20,000 organic visitors per week.
  • Increase organic traffic to optimized pages by +16% within two months of the optimizations (July 2022).
  • Increase organic downloads by 7% per page between new content published in ‘22 1H and new content published in 2022 2H.
  • Increase revenue by 5% from organic sources for the next three months (June–Aug 2022).

Customizing Your SMART Goals For SEO

While you could adapt any of these goals to suit your SEO objectives and for any business, you’ll still have to consider the customizations needed.

When working on the R part of your SMART Goals, make sure you align the percentage increase with the extent of the effort you’ll be able to actualize.

Base the increases on original levels of impressions, organic users, and conversions per optimized page and total MSV and original placement of keywords.

If you have time, test out the impact of your optimizations for one or two months to determine the type of lift you see and aim to replicate that moving forward.

Regardless of customizations, ensure that your process follows the central tenants of SMART, as summarized in this infographic:

Image created by author, May 2022Infographic for How to Set SEO SMART Goals

Challenges When Creating SEO SMART Goals

In some cases, you may need to broaden your goal to get it approved.

While you may not have a choice in the matter, inform leadership that the numbers you estimate are based on the impact you believe you will have on the pages and keywords you are optimizing for.

Certain technical improvements, structural and speed enhancements, and optimizations on components that impact more of the site (headers, footers, pages with multiple incoming and outgoing links, etc.) may help overall findability.

But they are fairly difficult to attribute to specific actions and are especially challenging to report on.

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Stick to reporting on your more trackable efforts.

Conclusion

Building goals is a challenging process.

It’s a serious task that takes careful consideration, team collaboration, and, most notably, the ability to deliver what you proposed is necessary to reach the goals.

And just because you create a goal using the SMART process doesn’t mean you’ll always be able to meet it, let alone surpass it.

But the SMART framework – when applied conscientiously, accurately, and honestly – will ultimately help you help yourself.

It will support your ability to prove your value when implementing SEO and demonstrate how both you and your endeavors benefit your company and its goals.

Featured Image: Natee K Jindakum/Shutterstock

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SEO

How Should You Optimize Your Content?

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How Should You Optimize Your Content?

People turn to Google for just about everything these days.

Whether it’s to buy something, learn about something in-depth, get a quick answer, or simply pass the time, Google is the primary stream of information for the vast majority of people living with an internet connection.

To be precise, Google makes up 92.19% of the search engine market share.

The constant quest of SEO professionals is to get their content matched up with the search queries it answers.

But how has this task changed over time?

While there can be books written on this subject, the general consensus is that search queries are becoming longer, more specific, and conversational.

In many cases, a portion of this shift can likely be attributed to the rise of voice search.

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A lot of what we are seeing is a growing importance on optimizing for questions and semantically related keywords.

So what exactly does this all mean?

And what are the best strategies when you’re down in the trenches of SEO?

Let’s discuss.

Questions & Semantic Search

Since the Google Hummingbird Update in 2013, Google has been on a steady path toward providing more personalized and useful search results.

You know when you enter a super vague query into Google and it somehow understands exactly what you’re getting at? Like when you are speaking to a close friend or family member?

This is semantic search.

A big aspect of Google’s semantic search capability is to pinpoint concepts and entities presented in question-based queries.

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When someone enters a question into Google – whether it be by text or voice – the semantic search capabilities work to understand the user’s intent with four key factors:

  • The user context.
  • Natural language processing (NLP).
  • Query stream context.
  • Entity identification.

What Types of Questions Does Google Answer?

Thanks to semantic search, Google has taken many steps toward a near-flawless ability to answer a plethora of questions. This is largely due to the developments in artificial intelligence, voice search, schema, NLP, etc.

Google generally answers three types of questions – as opposed to just providing links to the sites with the answers.

  • Direct answers
  • Short answers
  • Long answers

These answers are commonly placed in the Featured Snippet – also known as the “Google Answer Box” or “Position Zero.”

Let’s breakdown the specifics of each.

Direct Answer

Direct answer questions typically start with Who, What, Where, When, Best, Top, and sometimes Why.

These types of questions normally result in quick answers and are oftentimes linked to voice queries.

For example, if you enter a query like [When was Apple founded?], Google will use Hummingbird and semantic search to recognize the user intent to provide a direct answer. This answer would be April 1, 1976.

When was Apple Founded

Based on what Google’s algorithms decide is the most reliable source of information, the search engine will pull the answer from the content and display it in the Featured Snippet.

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Short Answer

Short answer questions generally start with words like Why and Can. But, given the context, they can also apply to What, Where, Who, etc.

See also  5 Times You Absolutely Must Hire An SEO Pro

These types of questions can generally be answered in a paragraph, of which is shown on the Featured Snippet.

Let’s ask Google [Why does the sun follow a circular path?]

Why does the sun follow a circular path?

Again, Google’s algorithms will decide which content has the most credible answer here (based on numerous factors), and provide the answer in the Featured Snippet accordingly.

Let’s do another one.

Here’s a query for “Can fish feel pain?”

Can fish feel pain?

As you can see, Google has provided a 4-5-line answer – drawing from the content it sees as the most credible.

Long Answer

The long answer queries typically get more into the weeds of procedures and processes.

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Most commonly, these long answers are matched up with How and Why queries.

Google only has so much space to work with in the Featured Snippet; it can’t list out an entire procedure from A to Z. Instead, it has to abbreviate with an outline.

For example, let’s search for [How to build a treehouse].

How to build a treehouse?

The intent of this question is to get a better understanding of what all factors into the process of building a treehouse. The intent is more or less surface level.

As a result, Google’s algorithms serve up the step-by-step process involved in this project. To get more in-depth, the user needs to click on the link.

Other common examples of long answer snippets relate to how-to guides, recipes, workout routines, etc.

Which Types of Answers Do You Provide?

Everyone wants to get their content proudly placed in the Featured Snippet (or somewhere prominent on Page 1).

Given how much real estate this answer box takes up on Google searches, the potential benefits of taking the spotlight here are huge!

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In order to get placed in the Google Answer Box, you first need to have a strong idea of which type of answer your particular piece of content provides, and which keywords attribute to it.

For instance, this online tire store recently published an article around the keyword “best tire brands” – optimized for the question, “what are the best tire brands?”

Best tire brands

If we look at the Featured Snippet for this query, we see a list of tire brands outlined in the content under H2 tags.

In addition to drawing traffic, the content provides avenues for the user to actually purchase the products.

With each piece of content you create, you should be asking, “what types of questions does this content answer?”

This should be an integral part of how you formulate the outline, as well as how it will funnel into the bigger picture (like generating conversions).

How to Pinpoint Trending Questions & Keywords

In the process of figuring out which type of answer(s) is ideal for your content, you need to identify the trending questions being asked and the search volumes behind them.

One tool you could use is the Ahrefs Questions feature in the keyword explorer.

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By entering in your focus keyword, you can get a big list of related questions to be factored into how you create the content.

In this hypothetical scenario, let’s say you are creating a piece of content for a CRM software.

See also  Grow Your Social Media Presence in 12 Steps

Let’s look at the questions related to the keyword “CRM Software.”

CRM Software

Given what we found here, there are all kinds of questions to frame a piece of content around.

Now, a long, comprehensive piece of content could potentially work to answer all three major question types. However, for our purposes, we are going to focus on one.

Let’s say we want to create a piece of content that answers the short answer question [What does CRM software do].

What does CRM software do?

Now that we have the question, let’s look into the keywords that funnel into this answer.

What does CRM software do?

Think about it from a user’s standpoint who is at the beginning of the buyer’s journey.

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If someone wants to simply learn more about CRM software and what it does, what informational keywords and phrases would factor into the search?

Based on the keyword research above, this would likely involve terms and phrases like:

  • What is CRM
  • Customer relationship management
  • CRM meaning
  • CRM definition
  • CRM examples
  • Customer relationship
  • Relationship management

These are just a handful of the informational keywords and phrases that would ideally work to answer the overarching question.

Now, if there is transactional intent within this content, you are wise to include the following terms/phrases:

  • Best CRM
  • Best CRM tools
  • Best CRM for small business
  • CRM solutions
  • CRM pricing

When it comes to optimizing for questions and keywords, you need to have an idea of the users’ knowledge prior to looking at the content, what answers they want, and what they should do after consuming the content.

Ultimately, this forms the basis for how you conduct SEO research.

Ranking for Direct Answer Questions

Getting ranked for direct answer questions can be tough.

As with most SEO tactics, there are no laws, just theories.

Based on what we’ve found, getting ranked highly for direct answer questions involves the following common threads:

Get to the Point

Answer the question as early as possible within the content. If you can, try to do this in the first paragraph.

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List the Question Right out of the Gate

This helps Google tag your content appropriately.

Elaborate

After you answer the question bluntly, elaborate on it in the subsequent paragraphs. This helps to show Google that you are answering the question comprehensively.

Go the Extra Mile

This would commonly involve answering typical follow-up questions.

For instance, if you answered the question, “What is a lunar eclipse?” you could also include answers to questions like, “How often do lunar eclipses happen?” or “What is the difference between a lunar eclipse and a solar eclipse?”

You want to show Google that you know the answer in as much detail as possible so you are seen as an expert source of information.

Ranking for Short Answer Questions

Getting ranked for short answer questions has a lot of similarities to the process of getting ranked for direct answer questions.

Much of what we’ve observed comes down to the formatting of the content.

Here are a couple of the biggest patterns we’ve noticed:

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Make the Language Super Easy to Read

Don’t produce a wall of text; break it up into paragraphs no more than 3-4 lines long. Also, try not to use an extensive amount of business jargon.

See also  Should the Product Name be in the Heading?

Keep in mind, a lot of short answer questions are from people at the beginning of the customer journey – they are simply looking for more information, not to be overwhelmed.

Integrate Questions into Your Header Tags

This should ideally look like a Q&A format.

For instance, the question, “What does a CRM software do?” could be an H2 tag near the beginning of the post which the subsequent content would then answer.

Ranking for Long Answer Questions

Ranking for long answer questions normally requires quite a few factors based on the depth of the content.

On a side note: If a topic could be better answered with a more visual piece of content, Google will probably serve a video. For example, if you search Google for [How to wash pillows] you are going to be met with a video.

How to wash pillows?

So, if you answer these types of long answer questions, you are smart to focus on a video strategy.

Back to getting ranked highly on long answer queries, we have found several patterns in how content ranks.

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Keep the Main Title Focused on the Question

You want your content to appear to be the most relevant to Google.

If you are working to answer the question of “how to create a content plan,” your content should (in some capacity) reflect this in the title.

How to create a content plan?

Provide a Step-By-Step Format

Headings in content created for these types of queries often times have certain steps outlined.

Here’s what comes up for the question, [how to do SEO audit].

How to do SEO audit?

If you look at the content written by Ahrefs, you’ll notice the header tags in the piece correspond directly with the steps listed in the Featured Snippet.

Use Images

Images make your content more user-friendly and engaging – two things that Google loves!

We’ve found that the best-performing content uses imagery to supplement the points being made and provide a more complete answer.

Link out to Reputable Sites

Google wants to reward sites that provide the most credible information, based on the search query.

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What makes credible information?

Credible sources.

For example, if you are writing a post on “how to buy a used car,” linking out to reputable auto websites like Consumer Reports, Edmonds, Cars.com, etc. would (ideally) add credibility to your piece.

Wrapping Up

It’s important to note that every situation is a little bit different and the process of optimizing content is not always apples-to-apples.

However, it’s clear that the SEO landscape has been shifting towards long-tail keywords and questions for some time now.

If you want to get your content ranked well (and stand a chance at getting placed in the featured snippet), you need to factor these into your content strategy.

Hopefully, this post has given you a good idea of where to start.

More Resources:

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Image Credits

Featured Image: Created by author, August 2019
In-Post Image: SEMrush

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