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    How to Set Realistic SEO Goals

    Search engine optimization, including link building is an increasingly difficult task.

    Thanks to the broadened benefits of SEO and link building; with time and effort, it’s easily possible to build up to earning thousands of visitors per month.

    However, this appeal sometimes morphs into a lust.

    The desire to pursue SEO as a strategy becomes something like a get rich quick scheme, where the idea of thousands of inbound visitors takes precedent over the realistic and patient applications of SEO tactics and best practices.

    Inevitably, entrepreneurs possessed by this rampant desire end up disappointed, feeling that the strategy wasn’t worthwhile because it failed to meet their expectations.

    Without SEO goals, it’s nearly impossible to objectively measure your progress, but with too lofty or unfounded SEO objectives, you’ll only set yourself up for a skewed sense of disappointment.

    Setting realistic SEO goals is the remedy for this problem, and there are three rules to do it effectively:

    1. Factor in Your Available Resources

    Your goals need to be grounded in your means to achieve them.

    That seems obvious, but to many entrepreneurs and marketers new to SEO, building ranks is akin to switching on a light; you’re either making progress, or you aren’t. SEO simply doesn’t work that way.

    Instead, the amount of effort and type of effort you put into it has a direct impact on the eventual results you’ll achieve.

    Therefore, if you’re only investing a few minutes a day to your campaign, it would be unreasonable to set a goal that a large company with an entire dedicated SEO team might set.

    In other words, your budget of time and money will be your biggest limitation in SEO.

    There are several of these factors you’ll have to keep in mind:

    1. Consider the man-hours you’re pouring into your efforts. Are you doing this yourself in short bursts? Do you have one dedicated person? Five dedicated people?
    2. Consider how many outlets you’re using in conjunction with your SEO campaign—including how much link building, onsite and offsite content writing and how many social platforms you’re using.
    3. Be realistic about your expertise. If this is your first company, or your first time launching an SEO campaign in this industry, be more conservative with your goal setting.

    There is no objective way to go about this, but do make sure to temper your expectations with the type of effort you’re putting forth.

    SEO can take months and years, so patience is a necessary virtue.

    2. Use Long Time Periods and Relative Measurements

    This is almost two rules in one, but they’re both related to the way you measure your goals.

    First, use long periods of time to measure your progress. Don’t look for rapid climbs in growth in the span of a few days or weeks.

    seo vs ppc in time
    While it may take longer to rank organically, the long term ROI crushes paid search avenues.

    Instead, you’ll have to look at periods of months or more—this is because it takes a long time for SEO to show results. It’s also important to use long time periods to compare against each other—for example, it’s better to compare a first three months with a second three months than one month to a second month.

    This is because traffic and rankings fluctuate, sometimes randomly, and could skew your data if you’re only using a small sample size.

    Relative measurements are also important. Rather than aiming for an objective goal, such as getting 1,000 visitors a month by September, aim for something less concrete, like at least 10 percent visitor growth, month over month, until September.

    Using firm numbers can sometimes blind you to your otherwise substantial progress.

    3. Make Adjustments.

    Under most circumstances, goals should not be changed.

    You set a goal at the beginning of a given period, and follow that goal to the end. In the world of SEO, it’s okay to make adjustments throughout the course of your ongoing SEO strategy, and it’s because your strategy is ongoing.

    It is a fluid process that undergoes nearly constant changes, so it only makes sense that your goals and expectations should change along with those circumstances.

    Let’s say you’ve set a goal to increase your monthly organic traffic by 25 percent within the first four months of your campaign.

    In month two, you bring on a new freelance writer to increase your onsite content and social media efforts.

    At that point, it would be reasonable to increase the expectations of your goal. On the other hand, let’s say in month two, Google releases a new algorithm change that sets you back several positions on a number of target keyword topics. At that point, you would need to lower your expectations.

    4. Don’t obsess over “traffic”

    Organic Traffic

    There is a tendency for business owners and entrepreneurs to focus on “generating more traffic” with SEO. While getting more traffic is the point of SEO, if you focus on this too much, it’s going to side-track you from more important goals.

    Pursuing “more traffic” is a trap and makes a terrible goal. Remember, if a goal doesn’t support your main objective, it’s a distraction. Creating hoards of traffic isn’t going to get you more sales and leads on its own. Traffic has to be relevant, but also, your web pages need to be convincing enough to convert.

    Think of it this way. Say your current conversion rate is 3% on a given page. If you spend a large portion of your SEO budget generating traffic, your conversion rate will probably drop significantly because you’re not doing anything to increase conversions. More traffic doesn’t guarantee more sales. If your conversion rate is low, obsessing over traffic will eat up all the time you should be spending on more important goals, like optimizing your pages for higher conversions.

    5. Create milestones

    A major component in setting realistic SEO goals requires setting milestones. A milestone is like a mini-goal that, when achieved, tells you you’re on the right path. For example, say your goal is to rank in the top 30 results for a specific search phrase. Currently, your position is #300. You might create milestones of ranking in the top 200, 100, and then the top 50 in the search engine results pages.

    It’s a big jump from position #300 to position #30, and milestones will keep you engaged with your goal and show you concrete progress. Seeing these milestones along the way will keep you inspired and ensure you don’t loosen your SEO efforts too soon.

    6. Use a proven goal-setting strategy

    Use a proven goal-setting strategy

    Effective goal setting requires more than coming up with ideas and declaring them SEO goals. Good ideas aren’t necessarily goals, but they can certainly point you in the right direction. For example, if you think, “I want better rankings,” that, by itself, is not a goal because it doesn’t meet the basic criteria. It’s missing specificity and measurability.

    How will you know when you’ve gotten better rankings? Will you be satisfied when your web page rises by 5 positions? What if your site has the potential to reach the top 20 results and you take your foot off the gas when you reach position #50?

    Earlier in this article, we discussed that your SEO goals need to be achievable and relevant. When you follow the SMART goal strategy, your SEO goals should also be:


    Are your goals well-defined? General goals are hard or impossible to meet because they leave too much up to interpretation. Continuing with the example from above, getting “better rankings” isn’t specific enough. The term “better” here is too general. Of course you want better rankings, but defining that as a goal won’t help you achieve that.Instead of aiming for “better rankings,” zoom in on each web page you want to rank and set individual, specific goals for each page. For example, say you want to rank the following pages:

    • Your services page
    • A few strong blog posts
    • An “ultimate guide” page

    Each of these pages should have individual, well-defined goals where ranking is concerned. Say your main service is marketing consultations. Identify the search phrases you want to rank for and then pinpoint where your services page ranks in the search engines for those phrases. You need to know where you are starting from first. Marketing can be highly competitive, so before creating a goal to rank for a bunch of search queries, make sure you check the competition.

    Be realistic about what you can achieve. If the competition is high and you don’t have a massive SEO budget, go for the low-hanging fruit instead. Find longtail search phrases with less competition and a decent amount of traffic and those will make better goals.

    To summarize this point, for each page you want to rank, identify specific search queries to target, but before making them goals, verify that they are achievable in terms of available resources, including your budget.

    From there, note each page’s current ranking for each term, and set goals to incrementally increase your position in the search results.

    For instance, if you’re in position #148, set a goal to move up to position #100. You’ll learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t when you see what it takes to reach a specific goal. This is wisdom you can apply to all of your other goals, but it only works when you define specific goals.


    You need a concrete way to know when you’ve achieved a goal. All goals should be measurable in a way that is not left up to interpretation. If reaching your goal is an arbitrary assessment that is more of an opinion than fact, then you’ll struggle to achieve meaningful success.

    Two basic examples of measurable results include:

    • Increasing rank by 10 positions for a specific search phrase
    • Generating 15% more organic traffic from Google

    These goals are measurable because they have specific criteria to meet. If you asked 100 people whether or not these goals have been met, with the data in front of them, all 100 people would give the same answer. There is no room for interpretation here.

    Relevant to your overarching goal.

    Most people would agree that the overarching goal of SEO is to generate sales. SEO brings you the traffic you need to convert people. All of the goals you set for your SEO campaign should directly contribute to this overall goal of more sales. For example, there might be a handful of low-competition search phrases you can rank for, but if those phrases aren’t relevant to your content, targeting those is not going to help you.

    All of your SEO goals should directly impact your main objective, whether it’s to get more sales, signups, or followers. This applies to everything, including ranking your web pages for search intent and generating traffic from content marketing.

    Tied to a deadline.

    Goals become harder to meet when you don’t have a specific timeline. While you can’t control how fast your web pages will rank in search results, you can set overall deadlines as an estimate. This will help you be more realistic with your milestones. If you aren’t nearing your goals fast enough, you can always push out your deadlines. However, if you don’t have any deadlines, you’re likely to get off-track.

    SEO is an ongoing strategy

    In order to be successful, you’ll have to create ongoing, dynamic goals. They can, and should, change as you learn more about where your company fits and how your strategy is developing. When it comes time to evaluate your progress, compare your real results to your target results, but don’t sum everything up as a “hit” or “not hit.”

    Instead, take a look at the factors responsible for you meeting or not meeting that goal, and use those factors to shape your strategy for the next period.

    Eventually, you’ll arrive at a pace and an understanding that will allow you to adeptly measure your impact and find the greatest possible level of success for your campaign.

    Do you need help implementing robust and sustainable SEO strategies?

    Get in touch with our team of search engine optimization experts!

    Chief Revenue Officer at SEO Company
    Industry veteran Timothy Carter is SEO.co’s Chief Revenue Officer. Tim leads all revenue for the company and oversees all customer-facing teams for SEO (search engine optimization) services - including sales, marketing & customer success. He has spent more than 20 years in the world of SEO & Digital Marketing, assisting in everything from SEO for lawyers to complex technical SEO for Fortune 500 clients like Wiley, Box.com, Qualtrics and HP.

    Tim holds expertise in building and scaling sales operations, helping companies increase revenue efficiency and drive growth from websites and sales teams.

    When he's not working, Tim enjoys playing a few rounds of disc golf, running, and spending time with his wife and family on the beach...preferably in Hawaii.

    Over the years he's written for publications like Forbes, Entrepreneur, Marketing Land, Search Engine Journal, ReadWrite and other highly respected online publications. Connect with Tim on Linkedin & Twitter.
    Timothy Carter