Picking the right goals is key to the success of any SEO effort. A surprising number of companies focus on what they think are the right goals, but end up being dead wrong.
When the wrong goal is selected, SEO energy gets invested in the wrong ways and the ROI on the SEO project ends up being lower. Let's look at a few examples of non-optimal goals.
This remains a popular goal for many businesses. People frequently contact us and let us know that their goal is to rank number one for a particular search term. The problem with this goal: new businesses generally don't get top rankings.
Imagine that they succeed at their goal of ranking number one for their term. Perhaps they increase their Web site sales by 10 percent as a result. This is indeed a good result, right?
But, what if they could have taken the same SEO energy and increased relevant traffic to the site by 20 percent, and grown sales by 20 percent? With 70 percent of the relevant traffic to a site generally coming from long tail terms, this scenario is actually pretty likely.
The SEO strategy to drive relevant long tail traffic isn't the same as it is to drive a single term to the number one position. So would you prefer a 20 percent increase in business or a 10 percent increase? Granted, we shouldn't discount the branding value of being number one, but most businesses would rather get the extra cash.
A lot of companies focus on increasing their traffic. This is closer to the right goal, but many companies can also run into problems here. The problems with it were outlined very nicely by Market Motive's John Marshall in "Don't Buy Traffic, Buy Intent."
Imagine that you could double the traffic to your Web site. Sounds good, right?
Well, if the traffic isn't relevant, it might not be so good. Maybe you end up with only a 10 percent increase in sales. Whereas if you bring in 20 percent more traffic that has strong buying intent, you might be able to increase sales by 20 percent. Which would you choose?
"X" New Links Per Month
This is a popular goal. Some people believe that they need 50 new links per month. The cousin of this is seeking out a target cost per link, which I covered in "Cost Per Link is a Bad Metric."
If someone tells me that they will be happy if we give them 50 links per month, I can contract that work out to India for $500 or so, give them 100 links per month, do no work at all (because our contractors doubled their goal), and look like a hero (for a while).
The problem is that those 100 links may have marginal results on their business, and really do little to grow it. Also bear in mind that in the world of link building that one link can easily be worth 10,000 times more than another link, if it's from an authoritative and relevant site.
The other danger to this metric is that it can push you mentally down the path of buying links. That is a dangerous game to play, and one you should avoid.
The problem with poorly selected goals is that it focuses your energy in the wrong directions. Sadly, we have a grim example unfolding in front of us of how a poorly selected set of goals can come back haunt you. I'm referring to the current recession, which was clearly driven by sales-at-any-cost goals, resulting in a lot of financial institutions taking on bad debt (because it increased sales), which looked great until they couldn't collect on the debt.
This idea of picking the right goals applies almost anywhere you look in life. In the world of SEO, you need to tie your SEO goals as tightly as you can to the broader goals of your business.
If your goal is to increase sales, leads, or impressions (for advertising-based sites), tie your SEO goals to those metrics. You'll be glad that you did.
Eric Enge is off this week. This column was originally published on March 25, 2009.