Posted to Ben Finklea's blog on March 31st, 2009

Are You Choosing the Right SEO Goals?

A surprising number of leads I talk to discuss how their past SEO efforts have left a bad taste in their mouth. They are hesitant and critical to jump on the SEO train again. We all know that bad business relationships always end with bad experiences, and can effect decision-making in the long term. What it boiled down to is mis-allocated efforts being focused on the wrong goals. When the wrong goals are selected, energy invested will yield non-optimized ROI and highly-optimized frustration.

In Magical SEO Land, everyone wants to be ranked #1 in Google with their all search terms and have so much new traffic generated that they have to increase their server size. In Magical SEO Land, this would happen immediately after your check is cashed by the SEM company you just signed a contract with. In Reality SEO Land, success doesn’t happen overnight and there are thousands of other companies competing for the same keywords, on the same SEO terms. There is no SEO magic wand, unless you like wearing “black hats”. Quality, white-hat SEO takes months to efficiently execute in legally ranking your site on Google, etc. A job well done also requires patience, and “patience” is not a word used in the short-term.

‘Rankings’ is always a very popular goal for many businesses invested in SEO, and a visual metric that validates their investment. The problem with this goal is that new businesses general don’t get top rankings right off the bat. There is an undertone of SEO seniority when it comes to Google rankings. If you are a new business, keep in mind this goal may be something you save for a stop further down the road. Consider this: you succeed in ranking top for your term. Perhaps you increased your sales by 10 percent as a result. Great, right?! What if you had taken the same energy in SEO and increased relevant traffic by 20 percent, and grown sales by 20 percent? 70 percent of relevant traffic is generated by long tail terms, so this scenario is very likely to happen, and commonly does. The long tail traffic is an SEO strategy isn’t the same as betting your mortgage on one short key word and hoping there is a sunset in your future.

Companies also like to focus on increasing their traffic. This is closer to the right goal, buy many companies can also find this problematic. What if you are doubling your traffic to your site? Sounds awesome. If the traffic isn’t relevant, you may end up with only a very small increase in sales. Whereas, if you increase traffic by only 20 percent, but they have strong buying intent, you may just increase your sales by 20 percent. Quality customers who convert are more valuable than a quantity of customers who only browse.

A brave man once told me: “You live by the link, you die by the link”. SEO’s metaphorical run-away train is link building. It is a popular goal which some people believe is the end-all be-all of their SEO efforts. It is a common belief that you need to add “x” new links per month in order to fly in as an SEO hero. The problem with this is that those 100 links you built up last month may only have marginal results, if their relevancy and authority don’t rank well either. One relevant and authoritative link could easily be worth 1,000 times more than any 100 mediocre links. Another danger to getting carried away with link building is falling down the path of buying links. That path leads to what I refer to as “The Danger Game”, and one I don’t recommend playing.

The problem with selecting the wrong goals is that your focus and money is being invested in the wrong directions. For examples of focusing on the wrong goals, take a look with our current recession, which was driven by sales-at-any-cost goals. They are great until you look at their outcome. Choosing the right goals can be applied to any facet of your life. In SEO, it is important to correlate any goals you can with the bigger picture of your business. If your goals are to increase sales, leads, impressions, and conversions, consider these metrics. Good decisions should follow.

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