SMART Search Marketing

Keyword research, search query intent, information scent, backlinks, title tags, buzz, conversion optimization, web analytics, information architecture, experience design… Head spinning yet?


As search marketers we’re deluged with daily requests from clients or stakeholders on any number of these areas of focus and more. And it doesn’t stop there…


Red tape, unclear expectations, lack of management support, non-inclusive project management, perceived conflict of interests, and more road-blocks can interfere with many search marketers to the point of utter frustration.


I’m a firm believer that a company’s lack of search exposure and success need not lay at the door of the search marketer.


No  matter how good you are, how innovative, diplomatic, or tenacious you may be, if a company wants to call itself ‘The Blue Widget Company’  when it clearly sells pink widgets, and you are under no circumstances ever to use the word ‘pink’ on the site, you’re going to have to be very inventive. Five thousand, quality, ‘pink-widget’ backlinks – which you’ll have to work darn hard to get considering your company is called ‘Blue Widgets’ – will struggle to help you beat out competitors who call a pink widget a ‘pink widget’ on their site, and who have easy, obvious backlinks of the same anchor text.


So with the pain-points and the rather widespread and grandiose expectations of search marketers these days, what’s a search marketer to do?


Just like everybody else, we need to play the SMART game, starting with an overall strategy –  we start with the goals of search within the organization as a whole, and work down to a project level. Get people educated, informed and finally, excited!



Determine the goals for the search team/s, for each team’s contribution to the web marketing team, for the web marketing team’s contribution to the business unit… and so forth.


The highest level for which you strategize will depend on the size of your organization and your position within the hierarchy. Regardless of either, all search managers should meet regularly to ensure that their goals are connected, supportive, complementary and can be merged relatively seamlessly in terms of data and learnings to provide overall approach, feedback and results data to the stake and shareholders as part of a larger strategy or as an individual piece of the larger strategy. How?


SMART Search Goals

  • Smart – Specific, Significant
  • sMart – Measurable, Meaningful
  • smArt – Attainable, Agreeable
  • smaRt – Relevant, Rewarding
  • smarT – Trackable, Timely


1. Specific and Significant Goals

This facet of the goal setting process requires that your search marketing goals be clear, concise and easily understood by the primary stakeholders. The objective being to provide a clear, specific guideline as to what you want to achieve and why citing the significance factor – the use of hypotheses and null-hypotheses can make this process a lot easier.


2. Measurable and Meaningful Goals

The goals must be both measurable and meaningful. By measurable, I mean that your search marketing goals need to have a clear start point whatever it may be;

  • Revenue
  • Traffic
  • Bounce-rates
  • Backlinks
  • Impact-on-direct
  • Increased-traffic-share
  • Search-traffic-share-of-whole
  • Cross-pollination-impact
  • Net-promoter-score-impact
  • … this list can get ridiculously long, but the point remains the same.


These goals need to be measurable against subsequent stage-completion points, or an end point. They also need to be meaningful. That’s not as odd as it sounds… the goals need to be ‘meaningful’ in that, regardless of how the strategies assigned to the goal perform, the data will be monitored and presented in such a way as to determine how statistically significant any strategy may have been, or indeed if it was insignificant and merely directional. The objective being to provide measurable goals that are meaningful in terms of the chosen strategy.  


3. Attainable and Agreeable Goals

Attainable goals are exactly that, achievable within your current business framework and taking into consideration resource limitations (people, money, time, hardware, software, space etc).


The term ‘Attainable is sometimes substituted for the term ‘Agreeable’ which I wholeheartedly support. Agreeable or ‘agreed-upon’ goals infer that the stakeholders have all had a say in the formulation of the goal, and that they are in majority agreement as to the veracity of its implementation.


In some companies that can be a headache where search is still considered a ‘new-worrisome-addition’. In time, and with education, the agreement between the stakeholders gives the search marketer far reaching responsibility and support, and consolidates their position as a major leader in the web strategy as a whole. Attainable first, agreeable second if you’re not quite there yet, though clearly while you’re getting there within your teams, being agreeable and diplomatic is vital in the personal use of the word. The objective being to provide attainable goals that are agreeable to the stakeholders.


4. Relevant and Rewarding Goals

I know a lot of people use the word ‘realistic’ here, though I see very little tangible difference between ‘attainable’ and ‘realistic’ unless you want to split hairs. If it’s attainable and achievable, I’m going to use the rational-man mentality and assume that it is therefore also realistic.


That said; the goal needs to be relevant and rewarding. Relevant to the overall objectives of the business, your team and your career in that it is SMART as a whole; Rewarding in the sense that, by hypothesis – and assuming your hypothesis will not be disproved – you are testing goals that are going to be of significant interest to the stakeholders, and which will therefore provide them with rewarding results and information to share and examine. The objective being to provide goals that are both relevant and rewarding to multiple stakeholders.


5. Time-based/Traffic-based and Trackable Goals

Trackable follows from Measurable, and is a somewhat skewed idea for search marketers in that the measurability of our goals depends in great part on the trackability of those goals, requiring web analytics and other secondary search tools. The implementation of effective tracking and analytics is vital to the success of search marketing and to the efficacy and veracity of any search marketing goal or campaign.


The time or time-based/time-sensitive requirement is old-school, and is as important. Deadlines for goal achievement are vital, whether they are based on stage-completion or end point data. The caveat is that you must allow enough time or traffic for the goal data to be verifiable and significant.


There is some dissonance between traffic-based and time-based goal parameters in that (1) too much time can result in the affect of unwanted seasonality or other macro/micro affecting variables; but (2) too little traffic to a page may provide less than directional results.


Finding the happy medium with clear hypotheses is an important part of this element. There is nothing to prevent you from phasing the goal by using traffic, and time, and a combination of the two if needed for low traffic pages, thus enabling the consolidation of the most relevant data for each phase. The objective being to create a goal that ensures time and traffic based trackable goals for review.


I strongly recommend you read Shari Thurow’s thread at Search Engine Land for supportive information and further research if you’re so inclined.



Thanks for reading and come see me at Pubcon Dallas next week! I’m nice… I just look cranky 😉 OR… I love my tweeple, so follow me anytime you like on Twitter – I’m on Linkedin too!




[edit… my husband – operations director for a large web company  –  advised me that the differences between ‘achievable’ and ‘realistic’ from a personal employee pov, and from a hands-on manager pov is a bit different.]

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