Objectives and key results (OKRs) are great tools for shaping SEO initiatives to align with the company’s goals.
This article explores how OKRs can influence your SEO efforts, highlighting the connection between overarching business objectives and SEO-centric targets.
Understanding OKRs in SEO
One of my favorite books is “Measure What Matters” by John Doerr. It presents the idea of OKRs, which stands for “objectives and key results.”
Doerr provides examples of how companies like Google adopt and implement the OKR planning and accountability framework to accomplish outrageous growth goals.
The OKR approach is fairly straightforward and works by defining clear, measurable, and achievable objectives alongside key results that gauge the achievement of each objective.
These are the clearly defined goals you want to achieve. They should be significant, actionable, and inspiring. In the context of SEO and link building, an objective could be something like:
- “Improve our website’s search engine visibility in X keyword cluster” or “Increase the site’s contextual relevancy of X category.”
These are the measurable indicators that show you’ve achieved your objective. They should be quantifiable, time-bound, and directly impacted by the team’s efforts.
For an SEO-focused objective, key results might include:
- “Achieve X increase in organic visibility of our targeted keywords.”
- “Generate 30 links in articles topically relevancy to X keyword category.”
The importance of OKRs in SEO
Are you working on the right SEO initiative to push your company’s goals forward? How does SEO align with your marketing objectives?
These questions are important but not always easy to answer.
OKRs ensure that you can answer these questions. Its benefits include:
- Clarity of focus: By defining the objectives and key results, every member understands the team’s priorities and how their actions contribute to these goals.
- Alignment with larger business goals: Key results (KRs) in SEO ensure that efforts align with the company’s broader business objectives.
- Accountability: When objectives and key results are clearly defined and assigned, it is easy to track who is responsible for what, fostering a sense of ownership and accountability.
- Trackable progress: This tracking enables regular check-ins to assess if the team is on track and make necessary adjustments, enhancing agility and responsiveness.
How OKRs work in an SEO context
OKRs in SEO connect the SEO’s actions and the company’s marketing or business quarterly, annual, or long-term goals.
The director, VP, or leader will set the overall goals and the SEO, digital marketer, or product manager will build the OKRs and assign deadlines to the KRs. Thus the person accountable to the OKRs are the one that identifies the scope, results, and timelines.
- Objective setting in SEO: SEO objectives have traditionally been to increase organic visibility or keyword ranking for a specific keyword. However, the objective can be any goal that aligns with the broader business objectives and goals. These objectives can be for SEO, content, or link building in nature.
- Identifying key results in SEO: Key results can be time-bound link building results. The results can be a specific deliverable, like a number of links or impact-based results like organic visibility.
- Role of OKRs in SEO strategy: A strategy is a considerate way to accomplish key results.
- Ongoing analysis and optimization: During and after the implementation of the OKRs, analyze the results and their impact on the objective. If the key results were missed… why? Did you accomplish KRs, but it didn’t move the objective forward?
However, setting SEO objectives can be much more creative and strategic than ranking improvements.
Types of SEO and link building OKRs
SEO is a more powerful strategic tool than many of us SEOs understand.
A marketing leader can leverage SEO to manage reputation, support scale, or build brand awareness.
A strategic OKR is informed by analyzing the product/service offering position, competition, market landscape, and audience. This is in contrast to a tactical OKR that is based on individual actions.
The OKR below accounts for the audience’s changing use of terminology to segment and define an important concept that describes a company’s product.
Objective: Establish company as a thought leader that defines the new industry term term, by increasing the organic visibility of internal leaders of these concepts.
- Build 10 guest posts for company team members about industry term in Q3.
- Establish company leadership as sources for topics on X category, to secure HARO (Help a Reporter Out) request monthly.
- Create and rank 3+ though-leadership articles across industry term keywords on top industry websites in Q3.
Growth-driving OKRs focus on sales, demo requests, leads, or other metrics that have a direct impact on the business goals.
Objective: Build an SEO initiative that generates monthly demo request.
- Generate 5 demo requests per month after 6 months.
- Generate top 5 rankings for money terms in X keyword clusters in 6 months.
- Create 10 pieces of content for both top- and bottom-of-funnel keywords per quarter.
- Build 10 links per month to informational content around X cluster.
SEO can be innovative. These OKRs may focus on innovating the SEO process or support the company’s innovation goals.
The objective below, although is not currently possible, is an example of how an SEO can work toward finding innovative solutions to showing company information when a customer is searching for it.
Objective: Optimize recipes for voice search on the home smart displays in the kitchen.
- Design wildly popular recipe content all around X category in 2024.
- Generate 100 earned links across new recipe pages per quarter.
- Use PR to secure links and mentions of new recipes on 10 high-authority cooking websites in Q3.
An operational OKR focuses on the efficiency of daily operations and scalability.
Objective: Increase the scalability of the SEO program to drive traffic growth.
- Implement ChatGPT into outreach and list building to streamline repetitive tasks, saving at least 10 hours of manual work per week, and reallocating that time toward strategic growth initiatives.
- Establish a link building training program to enhance the SEO capabilities of the content and marketing team, aiming to have 100% of the team complete the program within the next two months.
- 3 attempts to build 50 links from a trained team, leveraging ChatGPT to create tailored email templates for a website’s audience.
Beyond these categories, you can also create OKRs for:
- People and culture: Foster company-wide understanding of the long-term potential and focus of SEO.
- Customer-focused: Rank knowledge center content for branded keywords to simplify the customer’s ability to find product support.
- Social impact: Increase awareness of the company’s social impact by ranking relevant content for branded keywords.
However, not all objectives are right for every business. The following steps will guide selecting the right objective and setting the correct KRs.
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How to create link building OKRs
Creating OKRs is a critical process that can significantly shape your organization’s strategic SEO direction and operational efficiency. The following steps will help you create your own set of OKRs.
Step 1: Setup
The setup phase lays the groundwork for your link building OKRs. The setup should include, but is not limited to:
- Business goals: Identify your company’s annual and quarterly business goals, as these will guide your SEO and link building objectives.
- Ecosystem analysis: Conduct a thorough analysis of your current SEO performance, competitor SEO strategies, and the overall online ecosystem within your industry.
- Set overall direction with three horizons: Develop short, medium, and long-term SEO objectives. This three-horizon approach ensures you have a cohesive plan that caters to immediate and future needs.
- Organize an idea contest: Engage your team in brainstorming innovative link building ideas and strategies. This promotes creativity and encourages team involvement in goal setting.
- Design-thinking pilot program: Adopt a design-thinking approach to your link building strategy, encouraging experimentation and adaptation.
The output of this analysis is a list of proven SEO initiatives. Identify a range of proven SEO strategies and techniques, with a particular focus on link building, that you have the resources to implement.
- From the ecosystem analysis, identify techniques that other’s have successfully implemented and replicate or innovate against those. Then log these in a list of potential SEO initiatives.
- For the design-thinking process, test link building techniques like the skyscraper or high-authority guest posting.
Potential OKRs will become clear during research and testing, requiring iterations. Thus, establish some potential OKRs before step 2.
Step 2: Establish OKRs
Once the setup is complete, it’s time to establish your link building OKRs:
- Defining SEO objectives: Based on your business goals and insights from your ecosystem analysis, define what you want to achieve with link building.
- Identifying strategies and key results: For each objective, identify the strategies you will employ and the key results that will indicate progress. Key results should be quantifiable outcomes that align directly with your objectives.
- Identify a long list of objectives and KRs for each. Then take the large list and whittle it down to a list of 3-5 objectives and 3-5 KRs per objective.
Step 3: Take action
With your OKRs defined, it’s time to put them into action:
- Setting realistic timelines: Guide on how to set achievable timelines for each objective and key result.
- Assigning responsibilities: Tips on assigning OKRs to appropriate team members or outsourcing to ensure accountability and progress.
- Documentation: Document each OKR in an area where all team members have easy access.
- Setting timelines are difficult. Analyze the time horizon for each KR after implementation. Many projects fail in SEO because they are not given the time needed to see the results.
Step 4: Analyze and optimize
The first time implementing an OKR, the viability and impact of the efforts may not live up to expectations. However, analyzing the initiatives during and after execution will certainly improve the OKR owner’s future planning.
- Survey team about progress and results.
- Ask leadership for feedback.
- Determine the root cause of the failure, but also the success.
Questions to ask during the post-mortem:
- Did the strategies deliver the desired results?
- Did you have enough resources to accomplish the KRs?
- Did the KRs truly accomplish the objectives?
- Was the timeline adequate for how aggressive the goal was?
- Were the OKRs to ambitious or not ambitious enough?
- You will not likely be successful with OKRs on your first try. That’s acceptable and expected.
- Aim for accomplishing 80% of OKRs. A 100% success rate could mean the Os or KRs were not aggressive enough.
Establishing your own OKRs
SEO OKRs form an effective framework to align SEO initiatives with overarching business objectives, offering clear, measurable goals and enhancing accountability.
By embracing the OKR methodology, SEO work can become more strategic and consequential to business growth.
With a focus that could be strategic, growth-oriented, innovative, or operational, SEO OKRs can be tailored to suit your specific objectives. This guide provided a step-by-step approach to creating such OKRs, beginning with understanding business goals, and ecosystem analysis, to set the objectives, strategies, and key results.
Whether you meet your goals or not, remember that OKRs are a continual learning and progress tool. The insights gleaned can enhance your subsequent round of OKRs, facilitating constant improvement and impacting your business’s success.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.