A Three Phased SEO Approach

SEO can be intimidating to most folks when they are starting out. But like all complex subject matters, it’s important to break them up into simple, more digestible chunks. Below is a SEO primer broken up into three phases.

And here is my disclaimer — there are a ton of different ways to understand, plan and execute SEO programs. If you have thoughts on improving it, I’m always open to optimizing this approach below! Also, this post is focused more on the tactics than on the strategy and purpose for SEO. We’ll save this for another blog post. Ok. Enough said.

The three tactical phases of SEO are simple:

  1. Foundation

  2. Optimization

  3. Expansion

Foundation Phase

Foundational SEO is a comprehensive assessment of the site’s obstacles that prevent search engine crawlers from accessing all of the site’s readable content. These foundational obstacles are usually broken links, javascript- or Flash-enabled links, duplicate pages, etc.

During this period, it’s also important to understand what onsite HTML elements are present (or not) and how they are behaving. For example, any search-worthy page should include — at minimum — the following page elements: page title, meta-description, and heading elements. Oftentimes, one or more of these items are missing from the page. Other times, a heading element isn’t wrapped around the most relevant web page copy. A heading element like a H1 tag might be wrapped around an image or a less relevant section of the page.

In either case, it’s important to identify these missed opportunities and recommend a set of actions to address them.

By the end of the foundational phase, there should be an audit completed and recommendations based on the audit implemented.

I would argue that you may not complete this phase for a whole year or more because some technical or foundational issues might take as long to address.

However, it shouldn’t prevent you from moving into the next phase and it’s not a problem if you have more than one phase in the works at any one time.

Just understand that depending on the severity of the foundational issue, no matter what you do in the later phases, your site will continue to be hindered in the search rankings until these issues are resolved.

Optimization Phase

This phase is focused on the desired keywords. The activities and choices made in this phase are almost exclusively about organizing each page and the entire site to rank competitively on a set of important keywords for the website.

So the first step in this phase is a thoughtful brainstorm of the most important keywords for the website. This is often initiaited with a simple pen and pad (or a text file). Just write down what keywords you would punch into a search engine to find information about your website. Pick at least 10.

From that seed list of keywords, web tools will help refine or expand the keyword list. These terms will help you determine the volume of searches on each keyword, the competitiveness of these searches, the website’s current rankings on these terms and much more.

Here are some web tools:

  1. Google Keyword Tool

  2. Open Site Explorer

  3. SEM Rush

The output of this analysis should be a set of keywords and a clear understanding of where your website stands vs. its desired state (#1 position on XYZ keywords), the relative size of the traffic opportunity, and the relative competitiveness for each keyword.

From there, we want to dig into the following:

  1. The website — compare how the pages are currently targeting the keyword set, where are the meta-data needs, the content needs, the site navigation and architecture needs, etc.

  2. The competitor’s websites — compare how both direct and indirect competitors are targeting these keywords, what looks to be working, what’s not working.

  3. The competitor’s backlinks — compare the size and diversity of the competitor’s backlink profile, see what’s working vs. what’s not.

These activities will inform the optimization priorities, where to start and where to go.

A clear roadmap of work will come out of these activities. To gut check this roadmap, it should include an update of some, if not all, of the pages on the website, a re-organization of the site itself, new content creation plans, internal linking updates.

The next step is to get to knocking out each of them, plus whatever else is on there. It’s important to ensure that you’re focused on the activities that will have the most impact and communicate openly and regularly what the expected outcome of this work should be.

Again, this phase might take months to complete, depending on the size of the site and the pace of implementing the updates. And here I would say that you should probably leave the next phase alone until 75–85% of the optimization phase is complete. By that time, you should have made about the same amount of progress if not more in Phase 1 as well. Plus, your rankings and organic search traffic performance should see considerable improvement as well. If not, then you definitely missed something and will need to revisit to phase 1 and 2.

Expansion Phase

This phase is focused mainly on new keywords and offsite SEO. As this phase relates to new keywords, you should also have a set of keywords from the initial keyword strategy development in Phase 2, that you put on the shelf for one reason or another. Perhaps, it’s time to revisit them. Dust them off and start phase 2 all other again. Not much more to say about these at the moment.

Offsite SEO is the most challenging and most remote from the traditional concepts of SEO. In a sense, it is content marketing. The activities in this phase are more in line with a Public Relations Agency than a SEO agency. Let me explain.

The offsite SEO tactics are ideating content ideas, pitching these content ideas to publisher sites, negotiating with publisher sites, creating the content for the publisher (or working with a publisher’s writing staff to create the content), and ensuring the publisher complies with your content requirements.

Sounds a lot like PR, right?

Some differences are:

  • The goal for offsite SEO remains ranking improvements on the core keyword set defined earlier in phase 2.

  • The content is often not about the brand, but about the category (or the generic keyword)

  • The content has to include links to your website but also others too.

  • The publishers are identified not only by the relevancy of their content but also by their domain authority.

This activity is often best performed by someone with journalism or PR experience or someone with a talent for working with publishers.

This activity will take weeks to see progress with new content on third-party sites, but months before the work shows ranking improvements. Often times, directly attributing the hard work in offsite SEO is difficult since you’re often implementing a ton of other SEO related efforts at the same time, although it’s certainly possible.

OK! You made it to the end.

I hope this post informed you on how to think about SEO tactics and what some of these SEO tactics are.

Let me know if you have any questions. Happy to help.