How to Create an SEO Strategy [+ Free Tools & Templates]
Starting as Moz’s SEO Director has been a bit daunting. As a search engine marketer, how can I add value to an organization that has been a thought leader in the search marketing space and built industry-defining SEO tools for over a decade?
When taking on a new role or client — from local businesses to niche online retailers to enterprise-level Fortune 500 companies — the first thing I do is put together a new SEO strategy and organic search measurement plan. I lead this process with data, which highlights opportunities for improvement and instantiates goals to rally your organization around common objectives. Even with Moz being the team of data-driven SEO rockstars it is, strategy is still where I began my new role, And today, I’ll share the process.
What is an SEO strategy?
An SEO strategy aims to improve a website’s visibility in search engines such as Google and Bing. An SEO action plan, on the other hand, typically involves a combination of on-page optimization, technical SEO fixes, content strategy, link building and SEO reporting.
A strong SEO strategy will:
Improve your website’s rankings for any existing keywords for which you are currently ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Increase the awareness and influence of SEO within your organization. Consider budget and resource challenges to get the most value and SEO improvements out of your team.
- Prescribe some combination of SEO initiatives, potentially including:
Widening the scope of your ranking organic keywords through content marketing.
Fixing any technical website issues that could be negatively impacting page load times (ex. PageSpeed), search engine crawlability or user experience.
Increasing the number of backlinks from high quality domains to your site, through effective social amplification and digital PR strategies.
Imply or explicitly state priorities or beliefs that guide future action — especially what you will not do.
Whether you’re a website owner that is new to search engine optimization or a seasoned SEO taking on a new project or client, creating and following a clear SEO strategy is absolutely crucial for improving your site’s organic traffic and conversions.
10 steps towards a better SEO strategy
Like any other kind of strategy, to form an SEO strategy you need to understand the state of the game, set attainable goals, and plan to iterate. Below is a 10-step plan for finding those opportunities and insights to get you started.
1. Crawl your site to identify on-page and technical SEO issues
The best place to begin an SEO strategy is by initiating a website crawl to see if there are any issues that you need to remedy in order to maximize your SEO visibility.
There are many options for technical auditing tools that will emulate a search engine crawl of your website, and most SEOs have a favorite. Of course, here at Moz, we have our On-Demand Crawl. Moz’s tool will allow you to view all detected technical SEO issues on your site, and all of the impacted URLs. The data you will get from the On-Demand Crawl can be viewed within the UI of Moz, or exported into a CSV. This focuses on essentials to help kickstart your SEO strategy.
Initiating your site audit is a good place to start because it can take some time to complete. While your crawl is running, you can begin your competitive research.
2. Assess your competitors’ SEO strategies
This is crucial, and often overlooked, at least this early in the process.
Analyzing competitor SEO strategies will help you set realistic goals for your website. After completing this exercise, you’ll have a sense of your competitors’ most valuable keywords. These are some of the search terms you’ll want to compete for by optimizing your key site pages. This step can also be thought of as a “market analysis” task.
You’ll also want to leverage a research tool for competitive analysis. I recommend an SEO tool that offers a “gap analysis”’ functionality, Which will be the backbone of comprehensive SEO competitive research.
Within Moz Pro, the Keyword Gap feature will highlight prominent competitor keywords for which you have room to improve in the rankings. Keyword Gap will automatically sort the results to prioritize the keywords where your site has the highest traffic opportunity if you were to overtake your top-ranking competitor.
Once you’ve identified some keywords where the competition outranks you, investigate why that might be. If you were Google — or better yet, a searcher — which site would you prefer to see?
In addition to looking at the keywords that competitors are ranking well for where you have opportunity to improve, examine the types of content they are regularly producing. Do they have a blog? How much content are they publishing on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis? How are they showing their expertise?
When it comes time to align the necessary teams within your organization and rally them around your SEO goals, you’ll need to understand the competitive search landscape of your company. How much effort are your competitors putting into SEO? If they don’t appear to be optimizing their site for search, you’ll have an opportunity to pull ahead. If they have been actively involved in content creation and their core technical SEO is solid (you can even audit their sites to determine what they’re doing well), then you can use their strengths to guide your SEO roadmap.
3. Create SEO goals and align your teams
Despite the fact that there are professional SEOs who specialize in driving business goals via organic search optimization, SEO is a team effort. A good SEO strategy builds buy-in from web developers, content teams, and company leadership, as SEOs often straddle the intersections between teams. For example, you may need to collaborate with your editorial team to create a blog post that was ideated by data-driven research, and your web development team to create the page. Or, after you conduct your SEO audit, you may realize that you need the assistance of your developers to remedy several technical issues.
As mentioned in the section above, even if SEO is not a new endeavor at your company, I recommend thoroughly investigating competitors’ SEO strategies before attempting to get buy-in from other teams. If you can frame the need to optimize your site for organic search through the lens of deficiencies your site has against your competitors, you’ll be able to make a more powerful case to your leadership and cross-functional teams.
4. Create an effort vs. impact matrix [FREE TEMPLATE BELOW]
Now that you’ve completed the research steps of your SEO strategy, you’ve reached a good point to create an itemized list of all of the tasks you want to accomplish. These can include on-page or technical SEO fixes resulting from the audit you did at the beginning of the process, blog posts to write, existing site pages to optimize for search, and more.
My recommendation for outlining these steps is to create an effort vs. impact chart that organizes each item. Nobody knows your business better than you, so the effort required to complete each item will be highly personalized to your company. Sometimes finding the internal resources to write and publish a new piece of content can prove to be a larger endeavor than, say, fixing a redirect loop, or vice versa.
Whatever the dynamic of your business, an effort vs. impact matrix can help you organize your seo strategy into tactical jobs to be done. Here’s a link to a free template.
More often than not, running a crawl of your site using a tool like Moz Pro will highlight a ton of SEO issues you probably weren’t aware of, which can be overwhelming. Moz Pro can offer some guidance on working through these issues by flagging certain items as “critical”.
If you’re looking for a place to get started on prioritizing your SEO action items, I always recommend looking at your site’s meta titles first. Meta titles are one of the primary factors Google considers when deciding where to rank a page, with respect to how relevant it is to a given keyword. They’re also what users read when they’re deciding where to click on the SERP, and thus can have a significant impact on click-through rates. Moz Pro will find pages for you where meta titles are missing, or below Google’s recommended 60-character length.
If you’ve never optimized your meta titles, I recommend manually reviewing all of your core site pages to ensure that your titles are optimized for the keyword you want to target with each page. After you’ve done the keyword research and determined what your meta title should be on core pages, they’re typically relatively easy to update in your CMS or the backend of your website.
5. Build an SEO report or dashboard
After thinking through your priority list for optimizations, you’ll want to establish a baseline of current SEO performance and create a method to track your progress.
Moz’s Campaigns feature allows you to track a list of keywords for your site on an ongoing basis. Moz Pro will automatically build a dashboard for you that visualizes position improvements for your key organic search rankings. Google Analytics can also be integrated into this dashboard so that you can monitor your site traffic along with rankings and your site’s Domain Authority.
Setting up a Moz Pro Campaign will also automatically run a site crawl for your domain once a week so that you can track the number of outstanding technical SEO issues on your site as you work on fixing them.
6. Iterate through technical SEO fixes
The SEO process is a bit like building a house. There will be plenty of time to add window dressing and furniture, but first, you start with the foundation. Your website’s solid foundation is its technical SEO frame.
Using the SEO audit you completed in step 1 and your effort vs. impact matrix, begin identifying issues that are contributing to critical crawl issues (as identified by Moz’s Site Crawl tool, for example).
PageSpeed Insights is an important tool to leverage because:
The recommendations on improving your site health and technical SEO foundation are coming directly from Google.
7. Optimize existing content for search engines
Now that you have your progress tracking infrastructure in place and your list of SEO opportunities to attack, it’s time to start optimizing your content. Use the effort vs. impact matrix to guide your priorities, beginning with low-effort/high-impact items such as meta title optimization.
After completing this work, I also recommend taking a closer look at all of your sites’ core pages. A tool such as Moz’s On-Page Grader will help provide even more detail on how well-optimized a page is for a given keyword. For example, AT&T is doing an above-average job at optimizing its wireless page for the “cell phone” keyword, but there are still optimizations that can be made:
8. Identify new content opportunities through topic research
The best way to close keyword gaps is by publishing targeted, SEO-driven content on your site. The list of keywords that you get from a tool like Moz Pro’s Keyword Gap can be used to ideate on topic ideas.
Hub-and Spoke content model
A good SEO strategy will often use a hub-and-spoke content model. This is the practice of creating “hub” pages that will rank for high-volume keywords and convert Google searches into customers through CTAs. These hub pages will be supported by “spoke” pages containing related content, generally living on a blog or resources section of your site.
For example, let’s say one you’re AT&T, and one of the keywords you want to improve rankings for is “cell phone”. Your first step is creating a URL on your site that targets the “cell phone” keyword. After this page is created, SEO focused, and conversion-optimized, you will want to create a series of supporting content pieces that link into your main ‘cell phone’ page.
Using a keyword research tool such as Moz Pro’s Keyword Suggestions feature can help you quickly identify topics related to your primary term. As opposed to guessing at topics that people might be interested in, dedicated SEO tools allow you to use data to power all of your decision making. For example, these are questions that Google searchers have related to “cell phone”.
9. Amplify your content on social media, and investigate backlink opportunities
Even in 2023, high quality backlinks are an important part of SEO. The number of backlinks a site is receiving from high authority pages is a major component of Moz’s Domain Authority score, which is the industry-standard KPI for measuring the overall ranking ability of a domain.
The best way to increase your Domain Authority is by creating high quality content that people want to share. In addition to creating the content and publishing it on your site, creatively promoting it on social channels such as TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, or additional platforms where your customers (and prospective customers) spend their digital time will help drive brand awareness and can increase branded search volume.
There are also ways to engage in manual link building efforts that aim to gain links to your site from high-quality site publishers. This is an especially important exercise for newer domains with low Domain Authority scores.
10. Measure, optimize, and test
Your competitive landscape will evolve, and so will your company. Even within the scope of a year, an SEO strategy for 2023 may involve unexpected priorities in November that you didn’t account for in March.
But despite the constant state of change in the digital world, it’s important to continually track your high-value keywords using an SEO tool like Moz Pro, and to monitor the traffic growth of your content in platforms like Google Analytics. Over time, you’ll notice areas of topical strength and weakness for your site. You can continue to play into the strengths of your site and publish content related to your strongest topics, while simultaneously identifying keyword gap opportunities and improving areas of weakness.
Get started on your SEO strategy today
There are several free SEO tools on the market that can assist you in kickstarting your search engine optimization strategy. Moz even has free versions available of our own Keyword Explorer and Competitor Research, which can help you find opportunities for your site’s search engine visibility and help you set SEO goals.
Whether you’re an experienced SEO taking on a new client or a website owner approaching SEO for the first time, it’s crucial to create a roadmap of defined tasks and actionable goals. Having an action plan will help keep you focused on your goals, and prevent aimless work and incomplete projects. In search engine marketing, it pays to be methodical, yet adaptable.