Building an SEO Strategy (or, an Extended Metaphor about how SEO is like Building a House)

October 17, 2021

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

-Sun Tzu

Strategy is the goal. Tactics are how you get there.

Put another way, if your goal is to become a published author, then writing a book is a great tactic, but if you don’t have a strategy to get it published, then what was the point? You can’t become an author without a novel, but you can’t publish without a book. Make sense?

I know, I know, I promised a house metaphor and here I am making book analogies. Fear not, I haven’t forgotten. Just easing us in so we all have the same idea of how a strategy differentiates from tactics.

There’s a reason SEO is a discipline and not simply a series of boxes to check. It’s 70% data and 30% art and this is where the house metaphor comes in.

Step 1: SEO Tech Audit

Step 1: Laying the foundation

First is setting the foundation — can’t add the walls unless you have a solid foundation. This is what I’d consider the “checking boxes” portion of SEO. Is there a robots file? How’s the site speed? Are there broken links? Optimized metadata? Sitemaps? Etc. etc. It’s not the most creative element, but it’s necessary.

Step 2: Maximizing Crawl

Step 2: Building the frame

The second phase is building the frame & putting up the walls. Essentially, this is where I focus on crawl. Before we start implementing “new pages” or overhauling the website, it’s important to set the site architecture. Ensure the current top priority pages are in the top nav (or linked closely to the home page). Make sure there’s no makeshift sheds in the backyard (which are orphaned pages in this analogy). Let’s make sure your site follows a logical path from home page to the deepest level of the site. I want to make sure bots aren’t wasting their time with irrelevant or low-value pages.

Step 3: Target Keywords

Step 3: Creating curb appeal

The third phase is decorating or, as I like to call it, creating curb appeal. This is not only where we ensure the primary pages are targeting our priority keywords, but also where we start to implement the creation of new content. Regardless of your site’s service or product, there should be evergreen landing pages that target keywords you have the right to win. This is where we should start to see gains in traffic, rankings, and conversions.

Step 4: Competitor Analysis

Step 4: Comps

Stage four is comps, looking at competitor’s houses to see what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. Even if you’re currently ranking in the top position for numerous keywords, it’s going to be important to see who is ranking in the second position and what they’re doing about it. It’s worth seeing what their strategy is but more importantly, if they usurp your site one day, you can ideally already diagnose what changed. Be proactive.

Step 5: Mitigating interference

Step 5: Inclement weather

Alright, so the fifth step isn’t necessarily a consecutive step, but a concurrent one. Basically, it’s something that should be considered and anticipated in any SEO order.

What I consider to be “inclement weather” is something like a Google algorithm update, but it could be something like an influencer suddenly falling out of grace due to cancel culture — and previously they fostered your brand. For instance, the less said about Jared (formerly from Subway) the better.

The reason this takes the form of a “step” and not an ever-present threat is it can radically change steps 1-4. What I mean is, if we plan on targeting a specific category of keywords, but Google releases a core algorithm update that sees those keywords tank, but a new category of keywords rise, then the priority should be flexible enough to shift. This isn’t something every SEO recommends, but for what it’s worth, I say lean into what Google thinks you’re relevant for. It doesn’t mean your site can’t rank for other keywords, but in the immediate future, focus on what Google says you’re already relevant for.