The Simple SEO Strategy & Plan Template

A quick Google search tells me that a lot of folks have already put together some fine SEO strategy plans & templates.

Here’s why I’m offering a different take on a SEO strategy plan template:

Websites are offering SEO launch plans, not ongoing search engine optimization management templates.

The Problem with a “Launch-Only” SEO Strategy / Plan

A study of millions of search results found that only 5% of pages will rank in the top 10 positions within 1 year. (Ahrefs) This data points suggests a deep disconnect between learning and executing SEO.

Moreover: this means many practitioners don’t understand how to manage SEO strategy on an ongoing basis.

It’s an understandable problem. I told a colleague this week that teaching tactics is easy, but teaching strategy is the hard part. (Like boiling the ocean?) Put another way:

Successful marketers don’t teach others how to do, they teach them how to think.

Viewing SEO Strategies & Plans Through an Ongoing Lens

If we’re teaching SEOs how to think, we won’t concern ourselves with an audit tool list. Rather, we’ll look at how we can apply a simple framework to any website and draw from an action plan template. Let’s groove.

There are distinct phases of SEO campaigns:

  • Launch/takeover
  • Growth
  • Maintenance
  • Recovery

We view SEO strategy purely through the lens of performance, with monthly (m/m) and year-on-year (Y/Y) time frames.

Launch / Takeover

Not included in our quadrants above, this phase is pretty self-explanatory. You can look at SEO audits, and other launch-focused plans & templates.

Growth Mode for SEO

If performance is up m/m and Y/Y, we’re in growth mode! We’ll only approach certain tasks with the emphasis of creating new content and expanding our search footprint. Troubleshooting is not something we’ll be concerned with often.

Growth mode as a constant state is rare! I’m fortunate to have some sites that spend quite a bit of time in this mode, but it doesn’t last forever. You’ll see the same for many top agencies. That’s why we have more than one mode. 🙂

In growth mode- you’re only concerned about maintaining growth trajectory. This typically means you’re focused on 3 things:

  • Keyword/marketplace research
  • Content creation
  • Internal linking from new content

Maintenance Mode in SEO

Its representation in 50% of the quadrant is a decent showing for reality. Many campaigns spend most of their time in this area; how you spend maintenance time dictates success or failure.

Maintenance mode, by our definition above, states that you’re up either m/m or Y/Y, but not both at the same time. Specifically, there are two reasons to be in maintenance mode: seasonality or breaking out of a plateau of results.

Maintenance Mode: Seasonality

You’ll find that if you’re trending up Y/Y, but not up m/m, that seasonality is often in play. Some examples:

  • A luxury retailer in January, after Christmas sales & gift-giving season
  • A travel company in April, after Spring Break
  • A DWI law firm in August, after July 4th festivities
  • A kids clothing company in September, after back-to-school

How will you know if seasonality is really a factor? You can maintain a database of key branded & non-branded terms and their search interest, using the pseudo-API to automate Google Trends analysis with Colab notebooks.

Maintenance Mode: Breaking out of a Plateau

Plateaus happen for so many reasons. If you’re breaking out of a plateau, you may be flat/down Y/Y, but up m/m.

In these instances, you may continue most of your growth mode activities, but you’ll also be looking to enhance existing content:

  • Determining if CTR engagement in-SERP is satisfactory, via custom CTR curves
  • Boosting existing content by enhanced internal linking from other pages, via internal linking analysis
  • Populating or enhancing metadata, from bread-and-butter descriptions to image alt tags or structured data / schema markup
  • Issuing redirects for decommissioned content, or eliminating redirect chains due to faulty internal linking

Recovery Mode in SEO

Let’s be real, no one wants to preside over a campaign that dips into recovery mode. If you’re in-house, the CMO wants answers last week, if you’re agency-side, the AD won’t back you up until the ship’s right, if you’re a consultant…well, the client is living in your voicemails.

It’s tough, but also happens – here’s the set list you’re looking at:

  • Troubleshooting & competitive analyses
  • Rewriting content or overhauling content
  • Filing spam or malware reports

Next Steps

This post deserves a better ending, but it’s 10 minutes past my son’s last feed of the night, and I need to go warm his bottle and feed him! But this post desperately needs (and maybe might get) some touchups to make this more detailed, insightful and action-oriented.

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