3 steps to strategic SEO planning


Standing out in search is not easy.

The search environment is hyper-competitive. It is possible to publish excellent content and still see it fail to rank.

Competition is everywhere in search. You are competing with ads, SERP features, and soon integrated generative AI in the form of the Search Generative Experience (SGE). 

To succeed in this environment, you need a clear, actionable SEO strategy that ensures your content does something different, stands out, and deserves to rank highly. 

What is an SEO strategy?

Strategy is a tricky term to nail down at times. 

A quick Google search for “SEO strategy” provides no shortage of articles. 

However, when reviewing these articles, I noticed that something was missing. The most prominent SEO strategy articles focus predominantly on planning rather than strategy. SEO planning is no doubt important, but planning does not create a strategy.

SEO planning typically looks something like this:

  • Keyword research: Form a list of target keywords.
  • Search and review: Review the SERPs and document content type.
  • Content plan: Create a content plan to target your main keywords.

If mentioned at all, the only hat-tip to strategy is to create something better. I don’t find that useful, as better is often subjective. What does better mean? Better is not the only way to stand out. Sometimes, different is better. 

Most often, though, actual strategy is left out and replaced with just planning, which alone will not deliver the desired outcome. 

Strategy development should answer the question of how you create something better (rather than just to create something better). 

3-step strategic SEO process

To develop an effective SEO strategy, we need three distinct steps:

  • Step 1: SEO research – Keywords, competitors, currently ranking content.
  • Step 2: SEO strategy – How to do something different or unique to stand out.
  • Step 3: SEO planning – The execution plan to deliver your strategy.

The key here is the insertion of an SEO strategy between the research and the planning stages. 

Step 1 is SEO research. This is the first step to understanding your situation and the environment to inform your strategic choices. 

You must:

This step is critical in developing an effective SEO strategy, as you can’t create something uniquely valuable unless you understand what is already out there

You would be surprised how many ideas present themselves if you just carefully review everything that ranks high on the SERPs for your dream keywords.

Step 3 is the creation of an SEO action plan. This plan should deliver the tactical components of the strategy. This may be as simple as a content calendar detailing what needs to be created each month. 

Sandwiched between this research and planning is the SEO strategy development itself. The research informs the strategy and itself informs the planning. 


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Getting started with SEO strategy development

Unfortunately, there is no fixed framework for developing an SEO strategy – too many variables exist. However, we have discovered at my agency that we can use many tried-and-true strategic business approaches to get us thinking strategically about SEO.

A solid starting place is to look at traditional competitive strategies and repurpose those to develop an SEO strategy. Each of these takes the form of a question we can ask ourselves.  

Price 

  • Be the cost leader. Now, from an SEO perspective, the cost on the user is often time, a very precious commodity. 
  • One potential strategy is reviewing what is out there and looking at ways you can do something different to save your reader time.  
  • How can we deliver the same (or more) value but save the reader time?

Niche 

  • Targeting a niche or one customer segment is a potential strategy. 
  • For example, I could write about SEO strategy for web design agencies instead of writing about SEO strategy. I am niching it down to make it more specific and relevant to a segment of my target audience.
  • Are there any gaps in the information out there? Can we niche down whilst still targeting reasonable volume keywords?

Differentiation 

  • You will likely identify opportunities to do something different if you have researched and carefully reviewed everything for a target keyword. 
  • That could be a unique angle, including some kind of guide or tool, video if everything is text, text if everything is video. 
  • You are trying to find something that helps you stand out and build something not only as good or better but uniquely different. 
    • Different formats 
    • Unique insights and whitepapers
    • Fresh research 
    • Expert examples
    • Improved UX
    • Downloads (checklists, worksheets, etc.)
  • How do we do something different from what is out there currently?

Value

  • Your research is key here. Identifying patterns of what is available will give you opportunities to add value. 
  • Can you provide a tool, a download, some more examples, and a different perspective? What are the gaps? 
  • How do you add something beyond what is out there to add value to the reader? 
    • More comprehensive coverage of the topic.
    • Original research and data.
    • Expert opinions and quotes.
    • Actionable insights. 
    • Downloads (checklists, worksheets).
  • How do we add unique or additional value beyond what is currently out there?

Blue ocean 

  • A blue ocean strategy aims to create something completely new by combining two of our existing strategies: reducing cost (time) and adding value. 
  • If you can create something completely unique to what is out there, that makes the reader’s life much easier and saves them time, you are on to a real winner. 
  • Can we lower the time cost and add value simultaneously?

Intersecting knowledge

  • The most interesting people often seem to have detailed knowledge in multiple areas; the intersection of that knowledge creates something completely new. This is similar to a niching strategy but creates a new variant by merging knowledge of two subjects. 
  • For example, there are many articles about marketing, but not many that come at marketing from the perspective of evolutionary psychology. By combining two areas of knowledge (SEO and why people do what they do), we can create something completely new and add value to existing content (which I try to do on my own blog). 
  • Can you combine knowledge from two subjects to create something new and uniquely valuable? 

All you can E-E-A-T SEO strategy

Beyond leveraging traditional business strategies, there is another way to look at SEO strategy development: through the lens of the E-E-A-T framework that Google human raters uses to review the quality of search results. 

As you review the content for your target keywords, you can ask E-E-A-T questions to identify gaps that you can target. 

  • Expertise: Does the content demonstrate clear expertise in the subject? Is this evidenced? Is there information about the author? 
  • Experience: Does the content show real experience with the subject matter? Are there pictures? Examples of historical work? Comments from customers? Experience and expertise are closely linked, but you should aim to clearly show both. 
  • Authority: Does the content out there demonstrate true authority in the topic? Can you show authority in a way that supersedes what is out there?
  • Trust: Is the content out there trustworthy? Can you do more to demonstrate trust? 

Using E-E-A-T for SEO strategy

Google provides a list of questions that are incredibly helpful in reviewing competitor content and your approach, which, if answered honestly, will help you spot gaps and identify SEO strategies for your content. 

E-E-A-T has been well covered, so if you need a recap, this SEO guide to E-E-A-T is a great starting place, and each of these areas provides you with a potential strategic avenue to explore. 

Just remember, E-E-A-T will become more important as the SGE rolls out so you can be featured and offer something that an AI cannot! 

Why strategy matters 

The Joe Rogan Experience is a perfect example of a killer strategy. 

There was no shortage of podcasts when the show launched, but this podcast brought something new. Where other podcasts were short, and TV and radio interviews were often minutes, the podcast introduced 3-hour long-form discussions. No editing. No filter. Nothing was off the table. 

Nobody was doing this. This created a blue ocean. An uncontested marketplace that made the competition irrelevant and reached beyond existing demand to create a new audience.

Whether you like Joe Rogan or not, you can’t argue with the numbers or the nearly half a billion dollars he has had from Spotify over his two deals. 

On the other side of the strategic fence, we recently worked with a website that had lost considerable traffic after the helpful content update. 

The content they created, while not problematic and of a reasonable to high quality, was so varied in topics that they had no provable expertise in any of the areas covered. 

There is no SEO fix to this problem, only a strategic one. The current strategy, in the age of E-E-A-T, AI and helpful content updates, has had its day, and the overall SEO and content strategy must be revisited. 

Website example performance overviewWebsite example performance overview

Strategy matters and can differentiate between world-dominating success and a gradual, painful decline. 

Strategy first 

My strategy for this article was to make it unique and valuable compared to what already exists and ranks for “SEO strategy.” I felt there was a clear gap in these articles in that whilst titled around strategy, they talked little about strategy itself and were far more focused on SEO planning and tactics. 

SEO tactics sprint forward, but strategy runs marathons. To get results in business and marketing, you must inform your tactical approach with a clear strategy. 

By following this three-step approach of research, strategy and planning, you can strike at the weaknesses of the competing content to piggyback the competition. 

As AI-powered tools like ChatGPT and Google Gemini make the creation of written content exponentially easier, the strategic thinking that feeds into your SEO content strategy will make the difference. 

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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