We’re all aware of how powerful search engine optimization (SEO) can be for boosting brand recognition, website visits, and, ultimately, revenue.
But no business can hope to realize these benefits on a consistent basis just by dabbling in SEO. Instead, continued SEO success depends on adhering to a tried-and-tested SEO process.
But what does a successful SEO process consist of? Where does it begin? And which steps are the most important?
This post will walk you through all the critical stages of the SEO process, from competitor research and on-page optimization to content strategy and link building. By the time we’ve finished, you’ll have a clear understanding of what’s needed to make your next SEO campaign a success.
Let’s start with some fundamentals.
What Is The SEO Process?
The SEO process refers to all the activities that must be implemented for a site to gain better visibility on the search engines consistently.
The process ensures that each of the four pillars of SEO is catered to:
- Content: Publishing value-packed content that search users want to see.
- Technical SEO: Ensuring the site in question is easy for Google to crawl and index.
- On-site SEO: Optimizing content and HTML for target keywords.
- Off-site SEO: Generating high-quality backlinks to the site to boost its domain authority.
Far from being a one-and-done exercise, the SEO process is an ongoing cycle of testing and tweaking aimed at maximizing a website’s ranking potential.
The constant need to adapt to changing search engine algorithms, user demand, and competitor activity means there’s no let-up in the SEO process. Once you initiate it, you need to stick with it to reap the benefits over time.
But even though SEO is a long-term game where patience and consistency hold the key to success, you don’t need to wait forever to see results. In fact, many businesses new to organic search see significant ranking improvements within 4 to 6 months of committing to a well-executed SEO strategy.
Okay, but what does the SEO process look like?
This visualization of the SEO roadmap gives a good overview of all the major steps involved in the process. Each step falls into one of four categories: research, creative, optimization, and trust.
Get in touch today to see what your own custom SEO process could look like
With that in mind, let’s look at each step in more detail, starting with the all-important research phase.
The SEO process starts with building a clear picture of what kind of content your target audience likes to consume.
Once you understand what your audience is looking for, you can begin to decide what content you should create and what keywords you should target.
Keyword research reveals what people are searching for in relation to your brand, category, or industry and tells you how often people search for different terms.
The goal here is to settle on a list of target keywords that you can begin to build content around to increase your organic reach.
The most efficient way to build a comprehensive keyword list is to use a premium keyword research tool like SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Long Tail Pro.
For smaller SEO campaigns, it may be enough to rely on free keyword tools like the Ahrefs Free Keyword Generator or even manual methods like gathering keyword ideas from Google’s auto-complete function.
When building a keyword list, you’ll need to record the monthly search volume and estimated ranking difficulty for each term.
This information will help you decide which keywords to target most aggressively. And since it’s generally harder to rank for high-volume terms than low-volume ones, it often makes sense to prioritize ‘Goldilocks’ terms that offer the best balance of traffic and ranking potential.
You should categorize your keyword list in terms of primary and secondary keywords. Primary keywords are those you intend to rank for, while secondary keywords give Google a little extra help in figuring out what your content is about.
You should also categorize your keywords according to where they sit in the marketing funnel. This will ensure your content caters to different sections of the buyer’s journey.
To figure out where a given query sits in the marketing funnel, just consider the search intent behind it. In other words, ask yourself what the user is trying to achieve when Googling that term.
For example, let’s suppose you run a wedding planning business in New England. Among your list of keywords, you have ‘best marriage proposal ideas’, ‘top wedding venues in Maine,’ and ‘hire New England wedding planner’.
Where do these queries sit in your marketing funnel?
The first query sits at the top of the funnel (ToFu) since – although the user isn’t in the market for a wedding planner just yet – they could be in the future.
Meanwhile, the second query sits in the middle of the funnel (MoFu) because the user is clearly making preparations for a wedding and could be in the market for a wedding planner.
Finally, the third query sits at the bottom of the funnel (BoFu) since the user is actively seeking to hire a wedding planner.
The next step in the SEO process is to evaluate the competitive search landscape within your niche.
The goal here is assess how well the other companies in your market or industry perform against your target keywords.
This is important because it makes it clear from the outset what standards you’ll need to meet to successfully compete in your corner of Google.
You’ll want to pay close attention to competitor sites that repeatedly appear at the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs) and figure out what they’re doing well.
It’s likely that their content will be well-presented and packed with value. So make a note of anything they seem to be getting right so you can set a benchmark for your own content strategy.
And while it’s important to consider what your competitors are doing well, you should also look for areas where they could be doing better.
Conducting a content gap analysis on competitor websites will reveal untapped opportunities for keyword targeting that you can capitalize on with your own content. You’ll find more information about content gap analyses under ‘Content Strategy’ later in this blog post.
Finally, you’ll need to conduct a backlink audit of your competitors. This will help you gauge the quantity and quality of links you’ll need for your own site to successfully compete in your niche.
With research out of the way, the next step of the SEO process is to ensure that all your website’s technical elements are in good working order.
Put simply, your chances of ranking well drop significantly if your site is buggy or hard to use.
Since technical SEO covers a wide range of activities, we’ll mention just a few of the most important ones here:
We all know how annoying it can be when a site takes forever to load.
So it comes as no surprise that site speed is now widely believed to be one of Google’s ranking factors. Moreover, conversion rates drop by around 4.4% for every extra second it takes a page to load.
Check out Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool to see how your site speed could be improved.
Since mobile devices account for more than 60% of organic search visits in the US, it’s essential to ensure that your site looks and performs seamlessly on mobile.
Key features of a good mobile-responsive design include thumb-friendly navigation, prominent call-to-action (CTA) buttons, and minimal on-page distractions (like pop-up boxes).
Whenever a website contains one or more pages that share the same content, Google finds it hard to tell which page should rank in its results pages.
Sometimes this means the pages that share the same content end up ranking lower than if there were just one page.
To combat this issue, you can implement a canonical tag that tells Google which single version of the content it should list in the SERPs.
Many websites contain pages or entire sections that don’t need to be indexed by search engines.
These can include non-public pages (like a sign-in page) or resources like PDFs.
Creating a robots.txt file tells search engines not to crawl (and therefore not to index) certain pages of your site.
The next step in the SEO process is to ensure that your website architecture is as easy as possible for users and search engines to navigate.
A poor navigational structure will make it much harder for Google’s spiders to crawl and index your pages. And if your pages aren’t indexed, they definitely won’t rank!
Here are the main factors to consider:
A well-interconnected website allows visitors to seamlessly move from one page to another while making it easier for search engine spiders to crawl its pages.
As such, your site should have a coherent information architecture, intuitive navigation options, and contextual links between related pieces of content.
An XML sitemap provides a list of all the important pages on your site that you want Google to crawl.
Since the sitemap essentially gives search engines a shortcut to all the pages on your site, it ensures that every page is crawled even if your internal linking structure isn’t perfect.
Another vital step in the SEO process is making sure that all your on-page elements are fully optimized.
These on-page elements are crucial for letting Google know what your pages are about and helping it match your content to relevant queries.
On-page SEO involves integrating target keywords into the page titles, header tags, body copy, and image alt text of your web pages. The goal is to give search engines the strongest possible signal that your content is a relevant match for the keywords you’re targeting.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should stuff your pages and HTML code with keywords in a bid to artificially boost your rankings. Doing so ruins the user experience and can even lead to a Google penalty.
The key to better rankings and more traffic is to consistently publish best-in-class content that your target audience is actively searching for.
The SEO process simply can’t deliver growth without a well-defined content strategy at its core.
The first task for creating a content strategy is to conduct a content audit.
The aim is to understand how well your existing content is performing across various engagement and conversion metrics. The audit also involves a content gap analysis, which shows how well you’re currently ranking for your target keywords.
If your existing content is underperforming, one way to fix it is through content restructuring. This can involve re-organizing certain pieces into thematically-related topic clusters or merging multiple pieces of content into one definitive pillar post.
Once you’ve built a clear picture of how your current content is performing and where the gaps in it are, the next task will be to plan, produce, and publish new content!
If you manage a brick-and-mortar or service-area business, you’ll want to increase your site’s organic visibility for location-based searches.
This will help your business to stand out in the SERPs, thereby driving more traffic to your site (and footfall to your physical premises).
That’s why the main focus in this step is to set up and optimize your Google Business Profile (GBP).
GBP is a free tool for managing how your business appears across Google Search and Google Maps.
Using this tool, you can give Google up-to-date information about your business (like opening hours, address, and website), post photos and videos of your business, and even collect and respond to customer reviews.
We’ve already mentioned how backlinks can have a huge influence on how well your pages rank.
Accordingly, this stage of the SEO process is dedicated to increasing the quality and quantity of your backlink profile.
The primary link-building strategy is guest posting. This entails writing posts for high-authority blogs in your niche in exchange for backlinks to your website and exposure to a broader audience.
This step also involves removing harmful links and fixing good-but-broken links pointing to your domain. The goal here is to ensure your site receives as much link equity as possible.
Reporting and Maintenance
Successful SEO is a non-stop process of research, testing, and evaluation.
But a well-defined reporting system is essential in order to keep track of progress and problem issues.
The more you have a handle on how your site is performing across various key metrics (rankings, visits, conversions, etc.), the easier it will be to identify and address problems early and maintain the gains you’ve made.
SEO Process: FAQs
What is the first step in the SEO process?
The SEO process always starts with research, whether the website in question has yet to be built or is already up and running.
The goal is to develop a good understanding of your target audience’s informational needs (keyword research) and the competitive landscape surrounding your brand (competitive research). These findings lay the foundations for the content strategy that follows.
Why is SEO an ongoing process?
SEO is an ongoing process because it requires constant adaptation.
Suppose for a moment your site ranked at the top of the SERPs for all your target keywords.
Despite your success, your competitors would continue to publish new content, search engine algorithms would continue to evolve, and your target audience’s appetite for new and useful content would continue to grow.
In other words, when it comes to SEO, you have to stick with it to maintain the ground you’ve gained.
When does a website launch take place in the SEO process?
Ideally, a new website will launch once all the initial content has been produced and the UX and technical requirements of the site have been taken care of.
Once the site has launched, link-building activities will be essential for boosting its authority.
Trust The Process
It’s simple, the only way to make consistent and long-lasting progress at SEO is to stick to a proven SEO process.
We’ve seen that the SEO process involves the interplay of some key activities. These include keyword and competitor research, on-page optimization and technical SEO, and content creation and link building.
It’s now time for you to apply what you’ve learned here to your next SEO campaign. But if you’d like a crack team of SEO specialists to take care of that for you, we can help!
Get in touch today to learn what a custom SEO process could look like for your brand.