For most organizations, implementing an effective SEO (search engine optimization) strategy involves collecting and analyzing significant amounts of keywords, content, analytics, and competitive data from various sources.
SEO professionals then need to use this data to prioritize keyword, content, structural, and/or linking tasks to address issues or build on existing organic search authority.
One familiar method of prioritization, which lends itself well to helping focus attention and often maximize limited SEO and marketing resources, is the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) framework.
A SWOT, by definition, is geared to help identify items with the biggest potential impact on growth – or the most dangerous threats.
The following breakdown of organizational SEO priorities assumes keyword research has already been done and is being used for the website, SERP (Search Engine Results Page), and competitive data, which will be the foundation of an effective SWOT.
Keyword research alone is often deserving of its own SWOT process.
One of the primary factors search engines use in determining your organic search visibility is an organization’s relative strength and authority for a topical group of keywords.
Identifying those keywords for which the organization already has some authority – or as some like to call “momentum” in the eyes of the search engines – is an excellent place to begin focusing your attention.
Authority is generally difficult to come by and takes time to establish, so why not build on what you already have.
Your first question should be, “Which pieces of content do I have that rank well (let’s say in the top 20 results) in the search engines for my primary keyword groups?”
Recognizing where you have existing strength can be leveraged in three ways:
- Look for opportunities to link out from or to your strongest pieces of content. This can have the dual effect of reinforcing your original piece of content by linking to more comprehensive answers to your audiences’ questions and borrowing from the authority of the strongest piece.
- Perform full-page keyword, technical, and link audits on all webpages that rank between positions five and 20 to see where any improvements can be made to move them higher in the SERPs. This may mean adjusting title tags, headings, or updating links to more current or relevant sources.
- Determine whether the “right” landing pages rank for the keywords you want to be found for. While it may seem great to have your homepage rank for several of your keywords, this is not optimal.
Searchers who land on your homepage looking for something specific will have to spend more time clicking or searching again to find the exact answer to their question.
Identify the pages you have that provide answers, and focus on having them usurp the position currently maintained by the homepage.
If you determine such pages don’t exist, then it’s time to create them.
Be sure to also pay attention to the types and characteristics of your strongest content pieces as signals to what content to create moving forward.
For example, if you have videos ranking well on Google and/or YouTube, by all means, create more videos.
If long-form blog posts dominate the top of the search results for your primary keywords, this is your cue to publish and share more of the same.
We all have our weaknesses; when it comes to SEO, recognizing and admitting them early on can save us a great deal of effort, time, money, and lost business.
Keywords And Content
While there are undoubtedly keyword groups we feel we must be found for, it’s important to let go of those which will require too much time and/or effort to establish authority for.
Generally, a quick review of the search engine results will reveal keywords that are out of reach based on your competitors’ size, age, reputation, and quality of content.
In this case, looking at the more specific long-tail and intent-driven keyword alternatives may be necessary or considering other avenues (including paid) to generate visibility, traffic, and conversions.
Sometimes, the best strategy is to employ complementary paid search tactics until you can establish organic search authority.
Another area of weakness, which you can readily control more, maybe the quality of your own website and content from a technical/structural, keyword relevance, or depth perspective.
You can begin identifying areas of weakness by conducting an SEO audit.
There are several excellent free and paid tools available, including Google Lighthouse and Search Console (specifically the Core Web Vitals Report and Mobile-Friendly Test), which will provide a prioritized list of issues and/or errors found in the title and heading tags, internal and external links, website code, keyword usage/density, and a myriad of mobile-friendly factors.
As noted above, you should start by focusing on and fixing any issues found on those pages for which you already have some authority based on search engine results.
Optimizing these pages can only help improve their chances of moving up the SERPs.
You can move on to other priority web pages based on website analytics data or strategic importance.
Organically obtained, relevant, quality backlinks (aka inbound links) are still a search engine ranking factor as they speak to, and can enhance, the authority of the site to which they link.
As with site auditing, many good third-party backlink tools can reveal where you maintain backlinks. These are particularly useful for looking at the backlink sources of your strongest-known competitors.
Where appropriate, you may want to reach out to obtain links from the same relevant sources to leverage their authority.
In SEO, opportunities abound for those who know how, where, and who take the time to look.
SEO is really about moving from one opportunity to the next.
Once optimization is deemed successful for one group of keywords or pieces of content, it’s time to move to the next topic upon which authority can be established or reinforced.
Keywords And Content
Several keyword research tools like Ahrefs, Semrush, and others can discover both keyword and content opportunities or gaps based on providing your website domain, the domains of your known competitors, or a targeted list of keywords.
Most provide prioritized lists of potentially high-value keywords based on estimated monthly search volumes, organic traffic, and/or relative competition.
In other words: Which high-value keywords are your competitors ranking for which you are not?
As with the Weaknesses above, part of this analysis should consider the level of effort required to obtain authority relative to the potential return on establishing organic visibility.
Is it a worthwhile opportunity?
- A more manual process for discovering keyword and content opportunities is to run a reverse website audit on competitors’ websites.
Or, spend some time simply reviewing your top competitors’ primary pages, paying particular attention to the keywords used in title tags, headings, and internal link anchor text.
These are presumably the keywords that matter most to them.
However, be careful, as this strategy assumes the competition has conducted their own keyword research and has been following SEO best practices, which may or may not always be the case.
Focusing on those competitors who rank well for your primary keywords should single out the ones who are intentionally optimizing for search.
Another opportunity within a web presence is the refresh of top-performing or complementary content.
First, scan the SERPs or a preferred keyword tool to identify older content that is ranking for target keywords or serves to support other primary content pages.
Then, review this content to see where there may be opportunities to update text, images, internal/external links, or any other components.
Perhaps there’s an opportunity to enhance the piece by creating and adding images or videos.
Finally, re-share this content via appropriate channels, and perhaps consider identifying new avenues – as a previously popular piece of content will likely perform well again.
Existing content offers an excellent opportunity to build authority, often with just a little extra effort.
While typically a manually intensive process, there is long-term value in seeking out backlinks.
Ideally, you want to identify relevant, authoritative websites/domains from which high-quality inbound links can be obtained.
There are several sources you can use to start looking for inbound links:
The SERPs for your primary keywords are a natural backlink research starting point, as the websites found here are, by definition, considered “relevant” and “authoritative” by the search engines.
Of particular interest are those sites which rank ahead of yours because they presumably have higher authority upon which you can piggyback.
Look for any non-competitive backlinking opportunities such as directories, association listings, or articles and blog posts that you may be able to contribute to, get mentioned in, or comment on.
The Google Search Console Links Report is the next best resource for backlink research, as it indicates what Google recognizes as the domains linking to your content.
Here you can validate the quality and accuracy of the links you already have, as well as determine if there are any other opportunities to obtain additional links from these same domains.
Referral sources in Google Analytics represent external sites that send you traffic but may or may not be providing an organic search boost.
Review these domains/sites regularly to see other linking opportunities.
4. As noted under Weaknesses, several third-party backlink tools can be used to identify potential backlink sources where links to your competitors can be found.
Some will even help by authority ranking and prioritizing the value of each existing and potential source, which can save significant time.
Whether done intentionally or not, there are more than a few things which can threaten organic authority in the eyes of the search engines and should be prioritized to avoid potentially damaging penalties.
The primary content threat most are familiar with is duplicate content, which, as the name suggests, is content repurposed on a website without proper attribution to the original source.
To avoid being penalized for using this type of content, you must be sure to include rel canonical tags by referencing the source content in the headers of pages containing the duplicate content.
In other words: It’s okay to have some duplicate content on a website, as long as the original source is properly identified.
While relevant, high-quality backlinks can help boost your authority, irrelevant, low-quality inbound links from non-reputable sites (particularly those that are part of paid link schemes) can do long-lasting harm and even get you tagged with a manual penalty.
The threat here is a potential loss of organic visibility and traffic.
Further, recovering from a manual penalty is not an easy or quick process.
Simply put, you should never pay for backlinks and ensure any backlinks you acquire have not been purchased on your behalf by a third party, like a marketing agency.
As such, you should regularly review the Google Search Console Links report or other backlink reporting sources for questionable domains or those you don’t recognize as relevant.
All online competitors creating their own content represent threats to your authority.
Even if you maintain strong organic visibility and traffic relative to your “known” competitors, there is always the potential for new, aggressive, or unknown competitors to come onto the scene.
Many of the aforementioned SEO tools provide competitor discovery tools to help quickly identify domains that consistently appear in the search results for your primary keywords.
Oftentimes, there may be competitors here you’ve never considered. You’ll naturally want to pay attention to these competitors and use the tactics noted above to see what you can learn from them.
Search engines love and reward fresh, relevant content, and Google even has a freshness algorithm to identify it.
As such, you should regularly monitor the search engine results for new entrants, which may, over time, challenge your authority and position.
Of course, the best way to combat this type of threat is by continuing to publish and update your own comprehensive content, which will give the search engines less reason to question your authority.
Actioning On The SWOT
The detailed SWOT outputs will map prioritized actions to protect and/or improve online authority, visibility, and resulting traffic, leads, and revenue.
Proactive search marketers should conduct these analyses on at least a bi-annual, if not quarterly, basis, depending on how competitive the industry is and how active the competitors are.
A well-structured SWOT can provide an excellent roadmap for where, when, and how often action needs to be taken or content needs to be created and shared to boost your organization’s primary SEO goals.
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