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SEO planning: how to create a successful SEO plan

Benjamin Franklin memorably claimed that: “failing to plan is planning to fail“. This is never more prevalent than in SEO. No website finds success through blind luck. SEO planning is pivotal to driving traffic to your online presence, and in this guide, we’ll discuss how to draw up a successful 6 to 12 month SEO plan for your website.

Editor’s Note [13th November 2023]: Our original guide was created back on 27th October 2020 and while the fundamentals of SEO planning remain the same, the tools and ingredients that make up SEO have changed. In this latest update, we’ve given the original guide a fresh new update to include additional information, new data, and an up-to-date view on what it takes to create a successful SEO plan.

What is an SEO plan?

An SEO plan is sometimes also referred to as an SEO strategy or SEO template.

Both refer to a carefully prepared set of activities outlining how you intend to attract visitors to your website through organic search results.1

Seo plan

If you do not carry out adequate SEO planning, your site will struggle to attract visitors

It is no secret that traffic is the lifeblood of any website. After all, what is a website without visitors? The more visitors a site attracts, the more you are likely to achieve your desired goals. SEO planning, with a focus on Google, is more important than ever today.

But, an effective SEO plan isn’t just about getting any traffic, it’s about attracting the right kind of visitors, those who are genuinely interested in what you have to offer. This means aligning your website’s content with what your audience is searching for and targeting the right keywords.

This is particularly significant as search engine algorithms continue to evolve, meaning it’s essential to stay updated and adapt your strategies accordingly.

Which search engines need to be included in SEO planning?

As can be seen below in the chart from Statista, Google has 83.49% share of the entire search engine market worldwide.2

Although down a few percent from the time our original guide was created, Google is still the world’s most popular search engine by a long shot.

Seo plans need to consider various search engines

SEO plans need to consider various search engines, but Google is King

Also not to be ignored is Bing, showing the most significant growth, climbing to 9.19% thanks to Microsoft’s partnership with OpenAI and Bing Chat. Since the original 2020 article, AI has taken the world by story and Microsoft has been at the forefront with its AI-first search initiatives.

Others shown on the chart include Yahoo! at 2.69%, Baidu at 0.6%, YANDEX at 0.59%, and DuckDuckGo at 0.83%,

Statistic: market share of leading desktop search engines worldwide from january 2015 to july 2023 | statista
Find more statistics at Statista

What SEO factors are most important?

If you are going to draw up a successful SEO plan, you first need to identify your goals and understand what matters most to your business and SEO.

We’ve covered SEO goals and KPIs in our guide here. It’s important to view SEO as a part of your overall business and marketing strategy, so any SEO goals should be traceable back to what you are trying to achieve as a business.

Once you have identified your business goals, cross-check what matters most to your website as part of your SEO plan.

To build a successful SEO plan, follow these steps:

1. Core Web Vitals 

When originally producing this guide we listed “Web Vitals”3 as the number one factor, mentioning that Google had claimed that these core vitals were not deal-breakers. In the short space of time since web.dev announced Core Web Vitals as a subset of Web Vitals, with a focus on real-world user experience.

Search Engine Journal discussed Core Web Vitals as a ranking factor4 and then the Page Experience update was rolled out on June 15th 20205, making it very clear that having good Core Web Vitals is important.

Core web vitals in seo plans

Core Web Vitals in SEO plans – the importance of speed and user experience

A large part of what Core Web Vitals aims to address is the real-world experience your visitors have on both desktop and mobile devices. Just consider for a moment that you may be using your website on a super-fast fibre broadband connection, using an Apple Mac with a large screen resolution. Actually, the large majority of visitors these days are mobile users on the go, and tend to browse the web from their phones – this means smaller screens with slower internet connections (3G and 4G).

A key ingredient here is site speed and page load times. A slow site or bad user experience on mobile will harm your SEO, especially given Google’s mobile-first indexing.

Mobile v desktop website traffic share 2012-2023

Mobile v desktop website traffic share 2012-2023 – source oberlo

So this one gets a revived number 1 position in our list of factors to include in your SEO plan.

2. Target market, search intent and keywords

Put yourself in the shoes of potential visitors who want to find your website. Understand search intent and carry out thorough keyword research to determine what your visitors are looking for and the most suitable keywords to generate traffic. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Search intent: Consider the search intent of your visitors and what will drive them to your website. Imagine you’re a detective trying to solve the mystery is your visitor’s desires. What are they really looking for? What problems do they want to solve? How can you best help them?
  • Brainstorm keywords: Start by brainstorming the keywords you believe your visitors would type into a search engine, but always keep in mind their search intent.
  • Test keywords: Enter the queries you expect visitors to pose, then enter them into Google and check the results. Find niches (gaps) that have not yet been covered.
  • Competitor research: Note the keywords and pivotal search terms used by your competitors. It’s like deciphering enemy codes. Once you’ve gathered the above intelligence on competitors, it’s time to use the Skyscraper technique.
  • Build SEO skyscrapers6: The Skyscraper technique means taking what your competitor has done and building upon it, e.g. if they offer 8 tips on a particular topic, write 10 and provide more value. If they have a dense block of text, explain things more succinctly using videos and graphs to your site. If these sites are topping the Google rankings, they are doing something right with their SEO and you may be able to improve upon this.
  • Check search volumes: Using everything you have identified above, check the average search volumes using a tool like Google Keyword Planner. This will help to confirm that the keywords you’ve selected are the right ones. Remember, keywords with zero search volume have no real value, but at the opposite end of the spectrum, keywords with hundreds of thousands of monthly searches may be difficult to compete with.

3. Navigation and accessibility 

Consider your overall site navigation, architecture (menu), and accessibility. Is the menu easy to access and follow? Can visitors easily find your pages? Do you have a sitemap for users who get lost? Can users with different accessibility needs use the website? The list goes on, but the number one rule here is KISS (“Keep it simple, stupid!”).

Navigation is a key element of seo planning

Consider your menu and overall navigation when SEO planning

Once you’ve answered these questions, revise your navigation as needed to make sure this reflects your keyword research. Look for any prominent gaps that your website can fill and make sure these are included within your website. This may be a service that nobody else is providing or a popular blog topic that’s not been covered before.

When structuring your menu, consider the following:

  • Use a logical hierarchy of parent and child relationships for pages, e.g.
    • /homepage
    • /homepage/main-service
    • /homepage/main-service/child-service
  • Use SEO-friendly meaningful URLs and include your keywords
  • Use simple HTML for menus that can be easily rendered by browsers and devices of all kinds – the goal is compatibility

Finally, make sure you have an XML sitemap, submit this to Google Search Console, and as an added precaution, add this to your robots.txt file.

4. Content

The next step is to think about your content:

  • Create high-quality content tailored to your target audience and keyword research.
  • Think about where this content should be placed within the site navigation.
  • Consider how to improve upon your competitor’s content.
  • Build in long-tail keywords within your content.
  • Divide your SEO content into a range of clusters, pages and sections, to build Topical Authority. This helps to ensure your content will be answering specific queries, something that Google’s search algorithms will be looking for, e.g.
    1. Hummingbird (August 2013): Enhanced understanding of search queries’ context, making it more effective for long-tail keywords.
    2. RankBrain (October 2015): AI-based part of Google’s algorithm that helps process search results, prioritising content that matches the user’s intent, beneficial for topical authority.
    3. BERT (October 2019): Improved understanding of the nuances in language in search queries, aiding in matching long-tail keywords and context-rich content.
    4. Helpful Content Update (August 2022): Aimed to promote content written for people first, rather than for search engines, favouring user-focused content that thoroughly addresses specific queries.
  • Be prepared to refresh your content regularly and schedule this activity in advance. Remember that two can play the skyscraper game. If you overtake a competitor in the Google rankings, it will not go unnoticed. They will review your site as part of their own SEO planning activities, just as you did theirs. The aim of a successful SEO plan is not to match the performance of others but to improve on it.
  • Get creative when planning and creating content. It’s one thing to have well-optimised pages but you will lose your visitor’s attention if they find the content dull. Coming up with creative ideas and strategies will encourage others to share and link back to your content and perhaps even go viral.

5. Internal linking and broken links

Review your internal links (i.e. the hyperlinks added within the content on your pages) and ensure you link up related content using sensible keywords and anchor text. A part of this will include keeping an eye out for those 404 “page not found” errors and fixing any broken links.

Get ahead of the competition with good internal linking

Make sure your pages are internally links

This will help to keep visitors on your site for longer and improve the user experience as a result. It will also ensure search engine bots (spiders) will have an easier job crawling your website and finding content.

6. Aesthetic appeal, design, and user experience

Evaluate the design and aesthetic appeal of your content, the ‘look-and-feel’, mobile responsiveness, and overall user experience.

Web design is often an overlooked part of SEO, but it’s absolutely fundamental to user experience and therefore impacts SEO. Look for ways to add visual interest using images and video content, space your content out so that it’s easily digestible, include a table of contents for longer content, add ‘calls to action’ and ‘unique selling points’ within your content, etc.

A good user experience improves dwell time, converts well, and encourages social sharing and link acquisition, all of which can help improve your ranking and traffic.

It’s essential to consider mobile SEO and responsive design.  This is not just for SEO, but having a great mobile experience plays into a range of different factors listed, including Core Web Vitals, navigation, accessibility, and content.

7. On-page optimisation, structure, and technical SEO

Check the structure of your content to achieve good on-page SEO. This means:

  • Clean, well structured HTML code
  • Well-defined meta data and heading tags – visitor and keyword focused meta titles, descriptions, H1 tags, H2-H5 sub-headings, etc.
  • Image file names, ALT tags and captions
  • Schema makeup (structured data)

The golden rule here is to not overdo the keywords. Google’s Helpful Content update makes it very clear that the goal is to create a “people first” experience, so if keywords can be included naturally and relevantly, that’s great. Otherwise, think twice.

Check over your previously created content for technical SEO errors, e.g. broken links, images not loading, missing ALT tags, basically another that may harm the user experience.

8. Links back to your site

Good quality links back to your content will help to boost the authority of your pages and their ranking in Google.

Consider the following:

  • Create interesting and unique content that will attract natural links back to your site, e.g. research, analysis, infographics, etc.
  • Carry out engaging marketing campaigns and promote your site as far and wide as you can, always keeping your target audience in mind.
  • Make your site as appealing to share as possible.
  • Generate traffic through social media and pro-actively sharing your content.
  • Consider PR and speak to journalists, magazines and newspaper editors if you have something newsworthy to share.

Getting creative will help enormously but for other strategies that you may like to consider, review our guide here on how to backlink your way to success.

Our top 8 list is by no means final

These are just some of the basic ingredients that need to be considered when creating a successful SEO plan. Ideas are the easy part, execution requires more care and attention.

So plan these tasks one at a time so as not to overwhelm yourself. Be methodical. A successful SEO plan cannot be put into place quickly and overnight. It’s a strategy that is carefully considered and reviewed, ensuring that every I is dotted and every T is crossed.

How do I create an SEO plan?

At the very minimum, load up Excel and start by defining your plan. If you don’t have Excel, consider using Google Sheets.

The first step is to consider the duration – we typically recommend 3, 6, or 12 months plans.

SEO planning template

As a basic guide, here is a rough SEO planning template that we often follow internally:

Phase Activity Who When Why (Goal) KPIs 
Estimated time or Cost
Phase 1
(Months 1-3)
Check content against keyword research and revise accordingly John Smith October 27th 2028 Improve ranking for the homepage Improved organic rankings 3 hours

Consider breaking up your activities into phases, such as Months 1-3, Months 3-6, Months 6-9, and Months 9-12.

There is a problem with following SEO templates to the letter, though. If everybody follows the same plan, how can you hope to stand apart?

A big part of devising a successful SEO plan is creating something different from your competitors and thinking outside of the box for new ideas to attract users to visit your site and share your content.

Seo planning can be complex

Keep on top of your SEO plan but always think outside of the box

Should I create a 6 or 12 month SEO plan?

When it comes to deciding between a 6 or 12 month SEO plan, it largely depends on your business goals, resources, and the nature of your industry.

A 6-month SEO plan is great for businesses that need to see quick results and have the agility to adapt rapidly to changes. It’s suitable for industries that are fast-paced or for businesses that are in the initial stages of their SEO journey but also gives a long enough period to plan ahead and be strategic.

On the other hand, a 12 month SEO plan is ideal for businesses with long-term objectives. It allows for a more in-depth approach, where strategies can be fine-tuned and results analysed and adapted over time. This is particularly advantageous for industries that require a steady growth pattern or for established websites aiming to maintain and enhance their market position.

No matter whether you chose a 6 or 12 month SEO plan, just remember it can be broken down into small phases, e.g. 3-month segments to make it more achievable.

You may even decide that planning one month at a time is best for your business.

What about a monthly SEO plan?

For maximum agility, a rolling monthly SEO plan can be useful. It allows for regular check-ins, adjustments, and helps to ensure your SEO tactics remain relevant and effective. This approach has the benefit of allowing businesses to keep more in tune with search engine algorithms and market trends.

Monthly SEO plans are also perfect for monitoring performance against set KPIs, making quick adjustments based on analytics, and keeping ahead of the competition.

The main disadvantages of monthly plans are that it’s easier to lose sight of the overall strategy and goals and it requires dedication to ensure that new plans are created each month.

In summary, the choice between a 6 month, 12 month, or monthly SEO plan should be influenced by your business needs and the nature of your industry. No matter which you choose, make sure monthly check-ins are built into your strategy to allow for ongoing adaptability and optimisation.

How do I deliver the plan once created?

Once you’ve completed your SEO planning template and you’re ready to execute the plan, you need to focus on the most important task of all – you need to deliver on what you have devised. This is the part that needs discipline and dedication.

If you are involved in SEO, chances are that you are a marketing manager or SEO executive. For smaller businesses, perhaps you are a business owner where SEO is just one of your many hats. Either way, chances are that you will need to juggle SEO activities along with various other tasks. This is not easy, and for many of us, it can seem impossible.

Ensure a robust foundation

  • Comprehensive Planning: Ensure your SEO plan covers all aspects, from keyword research to technical SEO and content strategy.
  • Plan SMART – Set aside an hour or so each day but whatever you decide, make sure this is realistic and achievable. If needed update the ‘When‘ and ‘Time‘ columns of your SEO plan to reflect how much time you’ve allocated and revise the dates of other activities accordingly.
  • Align with Business Objectives: Your SEO plan should support and enhance your overall business goals.

Execution and discipline

  • Assign Responsibilities: Clearly define who is responsible for each task. This helps in maintaining accountability and ensures that every aspect of the plan is given the attention it deserves.
  • Set Realistic Deadlines: Avoid over-ambitious deadlines. Set achievable timelines for each phase of your plan to ensure quality execution without undue pressure.
  • Regular Progress Checks: Schedule periodic reviews to monitor the progress of your SEO plan. This is crucial to stay on track and make necessary adjustments.

Flexibility and adaptation

  • Stay Agile: The world of SEO is ever-changing. Be prepared to adapt your strategies in response to new search engine updates, changing market trends, and competitor activities.
  • Feedback Loop: Encourage feedback from your team and stakeholders. This will help you identify areas for improvement and refine your strategies.
  • Measure and re-plan – Don’t create the plan and then forget about it. Make sure you measure your SEO results and revise your plan if needed. It should be a living breathing business tool, which means that it needs to grow and change with time.

Utilising resources effectively

  • Leverage Tools and Technology: Make use of SEO tools for keyword tracking, competitor analysis, and performance measurement. Tools like Google Analytics, SEMrush, or Ahrefs can provide valuable insights.
  • Resource or outsource – Remember, you don’t need to do it all yourself and may not actually be best placed to do this anyway, so think about the ‘Who‘ column carefully. Spend your personal time where you can add the most value to the business and consider using other team members or even outsourcing elements of your SEO plan to specialists. Consider outsourcing, there are lots of fantastic SEO agencies and freelancers out there who can help. This could range from content creation to technical SEO.

Sustained growth

  • Long-Term Vision: Focus on sustainable SEO practices that yield long-term benefits, rather than quick fixes.

How do I know if my plan has been successful?

Measuring the success of your SEO plan is critical. It involves evaluating various metrics to determine if your objectives have been met.

Take a look at the KPIs or goals that you wrote when you first started to consider your strategy. Have they been reached – and hopefully breached expectations?

If so, you are on the right track to a successful SEO plan.

Seo analytics and kpis

Check your KPIs and analytics. This will confirm if you devised a successful SEO plan

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

  • Rankings: Monitor changes in your website’s rankings for targeted keywords.
  • Traffic Metrics: Analyse the quantity and quality of traffic. Look at metrics like page views, engagement rate, and time on site. Are visitors to your site staying put for at least a few minutes, or clicking/bouncing off within seconds? Are visitors from the same IP addresses returning for more information, or are the visits one-and-done? Is traffic coming from your preferred locations (i.e. the correct visitors)?
  • Conversion Rates: Measure the effectiveness of your SEO strategy in achieving desired actions, such as leads, sales, sign-ups, purchases, or downloads.

Continuous improvement

  • Analyse and Adjust: Regularly review your SEO performance. Use the insights to fine-tune your strategies and address any areas that aren’t performing well.
  • Stay Updated: SEO is dynamic. Keep abreast of the latest trends and algorithm changes to ensure your plan remains relevant and effective.

The answer to whether you have devised a successful SEO plan lies within the response to questions such as those above.

If not, start again, think about the KPIs, and look for ways to improve results. If yes, be prepared to update and reconsider anyway. SEO moves quickly. There is no room for complacency, and nobody stays at the top by stagnating. Start preparing your next successful SEO plan at least one month before the current plan ends.

Conclusion: How to deliver better results with good SEO planning

A good SEO plan is the backbone of a successful online presence and will provide your business with the growth it deserves.

It’s about understanding your target market, aligning your strategies with business goals, and continuously adapting to your industry and competitive landscape.

Think of SEO as building a house. The plan is your foundation. Once this has been arranged, you can focus on the walls and ceiling. If you devise a successful SEO plan, your building will grow and that ceiling will keep getting higher. Laying these foundations correctly is essential.

Once you have an SEO plan tailored to the unique requirements of your business, you will attract an ever-increasing number of visitors to your site.

For further ideas about SEO tasks and activities to consider in your plan, check out our guide here. If you need extra help creating an SEO plan, consider making use of online tools, such as Google, ChatGPT or Bing Chat to assist you. You will find no shortage of templates on how to create a plan or SEO strategy online.

From consultancy to implementation, Opace are here to assist with any advice or support that you may need. For help or support, please get in touch.

By following these guidelines, you can create a successful SEO plan that not only increases your visibility online but also supports the growth and development of your business.

References and further reading

  1. backlinko.com/seo-strategy
  2. statista.com/statistics/216573/worldwide-market-share-of-search-engines
  3. web.dev/vitals
  4. searchenginejournal.com/ranking-factors/core-web-vitals
  5. developers.google.com/search/docs/appearance/page-experience
  6. blog.hubspot.com/marketing/marketing-techniques


Image Credits – www.pixabay.com/FirmBee; www.pixabay.com/khamkhor; www.pixabay.com/StockSnap

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