SEO Dark Arts and 4 Stages of a Successful SEO Program

SEO is infamous for being a “dark art.”

As an outsider to the industry, it feels like you never quite know what’s happening behind the curtains.

SEO agencies pull a clever sleight of hand trick here, deflecting your attention to deliverables. They say “once you have the backlinks we’ll deliver” or “once you have the articles we’ll deliver” you’ll get your traffic.

The online training and course industry exploits the mysterious nature of SEO by offering up cookie cutter systems based on the latest buzz-word tactics. Just follow the one-size-fits-all system and you’ll get the traffic you want.

The problem with both of these approaches is neither one really demystifies SEO. They just use smoke and mirrors to create an image of what they think you want to see.

This is a problem for anyone trying to build a legitimate SEO program in their organization.

It’s hard to get organizational buy-in and rally resources with smoke and mirrors. You need a more concrete roadmap of what building out an SEO program will actually look like.

So, let’s take a moment to pull back the curtains and look behind the scenes at the four stages of a successful SEO program. Without all the smoke and mirrors.

Stage 1: Prove

Every successful SEO program starts the same way: you have to prove your SEO model.

Whether you want to create a programmatic directory, a topical resource center, or even just build a successful blog. The only way to get true organizational buy-in is to test the model on a small scale and prove its viability.

This is a lot easier than trying to convince your team to go all in on an untested SEO model. Or to spend the next year deliberating and crafting the “perfect” strategy, only to see project resources dry up before anything can get executed.

Stage 2: Simplify

Once they have a proof of concept in hand, most team’s instinct is to rush into scaling. But this often leads to resource bottle necks as the team struggles with all the moving pieces of implementation. Many SEO programs die a slow and painful death as a result of this.

That’s why Stage 2 should be reflecting on what you learned from your MVP, and aiming to simplify all the moving pieces as much as possible. SEO is notorious for over complexity. So you need to bust out your 80/20 perspective here.

What can you cut from the workflow to make it easier for the team to implement? How can you tweak your approach to make sure key elements are executed consistently? What small gains can be sacrificed to ensure the larger SEO program can survive and thrive?

Stage 3: Scale

You proved the SEO model and simplified your approach to implementation. Now you’re ready to scale.

While scaling can sometimes involve a rapid, large deployment of resources into things like creating new content or developing programmatic pages. More often than not it’s a slow and steady, ongoing process.

Ultimately, you need to find a way to scale that fits your chosen SEO model, the way your team works, and the resources you have available. It’s much better to scale at a pace your team can sustain, than to start out strong but burn out before you’ve unlocked the full traffic potential of your model.

Stage 4: Expand

Once you’ve made it through the first three stages, you can proudly say you built a successful SEO program. Traffic and sales are rolling in and your workflow is running like a well oiled machine. Buy your team a round of drinks and celebrate!

As a team of veteran SEOs, you’ll naturally be on the hunt for the next big opportunity. This is where the final stage of expansion takes place. Ultimately, this will look like a repeat of stages 1-3. But with a new SEO model. In practice though, there will be plenty of nuances to navigate.

As you expand into new SEO models, you’ll need to be mindful of ongoing maintenance and scaling of any existing models you’ve already launched. This is also likely a stage where you will be expanding team resources, and bringing in full time hires to support your program.

Interested in working with Ryan? Click to learn more about his SEO and CRO services.