The ability to get SEO results fast gives you a competitive edge whether you do SEO in-house or as an agency partner. But, like many SEO managers, you may sometimes feel frustrated by factors that slow you down or can seem out of your control.
The great news is that there is much you can do to influence the speed in which you attain meaningful improvements. In this article we’ll discuss ways to get SEO results faster through what the late and great Hamlet Batista called “Agile SEO”.
The Need for Speed
Many people in the SEO space have been asked either by managers or clients “how long does SEO take?”
Usually the answer is, “Somewhere between 4-12 months”. In some cases it can take as long as 24 months to see significant return on investment.
With post-pandemic supply chain issues, an economic downturn looming, and increased labor costs, businesses are looking carefully at any marketing investment and expecting returns sooner rather than later. Justifying your client contracts or even your own employment can come down to how quickly you can show improvements in SEO.
Stop Doing Checklist SEO
One of the more common mistakes I see SEOs make is to practice what I’ll call “checklist SEO”. This is a method that assumes that to have a well-optimized site you need to check all the boxes in an exhaustive list of best practices and site diagnostics. There is also an implication that all sites need the same work, which is often not true.
Checklist SEO is generally not a great way to approach SEO as it does not encourage you to think about the varying impact and difficulty of each box you’re seeking to check off so that you can prioritize effectively.
Instead of Checklist SEO, Use The SEO Impact Grid
The SEO Impact Grid is something we at Stella Rising developed to prioritize client SEO tactics and efforts based on the expected difficulty and impact. For accelerating client growth, it's critical to focus on work that has proven to be impactful.
To better understand what work you should focus on, make your own SEO Impact Grid. The grid consists of 4 quadrants. In the top you have your high impact items, on the bottom you will list lower impact items. The left quadrants will include the lower effort items, and the right will include the higher effort items.
What items would you place in the top left and right (high impact)? What items would you place on the bottom (low impact)? Look at the bottom and ask, do we even need to do all of these things in our first 3-6 months of this campaign? You should plan to look at ALL opportunities over the course of a year or so, but focusing on high impact items first will help you to get SEO results faster. In this exercise your aim is to identify those high impact, lower effort items and address those first. Add any ideas you come up with that may be helpful even if they are higher effort, or lower impact, but consider saving them for later on in your SEO campaign.
Many SEOs will start things off with an exhaustive technical and full site audit. While this sounds like a good plan, in most situations this may not actually be the best approach. Many smaller sites that are built on Shopifiy, WordPress or other common CMS platforms have a limited number of technical issues. The issues they do have are often the same and can be identified and addressed without a full audit.
Sometimes the things we find in technical audits are “nice to haves” and align to best practices but are often difficult to implement and may not have a measurable impact for every website.
For larger websites and some smaller sites technical SEO IS critical, however it’s rarely the first thing you should focus on. The exception to this would be when there are indexing or crawlability issues that would prevent on-page optimization or new content creation from being impactful.
Oftentimes the more technical recommendations that require development time don’t get implemented or sit in a queue for months. I’m not saying that technical audits are worthless. Quite the contrary, you should absolutely do that type of work on any site you are trying to help grow. But always start with low effort, high impact initiatives.
For example, unless the site is not being crawled at all or is set to noindex, you’d probably get more lift out of doing keyword research, title and meta optimizations, and creating new content than you would out of working on fixing a bunch of tech debt like old redirected internal links, or optimizing page speed. So why do so many SEOs start there?
The graphic below is an example of what we have listed in our SEO Impact Grid based on the deliverables we execute at Stella Rising. These are examples of tactics and their relative effort and impact. These are meant to serve as examples, and may not be the same for every site or industry.
In this example I was also thinking of what we KNOW to be a direct ranking factor either through our own experience or what Google has stated is a confirmed ranking factor. Sometimes that also means taking a critical look at what Google has said about various factors. For example, Core Web Vitals as a ranking signal. Google beat their drum about this like it was going to shake up the SERPs in a big way, but the impact has not been that large. Algo-watchers like Glenn Gabe have some interesting data on the true impact.
Now that the Page Experience Update for desktop is complete, here is some data that supports a very lightweight ranking signal. Let's start with a site that has terrible desktop CWV scores. No change in trending at all during the rollout. pic.twitter.com/5L0AhX4frc— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) March 3, 2022
Implement SEO Optimizations Faster
One of the other places I see SEOs stumble is not around creating the recommendations but in getting them implemented on the website.
We recently published a guide to SEO implementation which provides a framework for how to present and track implementations. If you have already collected your recommendations, check out that guide on how to implement them.
Whether your SEO strategies are high or low effort on the impact grid, they will only be impactful if you can implement the recommendations—which requires team buy-in, developer support, or a powerful SEO implementation tool like PageImprove.
Use PageImprove to Implement SEO Optimizations on Your Own
PageImprove is an innovative new tool that enables SEOs to implement many of the most critical SEO changes through a browser extension. Through manipulating the Document Object Model (DOM), SEOs can make title, meta, copy changes, links, and other html attributes directly into a page without CMS access. The Document Object Model is a term that describes the compilation of HTML, CSS, and JS that create the final webpage.
Making recommendations is great, but getting them implemented is even better. PageImprove allows us to move past the dev queue and get our work implemented faster, leading to faster results.
We use PageImprove on our own website among others. The above image is an example of how easy it is to change text on the page. All through a handy chrome extension.
Do Agile Technical Auditing
In the world of web/app development there are two models for how teams work. Waterfall and Agile. The Agile methodology is built around sprints. In SEO we have traditionally worked in more of a waterfall approach where a bunch of recommendations are dumped on a client or dev team's desk while we move onto other audits or optimizations.
The waterfall approach may be simpler than Agile, but you give up the ability to prioritize high-impact changes. Try a more agile approach where you are constantly crawling and identifying key priority fixes.
The Semrush site auditing tool is a great place to source a list of prioritized recommendations. Try working through just one or two of these per sprint with your clients. Thinking back to the impact grid, technical SEO doesn’t have to be a monumental undertaking if you take an Agile approach that tackles one step at a time. At Stella Rising we have started working with many of our clients in this way where we’ll focus on just one key task or implementation coming from our audits. We provide project management and implementation support for that one task, then move onto the next.
Once you have gotten your client or in-house team to finally implement something, your job is to then turn into a cheerleader.
Create a mini case study of what you implemented and the impact that you saw. This helps to rally teams to implement more similar changes, but also motivates them to implement your other recommendations.
When internal stakeholders or client teams can SEE the impact of your individual recommendations, something magical happens … they become excited to implement more of them. The time it takes you to get changes implemented diminishes, and your impact grows over time.
Of course, if your compelling data-filled story doesn’t help with implementation, you can always use PageImprove to get them done.
Do SEO Testing
SEO Testing was something previously reserved for enterprise organizations like Ebay that could invest in their own custom solutions. However with the growth of cloud-based hosting or Content Delivery Network (CDN) solutions like CloudFlare, new solutions like RankSense and Search Pilot came into fruition. These platforms enable you to implement and test SEO changes. There’s only one problem…they are relatively difficult to implement as they require you to be using CloudFlare or other CDNs and will require either developer time, and or DNS record changes.
Lucky for us, Semrush has created SplitSignal, an SEO A/B testing platform that enables you to test SEO changes with an incredibly easy implementation of a single pixel that can even be implemented through Google Tag Manager.
SEO testing helps you to get SEO results faster by showing you exactly what changes are going to have a positive impact vs those that may not or may even have a damaging impact. Knowing what changes will yield positive results before using developer or team resources to implement can help you to avoid wasted time and get to results faster than stabbing in the dark. Even if you are not using SplitSignal you can learn what works and what doesn't from the numerous SEO testing case studies agencies like Stella Rising have produced for the Semrush blog.
Wrapping It All Up
We all know that SEO takes time, however that doesn't mean you or your clients need to wait months for anything meaningful to happen. SEO Testing, tools for implementation and a strong understanding of what the most impactful work is are critical components of an agile SEO strategy that gets results. With the above framework for pushing on low-hanging fruit first, and bigger wins later you’ll be well positioned to get SEO results faster than ever before. Tools like PageImprove and Semrush can help you get there even faster.