What Makes an SEO Program Successful?

Professional taking notes from analytics displayed on a laptop.
Whether you are an in-house SEO or an SEO consultant, creating a program that is competitive enough to help a website succeed is critical.

But it’s also important to manage the program well. When done right, you can keep stakeholders feeling confident and team members working together on progress.

In this article, I’ll cover:

1. Creating a Plan

It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

The amount of work that goes into crafting a successful SEO program cannot be underestimated. The first and most important step is initial research. This is before you even create a plan.

Here are some steps to consider:

In-Depth Meeting

This is where you’ll get a basic understanding of the business and their goals, where they are at in their SEO or marketing programs and uncover any specific requirements for their SEO campaigns.

Access to Accounts

Of course, you’ll get all the logins and credentials you need to do additional research. This includes the website(s), social media accounts, analytics accounts, PPC accounts and any other relevant platforms.

Screenshot of Google Search Console Report.
Google Search Console Report

Baseline Research

Doing a bit of baseline research helps to inform the initial kick-off meetings for the project and the SEO plan.

There will be much more in-depth research to come. This is simply to get a bird’s eye view so you can make recommendations on the program.

Some of the things you can do include:

  • A light website audit (a more in-depth one comes later) to see how well the site is currently optimized and performing.
  • Review the entire digital footprint of the brand, including social and PPC.
  • Target audience research, including quantitative and qualitative research (AYTM is one service you might explore) – this serves as a basis for things like keyword research, content creation and more.

Program Recommendations

Armed with initial data, you are ready to put together a custom strategy that addresses the client’s weaknesses, supports their strengths and creates a roadmap for a thorough SEO program.

Outline overall recommendations for what to do and when including:

  • Project milestones
  • Deliverables
  • Goals
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Priorities, in order of what will move the needle most

As for what you include in your program, some elements of a good SEO program include:

  • Analytics set up and configuration like GA4 and Google Search Console. Even if they are already set up, make sure these tools are optimized and working for you to get the data you need. Some businesses outsource this step to vendors that specialize in it. (For more on making the switch to GA4, see: Google Analytics 4 – What It Is and How to Get Started.)
  • An in-depth site audit. This is a technical deep dive with expert analysis, not just a report run by SEO tools. You can learn more about what types of audits I believe are best in my article on SEO audits and tools.
  • Keyword research. It’s a disservice to hurry this step. It takes time and wisdom to not only uncover the search queries that your target audience uses but also pinpoint the queries that are the most relevant and present the biggest opportunities now and in the future.
  • Competitor research. Another big step that takes effort, competitor analysis helps in many ways to shape the SEO program further. I talk about this more in how to do competitor research for SEO.
  • Content development. Every good SEO program will lead with quality content. With AI becoming more in fashion these days, it’s important to take the right approach when using these tools. In this step, you’ll present what type of content you will need to compete in the search results (by using a whole-SERP approach) and also how you will make the content helpful and “people first” as Google would say. There’s a lot to unpack here, I would start by reviewing some of my insights on Google’s March 2024 updates.
  • Optimization. Present a plan for how you will optimize the site’s pages, based on the research you have conducted on the site, the competitors and priorities. Putting together an SEO checklist for types of webpages across the site can be helpful.
  • Linking. A good SEO program looks at all aspects of internal, inbound and outbound links. Strategies include SEO siloing (more on that next), link-earning programs, ongoing backlink management and internal links. Check out my jam-packed guide on internal linking for SEO for more on this step.
  • SEO siloing. A great website has a great structure, including its navigation and how the content is organized for users and search engines to make it more relevant. A lot of websites fail to do this step right. When done well, though, it can help create a website that performs better all around. See Five Times When SEO Siloing Can Make or Break Your Search Engine Rankings.
  • Technical SEO. This is an area where many brands decide that they need some outside help. Of course, you have crawling tools that can help identify issues with the site, but getting the necessary fixes implemented can be a big hurdle. And some technical SEO projects are big, like improving mobile friendliness, site speed and other core web vitals.

A final note: It’s helpful to share anecdotes of how your recommendations have helped in the past or present case studies from similar websites and support your recommendations with Google’s advice.

2. Onboarding (for Consultants)

If you’re an in-house SEO, you can skip this section. SEO consultants: A quality onboarding process is the foundation of a good working relationship.

With it, there is clarity, and expectations are better established. This means better teamwork.



  • Integrates clients into the consultancy and vice-versa.
  • Helps the client get to know your processes and methodology.
  • Establishes communication preferences and channels.
  • Takes care of all the admin work, including paperwork, account setups, etc.

See my article at Search Engine Land on how to onboard the right way for more ideas on how to make onboarding an efficient process.

3. The Launch Meeting

The launch meeting is where stakeholders will come together to review the SEO strategy. This is an important meeting to set the tone and get buy-in.

Executives spend almost 23 hours a week in meetings, and 71% of them say they are unproductive and inefficient.

If you run a meeting well, people will remember.

Here are some tips on making the process go smoother:

  • You want all the stakeholders to join and sometimes that can be challenging. Waiting for the right date and time to ensure everyone is there is important and ensures no one is left in the dark.
  • Create the agenda ahead of time and send it to everyone with plenty of time to review it before the meeting. Specifically, ask them to review it and come armed with questions.
  • Allow everyone at the meeting to introduce themselves, what they do and how they will be involved in the SEO program.
  • Discuss the program recommendations in a way that everyone (including executives, IT and anyone with no clue about SEO) can understand.
  • Open up the floor for questions – you will likely have already anticipated some of the big questions that come up often at the outset of any SEO program.
  • Discuss how you will manage the project, including the communication channels you’ll be using and how often you’ll meet.

And for more tips, see my article on six practical ways to get buy-in for SEO. You can also catch my on-demand webinar on the same topic.

4. SEO Education for Stakeholders

Initial and ongoing SEO education for stakeholders can be a game-changer. Why? Because it helps them understand the value of your recommendations.

Research shows that continuing education fosters things like commitment and work performance, and leads to changes in attitudes, behaviors and practices.

This may be something you spearhead or offer, or perhaps you outsource your SEO training elsewhere.

(By the way, you can check out our SEO classes and our SEO training membership site if you’re curious about in-person or virtual SEO training.)

Student taking online SEO training with Bruce Clay.
Bruce Clay SEO Training Course at SEOtraining.com

Here at our agency, we put all our clients through our SEO training so they understand SEO best practices and can have more informed conversations with us.

If outsourcing SEO training isn’t feasible, consider building SEO education into your regularly scheduled SEO program meetings, or have “lunch & learns” either in person or on Zooms where you educate on SEO best practices.

Other ways you can build SEO education into the organization include monthly or quarterly SEO news updates. The industry moves fast, and this is a way to keep stakeholders up to date.

Put together an email with relevant news and links to resources to learn more, along with your expert takeaways.

5. Being a Leader

Building your personal brand as an SEO expert requires careful attention to your interactions with stakeholders and colleagues.

Here is some food for thought:

  • Make time to provide assistance and guidance for any SEO issues or questions that come up. You might set up a specific day/time during the week and/or a specific communication channel for this initiative, like a Slack channel for SEO advice.
  • Set expectations of how long it takes to get back to people when they have questions outside of the regularly scheduled progress meetings.
  • Work with team members to problem-solve issues together as they arise, so you can keep the project moving forward and show that you are a team player.
  • Always tailor your advice based on the person’s goals, the SEO program’s goals and/or the business goals.
  • Record and store everything related to the project (in an organized manner!), so that anyone can refer back to your communications as needed. People forget, and this can save you a lot of headaches.

6. Reporting Best Practices

Make sure to have regular intervals of reporting on KPIs and program progress including any wins big or small. This can help keep stakeholders energized about the program.

Some things you might include in your reporting process:

  • An executive summary that summarizes key findings
  • Easy-to-understand, visually appealing charts, graphs and numbers
  • Data analysis with your expert insights
  • Key metrics that track KPIs
Sample of a weekly search traffic report.
Sample of a weekly search traffic report

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re an in-house SEO or a consultant, the key to a successful SEO program lies in crafting an approach that not only meets but exceeds expectations. Follow the steps in this article to be an SEO champion for your employer or client.

Our SEO experts can work with you to build a successful SEO program that gets real results. Contact us today for a free consultation and let’s discuss how we can help.

FAQ: How can I create and implement an effective SEO program to improve my website’s visibility and search engine rankings?

A successful SEO program ensures your website is optimized to compete in the search results. But creating and implementing one is no easy task — it requires a ton of planning, strategic execution and constant monitoring.

Let’s look at some of the key elements that make up a successful SEO program.

The Importance of SEO: First, you need to understand how SEO drives your website’s success. When done right, SEO is a driving force in your website ranking high, generating traffic and leads, and establishing your brand as a trust authority in your niche. If you’re not doing SEO, you’re losing relevance, customers and revenue. And that can ultimately spell disaster for your business.

Keyword Research: Keyword research helps you figure out what keywords and phrases your target audience are searching for. Keywords and phrases inform your strategy to make your content relevant for your audience.

On-Page Optimization: On-page optimization refers to optimizing the elements of your website that make up a webpage. These include quality content, title tags, meta descriptions, heading tags and more. The goal of on-page optimization is to make your website user and search engine friendly.

Content Optimization: Your content should be optimized so that it is high quality, engaging and relevant for your audience. The better your content, the better your chance is of ranking well.

Technical SEO: Technical SEO is the practice of optimizing the “back end” of a site so that search engines can better crawl and index the website. Aspects of technical SEO include site speed, mobile usability, XML sitemaps, structured data markup and more. Pay attention to these areas and optimize your site accordingly.

Building High-Quality Backlinks: Learn the importance of acquiring authoritative and relevant backlinks to improve your website’s credibility and rankings.

Local SEO: If you’re a local business, your SEO program must prioritize local SEO. Local SEO optimizes your website to be competitive and visible online in your area.

Monitoring and Analytics: Explore tools and methods to track your website’s performance, measure SEO success and make data-driven decisions for continuous improvement.

Incorporating these areas will help you build a successful SEO program that lays a solid foundation for improving your website’s visibility and search engine rankings.

Step-by-Step Procedure

  1. Outline your objectives and goals for your SEO program. Common goals include earning more organic traffic, improving search engine ranking, increasing conversions and boosting revenue.
  2. Evaluate your website’s current SEO status by auditing its technical aspects, on-page elements, content quality and backlink profile.
  3. Conduct keyword research using SEO tools to identify high-potential keywords and long-tail phrases that are relevant to your audience.
  4. Incorporate your target keywords into compelling title tags, meta descriptions, URLs and heading tags. Doing this accurately describes your content.
  5. Develop informative and engaging content that caters to your target audience’s needs, while incorporating your target keywords organically.
  6. Work to acquire high-quality backlinks authoritative websites through outreach, guest posting and partnerships. This will help establish your brand as a trusted expert.
  7. Optimize your website’s loading time and ensure it is mobile responsive to provide a seamless user experience.
  8. Optimize your website for local searches. You can do things like create a Google Business Profile, earn local citations and encourage customer reviews.
  9. Utilize tools like Google Analytics to track your website’s organic traffic, rankings and user engagement metrics.
  10. Routinely monitor and analyze your SEO performance. Look for areas that need improvement and make data-driven adjustments to improve your strategy.
  11. Stay informed of the latest search engine algorithm updates. Utilize the latest best practices to adapt your SEO techniques.
  12. Maintain a consistent strategy to develop high-quality content and promote it.
  13. Build loyalty and brand awareness by fostering relationships with your audience through social media, email marketing and customer engagement.
  14. Look for ways to collaborate with influencers or industry experts to increase exposure and boost your website’s credibility.
  15. Monitor your website’s performance frequently, evaluate your SEO efforts and adjust as necessary.
  16. By following these steps, you can create and implement an effective SEO program that drives organic traffic, improves visibility and boosts your website’s search engine rankings.

    Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn or through the BruceClay.com website.

    See Bruce's author page for links to connect on social media.

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5 Replies to “What Makes an SEO Program Successful?”

This comprehensive guide outlines essential steps for developing and implementing an effective SEO program. Bruce Clay’s expertise shines through, offering actionable advice to drive organic traffic and improve search engine rankings. A valuable resource for digital marketers seeking success in SEO.

Fantastic breakdown! Understanding the key components of a successful SEO program is crucial for online growth. Thanks for the valuable insights

Very well written, Bruce. Handy and useful tips to implement and run a successful SEO program to meet stakeholder expectations. Looking forward to more such articles.

Never forget, that the ultimate purpose of all your SEO efforts is to grow the number of qualified leads and sales. Like all worthwhile marketing efforts, a comprehensive SEO program does take work and investment. It should be driven by a clear strategy, including technical, content, and off-site optimization efforts, and be informed and refined based on clear reporting.

In the long term, SEO should never be costing you money. Rather, SEO efforts should be generating quality leads that convert into sales with a positive return on your investment that pays for itself repeatedly.

This is really a fantastic article! It breaks down the important stuff for SEO in a way that’s easy to understand, even for beginners. It’s like having an SEO expert give you a roadmap to success. No matter if you’re a pro or just starting out, this guide will get you on the right track to getting noticed online and seeing real results. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve with a tweaked SEO strategy!


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