SEO Project Management: discovery phase

Alex Zagoumenov | 4 min read

Modern SEO is not the same as it used to be even a couple of years ago. Of course, the main elements stay the same. First, you make sure that Google can crawl your site. Second, you create great website and content for your target audience. As a result, Google picks it up and ranks you accordingly. However, there are a lot of other things happening as you go from project start (point A) to project completion (point B). As a result it’s important to have a formal step-by-step approach to SEO project management in place.

This series of posts will outline the modern SEO project management using RealtimeBoard to help you manage the project and keep everyone else on the team in the loop. In fact, Realtimeboard makes it super easy to involve your team members in the process.

Disclaimer: Often there’s not enough time to go through the entire process step by step so some steps are done simultaneously or even omitted in real world. This is a slightly idealistic view of how things should be done given there’s an opportunity of time and money.

This post will focus on the first phase of the SEO project management – the discovery phase. Stay tuned for the next steps in the future articles. So, let’s get right into it.

Discovery phase of the SEO Project Management

Just as any communications project, search engine optimization starts with a discovery phase. At this stage you want to make sure that you understand the following base metrics for the site. I’ll get into each of those in a minute. The idea here is to get a good baseline measurement to see where we start.

Current keywords

These don’t have to be the final keywords you’re going to end up targeting. Collect a set of keywords from previous keyword research or just ask the client on what they think. Of course, the latter is a tricky thing because usually the client has no idea.

To get an initial list of ideas for current terms you can try pulling up the keywords using Google AdWords Keyword Tool (GAKT) specifying the exact page of the site. Try looking into Google Analytics (GA) to see what keywords are driving the most traffic to the site currently.

Keyword competition

Now that you’ve got the initial list of keywords, let’s collect a list of sites who are also competing for our keywords. Again, don’t stress out too much as this is NOT the final competitor list. This is a list of search competitors that your site is currently competing against given the keywords you just found.

You can use tools like where you’ll be able to enter 10 keywords, choose the search contry and it will provide you with a list of competitors that are most related to the intial list of 10 keywords. You can also just search Google manually to see which sites are coming up in the top 3-5 of organic / natural results. Collect a list of 3-5 sites that appear in the search results most often.

Current website rankings

Now that you have a list of keywords and competing sites you should check so see how your site ranks for those keywords against your current competition. To check that you can use a variety of tools such as Firefox plugin by SEObook (Rank Checker).

Word of advice: even if you currently have an SEO management product such as MOZ, there’s no need to set the site up in there just yet. Remember, at this point all you need to get is a snapshot of your current SEO performance.

Architectural issues

Website architecture is now important as every. Crawling issues / errors can cause Google to mix up, lower your rankings, etc. It can also cause your visitors to loose track of where they are (i.e. broken links, missing pages, etc.). Therefore, the goal here is to run your site through a crawling simulator such as XENU, Screaming Frog or even MOZ‘s crawler tool (might take a couple of days for a larger site).

So, run the crawler simulator and save results in MS Excel. You’ll need them later in the Planning phase of our SEO project management process.

Target audience & SEO persona

This is likely the most important thing that gets overlooked too often. People are still under the impression that SEO is about relationships with search engines and search robots, to be exact. In fact, at the end of the day SEO is about building a stronger relationship with your site audiences.

At this stage, it’s important to collect as much information about the target audience from the client. It will become very useful in the planning phase. You don’t have to build the persona right now, but here’s a template to give you a better idea of what’s expected from an SEO persona document.

Again, this is an example of an SEO persona document. We’ll go into more details of the actual document in the next couple of articles. You will notice a descriptive document to the right of the template. Optify people did a great summary of the persona development table so I wanted to share it here too.

Influencers & relevant communities

By applying an old but useful Pareto principle to website marketing and SEO, 80% of your website traffic will result from what 20% of influencers are saying about your website online. This means that prior to developing any strategies you need to make sure you know what the online communities for your product / service are as well as who the influencers on your topics are.

To do that you can use tools like KloutKred and Ninja Outreach, look things up on in FollowerWonk (that is if you’re currently a Pro member with MOZ). And just do a few operator-enhanced searches in Google like [ intitle:inbound marketing expert|guru|pro|professional] to find inbound marketing pros in Canada (just a crazy example, no foundation whatsoever).

Current state of content marketing

Content marketing is huge these days. In fact this is the main part of the inbound marketing paradigm that many companies (especially B2B) are jumping on board of these days. At this stage, you don’t need to get overly crazy about the content marketing strategy or any details.

All you need to do here is answer the follow questions / use the following tools:

  1. Does the company have a blog?
  2. What’s the frequency of new page creation (blog post is also a page)?
  3. Is there premium content being produced currently (infographics, ebooks, etc.)?

If you want to get into more details here you can look up the crawling simulation results we discussed a few headings back. Sort the URL column to see what kind of a website structure the sure currently has. This should actually help you answer one or all of the three questions I mention above.

Sidenote for the hardcore users and companies with large sites and budgets. Content Insight is a good tool to review your site’s content structure. However, if you do use it, I’d recommend saving it until the next steps in our SEO project management process.

In conclusion

The above steps will take some time to accomplish but it will give you a great understand of where the site is. In fact, with all this data collected, you’ll start coming up with ideas and strategies. Let’s leave it for next stages though. One last word of advice, I usually like to break the discovery phase into three areas:

  • client discovery (dealing with internal business goals and issues),
  • internal discovery (dealing with the site, where it is now, what are the baseline metrics) and
  • external discovery (where’s the audience, what keywords they’re using to find you, where’s the competition and where the influencers are)

Separating data collection may help you optimize your SEO project and delegate things to other team members. I can’t wait to tell you more in the next few articles on the SEO project management using Realtimeboard. Let me know if you have any questions so far in the comments below. Cheers!

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