…Because Most SEOs Don’t Know What Strategy Means

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Neil Patel
Neil Patel
…Because Most SEOs Don’t Know What Strategy Means

There seems to be some confusion when people talk about SEO strategies that could lead to problems for your own efforts…and your clients.

What’s interesting is this confusion seems to be created and sustained not by people who don’t know what they are talking about, but the very people who should know what they are talking about…

The SEOs themselves. Let me explain.


Jump on Google, search “link building strategies” and you’ll get a lot of great results.

Unfortunately, they might not be the right results.

The problem is that SEOs are using the term “strategies” wrong. How do I know this? Jump on any of those results for my original search term and what you’ll find is not strategy, but tactics.

See, these terms are not synonymous, which can lead to confusion and frustration for searchers.

You might argue that most people who search for “link building strategies” are actually looking for tactical stuff…so no harm done.

I disagree.

First off, there are those people who really want a strategic view of SEO…not the nuts and bolts tactical stuff. They want to understand the why behind SEO link-building campaign.

Second, since tactics and strategy are not the same thing, and a great strategy is fundamental to making any SEO campaign succeed and ROI increase, I’m afraid most SEOs aren’t even thinking about true strategy when it comes to SEO work.

That is why I wrote this blog post.

What is SEO strategy?

Your strategy is the basic, high-level way you are going to accomplish something. If you were an army and your objective was to conquer Iraq, then your strategy might be to cut communication, bomb critical cities and capture the capital.

Those are your strategies.

In business, one of your objectives might be to gain market share. One strategy is to grow your blog presence…and one tactic to do that is SEO. But once you then focus on SEO, you need to start from the top again.

See, when you think about strategy and tactics, it’s the same at each level…the scale just changes.

So, what are SEO strategies? I’ve outlined what I think an advanced SEO strategy might look for most websites on my post 5 Steps to a better SEO strategy, but let me summarize it here:

  • Step #1: Assess how search-friendly your site is – The first step is to find out where you stand. Perform a whole-site assessment to see if your content is visible to search engines. You might think that since your site is in HTML that you won’t have any problems, but you shouldn’t skip this step. Take the time to evaluate your content and keywords before you even think about optimizing.
  • Step #2: Evaluating your competitors – Your next step is to look at your competitors. Who are they? Are they who you think they are? Ask a friend who knows what he is talking about or hire a consultant. I’ve often found that who people think their competitors are and who their competitors really are don’t match. This is important, because if you want to top your competitors, then you need to target the right people and companies.
  • Step #3: Generate profiles on your targeted audience – After you nail down your competitor list, find out who your audience is. Do all the necessary research to identify and classify. Find out their age range, pain points, sex and location. The more you can draw a picture of your target audience, the better your SEO efforts will be.
  • Step #4: Generate seed keywords – Develop an extensive list of keywords and put them into a spreadsheet. Do the typical analysis of these keywords and then score them based upon how important they are to your site, looking at the competitive nature at the same time.
  •  Step #5: Become a great writer – You can’t become a great SEO unless you recognize great content as being king…and being central to any effective campaign, which is something you should think about before you launch into tactics. This also means you need to hire someone who writes great content and understands the post-Panda needs that content has.

Naturally, before you even start to think about SEO strategy, you have to understand what your objective is. A strategy doesn’t appear out of nowhere. It should be tied to an objective. But once you have the strategy, you can move on to the tactics.

What are SEO tactics?

Tactical SEO is basically what most SEOs are talking about when discussing SEO. It’s the things you to help you rank higher.

For good reason the hot tactic now is link-building. So people are going to be clamoring to build links or hire people to build them without thinking about why they are building and the consequences of doing them one way versus the other.

In the bigger picture, link building is a tactic. Not a strategy.

Once you understand why you are linking building, it is easier then to discuss tactics. To give you an example of what I mean by tactics, here are Ten Hard-Hitting Link Building Tactics That’ll Boost Your Rankings that I shared a while back. Here’s a summary:

Tactic 1: Collect and share content

You can accomplish this by creating a site that does nothing but aggregate content, like a Huffington Post or Mashable once did, create ultimate lists or publish regular round-up posts.

Tactic 2: Business and institutional links

With a little investment of time you can get links from businesses, your local chamber of commerce, library, colleges and governments.

Tactic 3: Testimonials or opinions for an article

You can also get links to your site by putting up testimonials on your site. The person then may link to show off his testimonial. You can also gather opinions from pro bloggers about special topics, post those opinions and then pray they link back to you.

Tactic 4: Interview big bloggers

Convincing big bloggers to interview you is not really that hard. Most of them do not mind sharing their thoughts if it means a little exposure. Getting the time may be another thing.

Tactic 5: Good CSS design on your website

If you have a beautifully designed site using CSS you should submit it to a CSS gallery. If you get accepted, you’ll get a link back to you site. Good places to submit are CSS Elite or CSS Mania.

Tactic 6: Contests

Create a contest that encourages competition based upon simply entering information to have a chance to win something or where they have to produce something. For instance, you could give away two seats to a conference for the winning 100-word essay on some topic.

Tactic 7: Competitor link data

One of the most common tactics to good SEO is making a list of all of the links coming into your competitors using a tool like Open Site Explorer…then going after those links. Rand explains the fundamentals of competitive link analysis.

Tactic 8: Social media

There are so many signals coming from Google that suggests they are using social media to rank content. So, building links to your content through a social media strategy is critical.

Tactic 9: Re-purposing your content

Building links back to your site can be done in some pretty simple ways if you take content you have now and turn it into further products. For example:

  • Create a PDF out of a series of posts and then publish on Scribd or Docstoc.
  • Create a slide share out of another a series of posts.
  • Submit your great content re-purposed to sites like eHow and Business Insider.
  • Use content as a script to do a series of podcasts on a topic.
  • Submit content to Vimeo or YouTube.

Tactic 10: Social bookmarking-worthy post

Use a site like TechMeme or tool like Google Trends to see what is trending…then write a post of original content that piggybacks off of the trending idea. Have people submit it to Digg or reddit for you.

What is operational SEO?

After strategy and tactic, we need to talk about operations. Operation is where the rubber meets the road. This is how you are going to translate the strategies into tactics. The strategy was the why and the tactics was the what. This is all about the who, when and the how.

To answer the who question…is that going to be you? If so, will that be DIY SEO or a in-house staff? Or are you going to hire someone? If so, a consultant or a company?

This about rounding up that team and creating the project scope/leader needed to make sure the right things get done.

In addition, you need to make decisions about the timeline that this is going to be pulled off. What are the milestones…and who is in control of monitoring your progress?

Finally, this is about the how…the tools to get the job done…and for that you must read Aaron Wall’s Ultimate List of Must-have SEO Tools.


Listen, the age of simple SEO is over. In the last five years your responsibility as an SEO has changed dramatically by a sea change of SEO trends. You need to keep up, and one of the more fundamental ways of doing that is by understanding SEO from the big picture down to the nuts and bolts.

The benefits from embracing this larger change, however, is crucial in two ways: positioning yourself as a SEO or SEM strategist, or whatever title you want to create, means you will become something more than your vanilla competitor. And that kind of positioning can lead to more deals and, ultimately, more money.

So, what do you think about this idea that SEOs are missing the importance of strategy and tactics?

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Neil Patel

Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics, an analytics provider that helps companies make better business decisions. Neil also blogs ... [Read full bio]