If leads are important for your digital marketing goals, then you’re probably one of many professionals wondering, is SEO a one-time thing? Search engine optimization is a fantastic way to acquire free traffic after achieving a #1 placement on Google, and a lot of busy professionals may be drawn to this channel due to the “set-it-and-forget-it” appeal. But is SEO just a one-time thing or does search engine optimization need to be top-of-mind when you wake up every morning? How often does it need to be addressed to generate consistent, inbound leads?
Is SEO a One-Time Thing?
The more you put into an SEO campaign, the more you’ll get out of it. SEO can be a one-time thing, but you probably won’t get the results that you’re expecting if you only focus on it for a month or two. We recommend an ongoing, managed approach to consistently build leads over time and rank for competitive queries. The most successful SEO campaigns require a long-term approach.
SEO is not just about achieving a fleeting boost in visibility; it’s about establishing your site and online presence as an authoritative, trustworthy resource. SEO gives your site the power to become a reliable magnet for organic traffic, but that status requires an ongoing, continuous approach.
With that said, you might not have the resources or flexibility to commit to a long-term strategy. There are still ways that you can benefit from SEO if you feel like an ongoing campaign is out of reach.
Flexibility and Resource Limitations: When is SEO a One-Time Thing?
If you’re focused on more impactful marketing efforts or if you simply don’t have the budget for a large-scale SEO engagement, there are still ways that you can benefit from SEO best practices. Here are a few examples of when SEO may not need to be an ongoing engagement:
- Cleaning up a site based on technical issue findings creates an excellent foundation for Google’s robots to crawl your pages. This can often be completed in only a couple of weeks.
- If you have a content team that is looking for topic ideas, then SEO-based keyword gaps can provide excellent guidance. As long as the keyword strategy is viable and content is written to be as helpful as possible — you can always add in CTAs afterwards.
- If local results and map listings are a priority, you can always clean up your Google My Business listing and encourage customers to write positive reviews. This won’t require an ongoing approach and can lead to improved local listings.
- If you’re curious about SEO and just want insight into site health or keyword opportunities, then you may just want to complete the tasks in the month 1 recommendations.
- If you want some top-ranking pages to appear differently in search results and capture more leads, then you may want to update schema markup to provide search engines with additional context about your content.
- If you want to update an outdated content piece for current industry standards or user expectations, you may want to align it with a keyword focus and implement on-page SEO tactics.
The Changing Nature of SEO
The importance of an ongoing SEO strategy is reinforced by the changing nature of SEO. Algorithms, competition, and market changes effect search results every day. If you only focus on SEO in a limited capacity, then there’s a chance that the benefits of your work won’t live very long.
The algorithmic rules that govern search engine optimization have dramatically shifted over the years. Google consistently refines their platform not only to enhance user experience, but also to prevent manipulation.
If you want a sustainable strategy, then this constant evolution demands adherence to ethical practices — commonly referred to as White Hat SEO. While some may be tempted to take shortcuts using “Black Hat” tactics that violate search engine guidelines, the risks associated with keyword stuffing and spammy link building are high. Google’s frequent updates are designed to identify and penalize websites employing deceitful practices, emphasizing the importance of a sustainable, ethical approach to SEO.
The competitive landscape of the search engine results page undergoes constant transformation. New players enter the field, and existing competitors adapt their strategies. For instance, a niche market that was once dominated by smaller businesses may suddenly face the entry of larger, more established brands. Staying competitive in search results requires continuous monitoring, adjustment of SEO tactics, and a proactive approach to address emerging competition. If you want to rank for competitive queries, you’ll need regular monitoring of your SEO activities.
Markets are constantly shifting due to changing consumer preferences, technological advancements, and societal changes. With the introduction of new products like generative AI tools or the emergence of trending terms such as “fake news”, the language that people use online continually evolves.
Business owners should be aware that SEO is not static; it’s an ongoing process that adapts to market shifts. To remain relevant and meet the ever-changing needs of consumers, businesses should be aware of their website language, content, and strategies as they relate to these evolving trends and demands.
The State of Search and AI
With language learning models and AI tools like ChatGPT, the way that people discover information online is changing right before our eyes, and search engines like Google are quickly adapting to meet these behavioral shifts.
As AI continues to advance, these information delivery systems are reshaping the landscape of search. AI-driven search engines can now better understand user intent, serve personalized results, and even predict what users are looking for.
These changes enforce a dynamic approach to SEO, where adaptability to AI-driven algorithms is becoming more critical to maintaining SERP visibility. Will voice search impact SEO strategy? What does organic visibility and lead generation even look like in the realm of AI? We’ll save that for another time…
The point is, SEO is dynamic. It’s always changing. For now, people are still using traditional search engines to research information, products, and local businesses. Will that be the case a year from now? Nobody can accurately predict these behavioral shifts, but it’s safe to say that most people want their information to come from an authoritative, reliable source, rather than a generated text block. So the power of URL-backed search results will more likely than not maintain its relevance.
Search Engines: The Focus on Quality and Helpfulness
Search engine optimization is at the mercy of search engines — companies that are consistently trying to improve their bottom line and dominate market share. And I’m really just talking about the largest search engine here, Google.
Because of a reliance on Google, SEO best-practices are subject to change based on the updates that they make to their platform. While some SEOs may dread them, algorithm updates, tool testing, and search engine results page (SERP) reformatting are simply the ways that search engines remain relevant and meet the demands of consumers.
More often than not, these updates are implemented to prioritize helpful web resources that clearly and effectively answer users’ questions or goals. Google wants to maintain its dominance by encouraging users to consistently return to their platform. The only way this is accomplished is by ensuring users are confident that Google’s answers successfully match their search intentions.
Keeping this in mind, it’s important to be aware of algorithm updates, and to monitor your site when they happen. However, if you follow a content strategy that prioritizes helpful, informative content for your non-branded, keyword-focused pages, then you shouldn’t have too much to worry about during these shifts. Pillar pages, list posts, infographics, and ultimate guides should be relatively safe from algorithm-based traffic dips if they are truly designed to provide answers and information.
Three Distinct Components of SEO
The evolving nature of SEO and the emphasis on helpful, authoritative content guides the hand when approaching an SEO strategy. SEO needs to be approached holistically, whether that’s in a single kickstart session or over several months. The most important thing to remember about SEO frequency is the importance of quality over quantity. You want to make updates the right way, not the easiest or fastest way. For the most reliable results, SEO requires an all-or-nothing approach, and that needs to be clear when discussing the frequency of its implementation.
In order to create an effective SEO plan that can compete and withstand algorithmic earthquakes, we need to break SEO tactics up into 3 distinct categories, each with different levels of ongoing attentiveness: technical SEO, on-page SEO, and off-page SEO.
Technical SEO updates ensure that your website is accessible to search engines and that it functions correctly in the eyes of Google’s robots. Technical SEO involves using a tool like Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider or SEMrush to identify issues on the site and then clean those up based on the description. Easy as that. It involves tasks such as optimizing website speed, improving mobile-friendliness, and fixing broken links.
On-page SEO involves optimizing various elements on your website to improve visibility in search engines. This includes optimizing meta tags, ensuring a user-friendly experience, and creating high-quality, keyword-rich copy; either for new or existing pages.
The initial setup for on-page SEO includes keyword research, content creation, and website structure improvements. However, it’s an ongoing effort that benefits from continuous keyword-based content updates and refinement to rank for new keywords and consistently increase website traffic. Some technical SEO updates can overlap with on-page SEO tactics, but since On-Page SEO is keyword optimized, these best practices will always outweigh technical recommendations.
Off-page SEO focuses on building authority and a trustworthy reputation across the internet. Remember, Google wants to rank pages that are helpful, and if other sites are linking to your page, that’s a pretty clear indicator that it’s a helpful resource. In order to rank highly for competitive keywords, off-page SEO is a consistent, everyday consideration that should be a core component of a long-term strategy. Some common tactics include link building, social media marketing, and digital PR. While the initial setup may involve building backlinks for high-converting pages and establishing a strong digital footprint, the ongoing aspect of off-page SEO is far more demanding than technical or on-page SEO.
A holistic SEO strategy involves a blend of technical, on-page, and off-page elements. Technical SEO provides the foundation, on-page SEO refines the keyword strategy and user experience, and off-page SEO builds your site’s reputation in the eyes of Google and the online community.
The SEO Roadmap: a Three-Month Guide
Generally speaking, most sites that aren’t currently focused on SEO can follow a simple checklist of priorities.
When starting a new SEO campaign, I like to break these priorities up into month 1, month 2, and month 3 goals. Everything beyond month 3 tends to be rinse and repeat, and may depend on how effective the previous tactics are. Since SEO is a long-term strategy, this framework helps set a site up for future success.
3 months is the minimum amount of time that I would recommend when thinking about how often SEO needs to be done if you truly want to set it and forget it. You’ll always get better results out of an ongoing campaign, though.
Month 1 consists of two priority tasks:
- Running a site audit
- Creating a Keyword to URL map
This is the data-gathering phase. These two assets will provide the roadmap for a year or more of SEO priorities. It’s important to take care of these first so that you can identify what the best opportunities will be for your site, even if you only plan to spend a month or two focused on an SEO campaign.
The Site Audit
Site audits highlight technical issues, warnings, and notices on a website. They can be a bit overwhelming sometimes since they provide large lists of pages that are flagged in red marker. It can be difficult to know where to start or what is safe to avoid. The most important categories in a site audit typically have to do with the sitemap, title tags, meta descriptions, internal/external linking, page speed, and header tags.
My favorite tools to run a site audit and uncover technical issues are the site audit tool from SEMrush and SEO Spider from Screaming Frog.
The Keyword to URL Map
A keyword to URL map is a document that connects existing pages on a site to keywords that they are ranking for. These keywords are often grouped into lists that have a single, priority “parent” keyword and show the monthly search volume and current position that a given page is ranking in. Mapping every page on the site provides a roadmap for future on-page SEO efforts. It also allows you to find keyword and content gaps that can guide future content creation strategy.
After month 1, you will have a list of tasks ready to start working on. You can put as much effort into this as you want, but it’s important to analyze your entire site to determine what the priority items will be that will make the largest impact. This is the case whether you have a limited or more long-term commitment to SEO.
In month 2, you can start making updates based on your findings in month 1. If you want to take things a step further, you can also start working on backlinking and new content initiatives to fill some keyword gaps. Some of these updates may make an impact. While some of them may not. If you get a quick win from an on-page update that you made, great! If that’s all you want to focus on then you can take a step back and check in on SEO after another month or two. If you want to drive a significant amount of organic traffic, though, you’ll probably need to work a little harder.
Month 2 generally consists of three tasks, any of which can be pushed back to a later date, if bandwidth is an issue:
- Implement technical and on-page SEO findings
- Start building backlinks to priority pages
- Research new content ideas based on keyword gaps
Technical and On-Page Implementation
Address and implement the recommendations identified in the site audit. This includes optimizing title tags, meta descriptions, improving page speed, and ensuring proper header tag usage. Technical and on-page optimizations lay the foundation for improved search engine visibility.
When looking into keyword optimization tactics, the keyword map can help prioritize activities. Look at your map and try to find pages that are in positions 5-15 for keywords with decent volume (100+). These should be the priority when making on-page adjustments. Is there a page that is in the 10th position for a keyword with over 200 searches per month? That should most likely be the focus of optimizations before a page that is in the 50th position for a keyword with similar volume.
Initiate backlink building activities to enhance the website’s authority. This can involve outreach, partnerships, or other strategies to acquire quality backlinks from reputable sources. Backlinking is a long-term, continuous process that requires a significant amount of legwork or budget — but it can be the difference between ranking in position 3 and position 1 and acquiring 10x the amount of organic traffic for a given keyword. Get creative with link building and utilize existing relationships, networks, or associations; there are plenty of strategies that can grow your backlink profile.
New Content Keyword Research
Conduct keyword research to identify new content opportunities. This involves finding relevant keywords with search volume and creating a strategy to integrate them into new or existing content. Some strategies to find new keywords include competitor analysis, google search suggestions, and customer feedback/sales questions.
Month 3 (and Beyond)
Month 3 is when you should start seeing some momentum if you’ve made the right technical and on-page adjustments to your site and built a few links. Although, you’re probably not going to see any big wins yet. In order to grow organic traffic and improve your site’s search visibility, you’re going to have to get your hands dirty.
Month 3 and beyond consists of a few regular tasks, including:
- Publish new content based on keyword gaps
- Address ongoing maintenance for technical and on-page opportunities
- Continue building backlinks
New Content Publishing
By the third month, it’s time to leverage the insights gained from keyword research and fill content gaps on your website. Create and publish new, valuable content that aligns with identified keyword gaps and user intent. There are several strategies you can pursue here, including pillar pages, infographics, interactive tools, and various other engaging on-page elements. The point is to create something valuable, not promotional.
Ongoing Site Maintenance
Regularly monitor site performance, analyze keyword rankings, and assess the impact of implemented strategies. This involves rerunning site audits and revisiting the keyword to URL map to make sure you’re aligned with your evolving SEO goals. You’ll also want to continue conducting keyword research for future content initiatives — the more inbound traffic to your site, the more leads and conversions you can acquire.
Continue Building Backlinks
A consistent and diverse backlink profile contributes to your website’s authority, further enhancing its visibility and ranking potential. Once you’ve started building backlinks to your site, you probably shouldn’t stop. Backlinks are extremely valuable when it comes to ranking for industry-defining, hyper-competitive keywords. If you don’t see positive SERP momentum right away, you’ll want to continue building backlinks. It can take upwards of 6+ months for a page to improve it’s search result positioning for certain keywords, and that effort absolutely pays off when you’re eventually outranking your competitors.
Moving Forward with Your Strategy
After this it’s pretty much rinse and repeat. What happens from here depends on how well your site’s priority pages are performing, and how much time/money you’re willing to pump into SEO. This could be the end of your SEO journey if you’re ranking #1 for a target keyword. Or you may find yourself diving deeper to get that hyper-competitive placement. By Month 3, you’ve laid a solid foundation, and we recommend that it’s time to fine-tune and expand your efforts.
Navigating the Dynamic Landscape of SEO
The question of “Is SEO a One-Time Thing?” doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all answer. Your involvement in search engine optimization depends on your bandwidth, the health of your site, the competitive landscape, and a variety of other factors.
As you navigate the seas of SEO, it’s crucial to remember the three distinct components — technical, on-page, and off-page SEO — that contribute to a holistic strategy. Quality over quantity remains the guiding principle, emphasizing the importance of helpful content and ethical practices that align with the evolving demands of search engines.
The recommended three-month roadmap outlined above provides a structured approach to kickstarting your SEO journey, recognizing the initial data-gathering phase, implementation of findings, and ongoing tasks beyond these first steps. Remember that new content publishing, ongoing site maintenance, and continuous link building are integral components of sustaining and growing organic traffic. Generally speaking, the more you invest in these areas, the better your organic traffic results will be.
Yet, the reality of resource limitations and varying business priorities means that an SEO strategy can take different forms. Whether you embark on a comprehensive, ongoing engagement or opt for targeted optimizations based on your specific needs, there are always ways to leverage SEO best practices that align with your goals.
If you’re ready to boost lead generation through organic traffic and unlock the full potential of your online presence, get in touch with the SEO experts at VSSL today. Our team is ready to collaborate with you, tailoring strategic solutions to maximize your website’s visibility, drive quality traffic, and ensure long-term success.