The Three Tactical Phases of SEO

SEO can be intimidating to most folks when they are starting out. But like all complex subject matters, it’s important to break them up into simple, more digestible chunks. Below is a SEO primer broken up into three phases.

And here is my disclaimer – there are a ton of different ways to understand, plan and execute SEO programs. If you have thoughts on improving it, I’m always open to optimizing this approach below! Also, this post is focused more on the tactics than on the strategy and purpose for SEO. We’ll save this for another blog post. Ok. Enough said.

The three tactical phases of SEO are simple:

  1. Foundational
  2. Optimization
  3. Expansion

Foundational Phase

Foundational SEO is a comprehensive assessment of the site’s obstacles that prevent search engine crawlers from accessing all of the site’s readable content. These foundational obstacles are usually broken links, javascript- or Flash-enabled links, duplicate pages, etc.

During this period, it’s also important to understand what onsite HTML elements are present (or not) and how they are behaving. For example, any search-worthy page should include – at minimum – the following page elements: page title, meta-description, and heading elements. Oftentimes, one or more of these items are missing from the page. Other times, a heading element isn’t wrapped around the most relevant web page copy. A heading element like a H1 tag might be wrapped around an image or a less relevant section of the page.

In either case, it’s important to identify these missed opportunities and recommend a set of actions to address them.

By the end of the foundational phase, there should be an audit completed and recommendations based on the audit implemented.

I would argue that you may not complete this phase for a whole year or more because some technical or foundational issues might take as long to address.

However, it shouldn’t prevent you from moving into the next phase and it’s not a problem if you have more than one phase in the works at any one time.

Just understand that depending on the severity of the foundational issue, no matter what you do in the later phases, your site will continue to be hindered in the search rankings until these issues are resolved.

Optimization Phase

This phase is focused on the desired keywords. The activities and choices made in this phase are almost exclusively about organizing each page and the entire site to rank competitively on a set of important keywords for the website.

So the first step in this phase is a thoughtful brainstorm of the most important keywords for the website. This is often initiaited with a simple pen and pad (or a text file). Just write down what keywords you would punch into a search engine to find information about your website. Pick at least 10.

From that seed list of keywords, web tools will help refine or expand the keyword list. These terms will help you determine the volume of searches on each keyword, the competitiveness of these searches, the website’s current rankings on these terms and much more.

Here are some web tools:

  1. Google Keyword Tool
  2. Open Site Explorer
  3. SEM Rush

The output of this analysis should be a set of keywords and a clear understanding of where your website stands vs. its desired state (#1 position on XYZ keywords), the relative size of the traffic opportunity, and the relative competitiveness for each keyword.

From there, we want to dig into the following:

  1. The website – compare how the pages are currently targeting the keyword set, where are the meta-data needs, the content needs, the site navigation and architecture needs, etc.
  2. The competitor’s websites – compare how both direct and indirect competitors are targeting these keywords, what looks to be working, what’s not working.
  3. The competitor’s backlinks – compare the size and diversity of the competitor’s backlink profile, see what’s working vs. what’s not.

These activities will inform the optimization priorities, where to start and where to go.

A clear roadmap of work will come out of these activities. To gut check this roadmap, it should include an update of some, if not all, of the pages on the website, a re-organization of the site itself, new content creation plans, internal linking updates.

The next step is to get to knocking out each of them, plus whatever else is on there. It’s important to ensure that you’re focused on the activities that will have the most impact and communicate openly and regularly what the expected outcome of this work should be.

Again, this phase might take months to complete, depending on the size of the site and the pace of implementing the updates. And here I would say that you should probably leave the next phase alone until 75-85% of the optimization phase is complete. By that time, you should have made about the same amount of progress if not more in Phase 1 as well. Plus, your rankings and organic search traffic performance should see considerable improvement as well. If not, then you definitely missed something and will need to revisit to phase 1 and 2.

Expansion Phase

This phase is focused mainly on new keywords and offsite SEO. As this phase relates to new keywords, you should also have a set of keywords from the initial keyword strategy development in Phase 2, that you put on the shelf for one reason or another. Perhaps, it’s time to revisit them. Dust them off and start phase 2 all other again. Not much more to say about these at the moment.

Offsite SEO is the most challenging and most remote from the traditional concepts of SEO. In a sense, it is content marketing. The activities in this phase are more in line with a Public Relations Agency than a SEO agency. Let me explain.

The offsite SEO tactics are ideating content ideas, pitching these content ideas to publisher sites, negotiating with publisher sites, creating the content for the publisher (or working with a publisher’s writing staff to create the content), and ensuring the publisher complies with your content requirements.

Sounds a lot like PR, right?

Some differences are:

  • The goal for offsite SEO remains ranking improvements on the core keyword set defined earlier in phase 2.
  • The content is often not about the brand, but about the category (or the generic keyword)
  • The content has to include links to your website but also others too.
  • The publishers are identified not only by the relevancy of their content but also by their domain authority.

This activity is often best performed by someone with journalism or PR experience or someone with a talent for working with publishers.

This activity will take weeks to see progress with new content on third-party sites, but months before the work shows ranking improvements. Often times, directly attributing the hard work in offsite SEO is difficult since you’re often implementing a ton of other SEO related efforts at the same time, although it’s certainly possible.

OK! You made it to the end.

I hope this post informed you on how to think about SEO tactics and what some of these SEO tactics are.

Let me know if you have any questions. Happy to help.


A Media Strategy In A Single Sentence

A helpful tip and short cut for understanding ands explaining any strategy is to boil it down to a single sentence.

Get [insert target audience] to [insert a specific action] by [insert a description of the plan] because [reasons to believe this plan will work].

For example, our strategy is to get Millennials to purchase our widget by staying top of mind throughout their online shopping process with digital banners and paid search ads because Millennials spend more hours on the internet than on any other media touchpoint and new ad technologies allow advertisers to better target shoppers through behavioral targeting.

This reduction of the strategy is useful when clients need to grasp the strategy quickly and briefly.

Just remember GTBB.



Book Notes: Anything You Want by Derek Sivers

Most memorable takeaways:

Just pay close attention to what excites you and what drains you.

Pay close attention to when you’re being the real you and when you’re trying to impress an invisible jury.

It’s about being, not having: In the end, it’s about what you want to be, not what you want to have. To keep yourself in check, make sure you know what makes you happy, and don’t forget it.

Derek writes in his journal and talks to his mentors. Business is as creative as the fine arts. A business is a reflection of the creator.

Looking for a New Roommate

***Update: We found our new roommate! We’re very excited to have him.***


Anyone looking for a new apartment in NYC starting January 1?

We have a spacious extra room available. It’s on the second floor of a duplex apartment with access to a front and rear patio. It actually occupies the entire top floor and has direct access to the stairwell and the downstairs apartment.

In terms of transportation, the E & M trains are less than a block away and the 6 train is less than 2 blocks.

Other amenities include:

  • Easily fits a queen size bed, a desk, and 2 dressers
  • Includes its own bathroom, tons of closet space
  • The rooftop is large and private.

The space is for four roommates. Our fourth roommate is moving out because he’s getting married. We will miss him, but are so happy for him.

So we’re looking to fill his spot. Here is who you would be living with:

Here are the roommates:





We’re all really friendly and welcoming.

If you’re looking or know of a friend looking, feel free contact me here or call me.

Pictures of apartment

Book Notes: 4-Hour Chef (Meta-Learning Section) by Tim Ferriss

I picked up this book to learn faster. There’s a section on meta-learning that sounded very appealing. So I scooped the Kindle version.

I believe that the SELECTION step is where Tim’s relentless search for good material separates him from the rest of us and allowed him to excel at various skills.

My Notes

Meta-Learning: Viable learning methods that are effective, efficient and sustainable and based on the right materials (the right book, the right teacher, the right method, etc.)

Tim’s Learning Process:

Select a skill to learn, then follow this primary sequence:
DiSSS – Deconstruction, Selection, Sequencing, Stakes…

& this secondary sequence…

CaFE – Compression, Frequency, and Encoding

The Steps of DiSSS

Goal: How do I break this amorphous skill into small, manageable pieces? What are the minimal learn-able units, the Lego blocks, I should be starting with?
Job: To take apart the skill
Tools: Reducing, interviewing, reversal, and translating
1) Reducing:

  • Reduce the skill into bit size pieces

2) Interviewing:

  • Use wikipedia to find out who are the best (or second best, which is often ideal) in the world 5-10 years ago, or 2-4 Olympics ago, since those currently in the limelight are less likely to respond.
  • Search Google for “[My closest city} {sport} {olympian or wold champion or world record].” This might get to a connection to the person, if not the person.
  • Make first contact and provide context by introducing yourself as a freelance writer for a blog, newsletter, or local newspaper and a piece on this person and his/her methods, or to quite him/her on a related topic as an expert
  • Ask questions, including:
    • Biggest mistakes, Biggest misuses of time, Most common mistakes, Key principles for better, more consistent X, What does the progression of X look like?

3) Reversals:

  • Consider, if not apply the opposite approach to the skill
  • Finding the path of least resistance is as easy as Googling “backwards”, “upide down” or “reverse” plus whatever skill you’re deconstructing.

4) Translating:

  • Follow the 12 sentence audit by asking someone to translate (written and oral).
  • Keep it as simple as possible
  • Learn the auxiliary (helper) verbs in your target language, plus the all-important to be, to have, to do, and to go, and you can very quickly express any idea.

Goal: Which 20% of the blocks should I focus on for 80% or more of the outcomes I want?
Job: To find highest-yield material (find the auxiliary verbs of the language), then order them by their margin of safety.
Tools: 80/20 Rule and Minimum Effective Dose (MED)
1) Minimal Effective Dose:

  • Find the lowest volume, lowest frequency and the fewest changes that get us our desired results.

2) 80/20 Rule (material beats method):

  • 100 well-selected words give you 50% of the practical use of 171,476 words.

Goal: In what order should I learn the blocks?
Job: Find a well-designed progression.
Tools: Start backwards, Take Inventory, Find your strengths
1) Start backwards, like Josh did in chess or Tim did in dancing
2) Take inventory, separating the implicit from explicit by reviewing other great role models, interviewing the greats, finding patterns.
3) Identify what I could become good at quickly if I leveraged past experience.
4) Find the nexus in these three traits:

  • Infrequently taught
  • personal strengths
  • common among best performers

Goal: How do I setup stakes, create real consequences, and guarantee I follow the program?
Job: Find real consequences and incentives to achieve the goal
Tools: creating incentives, assigning accountability
1) Assigning accountability:

  • Make a commitment (“cook two meals per week”)
  • Pick an “anti-charity” that if you fail the commitment you will send money to.
  • Choose an amount that is painful to lose!! Wager $1,000 or more

The Steps of CaFE

Goal: How to make something intimidating unintimidating so you don’t quit?
Job: To make effective decisions and learning effectively by massive elimination and the removal of options.
Tools: One pagers, ABC (Always Be Compressing), resource design
1) One pager:

  • Prescriptive one-pagers list the top-down principles that help you generate real-world examples. Ex. Here’s the rules of grammar, so go make a grammatically correct sentence.
  • Practice one pagers lists real-world examples to practice that indirectly teach the principles. Ex. Here’s the recipe that once you master, you can master thousands more.

2) Resource Design:

  • Compare different media and your own learning style

Goal: How frequently should I practice? Can I cram, and what should my schedule look like? What growing pains can I predict?
Job: To cram as much learning into a definitive amount of time
Tools: Timelines, Forecast learning curve, Breaks,
1) Forecast learning curve:

  • Sugar high → Immediate drop-off and low point → Plateau → Inflection point → Fluency
  • Accept your limitations. All learning is physically limited. The brain is dependent on finite quantities of neurotransmitters, memories require REM and non-REM sleep for consolidation, etc.

2) Timelines

  • The more extreme your ambition, just as in sports, the more you need performance enhancement via unusual schedules, diet, drugs, etc.
  • Set a timeline

3) Breaks

  • Take 5-10 minute breaks

Goal: How do I anchor the new material to what I already know for rapid recall?
Job: To convert the unfamiliar and unwieldy into the familiar and manageable.
Tools: Memorable Rules of Thumb
1) Memorable Rules of Thumb:

  • Mnemonics (Roy G. Biv)
  • Acrostics (“Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge”)
  • Chunking (Mt. Fuji is 12,365ft …. “12 Months and 365 days”)
  • Memory Devices for etiquette: B and D, Left has four letters; Right has five letters, Work from the outside in

2) Types of mnemonics:

    • Consonant system mnemonic: encodes numbers → consonants → nouns → images