How to Create an SEO Roadmap: Connecting the Dots Between Strategy & Success

Updated on: 
January 4, 2024
Heather Kaeowichien
Heather Kaeowichien
Tory Gray
Tory Gray

The path to strategic website optimization is full of twists, turns, and no shortage of potential to-dos. That’s why defining the core initiatives behind your SEO plan is so imperative. 

But how do you actually connect the dots between those high-level strategic goals and granular execution? 

Enter the SEO roadmap… 

This dynamic and essential document shows where a site has been, where it’s going, and tactics to get there, including actionable tasks and scalable workflows. 

The Gray Dot Co SEO roadmap approach is our bread-and-butter for executing robust cross-functional search optimizations and maximizing ROI. In this article, we’ll guide you through it, as we break down how to create your own SEO roadmap using our free template

Table of Contents

What's an SEO Roadmap?

An SEO roadmap is a collective document that plans, plots, and prioritizes the action items to execute on the channel strategy. It includes detailed tactics, tasks, and target deadlines. 

A good roadmap includes key SEO opportunities and explains how to best leverage them. It can include a combination of net-new implementations and optimizing current implementations which have already been vetted in an SEO business case. (We’ll talk more about business cases when we get into prioritization!)

It’s not a linear to-do checklist of tactics. Rather, it maps broader strategic objectives to individual projects that contribute to those objectives.

What are the benefits of an SEO roadmap?

Every organization has its own unique set of priorities, but the SEO roadmap benefits businesses, regardless of their individual objectives, by:

  • Aligning digital SEO efforts with business goals
  • Getting cross-functional collaborators on the same page
  • Organizing and streamlining SEO initiatives for maximum ROI

Beyond simply defining the “how” and “what” of your SEO strategy, it also speaks to the “why” behind each item, making it an invaluable resource for both strategic and executional stakeholders across the team. 

For the former, it answers important strategic questions by explaining the reasoning behind decisions. An SEO roadmap should be shared and viewable by any relevant stakeholders that have a vested interest in SEO performance, including Sales and Marketing teams.

For those executing against the core objectives, it streamlines communication by getting everyone on the same page. It’s usually the main collaboration point between marketing and the Product and Engineering team — especially when it comes to assessing the value of SEO work and translating it into the development roadmap.

But it can also improve collaboration with other branches of the marketing team, such as finding areas of synergy between SEO needs and the content creation roadmap.

What’s the difference between an SEO roadmap and an SEO strategy?

Strategy means looking at the big picture of where the business is, where it needs to go, the opportunities that can help it get there, and why they will make an impact in terms of business objectives. 

The SEO strategy is the what (core objectives) and the why (value to the business) at a high level. 

The SEO roadmap links them to the how (action items) and when (timelines and urgency based on prioritization). Ultimately, it’s driven by the why. The goals that the business has set will shape the path forward, along with other considerations we’ll cover in this article.

You can’t create a roadmap for SEO without the strategy, nor can you efficiently carry out the strategy sans a roadmap. This is why both are inseparable pieces of the toolkit that teams use to achieve SEO goals and make measurable impacts.

How does the strategy feed into the roadmap?

A sound strategy uses data sources like website analytics, market research, keyword research, and channel- or platform-specific information to identify the most promising opportunities and categorize them into core objectives. The strategy, timeline, budget, and resources are set at a high level — often for the quarter, half, or entire year. 

Evaluating which tactics will have the most impact against each objective - and using a structured methodology for prioritizing them - is how you create the foundation of an SEO roadmap.  

How to build an SEO Roadmap

Building an SEO roadmap is an exercise in breaking core objectives out into related projects. It should include any viable projects along with key details on why and when delivery is needed.  

We’ve found that the most valuable inputs in the SEO roadmap document are:

  • Action item - What are we doing in the technical/executional sense?
  • Opportunity - How will this benefit the business in terms of progress against goals/KPIs?
  • Priority - What is the urgency of the opportunity, measured as high, medium, or low?
  • Level of effort (LOE) - How much work is this going to require from the team based on initial investigations?
  • Scope - Which SEO need or core discipline is the action item supporting?
  • Goal alignment - What business goal does this action item support?
  • Status - What stage of progress is this work at currently?
  • SEO impact - How will this impact SEO performance, measured on a scale of high, medium, or low?
  • Target timeline - When should we address this work given available resources and all of the other items in the roadmap?

Start with our free template, tweak it, and reuse often.

Starting with a tried-and-true framework is a great way to build momentum quickly. Over time, you can iterate, make it your own, and reuse it. Templatizing your SEO roadmap keeps you from reinventing the wheel — especially for ongoing maintenance or work against SEO technical debt.

That’s why we’re sharing the framework we use every day as a free SEO roadmap template to jumpstart your planning. As we break down how to create and use your roadmap, we’ll refer back to the template to help fill in the gaps. 

Screenshot of the Free SEO Roadmap Template (Google Sheets version)
Google Sheets SEO Roadmap Template
Download for Google Sheets → 
Screenshot of the Free SEO Roadmap Template (AirTable version)
AirTable SEO Roadmap Template
Download for Airtable → 

Craft views for easy, effective communication.

Yes, the SEO roadmap is a powerful tool to manage SEO projects. But its most important function is to communicate with relevant stakeholders. 

That means it needs to speak to different teams and levels of the business in a way that they’ll easily understand. Whereas an engineering manager may need a quick view of what’s in-progress and on the way, executives will want to view it through the lens of company goals and timelines.

In our SEO roadmap template, we include three main views meant to support different stakeholder needs: List, Kanban, and Timeline. (By updating the record in the list view, the Kanban and Timeline views will update automatically).

The List View is a traditional spreadsheet view with a row for each action item and columns for the various inputs. 

Screenshot of SEO Roadmap Template: List View

A Kanban View is a column-based view that visualizes the different stages of the workflow and which individual projects are currently at each stage.

Screenshot of SEO Roadmap Template: Kanban View

The Timeline View looks at the timing of individual projects next to one another in a calendar view. 

Screenshot of SEO Roadmap Template: Timeline View

Include ALL of the SEO needs

SEO is rich, complex, and multifaceted — many of the reasons why we love it! The roadmap is meant to help manage all things SEO.

So when the roadmap only focuses on one or two particular areas - or large projects outside of regular maintenance - it leaves a huge opportunity on the table to manage all of the moving parts together. It also helps stakeholders understand just how much goes into maintaining and growing SEO. 

When you align ALL of your SEO efforts with business objectives, you ensure a balanced, strategically optimized roadmap. It also helps understand which work is delivering the most value, keeping everyone focused on the most impactful projects as new ones roll in.

Examples of roadmap initiatives

When adding projects to the roadmap, all SEO work is fair game, including the non-exhaustive list of examples below.

  • Reporting: Data tracking, analytics, dashboarding, investigations 
  • Site usability: Core web vitals/CrUX, accessibility
  • Technical SEO: Crawlability, indexing, structured data markup, JavaScript rendering, migrations, multiple domain SEO
  • Content marketing: New content development, keyword research, keyword gap analysis, content pruning/consolidation
  • Authority & equity: Internal linking, link building, PR support, E-E-A-T
  • Local SEO: NAP consistency, local schema markup, digital community building
  • Internationalization: Hreflang, international hosting
  • Channel support: Any initiatives that require SEO to support channels like PPC

How to prioritize an SEO roadmap

Much like cooking a delicious meal from a recipe, the ingredient list only gets you so far. The magic happens when the order, proportions, and preparation come into play. Similarly, a list of action items is only so useful. 

Prioritizing the projects in the roadmap, assigning them timelines, and explaining the reasoning behind it all is what makes a roadmap essential to SEO progress. 

Define weighted value-delivery

Throwing SEO spaghetti at the wall doesn’t mean it’s going to stick. An SEO strategy and roadmap should gauge the amount of value an objective or initiative delivers, as well as the level of effort required to execute on it. After all, the most valuable idea isn’t necessarily the right idea if it requires more work than the business has resources to invest.

This methodology is called weighted value-delivery, and it’s a powerful tool for driving SEO progress aligned with business goals. It works by setting a numeric value for each of the following areas using the fibonacci sequence: 

  • Level of Effort (LOE) - How much effort will this take relative to other initiatives in terms of work and human power necessary?
  • SEO Impact - The value of the project in terms of KPIs — whether it be rankings, revenue, or other metrics.
  • Risk Reduction - What’s the risk of NOT doing this work? (example: Will competitors win more market share?)
  • Time Criticality - What is the urgency for completing this project, based on factors like site usability, competitive advantage, or decline in KPIs?

Score these as part of your SEO business case.

These components are crucial inputs in an SEO business case, a tool that is really helpful for comparing different types of initiatives through an apples-to-apples framework. We recommend creating a business case for each viable project in the roadmap, and especially those jockeying for spots higher in your prioritization.

We walk you through how to create an SEO business case in our in-depth guide, which includes our business case format as a free SEO planning template to get you started. 

Screenshot of the Google Slide template for a Product Business Case
SEO Business Case Slide Template
Download for Google Slides → 

Score weighted value-delivery 

Our SEO Roadmap template helps you prioritize based on a weighted value-delivery score that’s calculated using SEO impact, urgency, and risk versus the level of effort (all of which is outlined in the business case). 

The calculation adds together the project’s impact, risk reduction, and time criticality and divides that total by the LOE. The higher the resulting number, the more favorable the ratio of value to effort. 

Screenshot of SEO Roadmap Template: Sorted by Value Delivery Score

Quick tip: Sort the list view of your roadmap by this score to see a proposed order of priority for project completion. From there, you can create your timeline by factoring in considerations such as resource availability, cross-functional overlap, etc. (We’ll speak to this below.)

Pinpoint the quick wins

Like we talked about, some of the most valuable projects can also be some of the most resource-intensive. A good rule of thumb is to find the projects that have the most impact on KPIs with the least amount of work — aka the “quick wins.” 

Quick wins are tasks you can complete in a short amount of time that make a considerable difference in your site’s SEO performance or sales. Our SEO roadmap strategy is to pinpoint the quick wins and prioritize them.

For example, do you have thousands of pages of thin content that could be addressed by adding a simple disavowal rule to the robots.txt? That’s a great candidate.

Tending to the quick wins creates early momentum in terms of collaboration and tangible impact. This opens the door to getting buy-in and resources for valuable work that might require more effort and receive pushback at the get-go. 

One of our favorite things about using the weighted value-delivery method is that the quick wins will naturally float to the top of your priority list with higher scores.

Bite-size the big projects with an MVP mindset

But what about those big, impactful projects that could get deprioritized due to resource limitations? The answer is simple… make them smaller! 

Take a step back and consider how to parse out the work, starting only with the pages that will have the biggest impact. This reduces the resource ask and allows you to test the waters, potentially building buy-in for the rest of the work.

Let’s say you have a large project like adding videos to every blog post, which has the potential for significant user and SEO benefits. Maybe the first round of the project is “add videos to the top 5 blog posts based on traffic volume?” 

Look at the competitive landscape.

All things being equal, you might work against improving the typical SEO to-dos. 

Except, all things are not equal. SEO is all about relativity. 

Determining which projects are worth prioritizing relative to others shouldn’t happen in a site silo.  

A good SEO roadmap factors in what competitors are doing and how the work positions the business to win market share. What are you doing better than your competitors? What are they doing better than you? And maybe most impactful, where are the gaps where no one is doing it at all?

The more mature your business and industry is, the more you need to understand your SEO landscape. 

Consider these crucial areas in gauging your competition. 

An investigation of your top competitors can help you understand the quality of the SEO programs, as well as the level of effort they’re putting into growth.

Here are some of the most important factors we tend to look at: 

  • Backlink profile - How many links, from which referring domains, of what quality?
  • Keyword gap comparison - What do they rank for that you don’t? Which niches can you lean into where competitors are absent?
  • Content comparison - How is their content performing versus yours? What topics do they cover that you’re not? How are they structuring, formatting, or creating content differently?
  • UX comparison - Is the site more user-friendly in terms of accessibility, organization/depth of information, and categorization/navigation?
  • E-E-A-T comparison - Is your site doing a better job of building credibility through Google’s E-E-A-T guidelines? (Experience, Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness)
  • Site performance comparison - Is their site faster than yours?

Create a phased timeline.

We’re well on our way to an actionable roadmap! Now, it’s time for, well…. timing. 

The period of time for your roadmap should align with how your company tracks goals and communicates progress — often a full year, but sometimes a half. Within that period, the timeline should be broken into phases that make it easier to track progress and focus work. If you’re doing the roadmap for a full year, consider using quarters as your phases.

With your phased framework in hand, you’re ready to plot and prioritize your timeline following these three steps.

1. Assess resource availability.

The first step in identifying which projects to do when, is understanding the resources available to complete them. Which teams are needed for each project and how much of their time is available for SEO? What is your budget in this time period and how much of that will this project eat up? 

2. Align with weighted value-delivery scores.

Review your list of projects, putting those with the highest weighted value-delivery scores first and the lowest last. Start to schedule the projects based on this priority order, factoring in the resources that you have available to execute work in each phase. 

3. Gauge relevance to business objectives and KPIs.

Review your strategy for alignment with business objectives for the period and move projects as necessary to find the balance that best supports those goals. 

For example, your business goals might be revenue, customer experience, and a solid technical foundation. The roadmap should include a well-aligned mix of projects that will help deliver against these goals during the period.

Reminder: Leave room for learning and housekeeping.

Having created her fair share of SEO roadmaps, Chief Digital Officer of The Gray Dot Company, Sam Torres, also offers this bit of advice:

“When making your roadmap, it can be easy to get completely wrapped up in the net-new initiatives. Don't forget to include time for reviewing your results, reassessing work based on changing priorities, and maintaining site integrity — whether that's through updating content or ensuring the technical health of your site. Not to say that you should make a checklist, but make sure you're thinking about those needs when planning and leaving space to address them in each phase.”

Harmonize with other channels and teams.

SEO doesn’t live in a vacuum. What’s happening in other marketing channels or areas of the business can have both positive and negative SEO implications. It also impacts resources, because areas of mutual concern are often opportunities to streamline work and build on what’s already in progress.

One common example with a lot of potential for impact is a site migration or redesign. SEO should be part of the discussion table, as the support required - from pre-launch considerations to post-launch QA - is no small feat. Working it into the roadmap ensures it gets the time, consideration, and collaboration it deserves. It also makes it clear that SEO needs to be a part of the process.

SEOs should have visibility into what’s going on in other channels and ensure that same visibility is available to other stakeholders. That’s a huge piece of the value of a roadmap for communicating across the project/task management frameworks of other teams. 

You never know what opportunities you might find by bringing SEO into the purview of people doing impactful work and strategy across the aisle.

Some Examples of How Other Channels Can Affect the Roadmap

We’ve talked a lot about how roadmaps help SEO align with Product and Engineering, including the migration example above. Here are a few other examples of factoring in opportunities from cross-channel overlap:

  • Brand Strategy - Is there a big brand campaign on the way that will drive significant new users? It might make sense to bump up UX-related work, so those users have a great first experience. 
  • Social Media Marketing - Is the team looking to promote content in paid ads? Looking at organic performance of existing content URLs could yield recommendations as to which pieces will drive engagement/clicks and effectively path users down the funnel. 
  • Data & Analytics - Are there initiatives in the roadmap where results can’t be measured with the reporting in place today? Making that case to the analytics team and understanding when they’ll have the resources to help will go a long way in timing those related initiatives correctly.

How to execute against an SEO roadmap

We have a beautiful, well-planned roadmap in hand. Now what do we do? Using the roadmap to drive executional progress comes with its own set of considerations.

6 key steps to using the roadmap

An SEO product manager will take the following steps with an approved roadmap in hand, often with the help of other teams or product managers:

1. Determine Project Owners 

Assign a qualified team or individual to each task. Take task dependencies into account and find creative ways to keep project owners focused on related items through batching, whether working with the internal team or an SEO agency

2. Build a Communication Plan

Determine what tools will be used for managing and communicating the progress for each project. For example, does the project live in your engineering ticketing system or your marketing task management system? 

Ensure the right voices will be heard and the relevant parties looped in for all phases of the project, from creating the specifications to quality assurance and retros.

3. Create Documentation 

Write out the technical specifications for each project, accounting for the task management frameworks of the team you’re working with to execute it. When working with the engineering team, they’ll likely have a ticketing system in place to help communicate relevant details, including examples like code snippets or screenshots from competitor sites. 

4. Manage the project 

SEO isn’t everyone’s expertise, nor should it be. As projects make their way into “in progress” status, questions, discrepancies, and blockers are bound to pop up. An SEO product manager is there to ensure progress and collaborate with executional team members in development. 

It’s vital to be a good partner to those that are building the components of your strategy, especially when it comes to working with your engineering team, who are fielding requests from every possible angle.

5. Quality Assurance and Delivery

Always be a part of the testing before a project goes out the door. Test not only new functionality, but also any possible implications to existing code, the customer funnel, or core components of the site such as checkout. Ensure all content has been thoroughly edited, all links are working, etc. For more details, see our guide to SEO QA.

6. Measure Success 

The KPIs for the project should have already been identified in the SEO business case from the very early stages of roadmap planning. There should be a measurement plan to monitor each project, gauge its impact, and report the performance back to the team. 

Consider keeping a comprehensive list of projects and their KPIs where you can compare projections versus performance. Update it at regular intervals, adding direct links to assets, documentation, and reporting. 

Stay proactive by adopting an agile approach.

Let’s be honest, surprises and shifts pop up all the time in SEO, whether it’s an unintended consequence of a development release or a major algorithm update from Google. When these problems aren’t addressed today, they tend to become bigger fires tomorrow.

That’s why an agile framework for executing on the roadmap is so important to continuous improvement.

Agile methodology is a project management approach that prioritizes cross-functional collaboration and continuous improvement. It divides projects into smaller phases and guides teams through cycles of planning, execution, and evaluation. This leaves room to assess the value of new work against what’s in the roadmap and nimbly accommodate it without turning everything in motion upside down.

Build in moments of maintenance and follow-up. 

Discovery and analysis are two keys to keeping a roadmap agile and relevant. By standardizing points of cross-functional check-in and saving time to report on performance, you also build in an opportunity to make the adjustments that matter. 

The roadmap might be broken into quarterly phases, and these moments should definitely happen on a phase-by-phase basis. However, building smaller cycles into phases on a monthly or bi-weekly basis (aka sprints) - along with check-ins at kickoff and completion - is a trusty method for keeping communication and progress at their peaks, while leaving room for proactive adjustments. 

We’re here to help connect the dots to and from your SEO roadmap.

We shared our free roadmap template to help you map strategy to success, and we’re here to help create or execute any of the pieces along the way. Together, we can unearth big opportunities, craft strategies, build roadmaps, and create plans to tackle even the most ambitious SEO goals.

See Product Management Services → 

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