Fundamentally, it's about identifying patterns in your research (e.g. Digital Consumer Intelligence, or DCI) to make data-informed, pragmatic, and creative decisions for scalability, all while avoiding costly mistakes. It also involves having a firm understanding of your site's technical requirements, and a clear vision of your ultimate SEO objectives.
Lately, we’ve been repeating these concepts in practice, which has inspired the creation of this framework. Planning for technical scale doesn't have to be overly complicated, so let’s discuss some of the nuances and complexities.
If this framework sounds simple - that's because it is! The complicated part is planning and executing it effectively. More on this, below.
To scale SEO, a deeper level of planning is required; just any ol’ “keyword research project” isn’t going to cut it.
The process, which is largely instructed by your research findings and DCI insights, requires planning out specific elements to best achieve your SEO goals.
You can leverage quality research and data to help identify growth opportunities.
Some of these opportunities are obvious; things like:
Scale already exists via numerous indexable and valid/useful page or product variations (e.g. because a site has many SKUs, profiles, news stories, events, job postings… you know, enterprise SEO!)
Here, research is more of a translatable extension of what you already have (or are already planning to have): you have pages; you’re simply figuring out the right SEO angle to put on each so as to avoid cannibalization. It can also help you identify which pages could be consolidated, canonicalized, or noindexed (eg those without a unique angle.)
Scale through a high volume of content marketing on any particular subject(s.) Content creation is achieved by in-house or freelance copywriters and/or editors, or perhaps via language learning models like Lex or ChatGPT.
Specific keyword patterns & clusters may be present, but they aren’t inherently required; rather, there are just many viable keywords - and user intents - to research and implement.
Sometimes, more complex (and fun!) opportunities arise:
Scale through automatic page generation (via a database.) This is done via pinpointing keyword patterns (largely via search query volume data) and building URL templates/landing pages that leverage those patterns. Ideally, these pages meet a specific user need in a useful & high-quality way - balancing smart automation with mindful curation and QA.
Research supports these efforts though identifying and prioritizing keyword patterns, when and where they happen. That work, in turn, defines what page templates should be built, and which keyword patterns to leverage in the usual SEO places (metadata, headings, page copy, etc.)
A great example here is VRBO: they have landing pages for all the major city and state combinations you can think of. For Atlanta, GA, they target things like: atlanta vacation rentals; best places to stay atlanta; vacation rentals atlanta, georgia; vacation homes in atlanta; vacation rentals in atlanta ga.
Scale via enabling the creation of high-quality User-Generated Content.
This isn’t just user-uploaded product images! The biggest organic search UGC opportunities are typically templates (Airtable, Trello), creative downloadable assets like PDFs (Craftsy - patterns for knitting & crocheting), playlists (Spotify), or reviews and Q&As (Goodreads, Amazon).
Like the programmatic point above, DCI is helpful here for opportunity identification and prioritization; “Wow, lots of people look for knitting patterns, huh (11k). Also baby blanket patterns (350), scarf patterns (1.2k), and… (etc.). I detect… a pattern.” Pun intended 😏.
These are the most common scaling opportunities; there are more, and they can be combined in interesting ways. For example, directory sites utilize both programmatic templates and UGC for "upgrades" or paid features, etc.
All in all, the takeaway is: make sure to do your research. What sorts of opportunities can you potentially leverage?
There are basic tech SEO requirements to address when scaling effectively. This centers on establishing the systems to maintain the optimal health of your site's tech from early stages through scale, as well as any non-technical processes required to maintain quality.
Seek a flexible CMS with functionality that allows you to customize those things you care most about.
Page-level: metadata, meta robots, canonicals, images & alt text, and on-page copy (including headings.)
Further, you’ll ideally want the functionality to be able to override site-level logic with page-level specifications. See “Global Defaults, Granular Control” for more on this.
Functionality for scalable page creation (eg templates for programmatic SEO), including customizable, templatizable page creation, along with dynamic fields that can auto-populate metadata, page headers, alt text, etc., with appropriate keyword patterns as identified in your DCI work.
After you identify what types of structured data markup you need to have and where, you’ll want systems that allow you to implement custom page-specific schema in addition to auto-generating template-level schema, like, say, Recipe schema for recipe pages - again using dynamic fields.
Ensure that your platform can accommodate needed ADA-compliant matters. As you successfully scale, you will likely become more accountable for meeting accessibility standards.
Get a handle on complicated rendering issues sooner versus later, like how JS rendering will work on your site. More broadly, can search engines access critical information? How much work does that entail for them?
A faster site often means more satisfied and engaged users as well as potentially stronger rankings. Site performance should be a priority tech requirement, as it has both CRO and SEO implications.
Don't forget to define those things custom to your industry, and your business. Vetting the correct platform for you takes thoughtful time and effort.
One key feature of an SEO-friendly CMS is the ability to set logic and defaults - and override those defaults when the situation calls for it.
Building solid systems and processes might feel like overkill; and for smaller brands, that’s true! But if you are intentionally building for predictable and imminent scale, you’ll likely come to consider them foundational steps towards avoiding bottlenecks and predictable SEO concerns.
Once we've determined the scope of our scalability strategy, we must have a grasp on how we're going to measure success. After all, search engine optimization at scale is no short order. And what good is scaling if we don't know how we’re tracking the returns on the resources being invested?
The first exercise is aligning targeted goals and objectives with specific strategic initiatives, be it programmatic, UGC, or eComm-driven growth. A fundamental warm-up to this process is to map the user's journey (or customer's funnel) to specific scalability strategies and identify target goals for particular stages.
In a way, we're taking a CRO approach to identify pivotal decision stages or points of conversion where users perform a desired action, like signing up for an account or submitting their content.
Let's use this scaling UGC example: a few overarching goals we may want to prioritize are trust building (awareness and interest), engagement (interest and consideration), submissions ("purchase" or conversion), and frequency of submissions (loyalty and advocacy).
More specifically, let's look at how we'd implement tracking and analytics to effectively measure those goals. While there may be some overlap in goals and how they're measured, for a common UGC example:
We may also want to examine how we're incentivizing users or working to keep people coming back to our site and whether those strategies work.
For other programmatic or eComm scalability strategies, we may want to leverage more technical KPIs for tracking and analytics, and ask simple questions like "how's my site being indexed?" Here, we can turn to GSC or run crawl reports to track the number of URLs indexed and the overall indexation rate (is Google respecting our efforts?)
Or we could assess individual category landing pages, such as long-tail keywords producing traffic, or know how people are getting to product categories of interest and how well those efforts are working. There's a lot of strategic creativity and right-brain activation that goes into figuring out how to best track and measure progress based on your unique goals and objectives.
The goals inherent in your SEO scaling efforts should directly influence how you go about tracking and measuring performance. In this case, tracking broad-based, universal KPIs won't likely cover all of the metrics that are most relevant and meaningful to your business.
That's not to discount the importance of tracking fundamental SEO metrics, like organic traffic, conversions, and keyword rankings. Rather, your team should prioritize tracking SEO Performance KPIs that directly align with your goals and tech requirements. Here are a few ways to think about this:
In addition to these general examples, also take into consideration how you measure performance based on the SEO customer funnel. This practice is crucial in knowing where you’re thriving and where you may be weak, thereby revealing gaps and opportunities to hone your SEO strategies.
Once you have solid tech requirements defined, your data organized, and your SEO scaling systems in place, the next phase moves into more of an agile approach.
We get into some of the most impactful directives for search engine traffic scalability below, but if you want to take a deep dive into this approach, read our post on Building a Continuous Improvement Machine for SEO. In short, this process can be summarized as follows:
Be clear with your keyword strategy and align your initiatives with your brand offering and target users. It's helpful to group keywords into clusters based on search intent or product offering to develop impactful strategies.
The fundamental document behind any well-organized SEO plan, a roadmap defines the tasks and tactics behind the plan and provides context, direction, and prioritization in your work. Roadmaps also help align your SEO efforts with your overarching business goals.
Obviously, this is where your SEO team prioritizes normal SEO growth tactics: link building, SERP analysis, competitive & technical SEO audits, improving your content strategy, monitoring algorithm updates, and building targeted product pages for your target audience. You know the drill! Choose wisely, and align your tactics with your SEO and business objectives.
Prioritizing what matters is key when implementing your SEO scalability plan. Balance being pragmatic with the desire to be perfect.
Using an agile framework for testing, the general cycle should involve execution, collecting data and evaluating results, and refining your tactics and processes to work out any kinks or bottlenecks.
It's critical to maintain and scale the SEO traffic you currently have. Having a solid quality assurance and monitoring process in place can help ensure that your website is maintaining its existing performance standards.
Identify and address accumulated technical issues that may be hindering the performance of your website, such as broken links, slow page load times, or poor mobile optimization.
It can seem like there's a lot that goes into scaling SEO, and knowing where to direct your efforts can feel overwhelming. But with good DCI helping identify opportunities and patterns, a priority list of technical requirements, and a plan to align your tracking and analytics with your objectives, you and your team can collectively synthesize the strategies and steps to start making progress.
Your friends here at Gray Dot Company are no strangers to managing the myriad of complexities that come with scaling a site for SEO. If your marketing team needs a trusted tech advisor to help take your site to the next level, get in touch with us.