Developing Along the SEO Maturity Spectrum
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Developing Along the SEO Maturity Spectrum

Stacey Heubeck Team Photo
Stacey HeubeckAssociate Director, Search Engine Optimization

Improving your organic search presence hinges on understanding your SEO maturity level. Once you know what your SEO maturity is you’ll be better equipped to identify the most impactful SEO initiatives given that maturity and be able to set appropriate success metrics.

What is SEO Maturity?

SEO maturity measures the current state of a company’s organic search presence compared to its competitors. There’s no set formula to measure SEO maturity, and it’s dependent on many factors including industry, organic competition, past SEO efforts, and your competitors’ current SEO investment.

Typically speaking, the lower a company’s SEO maturity is, the longer it will take to see the impact of SEO efforts. However, the growth potential can be huge.

If you’re the leader in your space —and you’re the most SEO mature compared to your competitors, your growth will look like small swings as you continue to develop content around niche topic areas.

Understanding your company’s SEO maturity will become a guiding light when determining which SEO activities to prioritize, and what the measures of success should look like for those activities.

A simple SEO Maturity model

If you do a quick Google search, you’ll find many versions of the SEO Maturity model, but they tend to be overcomplicated. To keep things simple, we’ll break down SEO Maturity into three buckets:

  1. Low SEO Maturity
  2. Moderate SEO Maturity
  3. High SEO Maturity

Visually, imagine these on a spectrum, with Moderate sitting in the middle.

WebMechanix SEO Maturity Spectrum

Where you fall on the maturity spectrum depends on many factors, including, but not limited to

  • How Google perceives your site relative to your organic competitors
  • How much effort you and your competitors are spending on existing content
  • How much effort you and your competitors are spending on new content creation

How to measure your SEO Maturity

There is no set way to measure SEO maturity, but, for this exercise, plot yourself in the middle of the spectrum. Depending on the analysis of the following key factors, you’ll end up sliding up or down the maturity scale.

How Google perceives your site relative to your organic competitors

First, you need to understand how Google perceives your site relative to your organic competitors. This involves analyzing your website’s visibility, relevance, and authority in the eyes of Google’s algorithms.

Number of Ranking Non-Branded Keywords

This may seem obvious, but the state of your current SEO will impact how successful future SEO efforts will be. Using tools like Search Console for your own site’s analysis and SEMRush to check out competitor rankings will give you an idea of exactly how many non-branded keywords you’re currently ranking for. The bigger the difference between you and your competitors the more SEO immature you are.

Domain authority

Use a tool like SEMRush to get an approximate idea of your site’s Domain Authority (DA); a compound metric that grades the overall quality of a website or a webpage.

How to interpret it:

Look up your Domain Authority and the Domain Authority of your top organic competitors —you can find those competitors by Googling the non-branded high-intent keywords you want to rank for.

Then, compare.

If your score is the same as your competitors (within a few points) that means Google sees you as roughly the same authority in the space. Said another way, if you both did exactly the same SEO activities you would likely both see a similar impact.

If your score is lower than your competitors by ~10 points or more, anticipate a steeper hill to climb. Slide yourself down the scale towards the “Low Maturity” end.

If your score is higher than your competitors by ~10 points or more, you’ve got a good head start. If you start investing in SEO activities you’ll be able to secure and grow that head start faster than your competitors. Slide yourself you the scale towards “High Maturity”

The bigger the gap between you and your competitors, the more you’ll slide yourself up or down the SEO maturity spectrum.

Referring Domains

Next, look at the number of your referring domains. You can also use an SEO tool like SEMRush to find that metric.

How to interpret it:

Simply put, the more quality (no spam backlinks!) referring domains you have linked back to your site, the better. Google wants to display authoritative and engaging content, and that’s just the kind of thing other people like to link back to.

Like domain authority, the bigger the gap between you and your competitor’s referring domains, the more drastic your jump up or down the spectrum will be.

How much effort you and your competitors are spending on existing content

Now we’re getting into factors a little more difficult to measure.

Essentially, we’re trying to determine how well our site is optimized for high-intent non-branded keywords compared to our competitors. We want to gauge how hard it will be to knock competitors out of ranking positions.

Keyword Targeting

Sometimes, competitors hold on to their spots for dear life, white-knuckling it with keyword-sparse or stuffed pages. Look at their pages that rank for the non-branded keywords you want to rank for; are they optimized? Do they have keywords in the right places? Is the copy helpful, authoritative, and trustworthy?

Then, compare your content to theirs. Are you doing a better or worse job on the right keyword targeting? Note your answer and slide yourself appropriately up or down the spectrum.

Unique Content/Content Gaps

Your organic competitors wouldn’t likely be competitors if they had redundant content. This is more of a self-assessment. For each group of similar high-intent non-branded keywords you want to rank for, determine if you have an appropriate piece of content dedicated to each group.

Let’s say you have three bottom-of-funnel pages attempting to target the same phrase. You’re now at risk of cannibalization — when one piece of content “steals” traffic from another. It’s also confusing to Google, there’s no clear way to indicate which page it should be serving on the SERP (search engine results page) unless you have the proper technical SEO in place.

Additionally, look at how comprehensive your site is —how well it covers your topic(s) compared to your competitors. If you have too many content gaps or a lot of redundant content, slide yourself down the SEO Maturity spectrum.

How much effort you and your competitors are spending on new content creation

Now, let’s talk about new content creation —everyone’s favorite! (Ha)

Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t a set formula that calculates the number of posts you should produce each month. The important part is the establishment of a regular cadence of writing unique, SEO-driven content.

Publishing Frequency/Recency

You know how much new content you’re producing —but how do you know if it’s more or less than your competitors? Unfortunately, this is a bit of a manual process. Hop on over to your competitor’s site and check out their blog. Are the dates displayed? Use those dates to get an idea of how frequently they’re posting, and if the topics are relevant (versus something like a press release). You can also download a company’s sitemap to see roughly how often pages are added.

Also, new content doesn’t need to be brand new. Got five posts all touching on the same topic and none of them rank? Combine all the best parts into a more comprehensive and SEO-optimized piece.

What Should Success Look Like at Each SEO Maturity Level?

Once you’ve determined your SEO Maturity level you can identify which activities make the most sense to start working on and how to measure success.

Low Maturity

If you’re at the “low” end of the maturity spectrum —there’s a good chance success won’t initially come in the form of organic sessions, or down-funnel metrics. This is important to explain, especially when setting any expectations for company leadership. You’ll need to emphasize that you must learn to walk before you can run —and “learning to walk” in SEO means first being considered by Google as a player in the game.

Impressions and keyword rankings will be the first things you’ll want to measure. Wins might look like:

  • Ranking in 60 – 100 for keywords that we had zero visibility for before
  • Seeing an increase in search impressions
  • Moving up a significant amount of positions to a new page and then seeing a period of fluctuation in your positions on that page

Remember, clicks (and sessions) aren’t impacted until we’re at least making it onto page one (click-through rates dramatically decrease after position 3).

Smart Insights SEO CTR stats

Some activities that you can start with are:

  • Map non-branded high-intent keywords to the homepage and BOF pages
  • Optimizing those pages using SEO best practices
  • Create new, optimized BOF pages for any glaring content gaps
  • Internally link existing content using appropriate anchor text
  • Determine what resources are available to create a new content creation cadence

Moderate Maturity

If you’re somewhere in the moderate range —good news! You’ve got a wide range of SEO activities at your disposal. The core activities in a company with Low SEO maturity are your low-hanging fruit.

  • Map non-branded high-intent keywords to the homepage and BOF pages
  • Make sure those pages are optimized and glaring content gaps are filled
  • Front-load internal linking
  • Run a technical SEO audit to identify Schema opportunities, backlinks to disavow, etc. 

Once you’ve knocked those out get ready to expand your SEO pallet.

  • Start a cadence of new content production to support the growth of BOF pages
    • Prioritize based on what will have the biggest impact on revenue
  • Use tools like Search Console to find low-hanging fruit content that can be quickly optimized for fast results
  • Organize existing non-ranking/low-ranking content around themes to identify content combination opportunities
  • Create a targeted backlink campaign around a high-value asset

In this phase, you’ll likely want to watch movement over a few metrics:

  • For existing content recommendations look for leading indicators of ranking improvements and anticipate session increases as you climb to the top of page one
  • For net new content, you’ll want to first see if you’re driving impressions for your target terms. If the competition is low, and we see content jump to the first page, you can anticipate increases in sessions as well
  • Now is when you’ll want to make sure you can report as far down-funnel as possible. This is a good time to audit your GA4 accounts so you accurately track what your organic traffic is doing. Make sure you have events configured for MOF and BOF activities (content downloads, demo/trial/contact form fills). 

High Maturity

If you’ve made it to high maturity, congrats! Your site is likely well-optimized and the content you’re putting out is engaging and authoritative.

To retain the rankings you already have + improve rankings, I would still triple-check that you have the above best practices implemented. Properly targeted keywords on your BOF pages can be the difference between you sitting at position five vs. position two.

Other activities you’ll want to start doing are:

  • Continue to create new content regularly, focusing efforts on what’s driving MQL/SALs/Revenue
  • Continue to combine content where it makes sense as your library grows
  • Consider the creation of a targeted back-link campaign around a high-value asset
  • Map MOF (middle-of-funnel) assets to related existing content
    • Have an evergreen piece
    • Feature topic-specific assets on appropriate blogs when possible 
  • Create email nurture for organic content downloaders and/or non-converting visitors to high-intent pages

In this stage, you should be exclusively focused on increasing organic traffic to key pages, improving your organic conversion rate, and positively impacting down-funnel metrics.

Becoming More SEO Mature

Knowing your SEO Maturity will give you a clear understanding of where your company stands organically. Armed with that information, you can strategically chart your course toward SEO success. Whether you’re at the low, moderate, or high end of the spectrum, there are targeted activities you can undertake to boost your organic search presence. Remember, SEO maturity is not a destination but a journey that involves continuous learning, adaptation, and growth. By assessing your SEO maturity, you ensure that your SEO efforts align with your business goals, that expectations are appropriately set, and that your activities will drive tangible results. So, plot yourself on that spectrum, roll up your sleeves, and get started.

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