SEO SWOT analysis: How to optimize where it counts

Here’s how to identify your business's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and determine where best to direct your SEO efforts.

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With AI’s integration into search technology, the pace of change is quickening. Knowing where to allocate your time and effort best is an increasingly complex task. 

Many SEO tools out there suggest actions to take care of, but are they really helpful in most cases? Or are most jobs suggested busy work that will do nothing to help improve your results?

In such times of change, the best way to see the path ahead is to look back and learn the lessons of the past.

We are fortunate to have many robust, time-proven marketing tools that we can use to help us make order out of the chaos of rapid change.

SWOT analysis is one such classic marketing tool that can guide your SEO efforts and maximize return on your investment. 

This article will explain how to conduct an SEO SWOT analysis and how you can use this time-proven approach to focus your efforts and improve your SEO.

SWOT: Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats

A SWOT analysis is a strategic planning tool that identifies:

  • Strengths. 
  • Weaknesses.
  • Opportunities.
  • Threats. 

The SWOT is a tool to perform a situational analysis for each key area. 

  • Strengths: Areas in which you are strong and that give you an advantage over the competition and which should be capitalized on. 
  • Weaknesses: Areas where you are at a disadvantage relative to your competitors and should be addressed. 
  • Opportunities: Areas where there is potential for growth and that can be exploited to your advantage.
  • Threats: The threats that are in the environment that could cause trouble for your business now and in the future. 

The purpose of a SWOT analysis is to arm you with intelligence concerning your market position and to guide you to exploit opportunities with strengths while addressing weaknesses and threats. Attack and defend. 

The SEO SWOT can be presented in a simple grid system that has four panels that cover helpful, harmful, internal and external factors. 

SWOT matrix

The top row details strengths and weaknesses, usually internal to the business. The bottom row covers opportunities and threats, typically from external sources.

The first column, with strengths and opportunities, details factors that should help achieve your objective. The second column has the weaknesses and threats that stand in the way of your goal.

In an ideal world, your SEO SWOT will build on, and inform, your digital marketing strategy, allowing you to plan your approach (SOSTAC is your friend here).

You may also find areas where SEO is prohibitively difficult and you can decide whether SEO or PPC is the right approach for a given keyword. 

Adapting SWOT analysis for SEO

Being the hard-optimizing, dynamic, search engine-slaying marketers that we are, we can take this classic marketing tool and then adapt it for SEO to create something entirely new. 

The finer details of how you adapt this to your needs will depend upon your goals and situation. Typically, I suggest using a manual SEO audit process to guide you and detail this in your SEO SWOT.

To give you a starting point here, consider the following areas:

SEO strengths 

These are areas where you excel, so reviewing your analytics, rank-tracking software, and Google Search Console is a sensible first step.

You can also review the technical, on-page and off-page optimization of your site. 

SEO weaknesses

These are areas where you are weaker and potentially disadvantageous to your competitors. Reviewing your visibility metrics relevant to your optimization is the path forward here. 

  • No keyword strategy
  • Low visibility in local listings
  • Low visibility in organic listings 
  • Poor mobile experience
  • Slow load times
  • Inadequate technical SEO 
  • Low-quality backlinks
  • Historical penalties or low-quality SEO
  • Low-quality content 

SEO opportunities

These are areas of potential growth for your business. Reviewing your weaknesses, keyword strategy, and the SERPs, along with keeping up with search news, are all ways to identify where opportunities may lie. 

  • Improving weak areas 
  • New areas within your industry
  • Relevant keywords you are ranking poorly for 
  • New emerging keywords in your industry 
  • Long-tail search keywords 
  • Content opportunities 
  • New SERP features
  • Relevant sites in your field where you could guest post
  • New technical SEO opportunities (AI, schema, etc.)

SEO threats

By being mindful of threats, you can avoid potential problems and keep pushing for visibility in a rapidly shifting search landscape. 

  • Algorithm updates and changes
  • New competitors entering the market
  • Existing competitors improving their SEO
  • Fluctuations in search volume (school holidays can be low)
  • Not keeping up to date with what Google is aiming at (e.g., E-E-A-T)
  • Technical website issues
  • Security Issues (website hacking, comment spam)

This is a relatively simple outline, and to get the most from an SEO SWOT analysis, we would advise customizing the points to your situation. 

Local business? Perform a local SEO audit

Ecommerce? Then perform an ecommerce SEO audit. 

Customize to your unique situation to get the most valuable output. 


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An SEO SWOT example

Let us consider the following fictional business: Bob’s Widgets.

Bob’s Widgets has a WordPress website and is an experienced and credible widget industry expert. Bob’s Widgets can serve users from their local store in Birmingham, UK, but the big win is targeting people looking to buy widgets online.

Bob does not show in the local results when users search with local intent. And while Bob publishes some useful, informative content every week, this content does not rank on the first page and receives little traffic from search engines.

Some competitor content does rank on the first page, but it is simply not in the same class as the content published by Bob and his team.

Bob’s Widgets currently has some SEO software reporting some technical issues, but there is currently no plan to improve organic search results.

The site is also not well-optimized beyond the home page and major service pages. There is currently no SEO plugin for the WordPress CMS, and the SEO software is reporting duplicate content.

Bob has identified the important commercial keywords and currently ranks around the bottom of page 2 for these terms. Bob’s two main competitors rank around the top 5, with competition from Wikipedia, Amazon and eBay filling out the remaining spaces.

There is some search content around the problems that Bob’s Widgets solve, and often these searches show SERP features like featured snippets and “People also ask” results.

Bob’s Widgets has been going for nearly 15 years, yet newer companies are starting to show up on the front page of results.

Comparing these businesses, we see that, although newer, they have more authority metrics than Bob’s Widgets. It appears they are actively engaged in improving their SEO.

The website generates inquiries, but Bob has no idea where the traffic comes from. 

Strengths

  • Industry expertise.
  • Expert content.

Weaknesses

  • Low domain authority metrics.
  • Poor rankings for primary commercial keywords.
  • The site is not well-optimized.
  • Some duplicate content.
  • No SEO plugin.
  • Technical SEO issues (soft 404s, duplicates, etc.).
  • No local results for local queries for Bob’s Widgets.
  • Basic analytics setup with no conversion tracking.

Opportunities

  • Rank in the top five results for commercial search terms by building links and authority.
  • Improve the ranking of existing useful and informational content.
  • Continue to publish useful content.
  • Target featured snippets and “People also ask” results.
  • Build links to useful content pieces to build authority.

Threats

  • The gap between the major competitors is growing.
  • Newer and less experienced competitors are overtaking Bob’s Widgets.
  • The gap in authority between Bob’s Widgets and its competitors is growing.

This would all be detailed in your SWOT chart as follows:

SEO SWOT example

With this knowledge, we can now work on putting a plan together.

SEO action plan

This simple analysis helps provide an action plan of our focus areas and helps define the key elements of the SEO strategy for Bob’s Widgets going forward.

In the example above, Bob publishes strong content and has a reasonable site. We just need to get the basic optimization dialed in:

  • Install an SEO plugin.
  • Take care of the on-page optimization.
  • Resolve technical SEO issues reported by the SEO tool.
  • Conduct a local SEO campaign.
  • Devise a link-building strategy to build authority.
  • Revise content to target featured snippets.
  • Continue to publish content and invest in the SEO and content marketing strategy.

When looking at SEO action plans at my agency, we tend to put these into a spreadsheet with a few other figures to allow us to prioritize our work.

Typically, we want to consider difficulty, time and benefit to order the tasks. It makes sense then to use SEO SMART goals to ensure you spend your SEO time on realistic and achievable tasks. 

Some of these jobs above will not set the world on fire but should be resolved to create a solid platform. It makes sense to get these out of the way first and then focus on the long-term tasks.

SEO SWOT questions

The following questions will help you implement this action plan for your business. If you can’t answer some of these questions, this also highlights more weaknesses.

SEO strengths

Strengths are an internal factor – typically the easiest thing to detail, so we start here.

  • What keywords do you rank well for currently?
  • What content ranks well currently?
  • What content generates good levels of organic traffic?
  • What are your digital assets?
  • What is your very best asset?
  • What makes you better than your competitors?
  • What differentiates you from your competitors? 
  • What drives the most organic traffic?
  • What are your best links? Do we have content that attracts links?
  • What previous SEO had the best results?
  • What SEO tactics are we good at and have worked well in the past?

SEO weaknesses

Weaknesses are internal, and determining weaknesses is not easy. You will have to be honest. 

Competitors will target your weaknesses, so you must identify them as opportunities for improving your SEO and defending yourself.

  • Which areas need improvement?
  • What do your competitors do better than you (business-wise)?
  • Where are your competitors stronger than you (SEO-wise)?
  • How far are you behind the competition? In what areas?
  • What content is currently driving little to no traffic?
  • Which SEO tactics have previously failed to deliver?
  • Do you have the requisite SEO skills in-house?
  • Do you have the budget required to reach your SEO objectives?

SEO opportunities

Your SEO opportunities are born of your strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths are areas to build upon. Weaknesses are areas to explore.

  • What content could be built that would have a significant impact?
  • What aspects of the site could be optimized to improve results?
  • What areas of the site that perform well could be expanded to perform even better?
  • What weaknesses could be easily resolved?
  • What link sources have we yet to tap into?
  • Are there any changes to the search engine results we can leverage?

SEO threats

Threats are difficult, and should consider your SEO weaknesses and your competitor’s strengths. This also needs a critical appraisal of how search engine results change in ways that could impact your business.

  • Which competitors are strong where you are weak?
  • Are newer, less experienced competitors improving their SEO?
  • Is the gap between you and your competitors growing?
  • Are search engine results changing in a way that could impact your business? (More ads, new SERP features, etc.)
  • Is the industry becoming more competitive in search?
  • Are external factors affecting search demand (cost of living crisis)?
  • Are any new startups aggressively gathering market share?

With these questions, we are looking to examine your SEO situation and honestly answer these questions. In some regards, this is a Socratic exercise where you ask seeking questions and attempt to determine thoughtful and honest answers. 

Put your action points in rank order

With the process complete and a to-do list in place, one last step can help ensure you focus your efforts in the right direction: putting your action points in rank order. 

You can do this in a spreadsheet but it also works well as a team exercise on a whiteboard.  

  • Write each action point on a sticky note.
  • Stick them on a whiteboard.
  • Talk through who can do what.
  • Then order them appropriately.

This can be useful as a business or with your SEO team as you take all these actions but filter them through the resources available. Just having these conversations and working through the points can be incredibly powerful. 

This then gives you a prioritized action plan that considers not only the output of your SEO SWOT analysis but your team’s resources. 

Maximizing your SEO results

SEO today is an ever more complex and chaotic process. 

It is not enough to know you have a perfectly SEO-optimized website

An SEO SWOT analysis provides a framework to carefully examine your current SEO situation and craft a prioritized action plan. 

The SEO SWOT process also provides the means to start discussing and examining where you are from an SEO perspective and what you can do better.

These conversations are valuable and can get everyone in the same direction toward your SEO goals. 

All this enables you to focus your efforts where they will have the most impact and shore yourself up against any vulnerabilities your competitors may use against you. 


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About the author

Marcus Miller
Contributor
Marcus Miller is an experienced SEO & PPC consultant based in Birmingham, UK. Marcus focuses on search marketing strategy and helping businesses cut through the smoke and mirrors of SEO, PPC and search marketing. Marcus is managing director of the UK SEO and digital marketing company Bowler Hat that focuses on helping businesses with their SEO & PPC, but also on training internal staff to help empower businesses to manage their own search destiny.

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