How to do a SWOT analysis applied to SEO and search marketing

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Strengths and Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, which initials form the name of this matrix. We are talking about the SWOT analysis, perhaps the best known a tool for strategic planning of a project or in a business toward the achievement of a set goal, invented by the U.S. economist Albert Humphrey between the 1960s and 1970s and still useful today to better focus and direct professional efforts also in SEO and search marketing, so as to set an effective strategy to improve the authority, organic visibility, traffic and conversions of our site.

What is the SWOT Analysis

SWOT analysis is a strategic planning tool that aims to systematically and objectively examine an organization’s or project’s internal and external environment, and more specifically to identify and assess internal strengths and weaknesses as well as external opportunities and threats.

In the field of strategic business planning, the acronym SWOT identifies the main intrinsic and extrinsic variables that must be evaluated before starting a project or making a decision in the path to achieving a goal.

With this technique, we can identify the strengths and weaknesses of our brand, but also the opportunities and threats that exist in the competitive market, and then assess the critical success factors that can enable us to achieve our goal.

Specifically, the acronym SWOT is derived from the words Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats; specifically, Strengths and Weaknesses are internal factors, thus related to our company or brand and therefore inherent to the organization, its resources, processes, and the people who make up the team. In contrast, Opportunities and Threats are external factors, arising from the market, the presence of competitors and the economy in general.

This method of analysis, originally developed for the business world, finds application in a wide range of areas, including digital marketing and SEO, as we shall see, where it can be used to assess a website‘s performance, identify areas for improvement, and develop effective strategies to increase online visibility and organic traffic.

SWOT analysis definition and functionality

It already seems clear, then, that SWOT analysis can be a valuable aid in determining the priorities for action for an organization of any kind, to identify the initiatives to be taken now and the challenges to be addressed as soon as possible, regardless of the type of business and company size (as the business grows, the obstacles, challenges, opportunities and projects in general increase, but the matrix naturally accompanies this process).

Indeed, by definition, the main goal of a SWOT analysis is to help organizations develop a full awareness of all the factors involved in a decision-making process of any kind. It was in fact with this goal, and more specifically to identify the reasons why business planning consistently failed, that Albert Humphrey of the Stanford Research Institute devised this method in the 1960s, and since then the SWOT matrix has become one of the most useful tools for entrepreneurs to start and grow their companies.

The reasons for the success of this system are quite simple to understand: the matrix consists of 4 easy topics, which even novice entrepreneurs can fill out and analyze, and it allows them to chart the future of each business with sufficient accuracy by evaluating its path from all angles, including a comprehensive look at all resources and internal and external threats.

Of course, for SWOT analysis to really work, it needs to be accurate, and those doing it need to avoid preconceived beliefs or gray areas, focusing instead on real-life contexts; also, it is good to remember that the model should be used as a guide, and not necessarily as a prescription.

What is the SWOT analysis for

The “purpose” of a SWOT analysis is to provide qualitative data that captures the real conditions of a company within the context in which it operates.

The SWOT matrix can be used by any type of organization (business, non-profit, government agencies) and professionals to make strategic decisions, which therefore have a long-term impact on the way the same organization positions itself, produces, communicates, interacts with the outside and is structured.

More specifically, the SWOT model is crucial to assess the feasibility of a project and to implement a strategy that adequately takes into account factors within the organisation – starting with the so-called Unique Selling Proposition – and also external factors, such as opportunities related to market needs and to the specific historical moment.

The SWOT is thus a tool for performing situational analysis for each key area. At a general level, we can set the strategy by considering the following aspects:

  • Strengths: areas in which we are strong and that give us an advantage over competitors, on which we should capitalize.
  • Weaknesses: areas where we are at a disadvantage compared to competitors and should be addressed.
  • Opportunities: areas where there is potential for growth and which can be used to our advantage.
  • Threats: threats in the environment that could cause problems for our company now and in the future.

The purpose of a SWOT analysis is to derive information about our market position and guidance for exploiting opportunities with strengths while addressing weaknesses and threats. In short, an “attack and defense” strategy.

Benefits of the SWOT Analysis

Thanks to this technique, we can evaluate the pros and cons, the possibilities and obstacles of every action that we intend to implement to achieve our objectives, and identify what are the most likely strategies to help our business grow and achieve its KPIs, with the awareness of our shortcomings and possible threats in the path, which therefore will not catch us unawares.

SWOT Analysis is an indispensable tool to focus the crucial points of your business and is the basis for developing an effective marketing plan. SWOT Analysis serves to evaluate the internal and external processes involved in our business model, in order to make decisions that take into account the objectives to be achieved and the context in which we will develop our project.

When well executed, then, this process allows us to plan an effective marketing strategy, based on mapping and analysis of the internal and external factors, positive or critical, of an organization; in addition, it allows us to have an updated picture on “health” of our brand or company, discovering what we do well, what is missing and what can be a risk or a threat (with the possibility of minimizing the negative consequences). Widening the picture, then, the SWOT analysis can also be applied to the analysis of competitors, so as to evaluate them in an objective and more conscious way to identify the best countermoves.

Basics of the SWOT matrix

The starting point of an analysis according to the principles established by Humphrey is the graphical representation of the 4 variables in a SWOT matrix or SWOT framework, a true and proper square divided into four sections that helps us to focus on the main highlights related to our project.

Generally, internal factors are reported in the upper left quadrant (on the left the strengths, on the right the weaknesses), while on the bottom external factors (on the left the opportunities, on the right the threats). The schematic subdivision in this way serves to give indications at a glance: on the left there are the positive aspects that can lead to the achievement of the objective, while on the right we find the main obstacles on our way.

Esempio di analisi SWOT - da wikipedia

In practice, thanks to this matrix we can immediately see what are the internal elements of the organization and the external ones, put in place with the factors that can help the achievement of the goal and with all the variables that can be harmful. In addition, according to the principles of this theory there are no weaknesses and threats that cannot be transformed into their opposites, and therefore into salient characteristics and opportunities, exploiting the strengths of the organization to connect them to opportunities.

How to do a SWOT analysis

From a practical point of view, SWOT analysis is carried out by filling in the four matrices and entering the characteristics of the organization, brand or site on which we concentrate our work; To get the information you can use objective tools that provide measurable metrics, but perhaps what matters most is the mindset, the approach to this technique and the understanding of what it can mean for the business.

For this reason, you can also involve all the staff and management in the work, to be able to find out what the real answers to the variables can be, and thus build a SWOT matrix customized and tailored to our needs.

That is, we can perform a sort of questionnaire in the company, asking those who work “in the field” to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the brand, but also the possible opportunities and threats that arise on the market and on the external context, and then proceed to collect and analyze the data.

Identifying the variables for the analysis

We can start from the precise identification of the strengths of the organization, that is the endogenous factors that generate a positive impact, such as brand awareness, technological skills, but also the perception of the brand and financial soundness.

The second step is that of opposite sign, that is the ability to identify the possible critical points of the organization, the weaknesses that arise from internal obstacles: among the main ones there are the lack of fame of the brand, a quantitatively or qualitatively limited proposal, lack of financial or technological resources, narrow client portfolio. It can be important, in this analysis, to understand and point out in which areas we are lacking and we can improve, but also what kind of perception others have of our offer.

It is perhaps more difficult to analyze the external factors of opportunities and threats, because they are not influenced and influenced directly by our brand and are therefore of more unpredictable control. In any case, opportunities are all factors that can allow an organization to secure a single position in the market and to overcome competitors, gaining visibility, customers and turnover. They are obviously linked to strengths, and indeed one of the aspects to be studied is just how to turn the Strenghts into Opportunities.

Finally, we can study the threats, or all the external aspects that can negatively affect our results, from competitors to trends that are unfavorable to us, such as possible changes in consumer choices or problems in the supply chain. Again, it is important to try to understand how our Weaknesses can expose us to Threats, and thus hinder our growth and achievement of goals.

How to perform an SEO SWOT analysis

If these are valid tips for every type of organization and brand, it is long time that more specific variants have been studied to apply the SWOT method also to SEO and search marketing, examining the four elements of the analysis in relation to the website and its online presence.

This approach allows to understand where we are currently regarding the optimization of the website and the improvement of its visibility on search engines, and can be implemented by analyzing precisely the presence on the Web of our project, identifying priority areas from keywords, content and editorial plan, technical perspectives, links and competitors.

The SEO SWOT analysis can also be presented in a simple grid system that has four panels, covering the useful and dangerous factors, both internal and external. Strengths represent the positive aspects of the site that contribute to its search engine ranking, which may include, for example, user-friendly site design, high-quality content, effective use of keywords, or a good online reputation.

Esempio di matrice per la SWOT Analysis

Weaknesses are the aspects of the site that can hinder its search engine ranking, including technical problems, low-quality content, poor keyword management, or poor online reputation.

Opportunities are the external factors that the site can exploit to improve its search engine ranking, such as new search trends, changes in search engine algorithms that can be exploited, or new market segments.

Finally, Threats are the external factors that can jeopardize the site’s Google ranking, such as competition, changes in search engine algorithms that can penalize the site, or new privacy regulations.

A complete SWOT analysis for the SEO provides a roadmap against which activities can be systematically addressed, helps to reduce the chances of failure – since it allows us to discover what we still lack and to identify potential dangers that would otherwise catch us unawares – and it gives us a way to plan a strategy that differentiates us from competitors and has more chance of success in the reference market.

Obviously, the SWOT analysis is not “fixed” over time, and the one applied to the SEO makes no difference and should be updated on a quarterly or half-yearly basis along with the organic metrics against which we measure the success of campaigns.

Let’s apply the SWOT matrix to SEO

Starting with this information, and the insights that come from Jeff Riddall, we can then set up a viable scheme for doing an SEO-oriented SWOT analysis of our site or the projects we follow, which outlines organizational SEO priorities following the basic phase of optimization work-that is, after performing keyword research, competitor analysis, and SERP analysis, in order to have useful and up-to-date data and information.

  1. SEO strengths

These are areas in which our site excels, which should also be identified through analysis tools such as Google Search Console, Google Analytics or SEOZoom, also looking after the technical, on-page and off-page optimization aspects of the site.

Elements to be evaluated include organic traffic, high-performing keywords, high-performing pages, domain authority, content quality, onpage optimization level, backlink profile, user experience (UX) quality, and site speed with specific reference to Core Web Vitals.

  1. SEO Weaknesses

These are areas where we are deficient and potentially at a disadvantage to competitors.When it comes to SEO, recognizing and admitting weaknesses early on can save us a lot of effort, time, money, and business opportunities! The analysis work here starts with reviewing visibility metrics relevant to our brand, and among the most common weaknesses of a site we can mention the absence of keyword strategy, low visibility in local directories, poor visibility in organic results, a poor mobile experience, slow loading times, inadequate technical SEO, low quality backlink profile, historical or low-quality SEO penalties, low-quality content.

  1. SEO Opportunities

Opportunities abound in SEO for those who know how and where to look for them (and even take the time to do so). These are areas of potential growth for our business, which we can find through a comprehensive analysis of strategy, an up-to-date overview of the latest Search trends, and, no less important, review of weaknesses.

For example, if we are unable to compete for relevant, high-volume keywords that are out of our reach due to competitors‘ size, age, reputation, and quality of content (weakness), a strategic move might be to work on alternative keywords of similar intent or more specific long-tail keywords, or consider other avenues (including paid keywords) to generate visibility, traffic, and conversions (opportunity). Sometimes, the best strategy is to employ complementary paid search tactics until we can establish purely organic authority.

Similarly, identifying a technical weakness can provide us with an opportunity to improve quickly by taking action with appropriate corrections.

In general, then, SEO opportunities lurk in optimizations of weaknesses, but also in researching new areas in our niche, identifying relevant keywords on which we are ranked poorly or profitable long tail keywords, on content gap analysis, on checking for new SERP features to exploit, on possible areas to improve with technical audits, or on researching relevant sites in our field on which it might be useful to publish posts.

  1. SEO Threats

Whether intentional or not, there are various components that can threaten organic authority in the eyes of search engines that we should prioritize to avoid potentially harmful penalties. By paying attention to threats we can in fact avoid potential problems and continue to push for visibility in a rapidly changing search landscape, and among the main risk factors we can mention algorithm updates and changes, new competitors entering the market, known competitors improving their SEO, fluctuations in search volume (including seasonality), failure to align with Google’s requirements, technical website problems, or security issues.

Questions about the SEO SWOT Analysis

Trying to provide some more practical insights, among the SWOT SEO analysis examples there are often categories of questions to answer to form the matrix, as we can see for example in this Search Engine Land article.

These are issues that help us understand the status and positioning of our business in the market – and if we fail to answer some of those questions, we have implicitly found one or more weaknesses.

  1. Detecting the SEO strengths

Strengths are an internal factor and are generally the easiest thing to detail in the SWOT matrix. Declining the questions for the SEO, we can ask ourselves among other things:

  • For which keywords are we ranking well at the moment?
  • Which contents are well-ranked at the moment?
  • What are our digital resources?
  • What is our best asset?
  • What makes us better than competitors?
  • What drives organic traffic the most?
  • What are the best links?
  • Which previous SEO tactic or intervention had the best results?
  1. Discovering our SEO weaknesses

We know it, by now, the SWOT analysis weaknesses are an internal matter, too, but determining them is not easy: we need objectivity and honesty in the analysis of the site and brand, but also the ability to research the critical areas that could cause “threats” on the market. To facilitate this work, we may ask ourselves, for example:

  • Which areas need improvement?
  • What do our competitors do better than us (commercially speaking)?
  • Where the competitors are stronger than us (from an SEO point of view)?
  • How far behind we are compared to the competition? In which areas?
  • What content is currently generating little to no traffic?
  • Which SEO tactics previously failed to provide added value?
  • Do we have the necessary SEO skills within the team?
  • Do we have the budget to achieve our SEO goals?
  1. Defining our SEO opportunities

In the SWOT analysis, opportunities arise from strengths and weaknesses, and therefore from areas that strengthen and from areas to be explored instead and on which to invest to avoid that turn into negative aspects. On the SEO front, we can answer questions such as:

  • Which kind of content to produce would have a significant impact?
  • Which aspects of the site could be optimized to improve results?
  • hich areas of the site that work well could be expanded to achieve even better performances?
  • What weaknesses could be easily solved?
  • Which link sources do we still have to tap into?
  • Are there any changes to the search engine results that we can exploit?
  1. Analyzing SEO threats

Lastly, the Threats, are the most difficult element to investigate because they are based on the understanding of our own weaknesses and of the strengths of our competitors. In terms of search marketing, this also implies a critical assessment of the continuous change of search engines, their algorithms and therefore of Serps, which inevitably generate an impact on our site. To shed light on these menacing aspects, we may ask ourselves, for instance:

  • Which competitors are strong where we are weak and lacking?
  • Are newer and less experienced competitors improving their SEO?
  • Is the gap between us and our competitors growing?
  • Are there new startups that are accumulating market shares aggressively?
  • Are SERPs changing in a way that impacts our business? Are there any new features, more paid ads or other trends that may have negative effects on the ranking achieved?

Gathering data in order to improve the strategy

We tried to explain what a SWOT analysis is and how to apply this method also to the SEO: now we have the data on some central elements for our activity and we just have to get to work to develop a strategy that can address and solve, on one hand, the problems we have identified and, on the other hand, exploit the opportunities available. That is, an effective strategy to improve the authoritativeness of the site, increase the organic visibility of the pages and get more traffic and income.

Often, in fact, the most difficult element of an SEO campaign is knowing where to concentrate your efforts, while instead a SWOT analysis can help us to understand precisely the areas where it is most useful (or necessary) quickly and easily direct our efforts to obtain the greatest impact out of it.

Indeed, the SWOT outputs thus generated will be used to guide priority actions to protect and improve our online authority, visibility and traffic, leads and resulting revenue.

According to experts, those who want to work proactively should conduct these analyses on at least a semi-annual basis, if not quarterly, depending on how competitive the industry is and how active competitors are. A well-structured SWOT analysis can provide an excellent roadmap for where, when, and how often we need to take action or create and share content to increase our organization’s primary SEO goals.

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