Ranking in Google is the same (or at least very similar) for everyone. That’s why it’s essential to have an SEO plan template you can use time and time again.

So… we created one for you.

Download the SEO plan template

Looking for a different format? Request it here.

Why you should use our template

It gives you a proven SEO plan based on how we do things here at Ahrefs. And because it’s a template, it’s repeatable. Just go through it for every new page you create.

Our template is also:

  • Easy to follow (each step has clear instructions).
  • Easy to outsource (send it to an employee, freelancer, or VA).
  • Interactive (fill in each section as you go).

Our template covers four broad areas:

  1. Finding the right keyword
  2. Creating and optimizing content
  3. Building links
  4. Tracking results

Follow the steps below or watch the video walkthrough.

1. Fill in keyword ideas

Keywords are the words and phrases people type into Google to find what they want. Unless you target a keyword with some popularity, there’s no point in even ranking number one as you’ll get no traffic.

To find keywords worth targeting, you need to do keyword research.

If you’re new to the process, start by entering a broad topic related to your industry into Ahrefs’ free keyword generator. It’ll find the top 100 keywords by monthly search volume that contain your term.

For example, if you have a website about coffee, you might enter “coffee”:

Pick five keywords from this list that might make sense for your business to target and record them in the template:

Recording keyword ideas in the SEO plan template

TIP: Keep the ‘business potential’ of your keyword choices in mind

“Business potential” is how easy it would be to pitch your product (or any third-party products you’re promoting) while covering a keyword. It’s important to consider because, for most websites, the purpose of ranking content in Google is to make money.

Here’s the scale we use to judge a keyword’s “business potential”:

How to judge a keyword's "business potential"

2. Record search intent

Search intent is the reason behind the Google search. In other words, what is the searcher looking for? Unless you create content that aligns with search intent, you’re going to have a hard time ranking for your target keyword.

How do you know what searchers are looking for? Look at the current top 10 search results. The content types and formats you see here are usually a good indication of what people want.

Here are the most common content types:

  • Blog post
  • Video
  • Product page
  • Category page

Here are the most common content formats:

  • How-to guides
  • Step-by-step tutorials
  • Reviews
  • Comparisons
  • Listicles
  • Opinion pieces

For example, if we check the results for “best coffee makers” in the US with Ahrefs’ free SERP checker, nearly all of them are blog posts in the listicle format:

SERP overview for "coffee maker with grinder"

If we do the same thing for “coffee table with storage,” they’re all product category pages from ecommerce stores:

SERP overview for "coffee table with storage"

Record the results for all five keywords in the template. If you’re unsure about a keyword, choose “not sure”.

Recording search intent in the SEO plan template

3. Pick the best keyword

For each of the five keywords on your list, ask yourself two questions:

  1. Can I create the type of content searchers are looking for?
  2. Would ranking that type of content be lucrative for my business?

Pick the keyword with the best balance of traffic and money-making potential and record it in the template.

Recording the target keyword in the SEO plan template

If you’re struggling to answer the questions above, read the advice below.

Can I create the type of content searchers are looking for?

Let’s say that you run a coffee blog, and one of your keywords is “coffee table with storage.”

You’ll remember from above that all top-ranking results were product category pages from online stores. So, in this case, the answer to the question is “no” because you can’t create this type of content on a blog.

However, the answer would be “yes” for the keyword “coffee maker with grinder” because all the top-ranking results are listicle blog posts.

Would ranking that type of content be lucrative for my business?

Let’s run with the coffee blog example…

If the keyword is “coffee maker with grinder, ” the answer is “yes” because searchers want a listicle of the best products. You can monetize your product recommendations with affiliate marketing.

If the keyword is “how much caffeine in coffee,” the answer is “no” because it would be tough to recommend any product or service naturally in the content itself. People just want a quick answer.

4. Plan your content

It isn’t enough to create the type and format of content people are looking for. You also need to make sure that it covers key subtopics.

How do you know what these are? Look for commonalities among the top-ranking pages.

For example, if we check the subheadings for the first two top-ranking pages for “best coffee makers” with Ahrefs’ SEO Toolbar, we see that they both have sections on the best drip coffee makers and best pourover coffee makers:

Page structure for a top-ranking page for "best coffee makers"
Page structure for a top-ranking page for "best coffee makers"

You would definitely want to talk about these three things if you were targeting the keyword “best coffee makers.”

If you’re an Ahrefs user, you can find key subtopics more easily using Keywords Explorer. Just enter your target keyword, go to the Related terms report, and toggle to view keywords that the top-ranking pages “also rank for” in the “top 10”:

Finding related keywords in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Look through this list for keywords that seem to represent subtopics, and record the top 5 in the template:

Recording subtopics in the SEO plan template

You also need to think about how you’ll make your content unique and demonstrate expertise.

There are a few ideas in the template. Tick any that you plan to use, or add your own:

Planning how to make your content unique

For example, in my guide to expert roundups, I covered all the subtopics searchers would expect to see, like what they are and why they’re important. But I also shared my opinion that expert roundups aren’t worth it, as well as the results of a couple of Twitter polls I did.

5. Publish and optimize your content

Most of the “optimization” happens during the content creation process. Still, there are a few things worth doing to ensure your content performs as well as it can.

Follow the checklist in the template:

Optimization checklist in the template

6. Plan link building efforts (if necessary)

Links are one of Google’s strongest ranking factors, so you’ll probably need to stand any chance at ranking high for any remotely competitive keyword.

Unfortunately, getting them can be very challenging.

If you’re completely new to the whole thing, the easiest starting point is to pitch guest posts to a few sites in your industry. This is far from the most trendy tactic, but it works (probably why it’s the third most popular link building tactic according to this 2022 survey).

Here’s a simple way to find sites to pitch with Ahrefs’ Content Explorer:

  1. Enter a broad keyword or phrase related to your niche
  2. Select “In title” from the drop-down menu
  3. Run the search
  4. Set your language to “English”
  5. Go to the “Websites” tab

You’ll see a list of the top 100 websites with content about your topic by estimated search traffic:

Finding guest post opportunities in Ahrefs' Content Explorer

Eyeball this for blogs you might be able to pitch a guest post.

For example, coffeeaffection.com is clearly a blog and gets an estimated 426K monthly search visits:

Example of a coffee blog that we may be able to pitch

For any sites you want to pitch, you’ll need to browse the site to find the right person to contact (usually the editor or owner, depending on the size of the site). If their email address isn’t on the site, you can use an email lookup tool like Hunter to try to find it.

Record the sites you want to pitch, who you’ll reach out to, and their email addresses in the template:

Recording guest post opportunities in the SEO plan template

7. Track your results

Google Search Console is a free way of tracking how your page is performing for your target keyword. Just go to the Search Performance report, then filter for your URL and target keyword.

If you want to see actual ranking positions rather than averages (which most of us do), sign up for a free Ahrefs Webmaster Tools (AWT) account, then go to the Organic Keywords report in Site Explorer and filter for your target keyword. You should see its actual ranking position.

Tracking results in Ahrefs' Webmaster Tools

Either way, don’t get too obsessed over rankings. Daily fluctuations are perfectly normal, so weekly checks are more than enough.

Both of the tools above show past data, but if you want to record rankings for your records, you can do so in the template:

Tracking rankings in the template

Ranking new pages is vital for SEO success, but it takes a lot of work. That’s why we also recommend running a content audit to find existing content that you may be able to improve rankings for easily. These are often low-hanging fruit opportunities that take little effort.

Alternatively, if you already have an existing page in mind that you want to improve SEO for, read our step-by-step guide to ranking higher on Google.