Eli Schwartz

Agile vs Waterfall SEO – 📌Eli Schwartz

Within technology project management there are many popular methods for organizing workflow. The two most common are Waterfall and Agile. There are advantages and disadvantages to each one, but for SEO Agile is the way to go.


Waterfall is essentially a linear process for project management and development. Step one must be completed before step two and so on. Waterfall is a must in anything that requires a complete process before you can move on to the next step like in construction or cooking. You can’t start building the second floor before the first one is up nor can you put icing on a cake before you have a batter.

Every step of development must be completed before it moves on to the next stage. Within the Waterfall model there are five phases.

  1. Requirements – This is the beginning of the process where the requirements will be set. The number of people, types of people, schedule, and goals are all set.
  2. Design – This phase is not necessarily UX design, but also includes the plan for how a product will be built.
  3. Implementation – At this phase, the building begins. Engineers have full control and product managers fade into the background.
  4. Verification – Once the product is built a QA team will extensively test the build to make sure it met the requirements.
  5. Maintenance – Finally, once the product is launched the product manager will again lead the process and fix issues as they arise.


Agile is the opposite side of the coin to Waterfall. Where Waterfall is rigid and process oriented, Agile is nimble and iterative. To keep things organized, Agile development is broken into tasks which are slotted into short sprints. The tasks are somewhat fluid and can move between sprints based on priority.

Agile allows for constant learning and customer feedback as changes can be incorporated into the development process in near real time.

Agile development is very popular in the technology world because it is a great way to move quickly in a world where perfection is the enemy of progress.

Agile SEO

Depending on the culture of a company, SEO could be a part of a Waterfall or Agile process. In Waterfall, SEO is a step that has to happen before a page/product/website is passed on to engineers. In Agile, SEO might be a part of many sprints as the product is developed, and there will even be tasks that are placed in a backlog.

In my opinion, agile SEO should be the only way SEO should ever be implemented. The is no perfect manual for SEO, and hence no guarantee that any recommendation will ever be the right one. It is only after deploying a campaign or making changes does one know if the right choices were made.

Additionally, SEO is a constant process which incorporates a feedback loop from search visibility, traffic events and most importantly conversions. There are ideas that might make sense during the build phase but will fail to meet their goals once a site is live and available to users.

Looking at back at the phases that happen in a Waterfall process, it would be almost impossible to get the SEO recommendations correct. Waterfall does not allow for instant feedback until the process is repeated again from the top.

Companies that incorporate SEO into a Waterfall process are the types of organizations where the phrase “can you SEO it” might be the common approach to optimizing anything for search. As anyone that has ever had anything to do with organic visibility, SEO is certainly not a one and done effort.

If you are stuck in a culture that is fixated on Waterfall, at least try to put SEO efforts into Agile.

Marcus Miller wrote a fantastic blog post on Search Engine Land for how Agile should be implemented for SEO and I would urge you to read it.