I get it, just looking at that three-letter acronym can be a frightful sight.
You might wonder how you can do SEO yourself, am I right? Possibly with a limited budget, if at all.
I'm living proof that it isn't impossible to do it all independently, and you can do a pretty decent job without a budget. Perfect for those just starting with your online presence or if you are just the frugal type – I feel you.
Now that you have landed on my website, it's time to sit back (as long as you have a backrest), grab some coffee, and read on, my friend.
Be prepared to have your mind blown. 🤯
Find your starting point
Before you do anything SEO related to your website, you need to know where you start and take note.
SEO is all about improving, so you should know where the bar lies.
Not sure where to begin? Don't sweat; I have you covered. We are about to dive into our first section when it comes to doing SEO on your own.
How to determine your starting point?
Utilizing tools that brilliant people built comes into play here. One of my favorite tools is Ahrefs – which isn't free and for a good reason. It's one of the best tools on the market.
I can sense you are getting a bit nervous; I will share a free option as well, don't worry.
We will go over Ahrefs first if you are open to spending a little money, starting at $99 per month.
Sign up for an Ahrefs account
Once you sign up for an Ahrefs account, you will see your almighty dashboard.
It's now time to click on the link on the navigation bar that says "site audit." Then you will see a bright shiny orange button that reads "+ New Project."
You will then need to add your site.
Once you have added your website, you will now be able to track your progress. If you click on the title of your website in your dashboard it will pull up all the current data on your website. This will be your baseline to improve on.
Setup Google analytics
Any true SEOer will be using Google analytics to monitor how their strategies are performing. I will take you step-by-step on how to set up your analytics account.
- Create your Google Analytics account
- Setup a property, also known as your website
- You will need to name your property and then provide information about your business or website
- You will then have a tracking code once you have successfully set up a property.
- Now you will need to add the analytics code to your website. Either by placing it into your website's HTML. If you are using WordPress or Webflow, you can paste your tracking I.D. into your site's settings.
- You can now view and track your site's performance over time. Below is an image of what your dashboard will look like.
If you don't see data right away, don't worry, it takes time for Google to be able to start tracking your website.
Setup Google search console
Another tool you will need is Google's search console. This tool used to be known as Google Webmaster Tools until 2015.
This tool is to let Google know that you have an excellent site and Google needs to rank it. Simple right?
Let me show you how to set up your Google Search Console so you can improve your ranking in no time!
- Create your Google Search Console account
- You will again select add property.
- Enter the domain name for your website.
- Verify your domain by adding a TXT record in your DNS settings. You can view a guide on how to add a TXT record here.
- Once you have proved ownership of your site, you will have full access to Google Search Console.
- Now it's time to upload your website's sitemap, so Google can index every page you have.
- On the left-hand side of your dashboard, you will see a Sitemap option; click there.
- You will then see a field to enter your sitemap, as shown below.
- Typically your sitemap will be just like min shown above. Just in case, here is a guide on how to find your sitemap.
Optional extra SEO audit tools to use that are free
- Neil Patel SEO Analyzer
Search for keywords and relevant search queries
Just about every SEO campaign will begin with keyword research. This step is where you find all the popular words and phrases your target audience uses related to your niche.
Once you have a list of these words and phrases, you can begin to create content around it, such as blog posts or static web pages.
Let's go over the basics when it comes to conducting keyword research.
Brainstorm seed keyword ideas
This step is where you will want to find short one to two-word searches related to your niche. These keywords are called "seed keywords" they will be the foundation of your SEO strategy.
You can quickly start writing or typing out your ideas by answering two simple questions:
- How would you search for your website if you were a customer?
- How would your customers describe your product, service, or niche?
Not too shabby, right?
If you are still having trouble, you can always use Ahrefs to find keywords your website and competitors are already ranking for.
Here are the steps to take:
- Click on site explorer in your Ahrefs dashboard.
- Enter your domain or your competitor's domain.
- Click the orange search button.
- Click on organic keywords on the left-hand navigation.
- you will see a long list of organic keywords (see photo below).
I used Neil Patel's website as an example, but this is a great way to get a list of seed keywords if you can't think of any.
Let me also show you a free option if you do not want to pay or have a limited budget.
Neil Patel's Ubersuggest is a great option, especially if you are just starting in the SEO game.
How to get keyword ideas with Ubersuggest
- Head over to Neil Patel's Ubersuggest.
- Enter your domain or your competitor's domain and click search.
- You will be sent to a dashboard. On the left-hand side, you will see a tab that says "keywords."
- click the keywords tab and click on "keyword ideas."
- You need to make sure you are searching by website. (see photo below)
- A lit of keyword ideas will be presented based on that website. These keywords should help get your creative juices flowing to find the best seed keywords for your website.
Get keyword ideas for free using AnswerThePublic
Now that you have found your seed keywords, it's time to go deeper. One of the best tools on the market for this step is AnswerThePublic. This tool takes your main seed keyword and shows you exactly how people are searching for that main seed keyword.
Let's say one of your seed keywords is "organization."
You can use this free tool in three easy steps:
- Go to AnswerThePublic.com
- Type in your seed keyword "organization" and hit search.
- It will generate questions, prepositions, and comparisons that your target audience uses. (see screenshot below for example results)
You only get two unpaid searches per day, so make sure to use them wisely!
Filter out your keywords
You can't call it a day once you have used Ahrefs or a few free tools to generate thousands of keywords. After all, you can't use all of those keywords. It isn't possible mainly when you have limited time and budget.
There are two main metrics you should be paying attention to.
- Search volume - See what the search potential is and how often people search the keyword every month. I typically like to choose anything over 500 searches per month.
- Difficulty - This is a metric to see how hard it is to rank on the first page of Google compared to other sites already ranking. A couple of factors in this are domain rating and the number of backlinks linking to that page.
Keep in mind each tool uses its ranking system to determine keyword difficulty. Generally, the more backlinks a site has to that page will be harder to outrank unless you can build up your backlink profile.
One thing to look out for is keywords with a low keyword difficulty rating but with the most traffic.
For example, a keyword with a keyword difficulty of 20 and traffic potential of 1,000+ monthly searches.
If you decide to use Ahrefs, there is a filter feature where you can filter out how difficult you want the keywords to be and traffic potential.
Filtering makes a list much easier to manage and see which keyword ideas are best for your business. Play around with the max keyword difficulty to narrow or broaden your search results.
Create SEO optimized content
Now that you have filtered down your keyword lists, it's time to optimize your content. This step is where creating pages or blog posts come into play.
For some, this is the best part. For others, it's a challenge. If this part is a challenge for you, I recommend you outsource your content creation to a professional writer. Granted, you have the budget for it.
Optimizing these pages for search is also known as on-page SEO. You might not know what on-page SEO is. It's the practice of optimizing page elements for search intent.
A few of the critical things you need to get right for on-page SEO are:
- Structure - Make sure to properly use H1, H2, H3, H4, and H5 tags. Google likes pages that have a clear hierarchy of information.
- Meta tags - having a well-thought-out meta title, meta description, and meta image for search engines is crucial. You do not need to keyword stuff here, but you do need to make it compelling for people to want to click on your article or page.
- Clean code - One thing Google hates is cluttered or bloated code. You need to be careful of specific WordPress themes and plugins that tend to add more code than needed.
If there is one thing to take away from this section, never keyword stuff. Keyword stuffing takes a keyword you want to rank for and uses it as much as possible on your page.
I would only recommend using one of your keywords in the meta title, and that's it. You need to make sure it sounds natural as well.
For example, let's Google "best dog shampoo."
The top result in Google only uses the keyword one time in the meta title. Please do not keyword stuff. It will do more harm than good. Trust me, I've tried it and learned the hard way.
Content that matches search intent
Google wants its users to be happy after each search. Imagine searching for something on Google, and it's not even close to what you are looking for.
You might never use Google again after multiple attempts.
That said, Google understands what its users are looking for and matches them with the best possible results.
If you want to write a blog post on "best dog shampoos," you wouldn't write an article covering cat shampoos. This is an obvious example, but you get the idea.
In other words, do not use clickbait. Google will figure out your cleverness and block your content from ranking on the first page.
Google also understands how long someone stays on that page. If they click on your blog post and exit within seconds, that indicates that the article isn't what they are looking for.
If that same user clicks on the link that ranks below you and stays longer, that indicates that their content is better than yours. Google will then take that other page and rank it higher than yours.
Make your content easy to read
Your main concern should be user experience when someone lands on your page. Making sure that your content is easy to read should be a top priority on your site.
A few ways to make your content is easy to read are:
- Using frequent line breaks and short paragraphs.
- Make sure your line-height is 120% or more than your font size.
- Use H2 tags to separate main topics.
- Use H3 tags when you want to create sub-topics.
- Use bullets frequently.
- Incorporate images that supports your content.
- Avoid big words and industry jargon.
I'm sure there are many ways you can make your content easy to read, but this is my guideline for my content.
Hubspot has a great content guideline that they use when people are submitting post ideas to them.
Structure your content correctly for SEO
Having an excellent structure for your content is another ranking booster. If Google and users can quickly scan your content and get your post's gist, you are golden.
Having a great blog post outline before you write will ensure your post is well structured.
For the visual learners here, let me show you an example of a well-structured post that Google will love.
Note that there is only one H1 tag on the page. Avoid using multiple H1 tags at all costs for one page.
Also, notice that each main idea is an H2 tag and if you want to break those ideas into smaller topics, make sure to use H3 tags. If you need to break those smaller topics into more subjects, use H4 tags.
You can visually see a hierarchy of content that Google and your future visitors will love.
Keep in mind that most people do not read; they scan content. Make it as easy as possible for them to be able to scan your content and solve their problem.
Create attention-grabbing titles and meta descriptions
Being on the first page of Google is no easy task. Imagine that your website is now on page one of Google, but you aren't getting the traffic you thought.
Poor traffic is the leading cause of weak and dull meta titles and descriptions. It would help if you thought of your meta titles as headlines.
You can use specific headline formulas to ensure you get the max potential out of your blog posts.
Keep in mind that the more clicks you receive, the better your rankings on Google.
Try and keep your titles short and to the point. Google only allows a certain amount of space to write, so make sure not to go over the character limit.
You can check out a free Google SERP optimization tool here.
Format your URL for search engines
Having a descriptive URL tells your potential visitors what they can expect before clicking on your post.
Have you ever hovered your mouse over a link and looked to see the preview on the bottom left corner of your screen?
I do it all the time, especially with so many scammers—another great reason to use descriptive URLs.
An example would be https://dereksaunders.com/blog/how-to-do-seo-yourself.
Another pro tip is to use your main keyword in your URL.
Add internal links
Adding internal links is probably one of the most overlooked aspects of SEO strategies with most websites. Google uses internal links to help them understand what your content is about.
Internal links also help boost the authority of your page, helping it rank higher on Google.
What are internal links?
Internal links connect your current page to other pages within your website.
Don't just start linking random pages to each other; it needs to make sense.
If you scroll up to the section of this page where I wrote about creating attention-grabbing headlines, I linked to an internal article where I go over headline formulas.
It made sense for the context of that section.
Create a backlink strategy
Backlinks play a crucial role when it comes to ranking on Google. You need to know that not all links are created equal.
Getting a random website with a low domain authority to link to your site won't impact your rankings. Google doesn't trust that low authority website yet.
Let's go over a few easy ways to get quality backlinks to your site to help boost your authority and rank higher on Google.
1. Reach out to write a guest post
Ignore what you may have heard about guest blogging. It is not dead, and it is very effective.
It takes some hard work and dedication, but the reward far outweighs all the hard work, especially when you have credible websites linking to your content on your website.
To make this part super easy, I'm going to link to an excellent article that will give you a list of 350+ guest posting sites.
They give you the website URL and share their Ahrefs rank and domain rating.
Before reaching out, make sure that the website is similar to yours. You likely won't get your social media marketing post approved on a beauty blog.
2. Create better content than your competitors
Brian Dean from Backlinko calls this strategy the skyscraper technique. The skyscraper technique is a straightforward strategy to implement right off the bat if you are starting.
If you are using a tool like Ahrefs, it's even easier to find content that your competitors have created and find a way to make it better.
You can do this in two easy steps using Ahrefs.
1. Find top pages from your competitor
You have to enter your competitor's domain name in site explorer and then click on "top pages" under the organic search section on the left side navigation.
2. Find an article with decent traffic and make it better
Once you have figured out which piece of content you want to make better, it's time to start writing. Create a blog post outline and go more in-depth than your competitor.
Once you finish writing your blog post, it's time to reach out to other sites already linking to the original article you improved on.
You can learn all about the skyscraper technique in Backlinko's article here.
There are many ways to get backlinks, but these are my two favorite options. If you are thinking about paying for a backlink service, do your research on the company first.
You don't want a company to be spamming your website's links all over the internet on low-quality content that has nothing to do with your website or business.
Look for technical SEO issues
One of the easiest ways to figure out what is going on with your site is to complete a site audit using Ahrefs.
If you don't have an Ahrefs account, you can always use Ubersuggest's site audit tool. It's free for up to 3 site audits per day, which is quite generous.
Below, I will go over a few of the top technical SEO issues you might encounter with your website.
You have done so much work writing content, getting backlinks, and increasing your visitors. The last thing you want is for them to experience slow loading times.
It will have your visitors hitting the back or X button.
A great tool you can use that's free is Google's Pagespeed Insights. It will give you an idea of how your website is performing and how to fix it.
Not using HTTPS protocol
Google prefers websites that secure their content using the HTTPS protocol. Your website is encrypted and secure from hackers, keeping your data safe.
If you don't know how to spot a website using HTTPS protocol, you will see a lock sign on the browser along with HTTPS:// in front of the domain name.
Do you see the lock and where it says HTTPS?
It won't dramatically boost your rankings, but using HTTPS helps put you ahead of all your competitors that haven't secured their sites.
Check for duplicate content
One thing Google hates is duplicate content. It's imperative to make sure each page on your site is unique and doesn't contain copy and pasted content from another page.
Often this can happen when you have separate pages for different locations of your business.
Take the time to create different content for each page; it will pay off.
Check for orphaned pages
Orphaned pages are pages on your website that don't have any links connecting to them. It's important to create internal links on your blog posts or pages.
The main reason orphaned pages are bad for SEO is that Google will think that page has no importance and may not consider ranking it even though there might be great content.
Orphaned pages will also bring down your overall SEO score for your entire site, which could be detrimental, especially if you have a lot of orphaned pages.
Find and fix broken links
Having broken links on your website sends signals to Google that your site is old and outdated.
Broken links will also provide a poor user experience when someone is browsing through your website. Generally, when someone encounters a broken link, they will refresh the page, and if it still doesn't work, they leave.
You can use a simple and free tool, Google Search Console, to see where your broken links are.
Once you log into your Google Search Console, you can click on "coverage." It will show you all the pages with errors on your site.
As you can see, I have one page with an issue, which I will resolve after I write this post. 😎
Easy to use tools for SEO
Now that you are just about a pro at doing SEO for yourself, you will want some suggestions on which tools to use.
Though Ahrefs is not free, it is the gold standard for SEO tools. It gives you in-depth insights into your site, such as issues and how to fix them. You can also spy on your competitors to see what keywords they are ranking for and which content performs best.
Surfer uses A.I. to show you exactly which keywords to use and how many times. Though it's not a free tool, it's well worth the $49 per month if you aren't good with keyword strategy.
If you haven't heard of Grammarly, I would be surprised. It's one of the best tools to help improve your spelling and grammar to make you sound like a pro. Plus, there is a plagiarism checker built-in when you get the pro plan.
Not sure how many characters you are allowed in Google's search results? This SERP optimization tool shows you exactly how your page would look in Google's search results.
This is the next best tool if Ahrefs is out of your budget. Not only does Ubersuggest have free features, but their paid plan starts at only $29. Get a free site audit, keyword ideas, and even content ideas.
Need help finding keywords for your next blog post? KWFinder has you covered. Not only can you spy on your competitors, but this tool will help you choose the perfect keywords for your site.
If you are not a fan of writing or aren't very good, you can use Jasper, an artificial intelligence writing bot. You have to give Jasper a brief intro to what your content should be, and he will write it out in minutes!
I hope this in-depth guide has opened your eyes to the potential of SEO and how to do it on your own.
Once you start ranking higher on Google, you will see an increase in traffic which could mean more sales and revenue for your business!
If money isn't your end goal, you will have an increase in attention online. Imagine what that could do for your business or personal brand.
Stay tuned for my next post!