Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the process of increasing the visibility of a website in search engines like Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo. The key to successful SEO is making it easy for your target audience to find your business when they search online.
As a small business owner, you’re likely looking for ways to do more with less. A powerful way to drive traffic and leads to your website is with do-it-yourself SEO (DIY SEO). Once you have a clear roadmap, there’s no limit to the amount of traffic you can generate.
This article covers the core components of DIY SEO so that you can make your website and blog more search engine-friendly without utilizing lots of extra resources.
Let’s dive right in with what SEO is and why it’s so useful for driving small business leads…
What Is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimization. It’s the practice of improving the organic search result position(s) of a website or individual web pages. When people go online to search for products, locations, and services, they see information on the search engine results pages (SERPs). The organic URLs displayed on page one of Google and other search engines are the results of SEO best practices.
The purpose of SEO is to rank higher in the SERPs because this brings more traffic to your website. SEO success is achieved through relevant content, technical optimizations, publishing content consistently, and making changes based on SEO data.
If you’re asking yourself, “How long does SEO take to work?” Know that it doesn’t produce results overnight. However, it can be a consistent source of traffic and prospects for your business when done right.
Once you rank a blog post in the top three Google positions for your keyword, depending on how much search volume the keyword receives, you may start receiving thousands of visitors per month. As long as your rankings hold top positions, you’re looking at consistent traffic for weeks to come.
In order to get the most you can out of DIY SEO, it’s essential to set SEO goals. Let’s look at how to set a goal based on where you’re at with your business.
Setting Your SEO Goals
You may become frustrated with SEO and consider abandoning your efforts if you don’t establish goals first. Your SEO goals depend on your traffic and lead generation goals, your industry, and the audience you’re targeting.
For example, if your website is newer, it’s a smart idea to build consistent traffic first. Your goal framework may look like the following:
- Generate 400 visitors by X date
- Write three blog posts per week
- Target 12 keywords that have a collective monthly search volume (SV) of 2,000 or more
Targeting keywords with a collective SV of 2,000 or more doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get that amount of visitors when your content ranks. By targeting terms with SV above your goal, you maximize the likelihood that you’ll hit your goal faster.
If your goal is targeting a specific type of reader, your framework may resemble the following:
- Research three competitors’ top 10 ranking keywords
- See where your content overlaps with them and what content topics you’re missing
- Write content that is more informative and useful than your competitors
Think carefully about what metric is most valuable for your business right now. Since you won’t be outsourcing your SEO to a team of writers (at least not yet), you need an actionable plan that will produce results over time.
Before researching keywords or mapping a content calendar; make sure the goal you’ve chosen is achievable with your current time and resources. Next, you can pick the SEO platforms you’ll use to measure progress.
Choosing SEO Platforms
With your DIY SEO goal in place, it’s time to discover which SEO platforms help you achieve it. You can (and should) use both free and paid SEO tools, but know that the more you’re willing to invest in your SEO efforts, the more you’ll get out of them.
Free SEO tools are valuable for assessing the on-page strength of your SEO, including your H1 tags, meta descriptions, and keyword density. Use them to check the initial health of your content, but be advised that they won’t offer rich data that’s critical for long-term SEO growth.
Here are some of the best free SEO tools out there:
- Google Search Console – offers details on dozens of critical SEO factors, like how recently your sitemap was crawled, weekly clicks, site links, and URL errors
- SEO Minion – provides an overview of the SEO strength of a given webpage
- Keywords Everywhere – gives you keyword recommendations based on the webpage you’re currently viewing
- SEO META In 1 Click – reviews your page for on-page SEO benchmarks, like your meta description, H1, internal links, and keyword density
- CanIRank – uncovers your site’s likelihood of ranking for a particular keyword
- Answer the Public – takes questions from blogs and forums and turns them into SEO keyword recommendations
Paid SEO tools are worth the investment if you have the budget for them. Such platforms allow you to see precisely which URLs are producing SEO results and which need improvement.
Here are a few of the best paid SEO tools available:
- Screaming Frog – crawls your entire site for the biggest SEO issues, including broken pages, redirects, missing meta descriptions, and thin content. There’s a free version as well, but you’ll need a paid license to crawl larger sites (500+ pages)
- SEMrush – offers a top-to-bottom view of all SEO factors on your site, including backlinks, internal link ratios, keyword rankings, and position changes
- Ahrefs – provides excellent insight into your site’s SEO health, including backlink quality, domain authority, and keyword rankings
- SpyFu – is another useful tool for keyword research and analyzing existing rankings, as well as for analyzing top PPC keywords.
- Labrika – scans your website for every SEO issue imaginable, including broken links, sitemap errors, duplicate content, and redirected pages
When choosing which SEO tools you’ll add to your arsenal, consider the resources and time you have available. If you have more time, you can focus on generating quality content first. If you have more resources, consider investing in a paid tool and letting it guide your content creation.
Researching SEO Keywords
With the right SEO tools at your disposal, it’s time to research keywords. DIY SEO keyword research should not be based on trying to rank for the most popular terms, but the terms that bring you the most relevant readers and leads.
For example, if you run a dog training business, one of the keywords you may target early on is “beginner dog training.” This keyword is relevant to your niche and you can create content that’s authoritative enough to rank high in Google.
You can find keywords for your website content by using the following tools:
- Google Keyword Planner
- Moz Keyword Explorer
- Ahrefs Keyword Explorer
- SEMrush Keyword Overview Tool
- Keywords Everywhere
These tools provide basic keyword data, such as the average amount of monthly searches a term gets, plus the competitive difficulty of keywords and dozens of other insights useful for content planning. As you uncover keywords relevant to your SEO goals, add them to a Google Sheet so you can reference them easily later.
Keyword research is critical, and if you don’t invest time to research the right keywords as a business owner, you’ll be stuck on the proverbial hamster wheel. Choosing keywords relevant to your type of business is the difference between seeing traffic grow steadily versus not at all.
First, Optimize Your Core Pages (Buying Intent)
The first step we always recommend is to make sure that your core pages are properly optimized for search engines. The most important page to optimize first is your homepage. Then, proceed to optimize your main services pages and/or product/category pages.
We refer to your homepage and service/product page as your Core pages. These pages will attract prospects with hiring/buying intent, whereas blog articles attract prospects who are in the research phase. Learn more about search intent.
Specifically, you’ll want to focus on optimizing the following aspects of your core pages:
- Title tag: 50-65 characters with your most important keyword placed early in the title tag.
- Meta description: 100-155 characters with different keyword variations incorporated early to help “sell the click” in the search engines.
- H1 header: Ideally, incorporate a keyword-focused headline that is unique from the homepage keyword phrase.
- Website content: Make sure you have at least 500-1,000 words of content on your core pages, incorporating relevant keyword variations early and often (but naturally, and not forced)
If you’re not sure where to find your title tag and meta description, read this article.
Here are a couple of helpful shortcuts:
- Use a tool like Ahrefs.com to see what your core pages are already ranking for, and then focus on making changes to improve those existing rankings
- If your pages are not yet ranking, analyze what competitors are using in their title tags, and borrow ideas to help catch up in the rankings
Developing a Content Calendar (Research Intent)
Now that you’ve optimized your core pages for buying-intent phrases, it’s time to focus on ongoing blogging to attract the wider funnel of prospects who are in the research phase. (If you don’t have a blog for your site yet, learn how to start a blog for your small business in 7 simple steps.)
After you’ve researched several keywords, the next step is to create a blog content calendar, which is the list of what content you want to publish and in what order. With SEO, it’s important to publish content regularly, ideally twice per week or more.
A lack of regularity signals to search engines that you’re not reliable and aren’t interested in keeping your website updated with new content. This leads to a poor user experience, and prospects in your niche won’t see your website as authoritative.
Content calendars should be simple. Here’s a list of details to include in yours:
- Blog post title
- Target keyword(s)
- Draft due date
- Publication date
- Most recent date of optimization
- URL / content rank
- URL / content traffic
When creating your calendar, plan out content several months at a time. Include a mix of evergreen content and seasonal content topics. Evergreen articles are topics that are relevant to readers year-round, whereas seasonal content addresses questions particular to a time of year.
Producing Valuable Content
The next step is producing content that’s valuable and useful for your audience. When you write content that answers the questions your audience is asking, they’re more likely to request a quote or purchase a product, because you’re a helpful and trustworthy source of information.
Excellent content quality also demonstrates how well you understand what Google is looking for. When your SEO content is well-organized, comprehensible, and thorough, Google can understand it better.
When creating SEO content, put yourself in your readers’ shoes first. Search engine algorithms are important but they mean little if the people who read your content don’t get anything useful out of it. Remember: At the end of the day, you’re writing for people, not for search engine bots.
Here are a few other pointers for improving the quality, insight, and conversion-friendliness of your content:
- Look at the top three Google results for the keyword you’re trying to rank for. What questions or problems do their content address that yours does not? How can you boost your content volume and substance to match?
- Is your content scannable? Does it have logical subheaders and/or a Table of Contents? These factors increase the likelihood that readers engage with your content.
- Does your content include internal links to other resources, blog posts, images, and/or embedded videos? Today’s readers expect dynamic experiences and rich insights when they go online looking for answers.
Tracking Your Progress
After you’ve done all the heavy lifting and created your content, tracking your progress is essential. Every time you publish a new blog post, mark it as Done in your editorial calendar. Give it a week or two to rank, then record its current ranking and traffic in the sheet.
Once you have a rhythm going with that, use Google Search Console to track your website’s month-over-month (MoM) impressions, clicks, and indexed pages. You can use Search Console’s comparison tool in the Performance area to see how much your traffic has grown or decreased over the last week, month, or longer.
Tracking your progress helps you see which SEO strategies are working and which ones are falling short. The more data you collect over time, the more insight you’ll have into where you want to scale your content creation up.
Basic Technical SEO Skills
The last DIY SEO skill to learn is basic technical SEO. Important factors here include, but aren’t limited to:
- Your XML sitemap – Your sitemap lists out all of the pages on your website. We recommend submitting your XML sitemap to Search Console.
- 404s / broken pages – These pages are broken and need to be replaced or removed
- 301s / redirected pages – These are old pages routing users to the new version but should be replaced for the new version over time. If you ever change URLs, you should put a 301 redirect in place to avoid broken links (404 errors)
- URL structure – This includes everything after “.com” and shows Google if you have an SEO-friendly website structure
- Orphaned pages – These pages exist on your website but can’t be found via the navigation, so they need to be linked or added to a menu
It takes some time to become familiar with each of these terms and understand how they impact your website, so don’t feel like you have to learn them overnight. The most important factor is that you’re aware of these terms and have a plan to fix them when issues arise.
In many instances, you can utilize plugins to resolve these issues for you. Review your content management system’s compatibility to see what kinds of plugins you can test out. Always retain backups of your website in the event that a plugin breaks some or all of your website. Once you’re ready to learn more, read how to conduct a technical SEO audit to take your site to its fullest potential.
The Bottom Line
SEO can feel nerve-wracking–and in some ways like learning a new language–which is why many small business owners never even attempt it. The fact that you read this entire article is proof that you’re already ahead of your competition.
Here’s an overview of the key points we covered in this blog post:
- Set your SEO goals before you write a single word of content. This guides your efforts so you aren’t generating traffic for its own sake, but targeted leads who are likely to buy.
- Research SEO platforms that match your budget and needs. There are dozens of free SEO tools that help you master the basics.
- Optimize your core pages, first. It’s important to first lay the foundation by optimizing your homepage and main pages, and then focus on ongoing content development.
- Spend time researching relevant SEO keywords, not just popular, high-volume ones. You want to produce content that will attract prospects who are relevant for your offers.
- Draft a content calendar once your keyword research is done. Write content at a pace that works for you, like once or twice per week, and stay consistent.
- Remember to write valuable, practical content–not just content for the sake of words on your website. You’ll gain repeat visitors much faster if you offer valuable insights for your niche.
- Track all of your SEO efforts. SEO content is only valuable once it’s ranking, and you should regularly update old content so it’s seen by new readers.
- Review the basics of technical SEO so you know when to fix issues or reach out for help if you need it. The biggest issues are often broken pages, redirects, poor site navigation, and thin content.
Need Help Improving Your Website’s SEO?
Even if you’re managing your SEO in-house, you may find that you need help with certain aspects of research, strategy, or implementation.
At Main Street ROI, we offer one-time SEO projects to audit and tune up your website, as well as monthly SEO management services including ongoing auditing, technical fixes, content development, link building, consulting, and reporting. Click here to request a quote for SEO services.