Can I do SEO myself?

by The Tortoise

*Some of the links in this post are affiliate links where Tortoise Digital will earn money if you click on them and go onto make a purchase.*

Organic search remains an incredibly valuable digital marketing channel, and for many websites it’s the largest source of traffic and revenue. It offers a channel where the audience show a high intent for your brand or the subject you’ve written about (by proactively searching for it rather than being shown an ad they didn’t want to see), and the traffic is, effectively, free in that you don’t have to pay per click or impression.

The catch of this ‘free’ traffic is that, aside from branded search which is (usually) always easy to rank for without any SEO effort, you don’t magically show up on page one of the search results the moment you hit ‘Publish’ on that new article or product page you’ve put together. Instead, getting your website to show up in the top positions of the organic search results is something that can take – depending on a bunch of different factors – months or even years.

So for the most part SEO isn’t a quick win channel. You can’t throw a few thousands bucks at it and expect the traffic to come flooding in the next day in the same way you can with paid search, for example. And businesses that receive a lot of traffic from organic search in competitive niches wouldn’t really consider this traffic ‘free’ – they’ll have spent time and money in building out their content, backlink profile, and ensuring their site is up to scratch from a technical standpoint.

So one way or another, trying to get traffic from organic search will need an investment of time/money. But do you need to pay an SEO agency/consultant or hire an SEO? The simple answer is no – you can do SEO yourself, although you may decide it makes sense for you to bring in some help.

How much time do you have?

As mentioned, SEO takes time. Not only can it take time to see the results of your work – whether it’s some new backlinks you’ve built or some new pages you’ve created to target new keywords – but building those backlinks or creating those new pages in the first place can take a lot of time. In fact, it’s easy to underestimate just how long these types of tasks can take.

A good, well-written blog post of 1000+ words that’s likely to stand a chance of ranking on page one of the search results could easily take more than a full day to research, plan, write, and publish. Building backlinks isn’t a case of sending out a few emails to a few website owners saying ‘Hey, can you give me a backlink?’ – it’s something that, depending on the approach you take, can take hours of initial research, content creation, and hours of crafting emails and responding to follow up emails.

Do you have the time to do all this? A lot of people who have other responsibilities when it comes to running a small business certainly won’t, and a lot of marketers with existing responsibilities also won’t have time to start taking on these types of SEO tasks without it having a severe impact on their current role.

That said, of course you can still get some SEO done without dedicating a large number of hours or days to it each week. Any uplifts in organic traffic will take longer to realise without additional help, but that might not be an issue for you.

How much budget do you have?

Let’s say you’re thinking of bringing in some additional help, you’ll need to consider how much budget you can set aside for SEO. First off, if you’ve seen any adverts online where people are offering SEO services that seem too good to be true (‘I can get you to position one for $100’) just ignore them, as they will be too good to be true.

If you don’t have the budget to pay an SEO (one full-time SEO will likely be fine for all but larger businesses with many/complex websites), or bring in a consultant/agency at your local market rates (likely to be at least a few thousand dollars per month in the US), then you’ll need to go down the route of doing SEO yourself, or with your existing team.

So you’re going to do SEO yourself, where do you start?

SEO is a broad field. An all-round SEO practitoner needs to have an understanding of topics as diverse as web-development, user experience, analytics, content marketing, and digital PR.

While this is true, the basics of SEO are also quite straightforward and can be picked up pretty quickly through reading blogs and through putting some of that knowledge into action to get a practical understanding of how it all works.

Below, we take a look at some ways in which you can begin to approach SEO for your site if you’re new to the discipline.

Set up Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a free tool that’s available to anyone. All you have to do to get Google Search Console is verify that you own the site (there’s a range of ways you can do this, detailed here). When you’ve verified your site(s), you can view a whole range of data about your site and carry out a range of tasks such as:

  • Clicks, impressions, CTR and avg. position, which you can filter by query, device, URL, country and search appearance
  • A tool to submit pages to be indexed in the search results
  • The ability to view information about why your pages might be excluded from the search results
  • A sitemap submission tool
  • and much more…

It’s also worth looking into paid tools, such as SEMRush (that also has a free trial) which offer features that you won’t find in Google Search Console such as keyword research tools.

Understanding your audience and what they search for

The first step in SEO is keyword research. This is the process of identifying terms that users search with that are relevant to your website/business. Until you’ve done this, you can’t really get to work on creating the right type of content that’s likely to get traffic from organic search, or in optimising your existing content without just guessing.

Wondering how to do keyword research? There’s a range of approaches and tools, and luckily Yoast have put together a great guide here. We’ve also written a guide on keyword research mistakes to avoid and a guide on how to use Google Trends.

Completing technical SEO checks

Technical SEO encompasses a range of practices that aim to improve the way in which a website is designed and built to increase the traffic from organic search.

  • Check the pages on your site are crawlable and discoverable by links. Can they all be accessed by clicking a series of links from the homepage (ideally just 3-4 clicks away).
  • Are your pages being indexed? Check the ‘Coverage’ report in Google Search Console to identify issues, and ideally create and submit an XML sitemap in Google Search Console too. You can also do a quick search in Google for a rough indication of which pages of your site are or are not being indexed.
  • Check and improve your site speed. Google (and users!) like fast sites. Use Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool to identify which pages on your site have problems, and work through the recommendations you can.
  • Review your site navigation, structure, and URLs. Do they all make sense and follow a clear and logical structure, or are they confusing, making it hard for search engines and users to understand the hierarchy of content on your site.

Those are a few tips for getting started with technical SEO, but you can check out this guide for more guidance on getting started with technical SEO.

Optimising your existing content

Having conducted some keyword research for the subject area(s) your website is relevant for, take a fresh look at your existing content on your site and see if there’s any quick optimisation wins available. You might find you’ve been using slightly different terms to describe your products compared to how people actually search for them, or you might find your blog titles are written in a fashion that’s more similar to those found in print journalism, rather than written in a way to suit users’ search queries (i.e. with SEO in mind).

Key areas to focus on-page optimisation on include:

  • Page titles
  • H1 (and your other headings, e.g. H2, H3 etc.)
  • Meta Description (these don’t have a direct impact on rankings, but make sure they’re attention-grabbing to encourage users to click on your organic result)
  • Internal links (it’s good to use a few internal links with relevant anchor text in your content)
  • Improving thin content (check if you have any pages on your site that are a bit short and could benefit from bulking out)

Creating new content

Along with tackling any quick wins where you can improve content that’s already been produced, you’ll also want to create new content to target keyword areas that you previously had no content for. Again, the keyword research comes in handy here, as you can use this to spot gaps for content creation. A couple of tips for creating new content include:

  • Follow on-page SEO best practices, such as ensuring your target keyword(s) are included in the URL, page title, and headings, for example.
  • Don’t rush the content and try to take short cuts. To rank on page one of the search results for your target keywords, you’ll need your content to be as good if not better than the content on it, so focus on building content that really answers users’ search queries and acts as a helpful resource.

Building backlinks

Backlinks – links from other websites pointing to yours – are another pillar of SEO along with technical SEO and content, and something you’ll have to consider if you want to do SEO by yourself. Backlinks effectively act as a ‘vote’ in the eyes of search engines that your content is useful, relevant, and/or trustworthy.

If your site has no or very few backlinks, search engines (wrongly or rightly) won’t view your site as an authority on the subject which will make it hard for you to rank well, even if you have your technical SEO best practices in place and you’ve written great content.

This means you need to build backlinks, and that you also need to build the right kind of backlinks that Google values (not links that go against their guidelines). Building backlinks generally isn’t easy, but there are certain strategies that are easier than others. Thankfully, ahrefs have put together a great guide of nine easy link building strategies here. The strategies in the guide are:

  • Outreaching to relevant people
  • Guest blogging (done well)
  • Broken link building
  • Unlinked mentions
  • Link reclamation
  • Paid promotion for linkable assets
  • Stealing links from inferior web pages
  • Content repurposing and syndication
  • Community site link building

Monitoring your results

All the effort you put into doing SEO yourself needs to be measured and monitored. If you haven’t already, get Google Analytics set up on your site. This is free, and if you have a WordPress site you can follow this guide. You can also use Google Search Console mentioned above, which will provide metrics that Google Analytics doesn’t provide. Once you’ve got both of these tools set up, some key metrics to pay attention to include:

  • Organic search traffic (from Google Analytics) and/or clicks (from Google Search Console) (note, the traffic numbers will be different to the clicks you see in Google Search Console. More on this in the “Data discrepancies between Search Console and Analytics” section here.)
  • Organic search revenue (from Google Analytics)
  • Bounce rate (from Google Analytics)
  • Impressions (from Google Search Console)
  • Average Position (from Google Search Console)
  • CTR (from Google Search Console)

Learning more about SEO

Hopefully this article has given you a few pointers to get started if you’re looking to do SEO yourself, but there’s a lot to learn about SEO, so we suggest continuing to read around the subject. SEO is always changing as well as Google adapts its algorithm and the way the search engine results are displayed, so it pays to stay on top of the SEO news as well.

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