It’s possible to get started with SEO yourself.
Two years ago, I was working for a startup trying to market an invention: a massage jacket.
Being a startup, we didn’t have a large marketing budget. But, that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was that no‐one in the company was knowledgeable about marketing and SEO.
I had just graduated with a degree in psychology and had read a couple of marketing books in my spare time. In their eyes, I was the most “qualified.”
So, they put me in charge of the marketing strategy.
Knowing nothing and having no marketing dollars, I started reading a couple of SEO blogs. I then tried to implement some of the strategies they were talking about, and eventually managed to rank the site for a couple of keywords related to our product.
Now, I’m not telling you this story to impress you, but rather to impress upon you that with the right guidance, anyone can do SEO.
You merely need the right strategy.
Luckily, SEO is pretty straightforward. It’s about:
- Understanding what your target customers are searching for;
- Creating content around those topics (blog posts, product pages, etc.)
- Taking care of the “technical” stuff to push these pages higher in the search engines (this includes link building!)
In this step‐by‐step guide, you will learn everything you need to do SEO yourself.
Before we begin, I recommend starting a website crawl in Ahrefs Site Audit tool. That will find errors on your site that need fixing. You won’t need the data until later, but since this will take some time to run, it’s better to get it started right away.
Here’s Sam Oh explaining how to kickstart an audit:
Not an Ahrefs customer? No worries. It’s not an absolute requirement. You will still learn a lot from this guide even without doing this.
Let’s see how you can execute some DIY SEO.
1. Do keyword research
Most SEO campaigns begin with keyword research. Essentially, keyword research is a SEO activity that involves finding the most popular words or phrases your target customers use when searching for what you do.
Once you know what these words or phrases are, you can optimize your site to rank better for them.
Your end goal? Make sure that every page on your site is optimized for the right keywords.
Here’s how to get started.
1.1. Make a list of all the pages you have on your site
Go to yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml.
You should see something like this:
Use the Scraper Chrome extension to extract these. Here’s the XPath you need:
//a[contains(@href,’yourdomain.com')]. Just make sure to replace ‘yourdomain.com’ with your actual domain.
Or if you’re using WordPress, you could use a plugin like Export All URLs to extract all your pages.
NOTE: You can also get a list of pages from Site Audit. Go to Site Audit > Data Explorer > Create a custom filter. Here’s how it looks:
1.2 Find and map a “head” keyword to each page
A “head” keyword is the primary keyword for which you want to optimize the page.
To start, you can piggyback off the research of your competitors.
Look at the page you’re trying to optimize. Guess the best possible keyword. Then, type your hunch into Google and look at the title tags.
Look for common phrases between the top ranking pages. For example, if I search for “how to relieve back pain,” I can see that most of the pages are optimized for “back pain relief.”
This seems like an appropriate keyword to target.
However, this isn’t the most foolproof way of doing things as you can’t tell how much search volume or traffic potential a keyword has.
So a better method is to take a look at the keywords for which you already rank. You can do this in Google Search Console (here’s a guide that shows you how to set it up) or using the Organic keywords report in Ahrefs Site Explorer.
Don’t have your site set up yet? Paste in a similar, competing page and look at the keywords for which it ranks.
Choose the one that looks to be the best fit.
Next, take that keyword, look it up in Keywords Explorer, then check the Parent topic.
This tells you if you can rank for your chosen keyword while simultaneously targeting a higher volume term. For example, if I enter “how to relieve back pain,” I can see that it suggests “back pain relief” as the Parent topic.
This seems like an appropriate head keyword to target.
1.3 Find and map long‐tail variations to each page
Long‐tail keywords are related keywords for which your page could also rank.
In one of our studies, we’ve found that the average #1 ranking page will also rank for ~1,000 other relevant keywords. So, not only should you optimize your page for a “head” term, but you should also try to optimize it for various long‐tail keywords.
One way to find long‐tail variations is to look at Google Autocomplete suggestions.
This will give you more than enough ideas to get started.
If you want to see a broader range of long‐tail variations, look up any of the top‐ranking pages for your head term in Ahrefs Site Explorer. Go to the Organic keywords report.
Here, you will see all the keywords that page is ranking for, and voila, your long‐tail variations.
You can take this a step further by taking the top 3–4 ranking pages and doing a Content Gap analysis. This will surface all the common keywords these pages are ranking for, which you can then include as long‐tail variations.
Alternatively, you can use the Also rank for report in Keywords Explorer to find long‐tail variations you may want to include.
2. Perform on‐page SEO
On‐page SEO is the process of optimizing a website’s on‐page elements (such as the content, structure, code, etc.) to help it rank better in Google.
Most people think that boils down to the number of times they mention their keyword on the page. That is wrong.
Keyword stuffing—the practice of unnaturally shoehorning keywords where they don’t belong for SEO purposes—died well over a decade ago. Nowadays, Google can understand synonyms and semantically‐related words.
Want proof? Here’s the #1 result for “best break dance songs”:
Do you know how many times this page mentions the keyword “best break dance songs”? Zero. Yet Google still understands that this is a relevant search result.
Ready to stop optimizing your page like it’s 1999? Follow the tips below.
2.1. Create irresistible title tags and meta descriptions
Getting to page 1 is only half the battle won. The other half is convincing the searcher to click on your page over the other results. How can you do this?
Write title tags and descriptions that compel the searcher to click.
More clicks = more traffic! (And more traffic usually means more sales.)
Plus, there is evidence that a higher click‐through‐rate (CTR) can have a positive effect on rankings.
Here are a few tips for writing compelling meta titles and descriptions:
- Keep them short: Google starts truncating both title tags and meta descriptions after a certain length. Use this SERP simulator to check that you’re within the boundaries.
- Use “power” words: Awesome. Powerful. Proven. Etc. These are all words that evoke an emotional response from readers. See more power words here.
- Include your target keyword: Not an absolute requirement. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to do this. In general, however, this is another good way to show the user that your page is the most relevant result for their search.
To learn more about writing the perfect title tag, check out our 4‐step process.
2.2 Use descriptive URLs
A descriptive URL is a URL that tells you what to expect from a page.
Here’s an example: https://ahrefs.com/blog/local-seo/
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this page is about local SEO—it’s immediately apparent from the URL alone. This makes the result more clickable. That’s because users are more almost certainly more likely to click on a result that demonstrates what they should expect from the page in no uncertain terms.
Further, in our previous study of two million keywords, we found that there was a slight correlation between higher rankings and keywords in the URL.
The age‐old correlation vs. causation debate aside, there’s one other reason why it makes logical sense to do this: backlinks that use the naked URL as the anchor text will include your target keyword.
2.3 Add internal links
Internal links connect pages on your site to each other. For example, this is an internal link to our long‐tail keywords guide.
Why are they important?
Internal links help to transfer PageRank and boost the “authority” of specific pages on your website. Not only that, but Google also looks at internal link anchor text to help further their understanding of the page.
Most links do provide a bit of additional context through their anchor text. At least they should, right‽
— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) November 23, 2017
Unfortunately, most sites neglect this. They focus on creating new pages but forget to link them together.
Don’t make the same mistake. Here’s a quick way to get started:
You have a page to which you want to link. It has a target keyword.
Now, go to Google. Enter
site:yourdomain.com + “keyword”. This search operator will show you the indexed pages on your site that mention the target term. For example, if I wanted to add internal links to our “WordPress SEO” post, this is what I would search for:
Next, quickly run through these pages and find those where it makes sense for you to add internal links.
If you have access to the Ahrefs’ SEO Toolbar, you can download all of these pages from the SERP alongside useful SEO metrics.
Then, in the CSV file, you quickly easily sort them by organic traffic or URL Rating (UR) to find the most powerful pages on your site where you can add internal links.
3. Work on technical fixes
If you started a crawl at the start of this post and you have a relatively small site, it should now have finished. The good news: Site Audit will point out all the URLs on your site facing any issues.
All you need to do is to find which URLs have errors, and follow the recommendations given (all issues are filterable by their respective priority):
Didn’t set up a crawl using Site Audit? Fret not.
Below, I cover two of the most common technical issues faced by small business owners.
3.1 Make your site secure by using HTTPS
See this little lock here?
The site is secure through the use of the HTTPS protocol. This means that the website is encrypted: only your computer and web server can see the data transmitted from your browser.
Technical jargon aside, why should you care?
Security is essential. Google said so. In 2014, Google announced that HTTPS is a ranking factor.
While there is only a slight ranking boost, you should still make sure that you are using HTTPS sitewide.
To learn how to set up HTTPS properly, read this guide.
3.2 Make sure your site loads fast
Don’t you hate it when you’re trying to access a website, and it takes forever to load? So do your customers.
If you want to create a smooth visitor experience, you need to make sure your site loads fast.
Site Audit should have pointed out to you which pages are slow:
But if you didn’t run a crawl, you can also use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to check your speed (it’s free!).
However, with Google PageSpeed Insights, you’ll have to check the speed of each page individually. It’s not a big deal if you have a small site, but it can still be pretty time‐consuming.
Here are some tips on how to improve page speed:
- Choose the right hosting. The hosting you use (shared vs. dedicated server) matters for your site speed. Here’s a guide that compares the effectiveness of different WordPress hosts.
- Reduce image sizes. If you’re using WordPress, you can install a plugin called ShortPixel. ShortPixel will automatically compress your uploaded images without compromising their quality. Learn more about this in our full guide to image SEO.
- Enable browser caching. When you enable browser caching, your visitors can store the elements of your page onto their hard drive. This in turns allows them to load your page without sending another HTTP request to your server when they next visit (i.e., faster loading!). With WordPress, you can use a plugin called W3 Total Cache to enable caching easily.
Not using WordPress? Check out this guide on more tips on how to speed up your website.
4. Build some links
Links are important. They’re one of Google’s top 3 ranking factors.
This is the reason why a big part of SEO is about link building. It’s all about using creative strategies to get other sites to add a link back to yours.
There are plenty of proven link building tactics you can use to get more backlinks to your site.
Here are two of them:
4.1. Community site link building
Community sites are places where your target audience hangs out to discuss topics, trade tips and ask for help. These are places like forums, Reddit, Quora, Facebook groups and so on.
Participate in the community, befriend others, deliver value and you’ll get a chance to promote your website.
Take note that the links you build here are usually nofollowed. But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Promoting on these sites increases exposure. More eyeballs can indirectly lead to more links.
Do you want to know the best questions to answer on Quora? It’s the ones that are already ranking in search engines and getting traffic. To find these, go to:
Site Explorer > enter quora.com > Top pages > Filter by keywords related to your niche
4.2 Replicate your competitors’ backlinks
If your competitors have more links than you, don’t worry! You can replicate them. You merely have to find out who’s linking to them (but not you) and find a way to replicate those links.
To do precisely this, you can use a tool called Link Intersect.
In this example, I’ve added some of our competitors into Link Intersect:
Clicking “Show link opportunities” will point out an entire list of opportunities I could potentially pursue:
All that’s left to do is to analyze the results and find out the reason why they linked to your competitors but not you. Then, reach out and see if you can secure the link for yourself!
Read our full guide to replicating your competitors’ backlinks to learn more ways to do this.
These two strategies are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to link building. If you’re looking for more tactics, here’s the full list of link building strategies you can implement.
5. Planning ahead
What you’ve done so far is to optimize your existing site for better rankings.
But that’s not the end.
Generally speaking, the more pages you have, the more keywords for which you can rank. So, if you want more search traffic, you need to create more pages that rank. How?
Target informational keywords.
These are search queries where the user is looking for more information about a particular topic. Essentially, the idea is to create content that ranks for these search queries, which you can eventually funnel into sales.
An example of an informational keyword is “how to relieve back pain.”
One look at the top ranking pages shows us that users searching for this term are not looking to buy anything. They’re looking for methods, tips, and remedies on how to deliver back pain relief.
Create a piece of content that matches search intent. Then, in the article, you can either directly promote your product or gently nudge them into the next stage of the funnel by getting them to sign up for your newsletter.
The optimization process is the same:
Perform keyword research, find a head term you wish to target (along with long‐tail variations), do on‐page SEO, make sure there are no technical issues and build some links.
If you want to learn how we’ve executed our content marketing strategy to get thousands of customers, you can read the full step‐by‐step guide here.
This simple DIY SEO guide covers the fundamentals of SEO.
You can follow this guide over and over again to optimize your site and start ranking for meaningful and relevant keywords.
More success in the search engines = more traffic, and potentially sales.
A nice byproduct of having more revenue coming into your business is that you’ll have more money to invest in SEO. You may even consider hiring an agency or consultant to take things to the next level.