DIY SEO in Three Basic Steps (with Free Tools!)
Photo by Austin Distel
So you’re interested in DIY SEO. No wonder. Outside SEO work is expensive. The best SEO results come from time or capital-intensive investments: content writing and backlink outreach.
But it’s still possible—sometimes even preferable—to be an SEO solo. Maybe you want to learn more about The Business before paying a professional SEO firm a lot of money. Maybe you have a small site and already enjoy writing. Maybe you just don’t have the capital yet to invest in SEO.
Toolboxes like ahrefs and Moz can be invaluable. We use them every day. But if you’re just stepping into SEO, investing in them right away is like buying a 4k 60” TV to watch old M.A.S.H. reruns.
If you want to try DIY SEO for your website, try out these three basic steps–with links to free tools–to get the ball rolling.
#1 – Build and Submit a Sitemap
Every second of every day the Googlebot scans the web. Googlebot is the software that Google uses to crawl through the internet and build a searchable index of websites.
A sitemap is file that describes the contents and organization of your website.
Adding a sitemap to your website and submitting it to Google will make it easier for Googlebot to scan and understand your website.
Without being indexed by Googlebot, your site will not appear anywhere in Google search results. It is ESSENTIAL that your site is indexed and—if your site frequently changes—indexed regularly.
So how do you create a sitemap? You could do it manually. But you really don’t have to.
Thankfully, there are some free tools that will scan your website and automatically create a sitemap file for you. Here are two recommendations for free tools to create a sitemap:
Have a WordPress site? Use a plugin.
If your site is built in WordPress, just use a plugin to create your sitemap and upload it to your site. The Google XML Sitemaps plugin is used on millions of sites and is frequently updated. Let it do the work for you.
Screaming Frog offers a free version of their SEO Spider Tool. If your website has 500 or fewer pages, you can download SEO Spider and use it to create a sitemap for free.
Screaming Frog does more, too, which is nice – it finds broken links and analyzes your metadata, among many other useful things. It’s excellent to help you maintain your technical SEO.
Use xml-sitemaps.com to create a free sitemap, no downloads or accounts needed. If your website has 500 or fewer pages, you can create a sitemap file just from entering your website URL on their homepage.
Uploading and Submitting Your Sitemap
Once your sitemap file is created, you need to do two more things:
Upload the sitemap to the domain root folder of your website.
In other words, add the sitemap file to your website. Log into your cPanel for your website and open the file manager. The root folder will always be the folder titled public_html. Add the sitemap file to this folder.
Submit the sitemap file to Google and other search engines.
You can submit your sitemap a few different ways. You can do so directly through Google Search Console. This part’s pretty easy.
#2 – Keyword Research
Keyword research means figuring out the best language to use on your website to attract search traffic. Keyword research is a delicate balance between relevance, search volume, and competition.
What do people search for when they want something that you offer? You need to figure out the most relevant keywords for your business and your goals.
Remember: think from your audience’s perspective. How would they understand and search?
This can be tough for business owners who know their own products and industries up and down, backwards and forward.
Step out of your expertise and imagine the common understandings of your offerings.
Search volume is simply how many searches are performed for any given phrase.
Many paid SEO tools like ahrefs give you valuable search volume data.
If you want to get a snapshot at search volume with just free SEO tools, try out Keyword Surfer.
This Chrome extension gives you search volume data for keyphrases while you’re using Google.
It’ll also give you ideas and data for keyphrases related to your search query. This can make it a great tool for discovering new, worthwhile keyphrases to target.
The competition are the other search results that are ranking high for the keywords you want to rank for. Trying to rank high for a competitive keyword could take far more time and money than you want to invest.
Competition can be difficult to gauge without paid tools, which can roughly calculate the difficulty of ranking keywords in the top 10 results.
A good rule of thumb, though, is to target “long-tail” keyphrases. That is, longer and more specific keyphrases.
A long-tail keyphrase has lower search volume, and that usually correlates with lower difficulty.
Long-tail keyphrases also make great targets because searchers who use specific searches are more interested and likely to convert.
For example, consider the difference between “wallets” and “mens slim wallets.”
Someone who’s searching specifically for “mens slim wallets” is probably a lot closer to buying a wallet than someone searching for “wallets.”
Even though there are fewer searches done for it, that traffic is more valuable.
And it’s even easier to rank highly for!
If you don’t have access to tools that give more insight into competition, keep long-tail keyphrases in mind.
#3 – Optimize Meta Descriptions and Title Tags
Once you have an idea of which keywords to target on your site, the easiest thing you can do is use them in your meta descriptions and title tags.
These lines of text are valuable real estate for your SEO. They’re the most straightforward, plain description of what’s on your site. They matter.
Use your most important keywords in the title tag and meta description.
If you’re a local business, placing your city and state in the title tag and meta description also helps quite a bit.
In addition, these meta descriptions and title tags are where you start to really put your writing skills to the test.
These are the first impression you have on new visitors. It’s like your storefront on the internet.
Write these to be informative and compelling.
In these two examples, we’ve got strong calls to action: “Shop Men’s Leather Wallets” and “Upgrade your style.” They’re both informative, too.
The first description packs a ton of information in: brand name, product, and shipping/return info.
The second description makes an image argument, placing style and durability at the forefront.
Both of these are compelling meta descriptions, and they make good examples.
You should carefully write title tags and meta descriptions for each of your pages that you expect searchers to find. Use each page’s unique keyword in these title tags.
Do not repeat keyphrases between these pages.
If you’re targeting the same keyphrase with multiple pages, then you’re just competing with yourself. Don’t do that.
In addition, use your main keywords throughout the headings of your webpages.
Like the meta descriptions, headings are valuable real estate for SEO. Use the same keyphrase that you use for that page’s title tag and meta description.
The words used in the title tag, meta description, and headings are very important.
I once saw a page rank #1 for fireworks in their city even though the business had nothing to do with fireworks. For some truly unknown reason, they had “fireworks” in their title tag. That’s the kind of influence a title tag can have. (And that also indicates how easy the competition was for “fireworks” in that area.)
What’s Next? Backlinks and Content
So far this guide has focused on very simple, cheap, starter steps for DIY SEO.
Using these tactics will set a little groundwork for SEO. These alone will not bring your website to page 1 of search results unless you’re in a real backwater of the internet (i.e. no competition).
To rank high against some actual competition, you need two things:
If you’re serious about doing DIY SEO, it IS possible to do this by yourself.
Both take lots of time to do well.
There’s no way to get around it. You need to invest time (or money paying someone) to get worthwhile results.
However, backlinks and content are absolutely essential if you want to rank for competitive keywords.
Backlinks are one of the top ranking factors for Google search results.
A backlink is when another page links to your page. Google treats this like a vote of confidence in the quality of your page. Because Google’s in the business of serving quality results, they’ll put quality stuff up front.
The best way to get backlinks is to write and post quality content.
That means useful content for your audience or adjacent audiences. That could be blog articles, videos, how-to guides, infographics, podcasts, you name it.
If your content’s really good, easily shared, and promoted, you can get backlinks naturally. If you’re just starting out, this is less likely.
You can also convince people to link back to your content.
Say you’ve got a baking blog and you write this super in-depth and awesome guide about the different types of wheat flour and their uses for bread baking. White whole wheat flour. Semolina flour. Strong flour. AP flour (all-purpose, for you uninitiated). All that good stuff.
Find other sites who would be interested in this content and reach out to them to see if they’d be willing to link to your page.
Quick pointers for outreach: lots of people will say no or not get back to you. Make a convincing but nice argument for why your content’s worthwhile to their site’s visitors. And have good content.
As you can see, backlinks and content go hand in hand. Good content can get you backlinks.
Consistently updating your site with relevant content also helps in itself.
Consistently updating your site helps signal to search engines that your site is credible and worthwhile.
That’s why we still recommend blogging for folks who are serious about SEO.
An active blog allows you to constantly add relevant content to your site.
A blog will allow you to target more longtail keywords and drive traffic to the rest of your site.
If you (a) already enjoy writing, (b) are an expert in your industry, and (c) have the time, then you can create content yourself that can provide potent SEO juice. It’s definitely doable. However, that’s quite the trifecta, and it’s pretty rare.
Content and backlinks are what you pay the big money for in SEO. Producing good content takes a lot of time and expertise. Performing outreach for backlinks takes a lot of time and a good, methodical plan. There’s no software in the world that’s going to make good writing easy.
After DIY SEO
You can get a lot done by yourself if you’re trying DIY SEO. If you have the time, you can do darn near most of the SEO work it takes to rank well (depending on the size of your site and your goals, of course).
If you want to take your SEO to the next level, though, give us a call. We do national and local SEO every day. It’s our bread and butter. We use all the above tactics and so much more. Ok, pitch over.