How to Do SEO for Yourself - And Why You Should
You want to do SEO for yourself, because you realize the value of good search engine rankings. But you're not sure how to go about it. You don't know where to start or what to focus on along the way. Does this describe you? If so, you've come to the right place. In this tutorial, you'll learn how to do SEO for yourself -- and why you're better off with the DIY approach. Let's kick things off with a basic definition.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving and expanding your website, in order to get broader coverage and higher rankings in the major search engines. That's the primary goal. The secondary (and more important) goal is to make your website more profitable and/or beneficial for your organization.
What Does Search Engine Optimization Involve?
I've offered a simple definition above. But what does the process involve? How do you do SEO for yourself, starting at square one? You'll find the key steps outlined below. But first, a word of encouragement...
Right now, you probably have daunting visions of website coding and other technical concepts. You can forget all of that. In reality, the SEO process isn't very complicated. Time consuming, yes. But not complicated.
A modern search engine optimization campaign really comes down to two things: (1) publishing high-value content onto your website, and (2) promoting the value of that content to a targeted audience. The technical stuff is preliminary and doesn't require much time or attention. So don't get bogged down by it.
Of course, the search-engine marketing firms want you to think all of this is beyond your technical reach. That's the secret of their business model. They dazzle you with technical terms to the point you feel helpless to do it by yourself. But trust me when I say you can do SEO for yourself.
I once taught a real estate agent the key fundamentals of search engine optimization, and he applied them to his blogging efforts. He was not what I would call a technically savvy person. Nevertheless, he is now one of the top-ranking agents in Austin, Texas. And if he can handle SEO on his own, so can you!
By the Numbers: How to Do SEO Yourself
To simplify these instructions, I've broken them down into three parts or phases. You might call it the SEO three-step. Here's how to run your own search engine optimization campaign, by the numbers:
Phase 1 - SEO Your Website
To do SEO for yourself, you must start with a few technical items on your website. But don't worry. They're not very complicated. There are tools and software programs to handle much of this for you, and I've included some helpful links for this purpose.
- First, you need a website or blog. (This is step #1, after all.)
- Next, you need to make sure your website is structurally sound and well organized. Use a link checker to check the site for broken links. Make sure all of the pages are reachable in some way, either through the main menu, a sub menu, or an XML sitemap. You can create a sitemap online, using a tool like this one.
- Make sure you are using descriptive, keyword-rich title elements on all of your important pages. If you're using a content-management system, it might have a place where you can enter this text. If you're using WordPress, you can install an SEO plugin that allows you to create custom title elements for all of your pages / posts. If you have a webmaster, he or she should be intimately familiar with title elements.
- Practice interlinking. This is when you link from one page of your website to a relevant page elsewhere on the site. This is good for your visitors, because it helps them dig deeper into the related material. It also helps search engines crawl through the site and find all of your content. And speaking of content...
Phase 2 - Develop Your Content
In order to do SEO for yourself, you must be able to create high-quality website content. It is the most important step in the process, and you'll soon learn why.
- Find out what kind of website content (tools, articles, resources) your competitors are providing through their websites.
- Commit yourself to providing better web content than your competitors. 'Better' can mean many things -- more useful, more comprehensive, more user-friendly, more accurate, more up-to-date, more quantity, etc.
- Create the kind of web content that bloggers, journalists and other Internet publishers would want to share with their audience. This is the most important concept behind a do-it-yourself SEO campaign. Nothing else matters if you get this wrong. You must develop high-quality, high-value content that attracts citation links, recommendations and referrals from other web publishers.
- Publish new content on a regular basis. Regardless of what industry you are in, there is always a way to expand your content base. You do this by publishing new articles and offering more resources to your audience. Don't ever become idle -- it's the antithesis of an SEO campaign. Move forward, always.
- Find ways to improve your existing content. Do you have pages that aren't doing well, from a traffic standpoint? If you're not sure, check your website analytics program and look for pages with a high bounce rate. Find a way to improve this content, perhaps by expanding and/or updating it.
Phase 3 - Promote Your Content
At this point, you should have a couple of things in the bag already. You've checked out the competition to see what they are offering, in terms of web content. And you've started to develop your own unique content that's at least as good as (and ideally better than) the competition. Now you're ready to move on to the next stage in the do-it-yourself SEO campaign. You're ready to promote your site, and everything it has to offer.
- The first step here is to understand the importance of links and citations. In this context, we are talking about inbound links to your website from other websites and blogs. Search engines use this 'link popularity' within their ranking algorithms. Simply stated, you can improve your rankings by acquiring links. If you want to know how to do SEO for yourself, you must grasp the importance of this concept. This is why I stressed the importance of developing superior web content. Speaking of which...
- The best way to get links to your site is by creating 'self-promoting content.' If you do a good job with phase 2 above, other publishers will recommend your content to their own readers. In most cases, they will do this by linking directly to your website. This will boost your search engine rankings over time.
- Use social media websites to your full advantage. Start a Facebook and Twitter page for your business. Start sharing information through these services. Use LinkedIn to establish a network of contacts. When you publish new content onto your blog or website, tell people about it through the social-networking sites.
- Publish press releases, when warranted. This is another effective strategy for a do-it-yourself SEO program. But you have to make sure your 'news' is truly newsworthy, before you publish a release. In addition to helping you promote your content, this is also a good way to get links to your website. See my article about online press release distribution for more on this subject.
- Make a list of websites that cover your industry (journals, industry groups, professional websites, bloggers, etc.). When you publish something useful or insightful relevant to their audiences, tell them about it. Surveys, studies and other forms of original research are a good example. I can almost guarantee you'll get some links from these websites if you publish original and insightful research. Remember, in order to do SEO by yourself, you have to proactively promote your content. Don't be shy about it.
This might look like a lot of work. And it is. But you shouldn't feel overwhelmed by it. This process will unfold over a period of weeks and months. It's not something you have to do in a week's time -- nor could you. Make SEO a regular part of your routine, just like marketing. It's never really done. It's an ongoing process.
If you have the resources, you could also hire a full-time employee to manage your search engine optimization efforts. SEO is scalable. You can do as much or as little as your time allows. So you could easily turn it into a full-time role for a new hire. (I could even help you train the person, via phone consultations. I've done it before.)
Visit Monster.com or Indeed.com and do a search for SEO jobs. You'll see how many companies are bringing these folks onboard these days. They realize the importance of this work. You can do it by yourself for now. But as your company grows, you may find that you can justify hiring someone to manage your search engine optimization.
The Problem With SEO Companies
As you can tell, I'm a big fan of the do-it-yourself approach to SEO. But what if you don't have time for the three phases I've outlined above? What about outsourcing it to an SEO company? Is that a viable option? Here's my take on it:
Most SEO companies are overly aggressive in the short term and downright dangerous in the long term. The 'industry' (if you can call it that) has changed a lot over the years. The primary drivers of this change are the search engine algorithms themselves. Over the years, it has gotten much harder to achieve first-page rankings in Google, Bing, etc. It used to be easy. Put up a website. Fill the pages with keyword-rich content. And gather a few inbound links, perhaps by submitting the site to a few-dozen web directories. You'd be on the first page in no time. It was a great time to be in the SEO business!
But things have changed since then. A lot. The search engines have deemphasized things like keyword tags, on-page optimization, and paid links. These days, you have to work much harder to achieve long-term success in the search engines. Most SEO companies are reluctant to make this kind of investment. Their clients demand instant results, and the firm fails to convince them that SEO is a long-term strategy. That's why so many search engine optimization firms rely on questionable short-term strategies -- spamming, link networks, manipulation, etc. They are under the gun to deliver quick results.
These crash-and-burn techniques, as I call them, may work in the short run. But they can be disastrous in the long run. See for yourself. This is why I encourage you to do SEO for yourself. Nobody cares about your long-term success as much as you do. So you're the best person for the job!
The bottom line is that, today, it's extremely difficult for a third party to SEO your website beyond the basics. You must be involved in the process directly. You must embrace the concept of content development and promotion, the key components of a search engine optimization campaign. It's your business, after all. You should be doing these things anyway. You should be an advocate for your website, and the quality content it provides. The fact that it helps with SEO is a side benefit.
Need Some Direction?
I encourage you to do your SEO program for yourself. At the same time, I know it can be hard to get started. You want to make sure you're headed in the right direction. You want to know if you're spending your time and energy on things that will bring results. And that's why I offer search engine optimization consulting services.