How to do SEO yourself for improved results

Written By Fraser McCulloch

Traditional marketer specialising in keyword research, SEO content plans, and content briefs. Has-been Scottish golfer. 

So you want to do SEO yourself, get better results such as more traffic and more links or save money instead of hiring an agency.

Unfortunately, no one is doing SEO by themselves; as the saying goes, “we’re gonna need a bigger boat“.

SEO is a team sport

If you think you can do SEO all by your lonesome, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Let me touch on 5 reasons you will struggle to make SEO progress doing it yourself.

  1. Resources and tools
  2. Time and money
  3. SEO is built into successful brands and products
  4. Equivalent traffic value
  5. Playing the long game

Resources and tools.

I don’t do SEO alone; I pay for tools like Ahrefs, Frase and even WP Rocket (for technical SEO).

Without these investments, I would be screwed.

Time and money

I’ve frequently discussed SEO with a friend who owns a financial company.

He would rather pay a fixed fee to people in his network that deliver him new customers than invest in SEO.

He has money but not the time to learn, invest, or hire in SEO.

On the other side of the coin, look at how this financial advisor website’s organic traffic has grown in the past 12 months.

That growth isn’t an accident or luck.

Get the bonus content: Download DIY SEO Guide

SEO is built into successful brands and products

I bought a jacket last week from an online retailer I’d never heard of.

I guessed their traffic would be about 1000 monthly visits; so I popped their address into Ahrefs; they get over 73,000 organic visits a month.

93% of their organic traffic comes from branded queries.

They have 10 retail shops that, no doubt, prompt the branded searches.

I’m doing SEO and content with a SAAS company, and the strategy we adopted was to target and build tools that people search for.

The tools are built into the product, making SEO easier.

Equivalent traffic value

This website gets over 53,000 visits per month from search traffic.

Their traffic is valued at $97,900 per month ($1.174 million per year); that’s the amount they would pay Google in PPC to get that traffic.

How much are 53000 visits a month worth to this client?

  • 53000 visits
  • 2% conversion
  • 1060 leads
  • 10% lead conversion
  • 106 sales
  • Average order value, e.g., £26000
  • The estimated Revenue per month is £2,756,000
  • The estimated Revenue per year is £33,072,000

If you had the funds, would you be willing to pay £ 1 million per year to generate £33million per year?

Of course, you would.

Playing the long game.

SEO is a long-term strategy that requires patience and a long-term investment mindset; if there’s an identifiable search audience and you’ve got the stomach for both, you’ll succeed.

So, now you know the challenges with SEO, here’s how you can make SEO progress “yourself” with this step-by-step guide.

Get the bonus content: Download DIY SEO Guide

Step 1: Start with a destination and map.

Before you travel anywhere, you need a map of where you are now, where you want to go and what route you will take.

SEO is no different.

But first, a refresher, what is SEO?

Search Engine Optimisation or SEO is the process of helping web pages rank well in search engines like Google. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) aims to improve a web page’s visibility and click-through rate from the search engine results pages.

Where are you now?

The easiest way to figure out where you are right now is to look at your organic rankings and traffic using Google Search Console.

GSC is a free tool provided by Google.

I use a tool called Frase.io that pulls in data from Search Console to display my last 30 days’ traffic and how each page performs.

In addition, you can use Google Analytics to set up conversions from organic search and a goal for blog posts or transactions.

Where do you want to go?

Let’s say you currently have 500 visits a month, and you decide you want to be at 1500 visits a month the following month.

That’s probably unrealistic in such a short time frame.

Advertising is the best way to get to your destination quicker.

Studies have shown how long it takes for new pages to rank on page 1.

What route are you going to take?

There are 4 parts to the route you need to take to get to your SEO destination.

  • Keyword Research
  • Content
  • Links
  • Technical SEO
Get the bonus content: Download DIY SEO Guide

Step 2: Invest in keyword research

Keyword research is the most important part of your route.

The goal of keyword research is to identify keywords your audience searches and clicks that will be used as the focus of your web pages.

Your keyword research should result in a report showing you the best keywords to target with traffic or click potential.

Here’s an example of a keyword research report I generate for clients.

  • Keyword to target.
  • Average traffic of the top pages for the keyword.
  • Average traffic is displayed as a bar chart.
  • Select user intent.
  • Planning option; add to website or not.

This report is the first part of your route to your goal or destination.

Over 90% of web pages do not earn any traffic from Google for 2 reasons.

Research has shown that over 90% of pages don’t get traffic because website and business owners target keywords and topics people aren’t looking for or clicking on.

Another reason is that their pages don’t have enough links; I’ll cover this later.

A keyword research model

I knew my study of buyer behaviour at university would be useful one day.

You should research the buyer behaviour model, which looks like this.

One of the main reasons you’re not getting the traffic you want is because you’re only creating content and pages targeting your products and services.

Not everyone who comes to Google is looking to buy your products or to enquire about your services.

Only a small percentage of search terms have commercial intent, i.e., those looking for products and services.

People go through a series of buying stages:

  • Search for answers to a problem.
  • Search for information about products or services.
  • Look for information that compares or reviews products and services.
  • They search just before they buy or enquire.

As a search practitioner or business owner, it’s your job to generate content ideas based on what your target audience searches for and provide compelling content that matches their intent.

Searching for answers to a problem

Google is a question and answer engine where people search basic queries such as “how-to” and “what is “.

Use a keyword research tool like Ahrefs to start your keyword or content marketing strategy to generate your initial seed keyword list.

  • Go to Ahrefs keyword explorer.
  • Enter a seed keyword, e.g., sofa and your country, and hit return.
  • Select matching terms.
  • Select parent topics.
  • Filter by KD (Keyword Difficulty), e.g., 0-10.
  • Now enter “how” into the Include Any Box and press Apply.

Enter competitor branded keywords into the exclude box.

186 ideas are returned.

Find the keyword most relevant.

Click the SERPS and check the traffic.

You can alter the keyword difficulty filter or add a different word in the include any box, e.g.:

How,Issue,For,With,Fix,Improve,Increase,Reduce,Remove,Lower,Grow

Now let’s find people looking for specific information about products and services.

Searches for information about products or services

  • Go to Ahrefs keyword explorer.
  • Enter a primary keyword, e.g., sofa and your country, and hit return.
  • Select matching phrase.
  • Select parent topic.
  • Filter by KD (Keyword Difficulty), e.g., 0-20
  • Now enter these words into the Include Any Box and press Apply
Service,Product,Custom,Bespoke,Luxury, Example,Guide,Learn,Tutorial,Video,Calculator,Best,Top

Enter competitor branded keywords into the exclude box.

There are 500 searches for “bespoke sofa”.

I bet someone doing this search isn’t looking for cheap products that you see in the high street.

Click the SERP link to examine the traffic to the top pages.

The traffic to the top pages averages 710 visits per month.

Now you know there’s traffic, and this topic isn’t difficult to rank for.

Information that compares or reviews products and services

Creating this type of website content is the biggest missed opportunity in SEO.

When people have found a product or service that may solve their problem, they compare alternatives before deciding to buy.

I’m sure you’ve been torn between choosing a product or service before purchasing.

Should I buy this one or that one?

You’re unsure; you want to make the best choice when buying.

So you search and compare products or look for reviews for reassurance.

Here’s how to research people looking to compare or review your types of products or services.

  • Go to Ahrefs keyword explorer.
  • Enter a seed keyword, e.g., sofa and your country, and hit return.
  • Select phrase match.
  • Filter by KD (Keyword Difficulty), e.g., 0-5.
  • Now enter these words into the Include Any Box and press Apply.
Compare, comparison, vs, versus, alternative, review

Sticking with the same industry and using “sofa” as the seed keyword.

Leather vs fabric sofa only has 90 searches, but the top result has 221 visits per month.

If you sold either type of product, you would target those people and help them decide which product is best and direct them to your products on your page.

Searches just before they buy or enquire.

Here’s how to research people who are just one step from buying and use some keywords within their search query that signals their purchase intent.

  • Go to Ahrefs keyword explorer.
  • Enter a seed keyword, e.g., sofa and your country, and hit return.
  • Select phrase match
  • Filter by KD (Keyword Difficulty), e.g., 0-5.
  • Now enter these words into the Include Any Box and press Apply.
Buy,Discount,Nearest,Offer,Cheap,Sale,Price,Package,Deal,Cost,Hire

Look at the keywords found in your research that align with the products and services you sell.

For example:

“used sofa for sale” has 700 searches, with a keyword difficulty of 4.

Now click SERP to check the traffic to the top pages.

The traffic to these top pages averages 2295 visits per month.

And some websites rank with very little domain authority.

Review and improve existing pages and content

Using Search Console, look at the top pages and keyword rankings to see if you could improve their positions.

Google tends to favour maturer, established URLs, so improving an existing piece of content can see faster results than creating new content.

Get the bonus content: Download DIY SEO Guide

Step 3: Create a content outline that matches search intent

With your keyword research report, which I call a click forecast, you and your team can now review and decide which topics to target to help you reach your search goal.

Next, you need to understand the user intent around each search query.

Targeting Intent

Think of search intent as “the problem” or query being searched by your customer base.

You get some clues in the page title about the user intent.

User intent is giving users the website content after they visit to satisfy them, i.e., the solution.

Let me demonstrate with one of the earlier examples.

Enter your top keyword into a tool called thruuu, e.g., custom sofa.

This was one of our “informational search queries”.

The person knows the type of product they want.

Notice how most of the top 10 search results for this query contain custom sofa in the page titles.

That’s pretty obvious with the page titles matching the search queries.

But what does the user want after doing that search?

We can look at the most frequent keywords in the title.

I have an ex-client that’s moving into this business.

I’m sure he would want to target people looking for a bespoke sofa.

He can write out his page title using the most frequent words found in the title of the top pages.

Now you need to write your content to match the user intent.

Get the bonus content: Download DIY SEO Guide

Step 4: Invest in copy and content

Now to the content creation process.

Cheap versus authoritative copy (E.A.T)

In 2019, Google ran over 464,000 experiments with trained search raters to review and improve the search results.

The search raters rated the quality of web pages “based on the content’s expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness”.

Imagine you operate a business or personal insolvency website, and you hired a guy for $15 to write page content about going bankrupt.

Not only will the poor page struggle to rank, but the information would also be trustworthy, lack authority and fail to express your expertise in this topic.

I can write with expertise and authority about marketing and SEO because I’ve got 30 years of experience, but I can’t write about industries.

So ensure you hire someone to write for you with industry experience.

Don’t skimp on content, including photography, images, illustrations, and infographics. These assets can naturally rank in the Google Images search results and earn backlinks.

Page introduction

When you’ve got your writer lined up, they should write the introduction to your page, including the keyword you’re targeting and a reason for the user to read down the page.

Map out the key sections of your page.

You can now give this page to a writer or someone in your team or start writing your body content from your content outline.

Short, descriptive URL that matches the main search query you’re targeting

Research has shown that a short URL and descriptive matches help rank a web page better.

So, for example, if you are targeting “custom sofa”, then your URL should be /custom-sofa/.

Try to keep the number of words in your URL to a maximum of 4, and do not use a month or year in the URL under any circumstances.

The page title and meta description

Start your title tags with the main keyword followed by a benefit.

Use this tool to write and preview your page title before adding it to your page in your content management system.

Or use Yoast for WordPress.

Place your main keyword near the start of your title or description and use the remainder of the tags to persuade users to click your result.

Page Header

You should wrap the heading of your web page with an H1 tag.

So ideally, if you are targeting “bespoke sofa“, your page header will include “Bespoke Sofa”.

First Sentence

Your primary keyword should be in the first sentence of your page and will be very similar to your meta description.

This helps to reinforce that the user has landed on the page they intended to visit.

Sub Headings

You should have used h2 and h3 subheadings when creating the draft outline of your page content.

Make it easy for users to read your content.

In the Art of Plain Talk, it was recommended you use short words, sentences and paragraphs to communicate.

Use bullet points and lists to keep the readers’ attention.

Use one sentence per paragraph as it’s easier to read words on a web page this way.

Make sure you have spacing between lines and paragraphs, enhancing the user experience of consuming and acting upon your content.

Include an offer and call to action

Depending on your page, you want to add a call to action within and at the end of your page.

This can be as simple as “learn more” or as persuasive as “click here” to order.

Get the bonus content: Download DIY SEO Guide

Step 5: Publish and promote content

After you have published your page, you are not finished.

You need to promote your page.

More backlinks = higher rankings and traffic

Backlinks are like votes for your web pages and are a major ranking factor that boosts your rankings and organic traffic.

Here’s a study I’ve just completed about link intent.

The best way to earn high-quality links is :

  • Target those in your industry.
  • With a page about an industry statistic, data, trend or report.
  • Publish link assets and graphics.
  • Promote your page to the industry.

Darn, it ain’t easy, but it sure beats paying an industry average of $352 for one link.

If you wanted the 162 links to my website, you’d pay $57,024!

Content that aims to earn a link to your website

You need to create unique content that earns links to your website.

Guest posts are saturated tactics, so ideally, you want to research topics about statistics, data and trends in your industry because these topics have the highest link intent.

Follow the same process as the example above but use the include keyword filter and enter statistics, data, report to find link intent ideas.

  • Go to Ahrefs keyword explorer.
  • Enter a seed keyword, e.g., sofa and your country, and hit return.
  • Select phrase match.
  • Now enter these words “statistic, stats, statistics, data, study, report, checklist” into the Include Any Box and press Apply.
  • Sort by difficulty.

These are the topics you want to create.

Or you could try broken link building, my favourite link-building strategy.

Add internal links

Ideally, you want to add internal links to other pages on your website.

A Moz study identified that the first link in a page’s body passed the most value to other pages on your website.

You want to link to other pages as it can strengthen the strength of their page.

When you’ve published your page, you want to identify other pages that can pass link strength to this newly published page.

Add external link

Adding an external link may leverage the power of association to help Google better understand your page.

Get the bonus content: Download DIY SEO Guide

Step 6: Local businesses need location authority

There are 5 ways to build local authority, i.e., be visible and rank higher at a wider radius than your location.

  • Google My Business signals
  • Links
  • Reviews
  • On-Page SEO
  • Citations

And I’ll add a 6th signal – social signals from checking into business locations using a Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter account.

Google Business Profile

If you are a small local business with a physical location and local presence you work from, and a telephone number, you must have a Google Business Profile page.

Then when you have the account verified, use the Google Post features and post an offer or update on what you are doing or a page on your website once a week.

Citations

Citations are mentions of the business or location on other websites, typically on a UK small business directory.

You need the name, address, postcode and telephone of every business location.

You can create a free account at brightlocal.com

Add Location

Click the add locations, and you can either bulk import locations from Google My Business (your team) account if you have lots of locations or use the add single location option.

For clients with lots of locations, you can with CSV import.

Once you’ve added your locations, click the green location button to check that all the business details are correct.

  • Business Info
  • Contact Details
  • Company Details
  • Descriptions and Services
  • Photos – inside and outside the location preferable.
  • Update the location

It took me about 10-15 minutes to update a location; adding photos was time-consuming.

Citation Builder

The citation builder will check the existing citations; there may be incorrect or missing citations.

You can pay a little extra to have citations updated.

You can purchase citations in 2 ways:

  • Manual submissions – where you choose the citations
  • Data Aggregator submission – where BrightLocal will push out your business data to hundreds of citation sites.

The 2nd option takes about a month for citations to materialise, but it’s the cheapest and easiest option, especially if you have many client locations.

(if you choose the manual option, I recommend that you don’t select Bing and Foursquare; do those separately).

You’ll need your credit or debit card (you can use Paypal) to order your citations.

Reviews

Ask your customers for reviews.

Send them a link to your Facebook Page or Google My Business page to leave a review.

Local On-Page SEO

Make sure you add a page to your website that features your address, directions, and an embedded Google Map of your location.

This sends a strong signal to Google about your business locally.

Get the bonus content: Download DIY SEO Guide

Step 7: Technical SEO

My technical knowledge isn’t the best, so I’ll try to make it easy to understand the technical issues related to SEO.

Page Experience

Google wants to give searchers a great experience when they land on a page after a search.

No one wants a slow-loading page on their phone or an unsecured page if they intend to purchase online.

According to a study of 20,000 web pages, only 12% of mobile pages passed the page experience test.

Google launched a Page Experience report where any website owners can understand how their website is performing.

Here’s what the page experience report consists of.

To simplify; your pages should :

  • Load fast
  • No delay in seeing the page content
  • Page content shouldn’t move (be stable)
  • Page is mobile-friendly
  • Page is HTTPS (secure)
  • Have no intrusive adverts displayed

Load Pages Fast

Enter your page URL to PageSpeed Insights to see:

  • Your score
  • FCP score
  • LCP and
  • CLS

You will probably need a web developer to fix these speed issues or use a cache plugin.

Mobile-friendliness and above the fold

Your website should look great on any device, including smartphones, tablets and laptops, and your key content should be visible above the fold of the browser.

The fold is the bottom of your phone or computer browser screen.

Here’s how online visitors see my page on an iPhone browser.

You can see the page header, the header image and the first 2 sentences of the page; just enough to encourage you to start reading and scrolling.

You may need technical help to fix fold issues, but your readers will thank you in due course.

Duplicate Content

Duplicate content occurs when multiple pages are created with similar or identical content.

This issue is more likely to arise with e-commerce sites where product pages are displayed in multiple collections or categories, and no canonical URL is set.

Ensure Google has indexed your page.

Enter the following into Google: site:yourdomain.com.

If you can’t see a list of your pages, you have an indexation problem, and your new page will not be indexed or found in Google.

I recommend that you set up a Google Search Console account and create and submit a sitemap so that Google can discover all your pages.

Conclusion

Doing SEO yourself (with some help) requires having a destination or goal and using a map to get there.

Then invest in keyword research, content creation, link building and technical SEO as your routes to get to your destination.

Categories SEO