What are the basics of SEO?
If you have a website you’ve at least heard the term SEO.
You know you should be doing it. You’ve heard it will help you rank better on Google. But what is it exactly? Does it cost a lot? Will it really work?
What do the terms white hat or black hat mean? And how do you know the difference? Are there DIY SEO tools available?
Honestly as someone who has had my website for a year and a half now as of this writing, it’s all very confusing.
SEO stands for search engine optimization. Basically making your posts easy for people to find on Google. Of course Google isn’t the only search engine, but it is the most used by far, so that’s what we’ll focus on.
My post is designed to walk you through the basics, navigating the pitfalls and showing you how you can do it yourself for free!
Do It Yourself SEO tips?
When you write a blog post or have content on your website, you will naturally have words and phrases that are central to your post or business. These are the words and phrases that people searching on Google for websites like yours will be typing in the search bar.
These are called keywords and keyword phrases.
Sometimes you hear the term long-tail keyword phrase. That simple means a longer phrase of maybe 5 or more words as opposed to 1-3.
So you know what those words and phrases are for your blog post or website. If you don’t, coming up with those is where to start in your DIY SEO tools quest.
Search for your keyword phrase(s)
Bear in mind it will be very different for a local window tinting business than it will be for a parenting blogger publishing 1-2 blog posts per week.
Once you know the ideal keywords, start by just searching for them in Google. As an example, I’ll use the term Austin window tint. I live in Austin and if I was looking for a tint shop, that’s what I’d search for.
I also happen to have a brother-in-law who owns a window tint shop called Austin Window Tint.
When I search, I see his Yelp review at the top of the page. Then I see 3 more pages before I get to his website.
So my first observation is that since his business is called the exact same thing I searched for, since he didn’t come up #1, that means he could improve his SEO. It also suggests that the competitors are focused on that keyword phrase on their website. So he really could benefit from DIY SEO tools.
Crucial steps he could take to boost his ranking
When I look at his website the first thing that’s apparent is his site isn’t mobile responsive. In this day and age, well over 50% of people will be searching Google on a mobile device.
When your website isn’t mobile friendly or what they call “responsive” that means it looks exactly the same on the phone as it does on a desktop; print shows up small and often requires moving the site with your fingers to see everything and enlarging text to be able to read it – not good!
The other thing I notice is that aside from mentioning his company name 5 times, the keyword phrase “Austin window tint”, or variations of that, aren’t listed anywhere else. The gallery page also didn’t work on my phone so I saw almost no images or video.
I know from his Instagram page that he does a lot of photos and videos, so it would be great to get some of that on his site.
Ultimately though it’s the lack of mobile-responsiveness that is likely holding him down in the rankings.
So make sure your website theme is mobile responsive. If you built your site using WordPress.org, chances are it is. But if it isn’t, that should be your 1st step. There are many free WordPress website themes out there that work great (like the one I use). Check out all the themes (some free and some paid) at aThemes.
Confused about the basics of websites? I break that down in a 2 part series in my Website Builder Guide.
What does SEO tools mean?
SEO tools can refer to any software you can use to assist you in your SEO.
There are a great number of websites that offer SEO tools; most for a fee. If money was no object, the favorite tool I would use would be Jaaxy (not an affiliate link).
But on my (non-existent) budget, I need DIY SEO tools that are free or really low cost.
Is SEO free?
You can try Jaaxy for free and do 30 searches, but after that you’ll have to sign up. At $49/month, that’s just not in the cards for me on my current budget.
There are many others and I’ve tried several. I’ve done free trials with SEM Rush and I’ve checked out Moz. SEM Rush is even pricier at $99/month. Also not in the cards even though SEO geniuses like Brandon Gaille swear by them!
I have also used the free Google Keyword planner with mixed (albeit free) results.
Ultimately I’ve found other DIY SEO tools that work for me at my current level.
Want to know all my secrets for building a great website with almost no money or budget? Check out my Budget Website post where I walk you through everything I’ve done to build my website up to tens of thousands of monthly visitors on a rock bottom budget.
The perils of using black hat DIY SEO tools & techniques!
I used the terms white hat and black hat above.
Those are terms to describe ethical (white hat) and non-ethical (black hat) techniques. You may also hear the term gray hat to describe techniques that are in between. I’ve never intentionally done anything unethical, but in my ignorance I can tell you I’ve at least strayed into the gray area early on.
A decade ago there were a lot of things people did to game the system. And they worked. But as Google’s algorithm has advanced, most of those techniques simply don’t work anymore or soon won’t. So I want to strongly encourage you to take the slow and steady pace of doing things the right way.
Blogging isn’t a get rich quick scheme and anyone who says otherwise is probably selling something.
Plus you don’t want Google to penalize you for doing unethical strategies.
These are just a few of the biggies to avoid on your website:
- Keyword Stuffing (using your keywords too many times in a way that sounds in-natural)
- Guest Posting Networks (different from just posting on a website in your niche that accepts guest posts)
- Buying back links (even if their ad says “white hat only” or “manually created links from top sites” I would avoid paying money for backlinks)
- Creating pages, subdomains, or domains with duplicate content (not sharing or linking but actually having the same post on more than 1 site)
Check out more in this great post by Wordstream.
The importance of keyword searches and low competition
Once you’ve searched for your keyword phrases the next step is to see how competitive that is. Going back to my brother-in-law, I see 940,000 pages come up with that phrase Austin window tint.
That means that almost a million other websites and pages are competing against him for that phrase.
Now to be fair, some of those pages might be his. Or they might be his various social media pages. But it’s still a lot, and thus in his best interest to be better optimized. As those other pages continue to optimize, he might see his rankings go down even further; not good!
Once you know how many competing pages there are, the next step is to see how many people on average search for your keyword phrase each month.
After all, the best optimized post or site in the world means nothing if no one is actually searching for your phrase.
In my brother-in-law’s case I see that an average of 1,600 people per month search for that term. That’s almost 20,000 people a year. As a small business owner, it’s crucial that he get a good chunk of those people going to his site.
What amazing free DIY SEO tools did I use to find that number of searches?
I use a free tool which is a Firefox and Chrome extension called Keywords Everywhere (also not an affiliate link).
Yes there are tools you can use that go a lot further, but for me and my (non-existent) budget, this works. As I grow I may eventually switch, as I know in-depth SEO techniques can really bump up my Google rankings, but for now this works.
So in my blog, I look for a low number of existing pages and a high number of searches for my keyword phrases. I know that’s an over-simplification, but that’s essentially the trick.
A phrase like vanilla ice cream has 34,800,000 existing pages. While over 40,000 people a month do search for it, there’s almost no chance of me getting anywhere near page 1 of Google for that phrase. But switch it to “vanilla gelato” and the competition goes down to 12 million. “Best vanilla gelato” goes down to 10 million.
My point is keep trying slight variations to hit the sweet spot!
What is the sweet spot? For bloggers, I would look for over 100 searches a month and fewer than 1,000,000 competing pages for each post. For brick and mortar business owners, I would look for 500 to 1000 or more searches per month since you won’t (theoretically) be churning out new content regularly. You also have to realize that not everyone who searches for that phrase will be local to your business.
Get the Moz Bar Free Chrome Extension!
Moz has a free Chrom extension that is a goldmine for DIY SEO tools too. It’s called Moz Bar and it shows you the domain authority of every post that shows up in Google.
What is domain authority?
It’s a number between 0-100 that Moz assigns all websites based on a variety of criteria designed to show you the viability of a website at a glance. You can check your (or anyone’s) domain authority for free using their free tool called Open Site Explorer.
Why is knowing domain authority useful?
Imagine you find a keyword phrase with 200 searches a month and only 25,000 existing posts showing in Google. For most of us that would be a goldmine of opportunity.
But what if the top 10 posts that showed up were from places like Oprah.com, HuffPost and Forbes? Those are all websites with incredibly high domain authority. You and I might never have the power to outrank them.
Thus no matter how great our post we might forever languish on page 2.
But if the sites in the top 10 are all unknowns, how would you know if you can compete?
That’s right! Domain authority tells you and now with Moz Bar you can see it all at a glance when you Google. Easy money!
The sad and painful truth about blogging
— MarTechExec (@MarTechExec) February 21, 2017
When I started my blog I envisioned people coming to my site intentionally, week after week, because they loved my content.
I thought if I built my brand, I would develop loyal followers who read each post every time I put out a new one. Then I just thought my followers would grow exponentially week over week.
What I’ve learned is that unless you are Dr. Oz or Tony Robbins, most people are just Googling for solutions to problems. If my post happens to come up on page 1 of Google, some of those searchers may read some or all of my post.
They may not have ever seen any of my other posts and they may never see another after that. Thus it’s crucial that each of my posts are optimized with DIY SEO tools. They are all individual stand alone answers to problems and not part of some giant wealth of knowledge that would generate me raving fans.
Hence it’s even OK to repeat topics from time to time as most people are never going to see the earlier one. This is especially true if your topic changes year to year or needs frequent updating.
OK, so maybe someday I’ll be a household name, but for now I have to realize that each post needs to be one that draws searchers. And then collectively I’ll get tens of thousands of visitors each month, all searching for different solutions to different problems.
I was having this very conversation the other day with my friend Mike of NinjaBudgeter. I actually recommended that same tool to him as well.
He was saying how he likes to “just write and do my best to make it sound natural and appealing to read.” He went on to say “Google doesn’t read my content, people do.” I sympathize with him and in my early days I used to write posts like that too. I thought “surely if I just write great posts and share them on social media, eventually I’ll build a nice following.
For me, at least, I did not find that strategy worked.
While I get what Mike’s saying, at the end of the day if we want people to read our posts we really only have 2 options:
- Pay for advertising via Facebook ads or boosting posts or other paid advertising
- Use DIY SEO tools and naturally get good organic traffic
What are the different types of DIY SEO tools & techniques?
So finding relevant keyword phrases that people are searching for which have low competition is only the beginning of SEO.
In addition, it’s also important to:
- Have a compelling meta description (the little except that appears below the title in search engines when you search)
- Use your keyword(s) naturally throughout your post and/or site (anywhere from 6-15 times depending on how long your post is)
- Make sure your keywords aren’t over-used (or used in a way that is obvious; what’s called keyword stuffing)
- Have links to your site from other reputable sites (what’s known as backlinks)
- Link from your site to other well known sites if they are relevant to your site or post
- Have links to other posts and pages on your site (what’s called internal linking) so they stay on your site longer
- Check your Domain Authority periodically (a scale of 0-100). The higher the number the more likely Google will reward you with higher rankings
— Brandon Gaille (@BrandonGaille) December 29, 2016
How do I do SEO for my website?
The first thing I would recommend, if you have a WordPress website, is to get the Yoast SEO plugin.
They make a paid version, but I think the free version works just fine. This is one of the top DIY SEO tools out there. This plugin makes it incredibly easy to enter your meta description, keyword phrase, SEO title and more.
It also tells you if you’ve used your keyword phrase enough times on your page or post. And it also gives you readability suggestions; the easier your post is to read, the longer people stay on your page.
The longer they stay on your site, the more Google sees you as an authority.
Then I look for the sweet spot in my keyword phrase that I mentioned above. I have not started guest posting yet on other sites, but I do have some on mine from other writers. That will definitely be a focus this coming year. I will also put a lot more effort into backlinks in the coming year which I get into below in the next DIY SEO tools section.
Baby Got Backlinks?
To get backlinks from other sites, one of the best strategies is to find other sites that complement yours.
Rather than seeing them as competition, see them as a partner. Begin to share their content on your social channels (make sure to tag them in it). It’s important to build a relationship and not just ask for a link. Also make sure you are linking to others in your posts as this may naturally encourage some to link back to you.
You can also get back links by doing what’s called guest posting on other people’s sites. In other words if you are a parent blogger, find other parenting blogs and see if they will let you write a blog post for them. In the small bio section of that post you can typically link to your site.
Check out GuestPostTracker for an up-to-date list of all sites that accept guest posts, sorted by category.
While they do show you the site names for free that allow guest posts, if you want to dig in further through their site you’ll have to pay. So the best DIY SEO tools suggestion here is to simply see the names that seem appealing and Google their name plus “guest post” separately and submit via that route.
Lastly, one free strategy that has gotten me a link from the Washington Post is to follow the H.A.R.O. Strategy that Brandon Gaille recommends. H.A.R.O. stands for Help a Reporter Out. It’s a website that’s free to join that gets dozens of requests sent to your inbox each day from reporters looking for experts in many different areas. Just specify the areas of interest and watch the requests for your input just roll in!
The is the strongest DIY SEO tools to get back links to your site and I’m here to tell you it works.
Do make sure to respond quickly if you see one that works for you; ideally within 10 minutes. If your response is credible and the first to come in, chances are the reporter will use it. Bear in mind they aren’t obligated to link to you, and I did spend a large amount of time once working with a reporter who ended up using my quotes but not linking to me. But most of the time they have.
So what are my . . .
7 Best DIY SEO Tools and Tips You Can Implement for Free?
1. GET THE YOAST PLUGIN FOR WORDPRESS
Yoast is the #1 WordPress plugin for doing SEO. If you only can pick 1 of the DIY SEO tools, this should be the one. Quickly and easily see where you need to improve your post for both SEO and readability.
2. GET THE FREE BROWSER EXTENSION CALLED KEYWORDS EVERYWHERE
This free tool quickly and easily shows you how many average monthly searches any keyword phrase is getting. This is the quickest and easiest way to make sure people are actively searching for your topic.
3. GET A MOBILE-RESPONSIVE THEME
With well over 50% of viewers looking at websites on a mobile device these days you simply can’t have a website that isn’t mobile responsive. If your site is on WordPress (and it should be), then chances are your theme is mobile-responsive.
Not sure? Just look at your site on your phone. If it’s not check out the amazing free (and some paid) themes at aThemes. That’s who I use for my site.
4. HAVE A CLEAR KEYWORD GOAL FOR EVERY POST AND PAGE ON YOUR SITE
Every time you site and write a blog post, you should have a goal in mind for a keyword or keyword phrase. I pick my keyword phrase first. Then I craft my post title around that. After that I do a post outline. Then I write my content.
Do that every time, finding that sweet spot we talked about above of balancing keywords people are searching for with a relatively low number of competing pages and eventually you will begin to rank relatively well. Follow some of my other tips and as your site grows you may find yourself ranking #1!
If you’re a local business and not a blogger you will naturally have less content and you won’t be regularly adding to it. Just make sure you have a few pages or posts that describe your business in detail and that your brand or keyword(s) naturally appear throughout the pages and posts.
Going back to my brother-in-law’s site I used as an example earlier, he could benefit greatly from having 1 page about the benefits of window tint. Another about the temperature and heat differences on a hot summer day. Maybe another about the color options and legality in our state. Lastly since I know he also tints homes and offices, it would be great to talk about that too. He would have pictures (all of which would be tagged with his keyword phrase) on all those pages too. And his keyword phrase would naturally be mentioned throughout all those pages.
5. MAKE SURE PEOPLE ARE ACTIVELY SEARCHING FOR THOSE KEYWORDS
Using the KeywordsEverywhere tool, make sure that people are actively searching for what you want to write about. After all, the best post in the world won’t mean a thing if no one reads it. And as we mentioned above, the only way to get people to see your posts are paying for Facebook for ads or boosting posts or if they naturally find it when searching for that topic. This is one of the most important DIY SEO tools.
6. MAKE SURE THE NUMBER OF COMPETING PAGES FOR THOSE KEYWORDS ARE LOW
10,000 average monthly searches means nothing if you can’t get above page 8 (been there, done that). So make sure to pick a keyword phrase with a low number of competing pages; ideally well under 1,000,000. As your blog and domain authority grows you can grow that number too. But be the big fish in a little pond as opposed to the other way around.
7. DO AN ANNUAL CONTENT AUDIT OF OLDER POSTS
I routinely go back and tweak my older posts; maybe too much. But at least once a year go back and look at your older posts. See how they rank. Make sure external links still work. Maybe sure any embedded Tweets or videos still work. Re-verify the number of searches your keyword phrase is still getting and how much competition there is.
One trick that I (again) learned from Brandon Gaille is to use the “people also ask” topics that show up on many Google search pages as headings in my post. That goes a long way in showing Google that your post is truly an authority on the subject and the sub-sets of that subject.
Before I close out this post, aside from checking out some of the folks I link to above, I also want to recommend one of the top rated SEO books on Amazon, SEO Fitness Workbook: 2018 Edition. In this up-to-date book, author Jason McDonald walks you through “The Seven Steps to Search Engine Optimization Success on Google”. It has well over 500 reviews and ranks 5 stars, so check it out if you want to dive in deeper!
Have you struggled to find DYI SEO tools that work?
Are you still struggling? Are you confused? How can I help?
Feel free to comment here or email me with any questions!