Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.
My first car was a battered 12-year-old Volkswagen Passat. It broke down countless times and each repair was expensive for the poor student that I was. In a bid to reduce the escalating repair bills, I started to learn how cars worked by reading, researching, and asking others to teach me a thing or two. After a few months, I knew about carburetors, fuse boxes, alternators, and even how to replace a car’s kick-starter. It saved me a fortune. I then only used mechanics for major engine issues beyond my basic scope.
As a small or mid-sized business, hiring a quality search-engine-optimization consultant or agency can be expensive and a painstakingly tricky terrain to navigate. Guiding and effectively managing SEO consultants is equally challenging. What questions do you ask them? What tactics are working? How were results achieved?
Here are 10 do-it-yourself SEO tips that business owners or marketing managers can try before hiring an SEO agency or consultant.
1. Understand your Online Market and Target Customers
Having an offline, real-world understanding of your market and target customers is only half the story. Habits and behavior often differ online in comparison to the offline world. A prominent offline presence does not equate to a dominant online presence. A leading national store that stocks and sells curtains and blinds, for instance, might have much tougher competition from online-only curtain and blind retailers.
Search online for products and services you offer and take note of the most prominent websites. Study their customer reviews and benchmark their social media presence and activity. You will likely find businesses you have not come across.
2. Master Keyword Research
You probably understand your industry jargon and are aware that your customers might use different terms than your trade colleagues to refer to your services or goods. The process of keyword research provides a rounded understanding of key phrases, search terms, and also online demand for products or services.
All business owners and managers intending to market online should know how to run keyword research.
Also understand your industry’s head key-phrases (general and highest search volume) and long-tail key-phrases (varied and more specific key phrases usually over four words).
Consider printing out and sticking your keyword research on a notice board as a constant reminder of your online focus.
3. Plan your Site
Now that you have an understanding of the most searched keywords and the most relevant long-tail words, you should have an idea of what pages on your website address those search queries.
Having a list on paper or a spreadsheet of all top, mid, and low-tier web pages and their corresponding keyword focus forms the basis of your website’s architecture. Each high and medium priority keyword from your keyword research should have a corresponding page on your site.
Long-tail keywords should be used in blog posts and FAQs.
4. Build your Site
Now that you have an idea of the pages that should be on your site, the next step is to build the best site in your industry with the help of a professional web designer or agency and with user-testing focus groups.
Google’s head of web spam, Matt Cutts, advises site owners to build great websites that users love and want to tell their friends about — sites that users visit over and over again. Any website built in 2013 should be mobile responsive to cater for smart phone browsers. WordPress is terrific for most small and mid-sized businesses due to its simplicity, flexibility, support, in-built SEO features, and access to a vast library of free and premium plugins.
5. Start Blogging or Producing Regular Content
You don’t have to start a blog, but start publishing your own content on a scheduled basis. I am not advocating turning your business into a publishing company by posting content every day. Scheduling weekly, bi-weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly updates is my recommendation — consistency is key. Also bear in mind that content does not necessarily need to be text — for example, an architectural firm could publish professionally taken photographs of its projects or Realtors could publish weekly video bulletins. Publishing content that is tailored to the content consumption habits of your target audience is the goal.
6. Build your Social Media Network
Join Google+ and then figure out one or two other social media platforms to hone in on. You have lots of options to choose from, like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and more. Social media enables you connect with your customers, publishers, and an audience for the content that you produce. Understanding and nurturing these relationships would swiftly produce results and help your SEO in the long run.
7. DIY Public Relations
Public relations plays a key role in off-page SEO. You should know how to:
- Establish and tell a compelling story about your brand;
- Get media attention;
- Pitch not just to journalists but also bloggers and social media influencers;
- Use social media to establish relationships and promote your brand.
8. Understand Google Analytics
Have a basic understanding of Google Analytics. Understand the type of reports each Google Analytics tab covers — Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, Conversions, and Real-Time.
This will help you appreciate the concept of traffic and its sources as well as let you read monthly or weekly reports provided to you by your SEO or web design agency.
The importance of analytics in digital marketing is akin to financial reports in accounting.
9. Read at Least One SEO Blog
Familiarize yourself with SEO by reading a factual SEO guide and then subscribing to an SEO blog — time permitting. Here are my key recommendations.
- The top free beginner guides to SEO are Moz’s Beginners Guide to SEO, Search Engine Land’s SEO Guide, Google SEO Start Guide, and KISSmetrics’ guide to SEO.
- The top paid SEO training programs are DistilledU at $40 per month, SEO Book at $300 per month, and Lynda.com at $37.50 per month.
- For keeping up to date with SEO changes (especially if you are time strapped), the two video channels I suggest are Moz’s Whiteboard Friday and the Google Webmasters YouTube channel.
- If you have more time on your hands and are keen to follow the SEO industry, then subscribe to Moz, Search Engine Land, and Matt Cutts’ blog.
10. Ask Questions
Anytime you are stuck or need answers, jump into SEO communities to ask questions. Google’s Webmaster Forum offers the largest SEO community on the web. Another good community is the Webmaster World Forum. Others I recommend are Moz’s Q&A Forum, SEOChat — which is where I started learning about SEO, SEO Round Table, and Search Engine Watch Forum.
These communities are also good places for hiring SEO consultants or agencies.
I hope these 10 steps help you save money, get better rankings, and avoid being ripped off. They could also help you become a better SEO client by asking the right questions and utilizing the agency or consultant you hire to its fullest potential.