In a perfect world, building search engine referral traffic would be easy. You’d pull out your limitless marketing budget checkbook, call up the industry’s most widely-renowned SEO firm and sign on for the company’s “Platinum” package. Then, you’d sit back and wait for your new search visitors to start flooding your site, buying more products and driving your profits higher than ever before.
Of course, very few companies are blessed with these kinds of unlimited resources. If you’re a small company trying to be “big” on a tiny budget, don’t worry! It’s very possible to put together an effective SEO plan on a shoestring budget. Here’s how to do it…
Step #1 – Start with an on-site analysis
Whether you’re a big company or a small business, the best way to start a new SEO plan is by understanding where you are on the SEO continuum. Knowing whether your site is already pretty well optimized, or whether you have some major weaknesses that need to be addressed will give you a good idea on where to start your DIY SEO campaigns.
If you work with a professional SEO agency on your site’s optimization, the first step they’ll take is to conduct an SEO audit that uncovers these critical details. But if you don’t want to (or can’t afford to hire an agency), you can do something similar on your own by downloading the free Traffic Travis program.
Once you’ve installed the program and created a “Project” for your website, pay attention to the “Page Warnings” metric, listed in aggregate on the “Dashboard” tab and by individual page on the “My Site” tab. Clicking on any of these page warning numbers will open a pop-up screen indicating any deficiencies in your page’s on-site SEO – for example, the presence of too many H1 tags or the absence of image ALT tags. Fixing these issues (to the extent possible) will go a long way towards improving your on-site SEO without costing you a fortune.
Step #2 – Get hands-on with on-site SEO
SEO isn’t some secret process that’s carried out by brainy web developers behind closed doors. The basic principles underlying this science are widely publicized and available for anyone to reference – whether you’re a beginning webmaster or an advanced site owner.
As an example, whether you’re running a small “mom and pop” website or a giant Amazon competitor, it’s a good idea to optimize your pages’ title tags and heading tags with your target keywords (which can be generated for free using the Google Adwords External Keyword Research Tool). Similarly, it’s good SEO practice to include at least a few internal links on your site’s pages – whether you do this by hand or outsource it to an expensive SEO agency.
For more on-site recommendations that you can put into practice on your own, check out the following articles:
- “SEO for Startups: 5 Rules to Apply Now”
- “The Definitive Guide to Penguin-Friendly SEO”
- “On-Page SEO Factors: Which Ones Have the Most Impact on Rankings”
Step #3 – Use free tools to conduct competitive link analysis
Next up, the other half of the SEO coin is your off-site activities – specifically, the number of links from other reputable websites that point back to your own. As with the on-site SEO techniques mentioned earlier, you can either pay somebody to create these backlinks for you or you can do it yourself!
One great way to find link building opportunities is to check out the sites that are linking back to your competitors. To do this on the cheap, head over to the Open Site Explorer website and enter each of your competitor’s URLs into the program’s search bar. While you won’t be able to view as many results using the Explorer’s free service as you would with its paid membership, you should still be able to view enough information to get your personal link building activities started.
Step #4 – Build your own high-value links
Using the information you’ve uncovered in Step #3 – as well as any of the many “link building strategies” posts found online – identify a few link building opportunities that you can carry out on your own (without investment in a professional SEO contract). For example, could you:
- Write and submit guest posts to other websites in your industry that will give you a link in exchange for an article?
- Write great articles or create infographic images that can be shared on social networks? (This practice is known as “content marketing” and represents a great opportunity for website owners who are starting out on a tight SEO budget).
- Offer a free downloadable product (say, a free ebook or small software program) to readers? Once other sites in your industry get wind of this promotion, they’ll be quick to link to your site in order to provide extra value for their own followers.
Really, the hallmark of these particular link building strategies is that they require time – not money. Just because you don’t have a lot of money to commit to your SEO initiatives doesn’t mean that you won’t succeed, but it does mean you’ll need to commit more of your time to website optimization than your competitors with larger marketing budgets need to.
Step #5 – Consult the experts to resolve issues
Finally, when it comes to SEO, don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. All of the strategies listed above can make a major difference in your site’s natural search performance and can be implemented without ever spending a penny on SEO services.
That said, there are some situations that require the intervention of a professional. Just like you wouldn’t try to set a broken bone on your own (though you might feel comfortable bandaging up a scraped elbow), some situations – like recovering from a search engine penalty or negative SEO attack – may call for more serious SEO support than you can handle on your own.
Similarly, you may find that your ability to “DIY” your site’s SEO campaigns reaches a natural limit. If you’re a business owner handling SEO on the side, chances are you have plenty of other demands on your time – including some that are much more critical to your company’s bottom line. While you may be able to implement all of the techniques described above on your own, you may not be able to overtake your more advanced competitors using these basic skills alone.
In both of these scenarios, it’s important to consider the overall ROI of working with a reputable professional SEO consultant or agency. Depending on the size and online engagement of your target market, you stand to recognize significant profit gains as the result of higher natural search rankings. While you certainly need to allocate your marketing resources carefully, it’s also important to understand the full cost of handling your company’s SEO needs on your own.
Do you have any other tips for in-house SEO? Share your favorite tools or techniques in the comment section below!