DIY SEO on a Shoestring Budget

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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:

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!

Sujan Patel
Sujan Patel has over 12 years of digital marketing experience and has helped hundreds of clients increase web traffic, boost user acquisition, and grow their businesses. He’s currently the VP of Marketing at When I Work, the top rated employee scheduling software. In addition to his role at When I Work Sujan co-founded and wrote the book on Growth Hacking titled 100 Days of Growth.
Sujan Patel
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  • Jesse Fogarty

    Great article. Another really great free SEO tools for those with a small budget or simply beginning their SEO journey is SEO powersuite.

    Although there are limitation for the free version it’s a great starting point.

    Best of luck to you all in your SEO endeavors,


  • Damain

    I can see I should re-read your post and try to re-visit SEO principles, though, I’ve always figured that if you provide good content people will find you. Needless to say, that’s not always the case.

  • Anthony

    Love the article. I work with local businesses and try to educate them the importance of SEO and how it can really improve your brand visibility over the internet. These is a great starter article.

  • sammy

    just implemented travistraffic on a website, it showing zero backlinks whilst google showing 17!

  • Erika Barbosa

    Thanks for your post Sujan. As you touched on, one of the most important things you can do is create lots of quality content. This will naturally attract links and inbound leads because of its value.

  • Rahul Chawla

    Hi Sujan,

    This is so true, One does not need a big budget for SEO ! Few small things can make such a big difference.

    This is surely one of the DIY for SEO.

    PS:- Loved the way you advised that one needs to consult with an SEO Consultant as well.


  • Evia Snowman

    Hi, I just want to say that your advice helped me and my workout business immensely. thanks for all your hard work here. This is a great blog and your and excellent writer and a greatest asset for the information!

    Evia – Ukraine

  • Daniel Wan

    Hello, I agree with these tips. There are many online places that say about how to optimize the site, but none are accurate in the advice they give. You are a person who knows what to do. I am grateful for you giving this information away to me. It makes me feel like you care and want me to succeed and for that I will bookmark your page and be back. Great work.


    Daniel Wan – SEO Expert

  • Larry

    Hi, I have tried a few of these techniques and they all worked very well. Will continue to come back. Looking forward to your other articles….

    Larry 🙂

  • Danyell K

    Shoestring SEO works (thanks for the great tips here), but there will always be a need for professional seasoned advice when it comes to making the right decisions on your site.

    Thanks for the tips! Great stuff

    Danyell – SEO for 11 years

  • Claude Dibello

    Sujan – Everyone doesn’t have the high dollars to promote and buy all the tools needed when they start out, so it is important to be creative when you’re first starting out in order to get ahead of the competition.

    Thanks for the post