SEO is a popular online marketing strategy, and therefore, competitive, but I’m consistently amazed at how many business owners and marketers opt not to engage in an SEO strategy because of its perceived limitations or drawbacks.
One of the biggest misperceptions is that SEO is expensive, and it’s driven by the fact that some agencies have higher-level packages that cost tens of thousands of dollars per month.
Yes, SEO can be expensive for hyper-competitive, national-scale businesses, but that doesn’t mean it’s unaffordable for the average business owner.
In fact, there are dozens of simple strategies you can execute yourself, for free, to better optimize your site for search engines. These are just some of the major ones:
1. Find better keywords.
Optimize for keywords that are closer to your niche and have fewer competitors. Google Trends and Google’s Keyword Tool in AdWords are free tools that should give you all the data you need. For help, see this article.
2. Delete duplicate content.
Google Search Console will display any instances of duplicate content it finds on your site. Usually, these are the result of canonicity errors (not plagiarism), but you still need to correct this to keep your site in good standing.
3. Fix 404 errors.
These errors are like dead ends, and nobody likes dead ends. Again, refer to Google Search Console for help, and set up 301 redirects where necessary to close the gaps here.
4. Write a unique title tag for every page.
Every page should have a title tag, of under 70 characters, that describes the page, features the desired keyword and is unique from every other title tag on your website. For a more comprehensive guide on on-site optimization, see this article.
5. Write a compelling meta description for every page.
Every page should also have a meta description, under 160 characters, that more elaborately describes the page. The meta description probably doesn’t play much of a role in your actual page rankings, but it certainly affects click-through rates. There’s evidence that click-through rates affect rankings, though, so ensure that your meta descriptions are unique, concise and compelling.
6. Clean up your URL structure.
Your URLs should have a breadcrumbs trail and feature readable indicators of the content on the page, such as the page title. Avoid using numbers or random strings of text in your URLs.
7. Update your blog often.
More content, as long as it’s valuable to readers, is never a bad thing. Google recently released an algorithm update that seems to favor fresh content, so keeping your blog updated is more beneficial than ever before.
8. Include H1, H2, H3, etc. headers in your content.
Your content should be logically divided into subsections, with headlines and sub-heads. These need to be marked with html tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.) to help Google process and understand the intent and organization of your content.
9. Add internal links.
Linking together the relevant pages of your site is good for user experience, and helps Google better understand relationships between pages on your site. If your site is on WordPress, try to resist the temptation to use a plugin to automate internals links, I’ve heard some horror stories.
10. Optimize your images.
Your images should be optimized for SEO too, and that task is relatively simple — title them appropriately, add descriptive alt tags and keep them in the proper format.
11. Reference authoritative outside sources.
Google pays attention to what you link to in an article. Citing authoritative sources to back up your claims will make your content more credible and trustworthy to Google as well as to your readers.
12. Include social media integrations.
Every article on your site should be accompanied by social share icons; social shares serve as indirect ranking signals, giving you the opportunity to earn more inbound links, which pass authority back to your site.
13. Optimize your website loading speed.
This can be as simple or as complicated as you make it; there are several ways to make a site faster, such as reducing image sizes, adding a caching plugin, switching hosting providers and deleting unnecessary plugins.
14. Optimize for mobile devices.
The majority of Google search now occurs on mobile devices, so if your site doesn’t display attractively for mobile users, you could be missing out on a huge chunk of traffic. Also, Google will not display your website prominently in mobile search results if your website isn’t mobile-optimized.
15. Earn some links.
As a consistent strategy, link-building demands heavy investment, but if you’re just getting started, you can earn some links by: 1) getting active enough in your community to earn media coverage; 2) publishing an opinion about a controversial topic you’re qualified to write about; or 3) reaching out to a publication in your industry to secure a guest posting opportunity. These days, there are really only three viable strategies for link building; this article covers them.
16. Remove bad links.
Use Google Search Console to download a list of links to your website. Then, evaluate your link profile and identify “bad” links from low-authority sources. Remove them manually or through an email request to the webmaster.
17. Syndicate your content.
You’re writing lots of great content, but what are you doing with it? Take a moment to syndicate your content through social media channels, which increases the likelihood that it will earn rank-boosting links to your site.
These tactics alone won’t guarantee you a top ranking for a competitive keyword, nor are they suitable to manage a campaign in the long term, but they will give you a strong boost and a good foundation to build an ongoing strategy. Building a full campaign from scratch takes time, effort and patience — and you’ll probably run into hurdles.
In addition, money is the substitute to addressing these problems — it spares you the time and effort of doing the work yourself, and connects you with experts right away. But even then, you’ll be paying for a return. Remember: This isn’t an expense, it’s an investment.