DIY SEO for Small Businesses (Using Free Tools)

DIY SEO guides are too difficult for business owners.

As I researched how small businesses can do their own SEO, I realized that a lot of the information these websites upload is very comprehensive, but difficult to understand if you do not come from a technical background.

Most of my clients tend to want to focus on their trade whether it’s dentistry, construction or coaching. Hence, they hire me.

However, some small business owners can’t pay someone to do it.

But small business owners are likely to know the field they’re in. My doctor client opened a clinic, my life coaching client started her own practice, and so on.

If you started a business that lies in your field of interest, then you are well-positioned to do your own SEO.

Your Advantage In Doing Your Own SEO

A good portion of SEO involves creating content.

You have a major advantage over most people, including me.

You have the depth of knowledge and experience that can make your content more authoritative, trustworthy, and useful for your readers. You can provide insights, details, and context that non-experts may not have.

You can also help with SEO by using the relevant keywords and phrases that match the search intent of your users.

There’s a lot of chaff content out there, and having an authoritative person behind the business’s content really makes a difference to the level of trust and credibility.

SEO Is Content Creation

A huge portion of SEO is creating content.

You might see a lot of advice out there on how to improve the technical aspects of SEO, but those are secondary to having useful and a consistent stream of content.

I’m not saying that’s not important, but if you only have limited resources and you don’t want to pick up a ton of knowledge on the topic, you’re best sharing what you know best, and then maybe hiring someone to optimize it when you are able to afford it.

So, I want to share some best practices on how you can start your own SEO marketing.

Setting Expectations For Yourself

I think it’s important to set some expectations early.

SEO is a marathon, and if your website is new, you’ll start out like a new marathoner.

Just like in a marathon, if you only ran the first few miles, you won’t even get a shot at the prize. DNF.

SEO doesn’t pay off quickly. I used to say that you might be able to see results in six months but it’s not guaranteed. One of my clients saw results after 10 months with one article getting into the first page. That said, we didn’t create much content.

In 2023, I created 33 articles for this website, and I actually saw a jump in traffic towards the end of the year. During that period when I was typing stuff daily, I had no expectations.

The only expectation you can set for yourself is a goal. Try setting a goal of writing 25 articles. If you write 25 good articles that show your expertise in a useful way to readers, then you will likely get ranked.

How To Find Your Keywords

By now, you should be aware that the best way for you to start your SEO journey is to start writing.

Let’s get down to the steps. I chose to write this article using this exact same process that cost me nothing. If you found this page via a search engine, then it’s proof that it works.

Which Keyword Tool Should You Use?

When I started doing SEO, I started with Ahrefs, which is a great tool but it’s also expensive at US$99 per month for starters. A recent change also made it riskier for people who don’t know what they’re doing as you have credits that deplete as you use their features (it wasn’t like that back then).

Anyway, if you are willing to pay for these tools, you’re going to get better information to make decisions. One useful metric that all of these tools offer is their estimation of keyword difficulty (KD).

KD is the tool’s best guess as to how difficult ranking for the keyword will be. A low number is what you should start with because it increases your chances that you will rank for that keyword. Low keyword difficulty generally comes with a lower search volume.

But let’s go ahead with the scenario where you aren’t able to allocate a budget to this project.

Try Google Keyword Planner

Google Keyword Planner is great because it allows you to access Google’s database of search terms. It’s also free.

However, unlike paid tools, it doesn’t give you a good sense of how competitive the keyword is. You’ll need judge using some of the best practices I’ll share below.

Yes, there is a “competition” column but that refers to how competitive the keyword is among paid ads, not among organic traffic.

I created this article by searching through Google Keyword Planner, so let me walk you through how I did it.

Using Keyword Planner As SEO Research Tool

If you haven’t already, you’ll need to sign up for a Google Ads account.

Once you get through that page, Google will prompt you with a bunch of steps to walk you through the process.

google ads set up

Since you don’t want to run ads, you’ll need to press “skip campaign creation”, located at the bottom. Then go through the other steps.

google keyword planner seo research

Once you’re in, you will see this screen. Click on “Discover new keywords”.

You’ll be brought to this screen, where you’ll enter the keywords you want into the red box.

google keyword planner seo tool

Throw in a seed keyword here. For example, in order to find a keyword for this article, I searched for “DIY SEO”, since this article is meant for people who want to do their own SEO.

google keyword planner seo research tips

As a new business doing SEO, your website isn’t authoritative so you can’t try to rank for the short but lucrative keywords. Instead, you’ll need to look for “long-tail keywords”.

In my experience, keywords that are longer than four words would be much lower in keyword difficulty.

In this case, the tricky part here is that “DIY” and “SEO” are acronyms, so if they are written out, you’ll get four words, but abbreviations should be considered as one word.

Therefore, the first thing I saw was “DIY SEO for small business”.

Finding Out How Competitive This Keyword Is

google ads competition

Don’t be fooled.

The column “competition” isn’t meant for you. It’s a metric for how competitive the paid ads space would be. Ignore!

Instead, you’ll need to do a Google search. Put the exact keywords into Google and see what comes out.

If you notice a lot of big shots turn up on the first page, then you should shy away from this keyword. As the subject matter expert, you should know who the big shots are in your industry.

Here’s an example. If I entered the keywords “how to do SEO”, the first 10 websites are:

  1. Hubspot
  2. Google
  3. Hubspot
  4. Michigan Technological University
  5. Ahrefs
  6. WordStream
  7. Backlinko
  8. Semrush
  9. Moz

I immediately shied away from this keyword because they’re loaded with big names. I can recognize them. So it’s time to find something else.

The keyword “DIY SEO for small business” is much tamer. Here’s are the entrants for the top 10 spots,

  1. BDC
  2. smallbusinessseohelp
  3. Incrementors
  4. Semrush
  5. Main Street ROI
  6. weignitegrowth
  7. LinkedIn
  8. Yoast
  9. vCita
  10. WebFX

In contrast to the first search term, I don’t know the majority of these names, so that’s a good sign.

Using this method, you can get a ballpark estimate of the keyword difficulty of your search term. You can’t compete with the big shots, so you’ll need to keep it humble for now.

Anyway, two other metrics should be considered besides keyword difficulty,

  • Is there search volume for this keyword?
    • Yes, according to Keyword Planner’s results, there is a search volume of 100-1K per month.
  • Is this keyword relevant to my business?

Also Try Ahrefs’s Free Tool

Ahrefs has a free keyword generator tool that you can use for free to judge how difficult your keyword is.

Head here and then type in your keyword into this box.

ahrefs free keyword generator

Then, you’ll get a list of keywords, keyword difficulty (KD) and search volume.

If you are new to SEO, avoid going for anything that’s too difficult. Try keeping the keyword difficulty (KD) in the green zone. If you can’t find anything in the green zone, that means you need to change your keywords or extend the length of your keyword (i.e. your keyword isn’t long-tail enough).

ahrefs free keyword ideas tool

Time To Write SEO Content

Once you have settled on your keyword, it’s time to move on to writing.

If you need inspiration, take a look at the content on the website that’s ranked first. That’s a good benchmark for the content you should try to exceed in quality and depth.

As the expert, you will know things that regular writers don’t. Including,

  • Your personal experience
  • The situation that’s specific to your location (e.g. what are the local laws over there?)
  • Your knowledge of whatever you’re promoting

Conveying your personal and local knowledge about your field of expertise remains an important aspect of building trust and getting people interested in reading your content. This is something that your specialist knowledge can help.

Your goal now is to pump out content. Set a goal, say 25 articles in six months. You will notice a correlation between word count and ranking. The more you can create, the more obvious your results will be over time. A good number of articles will get nowhere, which is why you need a pool of articles to make conclusions.

How long should each article be? The longer the better unless length impinges on article quality — 500-word articles can rank, but you’ll more likely get results with 2,000-word articles.

Going back to “DIY SEO for small businesses”, such a broad topic can definitely cover 2,000 words. However, some articles just don’t have that much content to write, like “how to use [something] safely”. Those are probably very factual and there’s little space for a personal take on things.

Your best bet is to observe what other pages in your search term are writing about. They can also serve as inspiration for your content.

Writing Tips For DIY SEO

Here are some tips:

Avoid jargon in writing

In the sixth season of The Crown, I saw a scene where a bunch of royals received a presentation about a website. The presenter said people will be “logging on” to the website. This term confused everyone.

I didn’t think “logging on” was jargon, but it did reflect that some everyday terms could be jargon to someone else.

When I worked with doctors, they could sometimes talk in a way that a layperson wouldn’t understand. To them, it’s everyday talk.

Always ask yourself if your abbreviations, acronyms, verbs or nouns are industry-specific. “MVP” means different things in the tech industry and in baseball.

Optimize your headings

Headings divide your content into sections. They help readers scan your content and find what they are looking for. They also help search engines understand the structure and topic of your content.

Your article’s title must have the keywords that you’re trying to rank for. It’s best to keep the keywords together, but scattering them is OK as well as modifying it slightly.

Content management systems (CMS) like WordPress or Wix have a section where you enter the title. By default, that will be classified as a H1 (Header 1). It’s the most important header that tells Google what your article is about and there should only be one H1.

Everything else that you write should be a H2, and anything below that should be a H3. If you look at this section, the section’s heading, “Writing Tips For DIY SEO” is a H2, whereas all the subpoints are H3s.

But What About The Other Aspects of DIY SEO?

There are a ton of aspects of SEO that you still don’t know, but relax…

If you have started creating content, that’s the most important step. There are a ton of other aspects you can improve on later, for example, internal linking, meta-descriptions, backlinking, website optimization, AI generated content, etc.

You can’t rank without having content!

I realized it’s important to focus on one thing and not let your attention spread too thin. I realized that as an expert in the field, you have the unique ability to create content that no one else can.

Following the steps above, you can definitely get somewhere in time. It’ll be a lot of darkness and uncertainty for the first few months. But one day, Google will start noticing you.

Google will start ranking you somewhere in the back pages. Then, they’ll move you up to compete with other pages. If you triumph, you’ll stay in that spot. If your content isn’t as good, then you’ll be set back in ranking.

Content quality matters and it’s a very important metric that will get you through Google’s search algorithm changes.

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