If you’ve been thinking about starting a search engine optimization (SEO) campaign, you’ve likely run into a serious obstacle: money. Big-name agencies charge upwards of tens of thousands of dollars a month to manage a campaign, and hiring a new full-time manager and/or a suite of specialized contractors to help you execute the work could cost you just as much.
So is there a way to start an SEO campaign without a significant monetary investment?
The Three Ingredients of SEO
Let’s explore the question by first describing the three main pillars of SEO:
1. On-site optimization. On-site optimization is all about making sure search engines will index your pages, providing a functional website for users, and including enough content so that search engines will be able to present your site for the right types of queries. Most on-site optimization tactics are one-time changes with occasional tweaks and upgrades in the future.
2. Ongoing content development. Publishing new content for your site on a regular basis increases your site’s domain authority, which in turn increases your likelihood of ranking. It also provides more keyword-rich content for search engines to index, and gives you a chance to earn more inbound links.
3. Link building. Finally, you’ll want to spend time building or earning links for your site. The quality and quantity of links you have will dictate your overall authority, so it’s not something you can afford to neglect.
All three of these strategic areas, when developed over time, will cumulatively result in higher domain authority, which will lead to higher rankings for all queries relevant to your site.
What You Can Do With (Almost) No Money
Let’s say you don’t want to spend much money a campaign—or that you want to try to spend no money whatsoever. What can you do to get started in SEO?
- Choose a website builder that supports SEO. If you’re trying to save money, you probably won’t be able to afford a custom build. Instead, you’ll need to rely on a free or inexpensive website builder, using design templates to put your site together. Thankfully, most modern website builders support SEO, offering professional coding that search engines will index cleanly, and guides to help you set up your site to be found in search engines. This will help you get off to a good start.
- Choose strong keyword and topic targets. Next, you’ll need to spend some time researching which keywords and topics you want to target in your on-site optimization and ongoing content. Moz’s Keyword Explorer tool is relatively accessible to newcomers, with helpful descriptions to guide your research and final decisions. Once you have a set of keywords and topics to work with, you can make progress in other areas.
- Optimize your titles and meta descriptions. The titles and meta descriptions of your site’s pages are what will show up in searches for your site. Make sure they’re optimized with keywords relevant to the on-page content, and are phrased in an enticing way (to maximize click-throughs). Depending on the size of your site, this will likely only take a few hours.
- Write strong content on all your core pages. Every main page on your site should have at least several hundred words of content on it; this is the “meat” that Google will use to analyze the purpose of your content, and the context by which it will judge the quality of the page. Be accurate, concise, and descriptive.
- Produce new content at least once a week. You don’t need to spend money if you create your own content, but make sure you’re writing high-quality material that your audience actually wants to read. If you’re just getting started, a post a week should be enough to help you build momentum, but you’ll eventually want to scale up.
- Build your off-site presence. Spend some time building up your off-site presence; make sure you’ve claimed your brand’s social media profiles on each major social platform, and write rich content for their description sections. Start posting regularly on each channel, with occasional links to your on-site content.
- Encourage sharing and linking. Through your social media channels, off-site forums, and other outlets, try to encourage your earliest audience members to share and link to your content as much as possible. The more links you earn naturally, the higher your domain authority will grow, and the more shares you get, the more people you’ll have reading and engaging with your material.
- Start building links. Link building is usually difficult for newcomers with a small budget, but it’s not impossible. You’ll need to invest time in landing guest authorship spots on external publishers, and work to get your content featured in as many external sources as possible. You’ll also need to support your work with ongoing syndication and sharing, maximizing your chances of earning links from your audience. Without links, you can’t build authority, so make sure this is a part of even your earliest fledgling strategies. Link building is the most difficult of the SEO pillars, but I’ve written a full guide on how to do it called SEO Link Building: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide.
When You’ll Need Money
These strategies can get you started with an SEO campaign, even if you don’t have much money to spend, but alone, they probably won’t earn you the results you want. If you want to be successful in today’s highly competitive SEO market, you’ll need to invest some serious time into the quality and frequency of your published content.
You’ll need to earn links on high-authority publishers, and you’ll need to build a loyal audience, and relatively quickly. And while it’s certainly possible to do all this yourself, it’s far more efficient, especially if you’re new to the world of SEO and you’re wearing many startup hats, to pay an expert to help you out, providing direction and accomplishing the legwork.
Every dollar you spend on SEO, so long as you spend it with the right agency or contractor, will provide more than its share of returns.
Are you using the right keywords?
The power of search engine optimization is stronger than ever before: As many as 75% of users never scroll past the first page of search engine results, according to stats compiled by Search Engine Journal. This is reason enough that you need to employ good SEO techniques and get your business to rank on page one of every targeted keyword search.
Employing poor SEO practices can leave your business buried in search engine searches, making it impossible for your customers to find you. Below, Forbes Agency Council members share advice on the most common SEO errors that could be hurting your search engine rankings.
1. Lack Of Quality Content
While user experience is increasingly paramount, you also have to think about what search engine bots see when they crawl your website. Your content needs to be effective in communicating to your audience and to bots. Each page on your website should have 400 words of quality content at the very least, but 700 to 1,200 words is optimal. Remember, this includes your product and collections pages as well. – Brock Murray, seoplus+
2. Seeing Double
One of the most common SEO mistakes out there is duplicate content. If you have the same content on more than one page on your site then the search engines will be confused and your pages will end up competing against each other or your website will get penalized. – Andrew Miller, Enter
3. Choosing The Wrong Keywords
The definition of “wrong” keywords extends to selecting keywords that don’t accurately describe your products and services, or selecting keywords that don’t convert into customers. Select target keywords carefully, as they are your biggest determinant in SEO success. – Brett Farmiloe, Markitors
4. Not Optimizing For Engagement
While backlinks are still a heavily weighted value in SEO rankings, you should focus on user engagement. We are finding that longer, well-written content that captures the reader’s attention is increasing rankings. Incorporate images, videos, quotes, resources and infographics to assist with the reader engagement. Your bounce rate should reduce while the time on site and rankings increase. – Breynan Hammons, Innvio
5. Lack Of Title Tag Optimization
One of the biggest errors we see with our clients’ websites is that the textual content is not optimized. It is a best practice to have variations of your primary target keywords in three heading tags across your homepage and any other sub-pages where SEO work is being done. The heading tags consist of H1, H2 and H3 title tags. Keeping those optimized will help boost your rankings. – Darryl Stevens, DIGITECH Web Design
6. Keyword Stuffing
Now that Google’s algorithms are much smarter and always change, they can recognize and penalize sites for keyword stuffing. Instead of overstuffing, use relevant keywords within your site’s content but always in moderation. Always keep your audience in mind. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS
7. Absence Of A Blog Strategy
One big SEO initiative that we work on with our clients is developing a consistent, ongoing, informative blog strategy. Too often, people create a blog and don’t take the time to blog properly – helpful, meaningful information with regular posting that uses appropriate keywords. This is very helpful for organic search, plus it provides great content to share on socials and e-newsletters. – Duree Ross, Durée & Company.com
8. Thin Content Lacking Target Keywords
One of the most common issues for my clients is the use of thin and irrelevant content that lacks a target keyword and related keywords. Content needs to have depth and deep analysis of the subject, and each piece should focus on one or two keywords at most. Next, semantically related keywords are needed for algorithms to grasp the relevancy of the topic. – Kristopher Jones, LSEO.com
9. Index Bloat
I’d say about 35% of the leads we receive suffer from index bloat in one way or another, whether from poor WordPress optimization resulting in tag, category, media and archive pages being indexed or from an absurd amount of thin content being indexed. Typically, an excessive number of thin pages comes from blogging for the sake of blogging, rather than providing value and answering searchers’ queries. – Kyle Sanders, CWR SEO
10. Not Prioritizing High-Value Non-Branded Keywords
Like with many other practices, success in SEO starts with the fundamentals. And the reality is, many firms, including prominent ones, do not include valuable non-branded keywords in their title tags, especially on their most important pages. Simply put: If you aren’t taking the effort to use the keywords your target market is, they are going to have a harder time finding you. – Larry Gurreri, Sosemo
11. Too Broad Optimization Goals
Trying to attract everyone. Optimizing for broader, more generic keywords is an easy and understandable trap to fall into. But here are the pitfalls: 1) There’s a lot of competition when optimizing for generic keywords, and 2) You may be drawing traffic to your site that will never convert. Instead, be as specific as possible with your keywords. You may get fewer visitors, but you’ll get more buyers. – Joey Hodges, Demonstrate PR
12. Title Tags Not Describing The Page/Business
One of the most common SEO errors is incorrect assumptions about how to label title tags. A lot of companies make their homepage or sub-page title tags the title of their company. Instead, this should be a short description of the product or service the company provides. – Kyle Kramer, Huify