You’ve decided to take a “do it yourself” SEO approach.
Whether you’re on a tight budget or want to build in-house expertise, succeeding with DIY SEO takes careful planning and prioritization.
At Human, we’ve built an SEO team with a proven track record of generating organic traffic and authority for clients.
To help you see results with organic SEO, we’ve compiled a step-by-step DIY SEO guide, including the software, team and strategic steps you need to create and execute a results-driven strategy.
18 Steps to “Do It Yourself” SEO
1. Build Your SEO Team
Earning organic authority, rankings and traffic requires the right mix of technical, analytical and creative skills.
When taking on SEO in-house, you’ll need these roles in your corner:
- SEO strategist and owner: Sets SEO keyword targets, organic traffic goals and overall strategy. Monitors SEO performance and competitor movements and prioritizes initiatives.
- Web developer(s) and designer(s): Implements technical SEO fixes, such as site speed or user experience improvements. Understands how to optimize for the user experience.
- Content writer(s) and editors: Produces and edits engaging, research-backed content with SEO best practices and brand guidelines in mind.
Some of these roles may overlap on your team, but it’s important to have the right skills to carry out your strategy before diving in.
2. Invest in DIY SEO Software and Tools
With SEO software, you can research keywords opportunities, track your own SEO stats, compare performance to competitors and so much more.
Plenty of free SEO tools exist, but you typically have to pay to access historical data or advanced features.
Here is the essential SEO software you’ll need to DIY:
- Search Console: This free Google webmasters tool shows search queries that drive traffic to your website, plus clicks, impressions and other stats from Google Search. You can also submit an XML sitemap or get granular insight into page performance via Core Web Vitals.
- Web Analytics Software: Free analytics tools like Google Analytics and Blueprint SEO track core SEO performance metrics like organic traffic, time on page, bounce rate and more.
- Topic Cluster Strategy Tool: Executing a targeted content strategy is critical to compete online. Blueprint SEO is a free topic cluster tool to organize your content strategy around topics and build online authority.
- Keyword Tracking: Use keyword tracking tools like SEMrush or Moz to monitor organic rankings, identify crawler issues, conduct competitor research and discover keyword opportunities.
3. Perform a Technical SEO Check
Technical SEO issues can prevent search engines from finding or crawling your website.
Before investing heavily in content creation, work through some basic SEO checks so you’re not putting time and money into efforts that won’t bear any fruit.
- XML Sitemap: An XML sitemap allows search engines to easily crawl your website by outlining its pages. Validate your XML sitemap and submit one in Search Console.
- Indexability: Indexing tells search engines that a page exists to be considered in search engine results. Search Console also reveals which pages Google is indexing.
- SSL Certificate: SSL certificates enable encryption to help make your website more secure. Sites that produce the notice “Not Secure” in the web browser do not have SSL certificates.
- Crawler Issues: SEO tools like Moz can crawl your website and expose metadata issues that could be harming your organic ranking potential, including missing metadata, 404 errors and more.
4. Check for Mobile Friendliness
Search engines like Google prioritize a mobile-first experience.
Sites with a poor mobile experience will have difficulty ranking in organic search.
Use Google’s mobile-friendliness tool to check whether your website passes.
5. Measure and Improve Page Speed
When evaluating pages, search engines also favor pages that load quickly. (After all, no one should have to suffer through a slow-loading page.)
Use Google PageSpeed Insights to check your speed score on mobile and desktop and help diagnose issues.
If your pages score low, check your percentage of users on desktop vs. mobile in Google Analytics, and prioritize improvements based on these user behaviors.
6. Define Your Target Personas
When taking the DIY SEO route, building personas helps guide your keyword research and writing process to ensure your content resonates with the ideal audience.
Define your top 2-3 target personas to guide your SEO research and help prioritize high-value topics. Interview real clients that fit these profiles, and document their job roles, functions and goals, along with demographic information, pain points and other unifying characteristics.
Supplement with research in online forums like Quora, reddit or other online communities that your target audience frequents.
Having a clear perception of the ideal audience will allow you to create more specific, helpful content that satisfies a search’s true intent.
7. Understand Where You Stand Against Competitors
Starting with competitor research helps you understand what you’re up against, identify high-value content opportunities and prioritize activities to outsmart competitors.
Knowing competitor stats like organic keywords and monthly traffic also helps set realistic expectations and benchmarks for your own goals.
Document the following SEO data for your top 3-5 organic competitors, compared to your website:
- Linking domains: How many unique external domains link to their site?
- Total inbound links: How many unique pages link to their website?
- Domain authority: How likely is their site to rank relative to other domains?
- Organic keywords: How many organic keywords do they rank for?
- Monthly organic traffic: How many organic visitors do they see each month?
- Top content: Which pages are driving the most organic traffic to their website?
- Keyword gap: Which keywords do they rank for that your website does not?
8. Conduct Keyword Research
Keyword research helps you understand search patterns and guides your content creation efforts.
Using a keyword research tool like SEMrush, search for keywords that most closely align with your product or service as well as pain points your personas experience most often.
Compile your research into a spreadsheet, and include search volume and ranking difficulty data to reference later.
9. Develop a Topic Cluster Strategy
You’ve defined your personas and their search behaviors and have a pulse on the competition.
Now, it’s time to develop a content and internal linking strategy that will fuel your SEO goals and add the most value possible to your audience.
Many DIY SEOs make the mistake of producing content to rank for individual keywords and skip this step altogether.
But search engines have evolved to understand how topics relate. To build a content strategy that will drive real value and SEO results, you need to think in terms of topics.
By taking a topic-based approach to SEO, you consider the intent behind the keyword, rather than the keyword itself. Instead of producing many similar pieces of content, you end up with fewer, longer-form pages.
When taking on SEO yourself, start by creating a topic cluster strategy to focus on building online authority for high purchase intent topics.
Prioritize a few primary keywords you want to rank for, and identify all the supporting questions and considerations a user would have.
Produce supporting subtopic pages that link to your topic page to organize your web pages around these core themes and signal authority to your top pages.
10. Perform a Content Audit
Over the years, SEOs can accumulate hundreds — even thousands — of pages that no longer serve a purpose.
It’s easy to put these pages in the back of your mind — but low-value or duplicate content can negatively impact SEO performance.
Google’s algorithm updates routinely aim to filter out low-value content, which should be reason enough to clean up your own website.
To stay ahead of content quality, keep a running list of your webpages. If they don’t produce traffic or serve a distinct purpose, consider 301-redirecting them to a relevant page.
Over time, your website will be chock-full of valuable pages that serve a particular goal.
11. Create a Content Calendar
To succeed with DIY SEO, you need a system to stay organized and hold your team accountable.
Organize your plans in a content calendar to put your audit and topic cluster strategy into action.
Include details like titles, keyword focus and intent, due dates, assignees and more so you have a clear roadmap for achieving your SEO goals.
12. Develop Search-Friendly Writing Guidelines
You might have an airtight topic cluster strategy — but if the content on a page doesn’t deliver on its promise — your SEO efforts will fall flat.
Create detailed writing guidelines so content creators understand the expectations and requirements.
Include requirements for reputable outside research, meta tags, content length, structure, quality assurance and brand voice.
At a minimum, each page should have the following, optimized for that page’s primary keyword(s):
- Page title
- Meta description
- At least one H2
- Image alt text
- URL (for new pages)
Looking for more tips? Check out our Guide to Writing SEO-Friendly Content.
13. Earn Inbound Links
Inbound links act as votes of confidence to your pages and domain.
Earning links from credible, high authority sites is essential for building SEO authority. After all, link signals account for 17.31% of search ranking factors, according to a 2017 Moz study.
Prioritize link-building efforts based on how you fare against competitors. Some tactics include:
- Features in online directories
- Guest posting
- Creating original content or research that gets shared
14. Optimize for User Experience
While content plays a heavy role in search results, search algorithms weigh hundreds of onsite and offsite signals to deliver the most relevant search result.
And that includes page experience.
These metrics help set quality standards for user experience across the web and encourage sites to create more delightful web experiences across browsers and devices.
When planning SEO for your organization, check Core Web Vitals for your website in Search Console or PageSpeed Insights. Prioritize improvements to make before this 2021 algorithm update to ensure your website doesn’t fall off for any existing rankings.
15. Routinely Refresh Old Content
When managing SEO in-house, it’s easy to focus on pumping out new content to fuel your marketing engine.
But as you plan content, don’t forget content that already exists.
Refreshing content typically takes less time than new content creation — and can help you generate results faster.
Start analyzing pages that have dropped in rankings for your top keywords or organic traffic, and compare these pages against top-ranking competitors. Look for opportunities to improve the content by adding new data, expanding on subtopics or organizing the information to better match the search intent.
16. Document Organic Traffic Goals and Actuals
Succeeding with SEO is a time-intensive process.
When taking on SEO yourself, it’s even more critical to create traffic goals and document performance to stay laser-focused on results.
While SEO forecasting isn’t an exact science, you can weigh these factors to help benchmark monthly organic traffic goals:
- Potential keyword volume for topics in your content calendar (How much traffic can I produce?)
- Historical month-over-month organic growth trends (What is my average organic traffic growth?)
- How long it typically takes for your content to rank in search engines (When can I expect to see growth)
17. Monitor Rankings and SERP Features
Before you can generate organic traffic, you need to earn rankings.
Organic rankings reflect the quality of your content and domain authority.
As you execute your SEO plan, monitor your keyword rankings weekly and monthly for major upward or downward movements.
Take note of top keywords that have lost or gained position 1-3 or page 1 rankings to improve upon and reverse negative trends.
Pay close attention to SERP features like featured snippets, too. These organic listings appear above the first search result and are critical SEO real estate. Always note the existing featured snippet for your target keywords, and structure your content accordingly.
18. Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help
DIY SEO isn't for the faint of heart. Producing content that outranks competitors, tracking performance and staying informed on algorithm updates is a labor of love.
Ultimately, your SEO efforts should return a high ROI in increased organic traffic, leads and revenue.
Otherwise, what’s the point?
If you’re investing in SEO without success, it might be time to look for outside help.
At Human, we help clients define and achieve their organic goals. We’ve built and trained an expert SEO team — including SEO strategists, content writers, editors, designers and developers — so you don’t have to.