How can you do SEO on your own? What does it take to learn SEO and optimize your website for search engines? How do you know what works so that you don’t waste your time on tasks that are not important for rankings?
This comprehensive Do-It-Yourself SEO tutorial will give you all the answers
I know from experience that beginners to SEO (Search Engine Optimization) find it difficult to understand the SEO fundamentals.
There are so many terms, rules and practices to learn and implement and if you haven’t done this before, it’s a nightmare.
Open up Google and search for ‘SEO tutorial’ or ‘Do-It-Yourself SEO’, what do you see? Probably several guides each of them taking a different approach to SEO and this makes things even more complicated.
What to expect from this SEO Tutorial?
I’ve been doing SEO for more than 18 years now and I’ve learned through a lot of studying, trial, and error how to get a website to the top positions of Google. I have done this for my websites and many client websites over and over again.
It’s not an easy job, it’s a lot of work but it’s also rewarding.
This SEO tutorial to help you get into the right mindset and understand how to approach SEO correctly. It starts from the beginning and takes you step-by-step through the most important aspects of SEO.
So, if you are new to SEO and don’t know from where to start or where to spend your time and energy, get a cup of coffee, take a deep breath and get ready to teach yourself SEO!
What is Search Engine Optimization?
The first thing you need to understand is what is SEO and what it is all about it.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a framework you can follow to make your website more visible to search engines. Like other frameworks, it has a set of rules, processes, and guidelines.
SEO has two main objectives:
- The first is to make a website friendlier to search engine crawlers so that they can read, understand and add the website to their index.
- Second, to make a website friendlier to the user. This is one area of SEO that is often overlooked, a website that is SEO optimized should also be user-friendly and vice versa.
That’s the basic definition of SEO, which is clear and straightforward.
Now consider this: what happens if all websites are properly optimized according to best SEO practices? How do search engines decide which one to show first, second, third, etc. in their search results?
This is where the fun part begins. For any search term, you can think of, there are hundreds of websites competing for a top place in the results. The websites that are built on a solid SEO foundation win the race.
Why is SEO so important?
SEO is important for many reasons but the primary reason is that it can help you achieve higher rankings which means more organic traffic to your website.
Search engine traffic is the most valuable source of traffic for any website and this can lead to more conversions (if you are not sure what a conversion is, read this definition by Wikipedia)
According to statistics, Google receives over three trillion searches per year. Take a moment and think about what this number means and how it can change your business if you manage to get your tiny share of traffic from the billions of monthly searches.
Why does it matter to rank high in the search results?
The majority of Google’s organic traffic is distributed among the websites that appear on the first page of Google.
How to do SEO on your Own (Do-It-Yourself SEO)
1. Understand How Search Engines work
Now that you have a clear idea of what is SEO and why it is of great importance for your online success, let’s see in more detail how SEO works.
Since Google is the biggest and most valuable search engine, I will use it in the examples below. But, anything that you do to optimize your website for Google is also applicable to the other big search engines.
How does Google Search Work?
Google has a very nice tutorial on how Google works, and if you have never seen this before, I suggest reading it first.
Of course, they don’t reveal all the details of the algorithm but you can get a very good idea of how search works, and this will help you understand the contents of this SEO tutorial better.
In simple words, Google crawlers search the web to find web pages and add them to their index. When a user types in a search query in Google, their algorithms try to find the best possible match and present those pages in the search results.
If there were only a few pages available per search query, then that would not be an issue, Google would show those in the first 10 positions. But, as mentioned above, there are thousands of pages about a particular topic so their algorithm has to decide which is the best match and show those to the user.
There are many factors taken into account by the algorithm but some are much more important than others.
If you are a beginner at SEO, you don’t have to understand all the theories now, it’s too much information and I know that it gets confusing.
What you need to understand is this:
- Google wants to keep its users happy so that they return and perform more searches.
- A Google user is happy when they find what they want in the fastest possible way.
- Google is making a lot of effort to keep low-quality pages out of their index and they continually adjust their rankings algorithms for this purpose.
2. Domain Names and SEO
Before getting deeper into SEO, it’s necessary to understand the impact your website’s domain can have on your SEO efforts.
I know that some of you already have a domain so I’ve separated this section into two parts. The first part is for those who don’t have a domain yet and the second part is possible solutions if you already have a website and want to change your domain.
When choosing a domain name for your website, consider the following:
- Choose a domain that is easy to remember and write. Avoid domains with too many words, one to two words is preferable.
- Avoid using hyphens or separators in the domain name. Try to avoid using a hyphen in your domain name. If you must use a hyphen to separate the words, don’t use more than one.
- Exact match domains no longer have an advantage. In the past, if you had an exact match domain i.e. ‘SEOTUTORIAL.COM’ you had an advantage compared to other webpages competing for the keyword ‘SEO tutorial’ but that’s no longer the case.
- Domain extension doesn’t matter. A website can rank well regardless of the domain extension. The most common extensions are .com, .net., .org but if you can’t find a matching name for your website you can safely choose any other extension.
- Self Hosted domains are better. It’s better if your domain is hosted on your own website rather than using a subdomain from any other platform. For example, is better to have ‘myname.com’ rather than ‘myname.wordpress.com or myname.medium.com’.
- Domain age does matter. Older domains have an advantage in SEO over newer domains. It is easier to rank a website that is 5 or 6 years old than a brand new website. Of course, besides the age of the domain, you have to take into account all the factors discussed in this tutorial, but other things being equal, the website that is ‘older’ will rank better than the newer website.
What if I already have a domain and want to change it?
If you already have a domain, content, and website with traffic, it is possible to do a rebranding and change your domain without losing your rankings and traffic but you have to follow the migration procedure correctly.
3. Website Platforms and SEO
After you select a good domain for your website, the next step is to choose a platform i.e. the software to use to develop your website and a server (hosting provider) to host it.
This is not an area to spend too much time or effort, once you make a good selection from the beginning then you don’t have to worry about it and you can concentrate on other more important tasks.
While there are many options available, the best website platform in terms of SEO is WordPress.
WordPress now powers more than 35% of all available websites on the Internet and has a number of features that can help you build an SEO Friendly website.
It is easy to use and with a few tweaks, you can make it even better.
In terms of hosting, not all providers are equal when it comes to SEO awareness, the wrong choice of web hosting provider can negatively impact your SEO efforts.
Make sure that you choose SEO-friendly hosting such as Bluehost etc.
4. Learn How to Approach the SEO Learning Process
The best way to approach SEO is step-by-step. The whole process can be broken down into 3 main types:
- Technical SEO – How to make sure that search engines can access your website without any issues.
- On-Page SEO – What kind of content to publish on your website and how to structure/set up your webpages so that search engines can read and understand them.
- Off-Page SEO – Link Building and other techniques to promote your website on the Internet and get more exposure.
For best results, you should follow the steps in the order outlined above i.e. start technical SEO, then On-Page SEO, and then Off-Page SEO.
5. Work on Your Technical SEO
Technical SEO has one purpose, to make sure that search engines can discover the important web pages of a website and be able to access them without any issues.
To achieve this, you need to optimize a number of things, the most important are:
- SEO Friendly Site Structure
- User and XML Sitemap
- Bing Webmaster Tools and Google Search Console
- txt Optimization
- 404 Page Optimization
- PageSpeed and SEO
- Mobile-Friendly Websites and SEO
SEO Friendly Site Structure
The structure of your website is very important. A good and simple site structure will make the job of search engines and users easier and this has many benefits for SEO and usability.
To make an SEO friendly site structure, consider the following:
Group your content into logical categories that make sense. Everything starts with the home page but after that, you should think of a logical hierarchical structure for the rest of your content.
Don’t over-engineer but keep it as simple as possible. Avoid having too many categories or subcategories since SEO wise, these don’t offer much value because of duplicate content issues (we will talk about this later).
Don’t use more than three levels when creating your site hierarchy. Don’t hide your content from search engines and users but make discovery easy.
Use SEO Friendly URLs. Your URLs can contain “-” but not underscores or any other unnecessary information. Keep them clean and easy to understand.
For example, let’s assume that you have a blog about Digital Marketing. Your blog posts can be grouped into one of these categories: SEO, Social Media, PPC, Content Marketing.
Your Website structure can look like this:
and the URLs like this:
- Sample Category URL: example.com/SEO and example.com/Social
- Sample Blog URL: example.com/my-seo-blog-post
- Sample Page URL: example.com/digital-marketing-services
User and XML Sitemap
Google recommends that you provide users with a simple sitemap page that will contain links to all the important pages of your website (or to all pages if it’s possible). You can add this to your main menu or footer
Besides helping with user navigation a sitemap page is also used by Google during the crawl process to discover more pages from your website.
Another better way to inform search engines about your website pages and structure is to create an XML sitemap and submit it to Google and Bing.
An optimized XML sitemap should list all pages that search engines should know about and not pages that have duplicate content or provide no value to their users.
Bing Webmaster Tools and Google Search Console
One of the ways to check what search engines know about your website is through webmaster tools. Both Google and Bing have made these tools available to their users and they are free to use.
Webmaster tools can give you a lot of valuable information regarding your website. You can see your ranking position for different keywords, how many links point to your website, how many pages you have in the index if there are any errors during the crawl process, and many more.
Robots.txt is a file that exists on the root directory of every website and can be used to give instructions to search engines on which directories/files of the website they can crawl and include in their index.
Normally you will need to deal with robots.txt once and if everything is ok you don’t have to change it again.
To make things easier for you, there is a robots.txt tester function in Google Search Console which you can use to ensure that you don’t accidentally block search engines from accessing your website’s pages.
404 Page Optimization
What is a 404 page? The 404 page is shown to the users if they click a link on your website that leads to a non-existent page.
What is the importance of a 404 page for SEO? Remember that SEO is about usability and giving users a dead end is not the best approach.
Your 404 page needs to be useful and provide users with alternative ways to find what they are looking for.
PageSpeed and SEO
One of the ranking signals that is not kept a secret by Google is website speed. Websites that load fast have a competitive advantage over websites that are not so fast.
This means that if everything else is the same, Google will rank higher websites that are faster than slower.
So, even if page speed is a comparative signal and not a direct signal, there are many business benefits from having a fast loading website.
Numerous statistics show that users are not willing to wait for a website to load for more than 3-5 seconds (especially on mobile) and there is also a direct coloration between website speed and conversions.
To cut a long story short, part of your optimization process should be to improve the loading speed of your website as much as possible.
It’s a technical topic and you might need the help of a developer to do the necessary changes but consider this as an investment you have to do.
Mobile-Friendly Websites and SEO
Last but not least, your technical SEO checklist should also include how good or bad your website performs on mobile.
Google confirmed that mobile searches are now more than desktop and this simply means that if you are not mobile, you cannot reach a large percentage of your potential users.
What is a mobile-friendly website?
A website is considered mobile-friendly when:
- It can be viewed on a mobile device without having to zoom in and without having to use horizontal scroll bars to access the content.
- It passes the Google mobile-friendly test
- It loads fast (preferably more than 3 seconds)
- It allows the users to perform the same actions as the desktop but using their mobile devices.
To ensure that their mobile users are happy, Google introduced a mobile-friendly algorithm change in April 2015 (also known as mobilegeddon), that excludes from their mobile index websites that are not mobile-friendly.
6. Work on your On-Page SEO
Once you’re done with optimizing for technical SEO, the next step is to start working on your on-Page SEO.
On-Page includes the following tasks:
- Page Title Optimization
- Meta Description Optimization
- Heading Tags and Page Formatting
- SEO Copywriting
- Internal linking
- Rich Snippets and Schemas
- SEO for Multi-lingual websites
Page Title Optimization
A page title (<title>) is the first element that both users and search engines ‘see’ when reading or crawling a page.
Best practices for SEO friendly page titles:
- Each page of your website needs to have a unique page title
- Page titles should accurately describe the page content
- Page titles are shown in the search results so they should be attractive and help users understand if the page is relevant to their search so that they can click to visit the page.
How to SEO Optimize your page titles?
While the above best practices are all related to SEO, there is one more step to take to further optimize your page titles and this has to do with the use of keywords.
Keywords in the page title are important for both users and search engines. Users can easily spot the keywords in the title (sometimes they are even made bold by search engines) and this encourages them to click the link and visit the page.
Search engines ‘read’ the title and try to figure out if this is a page that can potentially satisfy the ‘intent of the user’. If this is the case, then they continue to examine the page content and other factors before they return the results to the user.
What you should do to win both users and bots is to ensure that your page titles include the keywords you are targeting.
For example, if you are writing a post targeting the keyword ‘SEO Tutorial’, then your page title should include this keyword, hence the title of this post.
As an additional note, there is no need to add your website name in the title, this is added automatically by Google (if it does not exist).
If you feel that you need to have your website name as part of the title, then move it to the end and not the beginning.
The first parts of the title include the important elements (i.e. keywords).
Have a look below at how Google SEOs optimized the title of Google AdSense. Notice how they blend keywords (make money online) in the page title.
Meta Description Optimization
The page meta description (<meta name=”description” content=“your description goes here”), is equally important. All of your website pages (including the homepage), should have a unique description that accurately summarizes the page’s actual content.
Heading Tags and Page Formatting
Besides the titles and descriptions that are seen by bots and shown in the search results, other factors that directly impact SEO are heading tags and page formatting.
As a general rule, headings should be used to guide users on the important sections of a page and thus make a page easier to read and user-friendlier.
Headings can also help search engines understand the content of a page. When reading the HTML of a page they can identify tags like H1 and H2 and use the text within those tags to figure out the meaning of the page’s content.
Headings should include keywords and have a hierarchical structure. For example, the first heading on the page should be the H1 tag (this is usually used for the page title) and the subsequent headings can be H2 or H3.
Maybe you have read many times in the past that content is king, but it is still true. Content is the most important element of any website.
Your content needs to be of high quality and also provide answers/solutions to the user intent and keep the search engine user happy.
Internal linking is adding links to your pages that point to other pages within your website.
Internal links serve 2 major purposes: 1st they aid navigation since they point users to other pages of your website to read more details about a certain topic and 2nd they help search engines discover more pages from your website and also understand the context of your pages better.
- Add internal links where it matters and not for the sake of doing it.
- There is no limit in the number of internal links you should have per page but don’t overdo it. Longer posts are more likely to have more internal links that 300-word posts.
- For internal links to have some value, they need to be in the main body of the page. Links in the sidebar or footer are not so valuable (for on-page SEO purposes).
- Use optimized anchor text with your internal links. Unlike external links, internal links can include keywords in the anchor text, there is no penalty for doing so.
- Don’t add the ‘nofollow’ tag to your internal links. All internal links should be followed.
Rich Snippets and Schemas
One of the modern ways to give more visibility to your content and improve its google rankings is by using rich snippets and schemas.
What are schemas and why you should care?
Structured data markup is a formal way to describe your content to search engines. One of the challenges search engines face when crawling a page is understanding the context of a page and schemas can help them a lot in this direction.
As stated by Google, through structured data markup you make your content eligible to appear in rich results and knowledge graph cards.
In real terms, this means eligibility to rank in position 0 of Google (above the normal search results) and this has a number of benefits.
Structured data markup can be implemented by adding a set of tags to your HTML code or through a JSON script.
SEO for Multi-lingual websites
Many websites have their content displayed in different languages and while this is normal and expected when it comes to SEO you need to have a few things in mind:
- Don’t use automatic translators to translate your content into different languages. Your content has to be of high quality and this means readable, without grammar, structural or spelling mistakes.
- If you want to make your content available to other languages, then do it manually on a page-by-page basis.
- To avoid any issues with duplicate content you need to do some SEO configurations and in particular, make use of hreflang meta attribute.
The hreflang attribute is a way to tell Google that your content is available in more than one language.
Google will use this information and serve the right content to your users (depending on location and language).
7. Work on Your Off-Page SEO
No SEO strategy is complete without off-page SEO. Beginners to search engine optimization should understand that a complete SEO action plan has to include off-page SEO tasks.
While On-page SEO has to do with optimizing your website and content, off-page SEO is about promotion and how you can get more exposure and attention to your website.
How long does it take for SEO to work?
Whether you do SEO on your own or hire an agency to do it for you, it is important to understand that SEO will not generate the expected results overnight.
SEO takes time to work because any changes you do to your website will have to be evaluated by Google and then taken into account.
So, any fixes that you do today to make your website SEO friendly, it may take months until these are properly ‘read’ by Google (and other search engines) and used to improve your ranking positions.
The same is true with link building. When a new link is detected by the Google crawlers, it has to be passed through an evaluation process before it is awarded as a positive ranking signal.
Nobody can give you an exact number of how long it will take to increase your traffic after you do SEO work on your website but as a general rule of thumb, it may take 3 to 6 months to see the merits of your work.
Thus it is very important to be patient and not lose your focus. Keep working on improving your SEO, content, and user experience and sooner or later you will be awarded for your hard work.
People that are not patient enough tend to get disappointed and quit before they see any results but those people that work consistently for a long period of time, are those that succeed in the end.