DIY SEO: 9 Doable Steps for Beginners

Man wearing hard hat carrying a laptop, holding wrench in hand.

Plenty of website owners are willing to put in the effort to learn and implement SEO on their own. Yes, DIY SEO is possible.

With an understanding of the basic best practices, you can help create a website that is primed for search engine success and offers visitors a good experience.

While it’s true that at some point in your SEO campaign, you will run into issues that may be above your expertise or training, you can take your site to a certain level and then hire an SEO expert when the time is right.

In this article:

Questions to Ask Before You Do DIY SEO

Before you embark on your journey, knowing that SEO isn’t necessarily easy is important.

Here are three questions to ask before you start:

  1. Do you have the time? First, you must set up the foundations, including some one-time projects. However, many more tasks will happen regularly throughout the lifetime of your website.
  2. Can you invest in SEO learning? Learning SEO from experts is important to get you going in the right direction. Then, staying updated with the latest SEO strategies is an ongoing process.
  3. How willing are you to take on the technical work? The willingness and ability to learn how to diagnose and fix website issues is crucial, especially when dealing with sudden drops in rankings or traffic.

If you feel confident you can move forward with DIY SEO, you can then implement the following nine steps to get started.

DIY SEO: 9 Steps for Beginners

1. Take SEO Training

Having good foundational SEO knowledge before you embark on your journey is priceless.

Yes, you can cobble together information bit by bit as you go, but it’s simply not as efficient as taking an SEO training course right out of the gate.

There are many options, and first, you need to decide if an in-person class or a virtual course is right for you.

In-person classes are held on specific dates throughout the year.

For example, I teach my in-person SEO training in a Southern California classroom, and have also offered it at popular search marketing conferences like SMX.

Then there’s virtual training, which allows you to go at your own pace. Travel isn’t required, and it can be more cost-effective.

For example, our SEO training membership site offers SEO training, live Q&As, multimedia resources and more.

SEO training course.

You have options for SEO training. If you want more information on how to pick an SEO training course, see my article on Search Engine Land: 5 Questions to Evaluate Any SEO Training Program.

2. Do the Basic Technical Requirements

Website performance can impact your ability to rank in the search engines. There are some basic technical requirements you’ll want to consider, including:

  • A mobile-friendly site, which ensures a positive user experience for visitors using smartphones and tablets. The good news is that many mobile-friendly WordPress themes do the majority of the work here.
  • Making sure the site works for Google. The minimal tech requirements to get indexed in the search results include making sure Googlebot isn’t blocked, that the webpages actually work and that they have indexable content.

    You can use SEOToolSet’s Site Checker tool to help monitor your site’s health to ensure you are fulfilling the technical requirements. If there’s ever an issue with your robots.txt, check out my beginner’s guide to robots.txt.

SEOToolSet Site Checker Tool.

If you want to get into more of the technical work for SEO, check out my article on why technical SEO is important and the differences between technical SEO vs. on-page SEO.

3. Manage Your Site Structure and Links

Site structure refers to how the content on your website is organized and interconnected.

A well-organized site structure:

  • Enhances user experience. A logical and clear structure helps visitors find the information they need more efficiently. This improves overall user satisfaction and can lead to longer visits and more interactions. Positive user behavior signals to search engines that your site is valuable, potentially boosting your rankings.
  • Improves crawling and indexing. Search engines use web crawlers to discover and index web pages. A clear structure allows these crawlers to reach every page on your website more easily. The more effectively a search engine can crawl your site, the better your chances of ranking well.

    In its SEO starter guide under “organizing your site,” Google says that this only matters with large sites. But it’s not hard to achieve good structure with smaller sites, so it’s a step I wouldn’t skip. For more, learn about SEO siloing.

  • Distributes page authority. A well-planned site structure and linking strategy allows link equity (the ranking power passed through links) to flow throughout your website.

    Google’s PageRank algorithm assesses a webpage’s authority. If one webpage is considered high authority and links to another webpage internally, it passes some of its authority to the page it is linking to, which can influence rankings.

For more on organizing your site, check out my jam-packed guide on internal linking for SEO.

4. Perform Keyword Research

Keyword research uncovers the terms and phrases your potential customers use when looking for what you have to offer on a search engine.

These terms can be anything from general (“professional cameras”) to specific (“Canon EOS R6 II”) and even long-tail (“how to learn the basics of photography”).

In fact, a person might use all kinds of terms as they begin their exploration of a topic online, and you need to know about them.

Discovering these terms ensures you are creating the right content for your website (and optimizing it) so that you can be a contender in the search results when your target audience types them into Google.

I don’t want to make it sound like this step is a breeze. Good keyword research takes time and effort. But as a beginner, doing some basic keyword research can make a big difference compared to not doing any keyword research at all.

Because SEO is all about experimentation, you will begin to see how your keyword list and content strategy are working over time as you track your progress. Then, you can refine them.

For more on this topic, see: What Are Keywords?

You can use our free keyword research tool to start, and when you’re ready, you can upgrade. A SEOToolSet subscription gets you more powerful keyword research capabilities.

Keyword Suggestions Tool in SEOToolSet.
Keyword Suggestions tool in SEOToolSet

5. Create Great Content

Above all else, Google wants to rank sites with great content.

Maybe you’re not so great at some other SEO tactics, but if you do nothing else, create great content. You will have a better chance of competing in the search results.

Of course, everything works together to set the stage for great content and a great user experience, so it’s important to understand how they are interconnected:

  • Knowing the right keywords to target helps in developing your content topics.
  • Creating helpful content helps visitors (potential customers) on their journey of topic exploration.
  • Optimizing your content with keywords naturally helps to make it more relevant to search queries so people can find it.
  • Having a well-organized site that puts the content into categories with easy navigation enhances the user experience, allowing visitors and search engines to discover more of your content (which can influence rankings and move a person further along the customer journey).
  • “Great content” can be subjective. But Google has some thoughts on what makes great content, and I have thoughts, too.

For more, I suggest reading: Crafting High-Quality SEO Content: A Comprehensive Guide.

6. Optimize Meta Tags

Meta tags live on the code side of a webpage. So, while they are not visible to someone looking at the page on your site, they serve important functions:

  • Content clarification: Meta tags provide essential information about a page’s content to search engines. This is one of the first clues the search engine gets about whether the page is relevant to a search.
  • First impressions: Meta tags are your website’s first impression in search results. The information you put in them (the page’s title and description) can potentially show as the title link and description in the search results. (I say potentially because Google is known to rewrite meta tags and you can read more about that: Do Meta Descriptions Matter Anymore?). A well-crafted meta tag can increase click-through rates.

You will want to ensure that every webpage on your site has unique content in the meta tags that are descriptive of the page.

If you have a WordPress site, SEO plugins can simplify the meta tag editing process.

(You can read more about how our SEO plugin works alongside the popular Yoast SEO plugin to ensure your meta tags adhere to best practices.)

7. Add Optimized Images

Images you upload to your site can appear in Google Search, Google Discover or Google Images results. So they represent another way people can find you.

For example, if you search for “tree house ideas,” images will be prominent in the search results.

Google Search Image Optimization.

If you happen to sell anything related to tree houses and have an optimized image of a tree house embedded in your quality content, then you can be eligible to show up.

There are a lot of ways you can optimize your images for SEO. When you’re ready, check out:

8. Build Community

Once you have a great website, tell people about it.

Though this isn’t only an SEO thing, the marketing and advertising you do about your website outside of your SEO strategy can positively impact your rankings.

For example, you can:

  • Use social media to promote content on your website. (Some social media content is indexed in the Google Search results.)
  • Partner with other brands to co-create content, getting your brand and website in front of new audiences (and potentially driving more traffic and backlinks).
  • Be an active part of the community in your niche, such as being interviewed or interviewing someone interesting, so you get more eyeballs on your website.
  • Use pay-per-click advertising to sponsor content so it can potentially show up at the top of the search results.

For more on how a community can help SEO efforts, see:

9. Track Your Progress

Every website owner should sign up for two basic (and free) Google tools to track SEO success: Google Analytics and Google Search Console.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a website analytics tool that gives detailed information about:

  • Website traffic: See where your visitors are coming from (geographically and online, such as from search engines, direct visits or referral sites) and what devices they use.
  • Visitor behavior: Find out how users interact with your site, including which pages they visit, how long they stay and what actions they take.
  • Conversion tracking: Track visitor conversions, such as form submissions, product purchases, or other actions to see the ROI of your SEO efforts.
  • Content performance: Discover which pages attract the most visitors and engagement.

For more on Google Analytics setup, see: Google Analytics 4 — What It Is and How to Get Started.

Google Search Console

Google Search Console focuses more directly on monitoring and maintaining your site’s presence in Google Search results.

You can monitor:

  • Search performance: Get data on how your site appears in search results, including information about impressions, clicks, click-through rate (CTR) and positions.
  • Indexing issues: Find out about any problems Google has in accessing or indexing your site and its content.
  • Site performance: Understand metrics that contribute to your site’s visitor experience, such as core web vitals.

Google Search Console Search Results Tab.

You can view the complete list of features over at Search Console Help.

Together, these tools give a comprehensive view of your website’s health, performance and areas where SEO can be enhanced.

How to Hire an SEO

At some point, you will inevitably want to hire an SEO expert to take your program to the next level.

There are several ways to engage with an SEO consultant or agency, whether it’s a one-off project, consulting, or full-service SEO.

When you’re ready to hire, I recommend reading the following articles I authored at Search Engine Land:

Final Thoughts on DIY SEO

DIY SEO is doable for website owners who are willing to learn and apply basic SEO principles and put in the time.

SEO isn’t always as simple as it sounds and might eventually require professional help. But starting with this self-guided strategy can improve your ability to compete in the search results and offer a good user experience for potential customers.

Want to get ahead with professional services from an SEO Expert? We’re standing by to help. 

FAQ: How does DIY SEO differ from hiring a professional SEO expert?

If you want to enhance your website’s visibility through higher search engine rankings, you need to know the difference between DIY SEO and hiring a professional SEO expert.

The main benefit of DIYing your SEO strategy is that you save money. When you go this route you will not have to add professional SEO services to your budget. This is most attractive to anyone who is at the beginning stages of building a business or blog.

The low cost of self-managed SEO comes with a learning curve, though. Instead of paying a professional, you will be spending time learning how to master keyword research, on-page SEO, and link-building. Getting over the learning curve can be time-consuming, taking weeks (or even months). And if you’re new to search engine optimization, chances are you will be overwhelmed.

But if you bring on a trained SEO specialist or team, you can rest assured that your website is being handled by someone who can command results. These professionals stay in the know when it comes to search engine algorithms and SEO trends, and that means higher rankings for you.

Just know that professional services usually have a high price tag, depending on the work scope and the quality and reputation of the agency or individual.

Another difference between DIY and professional SEO lies in resource allocation. When you do your own SEO, you handle every little (and big) thing, from content creation to technical audits and reporting. It can be near impossible to juggle these functions and keep up with routine business operations.

On the other hand search engine optimization professionals and agencies have access to numerous tools and resources to keep things streamlined and boost productivity.

Another couple of factors to consider are work quality and depth. Most people can DIY simple tasks in-house but may not have the wherewithal to tackle more advanced tasks, like:

  • Site architecture optimization
  • Advanced link-building
  • Analytics interpretation

Insider knowledge and advanced tools give professionals an edge over the average Joe.

One of the biggest hurdles to do-it-yourself SEO is keeping tabs on the latest search engine algorithm updates. Failing to adapt post-update can result in swift drops in rankings.

SEO professionals hang out on community forums and subscribe to industry newsletters, where updates are discussed right away. This helps them to stay informed and makes them better able to deliver tangible results for your SEO campaign.

If you think the DIY route is your best bet right now, get to educating yourself – read up on blogs and forums like Search Engine Land, Google Search Central and Moz. You can improve your SEO efforts over time by gaining some practical experience and taking in as much industry knowledge as possible.

Step-By-Step Procedure

  1. Find the right keywords: Try using SEO tools like Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush, or SEOToolSet to help with keyword research.
  2. Plan out your content in advance: Use your target keywords as the basis for a content strategy that features topics your target audience will connect with.
  3. Make on-page adjustments: Take full advantage of your keyword research by using your target keywords in your page titles, headers, meta descriptions and images.
  4. Do a technical audit: Screaming Frog and Ahrefs boast helpful auditing functions. They can help you pinpoint technical problems like duplicate content and broken links.
  5.  Focus on your site’s architecture: To create a positive user experience on your site, ensure your site structure and navigation are clean and intuitive.
  6. Use internal links throughout your site: Link to relevant pages throughout your site; doing so will distribute link equity and make it easier for spiders to crawl your pages.
  7. Optimize your site for mobile users: Use one or more mobile-friendly tools to scan and evaluate your site pages. You can find many of them online and the best ones generate tips for improvement.
  8. Ensure your pages load quickly. You can make your site faster by using resources like Google PageSpeed Insights. Compressing images and minimizing code on your pages can also help tremendously in this area.
  9. Rework your URLs: You need clean, descriptive URLs that include your target keywords.
  10. Incorporate schema markup: Schema markup code (aka structured data) helps with visibility by communicating your pages’ content and context to search engines.
  11. Put out knockout content: Never compromise on content quality. Good SEO demands that you regularly post great content. Blog posts and website content should directly address your audience’s pain points and interests.
  12. Build high-quality backlinks: Write guest posts on relevant sites, collaborate with leaders in your niche and use internet-based solutions to discover backlinking opportunities.
  13. Get to know your competitors: Use competitor analysis tools to find out what works for your competitors. Implement your findings in your own SEO strategy.
  14. Get a handle on local SEO: Claim your Google My Business listing and localize your target keywords.
  15. Optimize your site for user engagement: Increase your dwell time and lower your bounce rate by cranking out captivating content and using straightforward CTAs.
  16. Keep an eye on the data: Stay up to date on metrics like bounce rate, conversion rates, organic traffic and more. This is how you’ll gauge the success of your SEO initiatives.
  17. Keep your content updated: Go back and review your older content and refresh it according to SEO best practices. It should be relevant, fresh and optimized.
  18. Download the right plugins: To bolster your efforts, install and configure SEO plugins on your chosen CMS.
  19. Submit your XML sitemaps: Go to Google Search Console and submit your XML sitemaps directly to enable Google to crawl your site more effectively.
  20. Optimize your robots.txt file: Tweak your robots.txt file so that it shows which pages you want search engines to ignore.
  21. Find out what people think: Solicit, compile and review feedback from your site users on an ongoing basis. Use it to improve your site’s user experience.
  22. Get active on social: Encourage users to share your content across social media to foster increased reach and backlink potential.
  23. Stay informed about algorithm updates: Use MozCast and other tools to stay up to date on the Google algorithm.
  24. Revise your strategy as needed: Your SEO strategy may require updates from time to time to align with the latest trends and your own analytical insights.

Whether you decide to go with an SEO expert or use DIY methods, remember that you can achieve positive outcomes with the right knowledge and strategies.

Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn or through the website.

See Bruce's author page for links to connect on social media.

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