Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the most popular online marketing strategies around, in part because of how effective it is. Even with a limited budget, you can gradually increase your business’s rankings in search engine results pages (SERPs), ultimately attracting more traffic and more revenue.
Most people who pursue SEO end up hiring a professional SEO agencyto handle the majority of the work. SEO agencies have a lot of advantages; they tend to have a robust team of experts, they’re capable of scaling with your organization as your needs change, and they can easily adapt to new circumstances to improve your results.
However, agencies can seem expensive to SEO newcomers—especially if they’re not sure about the reliability of the strategy. So what about the alternative? Is it possible to do SEO on your own?
The Basics of SEO
Let’s start with an easy answer: anyone can learn the basics of SEO. On the surface, SEO seems like a technically complex and overwhelming subject, but the high-level concept of the strategy is much more approachable than it seems.
Google and other search engines want to provide users with the best possible experience, so in response to user queries, they selectively include results that are both relevant and trustworthy. The relevance of a page is determined based on whether it matches the topic of the user’s query, while the trustworthiness of the page is determined based on how much authority it seems to have. Search optimizers, therefore, can increase their website’s likelihood of ranking highly by increasing their pages’ relevance and trustworthiness.
Relevance can be thought of as the appropriateness of a page for a given query. In other words, are you providing a user with content that they’re deliberately seeking out? Or are you answering one of their questions? In most cases, relevance is established by writing content and optimizing for certain keywords; in other words, you’re increasing the potential “match” for user queries, strategically.
You’ll need to optimize for both relevance and authority if you want a chance at rising in rankings in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Obviously, the technical components of this ranking system are much more complex, but this “big picture” idea should be easy even for total newcomers to grasp.
Authority can be thought of as the trustworthiness associated with a specific page, and it’s determined at both a page level and a domain level. The more trustworthy a site is perceived to be, the higher the authority of all its pages will be. The more trustworthy an individual page is perceived to be, the higher its individual authority will be. The higher the authority of a page, the more likely it is to rank highly for a relevant query.
Main Areas of SEO
Practicing an SEO strategy typically requires your attention in several main areas, including:
Technical onsite optimization
Arguably the most complicated area of SEO is technical onsite optimization—the process of making your site function in a way that’s favorable to search engine rankings. This means not only ensuring your site is able to be indexed properly, but also improving its convenience to individual users with the help of things like mobile optimization. These days, most website builders try to technically optimize their websites and pages by default; you won’t have to do much tinkering to make sure your pages are indexed by Google, for example.
However, if you’re creating your own website from scratch, you’ll need some coding or development knowledge to make things work. It’s also worth noting that even website builders won’t do everything for you; for example, faster sites tend to rank higher in search engines, so it’s worth making the effort to establish caching, manage plugins, and reformat content to facilitating faster loading times (especially on mobile devices). Still, even the most challenging areas here can eventually be learned by a committed solopreneur.
Initial onsite content optimization
You’ll also need to build your reputation, trustworthiness, and relevance for target keywords by developing the onsite content of your site. You should have several hundred words of written content (and some visual content) for each core page of your site, and optimize those swaths of content with keywords relevant to your business.
Your URLs should be short and optimized with keywords, and you should fill in backend data (including title tags and meta descriptions) to improve your chances of ranking and create a more favorable SERP entry. There’s a lot to think about here, and it’s a lot of upfront work for someone going it alone—but the good news is, it only needs to be done once for each page.
Ongoing onsite content development
You’ll also need to regularly produce new onsite content, designed to optimize for specific keywords and phrases while also building your authority. If you’re a good writer, this should be within your grasp. However, these responsibilities can quickly grow to become overwhelming. If you’re producing two or three new posts each week, and it takes you more than an hour for each post, you’ll lose a significant amount of your workday.
Link building and promotion
Building backlinks is one of the key SEO strategies and techniques you need to implement for success. Unfortunately, making a good website simply isn’t enough to help it rank well. You’ll also need to invest in offsite optimization tactics, like link building and ongoing promotion. These offsite tactics are essential for boosting your authority—the second half of the SEO equation. To make matters more complicated, link building isn’t exactly straightforward; Google evaluates not just the quantity and authority of your links, but also their quality and contextual relevance. You need to build links carefully and strategically if you want to avoid a penalty. This can be both difficult to master and effort-intensive for someone trying to pursue SEO alone.
And of course, you’ll need to unify these tactics with high-level strategies, like researching which keywords and phrases to target, deciding how much time and effort to spend on your campaign, and figuring out how to stitch these tactics together with your other marketing strategies.
Link building can be very time consuming but also very powerful when done well. To help you with your link building strategy, check these 45 top off-page SEO techniques. This will help build your website authority and increase your organic traffic significantly.
The Big Issues With Going Alone
Over time, you can learn the nuances of what makes an SEO strategy effective, and you can execute the ground-level tactics necessary to increase your rankings. But there are several issues with doing this totally alone: the first one is that you may become a victim of amateur SEO.
The learning curve
Even if SEO is learnable, that doesn’t mean it can be learned overnight. The SEO learning curve is very steep and that's why you should think about outsourcing search engine optimization. It takes most people months to get the basics of SEO and years to master it—and even then, there will be things you don’t know and don’t understand. If you’re like most people, it will take you a few weeks of learning to feel like you have the basics, and once you start executing them, you’ll suddenly realize how much you don’t yet understand.
Practicing SEO requires an investment of many hours, from tweaking the backend code and existing content of your site to finding new publishers for link building purposes. If you’re trying to do all that work yourself, you’ll be unable to use those hours for developing the rest of your business. And at a certain point, it becomes impossible for a single person to do everything that’s necessary for a campaign. At the very least, you’ll need to delegate some of these tasks to other employees and partners; for most practitioners, hiring a full-time team member, working with a specialized contractor, or hiring an SEO agency are better options.
Working with a SEO agency have great pros. One of the advantages of working with an agency is that you’ll get access to niche specialists, like writers, link builders, analytics experts, and keyword researchers; each of these specialists is a master of their respective field, and can provide you with top-quality work. Before working with an agency, it's important that you allocate a budget for your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) strategy though. As a jack-of-all-trades trying to do a little bit of everything, you won’t be able to compete with the results achievable by these experts in their respective areas.
Starting an SEO campaign for a small business might be feasible as a solo marketer, but as you grow, this becomes less and less practical. If you’re just looking to make your site polished enough to appear in SERPs and you’re competing with one or two other local businesses, even a few hours of SEO can help you build momentum. But once you start competing with businesses on a national level, or if you’re interested in multiplying your traffic, you may not be able to keep up with the demands of the strategy.
Many things can go wrong in an SEO campaign. Working with SEO professionals is recommended if you want to improve your Google rankings without getting penalized. If your rankings suddenly drop, or if you get deindexed, would you know what to do by yourself? This is the point at which most people trying to do SEO alone realize how complex the strategy truly is; they’re confronted with their own limitations, and must rely on the help of experts to find a new way forward.
Doing SEO On Your Own
Accordingly, while it’s possible to do SEO on your own, the vast majority of marketers are better off working with a professional agency, hiring an in-house team, or working with a network of contractors to handle the work. Even if you’re involved in the high-level planning and goal setting, it’s a good idea to recruit other people to help you execute your campaign.
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