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One thing I’m passionate about is helping small businesses succeed in an increasingly saturated online landscape. But the way forward is difficult, and I’m not going to lie, it’s really expensive. The best piece of SEO advice I can give to small businesses is – don’t hire someone to do it for you. That may sound crazy coming from a paid consultant, but here’s why.

The best SEO advice I can give to small businesses is - don't hire someone to do it for you. Share on X

There are a few (a very few) good consultants out there that are just starting their businesses. These people are hungry for an opportunity to prove themselves, so they’ll take on smaller customers. But they know their stuff. However, there are hundreds – thousands – of people out there who don’t know what they are doing and are just looking to make a buck off the back of a small business owner like you. Only a qualified search marketer will be able to tell the difference. So don’t hire this critical part of your business out. Learn to do it yourself.

Learning SEO is Hard

There’s a lot of misinformation out there. You need sources you can trust to give you correct information, but even more than that, you need to develop a healthy sense of skepticism. At its most basic level, SEO is about findability. You need to make sure your website can be found in a search engine when it is an appropriate result for the searcher. It is the search engines’ job to present a good result to their searcher.

At the most fundamental level, the search engine needs to sell ads to stay in business. The way that they sell more ads is by getting more people to use their search engine. The way that they get more people to use their search engine is by providing relevant results that meet their needs.

Anything that you hear with regard to SEO that is not about making your site more relevant to the search engines and to your customers is probably not true. In fact, it’s worse than not true. It’s probably crap someone either made up or misunderstood from something else they think they learned. It’s probably crap that will get you in trouble with the search engines.

Study SEO Fundamentals

Here’s a reading list of free SEO resources for anyone trying to learn more about SEO:

  • Google’s Webmaster Guidelines: Get it straight from the horse’s mouth. They tell you exactly what you need to do to succeed, as well as what you better not do.
  • Google’s SEO Basics Tutorial: Again, get it straight from Google.
  • Moz Beginner’s Guide to SEO: This is a great, understandable guide to help you learn the principles of SEO. Moz in general is a great place to get more information, although you need to be careful who wrote it. Anything written by Rand Fishkin is legit. If you see anything by Josh Bachynski, ignore it and save yourself a headache.
  • Search Engine Journal’s SEO 101 Guide: This guide is a little outdated, but they’re actively working on getting it refreshed, and the basics are the same now as they were 10 years ago.

Get the SEO Books

If you are willing to invest more time and money, I have a few book recommendations for you as well:

  • The Art of SEO: This is the ultimate SEO desk-reference book. While you should read it cover to cover, it’s got more about SEO in it than you probably ever wanted to know. Written by Eric Enge, Stephan Spencer, and Jesse Stricchiola, it’s the bible of SEO.
  • Marketing In the Age of Google: For a much lighter read, try this excellent book by Vanessa Fox, the creator of Google Webmaster Tools (now known as Google Search Console). She explains the importance of understanding your customers’ needs and how that is an essential component of SEO.
  • Global Search Engine Marketing: If you’re doing anything internationally, you need this book by Anne Kennedy. It will explain how to control the duplication that is inherent with global sites, how to reach global customers, and how to handle translation issues. Although to be honest, if your company is that big and distributed, you need a professional consultant, not DIY. Just suck it up and pay for it already.
If your company is international, you need a professional, not DIY. Suck it up and pay for it. Share on X

SEO Blogs and News

There are several good sources of ongoing information available, but keep in mind if you choose to follow them, not everyone who writes for these blogs knows what they are talking about. If you see something that seems too good to be true, or like it’s advocating tricking search engines or customers, or which seems too technically complex to even wrap your head around, it’s probably best to ignore it and move on. If you really get stumped, check out my column at Ask an SEO and ask your question there. I’ll give you an honest answer.

  • Search Engine Land: One of the oldest sources for search information, it’s pretty well edited and they do a decent job of keeping blatantly false information out. They’re also the creators of the SMX conference series, which is excellent, but pretty advanced most of the time. I used to write for them, and still do occasionally – feel free to check out any of my articles directly.
  • Search Engine Journal: Also an older site, but recently under new editorial management, and seeing a significant increase in quality. Anything written on this site in the past year is probably legit, but I’d be careful with anything older than that. This is where my Ask an SEO column is located.
  • Search Engine Roundtable: Site run exclusively by Barry Schwartz (aka RustyBrick) who is the leading newsman in the industry. He does a weekly video round up that is good for staying on the cutting edge of SEO. He tends to break news that no one else does, but sometimes clarification is needed. Watch the comments on these posts to make sure you’re getting the full story. If you’re truly DIY SEO, this is probably extra noise that will just freak you out. Staying focused on the fundamentals is better.
Read the blogs, but make sure you're getting the full story. Share on X

SEO Tools

Most SEO Tools are going to be out of your price range as a do it yourselfer. However, there are two that I highly recommend for anyone who is serious about improving their website for SEO:

  • Screaming Frog: This is a crawling tool that simulates a search engine crawl of your website. It will show you anywhere you have a broken link, an image that’s too large, or just about anything else you want to know from a technical perspective. It’s free for up to 500 urls, but at a very low price of £149.00 per year (about $175 USD), it’s the best money you’ll ever spend for your website.
  • Moz Pro Toolset: There are a lot of quality tools out there for SEO, but Moz Pro is the best value for a DIY’r. With a rank tracker, a link explorer, a keyword tool, and much more all rolled into one, it’s a solid investment at $149 per month. If you use the toolset for even half of its features, it will help you with SEO far more than the same investment with a questionable consultant or agency will.

And finally, Be Honest With Yourself

If you are hoping to rank #1 for skincare with a company-provided Rodan+Fields website, it’s not gonna happen. If your goal is to get #1 ranking for your Etsy store, that’s not realistic. There’s nothing about your site or your service that is significantly different from anyone else’s. If you’re an independent company who has built a brochure site (just a few pages about who you are and what you do, but with no real value), then you might be able to rank for specific keywords that contain your location and brand name, but to do more, you have to do more.

If your goal is to get #1 ranking for your Etsy store, that's not realistic. Share on X

Be honest with yourself about whether your website belongs in a listing of top results for a particular search, and be realistic in your goals. If you’re a local bakery in Cary, NC that specializes in wedding cakes, a search like “wedding” is not going to list you. A search like “wedding cakes” might list you if the searcher is in your immediate vicinity when they perform that search. A search you should realistically hope to rank for is “wedding cakes in Cary”. But what’s even better (and will likely result in a better outcome of the customer contacting you) is if you’re known for wedding cakes that feature edible flowers, you’ll want to rank for a search like “edible flower wedding cakes in Cary“.

So be honest with yourself, and realistic in your goals. Don’t fall for the person that calls and says “we can get you #1 on Google” or the one that says “if you don’t update your Google listing, your business will be marked permanently closed.” Both of those are unrealistic, stupid ideas that fly in the face of the search engine’s goal to provide quality results to their customers.

Don't fall for the person that calls and says 'we can get you #1 on Google.' Share on X

Good luck in your DIY SEO efforts, and feel free to leave additional resources and advice in the comments. Anyone who read to this point is equipped to sort fact from fiction, value from garbage.

Anyone who reads this will be equipped to sort fact from fiction. Share on X