Beginners’ DIY SEO Checklist Before Hiring an Agency

June 16, 2020
Posted in SEO
June 16, 2020 Claire Routh

diy seo

Let’s face it. Many DIY SEO checklists are thinly veiled attempts to get you to sign up for a course, Facebook group, or certification that you probably don’t need.

And while they may include helpful information like why SEO is important, they often overload you with technical jargon and unneeded material.

Maybe you’ve looked into SEO and are debating whether it’s time to bring in the big guns. After all, the right SEO agency can drastically improve the visibility of your business, leading to a surge of new customers.

But before seeking out an expert, it’s crucial to lay the SEO groundwork. By doing so, you’ll set yourself up to get the best results possible.

That’s what this beginner-friendly SEO checklist is all about:

seo checklist

Setting SEO goals

Imagine a couple is planning a wedding. They set up a meeting with an experienced wedding planner.

The planner asks what the couple has in mind and they respond that they want their dream wedding. The couple tells the planner that she’s an expert and they know she’ll create the perfect day for them.

With little direction and no concrete ideas as to what the couple truly wants, the planner has a limited amount of information to go off of.

Now replace bridal bouquets with business goals. Sometimes, businesses enlist SEO agencies without first understanding what end result they want. So an agency is left to figure out what the best course of action is.

Small businesses SEO is incredibly effective when done well. The first step is to define the target to aim for.

Why setting SEO goals is important

Because SEO is such a broad term, “improving SEO” is not a specific enough goal. Setting clear goals is a crucial part of any DIY SEO plan. This way, everyone in your organization is on the same page and you can actually see if your SEO efforts are working.

Good SEO is not one-size-fits-all. It depends on the goals and needs of a business. To get the most out of an SEO agency, it’s important to have clear objectives in place. What do you want to achieve with this SEO investment?

Examples of SEO Goals

  1. Increase organic traffic to specific pages of your website
  2. Generate more leads
  3. Target a specific persona
  4. Appear in more featured snippets
  5. Bolster your domain authority

If you are unsure where to begin, think about the marketing goals of your company. Your SEO goals should support these efforts. Also, consider getting a free SEO audit from Markitors.

This SEO audit is quick, free, and provides actionable insights that will help you improve your search presence.

Remember, beginner SEO goals don’t have to be perfect. You can adjust or tweak goals in the future. But approaching an agency with a clear picture of the end game means they can get straight to work for your business.

Building dedicated landing pages that describe products or services

When compared to companies with fewer than 10 landing pages, companies with 10-15 landing pages increase conversions by 55%, according to recent research.

Landing pages are a key place for your business to describe the selling points and highlights of the product or service you offer. Landing pages can be used in a variety of ways to generate leads. For interest, you can use Pinterest to drive traffic to your landing pages.

These pages should be up and running before you reach out to an agency.

No one understands your business the way that you do. And a good SEO agency won’t pretend that they do. They have their area of expertise and you have yours.

So you are best equipped to create the landing pages for your company.

Then, if you can come to an agency with a list of keywords to target, they can refer to your landing pages for details about your unique services.

Take a look at this landing page from Intercom, a messaging platform that connects businesses with customers via chat.

intercom exampleThe page features bold words, highlighting their value proposition. There are two calls-to-action. The “get started” button for those who wish to submit their email and the “watch a demo” for those wanting to learn more.

There is also a chatbox on the right side promoting a free ebook. As you can see, the page is not heavy on text but it is engaging to a viewer.

It’s evident that careful planning went into this landing page design. If Intercom approached an SEO agency, the agency would have a clear picture of what it is the firm does and how to target their desired keywords.

An agency can’t optimize what’s not present. So make sure you build out these pages beforehand.

Why dedicated landing pages are important for SEO

An additional benefit to having a designated landing page for each service or product your business provides is simplifying the process of ranking highly for desired keywords.

For instance, Markitors provides services for SEO, digital PR, technical SEO, and local SEO. Let’s say our goal is to increase visibility on Google for keywords related to these pages.

Take one scenario where we have a single “services” page listing all services we offer. If someone is looking for “local SEO” specifically, they wouldn’t want to scroll through several other services to find what they are specifically looking for.

Instead, this person will click on the search result most relevant to what they want, which is only “local SEO”. As a result, search engines won’t find this “services” page helpful to users looking for more specific information.

The page won’t perform well.

In a different scenario, we give each service its own landing page and explain in-depth how it works. This satisfies search intent for each keyword we are targeting and better organizes the site for humans and search engines. In the end, we can increase individual page performance. Potential customers can more easily find us, as well.

How you can improve your landing pages

The purpose of a landing page is to get users to convert. So it needs to look different from your typical web pages. Implement these strategies to boost your DIY SEO effectiveness.

  • Structure your landing page around a target persona.

Landing pages are set in place for one reason—to convert visitors. Use the data you have about your typical customer to form a buyer persona. This persona can inform your landing page messaging and design.

intercom example 2Let’s look back to the Intercom example. Here, you can clearly see the ideal audience the brand is striving for with this landing page: decision-makers at tech-savvy firms. Speak to your target persona to increase conversions on your landing page.

  • Determine the aim of the landing page

Conversions can take many forms.

If you want users to subscribe to your monthly email newsletter, then define that as the singular purpose of one landing page. Another landing page can be dedicated to getting users to download an ebook or make a purchase.

In short, each landing page will be more effective if you create it with one measurable goal in mind.

  • Add an irresistible call to action

No landing page is complete without a call-to-action or CTA! There are different approaches to take when writing a call-to-action. It should be in line with the goal of the unique landing page.

You could go with a simple “get started” or “order now”. But to really generate that feeling of want in your customer, think of more tempting CTAs. For example, subscription company Birchbox subtly suggests that users are missing out and neglecting self-care if they don’t sign up for a monthly box.

more than a beauty box

Identifying a unique keyword and topic for each page

No DIY SEO checklist is complete without keyword research. Every time someone types words or phrases into Google, Google scans millions of pages to find relevant information in relation to that keyword.

So, in order for your pages to rank on the SERP (search engine results page), you need to be targeting a specific keyword in each piece. Long-tail keywords are longer and more specific than one or two-word keywords. These are easier to rank for because they have a lower search volume and less competition.

How to approach keyword research

  • Find keywords that fit your topics

Your business specializes in a specific industry that has certain popular terms and frequently asked questions surrounding it. If you want to be an authority on pet grooming, for instance, then your keywords should surround queries in that topic.

Google is actually a great resource to find out what people are searching for. Simply look at the autocomplete options as you type in your keywords. You can also view the related searches section at the bottom of the page for keyword ideas.

  • Find the sweet spot

Keywords need to have a high enough search volume that they are worth going after. At the same time, they need to have a low enough difficulty that you actually have a chance to rank for them. You can use a tool like Ahrefs Keyword Explorer to find information on search volume and difficulty level of keywords.

  • Differentiate your keywords

There is a danger in creating pages that are too similar to each other. If you create landing pages that have similar target keywords, one may end up cannibalizing the other in the search results page. The competition to be on the first page of Google is tough as is. Don’t make this common beginner SEO mistake.

Improving your website through on-page SEO

93% of online experiences begin with a search engine.

Translation: Most people are not finding you by typing your website into the address bar.

Instead, they are typing the product or question into a search bar and are greeted with a sea of royal blue links, ripe for the clicking.

That means your challenge is twofold.

First, you must target the right keywords so that you’re in a position to compete for clicks. Second, you need to have a link that people are drawn to click on.

An SEO agency can help with both of these tasks. But there are certain steps you can take to shift this project into gear.

Here are a few effective tactics for your DIY SEO checklist.

Improving Meta Descriptions

If you want to improve the click-through-rate of your pages on SERPs (search engine results pages), then you need to start paying attention to title tags and meta descriptions.

When it comes to SERPs, every result is like a storefront. And the ones with lackluster title tags or missing meta descriptions are the stores that no searcher is going to click on. In fact, these results likely won’t make it onto the first page at all.

Why Improving Meta Descriptions Matters

A title tag indicates the name of the page to both the search engine and the user. It’s what will appear on the SERP in blue.

A meta description is a brief summary (155 characters max) of what your article is about. It rests under the tile on a SERP and helps a user decide if they will click on your page or scroll past it.

This title tag by Reddit describes the site as “the front page of the internet”. The meta description is a concise description of Reddit. It also features a call to action, drawing people in.

reddit screenshotMeta descriptions can boost your click-through rates leading to an increase in traffic to your website. Need more convincing?

Google emphasizes the importance of meta descriptions, stating that EVERY page should have one.

create good meta descriptionsGoogle also shares that a meta description tag may be used in the creation of a search results snippet.

Getting a featured snippet is like having a large storefront on the corner of the crowded shopping avenue. It’s prime real estate.

Take the query “painting with oil vs. acrylics” for example. The featured snippet has the top result, before any ads or competitors. That means the lion’s share of clicks is going to this art blog.

painting screenshotHow to improve your meta descriptions

It’s a good idea to go through your pages to ensure they each have relevant, enticing meta descriptions. If you use WordPress, crafting your meta description is an easy DIY SEO step.

  1. Make sure that the target keyword is in the meta description.

For example, if your target keyword is how to create an SEO strategy, your meta description can look something like this.

  • markitors how to createTake a peek at the competition

All’s fair in love and SEO. Head on over to Google and look at the top ranking results for the keywords you are trying to target. You can get ideas from the meta descriptions of these pages.

  • Consider adding a call to action

Put yourself in the searcher’s shoes when writing a meta description. Ask yourself if you would click on the page after reading it. A call-to-action could be the little nudge that pushes a user to visit your site.

  • Google may not display your meta

You worked hard to craft the ideal meta description. But it might not get all the front-page time it desires. Google does not always display the meta description beneath the result. If Google feels that another section of the page better responds to the user’s query, it may display that underneath the title tag.

Perfecting a URL

Improving SEO is not a one and done situation. Rather, it’s tweaking, editing, and adjusting different pieces to continually improve.

One of these pieces is your URL, otherwise known as the web address of a certain page.

Why you should pay attention to each URL on your website

Sometimes overlooked, a URL helps search engines determine a page’s relevance in relation to the term that is being searched. They also signify to users what the page is about.

For example, using the same oil vs. acrylics example, this page from Hunakai Studio appears on the SERP.

The URL explains in simple terms what the content is about.

what is the difference screenshotHow to optimize your URLs for SEO

DO:

  1. Keep it simple

Google refers to simple URLs as “friendlier”. That’s because they come across in a clear and easy to follow manner. Examine the two URLs below.

url for seoWhile they are both for the same web page, the second one is much easier to understand.

  1. Use keywords

A study analyzing 5 million Google search results found URLs with a keyword in them resulted in a 45% higher organic click-through rate in comparison to those without.

You want the searcher to understand what your webpage is about. You also want Google to take this into account when determining page ranking. So placing the target keyword in the URL is a smart move.

  1. Keep it short

Much like a trip to the dentist’s office or the wait time for your morning latte, shorter is better for URLs.

There are many reasons why a shorter URL is beneficial.

For instance, a user is much more likely to share a short, understandable URL. It also comes across as more trustworthy than a URL with a ton of numbers and jargon attached to the end of it.

Shorter URLs also make it easier to organize your site and for users to know where they are on it.

DON’T:

  1. Reiterate keywords

While the presence of keywords in a URL is typically beneficial, it’s possible to go too far.

If you are redundant with keywords in the URL, Google may view the page as inauthentic.

Going back to the paint example from earlier, imagine the URL was:

Difference-between-oil-acrylic-oil-acrylic-differences-oil-vs-acrylic-paint

This is a prime example of what NOT to do. Google deems it excessive and chances are users will not view it in a positive light either.

  1. Use non-specific URLs

The more confusing your URL, the less user-friendly your site appears.

This is not ideal considering Google is dedicated to providing the best user experience for individuals.

Consider the following URL from a UK based news website:

uk based news urlNot only is it clunky, but it also gives no indication of the article topic. Who is likely to click on this URL or share it when it reads like a robot malfunctioning?

Using Google Search Console to find basic technical SEO issues

There is no shortage of SEO tools and web analytics software on the market.

But Google Search Console is one of the most powerful tools out there.

It provides insights into your website, letting you figure out what areas need improvement. You can see things like impressions from a certain keyword, site issue alerts, what searches are driving users to your site, and more.

And it’s free, making it a perfect addition to any DIY SEO checklist.

How to make use of google search console

Here are just some of the ways you can utilize Google Search Console in your quest for SEO excellence.

Tell Google what pages to avoid crawling

The way Google finds and ranks pages is a complex process that is always being tinkered with by the Google overlords. Here’s the TL;DR version.

Before Google can rank webpages, it has to search the web to see what pages are out there. This process is known as crawling.

The next step is indexing. This is the part where Google learns what the page is about via text, images, and videos. Once a page is indexed, it is stored in the google database.

For a closer look at the process, check out the “Crawling and Indexing” section of what is technical SEO.

The fact is, there are some pages of your website that you likely don’t want Google to crawl. Privacy policy pages and category pages are a few examples. In fact, Google shares that certain internal pages may actually hurt user experience. Check out this tip from Google:

Google is stating flat out that certain pages should not be crawled. But how do you put this into practice?

You can prevent pages from appearing in SERPs by utilizing the “no index” meta tag. Google Search Console offers a step by step guide on how to accomplish this.

Test site speed

In 2019, Google announced a new Speed Report section of the Search Console tool. This feature allows you to analyze load times of pages and experiences on your website.

According to Google data, if page load time increases from 1 second to 3 seconds, bounce rate increases by 32%. When load time hits 6 seconds, bounce rate increases by 106%.

As you can see, the likelihood of people leaving a site based on slow load time increases drastically even over the period of a few seconds.

With the Speed Report Tool, you can see what URLs are fast, moderate, and slow. Additionally, the tool offers insights into the issues that are causing slow load times.

The info about each URL of your site is organized into visual charts like the one below.

search console issuesSee what keywords your pages rank for

The performance tab of the Search Console tool contains a wealth of information about your site, including keywords that you are ranking for in search results.

To view what keywords certain pages on your site rank for, navigate to the “Pages” section of the performance tab to find the page you wish to inspect. Then click the section labeled “Queries”. Then, the keywords that specific page ranks for will appear.

performance on search results

For more information on keywords, read this concise yet helpful guide on how to choose keywords for SEO.

Of course, these are just a few practical uses of this tool. At Markitors, we utilize Google Search Console to measure digital marketing KPIs for our clients. As you get more familiar with the tool, you’ll learn to utilize it for many practical purposes.

Checked all the boxes? Take your SEO strategy to the next level.

In house marketing managers and small business owners are capable of laying the groundwork for SEO success. But beginner SEO knowledge can only go so far. There are complex layers of SEO and many disciplines from local SEO to technical SEO to digital PR that each have their own systems and best practices.

When it comes to taking your SEO to the next level, it’s wise to seek out an agency with expertise and a track record of results. An SEO agency will have a team with experts in different areas of SEO that work together to put all the moving pieces in place.

Markitors helps small business across the country reach new heights through SEO. Contact us today to see if we can assist you with your digital marketing needs.

Claire Routh

Claire is an SEO Content Writer at Markitors, a digital marketing company that connects small businesses with customers. She has her Bachelor of Science in Marketing from Arizona State University. Before joining the team, Claire spent time as a podcast producer and content manager. You can find her sipping green tea and writing fresh and thrilling content for Markitors and clients.