If you’ve been thinking about starting a search engine optimization (SEO) campaign, you’ve likely run into a serious obstacle: money. Big-name agencies charge upwards of tens of thousands of dollars a month to manage a campaign, and hiring a new full-time manager and/or a suite of specialized contractors to help you execute the work could cost you just as much.
So is there a way to start an SEO campaign without a significant monetary investment?
The Three Ingredients of SEO
Let’s explore the question by first describing the three main pillars of SEO:
1. On-site optimization. On-site optimization is all about making sure search engines will index your pages, providing a functional website for users, and including enough content so that search engines will be able to present your site for the right types of queries. Most on-site optimization tactics are one-time changes with occasional tweaks and upgrades in the future.
2. Ongoing content development. Publishing new content for your site on a regular basis increases your site’s domain authority, which in turn increases your likelihood of ranking. It also provides more keyword-rich content for search engines to index, and gives you a chance to earn more inbound links.
3. Link building. Finally, you’ll want to spend time building or earning links for your site. The quality and quantity of links you have will dictate your overall authority, so it’s not something you can afford to neglect.
All three of these strategic areas, when developed over time, will cumulatively result in higher domain authority, which will lead to higher rankings for all queries relevant to your site.
What You Can Do With (Almost) No Money
Let’s say you don’t want to spend much money a campaign—or that you want to try to spend no money whatsoever. What can you do to get started in SEO?
- Choose a website builder that supports SEO. If you’re trying to save money, you probably won’t be able to afford a custom build. Instead, you’ll need to rely on a free or inexpensive website builder, using design templates to put your site together. Thankfully, most modern website builders support SEO, offering professional coding that search engines will index cleanly, and guides to help you set up your site to be found in search engines. This will help you get off to a good start.
- Choose strong keyword and topic targets. Next, you’ll need to spend some time researching which keywords and topics you want to target in your on-site optimization and ongoing content. Moz’s Keyword Explorer tool is relatively accessible to newcomers, with helpful descriptions to guide your research and final decisions. Once you have a set of keywords and topics to work with, you can make progress in other areas.
- Optimize your titles and meta descriptions. The titles and meta descriptions of your site’s pages are what will show up in searches for your site. Make sure they’re optimized with keywords relevant to the on-page content, and are phrased in an enticing way (to maximize click-throughs). Depending on the size of your site, this will likely only take a few hours.
- Write strong content on all your core pages. Every main page on your site should have at least several hundred words of content on it; this is the “meat” that Google will use to analyze the purpose of your content, and the context by which it will judge the quality of the page. Be accurate, concise, and descriptive.
- Produce new content at least once a week. You don’t need to spend money if you create your own content, but make sure you’re writing high-quality material that your audience actually wants to read. If you’re just getting started, a post a week should be enough to help you build momentum, but you’ll eventually want to scale up.
- Build your off-site presence. Spend some time building up your off-site presence; make sure you’ve claimed your brand’s social media profiles on each major social platform, and write rich content for their description sections. Start posting regularly on each channel, with occasional links to your on-site content.
- Encourage sharing and linking. Through your social media channels, off-site forums, and other outlets, try to encourage your earliest audience members to share and link to your content as much as possible. The more links you earn naturally, the higher your domain authority will grow, and the more shares you get, the more people you’ll have reading and engaging with your material.
- Start building links. Link building is usually difficult for newcomers with a small budget, but it’s not impossible. You’ll need to invest time in landing guest authorship spots on external publishers, and work to get your content featured in as many external sources as possible. You’ll also need to support your work with ongoing syndication and sharing, maximizing your chances of earning links from your audience. Without links, you can’t build authority, so make sure this is a part of even your earliest fledgling strategies. Link building is the most difficult of the SEO pillars, but I’ve written a full guide on how to do it called SEO Link Building: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide.
When You’ll Need Money
These strategies can get you started with an SEO campaign, even if you don’t have much money to spend, but alone, they probably won’t earn you the results you want. If you want to be successful in today’s highly competitive SEO market, you’ll need to invest some serious time into the quality and frequency of your published content.
You’ll need to earn links on high-authority publishers, and you’ll need to build a loyal audience, and relatively quickly. And while it’s certainly possible to do all this yourself, it’s far more efficient, especially if you’re new to the world of SEO and you’re wearing many startup hats, to pay an expert to help you out, providing direction and accomplishing the legwork.
Every dollar you spend on SEO, so long as you spend it with the right agency or contractor, will provide more than its share of returns.