9 simple steps to SEO success

No jargon, minimum technobabble – find below an easy to follow guide to SEO for nomads, small businesses and the terminally busy.

Reading time: 9 minutes

All of the below is completely manageable on your own and it should only take a few weeks of steady progress to get the groundwork done. That said, if you’re time poor, have major ambitions or would just prefer to focus on another area of your business then it might make sense to hire a Freelancer. (Like me!)


  1. The Fundamentals: What is SEO & how does google work
  2. Check off the on-site basics
  3. Create a keyword list and strategy
  4. Make a content plan
  5. Write content/hire content writers
  6. Optimise that content
  7. Monitor performance
  8. Local SEO
  9. Trends

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimisation is the art of tweaking an entity so that it reaches the top of the results within a given search engine. This can refer to the ‘classic’ search engines such as Google/Bing/Yahoo but it can also refer to Youtube, Apple’s app store and anywhere else you can manipulate a listing to rank higher.

Google is the world’s biggest search engine and therefore the obvious starting point and what i’ll be using for all the examples. That said you should also be considering how to reach the top of the rankings in Bing, Youtube and any other search engine which is relevant to YOUR business.

How does Google work?

  1. Google has a piece of software which is constantly scouring the web for new pages and grabbing basic info on their status/performance
  2. Once discovered these pages are then added to their database
  3. Google then shows the ‘best’ results to its users in a descending order based on the words or ‘keywords’ users type into the search bar

How does Google decide what the ‘best’ results are and what do i do with it?

Google’s ranking criteria is regularly updated but according to various studies the below are some of the key factors:

  1. User intent behind the search  – for example: Do people want to make a purchase (Transactional intent) e.g ‘buy watch’, or are they researching a product purchase ‘Best gold watches’ (investigational), asking a question  ‘How do i..’ (informational), a local search ‘ … near me’, or hunting down a particular website. (Navigational)
  2. The volume and quality of links to your website, within it and away from it.
  3. The experience a visitor has once they land on your site (How many people click through to your site from Google once they see your listing? (CTR) Do lots of people leave your site shortly after landing on the page? (Bounce rate)  How long do people stay on the page etc? (Dwell time)
  4. Optimised content – Content length and quality are both ranking factors – the correct placement of keywords on the page is also vital.
  5. Domain Age (65% of top 10 results in Google are at least 3 years old, and URL (Site address and the links within the site and how relevant they are to the keywords)
  6. Technical SEO – Keyword placement in: Header tags <h1> etc in your blogs/articles, titles, meta description (the long description of a link underneath the main link in the search results) the site load speed, does the site look good / work on mobile?
  7. Social signals – Google says social links do not count towards a website’s rank but Cognitive SEO did a study of over 23 million shares and found a clear positive correlation. This is potentially because more people sharing a link simply means more visibility and others are more likely to share that link off social media. Additionally, social media platforms seem to rank quicker which means more visibility for your company on google. Either way, you should be considering your social strategy.

These are some of the bigger areas to think about, but for a much more exhaustive list of over 200 ranking factors check out this link: https://backlinko.com/google-ranking-factors. Not today though guys, no fear!

How long does it take to rank

Search engine optimisation is simply not an area where you can expect a big overnight impact. As a rough rule of thumb: An Ahrefs study showed it takes between 2-6 months to rank in the top 10 search results on google once a given page had been optimised.

But… Once you do rank, you can enjoy all that tasty ‘free’ traffic. Mmmmmmm. Just remember your competitors are chasing those same yummy keywords so don’t settle and keep going after new keywords and occasionally refreshing your content.

Okay, I knew all of that, get to the juice…

Start with your website

  1. Security – is your site secure? (HTTPS) If not, it’s easy to set up. Here’s a guide: http://www.howto-expert.com/how-to-get-https-setting-up-ssl-on-your-website/ – remember you might get a free year cert depending on the agreement with whoever is currently hosting your site.
  2. Technical basics:
    1. Make sure you’re set up on Google Analytics (you can track performance by page/product/marketing channel etc – guide: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXcQ7rVn3ro),
    2. Make sure you’ve set up Googles search console (guide: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aozclsavSu4)
    3. Make sure you’ve submitted your sitemap to google. (guide: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/183668?hl=en).
    4. Make sure you audit your technical SEO efforts and tidy off other hygiene factors like checking for broken links etc on the site. You can use Screaming Frogs crawler to review both your own and competitors websites for common SEO issues. There’s a free version. Here: https://www.screamingfrog.co.uk/seo-spider/
  3. Make sure your site looks good/works on mobile devices. You can check how it looks in your browser if you use chrome by clicking the triple dot menu button, hovering over more tools and clicking developer tools. Then press the little device button on the top left hand corner. (Big ipad, little phone) + refresh the page. Or just use this Google tool, lol: https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly
  4. Make sure your site loads quickly ( Check in Google analytics or use another tool, here’s a good one: https://gtmetrix.com/ ) If it doesn’t, reduce the size of images, remove any unnecessary plugins, scripts etc. The tool will give you a list of areas to focus on.
  5. Make sure your website shows signs of providing a good user experience – Look at heatmaps (crazy egg have a free month trial here: https://app.crazyegg.com/email-signup) so you can see visually how people are interacting with the site, check your google analytics account for pages where you see high bounce rates, low dwell times, high exit rates etc. http://www.google.com/analytics

Keyword strategy

Keywords are the words/phrases people type into search engines and it’s really important you get this bit right. In fact, it’s a key part of the process. *wince* If you chase keywords where there isn’t enough demand for example, or target too many keywords at once, then you can end up ranking for none of them or succesfully ranking for keywords which don’t deliver enough traffic to get you return on investment.

You want to be targeting keywords (more specifically, creating content for those keywords) which have a decent amount of monthly searches but low enough competition that you can get into the top 10, and ideally no.1 spot. The longer tail (more words) a keyword has, the more specific it becomes and naturally the search volume declines but the word becomes more niche/targeted. (Which can mean better conversion rates)

How do i find keywords?

  1. Get a free trial of SEMrush (if you’re on a budget, you can cancel before the end of your free trial) and steal the keywords your competitors are using. It’s easy to use but there are guides on how to use the tool. Google it! You can also use  spyfu and get access to your competitors top 10 kw’s for free.
  2. Based on this, expand out and make a big list of all the keywords you can think of that are relevant. (This is every word or set of words you think people would type in to google to find your website) and remember all the modifiers: Best, cheapest, discount etc
  3. Take your keyword list and expand it by using these free tools:
    1. Keywords everywhere chrome extension (See keywords literally everywhere in google, it’s free)
    2. Keyword shitter (Terrible name, good free tool – enter a keyword and it spits out 1000’s of variations on the theme. Use it with the keywords everywhere extension to get search volumes, competition and cost per click also included in results.)
    3. Google Keyword planner (the ugly, clunky classic, still works though!)
  4. Dump all these keywords into a spreadsheet with 4 columns initially ‘Keyword, monthly search volume, CPC (cost per click) and competition score’
  5. Filter these by search volume and competition score. You want high volume, low competition keywords relevent to your business. Once you have a short list, start checking what already ranks for those keywords. Do you think you can create better content than what is currently ranking? (Better content could mean a more comprehensive blog, it could mean a custom tool, it could mean an infographic, it depends on the keyword and the user intent, don’t reinvent the wheel check what’s already working and ranking)

Don’t overwhelm yourself and give up, start with whittling down to just 5 keywords. (You’ll get way more than 5 anyway because google sees the same words in different orders and with seperate ‘stop words’ individually. So ‘relationship advice’ will also likely rank for ‘advice for relationships’ ‘advice relationship’ ‘advice on relationships’ etc.

Awesome. Next step.

3) Make a content plan

  1. Use the keyword list you’ve built yourself and put a content type and topic next to each keyword. Then input a rough guide on what you need to deliver to rank for that keyword based on who is at the top. (Again, check what’s already working for those keywords and improve upon it if possible – with your own flair, of course!
  2. For content ideas you can also use tools like Buzzsumo, google alerts and social media platforms to see what is trending.
  3. For bonus points you can stick all the other important pages on your site in this same list and plan target keywords for those also
  4. For double bonus points can also make a note here of where you’re going to promote the content once it’s done. One piece of content can be reused many times in many different forms. Be smart about it. (Social channels etc)

4) Right – time to get that content written. Couple of options here:

  1. Free – Write it yourself, here’s an awesome guide: https://neilpatel.com/blog/the-ultimate-guide-to-writing-blog-posts-that-rank-in-googles-top-10/
  2. Cheap – Hire a VA (Virtual assistant) based abroad and then edit the content yourself to bring it up to standard, good sites include fiverr.com and upwork.com.
  3. Fair – Hire an experienced freelancer off a site such as upwork, freelancer.com, or *cough* WordPress. :’)
  4. Expensive – Hire an agency.

Bonus tip 1: Whoever writes for you, make sure you check the work you’ve been given is unique: http://copyscape.com/
Bonus tip 2: Picking the right headline for your content is VITAL. Some notable studies even suggest that 50% of contents success is directly attributable to the headline. Yeah, 50%. Read more: https://neilpatel.com/blog/the-step-by-step-guide-to-writing-powerful-headlines/

5) Content written? Fantastic. Time to optimise.

  1. Make sure the keyword you are targeting with each bit of content appears in: The H1 tag, (H2 + H3 tags also weak ranking signals), the title, the URL, the meta description, related images (and ‘alt text’ this is text for those who are visually disabled and IS a ranking criteria) and naturally within the body copy.
  2. Make sure you’ve got your internal linking down: Link to other relevant posts and pages on your site that you’re particularly keen benefit from some extra search engine juice. When in doubt, stick these links at the bottom of each piece of content. (Also link off site to other authoritative domains where relevant)
  3. Once you’ve done this, use a tool to audit yourself: If you have wordpress, Yoast is good. Other includes ‘All in one SEO’. For completeness sake i’ve included a big list of every SEO tool in the monitoring section below.

6) Content optimised? Groovy – time to get some links

You want to gain links naturally from high authority (trustworthy websites) – you can check the authority of other websites for free by downloading the MOZ toolbar here: https://moz.com/products/pro/seo-toolbar

Some quick tips:

  1. Don’t buy links or persue ‘Black hat SEO’ techniques – google could penalise you and delist your site. Yeah. Not worth it.
  2. Get yourself listed on relevant business directories, ensure info is consistent  
  3. Create quality content (You should already have done/ be doing this) which people will naturally want to link to.
  4. Put your content in front of influencers with a big following who can help you get heard. (Bloggers, IG influencers etc)
  5. Get links from friends and relevant business partners
  6. Share your content on social media (Remember different platforms favour different content flavours so don’t just copy + paste – tweak)
  7. Use Moz, SEMrush or other tools to look at competitor backlinks as these people may also represent an audience for your content

Bonus tip: To get some high quality links right from launch how about sending out a press kit to the major news sites …

7) Page 1, don’t mind if we do! Now to monitor performance…

There is a metric ton of different tools available. Here are some of the good ones:

  • On Page – Yoast, All in one SEO, Screaming frog, Moz on page tool… If you’ve really got a budget i’ve heard amazing things about Cora but it’s £250 p/ month. https://seotoollab.com/cora.php
  • Keyword research – Moz, Ahrefs, SEMrush, Spyfu, Keywords everywhere (chrome extension), Keyword shitter, google keyword planner.
  • Backlinks – Moz, Ahrefs, SEMrush
  • Competitor analysis – SEMrush, Moz, Ahrefs, Spyfu, Screamingfrog
  • Content – Buzzsumo, Google Alerts
  • Analytics: Google Analytics
  • Trends: Google trends, Social media trending pages, trending pages for amazon/ebay etc

Here’s a more complete list of all the SEO tools available: https://backlinko.com/seo-tools

8) A word on local SEO

Right i haven’t really touched on local SEO yet which is a whole topic in and of itself. But, here are some quick golden wins:

  1. Set up & optimise your google my business profile immediately. This appears at the top of search engine results and saves you a lot of time and effort ranking.
  2. Business reviews also appear in GMB – ask happy customers for a review. Reviews are a ranking criteria, and they just plain look good.
  3. Make sure your business information is available and up to date across all the key directories as this is one of the most crucial local SEO ranking factors. This means including your name, address, phone number and website address. This info should be the same on all platforms. Inconsistencies can impact rank. For a quick audit try Moz local, here: https://moz.com/products/local
  4. Have a good think about local and industry specific keywords people will be using: ‘ X near me..’
  5. Embed google maps into your site

A comprehensive guide for local SEO which also talks through setting up google my business, google search console and other key bits for you here: https://www.improvemysearchranking.com/comprehensive-local-seo-guide/

9) Thanks mate – what trends in SEO should i be aware of?

  1. Voice search (https://www.searchenginejournal.com/voice-search-optimization-changes/259975/)
  2. Video (Cisco reckon c80% of all web traffic will be video by 2021)
  3. Ability to answer informational searches ‘How do i..? and get rank 0 (Answer boxes appear ahead of normal natural search similar to how local searches feature a GMB listing before organic results)

And that’s a wrap. Hope you found this helpful.

If you have any questions – I’m always happy to chat. If you need some help with your own SEO then do please get in touch via the contact form.

Be well!

Banger of the week:


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