Over a decade ago, I had to self-teach myself SEO, and I know that there’s a ton of people out there that also find themselves in the same place. So in this article, I’m going to be sharing a game plan for you that you can take in the case where you’re trying to learn SEO by yourself on a budget. By the end of this article, you’re going to have a five-step game plan that you can start using today to level up your SEO skills.
Step 1: Find a project you’re willing to invest a year in.
The first step that I give you if you’re trying to learn SEO by yourself on a budget is to actually find a project that you’re willing to invest at least a year in.
In most cases, you actually want to be able to invest two years into it. But in general, you will quickly learn that SEO is not a game in which you can just start creating content and the next day it’s going to be ranking. It’s something which if you’ve watched my recent article in terms of how long it takes to actually get SEO results, you would know that it takes on average at least three to six months, especially when you’re working on a new domain.
In the case where you buy an existing domain, where it already has some existing domain authority, you might be able to short-circuit that, but in general, it is going to take some time in order to actually start ranking a new site. And so this is something that you just need to actually commit to when you are starting to learn SEO. You need to have a project that you actually care about enough that you’re not just going to quit when it comes to month number three or month number four. It’s no different than if you were to start some sort of workout plan and you want to see some real transformation.
It simply takes time and consistency to start seeing results. In my case, a decade or so ago it was because I had co-founded a business in which we had been working on our product for two years and we hadn’t really generated many sales. And the reason why it was just because there weren’t a lot of eyeballs on our product.
So we needed to learn SEO so that we could get in front of new customers and then begin to share about our product and then from there generate sales. But the reality was that it actually took us upwards of two years before we started seeing meaningful organic traffic from the efforts that we did in our content marketing.
So whatever it is, step number one is to find a product that you actually care about. And in the case where you want to build alongside other people, you can check out a subreddit like just start to find similar-minded people that are working on longer-term projects.
Step 2: Learn On-Page Fundamentals.
The second step I tell you to take if you’re trying to learn SEO by yourself on a budget is to learn on-page fundamentals. On-page SEO is pretty much the bread and butter of a lot of beginner to intermediate SEO tactics. And so you need to understand the fundamentals before you start to go branch out on yourself, more intermediate or advanced strategies.
If you don’t know what to put on a page when you’re crafting something for SEO, then you shouldn’t expect some meaningful results from your SEO efforts. It’s as simple as that. What you first should learn are things like what exactly makes an effective title tag. But then from there, you’re going to want to learn other things like what makes a good meta description to actually compel somebody to click through or when you’re actually structuring your paragraphs, what is really readable for somebody on a mobile device, as opposed to a desktop device.
What do I need to do in terms of the images and the Alt text for those images to actually start ranking my images and how many interlinks should I include in my article to other pages on my site versus external links to foreign sites that are different from my own domain. Answering these sorts of questions, all come down to knowing the fundamentals to on-page SEO.
Step 3: Complete your keyword research.
From here, the third step I tell you to do is to complete your keyword research. You want to figure out what are the first 100 or 200 long tail phrases that I want to actually go after to start generating organic traffic for my site. By doing your keyword research, you’re then able to get the seed phrases that you’ll use in order to form your content strategy.
I recommend starting out with Keywords Everywhere. It’s a $10 plan, which gives you a hundred thousand credits that you can use with their tool. 100,000 credits goes a long way. In fact, I typically only have to replenish things maybe once or twice a year. The goal of this keyword research stage, as you learn SEO, is to figure out exactly the different types of intent that are out there around people that are searching for things.
There’s things like informational intent versus transactional intent versus navigational search intent. And so figuring out exactly what type of intent is in your niche will then allow you to figure out exactly what sort of content pieces you should start to create for your blog or your website or whatever it is that you are building.
In the case where you need help learning how to effectively keyword research with tools like Ahrefs or SEMRush, you can check out our articles that’ll teach you the fundamentals there.
Step 4: Draft a content plan and execute.
The fourth step is to draft your content plan and then begin to execute. Content plans are really important because they give you a goal to work towards. So it’s really important for you to do is to make sure that you’re setting smart goals. They’re specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-sensitive. So maybe for example, in the next quarter, you want to create 10 pieces of long form informational content around XYZ topic in your niche. That would be your goal and then from there, you work backwards on the quarter to see exactly what pacing you need to work at in order to hit that goal of 10 pieces.
The purpose of this step is to be able to always have a clear answer if you’re ever randomly asked, “Hey, what are the next five or 15 posts that are going to be released on your content calendar?” When you’re in this planning stage, it can be really helpful to sprinkle in different types of content. So the reason why I say this is because, especially when you’re learning SEO, it’s really important for you to test out different types of content to figure out what you might be more intuitively better at creating.
So in that situation, you might double down on transactional intent as opposed to creating a ton of informational piece that you know you’re not going to excel at. Around the stage as you start to execute, you also want to make sure that you start to install some sort of a tracking method for your site.
Most often people will use something like Google Analytics, which is completely free. And what that will track for you are the page views, as well as the user behavior as they visit your site. This will give you more clarity as to which content pieces of yours are actually resonating with your audience.
From my experience, I typically recommend that you start out with a topic cluster of at least four to five content pieces per theme. The reason why is because you want to give yourself enough opportunities to see exactly how your readers or your target audience resonate with the pieces that you’re creating, while also giving you enough to have a foundation in the case where it works out, and you want to start scaling out that topic even further.
Step 5: Review what’s working and keep shipping.
The fifth step when it comes to learning SEO by yourself on a budget is to just review what’s working and then keep shipping. So at this point in time, after a few months, you’re going to have at least 10 or so content pieces out there, and you should also have enough data to be able to start making calls.
I’m going to go ahead and show you an example of one of my own sites after three months of working on the site. What you’ll see is that in the data there pretty much was nothing on the far left side as I was building out the site. However, over time as I released more and more content, people started to view the content.
And then if you dig into the pages, what you’d end up seeing is you would end up seeing which pages are getting the most page views within the first few months. So what this will tell you is exactly what topics people find interesting, or that you’ve been effective at ranking for right out of the gate. So this can be really helpful because it’ll give you the telltale signs as to which topic areas you should double down on, and then continue building more authority around on your new website.
This might also help you identify which pages you need to update in order to give them another shot at improved rankings because now after several months of working in SEO, you know how to optimize a page. With this data, you’ll be able to continue iterating on your content strategy. And if you keep learning from other sources like a Backlinko, Ahrefs, SEMRush and so on, then you will be able to better understand how the things you’re putting out there are, or are not being recognized as good content.
Thinking back to what I did with my very first big SEO project, I ran a blog that had several million page views every single month. And what we would look at on a one month, three month and six month timeline is what content pieces we’re continuing to get sustained traffic year round, and weren’t seasonal.
And then in the case where they were seasonal, how could we capitalize on that sort of seasonal traffic in other areas in our niche? So it’s only by reviewing the data and learning how to dig into the insights, like page time as well the number of pages that you’re seeing in a different series that you’ll be able to invest in the right areas in your content strategy.
If you do this effectively, what you’ll do is you’ll end up going back to step number three, where you’ll restart keyword research, dig deeper into a topic, and then continue to build out your authority in a particular space. What I hope you realize from the five steps I’ve shared today is that you really don’t need to invest a whole lot in order to learn SEO.
All you need is to actually invest time and then ship out work so that you can see the data for yourself and learn from your own mistakes. I always recommend this method as opposed to going out and buying some sort of course, because while of course can certainly teach you some fundamentals. It won’t actually teach you to take action on the fundamentals.
It’s only by actually finding a project that you’re passionate. That you’ll actually be able to start learning about SEO and exactly how to rank a site. If anything, what you quickly learn is that when you invest your time into an SEO project, that within itself is the greatest investment you can make because time is ultimately everybody’s most valuable asset. So just think about that before you go and shell out a couple of hundred bucks or a few thousand bucks on another SEO course.
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