How do you tell a search engine (AKA a machine) who you are and what you do? You have to understand their programming a bit so that you can easily tell them what you want to appear for. By optimizing for the search engine, your website will rank higher, leading you to get found by more people for free. Want to know how to do SEO for free? Great! I’ve got a whole slew of free search engine optimization (SEO) tools and tips for you to get started.
Understand Your Audience
In all areas of marketing, including SEO, it is imperative that you understand your target audience. You may need to answer some questions before starting:
- Who are they? Are they tech-savvy or a bit tech-challenged?
- Where are they searching? Bing, Google, or a non-US based search engine such as Yandex?
- What are they searching to find you?
- Are they looking to solve a problem on their own or hire you?
- Are they looking to buy today?
- What are their pain points and how can you help them?
- What makes you stand out and how to do you position yourself as trustworthy?
- Where are they in the world?
By understanding your target audience, you will have a much easier time…in general. Your target audience will influence how your website should look, what kind of messaging you should use, how to go about your marketing plan, and more.
We aren’t here to talk about all of that though, you want to know how to do SEO for free.
Once you learn about your audience, you can accurately determine your own SEO strategy. One size does not necessarily fit all.
What Keywords Are They Using?
Above I asked what they may be searching to find you. Those are called your keywords.
You may already have some data to work with from your existing website and not even know it! I’m going to show you some tools you may already have set up that show you existing keywords you can use.
Or, if you’re just starting out, you may need to do a bit of research. Luckily, there are plenty of free keyword research tools that you can use.
Are They Looking Locally?
Let’s say you’re a laundromat in Seattle, Washington. Your laundromat won’t be of much use to someone in Salt Lake City, Utah. That means you need to use local keywords.
Local keywords use terminology relating to the area, such as “laundromat in Seattle.” Some people may even just search “Seattle laundromat.”
When you’re hunting for local keywords, make sure to test a few variations of the same keyword and see which has a higher volume (more people searching for it) and a lower competition (easier to rank).
You may even need to break your location-based keywords out further, especially if you’re in a big city.
Do you want to try to service all areas?
If not, try smaller terms like “Capitol Hill laundromat” or “laundromat in Ballard.”
When you’re working locally, the right keywords needs to be a combination of where your users physically are, what they are actually searching, and what will get you the most traffic.
Tip: Use Google Search Console
If you have an existing website, Google Search Console can be one of your greatest keyword research assets.
Google Search Console will show you what people are searching to find you and what keywords are actually causing them to click on your website. These are called “queries” in GSC.
Ready to see your queries? It’s super easy!
- Log in at search.google.com/search-console
- Click “Performance” and scroll down
- You should see a “Queries” tab
- Scroll through the list to see all the queries you’re showing up for
Using Google Analytics
You can see your Google Search Console queries in Google Analytics. To see these queries you must link GSC and Google Analytics together.
To see your queries (or link Google Search Console) in Google Analytics:
- Log in to Google Analytics at analytics.google.com
- From the home tab, click “Acquisition” in the left-hand sidebar
- Select “Search Console”
- Then choose “Queries”
- All of your queries will appear in the main right-hand section!
How to Do SEO for Free with Keyword Research Tools
If you need more keywords or you’re just starting out, the following keyword research tools will help you!
Answer the Public: This tool shows a variety of things that people are searching for just by adding a topic, brand, or product. This tool is a “goldmine” (their term) of different content ideas. You can even filter based on country and language!
Keyword Surfer: This Chrome extension will show you directly on the Google search page how many monthly searches your keyword gets and how difficult it is to rank for. On the right-hand side of the search page it will even who you some keyword ideas to review.
Ubersuggest: This Chrome extension and website work similar to Keyword Surfer. I like to use both tools since they regularly give me different keyword ideas.
Ahrefs Webmaster Tools: This is not a Chrome extension, but an entire website. This tool is great for finding keywords, including your own that you may be ranking for. This tool does so much, which I will be discussing in other sections. It is definitely worth checking out.
Google Auto Suggest: You already have this tool at your disposal! Just hop over to Google.com, type the beginning of your potential keyword, and you’ll see a drop-down of potential additions to that keyword.
Google’s Keyword Planner: This is a simple tool that showcases the potential volume of a keyword and how competitive it is. You will need to log into Google Ads to use this one, but don’t worry, you don’t have to pay for anything. I wouldn’t add a paid tool into an article titled “How to Do SEO for Free,” that would just be silly.
Google Trends: Google Trends is especially useful if you have a business that has searches fluctuating from month-to-month. You use this tool by typing in a search query and it will show you how often people are searching for that term over time. You can sort by the last 12 months or even over the course of several years.
What Do You Do With Keywords?
Do you have your keywords? Great! Now what?
You need to integrate your keywords onto your website in a way that makes sense for the search engine crawlers (or spiders).
Each of your pages should have one main focus keyword.
For example, this page is all about “how to do SEO for free.” Although I discuss a few other things, the page itself is still all about free tools and resources. I’m not using my keyword in every paragraph or on every title because, well, that would be obnoxious. To you and to the crawlers.
Here are a few places you should be putting your keywords:
Title Tags and Meta Descriptions
After you’ve made your search on Google, Bing, or any other search engine, it’ll show you the search results. Within these results, you’ll see the title of the page and a little description telling you what the page will be about.
The title is called a “title tag” and the description is called the “meta description.”
How you add these will depend on how your website was created. If you’re using a content management system, there is likely documentation to help you. If you’re unsure, reach out to whoever made your website and they will be able to help you.
If you can’t get support from them, then reach out to another professional web designer.
Add your keyword to both your title tag and meta description for optimal visibility.
Keep in mind that there are character limits for these sections. The title tag should be no longer than 50 – 60 characters. Your meta description should be less than 120 characters.
You’ll also want to add it to the rest of your written content.
As I stated before, don’t spam every paragraph and sentence with your keyword.
How often you should add it is dependent on how long your written content is.
If you’re using WordPress (yay!), then install the Yoast plugin and it’ll give you some general information on how often you may want to use your keyword.
Just…don’t spam. Nobody wants that.
Alt text, or alternative text, is how you describe an image. You can place your keyword here but, again, don’t spam every image with your keyword.
Well, search engines are not the only ones who use this feature. People with visual impairments that need to use screen readers will hear what your alternative text says.
Human-related non-SEO things:
- When writing alt text, write the description as a sentence. The period at the end will give a short pause, making it easier to understand
- You can add alt text to your photos on Instagram and Twitter
- If you’re interested in seeing how a visually impaired person uses an iPhone, you can check out this video
On-Page SEO Tools
Added your keyword to your pages? Fantastic! There are a few tools you can use to double-check that all of your on-page SEO is set up correctly.
SEO Meta in One Click: This is my favorite free onsite SEO checker. It’s a Google Chrome extension so you don’t need to navigate to another website to check all of your pages (which is way too time-consuming). It’ll even check a few things that I didn’t discuss here such as using the proper heading tags in the code of your website.
SEO Minion: This is another fantastic onsite checker. It’s a Chrome extention that is super user-friendly.
Ahrefs Webmaster Tools: This tool is powerful if you want to check your whole site for all kinds of SEO errors. It’s worth noting that unlike the Chrome extensions, you must own your website to use this one.
Using links on and off of your website is also important when it comes to doing SEO.
Using internal links on your website gives Google more information about how to crawl your site which can help with rankings.
By using external links on your website, you give Google a little boost that you are legitimate and not a spam site.
By having external websites link back to your website, you’re telling Google once more that you are a legitimate website that is trustworthy.
For proper onsite linking, you want to use both internal and external linking tactics.
On a single page, you want to try linking to your other pages at least a couple of times. When creating these links, you want to link text that tells the user (and the search engine) what that page is about.
For example, if you’re looking to hire a professional to manage your search engine optimization (SEO) you can click that link. See how I linked the actual keyword on what that page is about?
Enough shameless plugs.
As I stated earlier, using links that go to other websites can also give you an SEO-boost. For user experience, it’s best that those links open in a new tab. If you’re hand-coding you use target=”_blank”. If you’re using a content management system, you likely have an easier way of accomplishing this.
Just like how you want to highlight internal links by using keywords, you also want to let the search engine know what your external link is about.
Like, did you know that, on average, people spend more than 6 hours on the internet per day?
You rarely want to use “read more” or “click here” text as your link for SEO purposes.
Backlinks are links from an external website that point to your website.
There are several types of backlinks as some websites hold more weight of authority with Google (and other major search engines). This weight is referred to as “domain authority,” or, “DA.”
Domain authority is a scale that goes from 0 – 100 with 100 being the highest you can get.
In theory, the higher your domain authority, the higher you will be in the rankings. However, Google has said that this is not a contributing factor as this score was developed by Moz.
Each of your pages will actually have their own score, called “URL rating” (UR).
Regardless of if your DA is a ranking factor, you want links from websites with different DA’s as they make it look more organic.
Furthermore, some links you receive will be “no-referrer” and “no-follow.” This means that the DA weight of those domains will not partially transfer to your domain. You do want both follow and no-follow links, however.
Link building is also a gradual process; you want it to seem organic. Don’t get 1,000 links in a day then no more links for 4 months. Google will know you’re trying to cheat the system and you may be penalized for it.
Well, how do you know how many backlinks you have? Easy! Use one of the free tools below. Some even tell you the DA and UR of different websites.
Ahrefs Webmaster Tools: I mentioned this tool earlier but it also has a link-checking function that is great! This is my #1 recommendation for link checking – it’s even in their name! An “href” is the HTML tag you use to create a link on a website.
Ubersuggest: The free version of Ubersuggest will also give you information regarding your backlinks and provides more data if you create an account.
Magestic: This is a great tool, but if you just launched your website recently and only have a few backlinks, it won’t show you much.
I added some tips for local keyword research at the beginning of this article, but there is another great, free tool you can use to get local SEO traffic: Google My Business.
Google My Business, Your Biggest Asset
This tool links to your website but is also its own platform.
You have probably seen Google My Business listings before. They appear either on the right-hand side on desktop or in a map on mobile.
A Google My Business profile, if set up correctly, will get you seen more often than your website when you’re first getting started.
It’s much easier for users to see a quick snippet of things they may be searching for such as your phone number, hours of operation, location, service area, and even a menu if you’re a restaurant.
Another great thing about Google My Business is that those listings can show up in voice search.
Bing also has a feature similar to Google My Business called Bing Places.
I recommend setting up both.
Advanced: What is SCHEMA
There’s another way to show up even better in the SERPs called SCHEMA, or Structured Data.
Have you seen an FAQ on the search page or a star-rating on the SERP? It was more than likely created by that website using SCHEMA.
SCHEMA is another way to explain to a website crawler who you are and what you do.
Here is a list of different structured data types you can add to your website.
If you are using a content management system, you may not be able to add certain types of structured data to your website.
How to Do SEO for Free: Conclusion
In conclusion, there are a ton of free tools and resources you can use to do SEO for free. It’s time-consuming but if you do the proper keyword research and correctly optimize your site, you will begin ranking higher.
Search engine optimization takes time. Once you implement all of these strategies, you will not magically appear on page one of Google or Bing. Search engine optimization is an ongoing process but is well worth it in the end for all that free traffic!
Let me know in the comments what tools you’re going to check out or if you’ve used some great ones that weren’t on my list.
Have a question or need someone else to manage your website? Feel free to get in touch with me for a consultation. I will audit your site and develop an action plan to get you on page one of Google.