Stop chasing ‘shiny’ SEO

Lots of people ask me to ‘do some SEO magic’ for their website. Friends, family, family of friends – occasionally even someone that wants to actually pay me as an SEO consultant.

Often this request will have been triggered by something: their traffic just tanked; they’ve had a new competitor move into their niche (with a lovely, shiny looking website); they’ve run their own business for x months/years and still got no traffic and just can’t work out why etc.

Sometimes they’ll have been inspired to ask having attended one of my SEO MeetUps!

Next they’ll have something they have seen/read/heard about and will ask: “Can you do [x] for my website?”

Most often I say no.

ICING on an unfinished cake

That’s not because I’m being awkward (well, I can be, but that’s not why I say “no”). More often than not it’s because the site in question doesn’t have even basic SEO essentials in place.

People want {x} new shiny SEO gimmick. Often it’s the equivalent of asking for edible gold leaf and chocolate icing… on a cake they haven’t finished baking yet.

If they want to shift to a business related TLD (top level domain) like andrews.cakes (or worse; or they read somewhere about some guff like “LSI keywords” etc. that’s another conversation.

But if they think that migrating to https or shaving a few fractions of a second off their download time is going to magically hose their site with organic traffic when they don’t even have the basics in place? Then we have a problem.

That’s not to say that they shouldn’t have that shiny new thing too – it’s about what works, right? Making your site secure (which, by the way, involves more than sticking an ‘s’ on the end of the protocol) is a good idea; speeding your site up so it’s more usable – also a good idea.

However, mostly they shouldn’t worry about these things. At least, not yet.

Where to start with SEO?

So where do you start with SEO?

Well, learning some basics is a good start. There are no tricks and shortcuts. Those people that spam you offering ‘SEO services’ or to get you to #1 on Google don’t work, they’re not worth it and often do more harm than good.

Those free SEO audit tools? Don’t even get me started on those.

So where do you start?

Short of time? I made this two minute 7 SEO basics video which I hope helps:

Educate yourself. Sure, you may not want, need or even have to do this work yourself – it’s likely it’ll be done to a better standard if you get an expert to do it – but you should at least arm yourself with enough knowledge to know if you’re having the wool pulled over your eyes.

Attend SEO events, like Optimisey, too.

With just a little knowledge you can check your own site for howlers like “noindex” tags, which tell search engines not to put your site in their rankings. And yes, this still happens. More often than you’d think. To big brands too. Ouch.

That done…

Can You do Your Own SEO?

Can you down your own SEO? Sure. In the same way that you can fix your own car if it breaks down.

It’s possible. It may not be terrific. The quality of the work might not be that great. It might take you ten times as long it would take a pro but then it may cost you significantly less.

What the cost/benefit ratio of that is depends on you and your business.

If doing some of this costs you a day, two days, even a week of your time – how else might you be able to use that time? If, for example, you’re a hairdresser you’re not going to be cutting a lot of hair that week. Is the cost of the work you’ve lost worth what you’d pay a pro to do it for you?

As with a professional car mechanic fixing your car, an experienced SEO’er will probably do it better than you could yourself too.

However, I know that many of you will want to (and maybe have already tried) to do this yourself.

As someone who has (repeatedly) fixed my own dishwasher with a very limited toolbox and some YouTube videos; and who has also lost many hours trying to fix punctures on my road bike (when I know the cost of getting it fixed locally means I’m ‘paying’ myself far (far!) less than minimum wage to do it) I can empathise.

So I’m not here to sell you my SEO services. I’m here to help.

Hopefully, by getting some of the basics right, you can get your business to the next level where you’re able to afford to invest in professional SEO.

Use the right tools

As I found when trying to patch punctures with old, dried up glue or to loosen screws with the wrong screwdriver, using the wrong tool makes a job harder if not impossible. Get the right tools for the job.

I’ve built a handy list of the best SEO tools here (many of the links on that page are affiliate links which will give you access to free trial versions).

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. Some of the tools are free, some cost a bit, some cost a lot.

Work out what you can afford and what, by not having the budget, you’re having to compromise on.

Often you can fill that gap with time/effort – so we’re back to how much your time is worth. Framed like that a lot of the more ‘expensive’ tools are terrific value as they can save you a lot of time.

Let’s work on the assumption that you’re going to want to do this as cheaply as possible – free if you can get away with it, right?

With my best Blue Peter voice, “You will need.”

Not sure what they are or how to set them up? Follow those links, get them in place, installed then come back here.


The next steps are:

Where am I now?

    • Use Google Analytics data to find out: How much organic search traffic you’re getting now (Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels) 
    • What pages that traffic is starting on (select Organic Search from the menu then the Landing Pages tab)

A sceenshot from Google Analytics' Landing Page report

You’re looking for quirks in the data. From the example above (from the blog pages) I can see there’s a stand-out blog post – my piece on Top SEO Experts (which went about as near to viral as I’m going to get!).

But you can see outliers down in 5th and 6th – where the SEO Showdown piece and the Google My Business Guide brought in disproportionate amounts of ‘new users’ traffic. Even down in 10th place, the 7 basic SEO fundamentals post has a high dwell time/average view time.

I’ve just taken a small sample of my data – dig deeper into yours. Find those outliers and quirks.

Using this information helps inform my content plan for future pieces. (Also that I need to work on my user flow to try and cut that bounce rate – but that’s another story!)

    • Use Google Search Console to find out: What search terms your site is currently ranking for (Search Traffic > Search Analytics); and which terms are bringing traffic (Clicks) and which just Impressions.

Are there any holes in the boat?

  • Use Screaming Frog to find pages with missing/duplicate: Page Titles; Meta Descriptions and H1s; broken links on your site (404s); needless redirects (301 and 302s); and any protocol issues (pages that are either http or https when the rest of your site is the other); images with missing alt-text etc.

A screenshot from the Screaming Frog site spider tool - showing response codes
The above sceenshot shows the server response codes element of the spider tool’s Overview. You want zeroes in those last two I highlighted. If you have 400 or 500 code errors showing up in your site crawl, they need fixing. Investigate them.

More importantly, check out your site’s Page Titles and Meta Descriptions. There should none in the “missing” section and no “duplicates” either. Both Page Titles and Meta Descriptions should be unique, engaging, interesting and relevant to the content on the page.

More advice on that here: SEO: 7 First Steps & How to do onsite SEO.

Use SEMrush to do keyword research

  • Using your keywords from step #1 (in Google Search Console) research search volumes around keywords you do get traffic for and for keywords you get impressions but not clicks.
  • Using this as a starting point expand your keyword list: look out more keywords. Brainstorm keywords you’d like to rank for but don’t.
  • Tap into the Keyword Magic tool to search out questions related to your product/topics e.g. “Where is the best [x]?” or “How do I get the most out of [x]?” – these are questions your potential customers are asking in search engines.
  • If you want to repeat this part after your SEMrush trial runs out (assuming you can’t afford to upgrade) Answerthepublic offers a free alternative (without the keyword volume estimates though).

What next?

Armed with all that you can identify:

  • Your best performing content: can it be tweaked and optimised to draw even more traffic? Can you use this page as a lever to support other, related ‘key’ pages – e.g. link to those pages from this page?)
  • Keywords and phrases where you’re close but not getting clicks: Why not? Can you make the meta description sound more enticing/interesting? What are people searching for that brings that page up in the SERPS (Google Search Console can tell you)? Does that page answer those queries? Should it?
  • Where is your site ‘leaking’? What simple fixes (e.g. missing Page Titles or meta descriptions) can you fix yourself and which do you need some more help with?
  • What opportunities are there (keyword research)? Where’s the low-hanging fruit? Where are your competition dominant (perhaps a longer-term goal)? Where are the competition weak, or absent?
  • What content you have that needs to be optimised to perform better and what content you’re missing and therefore need to create.

This (and a whole lot more) are tasks an SEO consultant can help you with/do for you – but are all DIY’able to an extent (see my point above about fixing your own dishwasher etc.).

Getting a lot of these things fixed will have a far greater impact on your organic search traffic than the latest ‘shiny new thing’.

I hope the above helps you increase the traffic to your site.

What tips have I missed? Leave a comment below!


Posted in: SEO

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.