When I started out online in 2006 I set myself one simple rule - pay for nothing. I was still working full time in "The City" (London's financial district) and was learning how to build and promote websites in my evenings.
My only reason for setting a strict rule (which obviously does not apply to domain registration and hosting) was that every service I saw seemed way too expensive and I did not want to be duped into wasting my money. I have broken my rule 3 times in 5 years, and I am sure my money a was wasted each time.
At first I was told to hire a web designer, but the immense costs could not be justified for a site that was not making any money. Then people started to tell me about the importance of SEO, and I am pleased to say that I have done quite well by ignoring most suggestions. I have never purchased an SEO product and I have never hired an SEO. I have never bought a link (other than for 2 major directories, Yahoo and BOTW, neither of which send any traffic and I am not convinced that they are good for SEO either).
A friend did once suggest that I try out his Indian link builders, so I did (breaking the my own rule) but it soon became apparent that the link builders were worse than hopeless. Lots of free directory links on sites that Google had banished to the deepest, darkest depths of its search index. You are better off writing your website address in the mud on the back of a bus than wasting time with these directories (actually, not a bad idea.....).
So, what do I do for SEO? Well, for me SEO is mostly about writing and promoting good content.
WordPress - The Most Important Tool
I use WordPress across all of my sites now. For me this is the most important tool in my arsenal, simply because it makes writing so easy. Google loves fresh content, so writing on a regular basis, several new articles each week plus many comments each day, increases content and improves internal linking. WordPress is not just for personal "blogs". Many professional websites run on WordPress. It is also free to use.
When writing new articles (blogs) I try to follow these rules each time:
- Place important search terms (keywords) in your title
- Make use of the Heading 2 style (and Heading 3 for longer posts) as these add the H2 element to header (e.g. the header for this section, "Wordpress - The Most Important Tool" is an H2).
- Write freely, do not think too much about keywords, they should appear naturally
- Link to previous posts and category sections throughout your blog. I will generally add 2 category links and 2 or 3 post links in each new article. Longer articles will have more.
- Add an image with a relevant alt tag that will help enhance the page
In addition to writing content, try to encourage discussion on your site. Managing discussion is vital. I have all comments set with moderation on. The eliminates all spam and ensures that for each comment I can read and they personally reply to the comment, which is important on my website as I am providing diet and fitness advice.
You may be thinking now, hang on, I was looking for SEO tools, but I have found this to be the most important "tool" in improving my sites position in Google. Writing content that is fresh, unique and utilises the basic HTML elements such as bold, header and internal links is the most basic "tool" in my opinion! However, I do also perform some off site work.
There are many premium tools for checking backlinks, but I always feel that these are really for the most serious pro SEOs. I always use Yahoo Site Explorer to take a peek at the backlinks of competitors. All you have to do is go to Yahoo.com and then in the search box type link: before the URL of the website you wish to explore, e.g.
This method is what I call SEO stalking, as you are essentially spying on your competitors, following them, i.e. going to the sites where they have links, then copying what they do. If I see that a competitor has commented on another forum or blog, I will simply leave a better comment, adding more value to the conversation.
This is known as "blog commenting" and is considered a cheap and ineffective method by many pro SEOs, but the emphasis is to add value to the conversation, promote yourself. Think of it as speaking in a room of peers, representing your business without using a sales pitch. Simple rules:
- Always use your real name
- Read the post and the other comments, and respond to what you have read
- Write clearly, but make it interesting
If I see some directories in a competitors backlinks then I will add my own business, however I cannot remember the last time this actually happened.
In addition to checking competitor backlinks I also try to keep one step ahead by seeking out blogs that are informative and have interesting discussions to join in. The best method I find is to search for similar blogs after I write a new article. There are many ways to search for relevant blogs, some are a bit cheeky. My favorite is to simply type into Google something like;
"seo news" comments blog
This will provide the top sites in Google that have that term in them, and also comments/blog on the page or references, which is a good indication that they allow others to leave a comment.
I sometimes take this one step further by searching for "powered by WordPress". This will bring up any WordPress blog that has that in their footer (present in many of the free WordPress themes). Always seems a bit cheeky, but it does help promote the sites. For more on using Google to search for links read The Power of Search Queries for Link Building: The Basics and Beyond Part 1.
Other SEO Tools
I do use some simple tools on my web browser. In Google Chrome I use Chrome SEO. This just provides some quick links to other resources, including the Yahoo Backlinks, as well as others such as Google, Alexa and Open Site Explorer backlinks. But to be honest, this is really a small part of what I do.
I spend a little time on the main Social Media platforms, such as Facebook (I have a business page) and Twitter. However, I really do not spend much time on these areas. Time spent writing content on my own sites is always far more important.
This is often the key. An SEO tool for me is often news channels. I have increased traffic on several sites by blogging breaking news stories relating to my industry. If you hear something on the news that is relevant to your business, blog it immediately. Again, having WordPress makes this very easy, you can even add a blog to your site when on the move if you have a smart phone.
Android Smart Phone
While I was still working on "The City" I used to blog on the train to and from work and also during my lunch hour. This lead to a lot of poorly written blogs that were full of spelling mistakes! But, it also meant that I was creating several small posts each day that I could then build on later (and correct).
My method then was to grab a newspaper, flick through and if I found an interesting story, blog about it. Always mention the paper where you read it, and provide your opinion.
I you cannot access your site on your phone, you can still "blog". I used to also write using Gmail while on the train as there was no risk of losing the content if I lost 3G connection. Once finished I would just save as draft and then copy over to the website when I got home.
Although this is not strictly an SEO tool, I managed to increase traffic and awareness to my main site considerably while performing this simple task.
You Are The Best SEO Tool
The key is to keep writing. Keep your ears open. Always look for opportunities. If you want to promote your business, your website, or yourself (i.e. your services) you need to "get out there". That means knowing what is going on (and blogging about it) and discussing these topics with other people (commenting).
Remember, never "spam". Never leave a comment just to get a link. Every time you speak you should be thinking about raising your personal profile on the websites. If a website allows keywords in the comments it will be obvious, as others would have done that already.
"Follow" Blog Comments
You may have heard that many blog have "nofollow" on so that they do not share their SEO value with commenters. This does restrict you a little. There is a great service now available which actually turns this idea on its head that is run by ComLuv. Rather than just linking to your name, a published comment will link to your most recent blog post which helps to spread links across your site, rather than just the homepage, and also ensure that your latest content is linked. Barry talks more about comments here: Comment Cacophony. There is a good discussion on the pros and cons of blog commenting from some of our "SEO heavyweights" there. Worth a read.
Hang About In SEO Forums
One "tool" is to hang about in SEO forums. OK, you can waste a lot of time, but if you have an idea or a question, there is generally someone that has tried it before and will tell you if you are being daft or not. Most of what I have learned about SEO is from forums -remember, I have never bought a service or paid for a pro SEO. That is not to say they are not worth it - I know that they are. I have just never had the budget for a pro SEO. So learning the tricks of the trade is essential.
So those are my "tools", or more accurately, methods. The key for me is really to consider SEO a constant process of improving and promoting content. Rather than worry about pagerank and getting the best links just get out there in the community and then people will hopefully start linking to you more without any input from you.
9 thoughts on “Budget SEO From Scratch – The Tools I Use”
Hi Jon, thanks for the informative post. I just setup my new website in WordPress and agree with you that WordPress is in itself an amazing SEO tool. I’ve been using a couple of free plugins as well that help to improve the SEO in WordPress. Regarding social media I’ve been using a plugin that posts all my updates to Twitter and that has helped me to get more social media exposure.
Which SEO plugin did you chose? I am still torn between the Platinum SEO and Yoast’s. I do not automate social media from WordPress anymore, instead I have been playing with Hootsuite that allows you to add feeds, so works in a similar way I guess.
Hi John – Thanks for the informative post. Now that Yahoo Site Explorer is no longer updating their database, what backlink checking tool are you using?
I generally use Open Site Explorer, Majestic and sometimes take a look at Google too, but the data set is limited.
On Google – Do you use the operator links:url or is there a better way? Also, for a paid service, ahrefs is a good one.
It is just link:url for Google search, no “S”.
Not looked at href, will have a peak.
Jon, yep it’s just link:url with no “s” included.
Blog commenting can be a fantastic way to get links to be sure, but I’d also recommend to your readers that they work on getting guest blogging opportunities as well. Those links meet your requirements of being free and not only send link juice your way, but traffic… the thing we’re all trying to get from our SEO efforts anyway.
Hello John, I totally agree with you. To be successful you don’t have thousands of links in a day, you will get banned by doing that. All you need to do is to make a couple of links today. It looks natural and will not be considered as spam and course fresh content regularly. I think outsourcing is not that bad but you have to be careful and try to look for someone that is has an experienced and an expert when it comes to SEO.
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