All online side hustles or small businesses need one thing to make money: website traffic. One of the best sources of traffic is from a search engine, like Google or Bing. People go to Google to search for keywords or keyword phrases. Those keywords target specific subjects, so you can gain targeted traffic for free if you can position yourself on the first page of search engines.
Anyone that has plenty of time but not a big budget they can use for marketing can easily take advantage of free, targeted search engine traffic to increase their website sales. However, you can’t approach this strategy blindly or you’ll likely never receive search traffic. I’ve put together this guide to teach you how to get started and to help you avoid mistakes to reach your goal faster.
Free Traffic With Zero Budget
The Google search engine is the most heavily used search website in the world. Although Google doesn’t release exact information for their search volume, it has been estimated that more than 5.5 billion searches are performed there every single day!
If you go to Google and search for something, you’ll usually see advertisements at the top, side and sometimes bottom of the normal search results. Those results look similar to the non-ad results, except someone is paying money for those ads to display. They charge for every ad click, and it’s a couple of pennies per click either. In fact, the average cost per click for a Google Ad is around $1-$2. Some really high competition keyword phrases require $10 – $50 bids to get clicks though. Simply put, it can be very expensive to pay for traffic from Google.
Anyone with a website has the potential to receive that traffic without paying anything. The non-ad results on Google are filled with pages that have optimized their content to target specific keyword phrases. By simply putting the right information on your website, your site can appear in the top 10 results or even get a #1 ranking for a keyword on Google search.
There is so much traffic available on Google for any niche that you can build a successful business simply by having top search rankings. This does take some time to accomplish, but the fantastic news is that it won’t cost any money at all except for what you already spend to run a website.
Google Search Console
Your first step to optimize your website to get search engine rankings begins at Google. It’s also worth mentioning that this guide will focus on Google search because it’s the most heavily used search engine. However, many of these same tactics can still apply to other search engines.
You can tell Google that you are the owner of your website, and they’ll allow you to monitor some information relating to your search engine listings. This is done through Google Search Console. This doesn’t cost anything and is something I highly recommend. Sign up here: Google Search Console
Register your site and validate it with Search Console. Once that is done, the information pages you’ll be shown will be blank at first – that’s normal. It will take some time for useful info to show up here, but it’s still something you need to get up early on. Revisit the Search Console once a month to get new insights and information relating to your search rankings.
Next up is Google Analytics. You will also want to register for Analytics and set this up on your website. This free service lets you track your website traffic, even in real-time. You also connect this service to your Search Console account. They will share information with each other to provide you with more knowledge. By setting up both of these services, you’ll be able to easily tell the exact keywords that are bringing you traffic and your position in the rankings.
A similar process will need to be done to set up Analytics on your site. Register your site and add Analytics code to the header of all pages on your site (easy to do with a site built with WordPress). Join here: Google Analytics
You will also see blank information pages once you finish setting up your site with Analytics, and that’s also completely normal. Come back each month to monitor your progress. In the future, Analytics can be extremely useful to see how your visitors navigate through your website. You can even use it to track certain goals on your site, such as completing a purchase or signing up for a newsletter. Adding these additional tracking metrics to your site can allow you to optimize your site for the best results.
Even though Search Console and Analytics usage can be considered optional, I highly recommend both. There’s even a slight chance that Google may give you a minor ranking boost by using these services, but I’m honestly just guessing here. They are both very useful services and won’t cost you anything though.
Keyword Planner Tool
I have one final Google service to discuss, and then I’ll get into talking about how to actually optimize your website for better search engine rankings. The last service I need to talk about is Google Keyword Planner. This isn’t a standalone service, it’s a tool within Google Ads. You will have to actually sign up for a Google Ads account to be able to access it. However, you do not need to actually run ads – this is the service where you pay per click to get ads on Google search.
The Keyword Planner tool within Google Ads lets you easily perform keyword research. Type in words that relate to your website, and the tool will give you large lists of keyword data. This data will also give you a rough idea of how much monthly search traffic there is for each phrase, as well as whether the search phrase is trending.
Your goal with the Keyword Planner is to discover a wide variety of keyword phrases that you may want to target on your website. This not only tells you what you should target to get more search traffic, it also can help to give you new content ideas.
The search numbers provided for each keyword are important here. You’ll see some keywords that get hundreds of thousands or even millions of searches each month. While it would be amazing to get a top 10 ranking for those big phrases, this will simply not happen when you are first starting. Don’t bother with the really popular phrases until you have very strong search rankings on less popular keywords.
For a brand new website, try targeting some phrases with just “10 – 100” monthly searches. These can often be the easiest to obtain a decent ranking and can help you with getting initial traffic to your site. As you build more content, don’t be afraid to target 100 – 1,000 and even 1,000 – 10,000 volume keywords. Anything above 10,000 will be a waste of time unless you have a large, established website.
Even though this guide on search engine optimization (SEO) is pretty lengthy, I’m honestly only able to cover a small portion of my knowledge on this subject here. I’ll be sharing the most important information that a beginner needs to know to obtain results in this guide. However, there are actually more than 100 different factors that are used to determine your search engine rankings. Some of these factors are known and others are kept secret by Google.
Despite the fact that there are so many ranking factors, you really don’t need to worry about all of them. When you are first getting started building a website, you really just need to focus on a small handful of these factors to put yourself in the right position. Once you start receiving free, targeted search traffic, you’ll be able to do additional work as you gain more experience to boost your rankings even more.
Overall, first focus on what I will teach you in this guide. The structure of all of the pages on your site, what each page will be about, how you write the content for each page, the way you attempt to target keyword phrases and simply having some patience. Even though “patience” isn’t technically a factor in Google’s search ranking algorithm, it actually helps to cover multiple factors that you can’t really do anything about except to wait. All of these things will be discussed in more detail below.
Ultimately, Google wants one thing from you to give you good search rankings: quality content about a specific topic. If you can focus on that one thing and ignore everything else, you should be able to obtain free website traffic from them.
Think about the different pages on your website. Are all of them about one main subject or could you organize them into a few main topics? Each page on your website will link to other pages. Those links give your website visitors a way to navigate your site. Search engines use these same links to navigate your site too, but they’ll also use that information for other purposes.
When a search engine knows all of your site links, it can basically create a hierarchy map of your entire website. It knows the main page, whether you have some primary category pages, and which pages are your supporting content. It also knows how you choose to connect those pages and will consider that organization in your rankings.
Google wants you to have a site that is well organized and easy to navigate. By grouping all of your relevant content into a single category, you organize your content for both visitors and search engines.
You can see this exact tactic done on this website. I have a home page and three main category pages (Personal Finance, Investing, Side Hustles). Content is organized based on those topics. Tags can provide additional organization beyond the categories. For example, you’ll find “Savings” or “Home Buying” as a tag in the Personal Finance section.
Targeted Content Pages
Each page on your website should target a specific keyword phrase. It is okay to try to target a couple of secondary phrases on each page. However, there should be a primary phrase for each that is usually found in the title of your page. When each page of your website targets a specific topic, it makes it much easier for a search engine to consider you for a top-ranking position for that phrase.
Think about the search engine process as a searcher. As a basic example, maybe you want to know what day St Patrick’s Day is on this year. Google shows you a list of pages about St. Patrick’s Day. You click on the #1 result to find an in-depth page about the holiday. One section of that page may talk about which day the holiday falls on each year. There’s probably other information on the page about the holiday besides that. The point is that the searcher was able to find the knowledge they wanted from that page.
Just put yourself in the shoes of the searcher when you write content. Ask yourself what information the searcher is trying to find and then provide that for them in an easy to read and well-organized article. All of these topics relate to the main topic of your entire website in some way, but they all provide specific and useful information on individual keyword topics.
Beginners of SEO on their own website will usually end up committing keyword spam, often unintentionally. I recommend mentioning a keyword phrase in the title, in the first and last paragraphs and possibly a couple more times throughout an article depending on its size. Beyond that, you really want to do your best to avoid using the targeted phrase over and over again.
Instead, you want to write “about” the keyword you want to target. A thesaurus can be used to start. Find synonyms of your keyword and use those a few times in the article. However, you also have to dig a bit deeper than that too and consider semantic keywords.
Think of a semantic keyword like a relational word. If I write an article about “cats”, I might use “kitty” or “kitten” as synonyms. However, there are a lot of other words that may commonly be used when you are talking about cats. Fur, scratching, claws, teeth, purring, meow, and many more words like those might come up in a chat about cats. It’s really important that you use as many different semantic words in your articles as possible to get the best results. I truly believe this is a major method Google uses to determine whether an article is actually a good match for a specific keyword phrase.
How many words of text do you need to write for a good article? The real answer that’s not very useful is that it depends. I’ll try to explain in a more useful way though. At a bare minimum, I recommend at least 500 words per article. In reality, that amount of content that you will need to get a top 10 search ranking on Google will vary depending on how much competition exists for each specific keyword phrase.
If you’re just getting started and only targeting phrases with a low amount of traffic (less than 100 monthly searches), you might be able to get top 10 rankings on some of the words you target with a 500-word article for each. At the other end of the spectrum, you may need 5,000 word or 10,000 word or even larger articles to target keywords that have thousands of monthly searches. I believe the largest single article I’ve ever published was around 34,000 words.
Overall, I usually aim for 1,000 – 2,000 word articles as a general range. However, this can drastically change depending on the topic I’m writing about. You really want to provide as much text as is needed to explain the subject so searchers find the information they wanted to find. That’s why there’s no exact number of words to target per article, since each subject will vary.
Rich Content & Content Quality
Personally, I would rather provide 500 words of high-quality content per page instead of 5,000 words of low-quality writing. Write to educate and provide useful information to people for the keywords you target, and don’t focus too much on the length.
You’re also not limited to just text either. In fact, I really recommend using at least image on each page. Larger pages will need even more than that. When possible, try to have at least one image visible on the page at all times, at least when viewing your site on a desktop computer.
Other types of media like videos and even audio can be used too. As long as the media relates to your targeted keyword phrase, it can help to increase your rankings. Simply put, having more than just text on your site makes Google view your site as more useful, and this can affect your position in the rankings.
Patience is Key
Some of the factors that Google will use to determine your search ranking position are beyond your control. As long as you build your site correctly and with high-quality content, simply waiting will usually help improve the parts you can’t do anything about. This is another reason why you should aim for lower traffic keywords to start too, since it will be very difficult to get rankings on high traffic phrases without these hidden factors working for you.
The age of your domain name is one factor. Older domains get better rankings than new domains, so only time can help your site in that regard. The way people interact with your existing listings on Google are important too. They know which listings get clicked more often than others. Those with more clicks are more likely to get better placement.
Backlinks are another aspect generally beyond your control. Links to your website from other websites will increase your rankings. However, trying to spam these links can do more harm than good – they need to be natural links. For example, someone writing a blog post links to a page on your site to use as an example or reference. That is a natural and very powerful backlink. It’s possible to make a trade with another website owner to get backlinks, but most of them will simply take time and high-quality content to get naturally.
Overall, your goal to optimize your website to get free, targeted traffic from search engines should stay focused on providing useful content to your visitors. That is ultimately what Google wants from a website, so the easiest way to get rankings and even a top 10 position is to give them what they want. Ask yourself what you would want to see if you searched for that keyword phrase, and then provide that content in an organized and easy to understand manner. Everything else will follow on its own if you focus on quality. Anything you want to sell on your website is simply easier to do when you have regular, targeted traffic.