Can I learn SEO on my own?
If you are starting out and want a job in marketing, or have a small business and need to have a better understanding of how search engines work, then you should know that hands on practice is the easiest way to learn SEO.
With the continually changing state of digital marketing, especially with the constantly evolving algorithms, you’ll likely find it difficult to find a college course that can teach you how to do SEO. Most online SEO courses can teach you some, but the best way to learn is to roll up your sleeves and try it for yourself.
This does not have to be a daunting task. The internet provides lots of resources and a large online community of people always willing to answer questions and give advice. If you are looking to learn to improve your marketing skills or have a business and want to do this for yourself, then here is a step by step guide to help you get started.
Steps to learning SEO
- Start writing content
- Get in the right mindset
- Set up a website
- Do onsite optimization
- Build backlinks
- Set up tracking tools
- Analyze and improve
You may be a small business owner in need of more leads, a college student wanting to learn more about Digital Marketing, or someone just trying to start out in the industry. Sooner or later, you asked yourself the question…where do I start learning SEO? The answer to that is simply; where do you want to start?
Internet marketing consists of a great deal of categories and even then, many people are experts in smaller specialties. Where do you want to begin?
SEO is one of the most written about topics online and because of this, there is a great deal of information to go through. So much so it can be difficult to know what to read first, which is most important and what strategies work best.
SERP’s are answers to questions
(SERP) Search Engine Results Page
The first thing we need to do is define just what search engine optimization is. When people type in a term on browsers or the home page of Google, they are basically asking a question. This question can be as simple as “Abraham Lincoln” or as complicated as “what was the final score of the 1923 World Series”.
In any case, whether it is a single acronym or a very specific query with a question mark at the end, you are asking Google, Bing and the others to answer your question. Since the search engines are always trying to provide the most relevant search results possible to the public, our job as search engine optimizers is to help them understand and properly categorize our online media.
We create as much authority around these pages as possible and build trust in the eyes of the search engines. When someone performs a search for a term related to our pages, our goal is to have our website show up as high as possible on the first page as possible. If it does, then we are doing our job properly.
Beginner Guide to SEO
Back to the original question of where do we start? The answer to that is simple. Set up a website and learn as you go. Ground shaking advice, I know. To get going I will give you some simple tips on how to do this. My philosophy is that it can be good to make mistakes because it helps you to learn. Especially if you are going to learn to do this for clients. You will find that most of the existing projects you receive are full of mistakes and as long as you are comfortable with the idea that you will be fixing things, you will do fine in this industry.
As an example, this one page that you are reading right now will constantly go under revisions. Some will be gig big and some minor, for years to come. Now some people say you need to learn as much as you can before ever starting a site. Since I think completely the opposite, let’s start.
Step One: Write some content
That’s right, you first need to write about your website. Pages don’t just start ranking on their own. The strongest websites in the world don’t rank strong for every term, although Wikipedia tries to. You need to get very clear on what your website is about and the target audience you want to attract. If you say you want everybody to read your website, then we can no longer continue this conversation because this is an unrealistic expectation.
If your website is intended for everybody, then the information would need to be extremely generic and search engines specificity. The terms Fishing and Hand Tied Fishing Flies are two different ball games online. Get a clear understanding of your niche and write about it. Do Not, Do Not, DO NOT go to another website and copy someone else’s content. (I’ll talk about this later) You can use other sites for research, inspiration or even as a linked resource, but be sure everything you write is from your head.
Now here is what you will say to me:
“But I don’t intend on writing my own copy in the future.” Well, like school, this is a learning process. Everything you do here is to have a better understanding of how digital marketing works. You need to be able to edit other peoples copy and know when something is written well and when it is not.
“But I don’t know what to write about.” My recommendation is to write about something you already know about, something you enjoy and want to learn about or a topic that can make you money and you are willing to take the time to research about. This is practice so anything is better than nothing.
“But I don’t know what to write about regarding my topic.” Well, first there is an “About” page that needs about 400 words. Who are you and why anyone would want to read your website regarding your topic? The statement of what this website is dedicated to as a topic is another page that can use another 400 words. If it is a product or service, there have to be at least five categories that can be broken down.
The history of fly fishing
Different Techniques for tying
What kind of fish to catch with flies
Where to Fly Fish
What materials and tools are needed
As you can tell, I know nothing about fly fishing. But it is a good learning experience because since I know nothing, these would be some of the questions I would ask to start. Which makes them a good idea to write about since someone wanting to learn about this topic is an ideal person that you may want visiting your website.
Step Two: Get rid of the notion that you can’t compete against heavily established websites
I will not tell you that many websites already have a distinct advantage of having years of credibility and a following built up behind them. Many websites have hundreds and even thousands of pages built describing every topic imaginable around their subject. Google has picked up on so many signals that there are absolute giants in some industries that overwhelmingly dominate their niche. But not completely.
That being said, the internet is a wide open field. There are lots of people that are looking for a new competitor just for the fact of they are tired of the one big site. They will seek out others exactly because they are different. Google and the others also try to keep one site from dominating the SERP’s (Search Engine Results Page) as well by trying to keep one site from having more than one result in the first few pages. If you see more than one, then this shows opportunity that their competitors just aren’t trying hard enough.
Sometimes, websites can get so complacent, they do not keep up with the latest trends in internet marketing or optimization techniques that are recommended the industry, and could even be so large and unwieldy that it is difficult for them to change. These and many more reasons should encourage you to take on these giants.
Step Three: Set up a website
Time to get controversial. SEO basics need to be understood here. Any site online can be your website. It can be optimized and ranked. What I mean by this is most people see a website as WordPress. Some even see online platforms like Wix and Shopify as websites to be optimized. Know that they all are. Blogger is a website, your Facebook page (Yes, you heard me right). Even your video on YouTube can be optimized and be found in search results by Google.
Now that we have established this fact, we can have a discussion about my recommendation of how to proceed. While it is true that these can all be indexed and optimized for search engines, it doesn’t mean that these are all a good idea to put time, money and energy into all of them and here is why.
I have known some restaurants that don’t have a website. They just publish their Google My Business, Yelp and Facebook accounts to have an online presence. When you type in their business name, these profile pages show up. The trouble is they are going to have severe limitations and a distinct disadvantage against other competitor websites that are fully optimized for other keyword terms related to their business, other than their company name.
To optimize a page, the website needs to be capable of technical capabilities that are not available on many platforms that are provided online. So many companies recommend easy to use platforms such as Wix or even WordPress.com (The free version of WordPress). It is not that these websites cannot do well for your business, it is just that they do not always provide tools to implement some SEO techniques that a fully functioning WordPress website has available.
This step should be for you to go set up a simple hosting account and purchase a domain for your website. Yes, you can get a free domain like flyfisherman.wordpress.com but then you never really own this domain in the long run. If you are trusting me to learn, this is a lesson we in the industry always learn quickly.
Also, at this time, do not worry about how the site looks. Spend time on picking out a nice theme if you’d like, but SEO is not dependent on how a site looks. For now, we are only talking about how to get it high in the search results, not what happens when someone lands on it. As important as a good web design is, it has little to do with technical SEO and more to do with conversions after the fact.
Step Four: Onsite Optimization
Now that you have written content and set up a website, you need to take that content, put it on the website and do on page optimization. Sounds intimidating, doesn’t it? Good, then that means you are ready.
Don’t think of the things you are about to do in terms of mistakes you’ll make, consider them as opportunities for improvement. The whole idea here is that you continue DOING! Many in our industry are held back by clients that wait till a piece of content is perfect. They delay and miss out not only on the traffic to their site that could have occurred over three to six months, but the content also giving feedback on how to improve it.
The search engines appreciate and even reward us for improving the content on a web page over time. Content being updated frequently is literally a ranking factor in the algorithm. When possible, do not delay. Another reason I want you to get a website up and going is another ranking factor. There was a different algorithm update a while back referred to as the Sandbox. It basically meant that a website will not be given as much trust until it has been online for about six months, then it comes out of the sandbox.
The search results and ranking of this website can be effected and sometimes artificially depressed because of this. So while you are learning, you are also getting it out of the sandbox while making other fundamental mistakes.
To do onsite optimization, consider the five most important elements on your page.
- A good Title Tag
- A keyword rich H1
- Depth of Content
- Optimized images
- Internal Linking & Anchor Text
There are many in my industry that will disagree with this list. To them I say, “write your own blog post”. Now that I have said that, I will now agree with them. There are many elements to SEO and since Google doesn’t give us the exact information we need, we are left to educated guesses. The list above is important but it is also easy to do and will have a lot of impact. That is why I share this with you.
Do these five things and your website will have a great head start on being optimized. Over time you will learn more and more.
Step Five: Offsite Optimization
You probably thought you were done. This is where we are going to focus on backlinks. There are lots of techniques and ways to optimize your site but even Google said the two most important elements are content and backlinks. The idea of another website that has linked to your website is a ranking factor that the search engines wish they could break away from, but try as they have in the past, it is still one of the most reliable measurements in their algorithm. Therefore it is something you should get comfortable with and develop an educated understanding of.
Since you are starting out, you should go for easy but very important ones. Create a Google my Business account. Add a YouTube account, Facebook Page, Twitter account, a business Pinterest account and Instagram. What these will do is introduce you to the search engines. They will be the start of getting the name of your website known.
Your first step in SEO achievements will be to get your site ranked for your company name or topic. If your site is Johnny’s Bottle Recycling in Sacramento or Wonderful Spiders of Arizona, then that is Goal One.
What these Profiles do is start establishing an online presence for your site. Make sure you get the links to your website in those profiles completed. Do a couple of tweets, upload a few photos, and make a few posts on each. Complete these profiles to the best of your ability. The more relevant these pages are, the more value they provide to your website.
Now I am about to hit you with a 180 degree turn. These profiles alone do not provide much SEO value. Don’t let anyone tell you that Social Media is SEO. These are minor signals that the search engines pick up on and are helpful because these are very authoritative sites. But since anyone can set these up at the drop of a hat, search engines do not provide them with a lot of influence in their algorithms. Now there are exceptions to this, but that is a lot farther down the road in our discussions.
For now, set these up and then move on to the next step of your process.
Step Six: Set up tools to Track
All of these steps have been important but this is one of the steps so many do not complete. What I mean is I have worked with surprisingly large companies that did not set up all of the tools available to them and therefore had little understanding of what was going on with their website. At first, these tools will mean very little to you as their will be hardly anything to track. But over time, this is what elevates you to professional level. Did I also mention these are free?
You need to set up:
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console (This used to be called Webmaster Tools)
- Bing! Webmaster Tools
If you want to jump one extra mile, set up a free Ahrefs account and track for your most important keyword(s)
You are going to hear about keyword research tools on your SEO journey. There are online platforms for everything out there. Some are free and usually have limited functionality till you upgrade to the paid version. You’ll find some to be absolutely necessary and others you’ll find will promise to solve all of your problems and leave you wishing you could get your money and time back.
I won’t get into details now, but believe me, there will be more to come on this topic. As for the Tools I listed, there is no better way to track your performance, diagnose issues or get clear insight the way that the first three provide. This information is your direct link from the search engines and needs to be understood.
Are all of your pages being indexed by Google?
How much traffic are you getting or each page?
What keywords are people typing in and finding your site?
After a while, you’ll be navigating these like a pro. It is definitely a good idea to get certifications for these. It not only helps you to get a better idea of how they work, you’ll find employers appreciate the effort as well. The best part is the certifications are free also.
Step Seven: Evaluate, Improve and Learn More
In the industry, we don’t “SEO” a site. Customers often believe that you launch a website, do that Search Engine thing, select a few keywords and you are done. It is true you can optimize a site to a point, but true search engine optimization requires ongoing work. It really depends on how important ranking on Google is to a company. If all someone wants is a www on their business card and doesn’t care if someone finds them in a search result, then they are the definition of not caring about Search Engine Optimization.
In our industry, we are constantly looking at results, adding to our websites and working to improve our rankings and all the while keeping up with online publications and groups to inspire new ideas, stay up to date with best practices and to be on alert for concerns within our industry.
That algorithm I mentioned before, it changes every single day. Some days it is so minor, no one notices. Some days, certain industries feel the effect while others see nothing. Once in a while it hits everyone like an earthquake and the aftershocks are felt for days. If you are a local dog house builder, it may make no difference to your business. If you rely on your website to keep your business going and one morning it drops from 50,000 visits a day to 35,000 visits a day, it can be a very dramatic adjustment.
In the future, you may get a call from a company like that. And if you do, you can remember that it all started here.
Continuing Steps: Keep Learning about SEO
To learn about the basics of SEO, here are three extremely useful resources that will tell you 50% of everything you need to know. I made this step one so you know they are out there and believe me, from time to time during this process you’ll want to take a break and start reading through them.
- Moz Beginner Guide Also a great resource for reading blogs in the industry
- Backlinko Learning about technical details for how to optimize a website
- Google Starter Guide
Well for now, that is it. You are ready to get started. There will be lots more to come. If you do have a question, feel free to leave a comment of contact me directly in the form on the side.