I’ve finally written my much-promised guide on how to learn SEO step by step! There is so much content available on the topic of SEO that for beginners, it’s tough to know where to start. Where is step #1?!
There are many ways to learn SEO, and I’ve outlined in my article The Best (and quickest) way to learn SEO four different paths you can choose to go down.
For now, we are going to go right back to square one, and provide you with our step by step guide to learning SEO.
Once you have been through these four steps you should have all the knowledge to undertake a full SEO audit for a website, and even implement much of the fixes you will learn.
Step 1 – Understand what SEO actually is
Before learning SEO, you need to know exactly what it is, right? SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. It refers to the process of attempting to get your website above your competitors’ websites in the search engine result pages.
A search engine result page (commonly abbreviated to SERP) is the page you see after entering any search query into any search engine. This is the search engine result page for the term “Nelson personal stylist”.
To get visitors to your website, you want it to be as high on this page as possible. Right now, the top results on this particular search is an advert (as seen in the advert above). Then the top ‘organic’ result is Kathy Marquet, then Karen Jordan, and finally Judy Crowe.
Kathy will be getting the majority of the search traffic for this search term, and therefore more revenue from her website.
How do you do the top of the SERPs? A mixture of many tactics and theories which have been tested over the years, as outlined in Step 2 below.
Step 2 – Understand the basic pillars of SEO
The process of optimizing a website to make it rank well can lead you to close to one hundred little tips and tricks, of varying difficulty and effort.
Generally, however, all these techniques fall into a few main categories. These are:
On-page Technical SEO
On-page optimization refers (as you may have guessed) to everything you do on your website. This could mean how you use your page headings, what your page titles are, the compression on your images, your images alt text, your page descriptions, the use of internal links, how you use nofollow and dofollow links, your page load speed, and dozens of other little nitty-gritty things.
Of the three categories, on-page SEO is probably the hardest to get your head around, as there is simply so much to learn.
The good news is that there exists such as thing as a website auditor. A website auditor scans over your website and tells presents pages and pages of data that you can trawl through to discover what is wrong, then learn how to fix it.
Pulse is an example of a website auditor. What Pulse does is scan your entire website to discover what is broken. But we go a step further. We tell you what aspects of your website needs attention, why it needs attention, how to fix it, and even how to explain the issue to your boss (we are serious….we really do!).
Gone are the days where you can create a website that has low-value content and hope for it to rank highly. Google is smart. At the end of the day, Google wants just one thing, and that is for people to keep coming back and using Google. If people keep using Google, they can keep selling ads to advertisers who pay using Adwords.
How can Google keep people coming back? Simple. They need to provide users with the best results they can, that provide the best information on the internet related to their search query.
So think of it this way. If Google’s goal is to provide their users with the best content on their search query, for your website to rank on the first page of the search engine result pages, the content needs to be as good, if not better, then all the other results at the top of the search results.
If the top results all have 2,000-word in-depth articles, with images, diagrams, videos, and links to other great resources, you can’t expect to outrank them with a low-quality 400-word article. It’s just not going to happen.
Bottom line: Provide more value in your content then the sites you want to rank above.
This is an easy concept to understand but can be hard to execute. Backlinks refer to the number of other websites that link to your website.
Not all backlinks are created equal. A link from your countries leading news website is worth more than a link from your local barber’s website.
Similarly, one link from a leading news website is generally better than ten links from low-quality websites.
An easy way to picture how backlinks work is using an elastic band. Links from popular trusted sites will pull you up, and links from small unknown sites will pull you down. When you are trying to get a link to your site keep this in mind.
How do you get links to your site? If you provide high-value content, other website owners will link to it naturally (one of the perks of providing the best content available on the topic). An older technique used to be submitting your site to directories, or commenting on blogs and sharing your link. Some people will sell links on their website which you can buy (which is often discouraged in the SEO community).
To get an idea of how important getting links to your website is, a tactic some people use is to offer a university scholarship through their website, then they’ll email all the websites that share available scholarships and tell them about it, in the hopes that some of the websites will link back to them.
Getting backlinks is an art in itself. To go down this rabbit hole, search for “link building strategies”.
Step 3 – Read a “Starter Guide” to understand the basics
Where should you go for this? Easy! Go direct to Google. Google themselves have created a very comprehensive Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide that we recommend as a starting point.
Read this top to bottom. It is Google’s official guide and provides a great insight into what they are looking for in a well-optimized website.
If you don’t understand something, pause and find out only what that term means. This will prevent you from going off on an hour-long rabbit hole each time Google mentions a concept which you don’t understand.
As an example, when they start talking about robots.txt you could literally go and spend 5 hours learning about how to best use robots.txt for search engine optimization. Fight this urge, and simply find out what robots.txt is (it’s literally a text file that sits on your website’s server and gives instructions to the search engines as to how they should ‘review’ your website).
Much of what is covered in Googles SEO guide can be explored further via a website auditor (i.e the guide is largely about on page optimisation – one of the three pillars of SEO mentioned above).
Step 4 – Decide how you want to learn
There are three main ways to learn SEO. You can pay for an online course, learn from bloggers and free online resources, or take a local SEO course. Read the pros and cons of each of these below, and then keep following the steps to learn via his method.
Learn SEO with online training
There is an abundance of online training courses for SEO online. There is so much that I hate browsing through all the courses available.
It’s not easy to distinguish quality from crap.
Unfortunately, any form of digital marketing attracts a lot of snake oil salesman (read: dodgy people trying to make a quick buck). This crowd likes to make low quality content, and sell as much of it as they can. Instead of spending 80% of their time making great training and 20% of their time selling it, the spend 10% of their time making terrible content, and 90% of their time focusing on selling it. In my opinion, not the right way to do business!
As mentioned in my recent post The Best (and quickest) way to learn SEO two common online communities to find training on a range of topics are Udemy and Lynda. These would be my first stops for finding an online SEO course. Courses on these sites will not be via live lectures, or “digital classrooms”. They come in the form of pre-recorded screen-shares or audio spread over a number of lessons.
Be sure to search for recently updated courses. We recommend not paying for any that haven’t been updated within the last six months.
Don’t be fooled by the discounts on these websites. Often the course will be $199 for one day, then marked down to $14 for every other day, giving the illusion that you are getting really great content. Remember what I said about the snake oil salesman?
Also, take the number of past students (which can be seen on Udemy) with a grain of salt as well. Yes, the number is probably accurate, but the authors of these courses will normally give away many free coupon codes on the first day to make these numbers look high.
Learn as you go, in a hands-on environment
Let’s get my bias out of the way immediately.
Firstly, learning via ‘doing’ is the best way for me to pick up a new skill. I’m also not alone in believing hands-on learning is the best method to understand new concepts. Demme Learning states that “when students make connections between the concepts in the classroom and concepts in the real world, more parts of their brains are activated, and the knowledge gained more easily transfers to long-term memory”.
Secondly, I wanted people to be able to learn SEO and apply their skills immediately to optimize a website that they have access to (whether it be their employers website, their own blog, or their own small businesses website). As a result of this, I created Pulse, which is at its core a platform people can use to analyze their website to find actionable recommendations.
As seen in the image below, when you use Pulse to run a website audit, you will be presented with a Results tab, a Learn tab, an Explain tab, and a Repair tab.
The contents of each of these tabs are pretty self-explanatory. In a nutshell:
The Results tab tells you what is broken, or could be improved, on your website. We don’t use example websites, we use your own website.
The Learn tab will tell you why this is important for SEO, the effect it has on your site’s performance, and outline why you should fix it.
The Explain tab provides a succinct 2 to 3 paragraph explanation of what we have discovered needs fixing, and why you should fix it. We have designed this page to be in an ’email format’ so you can literally copy and paste our explanation to your boss or web developer if you are trying to explain to them what needs improving on the company website.
The Repair tab does exactly what it says. We provide an outline of how to repair the issue and provide a range of additional resources so you can follow the official guides for platforms such as WordPress, Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace.
Learn SEO via bloggers & free online resources
SEO related ‘news’ websites that are good to trawl through are Kissmetrics (the company blog, founded by Neil Patel), Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Land, and Hobo (an SEO agency based in the UK that creates great content).
Learning through bloggers and free resources such as those shared above is a very quick way to be overwhelmed with too much information, and you’ll end up going down rabbit holes covering hundreds of different topics.
Our recommended plan of attack is to start with some introductory courses, then explore the advanced topic in any order you choose.
Introduction to SEO resources:
These resources will get you well on your way to understanding the basics. We recommend reading them top to bottom, without clicking away from the websites to other websites. This is how you get distracted and demotivated! Bookmark these websites, and read them all (there will be a lot of repeated content between them, so feel free to skip sections if you have already learnt the concept, and understand it well).
Once you have the basics all sorted, it’s probably a good time to stop learning and go put all that you have learnt into practice. Once you’ve implemented what you have learnt, be sure to use both Google Analytics and Google Search console to monitor your results.
Then, start reading through some of these advanced resources:
The Hobo link above isn’t a particular blog post or guide, but an SEO service company that has some amazingly well-written articles. Shaun Anderson knows his stuff, so I suggest reading as many posts of his as you can absorb. If you can’t be bothered learning SEO, he has an SEO Services section on his website where he can get stuck in and do the work for you.
Take a local SEO course
If your budget is a bit bigger (normally $600 to $4000) you could attend a local course in your community. Because we get hundreds of thousands of readers from all around the world, we aren’t going to make recommendations for any courses here, as the list will be thousands of pages long.
All we can say is don’t spend too much, and take a look at the tutor’s experience. Has s/he or his/her company been hired by big companies for SEO work int he past, or is it a full-time tutor who has never actually optimized a website?