There isn’t a standard way to learn search engine optimization (SEO). Ask anyone working here at SEJ how they started in SEO, and you’ll get lots of different stories.
It can be frustrating because if your business has any online presence at all, you need to know at least some SEO.
Maybe you’ve just launched that amazing new website and want Google to rank you on the first page.
Or maybe your existing website isn’t getting the traffic you want. Or you just want to start a new, in-demand career.
Whatever the reason you want to learn SEO, you’re in the right spot.
Right now, some of you are probably a little bit intimidated. All this talk of search algorithms and keyword research and reciprocal links sounds complicated.
Relax, despite all the technical jargon, SEO isn’t that hard to learn, even for a complete beginner. You just have to be willing to put in the time and effort.
This article will give you a step-by-step blueprint you can follow to build your SEO skills from scratch or enhance your existing knowledge.
And while we can’t promise you a top ranking in Google, we promise that if you do the work, you’ll see results.
Your Guide To Learning SEO
Before we dive into the first step on your path to becoming an SEO Jedi, let’s take a quick look at what exactly we mean by search engine optimization.
According to Google’s developer’s guide:
“Search engine optimization is the process of making your site better for search engines.”
In other words, it’s figuring out exactly what changes you need to make to your website to make it more relevant to search queries.
The elements of SEO fall under two main categories: on-page and off-page.
As you might expect, on-page SEO elements are the parts that are on your website. These include:
- Crawlability and indexability, i.e., how easy it is for search engines to find and map your content.
- Content quality and keyword usage.
- Usability factors such as loading time and responsiveness, known as Core Web Vitals.
- Mobile responsiveness.
- E-A-T: expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.
Off-page SEO elements, on the other hand, are the ranking factors that come from outside your domain. This primarily focuses on link building and getting other high-quality websites to link to your content.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s dive into the step-by-step process of mastering SEO.
Step 1: Master The Basics
One of the best things about Google is its extensive amount of available information. While they won’t give away the secret sauce of what exactly drives its algorithm, the search engine giant is surprisingly forthcoming about what does and doesn’t get factored into rankings.
And even better, they’ve provided an extremely helpful SEO starter guide for people just starting in the field. This is a high-level view of how search engine optimization works, including definitions of common terms and the basics of getting ranked.
If you’re starting your SEO education completely from scratch, this is the perfect place to start.
It will tell you how to get your site on Google, the best ways to control crawling so the search engine can find your content, and indexability, which will help it understand what your content is about – and what sort of queries it will be a good fit for.
Every year at SEJ, we produce multiple ebooks on various SEO and digital marketing topics. One such ebook is our SEO For Beginners Guide, a comprehensive starter guide and how-to for many common SEO tasks.
Step 2: Dive Deeper Into The Technical Side
Once you feel confident that you have the fundamentals of SEO down, it’s time to move on to more technical concepts.
Once again, Google has provided several excellent resources for your educational purposes.
One good spot to further your education is the webmaster guidelines for maintaining your site’s SEO. It can help get you started with intermediate to advanced techniques for boosting your ranking or dealing with other SEO issues.
This includes information on how to deal with duplicate content and canonical pages, using robots.txt files to tell Google which pages to crawl and index, building and submitting sitemaps, and other ways you can help Google better understand your site.
Depending on what type of content you have on your site, you may need to use different strategies to maximize its exposure.
For example, videos are a popular form of content requiring extra SEO work to ensure they rank as highly as possible.
If you’re using anything outside of plain text (and you should be – no one wants to scroll through a wall of text), make sure you check Google’s content-specific guidelines.
Step 3: Create An SEO Process
By this point, you hopefully have a reasonably good understanding of what SEO is and how it works.
And now, it’s time to put that education into practice by developing and implementing your very own SEO process.
If you’re working on an existing site, the very first thing you need to do is perform an SEO audit. This is a fairly extensive undertaking, but once again, Search Engine Journal to the rescue!
We’ve created an ebook that will walk you through the entire process of evaluating your current SEO efforts using a helpful checklist.
After you’ve understood where you stand now, it’s time to build a strategy. If only there were another helpful ebook you could use to guide you through that process – oh wait, we have one.
This is a step-by-step guide (plus a template) to building your year-long SEO strategy, with month-by-month guidance to help you measure results and improve your rankings.
And regarding monitoring performance, Google Search Console gives you a ton of analytics and information you can use to improve site traffic. It would greatly behoove you to become familiar with this tool.
Step 4: Optimize Your Content
It is impossible to overstate how important your website’s content is. Content is what drives people to your site, encourages them to take action, and is the entire reason for your site to exist in the first place.
So, after you’ve done the backend, technical and strategic work necessary to boost your ranking, it’s time to focus on your content.
Your content strategy should have been a big part of your overall strategy, as discussed in the last step, but this is where the rubber meets the road.
This is where you’ll create the keyword-rich (but not overstuffed) copy, build a solid structure that’s easy for bots and humans to read, and improve your overall content experience.
For detailed information on how to perform this, watch this webinar.
Step 5: Build Your Backlinks
This has been touched on already, but it warrants its own step.
Your incoming links tell Google a lot about how trustworthy your site is.
For example, if you fall for one of those link farms, pay-per-link scams (which, of course, you never would), Google will probably ignore those links.
On the other hand, if the Chicago Tribune is directing people to your page, Google may well view that endorsement in a good light and consider that link valuable.
But how exactly do you build links? Did you really expect us to ask that question and then not have another great ebook that answers that question in-depth?
Download and read this for everything you need to know about building and maintaining a fruitful link-building campaign.
Step 6: Don’t Forget About Humans
With all the technical parts to search engine optimization, it can be really easy to forget about the primary purpose of your website: to provide value for actual people.
And lest you think Google search is entirely comprised of a variety of computer programs, don’t forget actual humans are verifying the algorithm’s work.
These people are known as Search Quality Raters. They follow an extensive guide to determine how well Google search results meet the needs of the querier and evaluate your pages’ quality.
So, always keep that in the back of your mind – that even with all the title tag and image optimization and responsive design work you’ve put in, at the end of the day, SEO is all about people.
Step 7: Never Stop Learning
Whew, that was a lot. Now you can just sit back and relax, enjoying your new title of sixth-degree SEO black belt, right? Not even a little.
Search engine algorithms are constantly undergoing changes.
Some of these are so small you won’t notice, while others make a big change in the kind of returns queries generate. And this constant state of flux means the last thing you can do is rest on your laurels.
But where do you go from here?
Luckily, there is a vast ocean of SEO resources out there, including this very website, where you’ll find all the news, as well as regular updates and blog posts on a variety of topics related to search engines.
But we’d be remiss if we didn’t tell you about some of the great online courses to help you take your search engine optimization skills to the next level.
For your convenience, we’ve provided a select list here, and you can check out some of them in more detail in this post about SEO certifications.
Free SEO Courses For Beginners
Coursera’s Search Engine Optimization Fundamentals: This 13-hour, 4-module digital course (created by the University of California, Davis) is designed to help you understand how search algorithms affect organic search results. It covers everything from building an effective strategy to analyzing and optimizing your existing website.
Ahrefs’ SEO Training Course: This program, presented by SEO tools software provider Ahrefs, consists of 14 lessons split into four modules, comprising two hours in total length. It will teach you the fundamentals of SEO, including how to perform keyword research, technical SEO, and link building for beginners.
Shopify’s SEO Training for Beginners: The ecommerce platform Shopify offers a 30-minute course designed to help online entrepreneurs get up to speed on the fundamentals of SEO fast. This course will give you a repeatable framework you can apply to help improve your business’s search engine ranking.
Yoast’s SEO for Beginners Training: Another SEO tools provider, Yoast’s beginner’s course in SEO features two hours of instructional videos, PDF files, and quizzes to train you in what you’ve learned.
WP Courses’ Intro to Search Engine Optimization: This free course is designed to teach you how to improve your site for both search engines and human visitors. It covers the basics of SEO, including performing keyword research, creating great content, and optimizing your site for maximum ranking and traffic.
Bruce Clay SEO Training: Bruce Clay is known as the programmer of the first webpage analysis tool. Now, he runs a search marketing company (Bruce Clay, Inc.) that provides a wide range of digital marketing services. This online course will teach you how to improve your website’s ranking with an emphasis on E-A-T. It includes more than 15 hours of instruction across 48 videos.
Next.js’ Introduction to SEO: This text-based course offered by production framework Next.js provides a quick, four-page overview of SEO. It covers search systems and robots and web performance topics, emphasizing using them alongside Next.js.
Hubspot’s SEO Training Course: This short course offers free certification and focuses on the business impacts of SEO. With six lessons built around 22 videos and three quizzes, it uses Hubspot’s blogging strategy as its core example when explaining how SEO works.
Intermediate To Advanced SEO Resources
Got the fundamentals down and are ready to move on to more advanced topics? There are plenty of great resources out there, including:
Semrush Digital Courses: Online visibility and content marketing SaaS provider Semrush has put together one of the best libraries of SEO content available anywhere. These free lessons, which generally run one hour in length, are hosted by various experts and cover nearly every aspect of digital marketing you can think of – including a dozen on search engine optimization.
Ahrefs’ Advanced Link Building Course: This 14-lesson course can be completed in under two hours. It’s designed to equip you with strategies for building links at scale – that go beyond traditional backlinking tactics. It will teach you how to structure and distribute outreach emails, validate campaigns, and manage your link-building team more effectively.
Coursera’s Advanced Search Engine Optimization Strategies: This free 25-hour course focuses on technical, mobile, and social strategies for improving your website’s traffic. It will teach you more advanced SEO skills like improving site architecture, evaluating competitors, and developing global strategies.
LinkedIn Learning: Formerly Lynda.com, the educational portion of the social networking site LinkedIn offers a variety of SEO topics, from beginner to advanced. It offers a free trial but then costs $19.99 per month for unlimited access. LinkedIn Learning has 86 SEO-related videos, many of which specialize in one particular aspect, for example, SEO for ecommerce sites or structuring data for web crawlers.
Advanced Technical SEO: A Complete Guide: You didn’t really think we were going to make this list and not include another of our ebooks, did you? Maybe we’re biased, but this free downloadable ebook will teach you everything you need to know about technical SEO, including finding the best hosting company, structuring your site to be web crawler-friendly, and best practices for pagination, alongside a wealth of other useful information.
Google Analytics Academy: While strictly speaking not an SEO course, if you’re serious about SEO and improving your skills, this certification is well worth earning. This free course will help you better understand the content and digital marketing industry while ensuring you get the most out of the tools the search engine giant makes available.
Stay Up To Date And Get Optimizing
As you can see, there’s quite a lot that goes into search engine optimization. And even experts are learning new things every day.
Hopefully, by this point, you’ve learned a bit about SEO basics and where to learn more about them.
And after you’ve perused some of the linked materials, then it’s time to put your new knowledge into action.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see results immediately – remember, search engine optimization is a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes, it can take months for your changes to start showing up on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Just remember, this is a constantly shifting environment, and what worked yesterday may not work today. This is partly because of shady SEO specialists who gamed the algorithm through things like keyword stuffing and article spinning (i.e., recreating content with different words).
But the main reason you must stay on top of SEO is Google’s unending quest to provide better, more relevant results.
Currently, this means focusing more on search intent than keywords, but who knows what it will mean tomorrow?
The only way to stay on top is to keep working once you get there. Because if you kick your heels up, it won’t be long before your hard-earned ranking goes away to a harder-working, savvier optimizer.
Don’t ever stop learning, and now get out there and get to the top of search results!
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