I’ve always been put in situations where I’ve had to teach myself. The first time I ever drove a stick, my friends were too drunk to drive and we thought it was a good idea to journey 6 hours away to North Carolina. (and there we stayed for several months)
When I first got into SEO I knew absolutely zilch about it. I had never even thought about the concept of affecting search engine results. I also worked remotely, which meant I couldn’t just look over and ask someone a question.
I knew one basic concept “Links on site A to site B, give site B more visibility in search engines”. Other than that, all I was given was a spreadsheet of sites I should contact.
That was several years ago and since then I’ve learned a lot more about SEO and internet marketing in general. I put together this guide for anyone in a similar predicament.
Step 1. Read a Little
Don’t overwhelm yourself! Start slow with some beginner SEO reads and get a grasp of basic concepts. SEOmoz’s beginners guide is very safe place to start and doesn’t get too technical in any areas. If you run into something that is particularly interesting to you, dig a little deeper and do some research.
If you’re a little more savvy, I recommend reading Oli Gardner’s online marketing guide instead. It focuses more on specific forms of online marketing and does a great job of being very descriptive in as few words as possible.
- Understanding The Value of a Link
- 2011 Search Engine Ranking Factors
- Everything You Need to Know About Domain Names
- Everything You Need to Know About Title Tags
- SEO 101 Resources: Beginner’s Guides and Tutorials
Step 2. Setup
This will vary depending on what skill sets you already have, but there are a few basic things that everyone will need. In the beginning, stick to the things that work for you. Don’t try and force yourself to use something you’re not comfortable with.
These are tools that will be very easy to use from the get go.
- Excel: First and foremost you’ll need an excel program. This will allow you to view things like crawl reports as well as any reporting you’ll get from outsourcing. You’ll also need excel for keeping track of any outreach you may be doing for link building. If you don’t want to fork over the money for Microsoft Excel, Open Office is a great alternative.
- SEO Glossary: For any beginner, The SEO Book SEO Glossary will be a very helpful reference for the slew of acronyms that will be thrown at you.
- Page Strength Tool: You’ll need a way to judge the strength of different pages, both for link building and figuring out which pages you should focus on. You’ll have various options here – it mostly depends on personal preference.
1) SEOmoz Tool Bar – This will show you the Moz Rank and Page Authority for each page, which I think are the best signals to judge the strength of a page. The toolbar also shows additional information, however they won’t be available without a pro account.
2) SEO Site Tools – This is a good one for Chrome. It conveniently shows you the page rank of the page you’re on right on the icon for the tool. This means you don’t have an annoying toolbar in the way of your browsing experience. On click, it will display the backlinks of a page as well as other information; including SEOmoz’s page authority and domain rank.
3) Search Status – A nice one for Firefox. Similarly to Site Tools, it will display the page rank of each page you’re on right by it’s icon. On click, you can also get additional information; including WhoIs, Robots.txt, Sitemap, and back link information.
- Keyword Tool: You’ll need tools for keyword analysis and trying to figure out what you want to rank for. The Google Adwords keyword tool is a great one to start on and all the information is organized and easy to navigate through. I also like Uber Suggest for finding less obvious keywords. You can scrape together keywords from Uber Suggest and put them into Googles keyword tool to sort their search volume.
- Rank Tracking Tool: When you’re just getting started you don’t need anything fancy to track your rankings. Rank Checker for Firefox is a great one to start with. It’s easy to use, but it won’t keep track of the history of your keywords. If that’s important to you, I suggest dumping the information into an excel sheet.
These tools will be good accents to certain skills and tasks you may already be a part of.
- Firebug: If you have web development knowledge, this is a great tool to have on hand. It allows you to highlight the code of specific parts of a webpage without leaving the page itself.
- Illustration Tool: I always run into a situation where I need an illustrator program for one reason or another. It could be to make a quick button ad during link building, throwing together a quick design concept for a landing page, or to edit an image for a post I’m writing. Photoshop and Illustrator are my personal favorites, but they’re kinda pricey. If you don’t like pirating software, Gimp and Krita are great alternatives.
- Adwords Editor: If you have PPC tasks, this is a must. It shines in large scale PPC campaigns, but even if you’re only managing a small account, you should familiarize yourself with it. It allows you to easily upload hundreds and even thousands of keywords and campaigns quickly.
- Skitch: If you have to deal with clients or reporting, this is a great tool to have. You can throw together snapshot highlights and make quick notes for your clients. For example, you could take a snapshot of a ranking improvement and circle your clients site in the search results.
- Twitter Tools: If you’re working with Twitter, get something to manage your account. The reason I’m talking about Twitter specifically, is because it tends to be harder for people to get the hang of. Tweet Deck helped me out dramatically when I first ventured into Twitter, because it let me view multiple columns at the same time. For example, one column can display everyone I’m following, another one a list I created, and a third one for a certain hashtag. However, Tweet Deck isn’t great at managing multiple accounts. If you’re working with multiple accounts HootSuite may be a better alternative.
Step 3. Start Doing Things
If you’re truly teaching yourself, you need to jump right in as soon as possible. This is where you’re going to do most of your learning. You’re going to fail… a lot!.. Don’t get discouraged, but use those moments as a way to figure out what’s working for you and what’s not.
- Stay away from any methods you’re unsure of. If something seems sketchy to you, don’t touch it until you have a better understanding of it.
- If you have development skills, make a dummy site or two. This will allow you to play around and test out different SEO methods without worrying about negative outcomes.
- Start with non-competitive keywords. If you’re doing something right, you’ll see immediate results with these keywords. This will help you learn what does and doesn’t work.
- Keep track of EVERYTHING! If you’re link building – keep track of names, emails, conversations, dates, etc. This will help you see what communications, niches, and approaches are working for you. You may also find that something you’re recording could be useful for reporting.
- Watch your analytics like a hawk. If you get a spike of traffic, figure out what caused it immediately! This will give you great insight into what you did right and also give you a chance to be proactive and try to leverage more traffic.
- Dip your toes into social media if you’re not already. This will help you get more comfortable talking to folks you don’t know.
- Do some work for free! I’m sure you have a friend that’s curious about starting a site for his band or something. This will not only give you a chance to learn, it’s a chance for you to familiarize yourself in a new niche.
Step 4. Get Active in SEO Communities
Start working with SEO communities where there are active mentors. YouMoz is a great place to start being social with other SEO’s who are both new and experienced. Everyone’s extremely supportive and willing to lend a helping hand.
Start writing posts on the blog as well. It can take a while to get your post published, but it’s a great way to get some feedback and constructive criticism. Plus, if you write an exceptionally good post, they will promote your post to the main blog. This will give you great credibility and a chance to connect with folks in your industry that you didn’t know.
You should also find the chance to get away from the safety of your computer and get active in public communities. Go to conferences or start attending a Meetup group. Meetup.com is a great way to find folks in your area that are into SEO and other tech industries. Just because you’re more interested in SEO, doesn’t mean you should ignore other related areas. This is a great way to get a better understanding of fields you will inevitably work with at one point or another.
Step 5. Start a Blog
Create the blog yourself. Don’t ask your developer friend to set it up for you. Get your own host and learn how to set up a site. It’s vital to be comfortable on FTP and editing code.
It’s ok to use a template! By no means do you need to dive right in and create an entire site from scratch. Find a template you like and figure out how to customize it to your liking.
Start writing as often as you can! At least once a week. If you can write more than that, great! Unlike publishing articles on YouMoz, you now have to figure out how to promote your content on a new blog that has no community. This gives you a chance to see what social media avenues work for you.
Don’t be afraid to be translucent in your writing. People are very grateful for actionable examples and information. If you’re testing out a new SEO strategy, use your blog as a form of documentation and explain what did and didn’t work. Expand on what else you could’ve done.
With a blog you’ll start to become a more active member in the SEO community. Not only will this help you become more recognized, but it also looks good on your resume or portfolio. It shows effort and dedication.
Step 6. Find a Mentor
Find someone experienced in the industry that you can rely on. This is part of the reason why being active in the SEO community is so valuable. It’s a great way to find experienced folks willing to take time out of their day to assist you.
This is not just for learning SEO, but for learning how to grow your professionalism: for example, developing your resume, knowing how negotiate a salary, advice on wether you should take a new position, insights on other agencies, etc.
Step 7. Read a Lot
Start soaking up knowledge everywhere you can. Search engines change their algorithms constantly, so it’s vital to stay on top of any recent updates. I suggest starting with RSS feeds. Put aside an hour or two each day and dedicate that time strictly to reading about SEO. I compiled a large list of SEO RSS feeds if you wanna tackle the entire list at once.
If you don’t have the time to read that many feeds consistently, I suggest starting with these:
Inbound – Blog
You should also start following SEOs on Twitter. I know the linked list may be overwhelming if you’re not comfortable on Twitter, but that’s the smallest I’m willing to make it. I recommend following everyone on that list if possible.
Twitter is a great way to discover random articles that are not just SEO related, but related to tech in general. It gives you insight on what other SEOs are into, as well as a chance to communicate with people in the industry.
Step 8. Do What You’re Good At
At this point you should have a grasp of what you can and can’t handle. Find you’re strong points and make them better. Leverage what you’re good at to get more out of what you’re weak at.
Don’t be afraid to outsource. If you’re content isn’t that good, then find someone to write content for you and use your other skills to make that content work.
Find ways to trade what you’re good at to help others. This is a great way to trade work with other people. If you’re good at promotion, but lack in design, then work on a co-op project with someone who’s good at design. This is an opportunity for both of you to learn off each other.
Teaching yourself is no easy task. Go into it with a positive attitude and don’t be afraid of fear. Don’t be so worried about messing up that you’re not trying new things. Put yourself in uncomfortable situations and learn from it.