by Jayson DeMers
Search engine optimization (SEO) can be intimidating if you’re a newbie. Even the concept — making changes to your website to increase its visibility in search engines for specific keyword searches — sounds complicated, and once you dig into the technical details, it all seems even harder to grasp.
But in reality, SEO is much simpler than it appears on the surface. Almost every tactic you need to increase your rankings can be learned in a matter of weeks … at least enough to get you going.
All it takes is the certainty that you can learn this, the dedication to follow through, and a good starting point. So I’ve come up with the following six steps to master SEO even if you know nothing at the start.
First, keep these key and high-level basics in mind:
- The learning never stops. As with any entrepreneurial venture, you should recognize that you’ll never learn everything. As Sam Ovens comments, you need to commit to an ongoing learning process if you want to keep making progress. SEO changes all the time, thanks to new technologies and search algorithms, so you want to stay on your toes if you hope to prosper.
- Scale your knowledge gradually. You aren’t going to learn everything overnight, no matter how hard you work. So instead of trying to cram as much information into your brain as possible, focus on a small segment of SEO at a time.
- SEO is an ongoing experiment. Even if you had all the current knowledge in place, there’s no guarantee that you’ll succeed. You need to measure, analyze, and refine your efforts constantly to improve your approach on an ongoing basis.
Phases of Learning
With those precepts in mind, you can start to learn SEO over six key phases:
1. Get the 10,000-foot view.
Start with the basics. Before you tackle anything with regard to SEO tactics, you need to grasp the strategy: what it isn’t, how it’s used, and how it can benefit your firm. Even if you believe you have a good idea, it’s wise to check your assumptions: There are a number of misconceptions about SEO that might skew your approach if you start working under those premises. Moz has an excellent Beginner’s Guide to SEO that’s worth reading, even if you’re already familiar with how SEO works.
2. Learn how Google works.
Next, you’ll want to get a feel for how Google works as a search engine … but don’t worry: you don’t have to learn any programming. Instead, you’ll want to learn how Google’s algorithms evaluate the authority of domains and pages, how keyword contexts are determined, and the various Google updates that have altered the SEO game over the years. (High-level understanding is fine for most of these.) You can go straight to the source for this one: Google has a great interactive feature that explains the long and short of how Google search operates to index sites and calculate rankings.
3. Study keyword research and strategy.
After that, you should learn how keyword research is performed — as well as why it matters. Hummingbird has transformed the function of keywords within Google search over the past three years, but it’s still worthwhile to include target keywords as part of your strategy. Backlinko has a detailed guide on this topic if you’re completely unfamiliar with it, but try to experiment with lots of keyword research tools before you settle on the best one for your brand.
4. Understand how to measure and analyze your campaign.
Before you start experimenting with the tactics that are intended to help you rank higher in searches, you need to know what you’re looking for and how to gauge your success. In this phase, you’ll become acquainted with the tools that can help you measure your progress, understand your effectiveness, and ultimately improve your results. Google Analytics is a nearly perfect tool for beginners, and Google offers a fantastic help guide that can walk you through it.
5. Delve into on-site SEO.
Once those basics out of the way, you can start to work on the individual tactics and strategies that will make your site rank higher. First, you’ll want to look into on-site optimization: all the technical changes, modifications, and best practices that you can apply to your website to make it more visible, better targeted to your demographic pool, and more authoritative. Quick Sprout has a guide with most of the information you’ll need to start.
6. Learn off-site SEO tactics.
Finally, you’ll need to work on the off-site facet of SEO, which includes such tactics as link building and social media marketing. Even though this phase is our final one, it’s one of the most powerful phases to master, because of its potential impact on your rank and the risk of costly errors are huge. If you’re looking for a good place to start learning, Wordstream has a valuable guide on the subject.
Once you’re gone through these six steps, and learned as much as you can along the way, you should have all you need to start, strategize, and execute an effective SEO campaign.
Again, there’s never going to be an official end to the learning process, so keep reading SEO news sites and don’t allow yourself to get too comfortable with any one strategy. The more time you spend in the industry, the stronger grasp you’ll have on the ebb and flow of optimization.
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