How to learn SEO

When you talk to SEOs about how they got into the industry, the stories are always pretty varied. There is no standard route into SEO given that it isn’t taught at University or College, at least not as a stand alone course.  Many people tend to fall into SEO by accident and catch the bug, that bug is usually getting one of their own websites to number 1.

As I’ve become more experienced over the years and starting running my own team, and worked with people who are brand new to SEO, I’ve collected various links, resources and notes that I will give to new starters in the Brainlabs SEO team to help give them a head start.  This post will share all of this so you also have a point of reference for you to give to new starters in your own company.

My thoughts on learning SEO

I wanted to start off with my own opinion on learning SEO, I’m not saying I’m right on all these things, in fact I’d encourage you to tell me what has worked for you if it differs from my approach.

Challenge assumptions with your own testing

I’ve always felt that the best way to learn SEO is by doing it.  I encourage any SEO to build their own website and use it to test SEO theories and to challenge what they are told by “experts”.  I’m not saying you should learn to code (although I think knowing code and markup basics is very valuable), you can just use a WordPress installation and not code anything.  The point here is to have access to a site which you can test to your heart’s content and verify what you are told.

Yes, you should look to learn from others in the industry who write blog posts and speak at conferences, one of the best things about our industry is the open sharing of knowledge and you should take advantage of that.  However it is good to have a healthy scepticism when you’re presented with ideas and information.

I started my own blog back in 2007 for exactly this reason and for the first few years, deliberately didn’t “do SEO” on it.  I just published content and looked at how Google interpreted it, indexed it and ranked it.  I didn’t try and control Google crawls or push links to certain pages, I just wanted to assess what happened naturally.  This taught me more than most blog posts and allowed me to see what elements on my site and content truly mattered to Google.

I now have a number of my own test sites and often open them up to testing theories.  Often I’m wrong and I’ll challenge an assumption which turns out to be correct.  That’s fine and the next time I speak to a client about that topic, I have true experience and data to backup my instinct and opinion.

Takeaway tip – challenge assumptions and test for yourself.

Go to SEO conferences and networking events

I’ve been to a number of SEO conferences and have spoken at a few too. The value as an attendee can be quite mixed depending on the conference and the speakers.  Overall though, if you are new to the industry and haven’t been to a conference, I’d encourage you to go.  My first conference was SMX London in 2009 and I learnt loads from the speakers and was able to take a lot back to my job and implement. A year later I had joined Brainlabs and went again and being honest, didn’t find it as valuable given I’d really stepped up my learning and joined a great company where I was learning fast.

But it was this first conference experience that really opened my eyes as to what else was possible and how much learning I needed to do.  It also helped my own confidence and verified that my approach and knowledge was on a par with people of the same experience.  The value of attending a conference often goes beyond the speakers and sessions, the true value is in speaking to others in the industry and sharing insights.  This community is one of the friendliest I’ve known and I’ve learnt so much from chatting to people at the bar after a conference or during a coffee break – don’t underestimate the value of this.

I don’t think I could finish this section without mentioning that we have SearchLove London and Boston coming up later this year and these are the perfect events to attend if you have never attended a conference before.  The topics cover just about everything you need to be aware of and the networking events are amongst the best I’ve been to.  I know I’m naturally biased but I’m not the only one that thinks Brainlabs conferences are awesome:

Search Love reviews

If you are based in the UK and are in the North, local conferences which I’ve enjoyed and are worth looking at are Think Visibility in Leeds and SAScon in Manchester, both of which are great on the social front too.  If you are in the US, I’d highly recommend MozCon but you’ll have to wait until 2013 now for the next one!

In terms of networking, there are always smaller networking events going on which are often free.  These are also a great place to start and don’t require budget from your boss to attend.  The best place to start is Meetup and do a search of your local area to see what events are coming up.

I’ve only been to local meetups in London so I have no recommendations for the North I’m afraid!  For those of you in London I’d recommend trying to go to OMN run by Quad, or Search London.

Takeaway tip – attend conferences and local free meetups

Resources for learning SEO

This is a version of what I send to people if they ask about learning SEO:

News and industry updates

Blogs for learning and educational content

Larger guides / heavy reading

Technical SEO specific resources

Link building specific resources

Analytics specific resources

I could go on but I think that gives most newbies a good starting point!