It is a fact of learning that all education is self-education. Although others can facilitate learning, nobody can teach you anything–they can only inspire you to teach yourself. That means if you want to learn search engine optimization (SEO), you’ll have to take matters into your own hands.
Having run an SEO firm for the past 15 years I had to train myself on everything I know. When I was in college there were no classes in digital marketing. Today there are, but unless you’re already a college student it’s probably impractical for you to go back to school. Even if you are in school, you can’t depend upon a class to teach you everything you need to know. Classes can be a great introduction to digital marketing, but if you want to become good enough to get real SEO work done, get ready for some extra-curricular activities. If I were starting from scratch today and wanted to become an SEO expert, or just dangerous enough to know whether or not my SEO firm is doing a good job, here’s how I would teach myself SEO.
SEO for Beginners
There’s no better resource I’ve found as a starting place to learn SEO than The Beginner’s Guide to SEO from Moz. It’s free, and it starts out answering the most basic questions like “What is SEO?” Read the entire guide once and you’ll know more than the people sending you those spam SEO emails every day. Read it twice and you’ll know more than a lot of the so-called SEO experts. If you only have the time to do one thing to learn SEO, reading the Moz guide is it.
Often neglected from one’s SEO education is a fundamental understanding of search engines and their business model. Many SEO professionals focus on the short term action over result SEO tactics. They ask: “If I make this change to a website, what will happen?” That’s important, but setting a long term SEO strategy requires one to answer these questions:
- How do search engines make money?
- What objectives do search engine owners have outside of making money?
- What is the future of search?
To answer these questions you need to know the history of search, which means studying the history of Google GOOGL +1.21%. Fortunately, there are some excellent books you can read. Some of the best are:
- In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives by Stephen Levy
- The Google Story: For Google’s 10th Birthday by David A. Vise
- How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenburg
- The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture by John Battelle
- I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 by Douglas Edwards
- What Would Google Do?: Reverse-Engineering the Fastest Growing Company in the History of the World by Jeff Jarvis
All of these are dated in that they only cover this history of Google and search up until they were published, but they’re still relevant to SEO today, and more importantly to where it’s going in the future.
There is only one other book I recommend for SEO beginner’s, and it’s When Search Meets Web Usability by Shari Thurow and Nick Musica. Although published in 2009, the book does an excellent job of explaining the basics of search. It’s technical and helpful even for an SEO expert, but the concepts and writing are easy to understand and within reach of any beginner.
Moving Toward Expert Level SEO
The depth of experience for many SEO experts goes something like this: “Optimize your title tags, make sure your site loads quickly, and then write a lot of blog posts, ask for some links back to your site, and you’ll see your site start ranking better.” Even if these SEO experts tell you it takes more than this and give you the impression they’re doing more, this is often the extent of the services they provide. If you only have beginner level knowledge of SEO this will sound reasonable and you’ll have no reason to expect anything more until you fail to get results. By investing a few hours a month, you can move toward becoming a true SEO expert yourself and then you’ll have the knowledge to know what those you hire to do SEO for you should be doing, and you can better gauge their readiness before hiring them.
While there is no substitute for digging in and getting hands-on experience through trial and error, here are some of the most helpful resources that will assist in building expert level SEO knowledge.
Online Resources for SEO
There are many online “magazines” covering the world of SEO. Some of the foremost include:
There are too many good SEO bloggers to mention, but some standout blogs and bloggers are Hubspot, Kissmetrics, SEMrush, Brian Dean, Moz, Bruce Clay, SEO by the SEA, Barry Schwartz/Search Engine Roundtable, SEO Book, and of course,the official Google blog.
Amongst the experts in the SEO industry, some of the standouts to pay attention to are:
Rand Fishkin. Perhaps it’s his handlebar mustache, but there is no more recognizable face in the SEO world than Fishkin’s. As CEO of Moz which provides tools, informational resources, and conferences for the digital marketing community, Fishkin is one of the most connected individuals in the industry. Follow him @randfish.
Danny Sullivan. If Rand Fishkin is the face of the SEO industry, Sullivan is its godfather. He is a founding editor of Search Engine Land and Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which runs SMX, the largest conference series in the search marketing industry. Follow him @dannysullivan.
Wil Reynolds. Reynolds is the founder and CEO of Seer Interactive and all around good guy. He’s prolific on YouTube, talking about SEO and entrepreneurship. Go watch some of his videos, you’ll see why he’s a great resource for anyone looking to advance their thinking on SEO. Also follow him at@wilreynolds.
It’s beyond difficult to choose three individuals to represent such a diverse industry. I chose these three because if you start following them, they’ll lead you to the rest. To find more experts do a search for “top SEO experts” on Google and you’ll find plenty of other, more lengthy lists. And here is a list of over 1,000 SEO professionals you can follow on Twitter TWTR +0.00%.
Because technology changes rapidly, the tendency is for SEO books to become outdated soon after publication. For this reason, the books I’ve found most helpful when it comes to SEO aren’t exactly SEO books. Here are some of my favorites:
Landing Page Optimization: The Definitive Guide to Testing and Tuning for Conversions by Tim Ash, Maura Ginty, and Rich Page
Although I haven’t finished it because it’s new (and very, very large), I have to recommend The Art of SEO: Mastering Search Engine Optimization by Eric Enge, Stephan Spencer, and Jessie Stricchiola. This is the third edition, and the authors are pillars in the SEO community. It looks great so far, and is perhaps the most authoritative and up to date book out there on SEO.
As with SEO books, many of the best SEO conferences aren’t purely about SEO, but overlap enough that they’re helpful for anyone looking to dive into what SEO is all about. The following conferences are some of the better known ones:
- ClickZ Live
- Conversion Conference
- Internet Summit
- Content Marketing World
If you’re curious what kind of knowledge you’ll get from a conference, you can often find video clips on YouTube or the conference organizer websites, or sometimes conferences offer full access to video of all conference sessions, as Moz does.
In addition to these larger events, you may be able to find events of the same quality in your backyard. For example, SLC|SEM recently held an event in Salt Lake City, Utah with high profile presenters like Lee Odden of TopRank Marketing, Duane Forrester of Bing, and Cyrus Shepard from Moz.
Many competent SEO experts have never been to a conference or read an SEO book. They’ve learned by reading about SEO online, and by getting dirty with hands-on experience. For these experts, reading books and attending conferences can expand their knowledge. But perhaps rather than doing SEO yourself you’re a CMO, VP Marketing, or business owner who would love to learn more about SEO so you can manage relationships with an in-house SEO team or outside vendor. After following my recommendations for SEO beginner’s above, I would check out some of the online publications, watch some videos of SEO experts online, and look towards attending a conference if it’s convenient for you. Without too huge of an investment, your knowledge of SEO can grow quickly.
What have you found most helpful on your SEO education journey? What would you recommend for others in terms of additional websites, blogs, books, or conferences? Let us know in the comments below.