Everything You Need to Learn SEO
If you want to learn SEO you’re in luck because the internet is flooded with free resources. Though it’s great to have so much knowledge available, going through countless articles can be daunting and it’s hard to know which are trustworthy. I’ve had the opportunity to pour over countless SEO resources and determine the valuable ones from the less-than-helpful. This article lists the best and most useful resources (instead of an all inclusive list) so you can learn SEO in the most efficient way possible.
What is SEO?
The first and most important thing to learn is what SEO actually is. SEO is an acronym for “Search Engine Optimization”. Moz defines SEO as “the practice of improving and promoting a website to increase the number of visitors the site receives from search engines.” Basically, SEO is meant to improve your website rankings in search engines and ideally receive more website traffic in return.
Now that we know what SEO is, let’s define some other jargon terms you might come across when learning about SEO.
Commonly Used SEO Jargon
According to Google an algorithm is “a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.” Where SEO is concerned, an algorithm refers to the rules a search engine uses to rank websites.
“Crawler” is a generic term used to describe programs that automatically run to scan websites. The crawlers are sometimes referred to as “robots” or “spiders”. A crawler discovers websites by crawling from one link to another. Google’s main crawler is called Googlebot and Bing’s main crawler is called Bingbot.
“Keywords” or “keyphrases” are the query terms users enter in the search engine to try and find a web page or site to match their search intent.
Search engines have two types of result listings, paid and organic. The organic results are the free listings which you rank for naturally.
PageRank is a proprietary algorithm used by Google to rank web pages. A PageRank is a numerical value that can range from 0 through 10; 0 being the lowest and 10 being the highest and most desirable. Every individual web page can have a different PageRank. The higher the PageRank the higher Google values the page and perceives it as authoritative.
SERP stands for “Search Engine Results Page”. It is the page that occurs with the results after you perform a search. There are typically 10 organic listings on each search engine results page.
White Hat and Black Hat
White Hat and Black Hat are opposite types of SEO tactics. White Hat strategies follow the rules and guidelines set forth by search engines and are the most beneficial long-term. Black Hat tactics are frowned upon. They are intentionally sneaky and meant to trick search engines. Black Hat strategies aren’t long lasting as search engines are constantly changing algorithms to improve search quality.
Why Does Everyone Focus on Google?
According to comScore, over 64% of search queries come from Google. Since the vast majority of searchers are using the Google search engine it makes sense to focus on Google.
With that being said, over 20% of search queries do come from Microsoft products so you certainly shouldn’t ignore Bing. However, Bing and Yahoo generally have similar rules and guidelines to Google so by catering to Google’s standards you are likely setting it up to rank higher on Bing and Yahoo as well.
How Do Search Engines Work?
If you want a clear idea on how search engines work we should go directly to the source. Google has put together a nice site that shows very clearly how search engines work. They start by explaining crawling and indexing, then algorithms, and finally the process of fighting spam.
To get the complete story on how search works in a nice graphical portrayal visit Google’s How Search Works site.
For a more technical overview on how search works and how Google crawls visit the How Google Search Works Webmaster Guidelines.
Pages are Ranked, Not Sites
It’s good to know that SERPs list web pages, not sites. This is important because it means that every page matters. This gives you many more opportunities to rank for different keywords, since each group of keywords can have a particular page associated with them.
Relevance is Key
It’s important to remember that relevance is key in the search engine’s eyes. When a user enters a keyword, the search engine wants to display results that are relevant to that keyword. Similarly, when the user clicks on a link the search engine wants the contents of that page to be relevant to the text displayed on the result and the original keyword.
Learn SEO for Free
As mentioned earlier, there truly is an abundance of free SEO resources online. These few items below are the resources that I personally find to be the most useful.
Whenever possible, I find it best to get my information directly from the source. Though it isn’t extensive information, Google does provide documentation on how to make your site “Google friendly”. They also offer Webmaster Guidelines Best Practices.
Moz has excellent resources for learning SEO. Though every MOZ resource really is beneficial, I would start out with the Beginners Guide to SEO. The guide has a nice A through Z overview on everything SEO related.
Once you’re done with the Beginners Guide to SEO, I’d recommend the Beginners Guide to Link Building. Link building is not only one of the most important pieces of SEO, it is also one of the most difficult.
Another great way to learn SEO from Moz is to watch the Whiteboard Friday videos. These videos typically feature Moz founder, Rand Fishkin, and are not only informative but also entertaining. Not only do Whiteboard Friday videos help you learn SEO initially, they also help you stay up to date on new changes and trends.
The majority of the resources from WordStream are based around PPC but they do also offer a guide on SEO for beginners. All of the WordStream resources are worthwhile and even though it isn’t their area of expertise, the SEO guide is no exception.
Another great resource is Quick Sprout. They offer a lot of good SEO knowledge as well as broader digital marketing information. Quick Sprout offers an Advanced Guide to SEO that is comprised of several infographics.
Once you’ve reviewed these great SEO resources and have become familiar with the basics, we can dig into the areas people typically focus on and start using tools to ease the process.
Where to Focus SEO Efforts and Which Tools Can Help
Google has stated that there are over 200 ranking signals. Though there is some suspicion as to what those 200+ ranking signals are, there is not a definitive list from Google and signals are subject to constant change.
If you aren’t sure where to start, you can always begin with an SEO audit. In no particular order, these are the aspects of SEO on which I choose to direct my focus, and some of the tools that I’ve found most useful.
Keyword research is a good place to start. It will help you make decisions when it comes to content and on-page optimizations. There is an entire chapter dedicated to keyword research in the Moz Beginners Guide to SEO to help you learn the basics.
Some useful keyword research tools are:
There are several elements on your web pages that can affect search rankings. Some of the main on-page elements that can and should be optimized are title tags, header tags, meta tags, and image alt tags.
If you’re looking for a tool to audit your current on-page elements, I’d recommend Screaming Frog. With Screaming Frog you can easily see your on-page elements as well as the length and pixel width.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a free tool to identify some on-page optimization best practices, look no further than the Bing Webmaster Tools. Bing actually offers an SEO Analyzer in their Webmaster Tools that does a decent job of identifying changes for best practices based on the URL.
As mentioned earlier, the SERPs display web pages (not sites) which makes the content (including blogs) very important. With that being said, it’s also important to know that high quality content is far more important than quantity.
You can use your keyword research to identify topics that are important to your niche and build out relevant pages corresponding to those terms. If you can’t come up with any keyword based ideas you can generate topic ideas with the HubSpot Blog Topic Generator or Portent’s Content Idea Generator.
When creating content, remember to keep in mind how important the title is. Copyblogger offers some great formulas to create those click-bait titles everyone is looking for.
Here are some tips for making great titles:
- 10 Sure-Fire Headline Formulas That Work
- 7 More Sure-Fire Headline Templates That Work
- 9 Proven Headline Formulas That Sell Like Crazy
When it comes to creating content there are many more details I can go over, but for the purposes of learning SEO, the most important content related knowledge is that you should have content (quality over quantity) and that headlines are important.
If you have more money than time you can always outsource content creation. Some of the best companies I’ve used for creating content are BlogMutt and BKA Content. BlogMutt is a nice way to keep your site current with content, whereas BKA Content works well when you’re looking for a particular piece here and there.
I can’t stress enough how important backlinks are. Unfortunately, they are difficult to obtain. Like the content, it isn’t the sheer volume of backlinks that is important, but rather the quality. The best backlinks come from authoritative, relevant sites.
I strongly recommend that you learn about backlinks from the Moz Beginners Guide to Link Building. Once you understand the basics, Point Blank SEO offers a comprehensive list of link building strategies.
Some of the best tools for finding link building opportunities are:
Google has stated that page speed is one of the many ranking factors they use. There has been page speed research done which shows that the particular page speed metric Google measures for ranking purposes is Time to First Byte (TTFB).
Furthermore, optimizing page speed is always a good idea because it leads to a better user experience.
Some of the best tools to measure and optimize page speed are:
There is a whole slew of technical SEO aspects that are worth your attention. Some of the main ones include an XML sitemap, robots.txt file, the URL structure, schema tags, broken links, and HTTP status codes.
A good tool to use for many of the technical aspects is the Google Search Console. Within the Google Search Console you can upload your sitemap, view what is being blocked in your robots.txt file, create schema tags and check current tags for issues, and find crawl errors caused by broken links and 404 error codes.
A nice tool to easily identify broken links on your site is Broken Link Checker. As a side note, this tool can also be used on sites you don’t own. You can then reach out to the site owner and offer a replacement for the broken link with a comparable link to your site.
Another important piece of technical SEO is identifying any penalties that have been placed on your site. You can check the Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools for any manual penalties, but they won’t notify you of algorithmic penalties.
Some tools to try and identify if your site has been affected by an algorithmic penalty are:
Google has recently added more emphasis to the importance of SSL and domain security. Having an SSL certificate can now boost your search rankings, though not substantially. To check the security status of your domain you can use the SSL Server Test tool.
Typically mobile isn’t included as an SEO specific focus, but I wanted to mention it because of its ever increasing importance. Search engines actually provide different search results on a mobile device as a desktop device and if your site isn’t mobile friendly it won’t rank as well. Additionally, search engines have started identifying which sites are mobile friendly directly from the results.
There are several different ways to make your site mobile friendly. Google’s preferred method is responsive design, though there are other ways you can make your site mobile friendly so your rankings aren’t negatively impacted. Google actually offers an entire guide on making your site mobile friendly and mobile SEO best practices. The most important thing to keep in mind is any URL should be providing the same value and content to the user, but in an optimized output based on the device viewing the URL. Mobile users don’t want to automatically be sent to your home page, they intend to reach the specific relevant topic that matches their search query.
Listen to the Search Engines
When optimizing your site for search it’s important to listen to the search engines. Both Google and Bing offer webmaster tools. These tools are essentially the search engines attempting to communicate with you. It’s important to verify your sites within the tools so you can listen to the feedback you’re receiving directly from the search engines.
Stay Current on SEO Knowledge
The world of SEO is constantly changing and evolving. If you really want to learn SEO, you’ll have to continuously educate yourself. To fully understand SEO you must immerse yourself into the industry. Follow SEO leaders on twitter and subscribe to industry news.
My favorite SEO digests to stay current are:
Make SEO Changes that Won’t Become Outdated
At the end of the day your SEO changes should make sense for your users. If you want your SEO efforts not to become outdated, focus all changes on what is best for your users. The search engines are doing everything they can to provide the best results and best user experience. If you have the same goal in mind, any algorithm changes in the future should only help your site and not hurt it. If your website has a page that is truly the best option for that user, then search engines will eventually rank it higher than all other options.