Learning SEO: 15 advice
The following advices are based on my own experience: failures as well as success that made me rethink the way I approach my everyday job. Plus, these advices are not listed in a specific order.
01. Never rely on assumptions: use relevant data
That’s so easy and tempting to take decisions based on your intuitions. You heard someone’s talk or read someone’s tweet or article and your guts tell you to do the same. Still and especially in the SEO field, there are plenty of edge cases: based on your own website, data, user behavior and industry. Always use relevant data to light up your decisions and measure the potential impact they will have on the business.
02. Reproduce concepts to understand them and then prove new concepts by yourself
This is certainly the most valuable way to approach SEO either theoritically or by doing: start by learning the big picture even if some concepts are now deprecated. This is how you will gain knowledge about how search have evolved and especially about how search is heading in the near future.
03. Broaden your curiosity and skills to always keep up the dialogue with other fields
Always go the extra mile: people don’t expect you’re a web developer or even a UX designer but SEO tend to get intricacies with a lot of disciplines so the best you can do is to start learning the very basics of their field and then keep up with the news. For instance, we now talk about the Core Web Vitals but you can’t just know the acronyms by heart and keep saying: “we need to improve them”. You need to understand these metrics and know how to optimize them to help your peers at your best.
04. Build Minimum Viable Products (MVP) to start testing fast
We all would like to see a perfect website from day one but that’s impossible. You can’t get a perfect copy at first unless taking time to build it. So the best way is to start testing fast: the data you will then gather will be even more precious than the time taken to build your very perfect web page or website. The way Fabrizio Ballarini speak about MVPs and test is definitely interesting: about basic checks on a domain name and scaling organic growth by building products.
05. Build your own tools and reporting
There are plenty of tools and Data Studio templates for instance to help you in your everyday job. Still, metrics always make more sense to you and then your peers when you build your own reporting. You won’t reinvent your KPIs but you will be able to let them talk respectively to your own business.
06. Read the first patents to understand the big picture behind the search engine
Back in 2018, I remember reading a lot of patents to better understand the reasoning behind some algorithmic models. It was very interesting but yet pointless as it didn’t bring concrete learning to put in practice in my everyday tasks. Still, some patents worth a read as you will better understand (and in a very concrete way) why SEO require patience sometimes; such as:
07. Speak, ask and share within the community
Don’t go all by yourself. We have a great and big community. Start by identifying the key people from whom you can learn.
- Want to learn SEO from the basics to the advanced techniques? Then head to Learning SEO by Aleyda Solis.
- Follow Google Search Central and the team to not miss a news.
- Want to make your way in understanding patents? It can only be one: Bill Slawski via SEO by the sea.
- Bookmark Simo Ahava‘s eponym blog to gain knowledge on both Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager.
- See what kind of dashboards and reports you can build by being inspired by the ones built by Hannah Butler Rampton.
- It will come a moment when you will want to automate some tasks using Python: I highly recommend the Python begginers guide by Jean-Christophe Chouinard. Then make sure to follow Charly Wargnier to get access to top on-the-go Python news and tools.
- If you succeed and become a manager, please read this hiring guide by Areej Abuali. Take the opportunity to support Women in tech SEO as well.
- Want to go the extra mile in speed improvements? Make sure to follow Addy Osmani.
There is plenty of other people to follow but here’s a little selection. Then, speak within the community and share: it can be your learnings, your tools, your reports, etc. Give back to the community 🙂
08. Always have room for testing. Plan your tests. Run them. Write the results.
We have seen earlier that you can’t take decisions based on your own intuitition; that’s why you also need room to run tests. Intuition can be wrong but sometimes data can also lead to bad decisions if not analysed properly. Sometimes, you won’t have intuition neither data to backup your decisions. So always make room to test and get the answers to your questions.
09. Buy a domain name and then start from scratch
If I should give one advice, it would be this one. Building your own webpages with no CMS attached is the best way to learn SEO but also acquire knowledge on the other fields. Don’t expect to get everything pixel perfect and that’s totally the point:
- Buy your domain name and hosting.
- Build your website (try building it without a CMS).
- Publish your first webpage by writing something that inspires you.
- Improve some elements: could be the design, the content itself, etc.
- Break your website.
- Fix the issues.
- Always continue learning by trying techniques and tricks you’ve never used before.
Don’t forget that you also learn a lot by making mistakes so don’t be afraid of breaking something. Google the error and you will find ways to fix the issue.
Here’s a straight to the point roadmap I highly recommend to follow:
10. Embrace new challenges by refusing constraints: keep an open mind.
In some organizations, doing SEO is not that easy as some people are not educated (yet) and some websites suffer from a big technical debt. So sometimes, you will get a “no” when asking for technical improvements (such as for the Core Web Vitals we have talked about earlier). That’s the moment you need to use your knowledge to educate and keep an open mind: understand that what you ask can be difficult to implement or fix. So understand the constraints and be the one that have acquired enough basic knowledge (by going the extra mile) to offer solutions or creative ways to bypass the obstacle. Work in sync, go step by step, share the results and always stay optimistic.
11. Accept that sometimes you don’t know. Having a work whom performances are based on algorithms make you deal with uncertainty.
As SEO, we tend to improve the quality of some webpages among billions of results in total. In the end, our performances depend on complex algorithmic models that define our job as: unreasoned. You can build the best reporting, it won’t save you from uncertainty. By doing SEO, you need to deal with the unpredictability that comes with it.
12. Start by using the free tools at your disposal & understand them. Explore their full potential and hidden gems.
Start by exploring Google Search Console:
- Search Console provide lots of information regarding the performances and eventually the issues encountered. Lots of actionables can be found when digging in the data: KPIs need to be fully understood first such as metrics aggregated under canonical URLs for instance.
- This thread clearly shows that sometimes you need to make sure you know what is behind the data as some things are not written in black and white in the official documentation:
There are plenty of paid tools out there that are very useful but when you start by analysing the data available at no cost, you begin to recognize the value of the ones you need to pay for later on. Especially, you will have acquired more knowledge and understanding to be able to ask yourself: will these metrics bring me value that will have a concrete impact on my performances and business?
13. Start auditing like an artisan: do not use fancy tools neither code. The best tool you have is the one in your hand.
Google Chrome through the DevTools provide a lot of useful information to audit any kind of website and you should definitely start by using it as your only tool during your very first SEO audit. You can put the theory in practice by playing:
- SEO pirates from Ralgar one.
- Technical SEO matrix from Alexis Sanders.
- A nice one, OAP Ninja, has been built by Dean Cruddace but is no longer online: still, the walkthrough worth a read!
14. Don’t “artificial intelligence” all your tasks to thrive for automation.
It’s been six years now since I start doing SEO as a living and it continues to be fascinating, probably because we never stop learning. Python is a good illustration as once you learned this language, you can automate some of your tasks. We read a lot about the automation of such and such process thanks to artificial intelligence but in many cases, these techniques are not yet mature enough to be put into practice. Of course, it’s very attractive and it is exciting, but very often, the most efficient way is to keep things simple.
15. Understand how search works
Last advice but it should be the first one (still, there’s any particular order here): type as much queries as you can and observe how the SERP is built:
- What type of query trigger the local pack, images carousel, people also ask box, etc?
- Google wrote a very nice piece about how search works but the video (from 2011) is way more interesting as you directly have a sneakpeek on the process followed by Google’s Quality team: how Google makes improvements to its search algorithm.
- Guess the queries that worth time and efforts to be optimised on the long run. Will the result trigger a click or a zero click search? This study from Rank Fishkin and SimilarWeb about zero click searches worth a read as well as the answer from Google.
Bonus 16. Ask someone to review your work.
Over the years, you will gain confidence and become more secure with your decisions. Data will sometimes prove you the contrary but it is always challenging to ask someone how he / she would have done it or what he / she thinks of a particular way of doing it. We don’t all have the same attitude to situations and it’s always rewarding to take off our blinders.