For most websites, natural search is the most effective free digital marketing channel. Except for the human resources, platform costs, and other mostly hidden costs required to plan and implement search engine optimization, it is free.
As a result, I’m often asked for the best free ways to learn how to become an expert in SEO. The following are my five free go-to tips for learning SEO.
- Moz.com’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO. The friendly folks at Moz (formerly known as SEOmoz) have developed this free beginner’s guide to teach anyone willing to read through it. With helpful illustrations and cross-linked concepts, this guide is well done and worth reading. If reading on your computer screen isn’t for you, download the free PDF version to print or take with you on your tablet.
- Books. The public library system is still a great way to get an informal and free education. Check out one of the many SEO books in paper form, or look for a digital version to read on your e-reader. Because SEO changes quickly, books published more than a year or two ago may recommend tactics that are no longer considered ethical, especially in the link building space. For instance, optimizing press releaseswas once a valuable SEO tactic but has been devalued now due to abuse by some sites. Try these for trusted SEO education.
- The Art of SEO, by Eric Enge, Stephen Spencer, Rand Fishkin, and Jessica Stricchiolia.
- Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media, and Content Marketing, by Lee Odden.
- SMX West Expo+ Pass. SMX West is an annual convention held in San Jose, Calif. focusing on search marketing. All-access passes run $1,695 for early registrants, with another $100 tacked on for on-site registration. But SMX is offering a free Expo+ Pass that gives access on the first two days (March 11 to 12, 2014) to the show’s keynotes, theater presentations, and meet the vendors participating. It is also including special “Plus” sessions, which feature case studies and best practices from well-known solutions providers like Stone Temple, Covario, and Google. Register before March 10 to get a free pass. Expo+ passes are $50 at the door and online after March 10.
- Read the experts. SEO Industry blogs are full of recommendations, case studies and tips for improving SEO. Many also include SEM, content marketing, and other disciplines closely related to SEO and search marketing. The challenge is that they’re not organized in such a way that you can learn SEO by reading them. But remember that anyone can publish anything on the Internet, including inaccurate or unethical advice on SEO. Stick with the major sites who work with trusted industry experts to ensure that the advice received will indeed benefit your site instead of hurting it. Stick with the trusted resources and compare advice from other sites that seems questionable to what you read on these.
- Start a blog. The key to learning SEO is practice. Reading all the books ever published won’t help you understand how to manage SEO in real life. But you might not want to practice on your ecommerce site at first. A blog or other practice site can help you tune your SEO skills without risking your ecommerce site’s performance. Blog about anything you’re interested in. Research keywords and practice targeting those phrases in your pages. Reach out to others interested in the same thing and practice networking and earning links. In time, you may even develop a new revenue source built from the ground up with SEO in mind.
Free resources still involve investment. In the same way that SEO is free, free SEO education is only free until you factor in the cost of your time. Learning SEO is an investment in yourself and your site. Depending on how important SEO is to you or your business, you may want to consider investing more for a larger and faster performance increase.
One of the best ways to learn more about SEO is to engage a reputable search-marketing agency to work on your site. Read more at “10 Tips to Hire a Great SEO Agency.” As it develops a strategy with you to improve your SEO, insist on understanding each element and why it’s important. You’re paying for the agency’s knowledge, it’s only fair that some of it should rub off on you.
Attending classes in person can also speed up the learning curve. When you’re face to face with an instructor, you can ask questions, see their gestures, and examine their whiteboarding. These elements are lost in the free learning options and with online education.
For example, Bruce Clay, Inc., offers classroom-style SEO classes at its offices in Simi, CA, as well as on-site education options for training larger organizations. Many other agencies do the same. Universities, business organizations, and adult education centers offer search marketing classes as well. Naturally, the smaller the institution, the less likely it is to draw a long-time veteran in the SEO industry to teach its SEO classes.
Whichever methods you choose to learn SEO, keep in mind that it’s a lifelong process. The search engines change rapidly and SEO changes with them. Identify the sources you trust and compare the recommendations and news you see elsewhere on the web or in classes to those sources. Practice SEO, measure the results, and practice again. In this way you’ll continuously grow your SEO knowledge.