How to Learn SEO – Free Guides, Courses, and Meet-UPS. All Tested and Approved.

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I’m a happy member of the Sisters in SEO – skill sharing & networking for women & the gender diverse Facebook group. One question constantly arising in the group goes along the lines of:

Hi, there! First-time poster here. I would like to learn more about SEO. How did you folks get started? Do you have any tips for me? Shall I pay for training?

The community is truly supportive and the answers are a real treasure box uncovering new sources of SEO wisdom.

Today, I share with you my journey into SEO hoping to help many new members of the group.

I started to learn SEO back in 2016. I took on a new role with a focus on Content Marketing and SEO. In orer to succeed, I needed to level up rather quickly.
I’ve attended classes, read blog posts, and asked for help from experts. In the end, I can tear it down to a 7-step approach:

Step 1: SEO for beginners guides

There are two SEO starter guides I warmly recommend:

  • The MOZ beginner’s guide
  • The SEO starter guide from Google

The MOZ beginner’s guide to SEO guides you through the major aspects of SEO:

  • SEO Basics
  • Crawling, Indexing and Ranking
  • Keyword research
  • On-page Optimisation
  • Technical SEO
  • Link building
  • Measuring, prioritising, and executing SEO

The guide is a piece of pure bliss. I printed the 7 chapters and took them with me on a road trip to Spain. I needed 7 hours to get through the content but afterward, I was able to craft SEO hypotheses at work and contribute to the tech talk of my former colleagues.

Once you’ve completed the MOZ guide, I advocate learning straight from the source: Google.

You will find redundancies between the two guides. The starter guide from Google was especially valuable to double down on technical SEO. I especially appreciated the actionable advice at the end of each chapter and the visual design with a green thumbs-up or a red thumbs-down icon.

sample-advice-from-seo-starter-guide
Actionable advice from Google about headings
sample-advice-from-seo-starter-guide
Sample of actionable advice from Google about headings

Step 2: Understand Content Marketing

After understanding the basics of SEO, I recommend getting a holistic understanding of how content marketing works.

You will touch on topics such as customer journey, search intent, and structure of content.

I loved Hubspot’s free Content Marketing Course. It took me 40 hours to complete it. Don’t be fooled by their course description. They tell you on their website that the course takes only 6-12 hours to complete. However, that doesn’t include exam preparation.

Step 3: Understand the basics of website analytics (and Google Analytics)

No need to jump right into RegEx for SEO. However, I found it beneficial to get a basic understanding of website analytics as it ties in into the second step we just discussed: Content Marketing. Combined with website analytics, you can identify signs that your content is engaging. You will also know which page drives the most organic traffic to your page.

If you are working on a smaller scale website, you’ll most likely be working with Google Analytics. Back in the day, I found the basic Google Analytics for beginners course sufficient. However, this class is done with the Universal Analytics version of Google Analytics which is going to be sunsetted in 2023.

I haven’t found an equally good training for GA4 yet. This one is my best guess at the moment:

How does Google Analytics 4 work – Simplilearn

Step 4: Learn some HTML and CSS

When starting doing SEO, you will sooner or later inspect the source code of websites. If you have proactively learnt some basic HTML and CSS, this will facilitate the learning process.

Personally, I’ve done the HTML and CSS Tutorials on W3schools . They’re good but I would have wanted the help of a tutor every now and then.

I additionally attended the free HTML and CSS classes at the Barcelona-based Cibernarium. It was super beneficial to ask Javier for help when my code wouldn’t work.

If you speak Spanish (or even Catalan), I highly recommend checking their syllabus out!

Step 5: Get your hands dirty – do a basic SEO audit

Now, you’ve got the basics!

I advocate for getting your hands dirty and applying your skills as soon as possible. The lessons you’ll learn through dabbing into some real-life challenges and delivering your project at the end are vital.

I took a template I found online and audited the website of a friend. (During the course of the years, I have made my own template: What an SEO audit with me includes)

The hands-on work helped me to dig deeper and to discover amazing free tools. It was also a confidence booster when I then shared the advice with my friend.

If you don’t have a website at your disposal, just take that of your favourite shop, restaurant, hairdresser, etc. I recommend starting with a smaller website as there is more potential for optimisation.

Step 6: Keep up to date – SEO Newsletters, Meetups, Blogs, and Podcasts.

SEO is an ever-changing field. Algorithm updates, new tools and case studies will constantly pop up and will keep you busy.

In order to be on top of the changes, I recommend three activities:

  • Subscribe (and read) SEO Newsletters
  • Attend free SEO Meetups
  • Find your go-to SEO Blogs (I’ll reveal mine in a sec)
  • Listen to SEO Podcasts

SEO Newsletters

My go-to SEO newsletters are:

  • tl:dr Marketing (absolute favourite!)
  • Marie Haynes’s Newsletter
  • The Weekly SEO by Andrew Charlton
  • Seokratie newsletter (in German)

I’ve written an in-depth review about those in a recent blog post.

SEO Meet-ups

If your city offers local SEO Meet-ups, try them out! Besides learning about new SEO topics, you are able to build a network among subject matter experts.

Here’s a list of all free SEO Meet-ups around the world:

https://www.meetup.com/topics/seo-search-engine-optimization/

Personally, I attend the Swiss SEOnerd meetup and the virtual SEO Stammtisch.

Find your go-to sources of wisdom: SEO Blogs

There are a ton of SEO Blogs out there. Along the way, I’ve stuck to Ahrefs and Backlinko as my primary source of information. Both blogs publish data-based findings and unique ideas and are written in a concise way.

SEO Podcasts

The final resource I’m sharing is SEO Podcasts. To me, they come especially handy while cleaning the house;). I’ve listened to 350+ hours of SEO podcasts in the last 5 years. Here are the two I stuck to and listen to every episode:

  • Holaseo from Guillermo Gascón. In this Spanish Podcast, Guillermo either interviews SEO Professionals or – and I find this more beneficial – shares his personal learning experiences from his SEO projects. I believe this podcast is still niche and it’s a pure gem.
  • Crawling Mondays from Aleyda Solis. Interviews and best practices shared by the famous Aleyda Solis. This podcast is in English.

Step 7: Learn Javascript and Python

Congrats! You’re already far on the SEO learning path. Let’s tackle the next steps together. I want to get better at Javascript and Python for SEO. My plan is to attend the Intro to data science with Python class on Datacamp and to grab a copy of the book Javascript for Kids.

Do you have any other recommendations? Slide me a DM or comment below.

How long does it take to learn SEO on your own?

The short answer: “It depends”. It depends on your previous knowledge of marketing on your technical interest. Let’s derivate how much time I spent at each step:

StepWhat actions did I take?Hours spent initiallyHours spent per week
Step 1: SEO for beginners guidesRead two beginners guides.
MOZ guide: 7 hours
Google starter guide: 5 hours
 12 hours  
Step 2: Understand Content MarketingTake the Hubspot Content class and prepare for exam40 hours
Step 3: Understand the basics of website analyticsTook the free Google Analytics for Beginners class and creating trial reports8 hours
Step 4: Learn some HTML and CSSTook the HTML and CSS class at Cibernarium. Each 2 hours of class and 3 hours of self training per course10 hours
Step 5: Get your hands dirty – do a basic SEO auditConducted a SEO audit for a friend. It took me 3 working days.24 hours
Step 6: Keep up to dateListen to SEO Podcast: ~ 1.5 hours per week
Read Newsletters and blogs: 2 hours per week
Attend Meet-ups: 2 hours per month (equals 0.5 hours per week)
6 hours
Step 7: The advanced stuffI haven’t done that yet! I plan to attend the Intro to data science with Python on Datacamp and to grab a copy of the book Javascript for Kids.?
Total hours spent94 hours initially4 hours weekly
Hours spent on my journey into SEO

I’ve spent 2.5 weeks (95 hours) to get a hang on basic SEO and am since 2017 spending 4 hours weekly to keep up to date.

The grid above doesn’t include all the detours I took when attending classes that didn’t add value to my learning path.

Alright, that’s it. Stay persistent and curious. Please send in any recommendations my way.

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