How To Learn SEO #1: Where Do I Even Start?

Welcome to How To Learn SEO. I’m going on an SEO learning journey and this is how I’m going to document all the stuff I learn. Since SEO is foreign territory to me, I thought I’d document my learning process so that I can help other newbs learn some practical SEO skills.

SEO Stands for Search Engine Optimization. This refers to the practice of getting content to rank higher on search engine results. While it can refer to any search engine, usually it refers to google in specific, so that’s what we’ll be focusing on.

SEO is a branch of Data Science that uses any available data and information to influence certain content to rank higher in search engines (usually google). If you think about it that way it may make a little more sense.

Starting Point: On-Page & Off-Page SEO

On-Page SEO refers to the practice of making sure your site and all of its content are fully optimized. This means doing things that make your site look good in the eyes of google. This should be item number one on your SEO list.

A fully optimized site will have:

  • No bad or broken links.
  • All images with alt attributes that accurately describe the image.
  • Title tags on all pages.
  • Content that is easy to read and properly formatted.
  • An up to date sitemap.
  • Unique meta titles and descriptions for every page.
  • Organized URL hierarchy with keywords included.
  • Get an ssl certificate.

Thats just the basics. You can do more when it comes to keyword optimization but we’ll talk about that later.

Off-Page SEO refers to the practice of promoting your website and it’s content through link building, social media, and social bookmarking. Link building is when you get other sites to link back to your content (backlinks). Posting links to social media is still important but isn’t the same as link building because google doesn’t count them. Most sites with user generated content like posts and comments will automatically set any links posted to them as ‘nofollow’ which tells google that the site itself doesn’t want google to count it.

Before you take a crack at getting backlinks, you’ll want to make sure that your site is as optimized as possible.

And remember, doing spammy or shady things will hurt your rankings. Google spends a lot of time and money making sure that it can detect people looking to game the system.

By now you may be wondering, how do I make sure my site is squeaky clean?

What you need my friend, is a site audit. Luckily there’s tools out there to help you. I personally use an SEO tool called Ahrefs. It’s comprehensive and gives you a lot of useful info. Tools like this crawl your site just like google. This means that a bot looks through all the content on your site and all the content that your site links to. It will tell you where you can improve. My site audit looks like this:

Ahrefs screenshot of website audit for Amethyst Design
Website Audit for Amethyst Design

This is why having a sitemap is very important. A sitemap is a document that lists all of the links in your site so that search engines can find it and make sense of it. This is called indexing. If you use Yoast it generates one for you automatically. There’s lots of other tools that do this too.

But Ahrefs costs money and if you’re just starting out, you’ll want to use a free tool. Screaming Frog is a free website crawler that audits your site. You can only go up to 500 urls for the free version so it’s a good tool to use if you’re just starting out and don’t have a lot of content.

Screenshot of Screaming Frogs Dashboard With Response Code Chart
Screaming Frogs Dashboard With Response Code Chart

If you type your site’s url into Screaming Frog you get a bunch of confusing information and spreadsheets that look terrifying to the everyday person. Click on stuff under “SEO Elements” in the top right panel and it’ll show you charts of useful info. Response codes are how your browser tells you wether or not a link is broken.

How To Make Sense Of It

The green part is good old non-broken links. These are called response 2xx links. The common response code for working links is 200, and there’s lots of other ones but we don’t need to know about those. Response codes that are 3xx are redirected links. This means that the url has been moved. These links still work but they’re bad for SEO. You’ll want to update those to whatever their new official url is. The third type of link we’ll talk about here are 4xx links. These are broken. They don’t work and will likely take you to a “404 page not found” page if you click them. The ‘no response’ links are a mystery to even me and will not be covered in this article.

Screaming Frog allows you to check all the On-Page optimization items listed above, so that you can easily see where you need to improve.

Fixing SEO Issues Is A Pain

It takes a lot of time to go through and fix all of your links, image alt tags, meta info, and more. This is the most boring part of SEO but it’s also the most important. Take your time, pay attention to detail and be consistent. Even after fixing 100% of your SEO issues it may take months to see real results.

Analytics: Measure Your Progress

The first thing you’ll want to do is set up Google Analytics. It’s easy and gives you a ton of useful info about your traffic. I would also recommend setting up Jetpack for any WordPress users.

Screenshot compilation of both google analytics and jetpack on how to learn seo
Screenshot compilation of both google analytics and jetpack

You can track everything from users, to sessions, to bounce rate, device type and a whole bunch of other stuff with analytics. This will help you see where your traffic is coming from and how your users are interacting with your content.

Google Search Console: Measure Your Search Performance

If you want to see the actual fruits of your labor in terms of search traffic, you’ll want to check out Google Search Console. This will tell you what people searched for to get to your site and how much traffic you get from each search term. It will even tell you exactly when google updated something right in the chart so you can see if your search traffic has been affected.

Screenshot of google search console
Screenshot of google search console

It does a bunch of other useful stuff too. You can check to make sure that google itself doesn’t see any errors in your sitemap. The other tools mentioned in this article do that too, but it’s always best to actually have confirmation from google itself.

Keywords, What They Are, & How To Use Them

Keywords (also called keyphrases) are how google sorts content. For example, if you type the keyword “apple pie recipe” into google it gives you a list of links to various apple pie recipes form all over the internet.

Screenshot of search results for the keyword 'apple pie recipe'
Search Results For The Keyword ‘apple pie recipe’

But how does google sort all the 204,000,000 results in order? What makes a particular apple pie recipe rank #1 above all other apple pie recipes? Well, keywords are a big factor.

Ranking high for a particular keyword is the goal, but how do you do it?

It starts with the content itself. You need to consider things like keyword density. Keyword density represents how often your target keyword appears in your content & is represented by a percentage. Its not super important to have any exact keyword density but you’ll need to make sure that your content includes the exact keyword that you plan on ranking for.

For example:

The focus keyword for this post is “How To Learn SEO” and has a keyword density of 1.7%. Choosing what keywords to try and rank for is it’s own skill. You’ll need to consider factors like keyword difficulty, monthly search volume, return rate, and clicks.

Keyword Difficulty – A score of 0-100, 0 being the easiest to rank for, of how hard it would be to get your link to appear in the top ten search results for a given keyword.

Monthly Search Volume – How many searches a month a given keyword gets.

Return Rate – How often a given person searches for the same keyword per month.

Clicks – How many clicks per month on average the search results of a given keyword receive. (You may also want to consider paid vs organic percentages)

According to Ahrefs here’s how my chosen keyword stacks up:

Ahrefs screenshot of website audit for Amethyst Design

Looking at this I can tell that the search volume is low for how competitive the keyword is. I would need backlinks form about 74 websites to have a shot at ranking in the top 10. That’s pretty ambitious given that as of writing this post I have 6.

This is called keyword research. You can start by writing down topics that you’re going to write about. Next you’ll want to put yourself in the mindset of someone who would be searching for content like yours. How would you search? What would you type in to google? If that keyword is too competitive is there a similar keyword that’s more realistic?

It’s good to frame keywords in the form of a question that a user might be asking. I managed to get two posts to rank in the top ten results for my keyword this way, even though my site isn’t super well established.

Keep a list of viable keywords that you want to write content around. It’s also important to avoid using duplicate keywords, for a whole bunch of reasons that I wont get into here.

You want to go for keywords that are low in competition and high in search volume as a starting point. 

This is where you can actually see the numbers behind why evergreen content is the best content. If your keywords have low return rate then that means they’ll likely generate less traffic overall.

WordPress Bloggers: Yoast Is Your Friend

If you’ve got a blog, there’s a good chance it’s running on WordPress. If that’s the case you should install Yoast. It’s a FREE plugin that analyses your content and tells you how to improve it in terms of SEO. It takes into account a number of factors like keyword density, links, image attributes, meta snippets, internal and external links, your url slug, and even readability analysis.

Screenshot of Yoast plugin content analysis for how to learn seo
Screenshot of Yoast plugin content analysis

This plugin is very valuable and educational, especially if you’re very new at SEO. They’ve got a great blog and some companion plugins too.

Important Note: Yoast may suggest content changes like “adding more transition words”, “more/less keyword density”, “put your keyphrase at the front of your title” and more. While these suggestions are helpful they are only guidelines and you shouldn’t follow them if it is to the detriment of your content. Good content is always going to preform better than content written for the purpose of ranking alone. I asked actual SEO experts at a meetup hosted by the lovely Bill Rowland @billrowland about this to confirm.

Non-Wordpress Bloggers: SEMRush Writing Assistant Is Your Friend

SEMRush Writing Assistant is a browser extension that works with google docs to guide your writing in terms of SEO. It’s similar to yoast and it’s free. We like free here.

SEMRush Writing Assistant Screenshot for how to learn seo
SEMRush Writing Assistant

And if I’m honest, composing articles and content in Google Docs is far more enjoyable of an experience than using Gutenberg or even WordPress’s classic editor.

In Conclusion: SEO Is Hard, But This Is A Good Start

There’s so much more to go over when it comes to SEO. Later articles in this series are going to cover things like Domain Authority, Page Authority, Link Building, Canonicals, and much more.

If you want to learn more about all things SEO here are some good blogs to check out:

If you liked this post, please share it! It helps us make more content and we really appreciate it!