This guide will show you exactly how to become an SEO expert.
- Learning frameworks
- Emerging trends
- Must-read resources
- Lots more
So if you want to go from SEO rookie to SEO pro, this guide is for you.
Let’s get started.
Hi, I’m Brian Dean.
I launched my first website way back in 2009.
And I quickly realized that SEO was going to be a big part of my site’s success.
So I set out to learn as much as I could.
And thanks to years of reading and experimenting, I’ve had a ton of success with SEO…
…including top 3 rankings for competitive keywords like “Google ranking factors”:
“SEO best practices”:
And “Content writing”:
In fact, the Entrepreneur called me an “SEO genius”.
And in today’s guide, I’m going to reveal how YOU can become an SEO expert in record time.
Chapter 1: SEO Expert Fundamentals
What Is an SEO Expert?
An SEO expert (also known as an “SEO specialist”) is someone that optimizes websites in order to achieve higher search engine rankings.
Put another way:
An SEO expert is someone that knows how to get more traffic from search engines.
How Do You Become an SEO Specialist?
Because the field of search engine optimization is so new, most people don’t learn SEO from a traditional 4-year college program.
(Although those do exist.)
Here are the most common ways that people become SEO specialists:
- Take an SEO course (or several SEO courses)
- Learn SEO by optimizing their own website
- Work at a marketing agency
- Take on SEO clients
- Get an online SEO certification or degree
- Work as an “in house” SEO professional
Here’s a breakdown of each of these six options:
ApproachLearning SpeedEase of LearningCostPersonal Support and GuidancePutting SEO Into Practice
What Skills Should an SEO Expert Know?
There’s a lot more to SEO than optimizing meta tags on a website.
In fact, the best SEO specialists are people that are proficient in a number of different areas of digital marketing. This includes “core” SEO skills (like title tag optimization). But it also includes other digital marketing skills, like writing and web design.
With that, here are the key skills that an SEO expert needs to have:
- Ability to find high-volume, low-competition keywords
- Basic understanding of HTML
- How and where to add keywords to a webpage
- Intermediate to advanced copywriting skills
- Proficiency in visual content, like video and infographics
- Ability to promote and build links to key pages
- Understanding of how technical SEO impacts rankings
- Knowledge of emerging SEO trends and Google algorithm changes
In the rest of this guide, I’ll dive deeper into each of these. And show you real-life examples of people that have become SEO specialists.
Chapter 2: Understand the Basics of SEO
In this chapter, you’ll learn the essentials that ANY legit SEO expert needs to know.
These essentials include HTML, how search engines work, and important Google ranking factors in 2022.
And once you master these SEO basics, you’ll be well on your way to mastering advanced topics (like link building and mobile optimization).
Let’s get started.
How Search Engines Work
Understanding how search engines work is a key piece of knowledge for any SEO professional.
Search engines send out search engine spiders to find pages on the internet.
Next, they crawl each page’s code.
Once the page is crawled, the page is added to the search engine’s index, which is a cached collection of pages.
In other words: when you do a Google search, you’re not getting back live results. Instead, Google is showing you pages from its index. That’s why you get Google results within milliseconds.
(Fun Fact: Google has over 130 trillion pages in its index!)
When someone searches, Google looks for pages in its index that match the person’s query.
And they rank those pages based on hundreds of factors in their algorithm.
Resources to learn about search engines
How Search Works: A very well-done visual guide to how search engines work… straight from Google.
How does Google Search work?: This video by former Googler Matt Cutts gives you an in-depth peek into Google search.
You’re probably wondering:
How do Google, Bing, and other search engines figure out what to rank on the first page?
Important Search Engine Ranking Factors
Google uses 200+ ranking factors in its algorithm.
And no, you don’t need to learn them all. 🙂
In fact, most of the 200 ranking factors are different ways of measuring 3 things: relevancy, authority, and quality.
Relevancy is how well a page matches someone’s search.
For example, let’s say you searched for “grey hoodies” in Google.
Well, Google is going to scan its index to find pages that are about “grey hoodies”.
And they’re REALLY good at it. This is why you almost never see a result for “grey sneakers” when you search for “grey hoodies”.
Authority is how much Google trusts the content on a page.
And they measure authority primarily based on links.
The more links a page has pointing to it, the more authority that page has in Google’s eyes.
Quality is based on a few different factors, like your site’s online reputation, your content’s structure, and how users interact with your site in the search results.
Resources to learn about ranking factors
13 Search Engine Ranking Factors: An updated list of ranking factors that are considered (by me) to be most important right now.
The Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors: Very cool visual guide to “success factors” that can help your site rank in Google.
Google RankBrain: The Definitive Guide: Google has said that their AI-based algorithm, RankBrain, is one of their 3 most important ranking signals. Get the lowdown on RankBrain in this guide.
Now that you’ve got the basics down, it’s time for chapter 3.
Understand The Basics of HTML
Do you need to be a coding ninja to be good at SEO?
But do you need to understand the basics of HTML?
Why is this important?
Google doesn’t see your site as humans do. Instead, they look at your site’s code. And if you don’t understand that code, it’s almost impossible to optimize it the right way.
Plus, if you ever run into any technical SEO problems, you’re going to be completely lost.
But when you at least know the basics of HTML, optimizing your site gets A LOT easier.
Resources to Learn HTML
Head First HTML and CSS: A Learner’s Guide to Creating Standards-Based Web Pages: A fantastic guide that pushes you to take action after every lesson. This is how I learned HTML in an afternoon.
Introduction to HTML: An interactive HTML course from Code Academy. Great for picking up the basics.
One Month HTML: A very involved training for people that want to know everything there is to know about HTML.
Chapter 3: Master The 5 Keys of SEO
If you’re serious about becoming an SEO expert, there are 5 “Master Keys” you need to know.
These Master Keys are the 5 most important topics in the world of search engine optimization.
And the better you understand these 5 core topics, the more success you’ll have.
So without further ado, let’s dive right in.
Finding and Choosing Keywords
Keyword research should be the first step of ANY SEO campaign.
Choose the right keywords? You’ll see your site rocket to the top of Google’s first page for keywords that thousands of people search for every month.
Choose the wrong keywords? Your site will be buried at the bottom of Google’s 5th page.
Keywords really are that important.
No SEO training would be complete without a section on content marketing. That’s because it’s almost impossible to rank in 2022 without awesome content (even if your site is perfectly optimized for search engines).
The Beginner’s Guide to Content Marketing from Moz is a great place to start.
And if you want to see a case study of how SEO and content marketing relate to one another, I recommend reading this case study:
Back in the day you could stuff your content with keywords… and it would rank. Flash forward to today, and on-page SEO is much more sophisticated. Sure, you still want to include keywords on your page. But that’s just the beginning.
Use this video to get an understanding of basic and advanced on-page SEO strategies (including tons of real-life examples).
Technical SEO is one of the most underrated parts of SEO. It’s important for just about any website. But technical optimization is ESPECIALLY important for big websites with thousands of pages (like ecommerce and news sites).
Whether you run a small blog or a media brand with 500k pages, these resources will help you master technical SEO:
There’s no way around it: link building is a HUGE part of SEO. And that’s not likely to change anytime soon. That’s why any SEO expert (even one that specializes in technical SEO or content) needs to be good at building backlinks.
These resources will help you learn about white hat link building approaches, strategies, and techniques:
This brings us to our next chapter…
Chapter 4: Put SEO Into Practice
You can read about SEO all day long.
But if you want to become an SEO specialist, you need to actually do SEO.
And when it comes to practicing your SEO skills, you’ve got three main options.
I’ll cover these options (including their pros and cons) in this chapter.
Work On Your Own Website
This is how I got started with SEO.
And it’s how I recommend that most people learn how to become an SEO expert.
When you run your own website, you can make changes FAST.
No need to ping your boss on Slack to see if it’s OK to change a title tag.
No need to email your client’s web designer to add an image to a page.
See something that needs to be changed. Change it. See the results.
The cycle of test→learn to→improves moves 10x faster with your own property than with someone else’s website.
Plus, when you work on your own stuff you get to see the 100+ factors that go into a successful website (beyond straight-up SEO). I’m talking about things like design, copywriting, email list building, social media, outreach.
In other words, running your own site helps you become a well-rounded “ T-Shaped Marketer “.
For example, Jerryll Noorden applied what he learned from his time as a former NASA scientist to SEO.
Which helped him take his side hustle into a highly profitable real estate business.
Here’s how Jekyll described how his experience shaped his approach to SEO today.
And Jerryll isn’t alone. A few years back, Maaike de Boer’s daughter was struggling with math at school.
And when Maaike looked for resources to help her daughter, she came up empty.
That’s when Maaike decided to launch a website that now gets 200k visits per month.
(Which is even more impressive if you consider that The Netherlands only has about 17 million people.)
How did Maaike get so good at SEO? She learned as much as she could about SEO (from blog posts, online courses, and SEO conferences). Then, she applied what she learned to her website.
And this fast process made Maaike go from SEO newbie to SEO expert in record time.
Or as Maaike told me:
That said, running your own website isn’t the only way to learn SEO. You can also…
Take On Clients
The idea of cutting your teeth on SEO with a client’s site might sound weird. After all: if you’re not an SEO Expert in London yet, why would someone hire you?
It’s a good question. Here’s the answer:
1. The fact that you’ve read about SEO puts you ahead of 90% of small business owners out there.
2. SEO is a lot of work. So even if a client knows more about online marketing than you do, they probably don’t have time to do SEO on their own.
3. Your first SEO client should pay you pretty much nothing (or, in some cases, actually nothing). Think of it as an apprenticeship. That way, there’s no pressure to perform miracles.
As Felix puts it:
Today, Felix runs a WordPress development agency. And that opportunity wouldn’t have opened up if he didn’t kick things off with client work.
Working at an agency or as an in-house SEO is a great way to become an SEO specialist.
The big plus here is that you’re surrounded by people that already know SEO. And it’s their job to help you get up to speed.
So you tend to learn FAST.
In fact, that’s how Backlinko reader Ryan Merabet got his start. Ryan was interested in SEO. And he wanted an environment where he could learn more. So he worked as an entry-level SEO at a big agency.
And the SEO knowledge that Ryan picked up helped him grow his travel blog to one of the most popular in France.
As Ryan explained to me: