When you first enter the world of search engine optimization (SEO), you may feel intimidated at the sheer volume of things to learn. You know that many professional optimizers have been in the game for over a decade, constantly learning new things as Google comes out with new updates.
Obviously, there’s a learning curve to get started, and when you’re beyond that, you’ll need to play catch-up on all the new tactics and strategies coming out.
But before you feel too overwhelmed, you should understand that while SEO involves many components, each component by itself isn’t especially complicated; if you break SEO down to its core fundamentals, it’s actually pretty learnable.
So which SEO fundamentals should you learn first?
1. The big picture. Before you get started with individual tricks and tactics, take a step back and learn about the “big picture” of SEO. The goal of SEO is to optimize your site so that it ranks higher in searches relevant to your industry; there are many ways to do this, but almost everything boils down to improving your relevance and authority. Your relevance is a measure of how appropriate your content is for an incoming query (and can be tweaked with keyword selection and content creation), and your authority is a measure of how trustworthy Google views your site to be (which can be improved with inbound links, brand mentions, high-quality content, and solid UI metrics).
2. Domain authority and page authority. Next, you should learn about domain authority and page authority, and how they predict your site’s search rankings. Here’s the basic idea; your site’s domain authority is a proprietary score, provided by Moz, of how “trustworthy” your domain is. It’s calculated based on the quantity and quality of inbound links to your website. The higher it is, the higher all your pages across your domain are likely to rank in organic search results. Page authority is very similar, but page-specific, and you can use it to engineer a link architecture that strategically favors some of your pages over others. Authority depends on the authority and volume of inbound links.
3. General on-site optimization. On-site optimization is a collection of tactics, most of which are simple to implement, geared toward making your website more visible and indexable to search engines. These tactics include things like optimizing your titles and meta descriptions to include some of your target keywords, ensuring your site’s code is clean and minimal, and providing ample, relevant content on every page. I’ve got a huge list of on-site SEO tactics you can check out here.
4. The facets of content marketing. Though content marketing can be treated as a distinct strategy, I see it as a necessary element of the SEO process. Only by developing high-quality content over time will you be able to optimize for your target keywords, build your site’s authority, and curate a loyal recurring audience. You should know the basics, at the very least, before proceeding with other components of SEO.
5. Link building. In some respects, guest posting – one popular tactic to build links, among many other benefits – is just content marketing applied to external publishers. The goal is to create content on external websites, building your personal brand and company brand at the same time, and creating opportunities to link back to your site. There are only a handful of strategies to build quality links, which you should learn and understand as well.
6. Measurement and analysis. You won’t get far in SEO unless you know how to measure your results, interpret those results, and use your analysis to make meaningful changes to your approach. The best tool for the job is still Google Analytics, especially if you’re new to the game. Spend some time experimenting with different metrics and reports, and read up on Analytics knowledge base articles. There’s a deep world to dive into.
7. Keyword research. Specific target keywords aren’t as important for SEO success as they used to be, now that Google search is fueled by semantic and contextual understanding, but you should still be able to identify both head keyword (short, high-volume keywords) and long-tail keyword (longer, conversational, low-volume keywords) targets to guide the direction of your campaign.
8. Technical SEO. Technical SEO is one of the most intimidating portions of the SEO knowledge base, but it’s an essential one. Don’t let the name scare you; the most technical elements of SEO can be learned even if you don’t have any programming or website development experience. For example, you can easily learn how to update and replace your site’s robots.txt file, and with the help of an online template, you should be able to put together your sitemap efficiently.
9. Troubleshooting and adjustment. In your first few years as a search optimizer, you’ll almost certainly run into the same problems and challenges everyone else does; your rankings will plateau, you’ll find duplicate content on your site, and you’ll probably see significant ranking volatility. You’ll need to know how to diagnose and address these problems if you don’t want them to bring down the effectiveness of your campaign.
You don’t necessarily have to learn these nine SEO fundamentals in order, but they should represent the first nine things you learn in SEO. Once you have them under your belt, breathe a sigh of relief; SEO will suddenly seem far more approachable, and you’ll be well on your way to mastery of the basics.