How to learn SEO

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When you talk to SEOs about how they got into the industry, the stories are always pretty varied.  There is no standard route into SEO given that it isn’t taught at University or College, at least not as a stand alone course.  Many people tend to fall into SEO by accident and catch the bug, that bug is usually getting one of their own websites to number 1.

As I’ve become more experienced over the years and starting running my own team at Distilled and worked with people who are brand new to SEO, I’ve collected various links, resources and notes that I will give to new starters at Distilled to help give them a head start.  This post will share all of this so you also have a point of reference for you to give to new starters in your own company.

My thoughts on learning SEO

I wanted to start off with my own opinion on learning SEO, I’m not saying I’m right on all these things, in fact I’d encourage you to tell me what has worked for you if it differs from my approach.

Challenge assumptions with your own testing

I’ve always felt that the best way to learn SEO is by doing it.  I encourage any SEO to build their own website and use it to test SEO theories and to challenge what they are told by “experts”.  I’m not saying you should learn to code (although I think knowing code and markup basics is very valuable), you can just use a Wordpress installation and not code anything.  The point here is to have access to a site which you can test to your heart’s content and verify what you are told.

Yes, you should look to learn from others in the industry who write blog posts and speak at conferences, one of the best things about our industry is the open sharing of knowledge and you should take advantage of that.  However it is good to have a healthy scepticism when you’re presented with ideas and information.

I started my own blog back in 2007 for exactly this reason and for the first few years, deliberately didn’t “do SEO” on it.  I just published content and looked at how Google interpreted it, indexed it and ranked it.  I didn’t try and control Google crawls or push links to certain pages, I just wanted to assess what happened naturally.  This taught me more than most blog posts and allowed me to see what elements on my site and content truly mattered to Google.

I now have a number of my own test sites and often open them up to testing theories.  Often I’m wrong and I’ll challenge an assumption which turns out to be correct.  That’s fine and the next time I speak to a client about that topic, I have true experience and data to backup my instinct and opinion.

Takeaway tip - challenge assumptions and test for yourself.

Go to SEO conferences and networking events

I’ve been to a number of SEO conferences and have spoken at a few too. The value as an attendee can be quite mixed depending on the conference and the speakers.  Overall though, if you are new to the industry and haven’t been to a conference, I’d encourage you to go.  My first conference was SMX London in 2009 and I learnt loads from the speakers and was able to take a lot back to my job and implement.  A year later I had joined Distilled and went again and being honest, didn’t find it as valuable given I’d really stepped up my learning and joined a great company where I was learning fast.

But it was this first conference experience that really opened my eyes as to what else was possible and how much learning I needed to do.  It also helped my own confidence and verified that my approach and knowledge was on a par with people of the same experience.  The value of attending a conference often goes beyond the speakers and sessions, the true value is in speaking to others in the industry and sharing insights.  This community is one of the friendliest I’ve known and I’ve learnt so much from chatting to people at the bar after a conference or during a coffee break - don’t underestimate the value of this.

I don’t think I could finish this section without mentioning that we have SearchLove London and Boston coming up later this year and these are the perfect events to attend if you have never attended a conference before.  The topics cover just about everything you need to be aware of and the networking events are amongst the best I’ve been to.  I know I’m naturally biased but I’m not the only one that thinks Distilled conferences are awesome:

If you are based in the UK and are in the North, local conferences which I’ve enjoyed and are worth looking at are Think Visibility in Leeds and SAScon in Manchester, both of which are great on the social front too.  If you are in the US, I’d highly recommend MozCon but you’ll have to wait until 2013 now for the next one!

In terms of networking, there are always smaller networking events going on which are often free.  These are also a great place to start and don’t require budget from your boss to attend.  The best place to start is Meetup and do a search of your local area to see what events are coming up.

I’ve only been to local meetups in London so I have no recommendations for the North I’m afraid!  For those of you in London I’d recommend trying to go to OMN run by Quad, Search London or our own Distilled meetups.

Takeaway tip - attend conferences and local free meetups

Resources for learning SEO

This is a version of what I send to people (inside and outside Distilled) if they ask about learning SEO.  Over the last few months it has become much easier to point them in the right direction with the growth of DistilledU, but there are still loads of other great resources that should be on any newbies reading list.

News and industry updates

Blogs for learning and educational content

Larger guides / heavy reading

Technical SEO specific resources

Link building specific resources

Analytics specific resources

I could go on but I think that gives most newbies a good starting point!

Let me know your feedback, resources and approach to learning SEO in the comments.

Paddy Moogan

Paddy Moogan

There’s only one Paddy Moogan and he joined Distilled after spending over two years running marketing campaigns at another web design and development agency. Before that he studied Law at Coventry University where he spent more time learning about...   read more

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  1. Thanks for the great resources Paddy.
    I've needed an updated version of quality seo-blogs!

    (And Pointblackseo's guide is awesome! :)

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  2. Abbigayle Van Der Westhuizen

    Hey Paddy!

    Tx for the list of useful SEO blogs and I have some already on my list of "must reads" and follow others on Twitter.

    I have also found that creating a website about something you are interested in and can post useful information on is a great way to get a hands on feel for how SEO works. Especially when it comes to testing theories as you said.

    There is nothing better than watching your website climb on the SERPs.

    SEO Bug indeed! :)


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  3. Thank you Paddy for the article. I used to go to meetups a lot but I haven't been in a long while. I've now had a look around on and I should be attending at least one by the end of the month.

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  4. Excellent list and advices, I would suggest all newbies in SEO to follow this article

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  5. Thanks Paddy. I attended MozCon this year and have to agree that it is one of the best conferences in the industry. And your talk was right up there at the top in my honest opinion. I've since checked out DistilledU more regularly and find a lot of value in it. So many great resources out there now for newbies and it's starting to get easier to structure learning.

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  6. Chase

    Hi Paddy! Just FYI, the link to the Stanford paper is broken.

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  7. I've been looking for a good compilation of beginner resources and this is perfect, including some new blogs to add to my reader. Thanks!

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  8. He saved the best link for last!
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and this list.

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  9. Jon

    Thanks for the resourses Paddy.

    I started learnign SEO in January and cannot get enough of it. I started with the Mareket Motive Seo Practitioner course which was great, BUT, I am now registered with Distilled U and it is AWESOME! Loving it!

    Thanks again:-)

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  10. Thank you Paddy, i really need good resources for develop my knowledge about SEO

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  11. There is no one way that works in SEO and there is probably no one road into SEO mastery. Trial and error approach is a must, as is the ability to learn from mistakes, draw your own conclusions and keep innovating your methodologies. The sooner you start thinking laterally rather than just aping what others do, the better for you.
    I agree you gotta start with your own website - no amount of armchair research, no amount of lecture going and note-taking at conferences will get you anywhere near where you should be if you don't practice the trade.

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  12. Leo

    Great post! Seo is all about testing and testing,since google will not reveal their secret!

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  13. Wow, this is nice! I´ve just started on SEO, specific working with content and sometimes everything doesn´t make sense. I will update my blog list and try to get more knowledge and improve my career! I also hope to count on the community and learn even more!

    Good stuff! :)

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  14. Thanks paddy for passing on the relevant information. Even i am new to the field and the information provided by you will be alot helpful. i will try to implement the same and see how does it works

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  15. Great post, Paddy! It is definitely a great resource for newbie learning seo. BTW, seobythesea should be included in your list at Technical SEO section.

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  16. Caroline Lyons

    Great list of resources, Paddy! It is always fun to ask people how they got into SEO. I'm one of those that came in by accident. :)

    I agree with the tip on attending conferences and networking events. While there's a wealth of information online, there's nothing like a real life conversation. The drawback is the high cost of conferences. However, some offer free expo hall passes. You don't get the sessions, but you can go to the keynotes and take advantage of the networking opportunities. It works out really well if you happen to live in the city where the conference takes place, e.g., I live in New York and went to both SMX and SES for free this way!

    Also, some conferences will run promotions or contests for tickets, and it's great to try to take advantage of those! To name one, Distilled is currently running a this year. ;-)

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  17. For SEO newbies, and those looking to perhaps further their SEO knowledge... you've provided them so many fantastic resources.

    Great article Paddy, I will pass it on!

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  18. Solid list Paddy. As someone who stumbled into SEO I'd second the test/have your own website. You can learn a ton having to do all of it by yourself. Plus you don't have to worry about messing anything up or meeting unrealistic client expectations with your own site. You are free to test/do as you wish.

    I know some are against books due to how fast our industry changes but I found a lot of value when I was just starting by reading SEO for Dummies, Art of SEO and even Danny Dover's SEO Secrets amongst others. Undoubtedly some of the stuff is outdated now but it's a good place to start for those just beginning.


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  19. Great article Paddy. I've attended ThinkVis a few times, would definitely recommend! Also went to Brighton SEO. Have you been to that? Thanks for the list of useful SEO resources! Some brilliant tools there. Cheers, Laurence.

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  20. Thanks for the great tips paddy. Recently i realized that now i have completed my site, i am a bit lost in the sea of SEO. Articles like yours are a great help and encouragement to newbies like me. Thanks again

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  21. Awesome post Paddy , and the list you provided there about learning SEO is very much helpful for new guys like me . I think is also a good resource for seo . Thanks for sharing valuable data.

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  22. Hi Paddy,
    The link to Seer Interactive is broken. You have a "/" at the end when their should not be.

    Here is how it should read:



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