I’m asked a lot of times when I tell folks what I do how I learned Internet marketing. People are usually surprised when I say I’m all self-taught, but the reality is, there is no real way to learn Internet marketing *other* than being self-taught. A traditional marketing degree might offer you insight into certain aspects, like approaching folks to get links or helping you optimize site conversions. A business degree might help you in other aspects, like negotiating site sales or grasping how to monetize a website. But, in an industry where the textbooks would be outdated before the end of a semester, your only real choice when learning Internet marketing is to dive in, learn and experiment.
When I started learning SEO, forums and IM conversations were the “textbooks” we used to learn Internet marketing. But that was a decade ago and we were a much smaller community then and the information was much more consolidated. Gems were a bit easier to find, bullshit was a bit easier to spot and it was a bit easier to find who knew their shit and make friends to discuss all your newfound knowledge and experimentation with. Blogs and today’s version of “social media” were non-existent and it was harder for people who couldn’t earn their keep to be given a public platform to spout theory rather than experience.
These days, folks entering the industry often ask me where they should start learning, feeling daunted by the amount of information and their inability to determine the wheat from the chaff. Below you’ll find a few suggestions for someone new to organic Internet marketing (which truly is simply an adapted and evolved form of SEO, but we’ll get into that in another post) so they can learn SEO while avoiding as much false information and red herrings as possible.
WebmasterWorld.com forum libraries
Each forum at WebmasterWorld has a “library” (you can find the link at the top left of each forum page – here is the link development library as an example). These libraries are hand picked by the moderators of each forum. Go back to the very beginning and read from old to new and you’ll find one of the best historical timelines available of each topic. Learn what used to work and what still works.
One of the biggest advantages old school SEO folks have over new school SEO folks is a historical understanding of the industry and the methods employed within it over a long period of time. Additionally, because most of the WMW forums have changed “moderator hands” many times, and many of the most elite and knowledgeable SEO folks were moderators there at one point in time, you also get to learn from some of the best in the industry by reading what they felt was important enough to bookmark as a library post.
Aaron Wall shot himself to fame when he created “SEOBook” and for a long time, it was the closest thing there was to an “SEO textbook”, which he frequently updated as the industry evolved. Aaron stopped sales for and updates to the original SEOBook a while back and changed it to a paid subscription forum. I’ve had access to the member only forum since its inception, and hands down, if you can afford the subscription fee, would be the number one paid resource for learning SEO I’d recommend. If you take the time to become involved in the community and put into action what you learn there, you’ll make the money you paid for the subscription back… easily.
Conferences are a great way to learn SEO, but not necessarily in the manner you’d traditionally think. Sure, the sessions can be informative and site clinics can give you specific information for your own site, but some of the best knowledge you’ll find will be in the bars after the sessions of conferences like SMX, PubCon, SES and more. Here you can mingle with folks who have been in the trenches of this industry for a long time. Don’t be shy, walk up to someone you want to chat with and offer to buy them a beer. I can assure you, no old school SEO turns down a free beer.
However, don’t then immediately start trying to pick their brain for information. Make connections. Start building relationships with people and listen as experienced folks sit around discussing the advantages noindex can have on internal link popularity and the tests they’ve run to come to those conclusions. After a while of networking and attending various industry events (local ones will do too), those relationships will flow from “conference only” to discussions via email and IM. You’ll make good friends and get good information. Win all around.
Cream of the crop
There are tons of people sharing good information out there. However, there are a few vocal folks out there that I keep on my personal “cream of the SEO crop” list (keep in mind, I’m old in this industry and it takes a lot to inspire/make me really think these days). Those folks include, but are not necessarily limited to (and are listed in no particular order):
Read their blogs, attend their conference sessions, listen to the information they freely share and put what you learn to the test.
It all means nothing without experimentation
You can learn SEO all you want, but at the end of the day, everything you learn is useless unless you actually experiment with what you’ve learned. Never take anything as gospel, (even from me). Always put everyone’s theories to the test. If you need to create a few “play” sites, do so. But test everything you’re told and come to your own conclusions.
And never STOP learning. Even after a decade, I learn new things on a regular basis and am constantly testing them to form my own opinions and expand on the experience and theories of others. The day you think you know all there is about SEO is the day you fail AS an SEO.