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SEO Website Audit

Learning SEO and SEM - Where to Start?

February 6, 2008
Added: If you're looking for some easy and informative online SEO learning, you may want to look into our online SEO training course at


Nearly every day I hear from newsletter subscribers, forum posters, and potential clients who've been charged with the task of learning how to optimize their company's website to gain more targeted search engine traffic, but they simply don't know where to begin or the best way to go about it.


Should they learn to do it themselves? Should they attend a large conference? Buy some SEO books? Sign up for an online course or in-person training class? Or should they simply bite the bullet and hire an agency to do it for them?


The answer to these questions will depend on several factors. Years ago, there weren't many options for training in this industry, but many courses and classes have sprung up recently that are worth their weight in gold. I cannot stress enough how your search marketing education is an investment in the future of your website. That is often lost on people when they say they simply can't afford training.


The reality is that you simply can't afford *not* to be trained in some way. How you go about obtaining that training will depend on these factors:

  • Your current level of knowledge
  • Your learning style
  • Your budget.

High Rankings has relationships with all of the various options I'm going to recommend below: I speak at the various conferences, have been putting on my own training classes, and have had employees trying out various e-learning courses. They are each good in their own way. My hope is that the information below will make it easier for you to choose which option is right for you.


How Much Do You Already Know?


If you do most of the work on your website already, and you've been dabbling in SEO/SEM for awhile, you may know more than you think. Perhaps you've been reading some newsletters and forums, and a book or 2 here and there. You've tried a few things out on your site, and you've seen some positive results, but you have the distinct feeling you could be doing better. What should you do next?


If that's your basic profile, it may be time to take things to the next level. One of the large search marketing conferences might be just the ticket for you. Check out SMX West or SES NYC. Large conferences are an amazing way to gain additional insights that you can take home and apply to your website. Networking with others in your situation at these events can also provide you with ideas for your own website.


It's important to note that you will get the most out of large conferences if you already have some basic knowledge of SEO/SEM and have been using it somewhat successfully already. Make sure you have the ability to learn in a large group by listening to a diverse set of speakers on each panel, as well. The benefit of so many speakers from a wide variety of companies is that you will learn things from numerous points of view and experience.


Online Learning


If you don't have much SEO/SEM knowledge, you may be overwhelmed at one of the large conferences. Hearing bits and pieces of info from tons of people who each have their own way of doing things may leave you confused.


If that's your situation, or if you have a smaller budget, I'd recommend a more personalized training route. If you're self-directed and like to learn online, there are some great e-learning courses available these days.


Check out the courses from the SEMPO Institute (use High Rankings discount code HIGHR10 to save 10% off the tuition, and look for a review coming soon!) and the courses from Marketing Experiments. (Update 2010: These SEO courses are no longer available.)

These online courses are also very helpful to those just starting out in the SEO/SEM industry who want to start their own search marketing agencies, or who have recently been hired by an agency. You can take the courses without missing out on any work time, and avoid the hassles and expense of traveling to a conference.


In-person Training


Some people have a hard time learning on their own via e-learning courses, and really need to be taught in person. Rather than attending one of the large conferences and then figuring out how to apply it to their website, the other option is a small, personalized training class. Search Engine Strategies offers these at the end of their large conferences. They generally have one teacher/presenter per session who is an expert in the particular focus of the class. For instance, at the upcoming SES NYC conference, they're having in-depth training sessions devoted to topics like viral marketing, linking, Web analytics, etc. If you're interested in those topics, then in-depth classes may be exactly what you're looking for.


Customized Training Classes


If you're looking for advice that is specific to your own website, as well as a strategy for implementing that advice, but you can't afford the high price of an SEO consultant or are worried about being overwhelmed at a large conference, you may want to attend our very small High Rankings SEO training classes.


The High Rankings classes are very similar to having a specific consultation on your website, but with the addition of a few other classmates to learn with. The benefits of this type of education is that you will learn information that is specific to your own website, as well as learning what's wrong/right with your classmates' websites. This information can be extremely powerful because it enables you to avoid making the same mistakes others have already made.


It's Up to You!


In general, the decision to further enhance your SEO/SEM knowledge will often come down to whether you have more time than money, or more money than time. There are only so many hours in the day, so before you set out to do your own SEO you'll want to determine whether it's actually the most effective use of your time. For instance, if you're the online marketing manager for a company and SEO/SEM is only a small percentage of your job, learning enough SEO/SEM to understand things may be enough for you to then effectively hire a search marketing agency to do the rest. In this case, again, attending a large conference or a smaller training class might get you up to speed on what needs to be done on your website.


On the other hand, if you're in the SEO/SEM industry and need to be on top of every trend, you will want to be sure to have a large education budget so you can try out a number of learning opportunities. Even if you feel you know the search marketing space inside out, you may be surprised to gain many great nuggets of information at a conference and/or a training class. It often takes only one new idea to make you tons of money somewhere down the road!



Post Comment

 Jordan Kasteler said:
Learning SEO can seem quite overwhelming at first. There's a large learning curve initially and the more you learn the more you find out you don't know. Unless you have a playground to test things on you can be making costly mistakes if you're trying new things on a client's or your company's Website. Note that I have video mentor site if anyone's interested that teaches people step-by-step how to do SEO.
 Jill said:
Thanks, Jordan. Lots of free learning stuff over here at High Rankings as well :D
 Zolla M said:
Thanks Jill! This helped me to understand the subtle differences between the types of training and to realize I need to save room in my budget so I can do career long, ongoing training. A quick class in the beginning isn't enough. You need to always be learning.
 Jill said:
Glad to help, Zolla! The important thing to remember is that whatever your training costs, it's totally an investment in the future of your website and business.
 Nan said:
I just finished my certification with Web CEO and love it!
 Jane said:
My husband and I attended a High Rankings seminar a few years ago and it was one of the best things we did. While we had a good basic understanding of SEO going into it, we learned so much in a short amount of time on a variety of subjects. We keep current by visiting this and other forums, blogs, etc.
 Carolyn said:
I think one of the most challenging aspects of starting out in SEO is that there are so many differing opinions; discussion boards can be helpful, but for every post recommending a particular course of action, there'll be another dismissing it!

I've been to SES NY twice, plus the inaugural SES Latino, and even as a newbie I found them hugely helpful, not only because the sessions are largely informative, but also because it's a great opportunity to meet people who are facing the same challenges. And the "Hey, me too!" leads to "So, what are you doing about it?"

(Sadly, no SES for me this year; I'll just have to read the write-ups!)
 Tripster said:
A really good resource for someone in addition to classes or conferences is the book Search Engine Marketing Inc. by Mike Moran, a veteran IBM engineer. I'm in the middle of it now and have found it useful. A new version I think is slated for later this year.
 Jill said:
I agree, Tripster, that's a really good book, especially if you work for or with big companies.
 Todd Lucier said:
Hey, free online video training, helpful blog advice, and podcast are being produced that make it easy for newbies to get the basics of SEO and Usability. Although the productions are geared toward the tourism industry, they are valuable insights for any small to medium sized business looking to make the most of the Internet.... check it out.

Don't get me wrong, paying for training can produce desirable results, but there are many great free resources out there too for internet marketing expertise.

 Mike Munz said:
Funny, I just posted an article questioning the training of many internet marketers. Nowadays it seems that there is a net marketing joint on every street corner ( at least in pittsburgh it feels that way). I have been trying to learn SEO ans SEM and PPC for 3 years. Every time I think I have cornered a technique poof, it has changed and is no longer applicable. In order to be versed in SEM you have to be part web designer, part shrink and part marketer. Thats the formula for success. Mix in a little "common sence" (the hardest to obtain) and now we have a course on Online Advertising. I will never feel that I "got it all" and shouldn't think I know it all ( my brother knows that one). I guess the best way to learn is to dive in, FAIL and then quickly recover!
 Dwayne said:
Good info to say the least. Never thought about getting training in SEO/SEM. Not sure when the right time would be to jump into a training course. I have only been learning for about 3 weeks, and there are times of frustration with the idea of giving up. My motivation is an article I read on internet marketing that said something to the effect; most people quit before making $500. I'm no quitter!
 Jill said:
Dwayne, the right time is now! We have some openings in next month's class if you are interested.