In last week’s post, I talked to you about the importance of learning to communicate effectively – what I believe to be the most overlooked SEO skill of all.  If you have time to improve only one area of your professional SEO practice, I’d highly recommend investing your effort into that all-important area.

However, if you want to take things a step further, go ahead and focus some of your energy on what I consider to be the second most overlooked SEO skill – learning.

If you’ve spent any amount of time in the SEO field, you know that learning is pretty much non-negotiable.  Given the number of algorithm changes Google and the other search engines introduce every year, staying up-to-date on the latest SEO practices is vitally important (you try getting new clients when you’re using SEO techniques that were last in vogue in 1996!).

So yes, to a point, learning – in the case of expanding your skill set and updating your SEO practices – is pretty much a default behavior for those of us who care about our businesses.  But really, this is only part of the learning you can do…

In addition to regularly reading through the articles on and your favorite digital marketing blogs, consider the following practices for expanding your learning and deepening your knowledge of SEO:

Learn from the experts

Yes, you can read blog posts written by SEO experts and pick up enough information to stay reasonably up-to-date on current SEO best practices.  But if you want to really increase the power of your learning, look for ways to study directly with the experts whose blogs you’re following.

There are a few different ways that you can do this:

  • Attend conferences where your favorite SEO gurus will be presenting.  The travel can get expensive, but I’ve found that the kind of concentrated learning you’ll get by sitting through a few SEO sessions can’t be matched.  In particular, take a look at two of my favorites – the Search Marketing Expo series and the SES Conference series.
  • Purchase expert-specific training products.  Occasionally, well-known digital marketers will offer paid training courses or other educational products that share bits of the SEO’s wisdom.  While these can be a good compromise if you aren’t able to afford the expense of a conference, be sure that you’re buying from a real SEO guru – not some “fly by night” marketer cranking out product spam.
  • Find an expert mentor.  Building a relationship with an expert SEO marketer can be a great way to pick up on the tips and tricks that can only otherwise be learned through years of experience.  Keep in mind, though, that mentorship is a two-way street.  If you’re lucky enough to secure a top-tier SEO mentor (and really, this is a feat in and of itself), be sure that you’re giving 110% to the relationship in order to maintain strong professional ties.

Deepen your SEO knowledge

Taking advantage of any of the three techniques described above is a great way to keep your SEO toolset sharpened and ready to be used.  At some point, though, you’ll want to take things to a deeper level.

To see why this is so important, take a second to think about the process of link building.  We all know that it’s a good idea to build links, but do you truly understand the mechanisms that make this such an important practice?  Can you describe – in depth – how the search engines identify, assess and reward backlinks?  If not, it’s clear that the depth of your SEO knowledge could use some improvement!

In terms of how to do this, two of my favorite resources for learning technical SEO include:

  • The SEO by the Sea blog.  Run by Bill Slawski, the site covers plenty of more in-depth, technical SEO subjects than sites like Search Engine Land or SEOMoz (which tend to stay fairly topic-specific and surface-level in their posts).  You might need to do some extra research to understand all the terminology on this site or to understand what the impact of the different search patents that are discussed on the site might mean, but the additional effort needed will only help to deepen your SEO knowledge even further.
  • The Art of SEO textbook.  This book is the default, go-to text for people who want to understand the intricacies of why the search engines operate in the way that they do.  Written by Eric Enge, Stephan Spencer, Jessie Stricchiola and Rand Fishkin, the book does have some glaring errors – even the 2012 edition leaves out a good discussion on social search – but the technical discussion on the formation and operation of the search engines shouldn’t be missed!

Learn by doing

Of course, learning from experts and learning from in-depth SEO resources both have a major disadvantage – they’re essentially passive processes!

Sure, you can read all the SEO articles and textbooks you want, but at the end of the day, you haven’t really integrated this information into your personal SEO piggy bank until you get hands-on about experimenting with this new information.

Say you take the time to understand both why link building is so important and which techniques you should be using according to current SEO best practices.  That’s great, but if you never take the time to experiment with these strategies on your own, all the energy you’ve put into learning goes to waste.

So instead of sitting on your newly-gained knowledge, give the following techniques a try in order to deepen your learning through action:

  • Put different techniques into action.  If you’ve read an article on different link building techniques, take the time to build links according to the procedures described.  Then, analyze which of the techniques worked best for your website and think about how you could change these techniques to improve your results even further.  This type of experiential learning will contribute far more to your bottom line than sitting in a conference or reading a textbook ever will!
  • Try something totally new.  Remember, experts only reached their vaulted status because they took the time to try things that nobody else had and – in the process – identified the things that would eventually make them successful.  So as you implement proven SEO techniques, ask yourself, “What am I learning from this that can be applied in a different way?”

Many of the SEO processes we use today at Single Grain are techniques that we’ve developed on our own based on past experiences.  This helps our business to stand out and our clients to get better results because we aren’t just going through the same SEO motions that other consultants use.  Because we’ve taken the time to explore and test different theories, we’ve been able to make our SEO processes more efficient and more effective than ever before.

I call this the “throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks” method, and it’s one that’s been hugely instrumental in my overall SEO success.  While you probably shouldn’t take drastic actions that would appear to be contraindicated by prevailing SEO wisdom (meaning, don’t try something new that obviously violates Google’s TOS and will get your site banned), experimenting with the way you apply different SEO practices can result in new techniques that’ll make a huge difference in your website’s performance.

Whether you’re new to the field of SEO or an old hat who’s looking to gain a competitive advantage in the industry, the learning processes described above will go a long way towards improving your overall understanding and depth of knowledge of SEO.  If you have any other learning techniques that have proven beneficial over the course of your career, I’d love to hear about them!  Share your recommendations in the comment section below so that everyone can benefit from your experience.

  1. Hi Sujan,

    I really apprciated the first post in this series on communication being one of the most important, and one of the most overlooked SEO skills. Whether it’s with a client, a vendor, or a colleague, everything you do hinges on your ability to effectively communicate.

    It came as a really pleasant surprise to see this followup post on learning as an essential SEO skill, and to see you include my blog as one of your favorite resources for learning. One of the primary goals I set for SEO by the Sea was for it to be my workbook – my place to write about the things I’ve been learning.

    I had the chance to teach an internet literacy class a few years ago at a local community college, as part of a certification program for teachers. As part of the certificate program, if they accrued enough credits for technology based classes, it meant a raise for them, which I thought was a pretty good approach.

    I learned a number of things from the class, and the primary one was that I personally tend to learn something best by trying to teach it to others. Understanding something well enough to put it into words that other people can understand can make a tremendous amount of difference, and I tried to do that with my blog.

    Thanks for including my site, and thanks for this post. Learning how to learn can be a substantial challege, and people do have different learning styles and approaches, but SEO is definitely a field where it’s extremely helpful to be able to learn and test and grow.


  2. Getting a mentor and learn by doing are the two most powerful tips you have shared. Learning by sharing what you have learned is another great way to hone one skills.

  3. I really REALLY enjoyed your article. I “thought” I knew what SEO was about, and didn’t realize that it is an ever evolving process. Like your article suggests, I’ve been learning the newest techniques and am puuting them to work on our blog. Thanks SO MUCH for the amazing post! 🙂

  4. Perfect posts, man. I think you’re right on the money with communication being *the* key missing element. (I’m biased, as a comm major in college.)

    I think that a key characteristic of great learners is a degree of humility. That’s hard to maintain if you have quick and early success – and too many “SEO Gurus” had that experience early in their careers. Maybe it’s better to crash and burn a few times early on just to keep us humble?

    It’s also different when the desire to learn is motivated by a goal (say “getting X website to the top of the search rankings) versus being motivated by innate desire to improve. Any thoughts on how to develop that desire?

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