Search engine optimisation, albeit often rumoured to be dead or about to die, is getting more and more popular as a career path. It’s hardly taught anywhere formally, one of the reasons being its ever-changing nature (by the time you get a University course prepared and approved it’s already largely outdated). The bars to entry into the industry are ridiculously low – or insanely high, depending on how you look at it. There is no formal certification but there are plenty sources of information and too many of them are either outdated or complete garbage. There is no lack of SEO conferences and workshops – but many of them are quite expensive, speakers sometimes pitch their services rather than provide useful information, and travel costs do add up as well. So how do you learn SEO without making costly mistakes and spending a fortune?
Believe it or not, there are ways to do it completely free or almost free. The ways listed below range from easily doable by anyone to ones requiring certain skills/knowledge, but it all depends on your character and how willing you are to learn. Majority of these ways also require serious social skills – so while our industry is known for stories about making millions from home in your pyjamas never having to meet other people, you probably cannot afford not having social skills at all.
So let’s see how SEO education costs can be cut down to 0 or close.
1. Start by reading a good introductory guide – SEOMoz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO would do. However, this is just the very beginning – don’t stop there. This is just an introduction to help you learn the lingo and be able to understand what it’s all about further on. I find it bewildering with the increasing complexity of our trade how an increasing number of people claim they know SEO after sitting in a two-week course or attending a basic conference. Don’t be like that, keep learning.
2. Read worthy industry blogs. Right, this begs the question which ones are worthy. Use the same judgement you would use evaluating any other information online – what do experienced people in the industry consider reliable sources of information?
3. Follow reputable SEOs on Twitter and read what they share. Look at lists of Twitter users by topic some people are putting together – whoever is included in most of the lists is typically the SEOPs most worth following.
5. Follow reputable SEOs on Google+ and read what they share there.
6. Read what comes from the search engines – update announcements, interviews with engineers, help articles. But don’t just take their word for it.
7. Get a site. Some hobby site you wouldn’t be afraid to lose. Experiment with it. Track your results. Read the server logs. They make the best read once you’ve got the hang of it and provide plenty of insight.
8. Read SEO forums. Not the kind that are built around promoting a product/series of products but neutral ones where advertising is limited. Take what you read with a pinch of salt. A couple of forums to get you started: http://www.webmasterworld.com/, http://www.cre8asiteforums.com/forums/index.php and http://forums.seochat.com/ (as you get more experienced and better connected in the community you might even end up getting invited to “secret” forums, too – but unfortunately I cannot share those)
9. Participate in Google+ Hangouts, including those run by Google reps. Ask questions – not just fluffy ones but uncomfortable ones too. You may never get a reply but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
10. Regularly check SEO-related Quora discussions. Ask questions yourself.
11. LinkedIn groups and questions – many of them are spammed to death but sometimes interesting things can be spotted as well.
12. Places like AnyAsq – people including those from the search engines run “ask me anything” sessions there sometimes. Read what they say and ask questions.
13. Whenever there is a conference going on anywhere, read the tweets with the conference hashtag – you’ll be amazed how well some conferences are covered by live tweeting. However, be careful so as not to take things out of context.
14. Conference speakers usually share their slide decks – watch those. Combined with live tweets, they are almost as good as sitting in at the session.
15. Some blogs, State of Search included, publish conference recaps – read these.
16. Not all conferences are paid – there are a few free ones. There is BrightonSEO in the UK and I’m pretty sure there are some in the US as well. The tickets are limited so you have to be really quick to get them when they go on offer but if you go to one of these conferences, you are sure to learn quite a bit.
17. Apart from major conferences, there are also less formal events out there that are also free. These tend to be more local (such as Search London or OMN London) but will typically have quality speakers, often even the same people that speak at the big expensive events. Make sure you go to these events.
18. There are even less informal meetups organised spontaneously with no regular schedule or place by SEOs here and there – listen closely on Twitter and Facebook when people you follow start talking about such meetups and try to get in.
19. They don’t say for no reason that the most value of any conference is in the networking – a lot of good stuff is getting shared and discussed not at the formal conference sessions but over a beer afterwards. If you hang out in the “official” conference bar/restaurant/hotel and know a few faces you may just as well end up catching these juicy bits.
20. If you are social enough or have been around long enough to be friends with somebody speaking at a conference, many conferences let speakers bring somebody with them (known as +1). If you are cheeky enough to ask a speaker for a +1 and they happen to have it available, you can make it to a conference for free.
21. Exhibitors/sponsors at conferences often get n free tickets. Many companies would just distribute them between people they know and some will run all sorts of competitions where you can win a free pass to the conference.
22. Apply to be a speaker at a conference! Speakers usually get a free pass and can attend other sessions, and who’s to say if you’re qualified enough to speak on one topic there is nothing you can learn about other topics from other speakers?
23. Some conferences will give you a discount (if not a free ticket) if you are a blogger and going to cover the conference. In some cases, you have to refer x people to buy conference tickets to get a free ticket for yourself.
24. Offer some industry blog/news site to blog/live tweet an event for them if they cover the cost of your ticket.
25. Persuade your employer the conference is good for your professional development and will help you achieve better results for the company so that the employer covers the ticket cost for you.
As you see, nothing is impossible for those who want to learn. In an industry as intensive as SEO, it is vital to stay abreast of all current developments so we all learn something new every day. Both newcomers and seasoned professionals should never stop learning, and hopefully using these tips you can make learning SEO a fun and pleasant experience and not that much of a burden on your pocket.