This post is geared towards individuals ranging from those who are completely new to SEO (Search Engine Optimization); to those who are new to SEO but have already been looking into it in some capacity; to those who may be looking to SEO as a method to increase business revenue. If you have no idea what SEO is but you're reading this post somehow, then start here to get a small idea of just what it is. If it's something that interests you past that, then come on back over here and have a look! Okay, so for those of you who are new to SEO but have been researching it in some capacity, you are undoubtedly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information out there and the seemingly innumerable conflicting personalities who appear to rule the interactive SEO landscape (blogs, forums, et al). I recall those confusing days where I would read something that seemed like great information, then read someone's comment below with a conflicting viewpoint which also seemed like great information. The result was not knowing who I could trust, which tactics actually worked, and even second-guessing if this whole "SEO thing" held any merit whatsoever. In the past, I've paid money for the books, instructional packets, educational materials, et al in attempt to learn SEO "the right way," so I've been down just about every route conceivable when it comes to that. My hope is to alleviate many of the uncertainties and woes I experienced for as many of you as I can. With that, I'll begin by addressing information overload and helping you to avoid it.
Avoid Information Overload by Establishing your Goals
Put simply, information overload is what happens when you consume vast amounts of information over a considerable span of time but are no more productive or positively impacted in light of it all. For example, you know those e-books and offers that purport to teach you everything from how to supposedly make your first $1,000 online to things like learning how a 12 year-old made $40,000 in 4.9 seconds by making Google sneeze (what does that even mean, anyway)?
Yeah, that's not SEO, but there are easily tens of thousands of those types of offers and it's easy to get distracted by them if you're new to SEO since SEO is commonly lumped into just about every facet of Internet marketing (thus, easy to run into as you research SEO). To help you prevent or get out of information overload where SEO is concerned, you need to establish your goals. What does that mean, exactly? Well, ask yourself this one simple question: "Why am I interested in SEO?" Try one of the following answers on for size:
A. I own my own business and I've heard SEO may very well help me generate new leads and earn revenue.
B. I want to make money online and I've heard SEO is a great way to do it.
C. I own a Web site and thought I should start paying attention to this "SEO" stuff.
D. It's required for my job.
E. Is it lunch time yet?
Based on your answer above, provided below are my responses for helping you begin to get the most out of your SEO endeavors:
A. You've heard correctly. SEO is great way to help you tap into the power of the Internet to generate new leads and conversions! My recommendation for you would be to hire an Internet marketing agency to do it for you, or hire someone to do SEO in-house. Finding a trustworthy candidate is always the conundrum in this industry, but it can be easier than you may think. Try reaching out to businesses around you, businesses online who you trust, or other business owners you know and inquire about who (if anyone) they've used for their interactive marketing needs. From there, an agency or well-credentialed candidate will be happy to put you in touch with a current or previous client of theirs to vouch for their work. It's the best way to override the agencies and consultants who fabricate their clientele credentials.
If you're a business owner and want the best ROI possible in the shortest span of time, taking on SEO yourself isn't really your best option. SEO is a very involved, ongoing process and rankings take time to happen, so you can expect a good 6-months to a year to see good results based on solid data (results are typically dependent upon how competitive your industry is online and the types of campaigns you run; i.e. if you focus on the wrong keywords or keywords with very little traffic, you can implement SEO until the cows come home but you will not see desired results). If doing SEO yourself is the only option you're willing to consider, then refer to the answers for 'B' and 'C' below to get a feel for what you can expect. I will go into much greater detail in a later post, but the important thing to remember is that results aren't guaranteed. There is an inherent risk to SEO that just can't be avoided or ignored if it's something you choose to invest in monetarily. Anyone who says otherwise may have something to sell you and it's probably not something you want to chance.
B. There are various methods of making money using SEO as a tool (such as in correlation with niche blogging, where higher rankings are inevitably more lucrative in some capacity), but the only real way to make any substantial amount of money strictly based on the practice of SEO is to take on clients, be it through consulting, freelance, in-house, or agency work. If your head is in the clouds with thinking you're going to become a millionaire based solely off of SEO, consider the following your reality check: SEO takes time, focus, dedication, and creativity. It's a very competitive space and requires talent and skill to rise to the top. You have to genuinely care about helping people succeed. The standard I've always held myself to is that the measure of my success is directly proportional to the success of my clients.
You should at least have the capacity to adopt the very same mentality. SEO isn't rocket science, but to be successful with it, you can plan on learning client relation skills, Google Analytics (or StatCounter or some other traffic-tracking application), how to track rankings, keyword research, competition analysis, how to research the industries of your clients, generating reports, recommending and implementing on-site changes, building links and much more. It's not a walk-in-the-park where you can expect to start earning money hand-over-fist. If you're interested in that, the better journey for you may be affiliate marketing (where you will still dabble in SEO, but not make money based solely on the practice of SEO). I will delve into most of what it takes to successfully run a business based on SEO in an upcoming post where I will detail all the little facets I mentioned above and then some.
C. The journey of SEO for someone with a Web site that has no business model or revenue stream is much more lax. A good example is my Microsoft blog (shameless plug, I know -- but it really is a good example). Although I have Google AdSense (a free ad program Google offers where they pay you for clicks and impressions (views) on relevant ads you place on your site) integrated into it, the prime reason for the blog is solely base on hobby and passion. Since most of my traffic for that blog is referral- and direct-based (referral-based means the traffic comes from a source other than search engines, like from a Web site, Twitter, an email, etc. and direct-based means someone comes to my site either manually by typing it into the address bar in their browser or by a bookmarked favorite they have to my site), I don't put too much effort at all into SEO for it.
If your site is a hobby, then your attitude with regards to SEO can be casual. If you're looking to be popular, all you really need to do is focus on generating solid, unique content that people enjoy. Arguably the quickest way to the top of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) is by gaining popularity through others linking to you. Search engines like to see links to you; they're like votes for your site. I will be providing plenty of resources for you below to start learning good SEO, but what you decide to put into practice (and when) is solely up to you.
D. There are too many variables for me to consider here in writing, but regardless of exactly why SEO is needed for your job, stay tuned for the next section as I will be providing all the resources you need to get up-to-speed on SEO. I would be happy to answer a particular question you may have in the mean time if you have one!
E. Mmm, cupcakes for dessert...
The Fast Track to a Solid SEO Foundation
Since the aforementioned section grew much larger than I initially intended, I will keep this section short and sweet. Everything to follow is self-explanatory:
Guides: The following two guides alone easily tackle just about every facet of SEO that you would ever really put into practice. Google's SEO guide is relatively concise while SEOmoz's guide is very, very thorough and extensive. Remember what I said about information overload? Just *trust me* when I say to stick to these two guides first before digging deeper. You will experience a TON of interference from people claiming everything from "some of this is outdated information" to "this guide is much more comprehensive." While that may be the case, I'm attempting to make establishing a solid foundation with SEO as straight-forward (and free) as possible for you.
Sites and Blogs: While you're building a solid foundation of SEO based on the information provided above, you will undoubtedly have questions and desire to participate on SEO-related sites. While there are a ton of credible resources out there and I always encourage your participation and inquisition here, I'm going to hold firm to the prevention of information overload and provide you with a select few that you can actively participate on.
1 - SEO Whistleblower (Of course!)
2 - SEOmoz Blog
3 - SEOBook
4 - Search Engine Watch (This blog is more in relation to search engine news in general, but you can't care fully about SEO if you don't care in part about the first two-thirds of the acronym!) As I said, there are a ridiculous number of sources and communities to get involved with, but I'm just trying to provide a fast track to an initial foundation. Trust me when I say that SEO never runs out of new ideas or new resources for you to discover. In a later post, I will detail a whole plethora of resources for you, but the goal right now is to prevent information overload.
Video: I want to provide you with the YouTube channels of two stellar SEO personalities. The first is Matt Cutts from Google. He shows you how to play it safe where Google is concerned with SEO. The second is Wil Reynolds. Wil is one of my favorite SEOs around. Wil's passion for -- and creativity with -- SEO are self-evident to the point of true inspiration. If you don't get excited or drawn in while watching Wil, then SEO may not be for you!
Consequences of Shady SEO: What to Avoid
If you're new to SEO to the extent that the information provided above is useful, you don't really need to concern yourself with consequences for the moment. Many of them will be addressed throughout the guides I provided and in Matt Cutts' YouTube videos. Just be aware that when you veer from the path of white hat SEO (there are white hat (good) and black hat (bad) methods of SEO) and ethical decisions, you could be putting your site at risk for getting blacklisted. The worst punishment you can receive, being banned/blacklisted from a search engine is when your site will not show up for *anything*. A good rule of thumb to avoid penalties or banishment is to not implement anything that claims to to be black hat or claims to shortcut, circumnavigate, or cheat Google's ranking system. People do find methods of doing such things and even the whitest of white hat SEOs have tried a thing or two (which you probably will at some point, too), but *never* try experimentation with a client or a site that truly matters to you or anyone you may be doing SEO for. Curiosity and creativity are part of the game, so just be aware that if you even so much as walk the fine line between white hat and black hat, make sure it's not at the expense of your client(s). I will clarify many black hat practices in an upcoming post soon, so for the moment, just be aware that should you err, make sure it's on the side of caution.
I hope you have found this post to be helpful and informative. As you can see, what I had intended to be a fairly concise article ended up turning into a massive post! While I covered a few bases, I intentionally didn't account for or clarify every single variable with SEO. Feel free to contribute your questions or thoughts below and I will be happy to respond as necessary. In the coming weeks, I will be stepping into more advanced SEO concepts, tips, tricks, and more, so take your time going through the content and links I've provided while keeping abreast of what I post here as well. Again, please, please, please do not hesitate to ask questions if you have them. SEO is a very confusing and convoluted topic when you first get into it, so don't feel like a question you may have is too simple or "stupid." I'm here to help however I can, so fire away.
Oh, and if you're wondering what in the world 3.14159265 in the post title has to do with the price of tea in China, well; 3.14159265 is Pi (extended out to a random decimal place) and I merely placed it there to poke fun at the easy-to-digest post titles that fill the Internet today; e.g. "12 Insane Ways to Count to One!" or "7 Unbelievable Things You Have to Believe to See not to Believe yet STILL Believe! UNBELIEVABLE!" Maybe I'm the only one who finds this amusing. It wouldn't be the first time. =) Until next time, my fellow SEOs and SEOettes™!