August 17, 2010

The beginner’s checklist for learning SEO

Google Webmaster Tools is a phenomenal free resource.

Guest post by Danny Dover
SEO moz

For as long as I can remember, the best way for me to learn has been to do. I have gone through countless checklists while trying to understand search engine optimization. The following is a compilation of the most useful checklists I have completed in order to learn SEO. My intent is that this list can be used by people who are inexperienced in SEO but want to learn more.

Learn how to build a basic website

Before diving into SEO techniques, it’s important to know the basics of web development. The following tasks will develop the necessary web development skills needed to become successful at SEO:

Learn how to code a basic website without using a WYSIWYG editor – Don’t fear the word code, writing HTML is much easier than you think. If you can make a sandwich with two pieces of bread and put something in the middle, you can write HTML. For help, check out this excellent tutorial. Remember, don’t worry about SEO techniques at this point. Focus on learning how to build a website first.

Code a website that contains the following:

  • All styles with CSS. No tables!
  • Homepage has 3 unique paragraphs about you
  • 3 pages total; homepage, contact and portfolio

Pick your keywords – Pick keywords that are uncompetitive. This is very important as the words you choose will become the center of your SEO efforts. I recommend using your name. Go to Google and search for yourself. If a small amount of low quality websites show up, use your name as your keywords. If your name is competitive to rank for, find a variation of your name that is easier. Example: Danny Ben Dover.

Register a domain name and find hosting – This is not nearly as difficult as it sounds. I recommend SiteGround as good option. However, there are literally thousands of choices. Use your best judgment, but remember you shouldn’t be paying more than $7 a month and the domain name should be included for free. Your only requirement is that your host can’t have immovable ads. These could be crawled by the search engines and ruin your rankings. For your domain name, use your keywords from above. Eg., or If your keywords are not available as a domain name, choose different keywords. (Note: In this exercise, the keywords you are optimizing for and your domain name should be the same. Although this is not always the case in the real world, having similar keywords to your domain name makes SEO much easier.)

Upload your website files to your new hosting account –  The easiest method is to use FTP to drag and drop your files. See your hosting provider for details.

Sign up for Google Analytics and verify your website – This free tool will allow you to track visitors to your website. Installation instructions are included by Google.




Wait a week and search for your keywords in the big four search engines – I generally use the rank checker tool (immediately above) as a shortcut. It is all right if your website doesn’t show up. That is what SEO is for. If you do find your website ranking (even if it is not on the first page), record how it ranks in the major search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing) in a spreadsheet.

Wait two weeks to allow search engines to find your site and for Google Analytics to gather data.

Learn about SEO and apply it to your site

Now for the fun part. Learn basic SEO techniques and apply them to your glorious website. This will allow you to see how SEO can help your website rank.

Read the entire Beginner’s Guide to SEO – This is essential to building a strong SEO foundation. I also recommend reading the completed parts of the new Beginner’s Guide and Aaron Wall’s SEO Overview.

Read all of the Google Search Engine Ranking Factors – These will reinforce what you already know and give a perspective on variation. These factors are based off of the experience of some of the SEO industry’s most successful people.

Sign up for Google Webmaster Tools, verify and read everything – This phenomenal resource will show you how Googlebot sees your website and point out any SEO problems you have on your site. Be sure to familiarize yourself with it. The information it provides is formulated toward Google but applies to all the search engines.

Run your website through the SEOmoz tools – Specifically, I recommend the Term Target Tool and Page Strength Tool. These tools will point out areas where you can improve your website.

Add a robots.txt file and a sitemap – Although these are not really necessary for such a small site, familiarizing yourself with these files will be indispensable.

Apply your knowledge – Optimize your Title Tags, URLs, Anchor Text, HTML structure (H1, H2), and keyword usage. This is the bread and butter of onsite search engine optimization.

Link build – Add a link to your website on all of your favorite social media/networking sites. Feel free to try your luck with linkbait, although for a site with no competition this isn’t really necessary.

Track your site on Linkscape and Yahoo! Site Explorer – Wait a month for Linkscape and Yahoo to find your links and then check to see what links are being counted. On Yahoo, be sure to select “inlinks except from this domain to entire site.” Only the links on Linkscape are displayed in the order of importance.

Check Google Analytics – By this time, you should see more interesting data from your analytics tool. Use this data to learn the basics of analytics and use it as a reference point while link building.

Update your spreadsheet – Search for your keywords in the big three search engines again and look to see where your website ranks. Record these results in your spreadsheet. Tracking your data lets you see what techniques are working what techniques are not worth your time.

Test your own SEO theories and record the results – This is not really a task you can ever complete. 90% of all SEO information is already freely available if you can find it. Testing your own theories and getting good results will help you uncover the remaining 10% necessary to outperform your competition.

I sincerely believe that if you complete all the tasks on this list, you will be well on your way to becoming a successful SEO. I recommend printing this post and pasting it somewhere visible near your computer. That way you can complete all of the tasks in your spare time and develop your skills. Best of luck to all of the new SEOs!

If you liked this, be sure to check out The Beginner’s Checklist for Small Business SEO.

This post originally appeared at SEOmoz and is republished with permission. The author’s views are entirely his own and may not reflect the views of SEOmoz, Inc. SEOmoz is not affiliated with and has not reviewed this translation. SEOmoz provides the Web’s best SEO tools and resources.
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