6 Steps to Learn SEO

If you want to learn SEO so you can help your nonprofit to reach more people and bring in more donations, you’re in the right place.

What this blog is NOT

– A soup-to-nuts guide of the different components of SEO. If you’re looking for such a guide, smarter people than me have written them (and I’ll link to a couple of those guides in this blog for you).

What is blog IS

– A detailed explanation of how to learn SEO, from someone who’s spent 6 years in the industry. I’ve gone from “What is SEO?” to “This SEO content strategy helped a client increase their organic traffic by 1,000% in 9 months”…and you can too.

But first, let’s take a step back. What IS SEO?

What Is SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization, and it’s the art and science of helping organizations to rank higher on Google (and other search engines). Let’s say that your nonprofit focuses on environmental issues. SEO can help you rank for keywords like “environmental nonprofit,” getting you in front of your target market right when they’re looking for an organization like yours.

SEO is broadly composed of three pieces:

– On-page SEO (this includes things like content, keywords, and the user experience)

– Off-page SEO (links to your website)

– Technical SEO (essentially: how well can Google crawl your website)

Each of these is important; and when all three work together, your odds of ranking in Google for the keywords you want to target goes up dramatically.

If you want to learn SEO, it's important to understand the 3 pillars: on-page SEO, off-page SEO, and technical SEO.
Graphic from Avinash Chandra

Why Is SEO Important?

SEO is essential for nonprofits because it can help you get in front of your target market, right when they’re most interested in hearing from you. If you’re an environmentally-focused nonprofit and you can rank for the keyword, “environmental nonprofit,” then you can show up in front of users who are actively looking for a nonprofit like yours to engage with.

SEO gives you the ability to leverage a huge marketing channel:

– Google reports a staggering 63,000 search queries per second

-A majority of all online traffic (53.3%) comes from organic

Organic traffic tends to be very high-quality, because you’re targeting people who want to engage with you. Maybe that’s why in a 2018 survey, 49% of marketers said SEO has the highest ROI of any marketing channel. 

Now that you know SEO matters, how do you learn how to do SEO yourself?

Surveyed marketers say that SEO has the highest ROI of any digital marketing channel. Just one reason to learn SEO or invest in SEO.

Step 1 to Learning SEO: Educate Yourself With Beginner Guides

Lots of very smart men and women have written soup-to-nuts guides answering questions like What is SEO and Why are keywords important and What is link-building? Reading guides like these is how I got my start learning SEO.

Here are some of my favorite guides:

Moz’ Beginner’s Guide to SEO

Brian Dean’s How to Learn SEO in 2021

Bruce Clay’s Search Engine Optimization–How-to SEO Guide

Google’s How Google Search Works (for beginners)

Google’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide

Google’s Overview of Guidelines

Ahref’s SEO Basics: Beginner’s Guide to SEO Success

SEMRush’s Learn SEO: The Beginner’s Guide to SEO

Ahref’s SEO For Beginners: A Basic Search Engine Optimization Tutorial for Higher Google Rankings (Video)

You don’t have to read all of them, though it might be a good idea. I personally learn by doing, so I would pick 2-3 good guides (I would recommend Moz, Bruce Clay, and Google’s beginner guide) and then start testing. Which leads me to….

Step 2 to Learning SEO: Test

I’m a big believer in learning SEO by doing SEO. Concepts like keyword research and title tags didn’t really connect for me until I started testing them.

Pick a couple of SEO strategies that jump out at you, and start testing them on your nonprofit’s website. Maybe do some initial keyword research to inform an on-page SEO strategy, and then start writing blogs around specific high-volume keywords. Or maybe you’re more technically-minded, and you want to clean up the duplicate title tags on your site.

Whatever you test, keep a record of it: what change you made (ex. publishing a new blog) and the date you made them. I like Google Sheets or Google Analytics annotations for this. That way, you can easily track what’s working and what’s not working. And, thinking about your SEO optimizations in a data-driven way will help you keep the learner’s mindset that is essential to learning SEO.

This is how you practice SEO online. And what you practice, you get good at.

Step 3 to Learning SEO: Take Courses

Blogs and free guides can only take you so far. If you’re serious about learning SEO, I recommend a premium course taught by some of the world’s foremost experts in SEO.

Benefits of a course:

– detailed roadmap to SEO success

– higher-quality than blogs, because they’re often paid

– often includes support options to ask the course designer questions, and/or an online community with other course members.

When I need to learn something in-depth, I take a course. Here are some great SEO courses:

Moz Academy

Brian Dean’s SEO That Works

Hubspot’s SEO Certification Course

Yoast Academy

SEMRush Academy

Bruce Clay’s SEO Training

Step 4 to Learning SEO: Join a Community of SEOs

SEO is part art and part science, and no-one knows everything. It’s important as you test SEO strategies and take courses to have a community that you can ask questions of and bounce ideas off of.

Is your latest blog not ranking as well as you’d like? Another SEO may have some advice. Are you struggling to set up goals in Google Analytics? An SEO with a more technical skillset might be willing to audit your setup and figure out where you went wrong.

How to Find SEO Groups:

Meetup (just search “SEO”)

One way to learn SEO is through Meetups.

– In-person communities are often smaller than virtual communities, so you’ll get a narrower range of members. On the other hand, you can often build relationships with peers more easily in-person than online.

Facebook (just search “SEO” in Groups)

One way to learn SEO is through joining Facebook groups.

– These groups can be hit or miss; I recommend looking at the group’s posts before you join to make sure a) posts are informative or pose thoughtful questions and b) answers are in-depth and useful.

Communities in paid courses

– Many paid courses will have a community of students. For instance, Brian Dean’s Facebook mastermind for SEO That Works students has a lot of talented experts eager to talk SEO.

How to Get the Most Out Of SEO Groups

Getting the most out of any group (in-person or online) seems to come down to two things: engage, and add value. I’ve found four ways to do this:

1) Ask smart questions (Engage).

Avoid questions you can just Google the answer to. Show you’ve done your homework, and the group members will be a lot more likely to respect you.

2) Post what’s worked for you (Value-Add)

If you cleaned up duplicate title tags and saw a 15% rise in organic traffic, post about it! Maybe you’ll inspire someone else to do the same and they’ll see a benefit.

3) Post what didn’t work (Value-Add, Engage)

If you posted an SEO-optimized blog and it’s not ranking, post that! Your struggle may help someone else. Additionally, sometimes you’ve done everything right except for 1 small (but key) thing, and the other experts in the group can point that out to you.

4) As you get more advanced, answer questions (Value-Add, Engage)

When someone asks a question and you have insight that would benefit them, share that insight! We’re all learning, and we’re all on the same team.

Step 5 to Learning SEO: Keep Up to Date On Algorithm Updates

Google constantly tweaks their algorithm; Search Engine Land reports that they change their algorithm 500-600 times per year. Most of those changes are very small, but sometimes they roll out a substantial algorithm change and it pays to be ready.

Google algorithm updates can upend the search landscape. When Medic rolled out in 2018, one of my medical clients lost half their organic traffic overnight (don’t worry, we got it all back).

A few recent algorithm updates:

  • July 2021 Core Update
  • Page Experience Update
  • BERT Update
  • Medic Update

How do you see these updates coming? Make a habit of checking industry websites like Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch, SEO Round Table, and Moz. Many SEO tools also run excellent blogs; BrightEdge, for instance, put out a blog ahead of the Page Experience Update aptly titled, “What is the Google Page Experience Update?

When an update rolls out, look for commentary on it–especially if it coincides with a rankings/organic traffic drop for your site. When Medic rolled out, I found a Marie Haynes blog that explained why one of my clients had seen a rankings drop, and I was able to help them reclaim their rankings in a few months as a result.

Step 6 to Learning SEO: Find a Part-Time Gig

There’s nothing better than learning from someone more experienced than you. When I wanted to get good at content writing, I joined an agency as a freelance writer. I had an excellent editor who mentored me: I gave her free articles she could pitch to National Review or The American Conservative or Washington Post, and she gave me amazing feedback on them.

Lots of SEOs started as interns or junior analysts at agencies and learned there (I learned a ton during my 6-year agency stint). Learning from someone who’s already an expert in the industry can be powerful.

But you don’t have to quit your job at a nonprofit and find an SEO internship. What if you emailed your friend who does SEO for your local church or a nonprofit you respect, and offered to volunteer your time? In exchange for 5 hours/week of you doing entry-level SEO work for them, ask them to train you on what you’re doing and why it matters.

Beyond the Six Steps: Practice and Patience

Learning SEO is like learning any other technical, complex skillset. It takes time. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t rank on page 1 of Google after 6 months of DIY SEO. If you want to get good at this, it’s going to take a consistent effort and a consistent investment of time over months and years.

And if you decide that you don’t want to learn SEO after all, but you still want your nonprofit to rank higher in Google…I’ve already done everything I wrote about above. I paid thousands of dollars for advanced SEO courses, I’m active in SEO groups, and I spent 6 years doing this full-time while learning from a fantastic mentor.

If you’d like to use SEO to grow your brand’s reach and bring in more donations, feel free to reach out and let’s talk.

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