Are you wondering what steps you need to take to become an SEO expert?
Perfect, because this guide is going to show you everything you need to know. Becoming an SEO expert isn’t as complicated as you may think.
All you need to do is follow the framework I’m going to show you and take action.
Let’s jump in.
The Value of Being a Real SEO Expert
When I say a “real” SEO expert, I mean someone who can grow organic search traffic on a consistent basis. “Expert” level also means that you have enough knowledge to combat unexpected outcomes. Getting to this level takes time and effort.
The beauty of knowing how to do SEO is that there are many ways to monetize your skill.
Option #1: DIY
ANY business can benefit from SEO. Doing SEO for your own business has a few perks.
- You don’t need to invest in an SEO agency. A quality SEO agency will cost you at least $2,500/month and will need a 6-12 month commitment.
- You are responsible for your own success. You can work as hard or as little as you would like on SEO.
- You can allocate capital towards whatever you want (since you won’t be investing in an agency).
- You’re forced to focus on what will have the biggest impact. You have a business to run and grow. That means you can’t focus much time on the minutiae of SEO. This forces you to enter deep thinking and figure out what matters most in SEO. More on this in a second.
The beauty of learning SEO is that you can use it to grow every new business you start.
Option #2: Get Clients
Getting clients is the single fastest way to grow your income from SEO. It’s also a great way to get immediate cash flow, which you can reinvest into other SEO projects.
On the flip side, it’s also the best way to go mentally insane. I explain a lot of these issues in my SEO agency article. But I will also list a few of the issues of working with clients.
- Unrealistic expectations. This is usually the product of a weak client application or vetting system. If you don’t establish realistic expectations, you will regret it. Don’t exaggerate what’s possible to meet your sales quota.
- Clients can be unreliable and can hurt your cash flow. It doesn’t matter how good your collections system is. There are going to be clients who play games when it comes to paying.
- Operations is a headache. Running an SEO agency is challenging because each campaign is unique. That means each campaign requires different actions. This makes it challenging to create solid systems, which as a result, makes it hard to scale.
- Requires human capital. To scale an SEO agency, you need to hire people. You can only take it so far by yourself. New challenges arise when you bring employees on, but that will be a subject of a later blog post.
- It’s a job with many bosses. Working with clients often feels like a job and not a business. Of course, you can fix this by taking yourself out of the equation. But that’s easier said than done.
Option #3: Start a Niche Site(s)
A niche site is a website that focuses on a single topic, such as “undercounter ice makers” or “baby monitors.”
Niche sites are how I got into SEO.
I believe starting a niche site is the best way to learn SEO. The reason is that you have to figure it out, and there isn’t a ton of risk involved. Another reason why niche sites are a good place to start is that they don’t need much capital.
You can get started with less than $100.
Also, if you do keyword research right, you can find niches with lower competition. This increases your chance of success.
The biggest risk you can encounter when creating niche sites is time loss. But if you are trying to improve your SEO skills, then that time will be valuable in your progression.
But like anything else, there are some downsides to niche sites:
- Lower revenue potential. That means you would need to create more than one niche site to generate a decent amount of revenue. And when you add more niche sites, you add more complexity to your business. Building one successful website is hard enough. Developing and trying to grow many niche sites can be an operational headache.
- Decreased profit margins as your portfolio grows. That’s because you will have to spend more time managing your sites, or you will have to outsource much of the work.
- More volatility than authority websites. The EMD and Panda updates have proven that Google doesn’t like micro-niche sites. But to be fair, many of the sites affected by those updates gave little value to users. And many had duplicate or thin content. You can decrease your niche site’s volatility by creating true value, as I explain in this SEO strategy.
Option #4: Develop an Authority Site
I love the authority website model for a few reasons:
- They have more opportunities for growth
- They have fewer content restriction
- They are more “linkable”
- They have reduced penalty risk/algorithm volatility
An example of an authority website is Gotch SEO because it focuses on a large topic like SEO.
Like the other options, there are some downsides as well:
- Greater time investment. To create a great authority website, you need to have expertise in the niche you’re targeting. Producing surface-level content won’t help you build an authority site. You must invest your time into becoming an expert or at least the top 25% in your industry. Then, you can create an exceptional authority site.
- Bigger capital investment. This won’t affect you if you’re writing your own SEO content. If you plan to outsource it, then it’s going to be capital-intensive. That’s because producing “authority” content requires quality writers and larger word counts. Both of those factors increase your costs.
Option #5: Flip Websites
There are two ways to flip websites:
- You can start a website from scratch, build it up, and then flip it.
- You can acquire an existing website, improve it, and then flip it.
Each option has its own unique challenges that I won’t get into.
However, let me say that flipping websites are an amazing way to get instant capital. You can then use this capital to reinvest into other income-generating SEO projects (recommended).
Or, you can spend your money on some type of depreciating asset like a car (not recommended). To each their own!
Option #6: Sell Leads
Creating lead-generation websites is a decent alternative to taking on clients. I have never taken this route, but I know many that have. In essence, you first identify a local keyword like “Los Angeles plumber.” Then you create a website to rank for that keyword.
Once the site is ranking, you can sell the organic leads to actual Los Angeles plumbers. Or, you can sell the website to a Los Angeles plumber.
Option #7: Become an Employee
I know this option isn’t ideal for everyone, but it’s a good way to get your feet wet. There are all kinds of businesses looking to hire in-house SEOs.
One way to go about this is to get hired and get some experience. Then, on the side, you can work on growing your own SEO business or working on other projects. This way, you won’t have to stress out about income.
Also, if you want to take the client SEO route, being an employee is a good primer. Your boss will give you the experience and backbone you need to have many bosses at the same time. 😛
Option #8: Diversification
This is my favorite option. Use your SEO skills to make money in many different ways. This reduces your risk and reliance on any single method.
For example, if 100% of your income is from clients, you are playing with fire. In one day, all your clients could wake up and decide to fire you. What are you going to do then? Even if you have solid lead generation, you will be in a bind.
It’s okay to have no diversification in the beginning. But you need to work towards better income diversification as soon as possible.
Now that you know the value of being an SEO expert, let me explain the most important part of your path to becoming one.
Start With the Right Mindset
I’m not going to bombard you with personal development guru talk, but there is no denying how important your mindset is for achieving anything in life.
Let me start with this one important fact:
SEO is a Means to an End
The only reason why SEO is valuable is that it is a tool for growing revenues. Sure, it has other purposes, such as branding, reputation management, and even deception. But most people use SEO to increase organic search traffic and grow revenue.
Never lose sight of the fact that SEO is a TOOL.
Sure, it’s fun to mess with algorithms, but always remember that MORE MONEY is the goal.
But before you can make some dough, you need to acquire base SEO knowledge.
Acquire Base Knowledge
If you’re an absolute beginner, then you need to get base SEO knowledge. And even if you have experience, you should still study and practice the fundamentals. This builds knowledge reinforcement.
“You can practice shooting eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, then all you become is very good at shooting the wrong way. Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise.” – Michael Jordan
Like any other skill, SEO requires learning a few important fundamentals.
Master the fundamentals.
Let me show you some of the fundamentals you need to learn:
KPIs, Analytics, & Data Analysis
SEO requires you to analyze Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Don’t worry… this doesn’t mean you have to be a technical geek.
You just need to: A) know what data/KPIs actually matter and B) how to use the data/KPIs to improve your campaigns.
The #1 tool you need to understand is Google Analytics. Here are a few guides to get you started (or give you a refresher):
After that, you need to learn how to use Google Search Console. Google Search Console has an array of functions that Google Analytics doesn’t have.
The final set of tools you need to learn how to use is for backlink analysis and management. The three most popular tools are Ahrefs, Majestic SEO, and Open Site Explorer.
Identifying the right keywords is one of the most critical skills you can learn. Read this keyword research guide to get started.
Finding prospective keywords is only the first step. You have to validate your keywords by analyzing the competitors. Start with this SEO competitor analysis guide.
Technical issues will kill your site’s performance in Google. That’s why you need to become a master of finding and fixing them.
You have to understand the art of optimizing organic landing pages. These are the keyword-targeted pages you want to rank in Google. This is the easiest SEO fundamental to learn.
Read this on-page SEO checklist to learn more.
Understanding how to structure your website is a fundamental SEO skill.
A well-developed site architecture does a few important things:
- It can help search engine spiders crawl your site more efficiently
- It can improve user experience
- It can reduce how many backlinks you need to rank because of the efficient flow of link equity.
Developing Content Assets
You have likely heard that “content is king.” This is true. Content is one of the biggest elements of a successful SEO campaign. It is fundamental that you learn how to create keyword-targeted content assets.
If you get anything out of this guide, understand this one thing:
Nothing is more important than studying how to create effective content. Study as much as you can about content marketing, writing, and sales copywriting.
Relationship Building & Outreach
To elevate your SEO performance, you have to learn how to build relationships. Yes, you have to communicate with real people to be successful in SEO. I know this is a tough pill to swallow if you’re an introvert, but it’s necessary. You can’t get very far in this world being a recluse.
The #1 tactic you need to know for building relationships online is how to exchange value. Value comes in many different forms, including content, money, physical products, etc.
If you try to get something for nothing, then you will likely fail.
After content, backlinks are the second biggest ranking factor. You can craft the most beautiful piece of content, but without backlinks, it will falter.
Knowing what a quality backlink is and then knowing HOW to get them is a key to becoming an SEO expert. Our guide on backlinks is the best way to get started learning this important element of SEO.
Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)
Understanding how to drive organic search traffic to websites is a valuable skill. But knowing how to convert that traffic into revenue is even more valuable.
Remember what I said earlier? SEO is a means to an end. CRO is how you can reach the “end.” The “end” is new email subscribers, leads, or sales.
Use the following three beginner’s guides to CRO from ConversionXL, Qualaroo, and QuickSprout.
Every SEO expert needs to know how to perform SEO audits. Audits help you identify issues that may be hurting a site’s performance. As I explain in this SEO audit guide, you should run an audit at least every quarter. This will ensure that you’re staying on top of things.
Those are all the fundamental skills you need to learn to become an SEO expert.
If you are serious about improving your skills, then study each of the guides I gave you. Don’t give up on learning when a concept goes over your head. Try to understand it. After you have immersed yourself in these topics, it’s time to take action.
You now know what you need to learn to become an SEO expert. That means you need to dedicate time to actually learning it.
Now be careful… don’t fall into the knowledge acquisition trap. Meaning you are spending 100% of your time reading and learning but never taking action.
You have to take action to see results. Crazy concept, right?
If you’re a beginner, then you should spend 80% of your time trying to understand the fundamentals. Then spend 20% of your time taking action. This 80/20 split should flip to 20% learning and 80% action after you understand the fundamentals.
Keep this in mind: it doesn’t matter how much you “know.”
Like Mike Tyson says:
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
You can’t learn, and you can’t adapt until you’re in the mud.
How to Take Action
If you’re new, then I recommend you start a niche website. As I mentioned before, it’s easy to start a niche site, and it carries the least amount of risk.
Analyze Your Results
After you start your niche site, you need to analyze your results.
But before you do, you need to understand one of the most important rules of SEO analysis:
Correlation is not causation.
Now in Laymen’s terms…
Don’t make conclusions too fast. Google’s algorithm uses well over 200 different ranking signals. It is easy to make sweeping conclusions without looking at the big picture.
For example, you may say:
“My rankings for (KEYWORD) fell because I changed the title on the landing page.”
While this may be true, you don’t want to come to a conclusion that fast. You need to examine all factors before concluding. And most importantly, you need to let the data guide you.
Whenever your organic search traffic increases or decreases, you should follow this simple five-step analysis:
1. Ask “why”?
It’s important to question increases and decreases because you can learn from both. Ask some of the following questions:
- Did we acquire any new backlinks?
- Did we modify on-page SEO?
- Did we change the site architecture?
- Did we add or subtract any internal links?
- Are we having crawl issues?
- Have there been any algorithm updates?
- Is our rank-tracking software accurate?
2. Develop a Hypothesis
Once you have identified some possible culprits, you need to develop a hypothesis. This doesn’t need to be rigid.
Something simple will work like:
“I believe our organic search traffic has increased/declined because of the following reasons:”
That’s right. You shouldn’t take action on your hypothesis right away. That’s because Google’s algorithm can be volatile. Sometimes waiting and not doing anything is the best solution. I usually wait one week or even up to a month to see if the issue corrects itself. If the decline continues, then it’s time for action.
4. Test It
Only take action on your hypothesis if you are at least 90% certain. Take one action at a time if you have identified more than one. For example, take an action and wait at least a week before taking another.
5. Always Use Annotations in Google Analytics
Always, always, ALWAYS annotate your actions in Google Analytics. This is a check against your hypothesis. That way, you can go back and see the exact action you took that either improved or hurt your results.
Run Quarterly Audits
You should audit your SEO campaign on a quarterly basis. This will ensure that you’re staying on top of things. It will also help you identify ways to improve your campaign on a more regular basis.
In most scenarios, your SEO analysis will lead to micro changes. But, there will be times when you need to revamp your entire SEO strategy.
Remember that every website is going to have its own unique SEO experience. It doesn’t matter how many SEO case studies you read, your situation will never be the same as mine or anyone else’s. Sure, there are general principles that apply to every campaign. But how YOUR campaign unfolds is completely unique.
Find the 80/20 of every campaign. What 20% of actions are driving 80% of your results? Invest your time and effort into those actions.
Develop a System
There isn’t a set “way” of doing SEO, but you can build a loose system. For example, this guide is the culmination of years of experience, testing, and understanding of what factors have the biggest impact. But, I would never pretend that ANY system, including my own, works 100% of the time.
Every website is different. Every situation is different.
Your SEO system or strategy should be organic (no pun intended).
Don’t try to create a “perfect” system because that’s impossible.
Create your system, test it, and refine it over time.
Start with these guides:
- Business Systems 101: How To Create A High Growth Business . . . Without Burning Out
- 7 Books to Read If You Want a Systematized Business That Runs Without You Successfully! – this is a perfect list of books to get you started. Each of these books can produce monumental changes to your business.
The SEO industry is dynamic and always changing. While the fundamentals rarely change, it’s important to stay engaged in the industry.
For general news and algorithm updates, read Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Roundtable.
I also recommend that you focus most of your learning time reading top SEO blogs. Don’t just focus on blogs that align with your particular SEO philosophy either. You can learn from the whitest of white hat SEO or the blackest of black hat SEOs. There is no “right” or “wrong” way of doing SEO. White, grey, and black hat SEO are all trying to achieve the same thing. You can learn from everyone.
With that out of the way, I’m going to show you a few blogs that I recommend. Digest, study and take action on their content.
I recommend you subscribe to the blogs I’m about to list on Feedly.
And also get in the habit of capturing good content using Pocket.
One last important point about your attitude as you get better:
Don’t Get Cocky
It is critical that you stay humble. Even when you have mastered the art of driving organic search traffic, you should still act like you know nothing. Never stop learning and growing. There is no “end” you’re going to reach in your skill progression. There is always room to improve.
You don’t become an expert in anything overnight. Becoming an SEO expert is a marathon, not a sprint. Put in the work every day and try to be better than you were yesterday. Your success in anything is the product of what you do on a daily basis.
How to Reach the “Next Level”
At a certain point, you will need to stop doing time-consuming SEO tasks if you want to scale or amplify your efforts.
I remember when I first got into SEO, I did EVERYTHING. I quickly learned that there was no way I could take my business to the next level if I was trying to do everything.
Doing everything yourself is a good approach in the beginning if you don’t have capital. But as soon as you start making money, I recommend you begin delegating time-consuming tasks.
From day 1, analyze every task that you do. You will see over time that you perform the same tasks all the time. These are the tasks that you must learn to delegate. That is, as long as you have the right systems in place.
At some point, you will likely want to go from being an SEO expert to being a true business owner (AND SEO expert).
Here’s a quick checklist on how you can scale your SEO efforts:
1. Create processes, procedures, and policies for EVERYTHING you do in your business. It’s impossible to scale without taking this step.
2. Test your processes, procedures, and policies. Have someone with little knowledge of the industry work through your processes, your procedures, and your policies. Why someone with little knowledge of the industry? Because your systems should be easy to understand.
Convoluted procedures lead to confusion. Confusion leads to time loss because of unnecessary clarifying or explaining. Bringing in an outside perspective is key to improving your systems. What makes sense in your own head may not make sense to others.
3. Hire someone to fulfill your systemized tasks. Use Upwork, hire an intern, or hire employees if that’s the route you want to go. Give this individual their assignment and the corresponding procedure on how to complete it. If they are bombarded with questions, then you need to improve your procedures.
4. Create backup systems. At this point, you should have removed yourself from many time-consuming tasks and delegated them. But you need to always prepare for the worst-case scenario.
For example, the person you are relying on to fulfill this work could disappear.
That’s why you must always have a backup solution. Keep some freelancers on your “on-call” roster. These are people you have built relationships with and know you can rely on them.
Another backup method is to avoid relying on a single person. Hire two, three, or even four people to complete a pool of tasks.
That way, they have to compete. And even if one falls off the map, you still have the backups. And don’t forget, you have already created the systems at this point.
So, even if all your help disappears, you still have your systems. That means you can quickly hire someone and get back on track.
5. Focus on actions that have the biggest impact. “Big impact” actions in SEO are creating awesome content assets, building relationships with key influencers, and promoting your content (link acquisition & social).
For example, I write content on Gotch SEO because it requires my experience and my expertise. I could outsource the writing, but no one could replicate my unique perspective. I know that writing content is the action that produces the most SEO results.
You must figure out what actions you are best at. Maybe you excel at building relationships. Or, maybe you are a master promoter. Either way, identify what actions have the biggest impact on your SEO performance. Focus on those and outsource everything else.
Here are some SEO tasks that you can systemize and outsource:
- Keyword Research
- Competitor Analysis
- Technical Optimization
- Page-Level Optimization
- Content Writing
- Infographic Creation
- Blogger Outreach
- Citation Building
The key to becoming an SEO expert is to put in the work. Don’t be afraid to fail because SEO can be a roller coaster. Embrace volatility and learn from it.