How to Learn SEO Step-by-Step

What’s the fastest way to learn SEO for free?

In this guide, I’ll show you a proven but simple process that’ll turn you into an SEO expert at lightning speed.

You’ll learn:

And so much more! Let’s dive in:

3 Reasons to Learn SEO Right Now

SEO is an extremely valuable skill. Here’s why:

1. It’s a Skill That Businesses Love

Have you ever heard the idea that “if you know how to get a business more customers, you’ll never go broke?” I first heard this idea from Dan Kennedy in 2011, and it’s replayed in my mind thousands of times.

No skill is more valuable than getting a business more customers in a capitalistic society.

Yes, lawyers and doctors make a killing. But they only make money if customers are willing to invest in their services.

SEO is a vehicle for helping businesses score more customers (without paying for ads).

2. It’s Extremely Lucrative

There are a few different types of people who can experience the lucrative nature of learning SEO:

The Solo Business Owner

99% of businesses can benefit from learning search engine optimization. Most business and website owners just don’t realize that you can do SEO successfully without hiring an expensive agency.

I’m speaking from experience because I’ve used SEO to grow every business I’ve launched online. As you might expect, it’s always the foundation of my business growth strategy.

I’ve never hired an agency to do my SEO because it’s unnecessary when you have the right SEO strategy—more on this in a second.

The Marketing (or SEO) Director

Want to build a successful in-house SEO team?

You need the right marketing strategy because otherwise, you’ll overhire and underdeliver.

But if you do it right, it’s much more profitable to keep your SEO campaigns in-house.

That’s why every digital marketing director should allocate resources to help your team members master SEO.

The SEO Career Builder

Entry-level SEO specialists make around $50,000/year. No, you won’t become rich financially with this salary.

Related: Is SEO a good career?

However, the skills you’ll learn in an agency or working in-house are foundational to building wealth with SEO.

You can climb the corporate ladder and earn as much as $166,475/year as an SEO director.

The SEO Entrepreneur

While you can earn a solid living working in-house, it’s nothing compared to becoming an SEO entrepreneur.

Remember, the traditional job route has an income ceiling. However, owning an SEO business has unlimited earning potential.

No matter your reason for learning SEO, you should consider building projects where you’re the sole owner, like affiliate marketing and client SEO services.

Client SEO services are the best option if you want monthly cash flow to reinvest into other projects. To put it in perspective, clients pay my agency $10,000/mo for SEO.

3. It’s Location-Independent

I have countless SEO buddies who run full-time SEO businesses while traveling. But even if backpacking across the world and doing SEO isn’t your thing, learning it gives you freedom.

How much is freedom worth to you?

I knew SEO was the key to my freedom from the 9-5 grind and working a security job I hated.

I’m not dramatic when I say this because I’m living proof:

But you should learn SEO because it can help you grow any business, escape the 9-5, work from anywhere, and help you build financial freedom.

Who doesn’t want at least one of those things?

So please, excuse my excitement and hype train. I just know firsthand what learning SEO can do to transform your life.

I’ve experienced it myself and helped hundreds of people succeed with SEO.

And now it’s my turn to help you learn SEO (fast).

But you might probably be wondering:

How Long Does It Take to Learn SEO?

Some say it only takes three months, while others say it takes years to learn SEO. Here’s the truth:

These ranges are irrelevant because it always depends on your unique scenario.

For example, some people are savants who pick things up quickly and can learn the basics of SEO within days.

But if you’re like me and want to master SEO, it takes time to figure things out.

So instead of thinking about how long it’s going to take to learn SEO, think about this instead:

How long are you willing to wait to see success with SEO?

If you’re approaching as some get-rich-quick scheme, you will be disappointed.

This SEO game is hard; you need the patience to learn and get results.

Plus, how do you even quantify that you’ve “learned SEO?”

Confetti doesn’t drop from your ceiling when you hit a milestone.

You’ll only know that you’ve “learned SEO” when you get results.

And even then, getting some results doesn’t mean you’re an SEO expert.

Many one-hit wonders have gotten lucky with one website.

But the true sign of an SEO professional is getting results with many different websites in different industries.

So now that you know what to expect when it comes to learning SEO, let’s get into it:

7 Pillars of Learning SEO (+ 1 Bonus Pillar)

Before we start, it’s important to mention that this step-by-step SEO guide focuses on Google’s search engine algorithms. The reason is that Google owns over 80% of the search market share.

Yes, there are other traditional search engines like Bing, Yandex, and DuckDuckGo, each with unique search engine algorithms.

But as of 2023, Google is still the elephant.

So the first SEO fundamental pillar you need to learn is three things in one:

1. Crawling → Indexing → Ranking

Google must be able to crawl your website. Otherwise, it can’t index your pages. If it can’t index your pages, you won’t rank.

This is the most critical part of the SEO process because, without it, nothing else matters.

I recommend downloading the free Detailed SEO Extension to see if your pages are crawlable and indexable (at a glance).

Look under the “Robots Tag” section:

You’re simply looking for the absence of “noindex” and “nofollow.”

It should either be “index, follow,” just “index,” or blank.

You can also go into Google Search Console to see how well Google is crawling and indexing your site.

Go to “Indexing” and click on “Pages:”

Scroll down to the section that says “Why pages aren’t indexed:”

You can then click through on any of these issues to investigate further:

Go through and resolve all of these crawling and indexing issues. Then, “Validate Fix” inside Google Search Console.

Keep in mind:

You don’t want every page indexed in Google.

Some pages to keep out of Google’s index are:

  • Login pages
  • Checkout pages
  • Archive pages (because these tend to cause duplicate content)

In this case, you can use the “noindex, follow” directives.

If you’re on WordPress, you can easily manage these pages with popular SEO plugins like Yoast, All in One SEO Pack, or RankMath.

Read this if you want to geek out on crawling/indexing in Google.

The second SEO pillar you must learn is:

2. Keyword Research

Keywords are simply how searchers find your website.

But the truth is that most people don’t understand how to do proper keyword research. And it stems from not understanding the core principle of keyword research, search intent.

What is Search Intent?

It’s simply what a searcher wants to achieve when using Google.

By understanding the searcher’s end goal, you can deliver the perfect page for them.

When you deliver the perfect page, Google will reward you with rankings (if you do everything else right).

The good news is that you don’t need to be a genius to understand search intent.

Here are two foolproof ways to understand intent:

Use Google to Study Intent

Google will show you the types of pages it believes satisfy the intent of the keyword.

It’s right most of the time, except for lower competition keywords. With lower competition keywords, Google won’t have a big enough pool of pages to pick from.

This means you’ll be able to rank easily if you create a hyper-focused page.

For example, look at the keyword “imovie crashes when importing.

At one point, Gotch SEO ranked around #50 for this keyword with our “imovie review” page.

However, this page would never be able to rank for this long-tail phrase because it isn’t focused enough. So what I did was create a dedicated page for this keyword.

And within a few days of publishing, it hit #1 on Google.

Yes, it doesn’t have much search volume yet, but compound this strategy across many keywords, and you’ll start to see why it’s so powerful.

Now let me walk you through how a searcher’s intent changes during the sales cycle:

First, they’ll often start with a keyword phrase at the top of the funnel, with informational intent like “What is SEO.”

Once they understand what SEO is, they might discover a laundry list of SEO tools you can use to get the job done.

So now they might search for a keyword with investigative intent, like “Best SEO tools.”

Once they learn all the tools they can use, they’ll likely transition into a keyword phrase with comparison intent like “Semrush vs Ahrefs.”

At this stage, they’re brand-aware and getting closer to the conversion stage.

From here, it’ll likely lead to a bottom-of-the-funnel keyword phrase like “Semrush review.”

And then, at the very bottom of the funnel, they might search a keyword with transactional intent like: “Semrush free trial.” As you can imagine, keywords at this stage have sky-high conversion rates.

So what I just demonstrated is the searcher’s journey through the sales cycle. Your website needs to attack each stage of this searcher journey.

And speaking of Semrush, you can use it to classify your keywords based on intent.

Use Semrush to Understand Search Intent

Enter your domain into the search bar, go to “Competitive Research,” click on “Organic Research,” and then click on “Positions.”

Look under the “Intent” column:

It’s not perfect, but it’s accurate at least 80% of the time.

Now that you understand intent, how do you find keywords?

3 Ways to Find Keywords (Fast)

There are a variety of keyword research tools you can use:

1. Use Semrush

There are two ways to do keyword research with Semrush.

First, you can analyze your existing keyword profile.

Start by throwing your website into the Semrush search bar.

Then click “Organic Research” and click “Positions.”

I recommend sorting using the “Positions” dropdown and entering a “Custom Range” from 2 to 15.

You’ll now see low-hanging fruit keywords.

These low-hanging fruit keywords are a great place to start because you’re already doing well. So with some optimization techniques and promotion (more on this in a second), you’ll drive more traffic fast.

You can also use Semrush’s Keyword Gap tool under the “Competitive Research” section.

Then enter your top competitor’s domains:

You can then sort the keywords by “Untapped,” which your competitors are ranking for, but your website isn’t.

You can also leverage the filters to sort through the keywords to find lower competition opportunities.

2. Use Google Search Console

Open up Google Search Console and go to the “Performance” report:

Click on “+ New” filter:

Then click on the “Query” option:

Now select the “Custom (regex)” and “Matches regex” from the two dropdowns:

Enter this formula: “\b(how|what|why|when|is|who|where)\b”

Now you’ll have access to countless keywords with “Informational” intent that you can focus on:

Repeat with this formula: “\b(best|top|vs|review|reviews)\b”

And then you’ll have access to keywords with “Investigative” intent:

Here’s how the cool part about what I just showed you:

I didn’t create these “regex” formulas myself.

All I did was use ChatGPT:

3. Use Google’s People Also Ask (PAA)

One of the best ways to find long-tail keywords is to use Google’s “People Also Ask” section:

I recommend downloading the free SEO Minion browser extension to streamline this process.

Just enter your keyword into Google and then section “PAA” from the dropdown:

Click “Go” and SEO Minion will crawl the PAA section. Once it’s done, you can download the result.

Add these awesome ideas to your keyword database:

And now, let’s move on to the third pillar of SEO, which is:

3. Technical SEO

Don’t worry, “technical” isn’t as scary as it sounds. I have basic coding skills, and I’ve driven SEO results for hundreds of websites.

You don’t need to be super technical to get SEO results. You just need to know the basics (e.g. WordPress, basic HTML) and what to look for.

Here are two high-impact technical SEO opportunities you need to look for in every campaign:

Page Loading Speed

Core web vitals is a confirmed Google ranking factor, so you must take it seriously.

Plus, your site’s loading speed is critical for a positive user experience and conversions on your web pages.

In fact, according to Google, a one-second website speed improvement can increase conversions for mobile users by up to 27%.

For a quick page speed analysis, I recommend using Google PageSpeed Insights:

Or, GTmetrix:

You can also identify loading speed opportunities using Google Search Console.

Go to the “Experience” section and click on “Page Experience”:

Look under the “Core Web Vitals” metrics:

Now you’ll see the exact issues you’ll need to tackle:

The second technical SEO pillar you need to learn is:

Site Architecture

To keep it simple, site architecture is based on your internal linking strategy.

There are three core elements for optimizing site architecture:

1. Crawl Depth

Crawl depth is simply how many clicks it takes from the homepage to get to a page.

You should aim to have all pages no more than three clicks deep.

Use Screaming Frog and look under the “Crawl Depth” column.

In short, the deeper your pages are into the architecture, the more it indicates low priority.

Google will follow suit and crawl these pages with much less frequency, and some may not even get indexed if they’re too deep into the architecture.

2. Internal Link Coverage

Like crawl depth, the quantity of internal links is important for improving crawling, indexing, and ranking.

Look under the “Unique Inlinks” column in Screaming Frog to see what pages need more internal link love.

Here’s my general rule:

If the page has less than 3 internal links, it needs more internal link coverage. Sometimes you can find opportunities on the site to inject internal links.

However, sometimes it’s an indication that you need more content to support that page.

Internal Link Anchor Text

Google has confirmed that using descriptive anchor text is best for internal links.

That means it’s wise to go through and optimize your internal link anchors.

For example, don’t use generic anchor text like “this article” for your internal links. Instead, use exact match or partial match anchors with your internal links (like I just did ^).

IMPORTANT: This does NOT apply to link building. You must be much more careful regarding external anchor text during your link-building efforts.

You can audit your internal link anchor text using Ahrefs. Go to “Internal Backlinks” to see what anchors have been used:

Then go through and start optimizing them.

And now, the next SEO pillar you must learn is:

4. SEO Content

You can do all of this other stuff well, but without the right SEO content strategy, you won’t get the results you want.

There are two types of SEO content you need to know:

1. Keyword-Focused Content

This is any page that is built around a dedicated keyword phrase.

I recommend 80% of your site’s content fall into this category if you want more organic traffic from Google.

2. Non-Keyword-Focused Content

Some examples include link bait like this script timer I created using ChatGPT.

Although it targets a keyword, its primary purpose is to serve as link bait.

Now I could dedicate hours to this topic of SEO content creation, but I’ll share some evergreen principles:

Satisfy the Intent, But Be the Purple Cow

Seth Godin created the concept of the “Purple Cow.”

In the context of SEO, you want to be the result among the top 10 in Google that stands out. You need to find a content marketing angle that hasn’t been used before.

In the example above, I saw that every ranking result was a generic list post.

So I decided to do a real-life experiment instead and purchased every SEO book I could find.

Then, I gave an honest review of the best SEO books based on my real-life experience.

“Experience” is the new “E” on Google’s new E-E-A-T standards.

Build a Moat

In short, your content should be so unique that it’s difficult for a competitor to replicate.

If it’s hard to replicate, your rankings will stick longer.

Here are some examples:

Don’t take this step lightly.

Find an angle that hasn’t been used. Then invest time and capital into the content to make it exceptional.

The next SEO pillar you must learn is:

5. On-Page SEO

“On-page SEO” is the process of optimizing a single page for a qualified keyword phrase.

At a bare minimum, you must place your EXACT keyword phrase in your URL:

Title tag:

Meta description:

H1 tag:

First sentence:

And last sentence:

You should also consider adding a variation of your primary keyword in the first H2 tag.

This fundamental page optimization will put you ahead of 80% of websites.

But to take it to another level, you must optimize for natural language processing (NLP).

You can use a tool like Surfer to accomplish this goal.

Just throw your keyword into Surfer’s SERP analyzer and run your page through the tool (SERP = Search Engine Results Page).

Then review their NLP recommendations and look for opportunities to add these keywords to your content.

Sometimes you’ll need to add some additional content to support these ideas.

I recommend reading my on-page SEO checklist to create perfectly optimized pages (that Google loves).

The next SEO pillar is:

6. Local SEO

Everything you’ve learned so far will improve your local rankings, but some variables are specific to Google’s local pack.

First, what is the local pack?

You’ll see the section above the traditional organic search results when you conduct searches with local intent like “siding contractor st louis.”

To rank in this local pack, you’ll need to do a couple of things:

1. Have an address in the target location.

So if you want to rank in St Louis, you need a St Louis address.

Relevance” and “Distance” are the two most important local pack ranking factors, according to Google.

2. Secure your Google Business Profile & make it content-rich

  • Include your keyword in the business description, like “siding contractor in St Louis.”
  • Create posts on your Google Business Profile about “siding” projects and promotions.
  • Add unique photos showing siding projects:

3. Understand that reviews are the difference maker

High-quality (real) reviews are the key to your long-term local pack rankings. In fact, Google clearly states this in its beginner’s guide and tutorials:

We’ll be talking about the “links” in a second. But everything you’ve learned so far will help with: “Your position in web results is also a factor.

You’re probably wondering:

How do you get more reviews?

ASK more.

Then you need to make it stupidly simple. I recommend starting with Whitespark’s review link generator.

4. Make sure your NAP-W information is consistent.

NAP-W stands for Name, Address, Phone, and Website. This information must be consistent across all structured and unstructured citations on the internet.

You can use Bright Local’s free citation audit tool to see your existing listings and which ones you need to build.

And now, the final SEO pillar you must learn is:

So the more votes you have from high-quality and relevant websites, the better you’ll perform in Google.

Backlinko studied 11.8 million Google search engine results and found that:

“A site’s overall link authority (as measured by Ahrefs Domain Rating) strongly correlates with higher search engine rankings.” – Backlinko

Now the question is, how do you get more high-quality backlinks?

There are many techniques, but the most scalable and reliable technique is creating valuable things people want to link to.

Here are some examples to model:

1. “How to Tie a Tie

2. “Why the mantis shrimp is my new favorite animal

3. “Where is Rosetta?

Here’s the point:

High-quality content should be the foundation of your link building strategy.

So start with content and then work to promote it like crazy.

That means using your owned assets like your email list and social media marketing (e.g. Twitter, LinkedIn, etc).

3 Proven Link Building Techniques

And use the following techniques to get more backlinks:

1. Write Guest Posts

Here’s what the former head of Google’s webspam, Matt Cutts said about guest posting:

So why am I mentioning it here?

Because it works!

The key to success is to focus on the highest quality and most relevant opportunities.

View guest posting as a brand-building and traffic-generation strategy.

Not a pure link building tactic.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Go to Google and search “KEYWORD” + “write for us”:

2. Download the DataMiner plugin:

3. Find the “Google Search Results” option to export the results:

4. Copy and paste the results into Ahrefs’ Batch Analysis (make sure you select “domain” from the “Target mode”:

5. Use the “Organic search” and “DR” to filter through the results:

6. Do the manual review of the guest posting guidelines:

7. Submit three ideas to the editor BEFORE writing the guest post:

Subject Line: 3 awesome guest post ideas

Hey [NAME],

My name is [YOUR NAME] and I’m the [POSITION] of [COMPANY].

I was wondering if you are still accepting guest posts on your blog?

I would love to get the opportunity to add value to your audience if you are.

Here are 3 ideas:




Let me know what you think and thanks for your time!

Once an idea is approved, write the guest post and add links to content on your website.

The important word here is content.

Don’t get tricky, and try to link to transactional pages.

2. Get Interviewed

Interviews accomplish three things in one:

  • You build your brand
  • You can drive high-quality leads
  • And you can score backlinks

Look at how many backlinks Neil Patel has scored from his interviews:

One way to find these opportunities is reverse engineer the link profile of influencers in your industry.

Enter an influencer’s domain into Ahrefs, go to “Backlinks,” and add “interview” and “{insert influencer name}” to the filter:

Now just send interview pitches to these opportunities.

3. Steal Your Competitor’s Links

I recommend using the Ahrefs link intersect tool to see where your competitors have scored backlinks. Enter your top competitors into the tool and start the analysis:

In seconds, you’ll see the domains that you need to score backlinks on:

Bonus: Tracking Your SEO Performance

You can’t fix what you don’t measure.

The good news is that the SEO industry has tools to measure your success.

1. Use Google Analytics

Organic search traffic from Google Analytics is the #1 KPI for SEO that you need to track.

But the first step is setting up Google Analytics.

Use this to get started with GA4.

2. Use Google Search Console

Google Search Console’s “Performance” section is an awesome way to measure your overall organic search performance.


It’s not as accurate as Google Analytics, but great for giving you a broad view of your keyword profile.

Check out my guide about how to use Google Search Console.

3. Use a Keyword Rank Tracker

It’s still a good idea to track individual keyword rankings. As of right now, I’m using Nightwatch.

Use these tools to gather your SEO benchmarks, so you can look back and see your progress.

Wow, you made it this far?


You now know the foundational elements of SEO.

But it’s not over because:

You Can’t Learn SEO Without Taking Action

It’s time to get your hands dirty. Here’s how:

I highly recommend you start a test project.

Don’t spend months acting like an academic and accumulating tons of SEO knowledge. Instead, take action and try to implement what you’ve learned to the best of your ability.

I promise you; that this is the fastest way to learn.

And this brings me to the most important part of this guide.

If you want to learn SEO or any skill fast, you need to understand the idea of just-in-time learning. It’s the opposite of how we learn in school.

In school, we use just-in-case learning. We learn stuff that we may or may not use. But it’s in our head, just in case.

Just-in-time learning is different.

Instead of learning to learn, you only seek out new information when you’ve hit a roadblock during your action-taking.

For example, let’s say you run into the issue of keyword cannibalization, which is when two or more pages are optimized for the same keyword phrase.

You would go to Google, find the solution, implement it, and keep moving forward.

And because you’ve taken action on the idea, it’s more likely that you’ll retain that knowledge.

Image Source: iSpringSolutions

In short, when you DO something, you’ll remember it much better.

So, if you take away anything from this article, please understand that the fastest way to learn is to take action.

Not just watch endless SEO YouTube videos, podcasts, or webinars.

Spend 80% of your time doing the work and only 20% of your time studying.

You already know enough to get started with SEO right now.

Want to learn even faster?

Apply to join Gotch SEO Academy right now.

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Nathan Gotch

Nathan Gotch is an SEO professional with over 10 years of experience. He's the founder of the #1 SEO business training program in the world, Gotch SEO Academy. And the author of The SEO Entrepreneur. Nathan's SEO expertise is featured on Semrush, Ahrefs, and Search Engine Journal.