I get this question quite often. Search engine optimization (SEO) has a lot of different components to it. I think for most skills, you follow the same process to learn then excel at what you do. We’ll follow the same principles when it comes to learning anything, then take a look at what you can do to take it a step further to become an SEO expert.
There are three simple components to becoming an expert at anything: you need the knowledge, the experience, follow the right people, then go off on your own in some way. Here are several tips to do:
Learn from those ahead of you. In my early years of SEO, I studied Matt Diggity a lot. I learned about this gentleman because a friend of mine was succeeding and becoming well-known in affiliate SEO space. He told me to learn from this guy, subscribe to his email list, and learn from him. More importantly, I should apply what insights he shares to my own sites. So I did just that.
Learn from your competitors. I also studied my competitors in the niches I chose to build websites in. Pick up a group buy for your favorite SEO tools (SEMrush and Ahrefs are my go-to choices). Then start analyzing deeply. The great thing about the SERPs is that you can find the winners and losers, and understand which areas they are winning and losing at.
Get a day job doing SEO. Agency is preferable. You want to be forced into doing SEO at a large scale. I handled many smaller client accounts and a few large ones. You immediately realize the impact of certain changes you make, and learn to prioritize those for “quick wins”. When you manage larger accounts, you can refine the set of skills that make SEO viable (keyword research, on-page analysis, technical optimization, etc.). Another cool effect with working at an agency is that you gain deep knowledge about different industries. For example, I’ve worked with a lot of business insurance companies and dental practices. After spending some time at an agency, I would consider working for a single company and build their brand, where you are forced to deepen your SEO skills and being unable to shy away from downward trends.
Grow your own site. Launch something. Local lead generation sites for tree removal services, niche sites about portable electricity generators, offer SEO consultation and services to a particular profession. Whatever it may be, it’s time to put your knowledge, skills, and experiences to work. This will separate you from those who are simply doing a job vs. becoming the ambitious type to take SEO a step further.
Find a mentor. Have someone guide you on your journey. You can reliably ask them question about challenges you face. You may want to consider working for them as a favor. Commit several months to a year with them. Internships tend to be 3 months, but if you’re serious about sticking it through, consider 6 to 12 months minimum. Say this up front, and stand by your word so you don’t look like someone who’s stealing trade secrets.
Form a mastermind group. Find people who are on the same mission as you. Either collaborate or bounce ideas off each other. No more than 4 people. 3 is ideal. Chat weekly.
Study the news. See what’s going on in the SEO world. What has the conversation been like with Google Webmasters? What is the biggest topic today? Pick up new ideas and perspectives on the work at hand.
Become forward thinking. Now that you know more, where do you see the industry moving in the next 5 to 10 years? Maybe 20 years down the road? Are PBNs truly dead? Is the BERT algo update a game changer. Maybe RankBrain is heading to an unheard of direction. How will all this shake up the SERPs?
Start sharing your thoughts. It can be messy. It can be all over the place. Get in the habit of putting yourself out there for the world to see.
Specialize in something. I’ll be focused on off-page SEO. What would you prefer? Maybe to serve a particular industry? Or a type of business? Take your time here. You can always pivot.
Start guest posting. Put yourself out there not just on your own site, but on other people’s sites. Collaborate. Reach out. Do SEO roundups. Become part of the SEO communities!
Love the process. Easier said than done. Rinse and repeat the steps. It’s an exciting journey anyone can start today.
Wrapping Things Up
I wrote this for myself. I’ve always wanted to be an SEO expert. Although I never knew it when I first started, it’s always been on my mind to build a personal brand for myself. And to do this, I set aside these 12 simple steps for us!