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How to Learn SEO (Complete Roadmap)

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How to Learn SEO (Complete Roadmap)

Learning SEO can seem overwhelming. It’s a complex topic, and the industry is rife with misinformation. But with a bit of time, effort, and the right roadmap, it’s something that anyone can learn.

Here’s the roadmap we’ll cover in this guide:

Learn SEO flowchart

Let’s get to it.

  1. Learn SEO fundamentals
  2. Put your knowledge into practice
  3. Deepen your SEO knowledge
  4. Keep your finger on the pulse 
  5. Teach others what you know

1. Learn SEO fundamentals

If you’re not already familiar with the basics of SEO, this is where you should start. Specifically, you need to understand how search engines work and the four main facets of SEO. Let’s go through these real quick.

How search engines work

Search engines work by finding content and storing it in a big index. They then use complex processes, also known as search algorithms, to rank content from the index when a user performs a search. In other words, when you search for something on Google, you’re not searching the entire web—you’re searching Google’s index.

This means that if Google can’t find and index your content, you can’t rank because you won’t be indexed.

Google builds its index from two main sources:

  1. Sitemaps A sitemap is a file listing all the important pages on your website that you want search engines to index. You can submit your sitemap to Google to tell it that your pages exist.
  2. Links from known webpages – Google already has billions of pages in its index. If you get a link from one of those pages, Google can “follow” the link to discover your page.

Note that Google can discover new pages on your website by “following” links from known pages on your website too.

For example, if Google already has your blog homepage in its index, you can link internally to newly published blog posts from there. Google would be able to “follow” these links to discover newly published posts on your blog.

Learn more: How Do Search Engines Work and Why Should You Care?

Keyword research

Keyword research is the process of finding what your customers are searching for. It’s important because you won’t get discovered if people aren’t searching for the keywords you target.

Because Google doesn’t exactly make this information accessible, the best way to find keywords is with a keyword research tool like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer. To use it, enter one or a few broad topics related to your industry, hit search, then go to one of the keyword ideas reports. You’ll see the keywords’ monthly search volumes and a few other SEO metrics.

Matching terms report results

In Keywords Explorer, we also show the “Traffic Potential” metric for each keyword. This estimates how much traffic the current top-ranking page for the keyword gets, which is usually a good indicator of how much traffic you can get by ranking #1.

Keyword Explorer overview

As pages tend to rank for more than one keyword, “Traffic Potential” usually gives a more accurate estimate of a keyword’s potential than its search volume.

Learn more: How to Do Keyword Research for SEO

On-page SEO

On-page SEO is where you optimize the content on your page to rank higher on search engines. It revolves heavily around understanding what searchers want and giving it to them—a process known as optimizing for search intent.

For example, if we look at the top results for the keyword “best protein powder,” we see that they’re all blog posts comparing top picks:

Google SERP of "best protein powder"

This tells us that although searchers are in the market for a protein powder, they’re still weighing up their options and aren’t quite ready to buy. As a result, it would be tough to rank an e‑commerce product page for this query. That’s not what searchers want.

Learn more: On-Page SEO: Complete Beginner’s Guide

Link building

Link building is the process of acquiring backlinks from other websites to your site. It’s important because backlinks are one of Google’s top three ranking factors.

This is probably why there’s a clear correlation between linking websites and organic traffic:

Line graph showing clear correlation between referring domains and search traffic

Not all links are created equal, however. Links from relevant and high-quality websites usually move the needle more than links from irrelevant and low-quality websites. In other words, if your site is about Bitcoin, a link from a website about cryptocurrencies will likely positively impact rankings more than one from a website about travel.

Building high-quality links to your website is arguably one of the most challenging aspects of SEO and one of the most in-demand SEO skills.

Learn more: The Beginner’s Guide to Link Building

Technical SEO

Technical SEO ensures that search engines like Google can find, crawl, and index your content. Unless they can do all three of these things, it’s unlikely that your pages will show up in the search results.

Let’s take a look at these three things in more detail.

  1. Find  Google first needs to know that your page exists and where to find it.
  2. Crawl  Google now needs permission to crawl the page. That’s where a computer program downloads the page’s content.
  3. Index Google now needs permission to add your page to its index.

You can solve the first part of the process by ensuring that your page has links from other known pages on your website and is in a sitemap that you’ve submitted to Google.

As for crawling and indexing, you need to ensure that you’re not blocking Google from doing either of these things. This is done using a file called robots.txt (crawling) and a meta tag called meta robots (indexing).

Learn more: The Beginner’s Guide to Technical SEO

2. Put your knowledge into practice

Here’s an apt quote:

Knowing SEO theory is one thing; applying that knowledge to rank a website is another thing entirely. You’ll learn more about SEO in the trenches than any other way.

Will Critchlow

For example, when I was getting started in SEO, I created a bodybuilding website, as I was interested in the topic at the time. First, I made sure my technical SEO was on point and that Google could find, crawl, and index any content I published. I then did some keyword research to find topics to cover. After that, I began publishing optimized content.

Here’s the first post I published in August 2012:

Excerpt of article about best types of protein powder

Finally, I built some links.

Here’s one of the links I built with a guest post (it’s still live today… 10 years later!):

Excerpt of article about motivating yourself to go to the gym

This website ended up doing quite well, which validated that the SEO theory I’d learned made sense. However, I made some mistakes too. For example, I distinctly recall the rankings for a page tanking after randomly deciding to rewrite the copy. This taught me a valuable lesson that I didn’t learn elsewhere: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! 

3. Deepen your SEO knowledge

It’s impossible to learn absolutely everything about every facet of SEO. The topic is just too broad. So now that you’ve spent some time in the trenches and learned which aspects of SEO you enjoy, it’s time to niche down and deepen your knowledge in one area.

This is known as becoming a t‑shaped SEO.

T-shaped SEO

Being a t‑shaped SEO means that you have a broad knowledge of all things SEO but excel in one particular area. The area you choose to specialize in should be one that you’re best at and most enjoy.

For me, this is link building—which is why I’ve written much of our content about this topic.

Here are a few more examples of t‑shaped SEOs:

Notice how Marie Haynes’ specialty is hyperspecific? Instead of choosing one broad facet of SEO (e.g., keyword research or link building), she decided to specialize in the niche area of Google penalty recovery. As a result, there’s probably no SEO on the planet that knows more about this topic than Marie.

Going hyperspecific like this is a good idea if you’re learning SEO to become an in-demand SEO expert. But if you’re looking to rank websites, it’s probably better to keep things slightly broader and stick with one of the four main facets of SEO.

Either way, you should always test what you learn on your website. This is where true learning happens.

4. Keep your finger on the pulse

Despite what many people say, the fundamentals of SEO barely change. But small things are constantly changing. There are Google updates multiple times a year, changes to how search engines handle aspects of technical SEO, smart folks coming up with new tactics, etc.

With this in mind, while you shouldn’t spend all day every day reading SEO news, it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse.

Here are a few ways to do that:

Attend SEO conferences and meetups

SEO is a big industry with big conferences. For example, BrightonSEO attracts more than 4,000 attendees. There are numerous smaller meetups too, which you can find on meetup.com, such as this one in my hometown. These are all places where like-minded people doing SEO share insights and tactics, so there’s a lot to learn from getting involved.

Learn more: 7 SEO Conferences (Online and Offline) to Attend

Listen to SEO podcasts

Podcasters often interview smart SEOs about their successes, failures, and experiences, making podcasts a great way to keep your finger on the pulse while on the go. For example, in this episode of the Authority Hacker podcast, link building extraordinaire Bibi shares her creative approach to link outreach emails.

Learn more: 15 Podcasts to Boost Your SEO Game

Join SEO Facebook groups

Facebook has an active community of SEOs who are always willing to answer questions and offer advice should you need it. In fact, our Facebook group, Ahrefs Insider, has almost 17K members and is very active.

Learn more: 4 Best Facebook Groups for SEOs (Most Voted For)

Join SEO Slack communities

If you’d prefer not to be distracted by Facebook, consider joining an SEO Slack community. Some are free, whereas others charge a monthly subscription. Traffic Think Tank (TTT) is a good choice if you’re open to paid communities.

Learn more: 11 Slack Communities for SEOs and Digital Marketers

Read SEO blogs

… Like the one you’re reading, where we often publish unique ideas, processes, and studies. For example, when Google switched to relying less on title tags to generate SERP titles, we studied almost a million pages and published the results for the community.

Learn more: 29 Awesome SEO Blogs to Follow (Graded and Ranked)

Watch SEO YouTube videos

… Like our YouTube channel, where we publish similar content to our blog.

Official sources

Google publishes official algorithm updates and announcements on the Search Console Blog and hosts weekly “office hours” hangouts on its YouTube channel. You can also follow Google search representatives like John Mueller and Gary Illyes on Twitter.

Read SEO news

Search Engine Roundtable describes itself as the pulse of search marketing and publishes daily updates on everything search. Search Engine Land and Search Engine Journal also frequently publish news.

5. Teach others what you know (optional)

Look back at the roadmap, and you’ll see a recommendation to share what you learn with others.

Learn SEO flowchart

This may seem counterintuitive, given that you want to learn more about SEO, but I find that teaching others helps me retain and assimilate knowledge. I think it’s because it forces me to articulate things, which often leads me to conclude that I don’t know as much as I thought I knew.

While you can do this publicly on a blog or YouTube channel, you can also do it semi-privately (in groups and communities) or privately (direct messages, face-to-face).

If you’re thick-skinned enough, doing it publicly often provides an extra line of defense against misinformation because people are usually kind enough to call you out when you get things wrong.

For example, here’s Bill Slawski pointing out an inaccurate claim in one of my articles on Twitter:

Bill's tweet about Google not ranking pages on the basis of content accuracy

This leads me to an important point…

Don’t try to teach others SEO unless one of these things is true:

  • You’ve thoroughly researched and understood what you’re teaching.
  • You’re teaching something based on personal experience and testing (and you’ve made that fact clear).

The last thing you want to do is contribute more misinformation to an industry already rife with it.

Final thoughts

The famous psychologist, K. Anders Ericsson, theorized that learning a new skill takes 10,000 hours of practice. You’ll certainly gain a good understanding of SEO in that time, but the truth is that you never stop learning. I’ve been involved in SEO for 11+ years, and I learn new things all the time.

But remember, learning isn’t only about reading and retaining information. It’s also about putting what you read into practice, testing things for yourself, and finding ways to improve on conventional wisdom over time.

Got questions? Ping me on Twitter.




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Gen Z Ditches Google, Turns To Reddit For Product Searches

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In this photo illustration, the Reddit logo is displayed on a smartphone screen.

A new report from Reddit, in collaboration with GWI and AmbassCo, sheds light on the evolving search behaviors of Generation Z consumers.

The study surveyed over 3,000 internet users across the UK, US, and Germany, highlighting significant changes in how young people discover and research products online.

Here’s an overview of key findings and the implications for marketers.

Decline In Traditional Search

The study found that Gen Z uses search engines to find new brands and products less often.

That’s because they shop online differently. They’re less interested in looking for expert reviews or spending much time searching for products.

There are also frustrations with mobile-friendliness and complex interfaces on traditional search platforms.

Because of this, traditional SEO strategies might not work well for reaching younger customers.

Takeaway

Companies trying to reach Gen Z might need to try new methods instead of just focusing on being visible on Google and other search engines.

Rise Of Social Media Discovery

Screenshot from Reddit study titled: “From search to research: How search marketers can keep up with Gen Z.”, June 2024.

Gen Z is increasingly using social media to find new brands and products.

The study shows that Gen Z has used social media for product discovery 36% more frequently since 2018.

This change is affecting how young people shop online. Instead of searching for products, they expect brands to appear in their social media feeds.

1719123963 547 Gen Z Ditches Google Turns To Reddit For Product SearchesScreenshot from Reddit study titled: “From search to research: How search marketers can keep up with Gen Z.”, June 2024.

Because of this, companies trying to reach young customers need to pay more attention to how they present themselves on social media.

Takeaway

To succeed at marketing to Gen Z, businesses will likely need to focus on two main things:

  1. Ensure that your content appears more often in social media feeds.
  2. Create posts people want to share and interact with.

Trust Issues With Influencer Marketing

Even though more people are finding products through social media, the report shows that Gen Z is less likely to trust what social media influencers recommend.

These young shoppers often don’t believe in posts that influencers are paid to make or products they promote.

Instead, they prefer to get information from sources that feel more real and are driven by regular people in online communities.

Takeaway

Because of this lack of trust, companies must focus on being genuine and building trust when they try to get their websites to appear in search results or create ads.

Some good ways to connect with these young consumers might be to use content created by regular users, encourage honest product reviews, and create authentic conversations within online communities.

Challenges With Current Search Experiences

The research shows that many people are unhappy with how search engines work right now.

More than 60% of those surveyed want search results to be more trustworthy. Almost half of users don’t like looking through many search result pages.

Gen Z is particularly bothered by inaccurate information and unreliable reviews.

1719123963 785 Gen Z Ditches Google Turns To Reddit For Product SearchesScreenshot from Reddit study titled: “From search to research: How search marketers can keep up with Gen Z.”, June 2024.

Takeaway

Given the frustration with search quality, marketers should prioritize creating accurate, trustworthy content.

This can help build brand credibility, leading to more direct visits.

Reddit: A Trusted Alternative

The report suggests that Gen Z trusts Reddit when looking up products—it’s their third most trusted source, after friends and family and review websites.

1719123963 403 Gen Z Ditches Google Turns To Reddit For Product SearchesScreenshot from Reddit study titled: “From search to research: How search marketers can keep up with Gen Z.”, June 2024.

Young users like Reddit because it’s community-based and provides specific answers to users’ questions, making it feel more real.

It’s worth noting that this report comes from Reddit itself, which probably influenced why it’s suggesting its own platform.

Takeaway

Companies should focus more on being part of smaller, specific online groups frequented by Gen Z.

That could include Reddit or any other forum.

Why SEJ Cares

As young people change how they look for information online, this study gives businesses important clues about connecting with future customers.

Here’s what to remember:

  • Traditional search engine use is declining among Gen Z.
  • Social media is increasingly vital for product discovery.
  • There’s growing skepticism towards influencer marketing.
  • Current search experiences often fail to meet user expectations.
  • Community-based platforms like Reddit are gaining trust.

Featured Image: rafapress/Shutterstock

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Google Clarifies Organization Merchant Returns Structured Data

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Google updates organization structured data for merchant returns

Google quietly updated their organization structured data documentation in order to clarify two points about merchant returns in response to feedback about an ambiguity in the previous version.

Organization Structured Data and Merchant Returns

Google recently expanded their Organization structured data so that it could now accommodate a merchant return policy. The change added support for adding a sitewide merchant return policy.

The original reason for adding this support:

“Adding support for Organization-level return policies

What: Added documentation on how to specify a general return policy for an Organization as a whole.

Why: This makes it easier to define and maintain general return policies for an entire site.”

However that change left unanswered about what will happen if a site has a sitewide return policy but also has a different policy for individual products.

The clarification applies for the specific scenario of when a site uses both a sitewide return policy in their structured data and another one for specific products.

What Takes Precedence?

What happens if a merchant uses both a sitewide and product return structured data? Google’s new documentation states that Google will ignore the sitewide product return policy in favor of a more granular product-level policy in the structured data.

The clarification states:

“If you choose to provide both organization-level and product-level return policy markup, Google defaults to the product-level return policy markup.”

Change Reflected Elsewhere

Google also updated the documentation to reflect the scenario of the use of two levels of merchant return policies in another section that discusses whether structured data or merchant feed data takes precedence. There is no change to the policy, merchant center data still takes precedence.

This is the old documentation:

“If you choose to use both markup and settings in Merchant Center, Google will only use the information provided in Merchant Center for any products submitted in your Merchant Center product feeds, including automated feeds.”

This is the same section but updated with additional wording:

“If you choose to use both markup (whether at the organization-level or product-level, or both) and settings in Merchant Center, Google will only use the information provided in Merchant Center for any products submitted in your Merchant Center product feeds, including automated feeds.”

Read the newly updated Organization structured data documentation:

Organization (Organization) structured data – MerchantReturnPolicy

Featured Image by Shutterstock/sutlafk

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What Is It & How To Write It

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What Is It & How To Write It

In this guide, you will learn about alternative text (known as alt text): what it is, why it is important for on-page SEO, how to use it correctly, and more.

It’s often overlooked, but every image on your website should have alt text. More information is better, and translating visual information into text is important for search engine bots attempting to understand your website and users with screen readers.

Alt text is one more source of information that relates ideas and content together on your website.

This practical and to-the-point guide contains tips and advice you can immediately use to improve your website’s image SEO and accessibility.

What Is Alt Text?

Alternative text (or alt text) – also known as the alt attribute or the alt tag (which is not technically correct because it is not a tag) – is simply a piece of text that describes the image in the HTML code.

What Are The Uses Of Alt Text?

The original function of alt text was simply to describe an image that could not be loaded.

Many years ago, when the internet was much slower, alt text would help you know the content of an image that was too heavy to be loaded in your browser.

Today, images rarely fail to load – but if they do, then it is the alt text you will see in place of an image.

Screenshot from Search Engine Journal, May 2024

Alt text also helps search engine bots understand the image’s content and context.

More importantly, alt text is critical for accessibility and for people using screen readers:

  • Alt text helps people with disabilities (for example, using screen readers) learn about the image’s content.

Of course, like every element of SEO, it is often misused or, in some cases, even abused.

Let’s now take a closer look at why alt text is important.

Why Alt Text Is Important

The web and websites are a very visual experience. It is hard to find a website without images or graphic elements.

That’s why alt text is very important.

Alt text helps translate the image’s content into words, thus making the image accessible to a wider audience, including people with disabilities and search engine bots that are not clever enough yet to fully understand every image, its context, and its meaning.

Why Alt Text Is Important For SEO

Alt text is an important element of on-page SEO optimization.

Proper alt text optimization makes your website stand a better chance of ranking in Google image searches.

Yes, alt text is a ranking factor for Google image search.

Depending on your website’s niche and specificity, Google image search traffic may play a huge role in your website’s overall success.

For example, in the case of ecommerce websites, users very often start their search for products with a Google image search instead of typing the product name into the standard Google search.

Screenshot from search for [Garmin forerunner]Screenshot from search for [Garmin forerunner], May 2024

Google and other search engines may display fewer product images (or not display them at all) if you fail to take care of their alt text optimization.

Without proper image optimization, you may lose a lot of potential traffic and customers.

Why Alt Text Is Important For Accessibility

Visibility in Google image search is very important, but there is an even more important consideration: Accessibility.

Fortunately, in recent years, more focus has been placed on accessibility (i.e., making the web accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities and/or using screen readers).

Suppose the alt text of your images actually describes their content instead of, for example, stuffing keywords. In that case, you are helping people who cannot see this image better understand it and the content of the entire web page.

Let’s say one of your web pages is an SEO audit guide that contains screenshots from various crawling tools.

Would it not be better to describe the content of each screenshot instead of placing the same alt text of “SEO audit” into every image?

Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Alt Text Examples

Finding many good and bad examples of alt text is not difficult. Let me show you a few, sticking to the above example with an SEO audit guide.

Good Alt Text Examples

So, our example SEO guide contains screenshots from tools such as Google Search Console and Screaming Frog.

Some good examples of alt text may include:

”The
”Google
”List
”Screaming

Tip: It is also a good idea to take care of the name of your file. Using descriptive file names is not a ranking factor, but I recommend this as a good SEO practice.

Bad And/Or Spammy Alt Text Examples

I’ve also seen many examples of bad alt text use, including keyword stuffing or spamming.

Here is how you can turn the above good examples into bad examples:

”google search console coverage report
”google
”seo
”seo

As you can see, the above examples do not provide any information on what these images actually show.

You can also find examples and even more image SEO tips on Google Search Central.

Common Alt Text Mistakes

Stuffing keywords in the alt text is not the only mistake you can make.

Here are a few examples of common alt text mistakes:

  • Failure to use the alt text or using empty alt text.
  • Using the same alt text for different images.
  • Using very general alt text that does not actually describe the image. For example, using the alt text of “dog” on the photo of a dog instead of describing the dog in more detail, its color, what it is doing, what breed it is, etc.
  • Automatically using the name of the file as the alt text – which may lead to very unfriendly alt text, such as “googlesearchconsole,” “google-search-console,” or “photo2323,” depending on the name of the file.

Alt Text Writing Tips

And finally, here are the tips on how to write correct alt text so that it actually fulfills its purpose:

  • Do not stuff keywords into the alt text. Doing so will not help your web page rank for these keywords.
  • Describe the image in detail, but still keep it relatively short. Avoid adding multiple sentences to the alt text.
  • Use your target keywords, but in a natural way, as part of the image’s description. If your target keyword does not fit into the image’s description, don’t use it.
  • Don’t use text on images. All text should be added in the form of HTML code.
  • Don’t write, “this is an image of.” Google and users know that this is an image. Just describe its content.
  • Make sure you can visualize the image’s content by just reading its alt text. That is the best exercise to make sure your alt text is OK.

How To Troubleshoot Image Alt Text

Now you know all the best practices and common mistakes of alt text. But how do you check what’s in the alt text of the images of a website?

You can analyze the alt text in the following ways:

Inspecting an element (right-click and select Inspect when hovering over an image) is a good way to check if a given image has alt text.

However, if you want to check that in bulk, I recommend one of the below two methods.

Install Web Developer Chrome extension.

Screenshot of Web Developer Extension in Chrome by authorScreenshot from Web Developer Extension, Chrome by author, May 2024

Next, open the page whose images you want to audit.

Click on Web Developer and navigate to Images > Display Alt Attributes. This way, you can see the content of the alt text of all images on a given web page.

The alt text of images is shown on the page.Screenshot from Web Developer Extension, Chrome by author, May 2024

How To Find And Fix Missing Alt Text

To check the alt text of the images of the entire website, use a crawler like Screaming Frog or Sitebulb.

Crawl the site, navigate to the image report, and review the alt text of all website images, as shown in the video guide below.

You can also export only images that have missing alt text and start fixing those issues.

Alt Text May Not Seem Like A Priority, But It’s Important

Every source of information about your content has value. Whether it’s for vision-impaired users or bots, alt text helps contextualize the images on your website.

While it’s only a ranking factor for image search, everything you do to help search engines understand your website can potentially help deliver more accurate results. Demonstrating a commitment to accessibility is also a critical component of modern digital marketing.

FAQ

What is the purpose of alt text in HTML?

Alternative text, or alt text, serves two main purposes in HTML. Its primary function is to provide a textual description of an image if it cannot be displayed. This text can help users understand the image content when technical issues prevent it from loading or if they use a screen reader due to visual impairments. Additionally, alt text aids search engine bots in understanding the image’s subject matter, which is critical for SEO, as indexing images correctly can enhance a website’s visibility in search results.

Can alt text improve website accessibility?

Yes, alt text is vital for website accessibility. It translates visual information into descriptive text that can be read by screen readers used by users with visual impairments. By accurately describing images, alt text ensures that all users, regardless of disability, can understand the content of a web page, making the web more inclusive and accessible to everyone.

More resources: 


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