Ask SEMpdx – What is the best way for a Newbie to learn Search Engine Marketing?

Search Engine Marketing knowledge is a very prized possession. Many people want to learn how to do search for themselves or for their company. However, they don´t know how to begin the educational process. I asked my fellow SEMpdx members how they would advise a new entrant into this field.

Scott Orth (GTS Services): Other than on the job training, there are four things a newbie can and should do to learn SEO:

1) Prepare yourself for endless hours of reading and research. SEO never stops, it´s always changing, and your participation will never end.

2) Spend a lot of time on There is a ton of information there including informative blog posts, articles and research papers. SEOmoz is a must for any newbie.

3) Purchase the books “Search Engine Marketing, Inc.”and “SEOBook”.

4) Test, test, test! Buy a dozen domains, host them in various places, and play around. Test what you´ve learned in number 2 and 3 above – after all, the only way to become truly successful in SEO is through personally experiencing what does and does not work.

As a bonus – if you have the chance, attend conferences and ask questions. You can learn a lot from the presenters, as well as other attendees.

Tracy Chapman (Ignite Web Marketing Services): To this day, the way I learn the most about search engine marketing is through reading information from quality online resources. My favorites include ClickZ, Marketing Vox, Search Engine Land, Search Marketing Standard, Search Engine Watch, High Rankings Advisor, eMarketer and MarketingSherpa. Whether you are just starting out, or consider yourself a pro, the latest and best information is always available in these publications.

To improve on your skills as a search marketer, you should read the website content, sign up for RSS feeds or online newsletters, read the blogs, and take advantage of any special content that may be offered, like webinars. I´ve also found that even when I´m not actually utilizing a particular search marketing strategy for a client at a given time, if I understand it and know what´s going on in that area, I can answer clients´ questions, make intelligent recommendations, and provide more value to them as a search marketing professional. Reading good information regularly is definitely the way to go.

Scott Hendison (Search Commander): Depending on your budget, there are a number of search engine marketing classes available from industry experts like Bruce Clay, Jill Whalen, and the one that I attended, John Alexander and Robin Nobles´ Search Engine Workshops.

These two to four day seminars are well structured, and take beginners through the entire process from start to finish. After attending any of those sessions, the beginning marketer will have a strong grasp of all the basic concepts.

For the more budget conscious, the best way would be to read what established industry experts have to offer. Many world-class experts have educational areas on their website, or have offered publications for sale at a nominal fee.

Aaron Wall´s SEOBook is a great read, that will provide a good foundation for any Internet marketer, and I have my own SEO 101 section of my website, where I offer a growing number of articles geared towards the beginning Internet Marketer, including information on both paid and natural search.

Whether you are a seasoned veteran or a rookie SEO, it´s important to stay current, and be sure that any information you are following has a recent copyright date. Search engine algorithms do change from time to time, and you might be reading information that is outdated.

Benjamin Lloyd (Amplify Interactive): When asked by a ‘newbie´ about how to learn about search engine marketing, I have to revert to my own personal experiences, and those of the people that work with me. We´ve all come into it differently, but the common thread is that everyone starts by reading and learning on their own (reading newsletters, white papers, case studies, etc.) The toughest part of this step is learning to discern good advice from bad. There is plenty of good advice out there, but there is a lot more bad and/or misguided advice. So ask around or look to trusted colleagues & resources (like SEMpdx) to find out which newsletters they subscribe to, white papers they find valuable, etc.

The thing you´ll quickly find however is that everyone has access to pretty much the same materials. So, you have to learn how to apply the things you read about, and have them make business sense. By and large, I recommend experimenting with your own site first before EVER suggesting that someone apply their ideas to a client, or your company´s site. And always understand how you´re going to measure effectiveness. The biggest mistake here is that newbies and those unfamiliar with search tend to focus on the wrong metrics.

Up until now, learning about search has very much been a solo exercise or ‘apprentice´ type engagement. These days there are actually courses and/or consultants you can pay for training. And of course there are still communities and forums that can be pretty reliable.

As search evolves – it´s become less of a technical exercise and more of a marketing exercise. This is good news all around, but it doesn´t mean that the average marketer can succeed at search, just like I couldn´t expect to walk into an advertising agency and develop a successful print ad campaign right off the bat.

Stanford Davis (Straight-On): “The Best Way to Learn Search Marketing is as Easy as 1,2,3…er 4”

1) Read a SEM book, or take a course to learn fundamentals

2) Use SEO software for up to the minute guidance for specific pages

3) Do it, and measure results.

4) Attend SEM events and seminars and consider joining a SEM professional organization

Planet Ocean has published “The Unfair Advantage Book on Winning the Search Engine Wars” for about 10 years and updates it monthly. It provides detailed tips and instructions for search engine marketing and explanations of how search works. SEMPO also provides an extensive online course.

Learn by doing and observing results. Besides doing searches by hand to see how you are doing, you can the above mentioned software tools to measure, organize, analyze, and report results in a meaningful way.

Kent Schnepp (EngineWorks): As a full-service search marketing company, we have found that individuals who come to EngineWorks with design and development experience tend to be best suited for our search marketing engineer positions. Having fundamental knowledge of proper site structure, information architecture, and dynamic URLs makes for rapid understanding of search optimization techniques and best practices. In addition to design and development exposure, individuals new to search engine marketing can accelerate their learning curve by researching industry articles, blogs, and white papers, and by attending professional events such as Searchfest and SMX.

Hallie Janssen (Anvil Media): An excellent way for a newbie to learn search engine marketing is to attend a conference. Beyond the main benefit of gaining additional knowledge of SEM, other paybacks include networking with industry peers and engine, software and service representatives; business and lead development; and bolstering knowledge of peripheral SEM topics such as web design, social media, and affiliate marketing. There are all types of conferences and surely one that will meet your interest and budget. The two biggest SEM-focused conferences are Search Engine Strategies (SES) and Search Marketing Expo (SMX). These two conference marketers also have smaller niche events that might speak more to the niche you might be going after: SES Travel, SES Latino, and SMX Local are just a few. SES also has a newer conference that is just for training, aptly named SES Training. Other bigger SEM conferences are WebmasterWorld´s Pubcon and Search Insider Summit. Outside of the SEM conferences lies a whole slue of Internet advertising conferences that are sure to broaden your knowledgebase: ad:tech, DMA Annual Conference, DM Days, eTail, eMetrics Summit, Internet Retailer Conference, OMMA,, Travel Industry Association Annual Conference and WOMMA events.

Todd Mintz (S.R. Clarke): A few points that haven´t been made so far:

Trying to learn SEM by reading through forums can be an intimidating, overwhelming, frustrating experience because the “signal-to-noise” ration is very high. Besides, Barry & Tamar at Search Engine Roundtable cover all the important stuff that´s said in the forums anyway. I would find the top couple dozen SEM bloggers, add their blogs to your feedreader, and read everything they write.