How I Taught Myself SEO and How You Can Too

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) has evolved through the years and is now accepted as a legitimate job description. I believe that we are at a stage in time where business owners have a good understanding of what SEO is and the ‘snake oil salesmen’ tag has been vanquished. I hope!

My SEO journey started a long time ago in 1999. I worked for an agency in India, building websites for businesses around the world. We used to stuff keywords into the footer of our clients’ websites. Yeah, I did it! It was a widely accepted practice and search engines were primitive. You were rewarded with top ranks in search results for such tactics.

SEO was way too easy back then!

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Yahoo, AOL, and MSN were the big players. Google? No one cared about Google.

The early 2000s shook up the IT industry and I moved away from web development, into film making. I still continued building and maintaining my personal Blogspot blog. Google started gaining momentum. The SEO tactics were still surprisingly easy. There was no official rule book. By 2005, we were cloaking keywords – white text on white background. Google put me in position one for a lot of search terms, honest!

You might, from this point in the future, call me a ‘black hat’ SEO.

Believe it or not, we considered ourselves the pioneers and we learnt SEO by trying. We were part of a cohort that did everything possible to figure out how search engines worked and their algorithms. We were on online chat rooms and bulletin boards (forums), discussing and sharing our findings.

I took another career turn, landed in the UK, completed my MBA, and found myself working for an IT company. It was 2008 and there was a recession. Businesses were rushing to go digital. I set up a web and marketing agency. I was catching up on HTML5 and CSS3. Every business owner was told that they needed to ‘do SEO’. This fueled a massive demand for SEO services.

How I learnt SEO

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I needed to catch up on SEO. I bought two books:

These books were great! The information in them was time tested and ‘white hat’. Well, some of those practices would be ‘black hat’ now, but the books laid out a solid foundation.

I wasn’t selling SEO as a service in the early days. I offered it as a free add-on that my clients didn’t even know about. I helped strategize my clients’ online businesses and built their websites during the day and secretly optimised them during the night. SEO was exciting. I used to research and find out what keywords were popular and being used when their websites were found. I’d then tweak the meta data, image names, alt tags, internal linking, on page headings and content. It was a lot of experimenting and incremental improvements. Within weeks and months, my clients’ websites were ranking on page one and getting tons of traffic. Many used to be small home based businesses and they were excited by their overnight success. They started recommending me to other businesses and the rest is history.

That last part was the most important phase in my SEO journey. I read every blog, guide, book, and forum post that I could get my hands on. I practiced SEO during my commute, nights, weekends, and even during my holidays. People can teach you SEO, but you need to put the theory to practice to experience the magic first hand. That builds your confidence.

A decade and 100s of client projects later, I can visualise SEO like Neo visualising The Matrix!

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How you can learn SEO

With practice, you’ll encounter all kinds of SEO challenges and grow confident. With confidence, you’ll rise as ‘The One’!

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