How Tough Is the SEO Learning Curve for Beginners?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is often proclaimed as one of the most cost-efficient online marketing strategies you can pursue, in part because in theory, you can do everything yourself. There’s no magic or mystery to it anymore.

The problem is, “in theory” doesn’t always mean realistic, or efficient. In fact, many small business owners and entrepreneurs avoid SEO altogether because it seems too complex, or because they simply don’t understand what the strategy entails.

So let’s assume, for a moment, that a new entrepreneur wants to learn how to do SEO. How steep is that learning curve? How long will it take to assemble a suitable degree of knowledge, and how deep can that knowledge go?

The Basics


First, let’s break SEO down into its basic components. We’ll examine these one by one and determine how complex each one is to learn and master.

At its core, Google search provides results based on two factors: relevance (how appropriate a piece of content is for a user’s search query) and authority (how trustworthy that content is).

SEO is all about optimizing these two potential features of your content through these facets:

Relevance and keyword targeting

This phase, usually at the beginning of the campaign, includes researching which keywords are most relevant to your brand, most relevant to your target audience, and with the highest amount of traffic potential with the lowest amount of competition.

It’s not hard to generate a list of potential keywords – especially with a tool like Moz’s Keyword Explorer – but finding the right balance of easy-to-get short-term keywords and hard-to-get long-term keywords is difficult, and requires ongoing monitoring and tweaking.

On-site optimization

The on-site optimization process makes sure that your site can be seen and indexed by Google, and ensures that your site is being categorized appropriately.

Some of the most important strategies here include technical SEO factors and site performance (which I’ll touch on in more detail shortly), title tags and meta descriptions, and basic on-site content. Your inclusion of appropriate keywords and provision of quality material are essential here. Most of these are fairly easy to learn, but technical SEO offers some complexities that amateurs usually find intimidating.

Ongoing content

Ongoing content marketing is one of the more approachable sides of SEO. The premise is simple; produce articles, blogs, images, videos, and other mediums of content that your users will find interesting and helpful.

You can choose topics based on your target keywords or based on your audience’s needs, and as long as you keep a steady stream of well-written content, you’ll gradually increase your site’s authority and widen your potential relevance for user queries.

There are some complexities here to consider; it’s impossible to learn everything about content marketing right off the bat, but it only takes a small commitment to learn basic best practices.

Off-site content and link building

Link building is an often misunderstood component of SEO, largely because it’s a necessary yet vilified segment of the strategy. Links pass authority to websites, so they’re necessary if you want to increase your domain’s trustworthiness.

The best way to do this is through off-site guest posts on high authority sites. Link building is one of the more sensitive areas of SEO, and there are lots of pitfalls to watch out for here, so while it is learnable, it presents a somewhat steep learning curve.

Analysis and development

Finally, there’s the analysis and development portion of SEO. If you want to keep growing, you need to take a look at your efforts, weigh them against your results, and determine how to adjust your strategy.

Learning what data points are most significant and how to interpret complex data patterns is the hardest part of SEO; there are many tools and dashboards available to help you make sense of this data, but there’s no replacement for experience, trial, and error.

There are a few other considerations for the overall SEO learning curve.

Technical SEO


I mentioned technical SEO in the section on on-site optimization, but I wanted to explore it in a bit more detail.

Technical SEO deals with the programmatic components of your website, such as your backend structure, portions of your code, and parts of your site that are only visible to search crawlers, such as your robots.txt file.

There are many helpful databases dedicated to simplifying these concepts, but if you’re unfamiliar with coding basics, they can still present a challenge.

Pre-Optimized Template Sites


Many modern template sites claim to already be optimized for SEO. This is partially true; they may have default structures and settings that make them visible to search engines and draw from your content to save you the time of optimizing all your pages. This makes the learning curve easier; however, don’t rely on these out-of-the-box models for everything.

Troubleshooting and Adjusting


SEO is usually a bumpy ride. You’ll experience some stagnation and some major plummets in addition to your growth patterns over time.

Troubleshooting these fluctuations – or even distinguishing between random flukes and genuine causes for concern – is incredibly hard for newcomers (and is still hard for experienced professionals).

The Bottom Line


Certain components of SEO – like content marketing and on-site optimization basics – are easy to learn, and out-of-the-box template sites make it even easier to master some of the basics. However, when it comes to deeper details like technical SEO, off-site link building, and ongoing troubleshooting, you might have trouble at first.

As you learn more, it may be in your best interest to consult with an expert, who will be able to provide you advice and guidance when you encounter these particular challenges. With this in place, and with a full commitment to learning how to do SEO properly, it should only take you a few months to master the basics.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

Author: Jayson DeMers

Jayson DeMers is the founder & CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based SEO agency. You can contact him on LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter.

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10 thoughts on “How Tough Is the SEO Learning Curve for Beginners?”

  1. Hello Jayson,

    One would never learn SEO unless he proceeds with the time tested trial-and-error technique. He has to do it by himself, hands on. Experience is the best teacher.

    1. Adding to this: experience and a mentor. The feedback loops for SEO are really terrible! If you’re writing code or programming… you can see your error immediately (the code either works, or it doesn’t) With SEO, you might be waiting MONTHS for a site to rank to see if what you did worked out or not.

  2. Very good article, but I think the number 1 trait someone must have when getting into SEO is patience. Even an experienced marketer I find myself pulling my hair out when I check my rankings every week and am still waiting for a backlink to kick in. I think most people quit prematurely and don’t give them enough time to see the results.

  3. SEO for beginners can be a bit tough especially after all those algorithmic updates by the giant Google. But now I think the newcomers have a clear guideline of what needs to be done to rank in the search engines. A friendly website,excellent UX,regular fresh content and link earning, are all required to rank in the SERPs.

  4. It’s almost just easier to do nothing and rely on “hope marketing” – that you “hope” someone will wander into your website and magically decide to do business with you. Great article.

  5. Article does point out some of the key things about the SEO industry. Sometimes I find it incredibly hard to sell SEO service because the result takes time and it is even more so in recent months. It is always important to keep the expectation clear at the outset for every prospect.

  6. I have found that it hasn’t been very hard at all to learn the fundamentals of website optimization, nor is it difficult to train someone on them. It isn’t 100% SIMPLE, but it’s not super complicated, either. Just requires perseverance and dedication to your methods, as well as flexibility and a willingness to try something new if what you’re doing isn’t working well.

  7. Very Informative article. SEO is difficult at first but when you learn the algorithmic policies by Google. you can rank up your website in no time. Just stay tuned for algorithm updates from Google and its new policies.

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