How To Do SEO If You’re Just Starting Out

I spent a year going from zero SEO to significant inbound leads and a bushel of first-page results, here’s what I learned.

6 min. read

SEO Types

SEO can be baffling.

This is especially true if you’re new to it.

Dueling SEO pros on Twitter or Reddit have you confused? Wondering whether you should hire someone (despite the bad reviews)? Just don’t know where to start?

This is for you.

I once led marketing for a company that had not started with a heavy focus on SEO. Actually, they had ZERO focus on SEO. With a consistent flow of high-quality low-cost leads from other sources, it made sense that SEO wasn’t a top priority.

But entering a new year with some aggressive growth goals, I was convinced we needed some focused content campaigns. SEO was going to be a critical part of promoting that content.

The results?

Our growth was enough for the company to rank as the #4 fastest growing company in Utah that year.

We also landed on page one in the SERPs for the small cluster of topics and keyword phrases we targeted. This included many number one results and even capturing the coveted Google Featured Snippet for a few.

I’ve included a sample of our results below.

Google Search Console report on one of our main keyword phrases.

Our spotty introduction eventually evened out with a page one average using only basic SEO techniques.

Our team never included anyone dedicated to SEO and I didn’t hire any SEO consultants.

If you’re just getting started with SEO, here’s what I’ve learned.

Do you need Olympic-grade SEO, or just enough to not be SEO-foolish?

SEO can be super competitive.

Like cutthroat, moneyball, Fight Club competitive. 

If you’re new to the arena, that can make it pretty intimidating.

(Lurk on Black Hat World for a bit to see what I mean.) It’s not uncommon to see experts locking horns over which advice is golden and which is trash.

“Moz is great! Moz is for suckers.”

“Neil Patel is awesome! Neil Patel is a sellout. Neil Patel is only for nubes.”

Ahrefs is better than SEMRush. No, SEMRush slays Ahrefs.

SEO is a noisy crapstorm

The unfortunate truth is, without SEO, you’re leaving a LOT on the table.

A dentist who understands SEO. Or maybe who doesn’t.

But it’s definitely confusing. How does anyone make sense of it all?

Should you go so far as to rename your company, like this dentist did? Or is he missing the point entirely. (How many people use proximity as their primary search intent when they are looking for a general dentist?)

Well, I now view SEO as falling into two categories.

  1. Entry-level SEO
  2. Advanced SEO

When you’re starting out, this is the biggest question you need to answer.

Just what level of SEO do you need?

If you decide to outsource your SEO, which of the two levels are you expecting to get?

What level are you paying for?

Are you and the contractor clear on the results you expect? It’s hard to know what advice applies to your situation.

(Note: there are MANY more contractors capable of Entry-level SEO than there are who can truly compete at Advanced SEO.)

In the end, how do you know you’re spending the right amount of money, manpower, and time for the results you want?

Which type of SEO do I need?

Here’s a secret: most companies do little if any SEO.

Which means for a lot of marketing teams, tackling SEO at the entry-level is going to deliver the initial results you need.

Thinking you need to do advanced SEO if you really don’t can be draining, overwhelming, and make you think SEO is impossible.

I’m convinced that many marketers new to SEO wait too long to tackle SEO campaigns and initiatives. 

This isn’t really surprising.

For the uninitiated, it’s like stepping into the octagon.

There are times that I’ve been that marketer.

But not every place online is a dark alley with SEO ninjas hiding behind each dumpster and fire escape. 

Many websites, companies, and keyword phrases don’t have much competition at all.

Or the precise keywords for specific products and services. I’m not just talking about long-tail keywords either. 

To tell if you’re swimming in an SEO blue ocean, start by Googling your company, your product, or your category five or six different ways. 

What do the results look like? 

Lots of Featured Snippets and sponsored ads?

Do you see your competitors or ads with your company or product name in them? 

Welcome to the octagon.

Only a few? None at all? One or two competitors?

Then you can probably make a TON of headway by incorporating basic, solid SEO tactics on your site. 

The good news? These SEO tactics are not a secret.

If I just need the basics, where do I start?

If you truly need Advanced SEO help, seek out an expert.

Look at before and after results from other clients.

Ask them to brag. 

Then ask them to tell you about clients they have lost, and go interview those.

There are some awesome SEOs out there.

Expect that they will be expensive.

Entry-Level SEO Resources

Here are some resources that have served me well—and which will cost you nothing.

Go to the source and make sure you’ve read about SEO from Google

If you use WordPress as your CMS, your first step should be to install a free plugin like Yoast or RankMath.

(There’s some hate on these companies for bloat or in favor of better alternatives. Use your best judgement. I think either of them is better than no SEO checklist in your CMS.)

Next, I love Austen Allred’s no B.S. approach to actionable marketing insights. His article SEO is not Hard is aging pretty well and is still a great resource if you’re starting out.

Also, despite disagreement about the quality of many SEO gurus, there’s more or less unanimous kudos for Brian Dean at Backlinko.

His articles The Definitive Guide to SEO is solid. What is SEO, and Why Should I Care? and The Definitive Guide to Keyword Research are great places to start.

Still looking for reading material? Check out his SEO Marketing Hub—a great free resource to brush up on core SEO topics.

@cmo_zen recommends digital marketers spend some time getting familiar with @backlinko’s SEO Marketing Hub https://backlinko.com/hub/seo #marketing #SEO Click To Tweet

Using these free resources I was able to build an SEO checklist.

We used it before publishing anything related to the topics we wanted to rank for. In no time these core basics were baked into every blog post and web page template we used.

And that’s all we needed to start getting consistent, page one results for our relevant keyword phrases.

Going through the exercise of nailing down your basic SEO puts you in a much better position if you end up hiring an SEO pro onto your team or looking to outsource.

So, what do you think?

Are there resources you’ve used to step up your SEO game? Where did you start with SEO? I’d love to hear more about your experience in the comments below.


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@cmo_zen releases micro meditations for marketing leaders, designed to help them find clarity and peace in the marketing maelstrom.

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