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, CEO SearchPilot
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.
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.
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Here are a few more examples of t-shaped SEOs:
Patrick Stox: Technical SEO
Nick Eubanks: Keyword research
Jon Cooper: Link building
Marie Haynes: Google penalty recovery
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.