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SEO Goes to School - Emerging Importance of Training

by Susan Esparza, September 2006

Although in internet years it's old enough to have been born with the dinosaurs, search engine optimization is a young industry still going through its growing pains. The truth is, 10 years ago "search engine optimization" did not exist. Danny Sullivan was just getting started in the industry, as was Bruce Clay. At the time, no one even called it SEO. But times have changed.

Recently people have woken up to the fact that the industry is growing up and part of growing up means going to school. Now that the SEO industry is out of its infancy, there's a natural and growing interest in SEO training courses that offer knowledge transfer and basic guidelines for entering the field.

From the Wild West to the University

In the early years of SEO, real search engine optimization training wasn't offered. SEOs trained themselves by and large, swapping knowledge at forums, guessing at what each update meant and trying not to give too much away to their competitors. Some SEO experts felt confident enough to simply give away information; most preferred to play things close to the vest, keeping their trade secrets close.

What changed? As is always the answer in SEO: the engines did.

It used to be simple. You created a page, used your keyword a couple times and submitted the page to the search engine. Shortly thereafter, your page was ranked in the top ten with hardly any effort at all. But algorithms became more sophisticated as time passed and it became harder and harder to rank. New techniques were uncovered and then overused by spammers before getting banned by the engines.

By this point, those in the know began to figure out that the only way that search engine optimization would thrive would be to make the industry more credible, more educated and more professional.

But because the industry was still so young, though there were many experts who could manage a session at a conference, there were a precious few who could teach solid classes on the entire SEO creature, In turn, conferences became the standard for learning new information and how to do SEO. It's clear from the astonishing growth in both the Search Engine Strategies and the ad:Tech conference series that the desire for search engine optimization training by industry professionals is large and growing larger.

Finally, search engine marketing has reached the point where SEO training courses are being recognized as the way to learn SEO. While some training courses have been available for years (like the Search Engine College, High Rankings seminars and Bruce Clay, Inc.'s own SEOToolSet® training), more are being created all the time.

Joining the education field is a variety of courses. Google offered a single day introductory class "Optimizing Your Websites for Google Search" taught by engineer Adam Lasnik at Catholic University and geared toward assisting government employees in creating search engine friendly pages. Though the class initially caused a huge stir in the SEO community, professionals in the industry were asked not to attend. It may have disappointed search-minded folk, but it was great reinforcement that the SEO and SEM fields are starting to blur into all areas of business. Studying the ways of the major search engines isn't just for professional SEOs anymore, all businesses should be aware of what the engines are doing (and, in turn, what they should be doing) if they want to stay competitive. It signals an exciting time.

Another up and comer is the "SEO Intern Training Programme" offered by Fresh Egg, a UK-based SEO firm, which allows eager young SEOs the chance to learn by doing. The program offers two or four weeks of hands on experience.

They're in good company. As the Fresh Egg internship shows, the trend toward education isn't just a U.S. phenomenon. All over the world, search engine marketers in both the organic and pay per click area are eager for training classes taught by qualified experts in the field.

In keeping with the demand, we'll be taking our search engine optimization training course on the road as well. In January, Bruce Clay, Inc.'s London office will be hosting the basic and advanced training courses, then in February, BCI Sydney will introduce the courses to the Australian SEO community. With so much knowledge being shared and so many ways to learn, 2007 will be an exciting time for webmasters and SEOs alike.

What makes for a good SEO training course?

We've thought a great deal about what makes a good class and based our curriculum and structure on our conclusions. Was it enough to just teach the basics or should there be more to it than that? Did we have a responsible to convey philosophy as well as technique? Should we be setting standards and testing the knowledge gained by our students?

Our answer is yes. Here's what we think you should expect in a good SEO training course.

  1. Fundamentals--Any course that you take should give you a good grounding in the history and understanding of SEO, discuss terminology, ranking factors and the components that make up a successful SEO web page design. You should leave the class with a clear methodology.
  2. Philosophy--We believe that any course you take should be upfront about their approach to search engine optimization. The reasoning behind their methodology should be clearly defined.
  3. Ethics--It is our firm belief that any course should have a stated commitment to ethical methodology. Both the industry and the individual benefit when leaders demonstrate ethics and good conduct and when they require the same from students in their courses. In our SEOToolSet® Training course, we promote our Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct. Compliance with both is part of our certification course.
  4. Something to hang on your wall--This might seem to be a frivolous expectation but having something physical that you come away with from any course is more than just about a pretty piece of paper. Certification from a respected authority means a great deal in this industry and serves as a reinforcement of the values and techniques reported in the class.

Beyond just making an individual a better SEO, the trend toward better SEO training courses heralds a raising of the bar for all players. People are waking up to what Bruce Clay, Inc. has known for years--if you teach and learn good solid techniques that adhere to ethical standards, everyone stands to benefit. Where once there were few search engine optimization training courses that an aspiring SEO could take, now there are suddenly a plethora of choices and the hard part becomes not finding one, but finding the best one.