29th May, 2013

In this economic climate, when you see you the word “free” most people would immediately be enticed and wonder what they get for “free”. There are others out there that will assume because it’s free that the service or product is no good, otherwise why wouldn’t you be paying for it? In SEO it can differ; there genuinely are some services out there that offer this free service. You could quite easily find a site that offers free SEO training and you could well find yourself signing up. But how do you know what to expect? Do you have any idea of what sorts of things they teach you? They could end up using some technical jargon that makes no sense to you, meaning that free SEO training just seems a bit of waste.

What They Might Teach

There are lots of different elements to SEO and there are also different terms and acroynms associated with it as well. Most people will assume that SEO is just optimisation of a website, and in its truest form it is this. However, it goes much further then this with the marketing of a site. As an SEO consultant myself I don’t view a client’s website as simply something I optimise once then wait for Google to put it at number one if it feels I have done it right. It’s about the continual work done to a site to make sure you entice Google back as often as possible. You show Google that your site is better than everyone else by the quality of your links, content and effort going into it on a regular basis.

So, would free SEO training teach you the value of this? My assumption, based on experience as well as from doing a little bit of research into it, is: most free SEO out there will only teach you some On Page optimisation. What this means is they teach you the simple things that you can do to help Google understand the theme of a page. This is vital and very important, but very easy to teach. They’ll generally help you optimise your page titles, header tags and meta tags. In simpler terms they will make sure the keywords specific to each page are included in these elements of your site. But unfortunately, because these sorts of things are free they teach some bad practices as well.

Bad On Page Habits

One thing you will definitely want to avoid are picking up bad habits. Now I’m not saying that all SEO training will teach you bad habits but some will and it is important that you do not take these bad practices away with you as you will end up with a site that looks unnatural, spammy and potentially could lose its credibility. You might be asking what sort of bad habits they could potentially teach you? Well, to be perfectly honest, there are hundreds out there and for the purpose of this article and time I won’t list them all. It is better I just tell you the most common ones I come across as a consultant myself on a regular basis.

Page Titles.

This is a big one in my eyes and I see it all the time, day in day out. Your page should contain your keywords and if you look at any site that ranks well in Google for popular search terms they will have a good keyword concentrated title. What I am referring to in this instance is the spammy, keyword stuffed page titles. These are bad, let me give you an example:

Bad Page Title:

Car insurance, Motorbike insurance, Boat Insurance, All Insurance, House Insurance – Insurance Companies Name

Good Page Title:

Bespoke Car Insurance Deals – Insurance Company’s Name

Why is the first one bad and the second one good? Well, the second one is very specific and tells Google straight away this company does “bespoke car insurance deals”. It will know that if someone searches for this it should return this result, providing the others are not as good, as number one. The first example is bad because it is not specific and it is stuffed with lots of different keywords. Now, if it was me, I would have no idea what this page is about, and neither will Google. You almost need to treat Google as a dummy; do things very simple and obvious. You should always avoid the first example.

Another practice that companies will do is create a meta description almost doing the same thing as the page title. Again, as it is easier to visualize with an example, I will show you.

Meta Descriptions.

Bad Meta Description:

Fantastic offers for Car insurance, Motorbike insurance, Boat Insurance, All Insurance, House Insurance, life insurance, health insurance, travel insurance and all your insurance needs

Good Meta Description:

Visit our site for a bespoke car insurance deal, we will tailor it specifically to your needs and budget.

Again, it becomes obvious why the second example is good and the first is not. Google gets very confused with what you want to rank for if you stuff lots of keywords in the meta tags. It is very likely too that the page you have used the bad example on doesn’t actually talk about all these things anyway. Another massive reason why you shouldn’t do this is it is less appealing.

The image above is what Google displays in its search engine results page (SERPs). If you stuff your page title, the text in purple on the image, it becomes off-putting and is far too long. If you stuff your meta description with keywords, which is the description below the purple text, then again, it is off-putting and looks a bit strange. This will directly effect your click through rate. If it does then Google will not list you highly because your bounce rate will be too high and your site will look unnatural and spammy. So in short, avoid these too practices. One page won’t rank for everything and stuffing the keywords, hoping it will rank, unfortunately won’t help the site at all.

Bad Off Page Habits

Lets say that the free SEO training you are on, or have had, doesn’t talk about any of the things I just mentioned. If it doesn’t then you will have missed a lot of SEO knowledge, but you probably won’t have even realised until now because you wouldn’t have been told. So the SEO trainer is teaching you all about links and link profiles, directory submissions, blog commenting, friend links, DMOZ entries, Unnatural links and Article Submissions. Quite often they could be teaching you correctly, right? Well, personally I feel most SEO companies will only teach you the bad habits. Telling you the sorts of things that after the training will persuade you to go away and submit the site to 100 directories. Don’t go and do things like this as they will have a detrimental effect on your site.

The reason being that Google is far too clever. It will quickly realise that in the space of just a few days you’ve suddenly gained 100+ links, all from one place and all featuring your keywords. It will either have a negative effect or have no effect at all. Both bad news for your site. On the other hand, if you get taught that it’s all about the quality of the links that point to the site and what they say, then that’s correct. This is completely different to getting thousands of these links in the space of a day, regardless of quality.

Overall, in the long run, these bad habits will cause harm, not get you top positions. Google will only ever give the top positions for popular search terms if the site ticks as many boxes as possible and is the best result for the potential customer. Google is a service provider and doesn’t want to be associated with bad services. This will all be determined by your site.

If you have lots of unnatural links coming to the site it is obvious to Google you have paid for these as a one off or rental so it will ignore them. But if you slow the pace and get high quality, low quantity links and drip feed them through then you will see a much better result. The reason being that if you have a site and I wish to get a link from it, will you naturally give me 1 or is it more likely I will get a 100+? Well, hopefully you said 1, after all, it doesn’t make sense to have 100 links from one site to another in most cases. The more copies you have of one thing, the worse the quality gets and the less valuable each one is. This is how Google works.

Would I have Free SEO Training?

I personally think that from an economic point of view I would be interested in some free SEO training but I wouldn’t set high expectations for a guaranteed number one spot after I have only learnt a little. I would go and expect to maybe gain a better understanding of what SEO is and how I can use it. I’d then go away and read, research and experience, getting a feel for it all, and with the knowledge I’ll have gained over time, I’ll know what bad habits to avoid.

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