Starting Out in SEO and Feeling Overwhelmed? | SEO Newbie

spaghetti thrown onto a wallSearch Engine Optimization can be very intimidating for beginners. Whether you’re an entrepreneur planning to grow your business, a blogger yearning to reach a wider audience, or an in-house marketing professional carrying a new responsibility, learning SEO from scratch can feel daunting. With so many books, blogs, tutorials, and conflicting ‘expert opinions’ to sift through, where do you even start?! And even if you’ve managed to change a few title tags here and there, what should you target second? If this SEO situation sounds familiar and you’re at a loss of what to do first or what to do next, I have some advice:

Throw spaghetti on the wall.

As discussed in my previous article, I’m new to SEO, and I understand what you’re going through. I have found myself faced with this very predicament more than once; and I’m far luckier than most newbies wrestling with SEO. Because although my learning has been self-directed, working at SpyFu allows me the opportunity to bounce ideas off of peers who’ve been fiddling with SEM for almost a decade.

If you’ve spent any amount of time researching SEO, you’ve probably come to realize that it isn’t just the volume of information you have to filter through and digest that’s the only challenge. Or even the intricacy of the information itself. There are aggravating factors:


  1. To a large degree SEO knowledge isn’t substantiated. Only a few people at Google definitively know what signals the search algorithms are looking at and how strongly they weight them.
  2. The industry changes drastically, and often.
  3. The division of the community into ‘white-hat’, ‘black-hat’, and shades of grey in between.
  4. There are so many freaking acronyms! SEO, SEM, PPC, CPC, CRO, CSS, RSS, etc. Though this is pervasive throughout most modern fields, it still adds a bit more slope to the learning curve.

All these factors taken together can confound new SEO’s and stall their efforts. This phenomenon is so common, in fact, that it has a name: The Paradox of Choice.

The Paradox of Choice is a theory which asserts that an increase in choice does not translate to an increase in happiness and freedom. In fact, it creates unhappiness and decision-paralysis. In one study on the subject, it was discovered that given a choice between twenty-four fruit jams and six fruit jams at a state fair, prospects were 10 times more likely to purchase jam from the vendor with the selection of six jams than from the vendor with twenty-four. (Yes the six jams were included in the selection of twenty-four). There are caveats and disagreements about the theory, but what’s important to us is the notion that when people are presented with too many choices they tend to short-circuit and not make any choices.

So what does all of this have to do with pasta? When I first communicated my own paradox to Mike, he suggested I simply “throw spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks.” In other words, start experimenting with SEO actions (throw), then measure the results and determine what worked (what sticks). Then iterate and experiment some more. Rather than obsess about best-practices and weighing thousands of available options, just start executing and see what happens.

Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not saying that new SEO’s shouldn’t learn as much as they can about internet marketing or that they don’t need to have a focused strategy. Indeed, one of the biggest time-sinks of any successful SEO will continue to be the perpetual process of learning. There are tons of great resources out there for first steps, SEOMoz’s Beginners Guide to SEO is one such example. But ultimately, if you get too entrenched in learning and worrying about doing everything “right” the first time, you won’t get a whole lot done.  And similarly, although you will gain knowledge, you won’t gain experience to give that knowledge legs. Until you make real changes to your site on-page or get some quality backlinks, the needle won’t move. As long as you remember that your highest priorities are the overall objective of your site and enhancing user experience, you can learn the rest as you go along. Just keep moving and don’t get overwhelmed.