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What I’ve learned from lecturing on SEO

Aside from doing SEO and blogging about SEO, I also teach SEO. The Digital Marketing Institute in Ireland has a range of courses on digital marketing, and I’m one of their regular lecturers on SEO. I’m also due to give a lecture on PPC soon.

Lecturing is, pardon the pun, a very educational experience. Teaching about a topic forces you take a third person perspective and look at things with fresh eyes.

What I found most enlightening about doing lectures like these is that it made me re-evaluate what I know about SEO. After 7 years of professional SEO experience (14 years total SEO experience if you include my early days amateur SEO stuff for my own websites) there is a lot of amassed knowledge, embedded lingo, and basic assumptions that I use in my day to day work.

When preparing my lecture I had to discard all of that and work from the bottom up. As part of the lecturer briefings I was told to prepare the course with the presumption that my students would be total noobs in all things SEO. While in practice this wouldn’t necessarily be the case, due to the wide variety of backgrounds and experience levels of the participants, it’s best to prepare a lecture from this noob-presumption to ensure everyone understands what is being taught.

This requirement means that I can’t use any acronym or lingo-speak that we take for granted without having to explain it first. And for a 3-hour entry-level lecture you have to keep things brief and to the point, which means there isn’t a lot of time for explanatory tangents. So concepts like TrustRank, IA, and QDF are out the window.

Also, 3 hours is not a long period of time. In fact, 3 hours is ridiculously short when it comes to teaching SEO. Yet in those 3 hours I somehow have to convey the basic aspects of SEO to the participants, provide them with a foundation that can serve as the starting point in an actual career in SEO.

That means I have to decide what the genuine core aspects of SEO are. What are the bare essentials of SEO that I can teach someone in 3 hours? What is the absolute basic must-have knowledge that I should impart?

At this stage in my lecture preparations I could go one of two directions: the Information Retrieval way (which I tend to call the doctor approach) or the Treat The Symptoms way (the nurses approach).

In the IR/doctor approach I’d explain about the basics of information retrieval, showing how search engines work, and relating this to how websites are crawled, indexed, and ranked. However, this is probably not the ideal way to teach the basics of SEO. While it does help prepare students for a prospective career in SEO, this technical approach to SEO alone wouldn’t be enough. As part of a larger, multi-session SEO lecture it would work, but as a one-off 3 hour lecture it can’t fulfil its objective.

So I went with the nurses approach: identifying the various symptoms of SEO and explaining how to treat them. This is the approach used by most SEO books, and more importantly this is how most SEO blogs write about the topic. As such it’s probably the best way to initially teach SEO, as this allows you to match your study material to the best available online resources. It allows me to teach the basic lingo, explain the various on-site aspects of SEO, and give the participants some basic linkbuilding concepts.

Basically the nurses approach – treating SEO symptoms – allows students to start with SEO straight away. And that’s what this lecture is about: giving its participants a starting point.

Yet even with the basic nurses approach to SEO, a lot has to be culled in order to fit a 3 hour lecture. There’s a lot I want my students to understand, but time constraints force me to evaluate every titbit of knowledge I want to impart, and select only those that I feel are absolutely essential.

Fortunately I have a little bit of playroom in the form of the slidedeck. I prepare more slides than I expect to actually go through in the lecture, knowing that the participants receive print-outs of the full slidedeck. This allows me to put extra stuff in the end slides such as further reading material, cool blog posts and online resources, and general tips for further education on SEO.

The structure of the lecture, as represented by the slidedeck, is also a vital aspect of the lecture. My lectures have a three-stage structure: What is SEO, why is it important, and how do you do it. The first two stages are handled fairly quickly so I can focus on the meaty bit of the lecture, the ‘How’ part.

But knowing that my lecture is part of a larger digital marketing course, I can’t avoid the need to justify SEO. The students will participate in various different lectures, including ones on PPC and Social Media, which means they will be exposed to different perspectives and conflicting information. So it’s my job to convey the position and importance of SEO in the overall online marketing mix, which I do in the ‘Why’ part of the lecture.

It probably doesn’t hurt to exaggerate the value of SEO a bit, as it’s likely SEO will receive some criticism from other lecturers somewhere in the course and I want my students to appreciate SEO for the powerful tool in the IM arsenal that it is.

Below I’ve embedded my basic SEO lecture slidedeck, which I tend to customise a bit from lecture to lecture. Feel free to steal/borrow from this slidedeck as you see fit if you’re teaching others on SEO, whether as part of a lecture, a pitch, or an in-house training. Also if you have any comments or suggestions on how to improve my slides, all input is welcome:




  1. Jun Baranggan April 28, 2011

    As someone who have done SEO lectures myself, I totally agree with you Barry. While you teach more, you get to learn more. That’s what I love the most about teaching.

    Great slidedeck by the way. Will surely steal some ideas from there for my next lectures.


  2. Jey Pandian April 28, 2011


    I sincerely look forward to the day when you teach a class in the US, hopefully an search engine optimization degree. I’d be the first person to enroll in it.


  3. Barry April 28, 2011

    @Jun: yeah exactly, by teaching others you also teach yourself. And thanks, steal whatever you want. 🙂

    @Jey: I’d do that for free if someone paid for the trip. 😉

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