Thursday 27 February 2014

Web Assessments Basic SEO Course - Review

SEO, or search engine optimisation, is a way of boosting a website's visibility in a search engine's search results. There are all sorts of techniques you can use to help increase your site's rankings, and different ways you can keep track of what is happening - but it was all Greek to me. So I was very pleased to be invited to try out a basic SEO course free of charge and write a review.

The course is run by Web Assessments, which aims to be a 'one stop shop' for all things internet marketing-related. Their Basic SEO course consists of a series of chapters which you can take as slowly or as quickly as you like; I was given a free month's access but I took all the lessons over just a few days as I was keen to learn! The course usually costs £25 for one month but Web Assessments has given me a code that my readers can use to get a fantastic 50% off the cost of the course, which includes Q&A support, so you will pay only £12.50. Just use the code bloggers01 into the coupon code at the checkout when you sign up for the Basic SEO course here.

But of course what you want to know is whether the course is worth it? I had a mixed experience over all, some parts better than others, and did learn some very useful information. I think the course is aimed more at marketing than blogging, though of course even if you have an amateur blog you need to market it so a lot of the same tips apply.
Lime cheesecake - coming soon on the blog

The information is good and broken down into easily digestible chunks. The overall basic SEO course is broken down into different elements such as "the fundamentals of SEO", "Key Google algorithm updates", "Linking Basics" etc. Within that, each section has a number of chapters, each quite short and covering one concept; you then mark it as complete and move on to the next. At the end of the chapters there is a quiz to check you have understood (or were paying attention!).

I am a complete novice when it comes to SEO which I imagine would be the case with most people taking a basic course, so at times I found the lessons referred to something that I didn't understand. Technical terms were not always explained at the time - for instance, one lesson referred to something I had to google, then the term that was used was actually explained in a later lesson. There is a glossary of terms that comes up when you roll over certain words, but in this case it turns out that one was missed out - which the site's owner has assured me will be fixed.

I'm not sure how useful the section on "Key Google algorithm updates" is - it's interesting and useful to have an understanding of Google algorithms, but this section mainly focuses on how they have changed and been updated and for someone who is completely new to SEO, it would be simpler just to explain how it works now. This section left me wondering what it was I actually need to do to boost my search rankings.

I also found the section on Google webmaster tools very confusing. It took me to the dashboard on my blogger page and allowed me to see various stats, which was interesting as it allows you to see where traffic has come from and what people have searched for, but what I felt this section was lacking was any advice on how to build on that and improve your results. I think this would probably be more useful for people working in marketing who need to keep track of stats like this, perhaps to pass on to a client - in my case it was interesting but I wasn't entirely sure how it had helped.
Chocolate and beetroot heart cake

One very positive thing about this course is the feedback. There is the opportunity to post a question on any chapter and also a live chat function. When I posted a question asking for more of an explanation regarding sitemaps, the site's owner Simon responded and also added some more text to the chapter in question to make it clearer in case other people had the same query. Later, I posted a question on the live chat and Simon came back to me very quickly, answered my question about metadata and then when I thought we were done, he then asked for the web address of my blog and said he would take a look and tell me what metadata was being displayed. That was extremely helpful and excellent customer service!

One section which is unfortunately completely beyond me involves exporting your ranking reports into Excel and analysing it - I don't understand how they have constructed the table and get completely lost. I've had some useful conversations with Simon since then and he is considering a more step-by-step approach to help people through this section.

As I mentioned I did learn a couple of things which are extremely useful and I think will make a big difference to my blog rankings. Maybe some of you know this already but for me it was a complete lightbulb moment: I have a long list on the sidebar of my blog of all the other blogs I follow. It lets me keep updated with what other people are posting (I know I could do this through an RSS feed, but I'm lazy) and I thought it would be interesting to readers of my blog to see what else is out there. However, what I didn't know is that having this on a sidebar means it is present on each page of my blog - that is, every single blog post, which at the moment is over 600. The Basic SEO course tell me this "puts your site at risk because such a high influx in links built flags up warning signs to Google that you're trying to manipulate their Search engine." Wowzers!

The section on keywords is one of the most useful so I found it a little strange that this was towards the end of the programme. It stresses the importance of putting key words into headlines and says that some websites used to repeat the key words many times in the same piece of text, even if it then became grammatically incorrect or didn't make much sense. I also learnt how to see what the meta tag of my blog is, how to change it and why that matters, which I found also extremely useful.

There were some issues with grammar and punctuation which irritated me a little but Simon assures me that a proofreader is working their magic and all the mistakes will be fixed.  

The key question then is whether my blog rankings have increased - and indeed after doing this course and making some small changes, my ranking in the Foodies 100 did go up by about 20%. Of course, I can't directly attribute that to this course as the way the Foodies 100 is calculated is a little complicated and my rankings move up and down all the time - but this was a decent increase. There were some parts of this Basic SEO course that I found too technical, and other parts that I didn't think were especially useful for bloggers (and were perhaps more about marketing for clients) but I learned some important things and made some key changes to my blog that I think will make a real difference. I was also impressed by the customer service and interaction with Simon.

Thanks to Web Assessments for giving me free access to the Basic SEO course.

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