First steps in learning SEO cover image. Horse and a carriage.

My First Steps in Learning SEO


I moved to Tallinn, Estonia in 2018 to run an affiliate marketing website built 100% by me from the ground up. The only source of traffic was Google, because I decided not to use paid advertising at this point.

My thoughts on this was that using only organic traffic from Google I had to concentrate on improving the website. As every visitor needs to earned with good content.

Also I needed to make sure the visitor stayed in the website as bounced visitor will not bring me any income.

This really started my interest in search engine optimization.

Jaakko Santaniemi in Tallinn on top of Linnahall.
This is me in Tallinn, Estonia on top of Soviet occupation era concert and conference building Linnahall.

I started googling very simple guides like “What is SEO”. We all have to start somewhere!

Initially I actually thought that SEO is mostly about stuffing keywords here and there with a special word density recipe. Like there would be an optimal % density of words and their synonymes that brings the ultimate results.

I also thought that SEO is easy and people just don’t know how to do it.

Well I found out quite fast that I was wrong. SEO is so much more than keyword stuffing and SEO is really hard.

The amount of SEO knowledge online is baffling

When I started googling for SEO articles, I quickly found out that the amount of articles and knowledge online is huge.

It was really hard as there was numerous sources and SEO magazines that I knew nothing about. I didn’t know what sources I could trust or which ones are the better ones.

This was really exhausting as a new SEO trying to learn even the basics.

Also it was disturbing as many SEO magazines or blogs sold a service or online tool at the same time. It felt like I needed tens of paid software even to do the basic SEO things.

Later I found out that this thing is really important in SEO to boost the E-A-T (my article on this is coming soon). But as a starting optimizer I struggled to find a trusted source SEO knowledge.

Danny Goodwin from Search Engine Land nails my thoughts on this tweet. This was really confusing as a beginning optimizer as some SEO personalities gave old tactics really fancy names like Reverse outreach. Like Danny writes this meant only writing good content that people want to link to.

I had no idea where to even start SEO…

When reading tons of SEO guides and news sites, I had some idea about search engine optimization.

I knew already that I should get more links from authoritative sources.

I should create good content that people like to read.

I should categorize the information in a certain way (I had no idea how).

I should create inner links inside my website somehow (I also had no idea how or why).

I should concentrate on meta descriptions and create clickable headlines.

And probably I should buy every single SEO tool I was advertised (later I found out that one good tool was enough).

…But I started anyway

After some while I just thought I have to start somewhere.

I started creating more content and tried to analyze which types of content visitors will like the best.

First small eye-opener was finding out that my actions really affect Google Analytics’ data.

I found out that some types of content will have a lower bounce rate than others. Also the variable time on site varied a lot between the content. Also very small changes in let’s say mobile readability affected the time on site a lot.

This was really fun to notice that my actions really affect the analytics data. But a bigger eye-opener was when I found out about Ahrefs. (Disclaimer: I am not connected or affiliated to Ahrefs in any way.)

Ensiaskeleeni hakukoneoptimointiin kansikuva

Ahrefs really opens my eyes to SEO

Initially my friend told me about Ahrefs. He said that Ahrefs is really expensive but is really worth the money.

I gave Ahrefs a shot and was amazed. It had so much data on backlinks, domain and URL ratings and general SEO things.

The biggest thing was finding out why my competitors outrank me all the time. The reason was a better backlink profile.

I found so much opportunities finding backlinks just by spying on my competitors’ sites. Slowly but steadily my domain rating on Ahrefs started to climb. This affected also directly to Google rankings after some time.

Second thing I found out from Ahrefs was the difference between keywords, namely keyword difficulty. I started concentrating on easier keywords. After my site started to rank on numerous easier keywords, the rankings started to get better on harder keywords with more search volume.

Without Ahrefs I wouldn’t be so successful with my website. And being honest, I think any major SEO tool like Semrush or Moz would have been enough for me, but I went with Ahrefs because of my friend’s recommendation.

I learned a lot doing everything myself

I ran my affiliate website all by myself. I am not sure if that was the wisest choice, but I felt like I don’t want to hire anybody at that point.

So I did everything myself. Basic graphics, website design, writing content, thinking about analytics, SEO and all things related how to run an affiliate site.

That was sometimes really heavy and stressful, but on the other hand I learned a lot about every possible thing running an affiliate website. I decided that my site doesn’t have to be the best, just very good is enough.

As I have no expenses like wages or big office, also less revenue is enough for me. This turned out to be a good choice for me.

Also by doing everything by myself I learned a lot about SEO by testing and trial and error. I made a lot of bold changes to the website.

Sometimes the rankings got up and sometimes my choices affected the rankings negatively. But running the site by myself, it was easy to revert the changes back. Luckily the rankings reverted also quite fast after mistakes.

My thoughts about SEO in 2022

After years of running my website it got really successful in one small affiliate niche. After some time bigger players in the industry started to be interested in my site.

I decided to sell my affiliate site to a bigger company so I could start something new.

My new personal website (this site) is a thing I want to create now. My plan is to write everything I know about SEO and affiliate marketing. I don’t know why, but I just have a feeling I need to write all the knowledge out of my head.

Maybe this website and my articles will lead to something new in the field of SEO, affiliate marketing or something else.

Thanks a lot for reading this far! Please write a comment below or reach me in Twitter if you have any questions or ideas.

Image sources

The cover image from Wikimedia Commons, editing by me. All other images taken by me.