DiSSSing SEO (or Learning SEO the Tim Ferriss Way)

Tim Ferriss Learning

Not so long ago, I picked up a copy of Tim Ferriss’ latest book – The 4 Hour Chef. Upon glancing at the title, you would think it’s all about cooking, well it is.. and it isn’t. In the description on Amazon.com, “it’s a cookbook for people who don’t buy cookbooks“. It makes the outlandish proposition in helping people become “World-class in anything in 6 months or less”. What if I told you, you could become pretty damn good SEO within 6 months or less? Here’s a curated list of what I think are the best resources in order to get enough breadth and depth to get 80% of the results in SEO. By now, your inner skeptic is taking over, but hear me out…

If you’re familiar with Malcolm Gladwell’s theory of taking 10,000 hours to become a master of a skill, Tim’s methodology flies in the face of that rule. He circumvents all the time by using his DiSSS method of learning.

What Tim postulates is that if you use his DiSSS system (DS3), you can reap the benefits of learning skills at a fraction of the time compared to an unstructured and undisciplined approach.

Di is for Deconstruction

This first step of the method is to deconstruct the skill set you’re trying to learn into the smallest chunks that are most easily understood. For SEO, I would have to say it would be Understanding Your Analytics, How Search Engines Work, On-page Optimization, Keyword research,  Using Excel (for competitive intelligence), Technical SEO and Content Strategy.

The above video would be a good analogy for SEO. There are many components that make up SEO, each can separately serve its own purpose, but when you combine them all, you can really move the needle in getting results for getting ranked on Google. If you’re familiar with the Constructicons, each are robots that have their own unique traits, but when they combine, they form the Gestalt Mega-Transformer for robot domination. (Yes, I’m a huge Transformers Geek :) )


Using the power of Pareto’s Principle (or the 80/20 rule), where 80% of the effects stem from 20% of the causes. This is where you can distill down to those vital few components like the ones listed above that move the meter.

In the 4 Hour Chef – Tim emphasizes “material over method”. If material you’re learning doesn’t help with the end result you’re going after – then you shouldn’t be studying it in the first place. There’s a plethora of resources of how you can learn SEO for free or for a nominal fee to allow you to learn at a fast clip to hit the ground running. If there are only two things you’re to check out in terms of learning SEO, point you towards SEOMoz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO and DistilledU  (if you sign up, you can get 5% off and I get 5% off too!)


like anything else, the order in which you learn things make a world of a difference when acquiring a new skill. Having a solid understanding of the basics serves as the foundation for you to learn more advanced concepts – the sooner you have a firm grasp of those basics, the better you can wield and understand more advanced concepts that can move the meter of SEO and get you ranking higher on search engines.

The order I would say is optimal for learning and concurrently doing at the same time are:

1. Analytics and Blogging

2. Learning How Search Engines Work / On-page optimization

3. Keyword Research / Using SEOMoz

4. Learning Excel

5. Technical SEO

A good visualization of what you’ll be building up to is detailed in SEOMOz’s SEO Pyramid

seomoz seo pyramid


carrot at the end of the stick

While having and understanding your intrinsic motivation (the reasons why you want to do something) is the best way follow through, and consistently stick to a plan to acquire a new skill – what if don’t have anyone or anything to keep you accountable?

This is where having stakes or having a mechanism that has “teeth” to keep you accountable to your promises. Things such as bets where setting up a system of where you’re not staying on track you face the risk of enduring a negative consequence you’d rather not have to face.

For example, if you win, well you’ve acquired the skill as you originally intended (or reward yourself something). If you don’t follow through on sticking to learning SEO or the new skill set you want, you have to give $250 to a friend (or donating to a cause you don’t believe in and detest) for not holding up your end of the bargain.  A great (and funny) example of how this could work is one of Maneesh Sethi’s blog posts on “Hack The System” of how he hired a girl from Craigslist to slap him…

Curated Resources to Learn SEO

Below is the order I would recommend in terms of tackling SEO.


Analytics Academy – the guys at Segment.io have created a great resource for beginners to learn the intricacies of analytics, in an easy to digest manner where they send you weekly emails of their guide into bite sized chunks that you can implement immediately.

Kissmetrics’ Beginner’s Guide to Google Analytics - Another great resource for those who need a primer on Google Analytics.

Above all, Analytics will serve as the foundation for everything else.  As a digital marketer, you need to be data driven.  If you can’t learn or infer what’s going on with your website’s visitors if you don’t measure to properly determine what’s going on with your efforts, then you have no idea of what’s working or not.


SEOMoz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO (cost: free) – I’d say SEOMoz is the industry standard when it comes to SEO and Inbound Marketing software. Their software provides an easy onboarding process that is able help pinpiont the roadblocks that might stop search engines from being able to properly crawl your website and put it into their indices. Same goes with other elements of SEO that matter, such as analyzing title tags, H1, meta descriptions and duplicate content among many other factors. SEOMoz also takes social signals into play, which is huge in driving SEO results a la Google’s freshness algorithms.

DistilledU ($40 per month)  – if you want to learn SEO the “Distilled Way”, this is the place to be.  This is hands down the best course on learning SEO (disclaimer, if you sign up through my link, you can get 5% off your membership and I do too!).

In Distilled’s course, they tackle learning SEO in a fun manner, by turning the learning process into somewhat of a game where you can earn badges and such.  You can check out my DistilledU profile.



Distilled’s Excel for SEOs (free) – as you become more proficient in your skills, the need to analyze and slice and dice your data will increase.  Leveraging Excel to aggregate it and understand your data will be a crucial skill as you progress.  Luckily, Mike Pantoliano, a Consultant at Distilled wrote a guide on how to use Excel for SEOs

Content Marketing

My opinion of this is, if you’re going to try to become good at content marketing, you need to start off by emulating the best. Some of the notables in who does it really well are: Hubspot, Kissmetrics, BufferApp and Onboardly.

Try to emulate or copy them to a certain to degree and put your own unique spin on the content you want to produce.  Get a good grasp of how they’re doing things in terms of their frequency of posting, the types of content they’re putting out, how they’re engaging through social channels and cultivating their own communities and advocates.

Online Marketing News (aka “Hacker News” for Marketers)

While Inbound.org is more skewed towards SEO, as it was launched by the folks over at SEOMoz and Hubspot, here you’ll find the latest and greatest news when it comes to online marketing and all of its many facets, from email, paid search, social, conversion rate optimization and so on.  With the online marketing industry constantly evolving, Inbound.org is a Godsend in terms of staying on top of the latest trends.


Is there anything else I’m missing out on?  What resources have you used to learn SEO?

  • Sam S.

    Great article Will ! The way you’ve outlined a step by step process for developing the necessary skill set really helps demystify SEO.

    Working with various small business owners I’ve found that they often do not have the resources to invest in a full fledged SEO development program. In terms of getting the “biggest bang for the buck” what would you suggest small business owners focus on with limited time and budget?

    • http://www.quantifire.net/blog Will

      Hey Sam!

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. With respect to getting “biggest bang for the buck” – my honest opinion would be to invest in a good writer – perhaps a journalism student as a freelancer to produce content if you don’t have the time to write. There aren’t any shortcuts anymore in terms of getting ranked… you need to put in the time and effort to be able to create valuable content that *deserves* to rank. There are no tips and tricks.. and even anyone attempted to go down that road, Google would be able to pick up on it really fast (they’ve got an army of PhDs working for them for cryin’ out loud…)

      Otherwise, the small business owner knows the space better than anyone else, so adding the occasional piece of content straight from the owner/CEO/founder would be a good idea as well.

  • Pingback: DiSSSing SEO (or Learning SEO the Tim Ferriss Way)