If I had to rank the questions I'm asked at conferences and online, probably the single most asked question I'm asked is in the form of "How do I get started X", where X is SEO, affiliate marketing, social media, Twitter, Google Analytics, etc. Fortunately, there's an answer for you (and it's not "Let me Google that for you").
The answer to "How do I get started..." is always in the format of:
Why / What / How
Why do you want to do X? What's the overall objective? What's the biggest possible picture? For example, a lot of people do ask how to get started in social media. Why? What end does it serve?
A few years ago, I was doing Social Media Therapy sessions at MarketingProfs B2B conference, and this one gentleman asked me exactly that question. He explained that his business was in the business of using massive computing resources to adjust prices in real-time for big box stores to maximize profits. In a word, his company's function was to make buying something as expensive as the market would tolerate. I explained to him carefully that social media had very little to offer to him - in fact, consumers becoming aware that his company existed to make their lives more unpleasant might lead to things like torches and pitchforks at the front door of his office. Better that he focus on his existing customer base and use the networks of tightly-knit executives to help him grow his business.
If you don't know why you're doing something, don't dare do it. Figure out why, figure out what the big picture is, and only then move on to...
Once you know why you're going to do something, you can start to dig into what to do. The simplest way to begin tackling what is to examine what's already being done. For example, let's say you want to get started with SEO. Start your search engine of choice and see what's out there. Chances are, someone has a guide of even mediocre quality that can be a place to start your inquiry.
One of my favorite tricks to start learning any area is to see what books are available about it. Hit up your local library or Amazon or the book source of your choice and start learning the words and phrases people use. Don't go leaping into anything just yet - just develop a lexicon of the basic terminology for your area of study. For example, if you're getting started with SEO, a few easy reads will give you a list of things like inbound links, on-site optimization, link building, keyword phrases, etc.
There is no substitute here for doing your homework. Building this kind of lexicon in your head and learning how the different words interact with each other is absolutely essential and there are no shortcuts you can take that won't cost you obscene amounts of time, re-work, or money later down the road.
That leads us to...
Very often, people do this step first, and that's totally backwards. This is the last step, where you take each of the lines of inquiry from the What phase and learn the nuts and bolts of making the What happen. If you just start searching in the dark without the Why and What understood thoroughly, you're essentially hoping that you'll piece together a working plan. It's roughly akin to going into your kitchen, getting 5 items out of the refrigerator, and hoping it makes a meal. If you draw lime juice, milk, a piece of cheese, a box of baking soda, and the fridge thermometer, you're in for a very hungry day.
What I recommend most is that you actually draw out a diagram or a mind map with each phase on it. Start with the Why, then add in the What, and you'll eventually have enough branches to fill out the How. Doing it this way lets you write very detailed questions to ask search engines, colleagues, and your network of resources to get the insights you need.
Drawing out a map like this also lets you add and remove things as your base of knowledge grows and as you find out what works for you and what doesn't. As an added benefit, when you're done with the project or line of inquiry, you automatically have all of your documentation pre-built.
So how do you get started with...? Figure out the why, what, and how!
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