From a startup’s perspective, the mountain of established brands clogging up the search engine rankings may seem more than a little insurmountable. After all, those companies have been chasing SEO trends for years, working to dominate the first page of the SERPs and block out any competition.
What chance does a new startup have against all of that?
Well, while it is true that the more established companies may have an advantage in some elements of search engine optimization, there are still plenty of opportunities for a new business to increase traffic and build a strong and sustainable SEO campaign.
There are even some benefits to starting fresh. If you build your website from scratch with SEO principles in mind, you may be surprised at what you can accomplish. (Compare this to huge websites with thousands of pages with lingering technical SEO problems.)
You don’t have to have a massive budget to get started with an SEO campaign. You do, however, have to have some time and dedication.
First Things First: What Are Your SEO Expectations and Perceptions?
You’ve probably heard a lot of things about SEO. Some of those things may be correct. Far too many of them may be misconceptions that have been perpetuated throughout the years.
When you hear the term “SEO,” do you immediately think of “scammy” tactics meant to game the search engines?
Or do you think about the algorithms that power the search engines and how those algorithms specifically define what they consider a “quality” website?
Do you think that SEO is all about rankings, rankings, rankings, or are there better, more effective ways to measure your success?
SEO has changed a lot over years, and, despite all the click-bait articles that proclaim the death of SEO, as long as search engines rely on an algorithm to judge and categorize your website, there will be a number of best practices that will put your site in line with those requirements.
And no, rankings are not the end all and be all of SEO. Those “scammy” companies you’ve heard about focus a lot on rankings. They promise number one rankings for a certain number of keywords, but never really specify how they’ll get you there.
This is the kind of thing that Google does not appreciate, and you don’t want to make the Google angry with you.
Rankings are certainly still important, but traffic and conversions are more so.
So here is lesson one:
Fixate instead on traffic and revenue growth.
These are the metrics that will keep you in business. If you’re ranking in the top spot for keywords that don’t actually send you traffic that is ready to convert, then you’ve spent a lot of time and money on a lot of unhelpful SEO.
Research, Research, Research
Before you dive into any optimization tactics, you have to do some research and make sure that your plan is, in fact, suited to your industry and the competition around you.
For Competitive Research:
- Examine the search results for your ideal keywords.
- Expand out into long-tail keywords and see who is ranking for those terms.
- These are the people who are attracting more qualified traffic.
- After gathering keywords and doing your searches, gather the URLs and domains for the top 30 to 50 results.
- Identify which of these domains shows up the most in the rankings for a range of keywords.
- Ask yourself if those companies are really your competition.
Make a list of everything from the size of their site to the number of backlinks and the way they use keywords. Determine what you can emulate and what you can outdo.
For Keyword Research:
- Determine your current keyword performance using Analytics (this is more difficult these days, but it is still possible).
- Find the pages that have been performing well and delivering the most conversions and determine which keywords have likely been sending traffic here.
- Start building out your keyword list and determine search volume. This can be done with tools like Google’s Keyword Planner.
- Expand your list. Build it out as far as you can. You can focus it down later.
- Identify the keywords that speak to consumer behavior. This will tell you the types of searches that indicate the customer is ready to buy and which ones mean they’re just looking for information.
- Optimize those pages for the keywords that are more likely to convert.
Deliver Content that Provides Value
There was a time when content creation – whether it was for web pages, ecommerce product pages, or blog posts – was all about incorporating the right number of keywords in the right place to show the search engines that you were the right website for that search.
Google is a lot smarter than keywords, these days. So smart, in fact, that it can determine when you’re providing the value that your visitors are looking for. So, the next step, once you’ve identified the right keywords, is to start producing high-quality content around those topics that provides real value for your customers.
The simplest way to do this is with a regularly updated blog.
Anyone can blog.
More importantly, the specialists in your company can blog.
Create an editorial calendar and begin publishing and promoting your content to your audience. Make it clear that the information you’re giving out for free is important and can help them make the right decisions.
Keep your keywords in mind as you create this content. They don’t need to be your all-consuming focus, but they should be the guideposts that help you participate in important conversations.
Get the Technical Aspects Right
You don’t need to be a seasoned SEO specialist to make sure the nuts and bolts of your website is conforming to best practices. As a startup, you should, at the very least, make sure the following elements are fully optimized.
- Title tags – These tags still have an impact on your rankings, so you should make sure you include the right keyword. It should be more than just a spot to park a keyword, though. You should be using it to brand the page and give searchers a reason to click. Remember to make every single title tag unique.
- Meta descriptions – These descriptions have not had any direct impact on rankings for years. However, they have a huge impact on whether or not someone clicks on your link. Take this opportunity to create unique description that makes a searcher want to click.
- Headings – Subheadings throughout your content make the page easier to read and simpler to parse. They help skimmers find the information they want and search engines understand what the page is about.
- Internal links – You need to link to valuable pages throughout your website. However, you don’t need to (or want to) link every instance of a keyword back to a certain page. The best way to think of internal links is to decide if you’d really be okay with a reader leaving the page at that moment. If not, don’t throw in a link there.
- Sitemaps – XML sitemaps are a critical part of site organization. There are several tools available that can help you produce a sitemap with all your pages on it. You can then submit it to Google Webmaster Central so the search engine can properly crawl and index your site.
- Alt tags – This is another tag that may not have a direct impact on your rankings, but it’s critical for SEO best practices. Alt tags are website elements that tell the search engines all about your images and help them get indexed properly. Make sure each one is unique and relevant to the image, and not just another attempt to use a keyword.
- Sub domains – Avoid them. While it is tempting to divide up your website for the sake of organization (e.g. putting your blog on blog.company.com) because Google reads that as two separate entities. It’s much better to rely on sub folders (e.g. put your blog on: www.company.com/blog). This makes it easier to index all your content and focus your authority and link juice to a single website.
At some point, you are going to have to start looking beyond your website and find new ways to promote your content.
Link building has gone through some significant changes over the years because it is what those “shady SEO companies” you’ve heard so much about could use to game the system.
Ever since the real-time penguin update, Google has been constantly on the prowl for questionable links. So, as a startup, you need to build a strong foundation of high quality links from the very beginning. You can do this by:
- Collaborating with other websites
- Writing quality content and asking your partners to post it
- Regularly posting on your social media channels and linking to quality content
- Build citations for businesses that rely on a local presence
- Create linkable content – it’s always better to attract natural links than build generic ones
What to Avoid
There are some elements of old fashioned SEO that you need to avoid at all costs.
- Duplicate content – Everything should be original and unique.
- Over optimization – Stuffing keywords into your content or using exact match anchor text on all your links will trigger an unwanted reaction from Google.
- Blocking the search bots – There are some reasons to keep Google from indexing certain pages, just make sure that it’s only those pages and that you don’t block them from your whole site.
- Spammy off-site link building – Forum comments, blog comments, tons of low quality articles posted on low quality sites all look like low quality efforts to Google.
It’s not about measuring keyword rankings anymore. We’ve moved past this in the SEO world. So how do you know if you’ve been successful?
We’ve discussed measuring success in the past, and it involves
You can look at things like direct value reporting, identifying specific wins and successes for your business, identifying areas where more opportunity exists, and comparing Webmaster Tools Data with Analytics data.
By focusing on more “real world” metrics like this, it will be much easier to determine whether or not this is providing the kind of results you want to see.
Put Someone in Charge
As a startup, it’s easy for your focus to shift away from SEO. After all, it’s something that requires a lot of time, and that’s something that most startups have in limited supply.
So, it’s easy to assign certain elements of SEO to certain people throughout the company, but never follow up on how quickly it’s being accomplished or if it has been left on the side of the road along the way.
Put someone in charge of your SEO efforts, so you know exactly who is responsible for getting things done.
And, of course, as your company begins to grow beyond your ability to cover SEO in house, then maybe it’s time to outsource your SEO.
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