Over 40,000 searches happen on Google every second, that’s 3.5 billion searches per day. For an early stage startup that may not have the funds for much paid advertising, getting in front of even a small fraction of searchers can be very valuable exposure. Ranking highly for the right keywords can bring endless streams of potential customers to your website for free.
You can get there with some Search Engine Optimization (SEO) but it’s not easy, it can take a lot of time and consistent effort. I’ve asked industry experts for their top SEO recommendations that startups can do themselves to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
Can Search Engines Access and Understand Your Site?
The first step is to make sure your site is accessible to search engines and that it makes sense to them.
Danny Dover, Founder of Intriguing Ideas and former Senior SEO Manager at both AT&T and Moz.com has the following advice:
Using Google Search Console, you can see what Google sees when it crawls and indexes your site. Go to the Crawl section of Search Console which will tell you what issues Google found with your site. Search Console has question mark icons next to each error that links to more information on the error and how to fix it. Fixing these errors keeps your site healthy and improves the user experience for your visitors too.
What Are People Searching For?
Before you go any further, we need to make sure people are actually searching for what you offer using the keywords you think they are using. The Google AdWords Keyword Planner or Moz’s Keyword Explorer are great tools for some initial research. You want keywords that people use frequently to search but not too broad or too competitive. If you use keywords in your content that people never search for, it won’t matter if you rank in the first position for these keywords. If you use keywords that are too broad or too competitive you won’t have much chance ranking for or getting any traffic for these searches. Keep an eye out for keyword phrases that ask questions like “How to…?”, “What’s the difference between x and y?”, etc. that your potential customers are asking during different points in the buying cycle. We’ll use those in the next section.
Good content that’s relevant to what searchers are looking for is paramount to success.
John Doherty, Founder of GetCredo.com and Former SEO for Trulia & Zillow, recommends starting with some informational content that helps answer questions your customers have.
“Get in place some foundational content on your website that over time you can update and rank for queries that help your customers along the conversion path. Often starting with informational content is a great way to start generating organic traffic while you are still working to rank your transactional pages. “
Think back to those inquisitive keyword phrases you hopefully discovered in your research. These should be the questions your potential customers are asking. Create content aimed at answering these questions.
Michael King, Founder & Managing Director at iPullRank, also recommends putting consistent effort into content.
“Both fortunately and unfortunately, the most valuable thing a bootstrap startup can do is focus in on valuable and specific content. It’s fortunate because anyone can do it, but unfortunate because it requires a consistent effort. I’d recommend doing some up-front keyword research and systematically working through content around topics that people in your niche are looking for.”
Once you have the content you need, optimize it. For this I’ll turn to the second half of Danny Dover’s advice:
“Your next move should be to identify which of your URLs Google is already valuing and then take steps to optimize those URLs for the applicable keywords. You can find excellent instructions on how exactly to do this by following these instructions by Cyrus Shepard: https://moz.com/blog/single-best-seo-tip-for-improved-web-traffic. By working with Google provided data and optimizing pages that Google is already showing interest in, you make your SEO efforts both easier and more effective.”
Links are like votes for your page or your site. Generally, the more high-quality links you have the more likely you are to rank higher in searches.
Donny Rhoades, Sr. SEO Manager at ServiceNow has some great advice on establishing your brand and building an initial base of links.
“Nail down social profiles with a tool like Know’Em, but then take it a step further and create a LinkedIn profile and have all your employees link their profiles to it. Create a Yahoo Finance or Bloomberg profile, whatever kind of business related profiles you can dig up using one of the tools I mentioned. Everything about your business reputation is online, regardless if you put it there or want it there. Best to take control of every branding opportunity you can. Each of these business profiles are a cross-reference for Google. This company claims to be a real company, do they have an “About Us” page? Check. A LinkedIn Business Profile? Check. Does this information here and here match the information on these other sites? Check. All of this may not have an immediate positive impact, but it can be a long-lasting, if not eternal, uphill battle of getting Google to understand your brand and relate it to your potential users.“
John Doherty also cautions against relying solely on SEO and link building.
“Don’t think about link building as just gaining links. At the beginning, combine PR and link acquisition to get your company’s story out there (often using the founder stories) and at the same time build links back to your website. If you think of SEO as your only marketing channel, you’re going to be slow out the gate and have a bad time. Instead, think of SEO as something you consistently do (getting new links, creating new focused content) while you also use other sources (referral, partnerships, social) to drive your first business.”
Putting it All Together
Next time you’re optimizing your site remember these key elements:
- Indexing & Crawling – Use Google Search Console
- Keyword Research – Start with the Google AdWords Keyword Tool
- Content Creation – Make sure it’s relevant and stick with it.
- On-page Optimization – Moz is a great resource for this.
- Backlinks – Establish your brand profiles and don’t solely rely on SEO.
SEO is necessary to gain success and traction online. All businesses, be they start ups or fortune-500 companies, should consider their entire digital presence when trying to improve their search ranking.