Ask Andy: SEO for Startups – The Journey Continues
[Disclaimer: the advice and points of view in this post are tailored specifically for the industry that the question comes from. While much of this information can be applicable to your current digital plight, advice will vary from company to company, industry to industry. If you have a question about your market in particular, drop me a line at AskAndy@directom.com]
Hello again, you magnificent human specimens!
After the positive feedback I received from my SEO for Startups post, and some cool new questions, I decided to do a follow-up. Don’t worry – my entire column is NOT based solely around SEO, or digital marketing for startups, but some questions could not be ignored, and I like to help out those new to the wonderful world of internet marketing.
For the sake of convenience and efficiency, I have picked my top 3 favorite SEO for Startups follow up questions, and compiled them into this lovely little post for you. If you’re short on time, here’s the abridged version: I answered questions about pre-launch SEO for a website, how to avoid black hat SEO, AND the best ‘bang for your buck’ for e-commerce SEO (in that order).
Now, that we’ve got the preamble out of the way, let us once again delve into the realm of SEO for startups.
Our first query comes from Chris, owner of Browns Marketing:
I am the owner of a new business website that will launch in a few days. I wondered if there was anything I could do pre-launch to help with SEO? And if not having done anything will it hurt my site?
Chris, first of all congratulations on launching a new site! It is both exhilarating and terrifying. For your first question, YES there is absolutely things you can do pre-launch to help with SEO.
Make sure your H1, meta descriptions, and title tags are all optimized for the keywords you want to rank for. As you go through each page of your site, make sure that you have content-specific keywords placed thoughtfully throughout.
The second part of your query can be answered in two parts: not having done SEO pre-launch, and not doing SEO at all, and the effects it can have on your site.
For your pre-launch, there are a ton of variables to take into consideration when it comes to successful SEO: industry competition, what keywords you want to rank for, market saturation, etc.
That being said, with your site being brand-new, you will not automatically show up in the Google index. There is time to get your optimization ducks in a row.
So You Launched Your Site… Now What?
Following your site launch, you should absolutely begin implementing SEO best practices, which is primarily good, fresh content, title tags, making sure your images have appropriate alt text, and your URL’s have the keyword phrase or subject listed in them.
Not using SEO strategies can affect your website in ways unrelated to SEO rankings as well. The Internet hath no fury like SEO scorned, and here’s a couple ways you’ll experience that wrath:
• Mobile device visitors will be lost: A known benefit to on-page SEO is that it makes your site mobile friendly. If your site can’t be navigated by pocket computers (a cute name I call cell phones), users will get frustrated, leave, and find your competitors page instead.
• Advertising expenses will be higher: If SEO isn’t used as a strategy to generate site traffic, you’ll have to rely on alternate methods for traffic generation (think Google Adwords or PPC). This is going to require a higher advertising budget than investing in SEO man hours.
• Public perception is (completely) out of your control: When someone uses a search engine to learn more about, or to read reviews of, your company and services would you prefer they are directed to your site, or to forums, shopping sites, or social media sites? If they go to your site, they hear your voice, and can read testimonials from satisfied customers (if you don’t have one of these pages, I recommend getting one). If they go to a social media site or forum, your brand voice is lost.
Black Hat SEO: Detection and Protection
Our next question comes from AJ, owner of start-up tutoring company Suprex Tutors Houston.
My question to you would be: How can you protect yourself from Black Hat SEO practices?
AJ, I’m going to start off with an answer that may make you want to roll your eyes: the best way to protect yourself from black hat SEO tactics is to not participate in them (great advice right?!).
A good way to tell if something is black hat or white hat is to ask yourself the following questions:
• Does it feel sneaky?
• Is it way too easy/good to be true?
If you answer ‘yes’ to either of those questions, you are more than likely about to participate in some black hat tactics. SEO is a difficult beast to (attempt to) tame, but it is a morally righteous beast. If you are doing something that is a little lazy (like keyword stuffing) or a little icky (like commenting on every post/article you can find and dropping a link to your site in it), then odds are you are flirting with some black hat tactics.
Making sure you don’t fall victim to black hat SEO in-house is much easier than if you outsource your SEO. How can you be sure that the agency you hire doesn’t dabble in the dark arts of black hat SEO? Do your research, ask questions about their methods, and maybe try a little trickery. For example, ask them how they feel about implementing doorway pages, or invisible text, as a way to boost rankings. If they support these strategies, back away slowly.
photo courtesy of: http://www.imodeducation.com
Another classic tip-off that you’re going to be scammed by an SEO agency is when they GUARANTEE a ranking on the first page of Google. There are no guarantees in SEO, and anyone who says there are is either trying to hustle you, is completely delusional, or loves them some black hat SEO.
For more supplemental information on specific black hat topics, I recommend checking out this post by Search Engine Watch- it’s a pretty comprehensive list of black hat tactics in 2016, and the penalties they can incur.
Black Hat SEO: The Other Side of the Coin
There is another aspect to Black Hat SEO, which is if you have some particularly dastardly competitors, who use your site to spam other websites, or build harmful links back to your site. If this happens, Google has a disavow links tool that basically communicates to Google that you don’t want to be associated with certain external links.
Use this tool with caution. Only disavow unnatural links or paid links, which can cause a penalty from Google. Here’s a great guide on how to disavow the right links, from the audit to the actual disavowal.
Bang for Your Buck
My name is Jason Weisbrot and I am the co-founder and President of Arteeni.com, a curated online gallery for American artisans selling art and other handmade items.
Our site is relatively new and while I know that SEO is hugely important, especially for an e-commerce site, I know very little. So, here is my question for you:
How would you recommend that startups who have a small initial budget get started with SEO – i.e. what is the best “bang for our buck”?
SEO is a hugely important component of e-Commerce success, especially when you’re up against big players like Amazon and Etsy. There are two avenues that you can travel down in the search for budget-friendly SEO strategies: internal SEO and external SEO. I’ll briefly explain the benefits of each, give you a couple suggestions based on your particular industry and website, and hopefully help you prioritize your SEO initiatives.
Internal SEO: Because What’s Inside Counts!
Internal SEO focuses primarily on making sure your website is search-engine friendly, while making sure it is still readable for human people. This is the very technical, analytical side of SEO, and is absolutely necessary for your site to flourish. Now, don’t panic! I know that sounded real ominous. You can take internal SEO in baby-steps, especially if your website is still relatively new. The newer the site, the longer it will take SEO to have a real effect. Since Google doesn’t really know what you’re about yet, it will take a while to build up some trust.
On-page SEO: The DIY Edition
If you’re just getting started with your website and SEO efforts, contracting an agency for project-based work (like to get your site off the ground) is definitely a more affordable option than signing a yearly contract with an agency (shameless plug: we at Direct Online Marketing allow for month-to-month services, so no contract necessary).
Keep in mind that Google likes a site that is being updated regularly. A stagnant site is not going to rank as well as one that is consistently improving, updating, and adding new content.
An example of helpful on-page SEO you can implement would be optimizing each artisan page for their name—for example, make sure that there’s an H1 tag with the artisan’s name on each one of their pages, and the title tags feature the artisan’s name first.
By implementing these quick fixes, when anyone searches for an artisan, your site will show up on the search engine results page. If someone is serious about cyber-stalking, they will click around on all the links that register your artisan’s name, including your site. Increased traffic increases the chance of a conversion. (Obviously, the more well-known and active your artisans are, the bigger the payoff will be).
There are some great free online tools you can use to self-audit your site, and make sure it stays as search engine friendly as possible. These are not going to be as comprehensive as a full audit by an agency, but they do provide some great surface information that should be helpful in modifying your on-page SEO efforts.
You can check out some free SEO tools here.
Depending on the results from your audit, you can gauge what fixes you can make to your site to make it more search engine friendly. Generally, the feedback will include adding meta tags, meta descriptions, h1 headers, and some content fixes. This leads us into keyword research.
External SEO: Networking For Your Website
External SEO has a more public relations-y vibe to it. Building relationships with influencers and bloggers, creating unique content that can be valuable to a variety of niches within your industry, and building up your backlink profile are all examples of stellar external SEO that can help boost rankings, visibility, and brand awareness.
Social Media: Spread The Word (for free!)
With the amount of artisans you have on your site, and the charities that you donate a portion of proceeds to, creating a social media movement is absolutely something you should consider doing.
There is a lot of debate on the effectiveness of social media link sharing on SEO performance. HOWEVER, there can be some benefit if a page or domain regularly goes viral, with dozens of shares per page, and hundreds-plus shares of a domain.
[Side note: going viral is hard. Like, really, really hard. Even if you don’t make it to viral status, your social media efforts can get your website in front of prospective customers, and that is definitely a good thing.]
While social media sharing may not directly affect your rankings on Google, it can absolutely lead to an increase in site traffic, which can help out your conversion rates.
Another great way to increase engagement with your artisans or charities is to look for fun national holidays pertinent to your artisans or your charities. For example, celebrate National Dog Day on your social media channels, bring attention to the fact that those who make a purchase on your site can donate to Animal Welfare Institute. Maybe feature artisans who sell dog friendly items, dog-centric jewelry, etc.
This is a way to incorporate a charity you support, as well as your artisans’, all while pulling at the heart strings of those who see the posts. (Don’t forget to ask your artisans and the charity to share across their social media channels as well!)
Partner Links: Sharing is Caring
Ask charities on your list for a link back to your site, with them stating you’re an online store with a heart of gold that supports artists across the country.
Given the warm and fuzzy feelings of community I felt from surfing around on your site, I would probably recommend focusing more on external SEO while you’re still getting your feet wet in the Google-dom (like Google Kingdom – get it? See, Androids can be hilarious!). Creating a strong grassroots movement on social media platforms, and building up general goodwill through the philanthropic endeavors of your site will increase popularity, site traffic, and conversion rates.
The end is here, but that doesn’t mean it’s over!
Well kids, that ends another edition of Ask Andy. Do you have a digital marketing question just begging for an answer? If you do, ask away at Andy@directom.com