[Disclaimer: the advice and points of view in this post are tailored specifically towards SEO for startups. These answers are meant specifically for the industry that the question come from, and is provided without the benefit of asking the company for additional details – we take your query at face value. While much of this information can be applicable to your current digital plight, advice will vary from industry to industry. If you have a question about your market in particular, drop me a line at AskAndy@directom.com]
Hello friends, and welcome to the inaugural ‘Ask Andy’ column. I am excited to share my wisdom, advice, and (most importantly) hilarious memes with you. I received a tremendous amount of inquiries from a variety of businesses on subjects ranging from Google AdWords to link building to finding the right strategies for your budget.
SEO for startups is a subject near and dear to my heart, so that’s the path we will travel on together today. Ten years ago, I began an arduous journey with Direct Online Marketing: going from a twinkle in the eye of our Prez, to a challenged startup, to the vibrant company of today that you all know and love.
While many things have changed in the realm of digital marketing from 2006 to the present day, certain factors remain the same when it comes to successfully launching your website.
One of the most long-term, valuable facets of digital marketing also happens to be one of the most confusing and complex: SEO.
photo courtesy of: http://www.mojocreator.com
Making SEO unnecessarily complicated is the fact that there are many articles and agencies that tell horror stories, use convoluted language, or don’t give a straight answer to your question. Luckily, good ol’ Andy is a straight shooter, with no time for nonsense and no capacity for deceit.
Our first startup with SEO queries comes from Maria, co-founder of Spruced, a San Diego-based company whose app pairs clients with local ‘hidden gems’ in the health and beauty industry.
We just soft launched our startup and have just about 4.5 billion questions about SEO, but here are just a few:
1. We understand that SEO is no longer about embedding a bunch of keywords into our site and that Google has changed its algorithm recently. Is that true?
2. Besides putting keywords in the page headers and meta descriptions, are there other places we should be focusing our efforts?
3. Also, we’ve been told by digital marketing company advisers not to make SEO our priority right now since we are so new to market and can’t possibly compete with the SEO of our competitors. Do you agree with this?
Thanks so much for your help!
Maria, out of your 4.5 billion questions (an impressive number!), the three you narrowed it down to are excellent. Without further ado, let’s dive into the turbulent waters of digital marketing.
Google Algorithms: Keeping You Up at Night Since Always
We understand that SEO is no longer about embedding a bunch of keywords into our site and that Google has changed its algorithm recently. Is that true?
Heck yeah it’s true. Google has a proper menagerie of algorithm updates, with penguins and pandas and hummingbirds (oh my!).
With each passing year (and species) their algorithms have become more complex and sophisticated, as a way of ensuring a high quality user experience. Additionally, implementation of RankBrain is radically changing how Google presents search results to the individual user. (BTW, RankBrain is Google’s shiny new artificial intelligence program that helps them process queries. You can read more about Rank Brain here). They are more able to judge the intent of your search, effectively adding context into the content, and picking up on the nuances of an individual users search query.
Basically, the algorithm updates Google imposes strive to find websites that cater to your target audience, and their needs based off their search history. This has resulted in the search engine presenting trustworthy websites that offer value to users, rather than sites that try to rank through keyword stuffing.
image courtesy of: http://searchenginestream.com
So, what does this mean for your site in particular? Make sure your content is geared towards getting users to their end goal. In this case, that means easily finding the service they are looking for, in the area they are looking.
Do not use vague or ambiguous language in your CTA’s. You want the language used on your page to be user AND search friendly: be obvious and direct.
If you want to learn more about the different algorithm updates, Moz has graciously put together a lovely, easy-to-digest compilation of Google’s updates that you can read about here.
SEO and Google Street Cred
Besides putting keywords in the page headers and meta descriptions, are there other places we should be focusing our efforts?
Short answer: yes.
Longer answer: On page SEO needs to be airtight, but keep in mind that link building and content creation is generally regarded by the SEO community as the most important strategy for ranking a website (you can check out this report for further information on that).
So, why are these two factors so incredibly important? I’m glad you asked! Basically, links are the equivalent of trust. When another site links to yours, they are essentially vouching for you. The more sites link to you, the more trust you accumulate across the world wide web.
image courtesy of: http://tshirtgroove.com/
What’s a great way to organically build links and keep your website fresh (which is agency-speak for “update your site every now and then so it doesn’t look like it’s just sitting there and festering”)?
You guessed it. Creating content.
Content creates links, which means you are adding value to the internet community, while building up the trustworthiness of your site, and getting hella street cred. Google likes trust. Google likes when you help other sites and create value for users. And Google especially respects street cred.
Prioritizing Your SEO
We’ve been told by digital marketing company advisers not to make SEO our priority right now since we are so new to market and can’t possibly compete with the SEO of our competitors. Do you agree with this?
I would agree that SEO should not be a primary focus, but it should absolutely be on your radar.
According to traditional new business models, growing revenue soon rather than later is good, because, you know, bills. Also, profits are generally a cool thing to generate. BUT some angel funded startups focus instead on building technology, then their user base, before worrying about the paper chase. Now, with that being said, there is a place for SEO within either of those parameters.
I’m not sure why, but lots of people think SEO is a one-dimensional element of digital marketing. This is wildly inaccurate. SEO is that heinous monster from Hercules, that for every head you cut off, two more grow in its place (adorable, right?).
Just when you think you have totally conquered a set of ranking factors, the search engine beast adds 2 or 3 more updates to overcome. This makes it VERY easy to get overwhelmed.
I recommend focusing on the two aspects of SEO that are not only manageable, but which will help you achieve awareness in your community.
Since you are catering to one specific area, the key strategy I recommend for your business in particular is local link building. There are a couple ways to go about this:
- Search for industry-specific directories.
- Search for business directories specific to the San Diego area.
- Get listed on CrunchBase. It’s a great website resource for start-ups.
- Reach out to local bloggers, health and beauty experts, online magazines, and local companies that fall within your niche. (Maria- make sure you check this last link out. It’s for San Diego beauty bloggers and it goes to their local directory page).
**PRO TIP** Make a spreadsheet with your company name, contact information, company email, brief description, and a long description. Make sure that anyone who is helping out with link building has a copy of this, so that your brand message stays consistent across platforms.
What will this accomplish? It will build up your backlink profile (hello, street cred!) and will also alert Google that you are based in one specific geographic area, belonging to a specific industry, and will make your site more searchable for your target audience.
A secondary SEO strategy that you should consider taking on, if you have the time and manpower, is creating content. You can either create valuable content that lives on your site, or offer to be a guest contributor to a blog or site that is related to your field. Generally, with guest contribution, the site allows you to add a link back to your own website (generally in the author bio).
The content you create does not need to be directly about your app. It can be about a subject related to your app, which will help establish you as “Someone Who Knows What They Are Talking About” (a commendable title).
I cannot stress enough how critically important it is to keep your content, and link building efforts, relevant to your product/service. Going too far off the grid can come across as being spammy, and trust me, Google does not play that game.
Maria, I hope this information was comprehensive, helpful, and easy to follow. If you have any additional questions, or want something more specific, I am here to serve as your adorable green guide through SEO.
If you, our wildly intelligent and super attractive readers, have any digital marketing questions for me, send them to AskAndy@directom.com.