This post is based largely on the information presented in the SEO for startups in under 10 minutes video produced by Google, featuring Maile Ohye, Developer Programs Tech Lead, Google. Maile, an SEO Expert, joined Google in 2005 working with the Goolge Search and Webmaster Tools teams.
Maile says that “If I were a consultant for your startup, this is all the advice I would give in under 10 minutes” and who doesn’t appreciate quality free consulting from a well-known industry expert!
This post also includes links to other Internet marketing resources, Webmaster and SEO Resources mentioned by Maile, all of which are top notch.
What Statups Will Benefit?
Startups who will benefit most from this blog post and accompanying resources include:
- Startups that have a website of up to approximately 50 pages
- Startups focused on ranking for handful of of related search terms/phrases
The objective of blog post is to provide Startups with the SEO basics in an efficient and easy to digest format (blend of text, videos and graphics). Readers will also learn about SEO potential pittfalls to avoid, while providing pointers to some great, free Internet marketing resources.
SEO for startups in under 10 minutes video
Select Preferred Website Domain (www vs. non-www)
Select www or non-www, then on you have selected your preferred domain name, use a 301 (permanent redirect) to consolidate indexing singals (authority and value in the search engines domain valuation).
A 301 redirect will take users automatically to the preferred website domain automatically, regardless is they type www or not before the domain root (e.g. ebizroi.com).
Verify Website Ownership in Google Webmaster Tools
The next step in the Startup SEO Strategy is to verify ownership of your website in Google Webmaster Tools. Email forwarding is recommended feature to enable Google to reach you in the event that of indications that a website may have been hacked, that it is hosting malware or the is unreachable for extended periods of time.
Below is a Google Webmaster Tools Dashboard screen capture for eBiz ROI:
Vetting a Domain before Launching a Startup Website
Another trick is to perform a domain “background check” before launching your startup website on a newly acquired domain. One of the questions to get answered as part of a domain background check include was the domain a previously a spammy domain? To find this out, one can check the following in Webmaster Tools:
- What “Keywords” are currently listed in Webmaster Tools
- See what content, if any, is currently indexed with a [site:foo.corn] search
- Rank when searching for domain name
If you see any issues, then please review the Google Webmaster Guidelines which is the authoratative Internet marketing resource if you questions about penalties or reconsideration requests and that entire process.
Another great reconsideration process information source is an interview with an industry expert titled New Clarity on Reconsideration Requests from Tiffany Oberoi.
Fetch as Googlebot
Now its time to look at your startup website and see it the way that Google sees it.
A neat feature in the Fetch as Googlebot feature within Webmaster tools can be found in the Health section of the Webmaster Tools interface. Two key aspects of this feature are that:
- It allows the user to see the content as Google does since it initiates a crawl and then returns the results, including the status of any redirects
- After the content is crawled, the use can then click Submit to Index to have the content added to the queue of Google index update requests.
For more information, check out the following Google video by Maile Ohye entitled Using Webmaster Tools like an SEO.
Include Analytics Code
Start collecting data even if you are not ready to use it, because once you hire an SEO specialist, it is good to have a baseline to see historical performance information such as number of visits to a site, average time on site, average pages viewed by visitor and a wealth of other information.
One excellent Analytics Tool used by startups up to large companies who are members of the Fortune 500 is Google Analytics has an options ideal for startups that can be used without licensing costs and is as easy as pasting a snippet of code into each webpage that you want to track.Once you have signed up for a free Google Analytics account, copy the following code, then paste it onto every page you want to track immediately before the closing </head> tag. It’s that easy!
var _gaq = _gaq || ;
_gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-10757331-1']); replace this Google Analytics code
ga.src = (‘https:’ == document.location.protocol ? ‘https://ssl’ : ‘http://www’) + ‘.google-analytics.com/ga.js’;
var s = document.getElementsByTagName(‘script’); s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s);
Some websites that are dynamic have a field that can be used to propagate the tracking code to each existing or new page that is added to the website. Collecting key website performance may not seem like a priority for a startup website, but trust me, you will be glad someday that you starting collecting the data from the beginning. You can’t improve what you can’t measure.
Site Design is a key SEO and User Experience Consideration
Consider defining different users/personas for your website
- First-time vs. Loyal Customer
Defining personas for your website will help you when designing your layout, look and feel and navigation while focusing your content development and messaging by persona, you will greatly enhance user experience and site ROI (Return on Investment).
Does your website meet the usability needs of each persona representing different target user groups for your site?
If a searcher lands on child page:
- Can they figure out where they are?
- Can they easily navigate to where they want to go?
- Does each page contain one logical topic that is obvious to visitors?
Define Your Conversion
The define your conversion step is particularly important, especially for start-ups.
For example, typical website conversions defined by startups include when persona group X visitors:
- Sign up for an opt-in newsletter
- Contact our bizdev or sale lead
- Buy our product or service directly from the website (e-commerce)
- Try our product (trial)
- Share our service with friends and family (social media syndication)
Make relevant conversions possible on every page. Don’t force users to make extra clicks or your overall site conversion rate will suffer as a result.
Be Smart About Your Website Copy
Include relevant keywords naturally in your text. The key word in the preceding sentence is naturally. Trying to write for the search engines will likely not give you much additional traffic and will likely drive human readers away.
Think about what terms or phrases that people looking to find the kind of content (products/services/offers) that is on your site might use in the search engines. Include query terms that normal people (those outside your world of inside industry jargon) would use to find your product/services/business (e.g. for eBiz ROI, it might be “Internet marketing services”, “increase visitors website”).
One great way to quantify how many people use a particular terms or phrase to search for your product or service is the Google Adwords Keyword Tool which can be used free of charge. Tricks like focusing on tag clouds are mis-spellings are no longer the low hanging fruit they once were in terms of capturing additional search traffic.
Proactively Answer Viewers/Personas Questions
Here are three examples to consider:
- Is the product reputable? Show reviews, let users review.
- What if it doesn’t work? Explain customer satisfaction policy
Every Page Should Include:
- Unique topic – for instance, this post is focused Startup SEO Strategy
- Unique title – important as the title displays as a link in the search results
- Unique meta description for the snippet – this is generally where Google and other search engines source the description of the link in the search results and has been show to be a key factor in click through rates of individual search results.
- For static websites (web pages not created dynamically in the server such as WordPress, Joomla, Concrete5 and other content management systems), put keywords in the filename, lower case and hyphen separated
- Descriptive anchor text (clickable part of the link) for every hyperlink on a webpage, whether you are linking internally or externally to another site.
Anchor Text Examples
Here is an anchor text example that leaves room for improvement: For more information on our services descriptions, click here.
Here is a better anchor text example based on use of keywords in the anchor text: For more information, please read our services descriptions.
A good example of a site that has a unique topic in each page, as well as a unique title and descriptive good page titles and descriptive keywords in the anchor text can be shown for this search result for NASA.
NASA not only has a link to their homepage shown in the search results, but also has generated sitelinks. These sitelinks are created algorithmically by Google, but they can be influenced by having a great site design, having unique page titles as well as great anchor text.
For more information please read about Sitelinks on Google Webmaster Tools (good anchor text example
Potential Startup SEO Pitfalls to Avoid
The following 3 SEO pitfalls are especially important for startups to avoid in the SEO Strategy
- Hiring a rogue or shady SEO. If an SEO guarantees placement on the search engines, run, (not walk) away
- Participating in link schemes such as link exchanges or buying links for the purpose of manipulating or passing Google PageRank
- Focusing too much on form over function. Make sure that the website contains searchable, indexable text as opposed to images, flash and other formats that cannot be read by the search engines indexing programs, called spiders or robots.
Page Load Speed Matters
Another thing to consider about your site is page load time. Lots of times startups don’t have the time or knowledge to focus on this aspect of their website.
How quickly your website pages load will affect not only user experience, but can also affect ranking in the search results.
- An Akamai study finds 2 seconds as customer “acceptability” threshold for e-commerce sites
- Google goal is for page times of 1/2 a second
For more information, please read about site performance on Google Webmaster Tools. Another excellent resource is Google & Site performance: The compilation answer album, by Maile Ohye.
The bottom line on page performance is that the longer that it takes for your page to load, the more likely it is that users will hit the browser back button to navigate away from your page and onto a competitors
Startup Website Ranking
Below are three website ranking considerations that all startups should consider:
- Check how your website ranks for your company name and/or brand. In the best of cases, it will rank #1 in the search results and have Google generated site links on the search results page
- Understand how you rank for other terms through Webmaster Tools Search Queries (available in Webmaster Tools).
- Get involved. For startups, it possible that no one searches for you new kind of product or service resulting in low search query volume. Perhaps prioritize finding a potential audience or community on existing forums, blogs or social media sites. Then to rank well, provide an awesome, unique product or service, then generate and attract buzz: natural links, +1s. likes, follows, shares and more.
For more information, check out the Using Webmaster Tools like an SEO video by Maile Ohye.
Social Media for Startups
Most startups have minimal resources so it is important to come up with a social media strategy suitable for your startup context and real world resource constraints.
- Think holistically: Create an identity on key sites, participate, connect users to entry point of conversion. Its important to think about the entire user experience from point of contact on the social media site to point of conversion on your website.
- Focus your energy on where your audience or perspective clients hang out. Too many make the mistake of joining peer groups and unless your peers are in market for your services, this can become a resource drain, though can be beneficial if goal is to share best practices.
- Play to your authentic strengths:
- CEO likes to Tweet
- Sales and Marketing like to post content and share on Facebook
- Developers already on Google+, Stack Overflow
By playing to your strengths on the social channels where resources are most familiar will allow startups to get the most bang for their social media buck.
In conclusion, even with great advertising, and terrific marketing, valuable conversions still happen on your site. Stay focused and make sure you are ready to implement your Startup SEO Strategy and harvest the “low hanging” SEO fruit and benefits which include more impressions in the search results, more visitors to your website and ultimately more sales and revenue for your startup business. If there are other Startup SEO tips and techniques, please share in the comments so that we can all benefit from your wisdom. Thanks in advance for sharing.