I believe in an Integrated approach to SEO. This means devising a clear SEO strategy and getting your team to execute this strategy as a part of their workflow. Key staff members typically include tech/design, content, marketing, PR and sales. In short, well integrated SEO leads to reduced costs, greater long term success and significantly less risk (I wrote more about the benefits of integrated SEO here).
Sounds great right? But what if you don’t have these types of resources on tap? How do you deliver great SEO for startups?
By following the 4 steps I outline below, key stakeholders at early stage companies can successfully integrate SEO into their own workflow and their company’s DNA. Apart from driving rankings, these practises can also help create critical building blocks for overall business success.
1) Carefully choose what you read and write
Content according to wikipedia is “information and experiences that may provide value for an end-user/audience in specific contexts” [my emphasis in italics].
If you want to do smart SEO for startups, be very intentional about the content you create. Start by defining your target audience. This target audience should include not just the purchasers of your products or services but also their main influencers too.
Remember that content is defined as ‘information and experiences’. You may not have a big team yet, but you yourself spend time reading, writing and interacting online. So start being intentional about your research, blogging, social media posts, comments. Think about what events to attend and what to talk about if given the chance. Be strategic about all this activity and gear it towards providing value for your target customers and their key influencers.
Let’s look at this blog as a practical example. Ideal clients for InterGreater include established young companies and large traditional businesses looking to get ahead of the digital curve. Those are our target customers. Typically, their key influencers are investors and founders. So of all the many things I could research, think and blog about, I chose a topic that may appeal to or give some kind of value to smart entrepreneurs, investors and mentors.
2) Harness your relationships to build strong inbound links
“Good things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”
For me, hustle in the entrepreneurial sense, means getting your foot in doors, selling yourself, grabbing share or mind and opportunities. All of this allows you, over time, to build key relationships and harness them for your business. All this hustling can also be leveraged to create high performing SEO for startups. In short, you should use your networking and relationships to build in-bound lnks.
In-bounds links are a critical piece in the SEO jigsaw puzzle. The more high quality and relevant sites that publish links pointing to your domain, the higher your site will rank. The same principle applies to individual pages within your site. The more high quality relevant links to any given page within your site, the higher it will rank for the keywords it contains.
In-bound links from relevant sources can lead to critical and qualified referral traffic too. So, as your company grows you should be leading your sales teams, your PR team and all other brand advocates to think about the online and in-bound linkbuilding angle to their work. But this all starts with the CEO and his/her board – the biggest brand advocates and hustlers in chief! If you integrate link building into your networking and relationship building, you will know how to lead and others will follow.
You could start by looking at the following possible opportunities
Give quotes advocating suppliers and other partners. It makes sense for the receiving party to mention and link to your company in the by-line.
Take this concept a step further. If there is another company you are collaborating with, can you work together to create a case study promoted by both parties? For a great example of this at a very high level, read “How we made $1 million for SEOmoz—with one landing page and a few emails“. In this post, ‘Conversion Rate Experts’ (the poster) talk in much detail about what they did to boost subscription rates for SEOMoz. They thank SEOMoz, link to SEOMoz and give a lot of contextual promotion of the SEOMoz business. Great for SEOMoz inbound links, brand reputation and qualified traffic. At the same time of course, they promote their own business powerfully. In turn, when SEOMoz’s highly influential CEO Rand Fishkin talks about conversion rate optimisation online, he frequently mentions this collaboration and links to this page (eg in this Slideshare on ‘Big Picture CRO‘). This boosts the inbound linking juice for ‘Conversion Rate Experts’ and reinforces the benefits for both parties.
Is there something you can write that will be of interest to your partner’s user base?
To give you a practical example, Inspiring Interns is a market leading intern recruitment business that attracts the best quality graduates. We consult for Inspiring Interns and we use them to hire interns and we have a great relationship. So how could this relationship lead to mutual online benefit and a great link or two for InterGreater? Well, I figured that there may be many graduates who could be great SEO interns but who had yet to consider the option. So I got one of our own former interns to write a 4 part blog series on SEO – why it is a great career choice, how it works etc (click here to read the first 2 parts). Great value-added content for Inspiring, some nice links for us, a link for them in the blog – and a referral mechanism of smart graduates for us to hire at the same time.
<———EDIT: Added in May 20 2013———
Further to a comment received from Simon Marks of Babel PR (thanks Simon!), it is a must to include PR activity on this list. Inbound links from big media and top blogger sites can have a huge impact on rankings because the search engines credit these sites with very high domain authority. So whether you start with DIY press releases or are taking on PR-specific resource, start schooling yourself and your team to do PR with SEO in mind.
Start by doing the basics – include links in the press release copy and, where possible, refer to the brand in its domain name form.
However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve vanilla brand links in media coverage. So think about your target media and their readership – and ask yourself, what more would they like to discover about the subject matter of your press release? Perhaps a sector/product timeline and some competitor analysis. Or some compelling video demos or interviews. Or some additional graphical representation of data.
To maximise potential linking opportunities, create a page on your site, include as much of this targeted value added information as possible and list the page as a resource within your press release. Do some parallel online marketing of the page as well. If you do this really well, with each major press release you can drive significant volumes of high authority links and generate some great onsite content as well. For more ideas on how the PR and SEO functions can be dovetailed to maximum effect, check out our ‘PR SEO Integration and Collaboration’ infographic.
————— END EDIT ————–>
3) Hire resourceful, web savvy marketeers
As explored above, to achieve great SEO for start ups, you will need to sustain and develop a great content strategy and to generate strong inbound links. To do this successfully, your business will need to do most if not all of the following
- Analyse your own and competitor content and links
- Contact credible, relevant sites that will be willing to link to you as a resource / are linking to competitors already
- Identify target audience groups and their key influencers
- Analyse what key influencers are writing about and sharing
- Devise content that is original and attractive to influencers / target audience
- Blog, guest post, social media post, comment and answer questions on targeted subject matter
- Form relationships with influencers via commenting on and sharing their work
There certainly aren’t enough hours in the day for you to fulfil all these tasks and you will be focussing the bulk of your time on other business critical tasks. So of course, help needs to be hired. So what qualities do you look for?
In a brilliant recent interview (click here to watch), former Paypal, LinkedIn and Square COO Keith Rabois spoke about hiring great talent. He shared and agreed with Paul Graham‘s mantra to look for ‘relentlessly resourceful’ candidates. This clearly applies to the fields of online marketing and SEO. While the above list requires some writing and some creativity, most of all it requires research. The tools and knowledge base exist online to streamline all this research, but for a team member to find the right sources and tools and apply them creatively, and to do so without becoming a drain on your time, that takes resourcefulness. I also advise looking for someone who spends a lot of time on the internet, reading, sharing and posting. The type of research we are talking about – and its use in an innovative way – will come much more naturally to a digital native.
So when it comes to recruitment time, I advise looking for these qualities and interests in your applicants CVs, in their hobbies, in their online activity and in their interview practicals.
4) Don’t cut corners with your SEO
The cleanest, least risky method of winning with SEO for startups is to present and build up targeted, valuable content and to market that content to relevant, interested third parties to drive links. However this takes considerable effort, creativity and patience. A potentially quicker way of generating SEO for startups is to pick out a few critical keywords, put them on a basic website and to hire an agency to boost your ranks for these keywords. Typically, the agency’s work will revolve building links. Sometimes, particularly at the lower budget levels, the agency will need to build less relevant or other links that Google does not recommend in order to achieve their goals.
Where possible, I would strongly recommend avoiding this short cut route. Create targeted content. Have something interesting to say to your target market. Learn to promote your content effectively. All these practises can enhance your brand and bring you qualified business in a variety of ways. Taking the short cut route may get you further with google rankings in the short term, but it can also lead to ranking penalties (from dodgy links), limited real distinctness and lost opportunities for integration as your business grows.
I am not saying you shouldn’t hire help. But if you do hire help, be very selective about who and stay involved with their activity. Hire someone who can help with short term results but who also wants to help you develop a user-friendly site and compelling, linkable content. Once hired, require transparency with the links he/she is building and the content posted off site. If these are the kind of links and content that are unfitting for your brand – they make get you some short term business – but understand that it’s coming at the expense of rankings, content and online reputation you can rely on in the longer term.
I am confident that by taking the above 4 steps, you can deliver great SEO for startups and set your company headed in the right direction for longterm, low risk, qualified referrals. Perhaps more importantly still, you can take an approach to content and marketing that play a big part in the success of your overall business. I greatly enjoyed reading a Jake Sofroman’s blog in the Harvard Business Review (‘The Rise of the Digital CMO‘). This quote from Jake captures it nicely “Digital experiences and engagement draw consumers closer to a brand and more efficiently drive conversions and transactions, both online and off.”