DIY: Google’s guide to SEO for startups
With just a 10-minute “consultation,” a Google’s Webmaster offers advice for startups on their YouTube channel on how to get started with SEO, even if they have limited resources.
It quickly covers a full range of topics, from improving rankings to pitfalls to watch for. It’s specifically for companies with their main content below about 50 pages and a goal of ranking for only a few related items. Here are some of the highlights from Google’s “SEO for startups in under 10 minutes” video:
Verify ownership in Webmaster Tools
- Sign up for email forwarding. This allows Google to send you critical messages, such as alerts to hacked malware or trouble crawling your site.
- Check out Google’s video on “Using Webmaster Tools like an SEO” to learn more about using the tools.
Perform a background check on your domain
If your domain was previously owned by a spammer, your site may not rank well now. Submit a reconsideration request through Webmaster Tools. You also can:
- Look at the keywords listed for your site to see if any unwanted keywords are there.
- See if you’re indexed by performing a “site colon” search [site:URL.com]
If you find problems that may affect your site’s SEO performance, go to the Webmaster Guidelines. If you have questions about reconsideration requests or penalties, you can learn more in this interview with one of the engineers on Google’s Search Quality team.
Include analytics code for future SEO metrics
Whether its Google Analytics or a tool from another provider, you should start collecting data even if you’re not yet ready to use it. This way, you’ll have built historical information about your site when you do need it.
Develop a strategy for your site’s design
To create a great experience for those using your site, you’ll need to go beyond SEO and gain an understanding of them. Consider users/personas for your site and the content they’ll see:
- Customers, such as parents, developers, enthusiasts, and first-time vs. loyal customer
Some questions to ask:
- Utility: Does your site meet the needs of each persona?
- Navigation: If the searcher lands on a page other than the home page, can they figure out where they are and easily navigate to where they want to be?
- Focus: Does each page contain one logical topic that’s obvious to visitors?
Define your conversion
Whether this means you want visitors to sign up for your newsletter, buy your product or share your service, you want to have a relevant conversion possible on every page, such as a call to action. Don’t force users to make extra clicks.
Be smart about your copy
- Include relevant keywords naturally in your text. Include query terms that normal people would use to find your product or business, such as “running shoes” rather than “athletic footwear.”
- Research common terms through Google AdWords keywords tools.
- Answer your visitors’ questions. If that question is “Is the product reputable?” then show reviews. If it’s “What if the product doesn’t work?” you can explain your customer satisfaction policy.
For SEO purposes, every page should include:
- A unique topic
- A unique title (which displays in search results)
- A unique meta description for the snippet
- For non-dynamic sites: keywords in the filename, lowercase and hyphen separated
- Descriptive anchor text for every link, whether you’re linking internally or externally to another site
This example isn’t very descriptive and has room for improvement:
For more information on our product specifications, click here.
This is a better example:
For more information, please read our product specifications.
Google Webmaster Tools offers more information on sitelinks, which help users navigate your site.
Potential SEO pitfalls
- Hiring a rogue or shady SEO. If they guarantee any rankings, it’s too good to be true.
- Participating in link schemes or buying links to pass PageRank.
- Focusing more on your site’s “fanciness” instead of having indexable/searchable text.
Page load time
You may not have a lot of time to focus on this, but it’s good to know that Akamai did a study on e-commerce sites and found that two seconds is the threshold for customer “acceptability.” At Google, they aim for under a half-second.
Generally, users will click away sooner if your site takes too long to load.
- Check how you rank for your company name. Hopefully it’s #1 and with sitelinks.
- Understand how you rank for other terms through Webmaster Tools’ Search Queries.
- Get involved: For startups, it may be that no one searches for your new kind of product or service. Perhaps you should prioritize finding a potential audience or community on existing forums, blogs or social media sites.
- To rank well and stay on top, provide a great product or service, then attract buzz through natural links, +1s, likes, follows, shares, etc.
Social media marketing
Even if you have limited resources, you can still take advantage of social media marketing:
- Think holistically: Create an identity on key sites, participate and connect users to an entry point of conversion, so think about the entire user experience, from the social media site directly to conversion on your site.
- Focus your energy on where your audience actually hangs out.
- Play to your authentic strengths, such as a CEO who likes to Tweet, a salesperson who enjoys Facebook or a developer who’s already on Google+ or Stack Overflow. Have them represent your company and interact on those networks.
Remember that Google never stops changing the way their search engine works. When you’re ready to delve deeper, you can stay up to date by reading their Webmaster Central Blog, Webmaster Guidelines for best practices and other pages on their Webmaster Central site.
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