Whether you’re a new company or you’ve been around for awhile, you’ve definitely heard of SEO, also known as Search Engine Optimization. Now, SEO isn’t the key to success, but you can bet that it’s instrumental to the foundation.
Let’s get one thing clear from the start though, you don’t need to hire an SEO professional to be successful. Actually, you probably shouldn’t. There are more SEO consultant horror stories than there are success stories at this point. And if you’re a young startup, you’d do better off learning some of the tricks to the trade yourself and saving that money for another day.
*Disclaimer: I’m not an SEO professional, but I do run the SEO for a successful tech blog and startup.
“On a broad scale, I see SEO becoming a normalized marketing tactic, the same way TV, radio, and print are traditionally thought of as marketing tactics.” ~ Duane Forrester, Senior Product Manager, Bing
The Origin of SEO
To understand how SEO works now, you need to understand how it started, which was with Google. The engineers at Google realized you could “crawl” a site, and see what other sites were linking to that site — these are called backlinks.
Based off of this idea, they wrote an algorithm that ranked sites higher the more often they were linked to. Theoretically, the sites that were linked to the most were the best and showed up the highest in a search.
The algorithm has become more complex today, taking into account the origin of the site links. For example, one Forbes or New York Times link to your website is worth about 10,000 regular links to your site. And 10,000 junk links to your site (which people do pay for*) will bring your SEO down instead of up.
*Thinking about paying for backlinks to your site? Don’t. Google is smarter than that, and it will catch up with you. If any SEO consultant tells you to use a software like this, fire them. If you see a black hat SEO reaching success in this way, wait and watch. They’ll be kicked off of Google sooner or later.
SEO is the easiest way to get your company or product to show up in Google without paying for it, and that’s why it matters. It’s a long term investment that your company should start today. But where exactly do you start with SEO?
1. Customers, Competition, and Keywords
To get to your keywords, first you must understand your customer. What is the question that you’re answering with your product? What is the search query that you want to show up for? To understand how to target your potential customers, you must understand their actions.
For example, someone doing a mobile search for the name of a restaurant is most likely after their hours, location, or menu. Someone doing a desktop search on “machine learning IoT” is probably looking for resources and literature. Add company to this query for “machine learning IoT company” and you have a potential customer for a business specializing in machine learning in the IoT space.
Once you know your customers, you must know the competition. If you’re just starting out, don’t go for the hot ticket keywords because you’ll never win. If you’re an IoT hardware company and your keyword of choice is IoT hardware, you’ve lost the race before you’ve even entered.
There are two important tools you’ll want to use for this. The first is a keyword generator. You’ll start with 10 keywords, plug them in, and receive 100s. I suggest Keyword Shitter, mostly for the comedic relief. Next, once you’ve narrowed down your list to some you think stand a chance against competition, head over to Google Keyword Planner to estimate the traffic level.
You want keywords with smaller search volume in the beginning, because you’ll trend better against less competition. Use Google Keyword Planner to identify these. As you’re building your site, use the keywords in titles of pages, H1 and H2 tags, and descriptions to boost your searchability for those terms.
2. Structured Data
Now that you’ve got the keywords to fill your content with, it’s time to mark it up. Schema.org is a vocabulary system designed to markup your content in a way that search engines read and understand. Don’t sleep on schema. Trust me, it will come back to haunt you. Here is some basic vocabulary to get you started.
- Itemscope: Tells search engines that all of the content marked with an itemscope tag is about the same topic. For example, you would encompass an article in an itemscope tag.
- Itemtype: This categorizes your content based off of schema.org content types. This includes articles, news articles, ratings, reviews, events, and products.
- Itemprop: This term lets you define certain properties inside your item. For example, your article probably has an author and publish date. Those are itemprops.
In the simplest terms, by using schema.org you are creating structured data for search engines to read. Google will understand the content of your site easily for search results and incorporate your content into Knowledge Graph panels and Google Cards. If you’re a news source or publication, you’ll also want to add yourself to Google News.
Google has even created a helper to mark up your site for you and a tester to make sure you did it correctly. Since most sites these days use content management systems, it’s likely that your CMS has plugins or some other way to implement structured data.
3. Backlinks on Backlinks
Once you have implemented keywords and structured data on your site, it’s time to start thinking about SEO efforts off of your site. Like I covered in the beginning, backlinks have a high stake in page rank and not all backlinks are equal.
A backlink from wikipedia will get you much further than a backlink from an unknown junk site. Easy backlinks you should set up today are social accounts — your Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, and others should all have your site url in your bio.
In Google Search Console under Search Traffic > Links to Your Site, you’ll see a list of places that link to your site. Using a chrome extension from SEOquake, you can add a plugin that shows you the domain importance and domain trustworthiness. These are scored out of 100, with 100 being the best. These scores will help you identify and target places where you should aim for link distribution of your site.
Common ways to get backlinks to your site are by commenting on forums, giving testimonials, submitting to blog aggregators, leaving reviews, guest writing on bigger blogs, and more. The more creative you are with this process, the better off you’ll be.
Because it’s important enough to say twice. Do NOT pay for backlinks to your site.
The Key to Success
With these three strategies in place, you are off to a good start with SEO. But the most powerful factor has been and always will be good content. You can slip up on one or two of these, and still see huge traffic increases if your content is original and valuable.
“The days of SEO being a game outsmarting algorithms are over. Today content strategy and valuable, sustainable strategies are essential, not just tricks and links.” ~ Adam Audette, Chief Knowledge Officer, RKG
Great content is the key to more traffic. Be unique and the herd will come to you.