Should all start ups be doing SEO?
It depends on the start up; but I think there's really good reasons why all start ups should probably invest a little time and resource into SEO from the beginning... but just how much... or how little?
Within this post I'm going outline what I think the 'Minimum Viable SEO for Start Ups' looks like.
What do I mean by 'Minimum Viable SEO'? -
"The minimum viable SEO is the amount of activity which yields the maximum benefit with the least effort."
Why the need for 'minimum viable SEO'?
SEO often isn't a priority for start ups. Start ups tend to be focused on launching or refining the product or service that they offer; securing funding, etc.
Even when it comes to marketing, SEO sometimes isn't a particularly attractive option - it's viewed as a long term strategy as it can take significant time to see any ROI etc. As such, other types of marketing where the company can quickly test, learn and refine such as PPC are often seen as more attractive.
With this in mind, here are the SEO tasks which I think start ups should spend time on. Before we kick off, I've made a few assumptions -
1) That the start up will want to rank for their brand
2) The start up will be undertaking some form of marketing / PR activity
3) Basic on-page SEO is covered
If you're not sure whether or not you've got the on-page stuff covered - I do think it is worth spending a little time making sure you understand the basics. If you're short on time - just read this post on perfecting keyword targeting. If you've got a little more time - read chapter 4 of the beginners guide to SEO, or better yet - the whole thing. Once you've done this go back and review on-page elements / check your site is indexable etc.
When it comes to minimum viable SEO there are two key objectives - 'owning' the first page of search results; and strengthening your domain.
1) 'Owning' the first page of search results
The good news is this shouldn't take up an awful lot of time and resource.
Provided your domain exactly matches your brand ranking first for your brand won't be terribly difficult. An exact match domain, plus a handful of branded links is probably all you need. (More on the links later).
I'd also recommend grabbing other relevant social profiles too - Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook etc so you can 'own' as much of the first page of results as possible. There are some tools which make this easy - NameCk and KnowEm allow you to quickly see if your brand is still available.
Start up Mixcloud have done a pretty good job of leveraging various social profiles to 'own' the first page of results - in addition to their own site, you can see their Twitter, Facebook and Tumbler profiles on the first page (click the image to enlarge).
2) Strengthening your Domain (AKA Link Building)
One of the key SEO challenges for the majority of start ups is that they're starting out from scratch - a brand new domain with few (or even no) links from other sites will struggle to rank well.
Why? Well, since the late 1990's search engines have used links as 'votes' - representing the democracy of the web's opinion about what pages are important and popular. The engines themselves have refined the use of link data to a fine art, and complex algorithms evaluate sites and pages based on this information. Whilst links aren't everything search professionals attribute a large portion of the engines' algorithms to link-based factors. Click here to learn more about why links are important.
So what do you need to do? Build links.
There's likely to be the potential to build links via lots of the activity you'll probably be doing anyway... Why not take advantage of that?
PR is likely to be part of the marketing mix - having other sites / publications write about you (which is the ultimate goal if you're doing PR) will help spread the word to potential customers, drive traffic to your site, drive trial / sales, and could even help you to secure funding. Plus, there's an additional SEO benefit if the sites / publications that are writing about you are linking to you too.
As such, if you're writing press releases as part of any PR activity, make sure you include links back to your site. If sites do give you some coverage but don't link back, there's no harm in making contact and politely asking if they'd be willing to link to you.
Using an external PR agency or freelancer? Make sure that links are part of their KPIs - NB they may not be able to secure links in every piece of coverage that they generate for you as some sites are reticent to link out, but they should be able to secure links as well as coverage. If they aren't, it might be time to find someone else to do your PR for you.
Tapping into existing online communities / talking to key influencers...
One would hope that there's a clear market for whatever it is you're pushing out there... Where do those people hang out online? There's online communities for almost any and every niche you can think of - reaching out to these people to ask them if they'd be willing to trial your product / service was undoubtedly part of the plan anyway, right?
Given that you're making contact anyway, there's certainly no harm in asking if they'd be willing to write a review and link back to your site. Again, there's both an SEO benefit here as well as a potential avenue for sales.
Geckoboard is a great example of a start up who have leveraged online communities well. Whilst they were still in private beta they asked the community at Hacker News what they ought to include. This put them in front of lots of influencers early doors. As such much of their backlink profile is made up of people who are linking to them just because they love their product.
Writing for other sites
Do you write for other sites? Make sure there's a link back to your own site within your author bio.
Public Speaking / Exhibiting at Conferences
Are you speaking at conferences / meet ups etc? Make sure you include links to your site within your deck, plus ask the conference or meet up organiser to link back to your site too.
Friends / ex-colleagues / associates
Who knows you, likes you and would be happy to support you? Hit up old friends, ex-colleagues etc and ask if they'd be willing to write about you and link to you - this might be a link from their current company site, their personal site, or another site that they write for.
You may also be able to leverage their connections at other sites - do they know people at a site you'd really like to get coverage from? Can they introduce you?
Make it easy for people to link to you
Make it super-easy for anyone who wants to write about you or link to you. Create a press page on your site with a brief company history, your bio, relevant links etc. Also make it really easy for people to get in contact with you - provide email addresses, phone numbers etc. Rand at SEOmoz does this really well.
Want to do more?
If this post has served to whet your appetite I'd strongly recommend you check out the following for further advice and ideas:
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Got a specific question about SEO for your start up? Or another great resource you'd like to share? Do let me know via the comments.
Image credit - Simplicity