An SEO Primer: Your Introduction to Search Engine Optimization
What do you think of when you read the words “meta description, alt text, indexing, and crawl?” If you didn’t say “SEO,” this post is for you.
Your startup is getting off the ground, you’re hitting all the industry shows, sending out press releases, and schmoozing with the VCs. But what are you doing about your website? As in, is it up yet? And if so, did you make sure to optimize it for SEO to ensure Google and the other search engines can find you easily and know how to categorize your content for searchers?
Don’t panic; most of these things can be fixed in short order with some knowledge of SEO basics for startups. Yes, SEO is a huge topic, and no, we don’t aim to cover everything you need to know in this one blog post. What this piece aims to do is get you familiar with some basic terms and concepts surrounding SEO and why you should get to know them better. These are some of the FAQs we hear all the time from startups; we hope you find the answers useful as you make your way into startup land!
So, What Exactly is SEO Anyway?
Search Engine Optimization, commonly referred to as SEO, is any activity undertaken to improve a website’s ranking on search engine result pages (SERPs). A slightly longer answer says that SEO is a combination of on- and off-page actions taken to optimize your website to make it easier for internet searchers to locate. If you do SEO right, you attract visits from people who want or need to read your blog, or who have a question you can answer for them.
These optimization actions can be handled by an outside SEO professional or agency, or by someone inside your organization with a background in digital marketing or even a general background in IT.
We’ll cover some details about on- and off-page SEO shortly; what matters for this entry is that SEO is very much something that all startups need to be aware of and take into consideration when setting up a new website, as well as while continuing to publish new content. Metrics should be established early and monitored regularly.
Is This Something We Really Need?
Are you going to have a website? Then you need at least rudimentary SEO in order to be found online. Even if you’re not an eCommerce business, or if your services don’t relate to the online world at all. It’s 2020, and people will be looking online for information on your industry/product/service. If you want these people to find out about you, SEO is how you do it.
OK, You Convinced Me. Where Should I start?
In an ideal world, we caught you early days. As in, you don’t even have your website set up and aren’t posting to social media as your startup yet. Start by using an SEO-focused content management system (CMS), like Hubspot, for your site. Or by using a CMS like WordPress that has a robust third-party plugin marketplace that includes many SEO options.
Some things to check off immediately when building your site include ensuring load speed is optimized, that your site is mobile-friendly (or even mobile-first, depending on your goals), and that your content pages are able to be optimized individually for better targeting.
The next thing to do is to lay out your SEO strategy. Remember, SEO is a long game. You’re doing this legwork early to ensure a solid foundation going forward, so having a well-documented strategy is crucial for long-term success. At a bare minimum, your SEO strategy should include:
- Editorial calendar that encompasses blog posts and social media content
- Brand guidelines (to ensure consistency of brand voice across channels)
- A chart of stakeholders and their responsibilities
- Target audience/buyer personas
What’s the Difference Between On- and Off-page SEO?
As the names suggest, one is a set of activities you do on your website, and the other set are actions taken elsewhere—the shared goal is to boost your site’s visibility to the general public when they use Google or other search engines.
On-page SEO includes things like optimizing your content pages. This is accomplished by ensuring the proper use of keywords, meta tags, meta descriptions, and image alt text. It also includes activities like maintaining a regular and frequent posting schedule for new content pages.
Off-page SEO consists of activities such as writing guest posts on industry blogs, brand mentions in relevant industry publications, and maintaining an active and engaging social media presence on multiple platforms. Inbound links, or backlinks, are the primary goal of off-page SEO. This is any time a link to your website appears on another website. Author bios associated with guest posts, brand mentions that include links, and your social media profile pages are all included here.
The importance of Inbound Links for SEO
In the world of SEO and organic traffic generation, what Google says, goes. And two of their stated top 3 factors used in determining domain authority and ranking are quality content and inbound links.
The question we have for you is this—do you know how to use inbound links to have the greatest positive impact on your SEO results?
We want to give you a quick summary of just why inbound links (also known as backlinks) are so darn important to search engine results. First off, inbound links are how you drive traffic to your site from social media posts, press releases, guest blog posts, and more. Pretty much any time you, or anyone else, post a link to your content, that’s a backlink. And second, they increase your SEO pull organically by teaching the search bots how valuable the content being linked to is.
Definition Time: Just What is an Inbound Link?
Not to sound flip, but they’re exactly what they sound like—links that point people inbound to a page within your domain.
To take it a bit deeper and bring in the SEO, think of inbound links as votes of confidence. They’re the internet’s way of saying, “this is good stuff, you should trust it.” That goes for both your readers AND the search engine bots.
- When you leave a comment on an industry blog with a link to a relevant pillar page, that’s an inbound link.
- Any time you write a guest post that includes an author bio containing a link to your about me page, that’s an inbound link.
- And when you’re featured in an article on an industry news site, any links they include that take readers to content on your site, well that’s an inbound link too.
All of these scenarios increase your domain authority and SEO pull, however, there will be some differences in the quality of the domain where those links appear. For instance, the blog of a recognized industry thought leader will give a link there more pull than a directory site. We’ll have more to say on authority in a moment.
Inbound links vs. backlinks
First, let’s take a moment to clear this up. Inbound links and backlinks are the same thing. Backlinks is a slightly older term, referring to how the links point “back” to your domain, while inbound links as a phrase is newer and tied to the rise of inbound marketing as a whole.
With SEO, You Know There’s Going to be an Acronym: EAT
Google refers to their suggested factors to remember when working on your SEO strategy as EAT SEO. EAT is an acronym for Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness. There is a lot that can be written about how to nurture your EAT rating, too much to include it here. So, what we’ll say is that the #1 best practice is to continue creating content that your readers find valuable, relevant, and helpful in solving their pain points.
Creating a site that scores high on these three factors when the search bots come crawling should be your guiding principle as you grow your blogging presence and work to develop a sound SEO strategy. After all, delivering value to the customer is what Google itself is working to do via these principles, so following suit should be a no-brainer.
Link Profiles and Other Factors to Remember
Do you know your link profile? Similar to your profile on LinkedIn or Facebook, your domain has a profile that search bots look at when determining your rankings for various searches. Your link profile is the sum total of the number of links that point to your domain, the diversity of those links, the authority (or potentially, the spamminess) of the domains linking to yours; and much, much more.
There are inbound link checker tools such as Moz’s Link Explorer that let you check up on your own link profile to get an idea of how you’re doing and highlight areas where you could be doing better. We highly recommend doing this on a regular basis, maybe as part of your content audits.
Along with the number of links, etc; there are a bunch of other factors that Google takes into account when examining backlinks. The authority of the linking site is a big one. Remember, industry-leading sites are always a better target than directories or smaller niche blogs. The number of links from a given site is another: too many makes them look spammy, while just one looks a bit lackluster.
And, content concentration is an often-overlooked factor. This refers to the narrowness or breadth of content topics on both your site and the linking site. If your company has a specific niche product or service then a link from a site with a similar niche will be weighed heavier than one from outside that niche.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Inbound Link Building for SEO
- Establish strong partnerships with sites that you want to link from.
- Start a company blog. Links to blog pages and pillar pages with similar topics and content to the linking site rank highly as this content similarity shows authority in that subject.
- Create a resources page. They’re invaluable in that once people find them and find the information presented to be useful, they’re far more likely to link to them without you having to ask.
- Buy links. Ever.
- Use low-quality or spammy link directory sites. There can actually be an adverse effect on your domain authority just for being associated with these types of sites.
- Participate in link exchanges. At least, not too often. Again, there can be negative impacts on your link profile if you do too many exchanges.
Inbound link building should be a part of any well-rounded content marketing and/or SEO strategy. As with any piece of such a strategy, there are things to keep in mind as you develop yours:
- Link building, like content marketing in general, is a long game. You won’t necessarily see results in the first few months or more. But once you do, they can be impressive.
- Spending the time and energy in the beginning, to build and cultivate a strong relationship with linking sites will pay dividends in the strength of the links you’ll get and the pull these backlinks will give your domain.
- Quality inbound links are the goal, so take your time and be sure you’re getting strong links from authoritative domains that meet the same EAT standards as yours and you won’t be disappointed.
As we've mentioned above, along with links, keywords are another aspect of you SEO strategy that you must consider.
Do Keywords Still Matter for SEO?
Keywords are still a primary way for search engines to know what your website, and by extension your startup, is all about. When optimizing your site via on-page SEO, it’s crucial to include short-tail keywords (1-3 word phrases), as well as long-tail or semantic search keyphrases. The latter are complete sentences structured naturally as though someone was using voice search on their smartphone.
The key aspect of establishing your keywords strategy is research. Use tools like Google Ad Words, Ubersuggest, or Buzzsumo to find out what words are trending in your industry. Then build your own target keyword file so you know what words and phrases are most appropriate.
What Does it Mean to be “Crawled?”
Another FAQ surrounding SEO is the idea of being "crawled." So what does it meant to be crawled? Basically, it means Google found you.
Crawling is the term used for when a search engine scours the internet looking for new webpages they didn’t already know about. They do this constantly, as there are tens of thousands, if not millions, of new pages coming online every day.
Initially, your home page and any other static page you get online will be indexed. That’s how Google finds out about you and knows to come back looking for updates. Then, as you add content pages (landing pages, pillar pages, blog posts, etc) each of these will be indexed in turn.
The more consistently you add new content, the better. And the more tailored that content to your target personas by way of keywords, the better.
Quick side note: Indexing is essentially when a search engine bookmarks your domain, making a note in their internet “index” so they can point searchers to these pages moving forward.
In conclusion, SEO is a long game. When you’re settling in for the long-haul and your company is established, that’s when you want to be sure you have a well-optimized site and a set of metrics to watch. Consider your SEO strategy, what you're doing to generate positive backlinks, and how your keywords are integrated into your content marketing efforts, and you'll be well on your way.