Steps for Successful SEO for Startups

There’s a lot of confusion surrounding search engine optimization (SEO). First, the “rules” (many set by Google) seem to be constantly changing. What works one month to send your organic rankings on the search engine soaring, can cause you to lose ranking the following month. And Google (and the other search engines, like Bing and Yahoo) never reveal their secret algorithms. But understanding SEO is crucial for startups that want to get their websites noticed. 

To learn about SEO, SCORE talked with Katie Donabedian, a Senior Digital Account Executive at Walker Sands Digital.

Donabedian is an SEO specialist and works as an SEO consultant on various web design projects. In 2014, Donabedian was given an award as the Young Search Professional of the Year.

man writing SEO in notebook

SCORE: What’s the real purpose of SEO?

Katie Donabedian: To me, the purpose of SEO is to answer searchers’ questions and be the best result for them on any given search. That should be the primary goal because that’s what will cause customers to view you as a resource and convert or purchase something. Just being the number-one result won’t necessarily drive business results.

SCORE: What are the first things a startup should do to start the SEO process?

Donabedian: They should Google possible names for the startup before naming it. I sometimes see products or companies with names that have way too much competition so they will never be found! For example, avoid a name that brings up an unrelated Wikipedia page because it will cause you to lose valuable real estate.

Also, check if the domains with your potential names are registered or if you could buy them at a low price. I think it’s a great step to consider SEO during the naming process. From there, make sure you build a website with a good deal of informational, long-form content.

SCORE: Keywords are important in SEO. How do you determine what are the best keywords?

Donabedian: Start with a list of seed keywords that contains your main services/products. Then, use a variety of tools to find similar terms to go after. My favorite tools are Google Keyword Planner, Google Trends and SEMrush. When [you] narrow down your list of potential terms to align to [your] niche, try to select keywords with medium/high search volume and low/medium competition.

SCORE: What’s “long tail” and is it important to startups?

Donabedian: Long tail means keyword phrases containing three or more words. For example, searching “office moving companies in Seattle” rather than “movers” is a long tail search. Long tail terms tend to be more targeted and have lower competition than the shorter terms. They are important for startups because it will be easier for a small site to rank and get traffic for long tail keywords than more general keywords such as “movers.”

SCORE: It’s said creating content is an important part of SEO strategy? Does that mean all websites need blogs?

Donabedian: Not necessarily. If you have the bandwidth for a blog and useful, important things to say, you should have a blog. Otherwise, focus on your core content and adding more pages to your site. A blog is a good way to keep your website fresh, but it’s not the only option. Instead, you can create optimized landing pages based on your keyword research, create a new whitepaper, case study, etc.

SCORE: How often should these blogs be updated (we’ve heard 3 times a week)?

Donabedian: Blogs should be updated at least once a week. Another rule of thumb to follow if you don’t have a blog is to add at least one piece of content to your site each month.

SCORE: What else counts as “content” that will help your SEO?

Donabedian: All types of content can help sites get search traffic. Some of my favorites are data studies, whitepapers, case studies and special SEO landing pages that are written around a specific keyword.

SCORE: What are the most important elements of SEO for a startup?

Donabedian: A well-designed website with lots of quality, long-form and keyword optimized content.

SCORE: What are the biggest mistakes small businesses/startups make when it comes to SEO?

Donabedian: The biggest mistakes I see are in website architecture. There are a lot of websites out there that are not built with SEO in mind. For instance, the developers have accidentally left a no index tag on all the pages so Google cannot index the site, or all of the content is contained in images so Google can’t read the copy and more.

SCORE: When you “optimize” for Google, are you also optimizing for other search engines, or isn’t that important?

Donabedian: I make sure that the map listings are updated for each search engine so that websites show up on localized searches. Other than that, there aren’t many unique tactics I use for Yahoo or Bing that I don’t already use to optimize for Google. One thing to note is that on Yahoo and Bing, exact match domain names are more important. For example, for the search query “Seattle movers,” websites that contain the keyword in the domain name tend to rank better. That isn’t as big of a factor for Google.

SCORE: eMarketer just released a survey that says 70 percent of marketers say SEO is their most important technology, but looking ahead only 41 percent think it will be. Is SEO losing its clout?    

Donabedian: I think SEO has been a bit of a buzzword lately, so people are jumping on the bandwagon. It might fade to the background in marketers’ minds, but until people stop using search engines to access websites, I don’t think it will lose clout.

About the Author

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