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From the Trenches

A Startup SEO Lesson

Mike Sweeney | April 6, 2010

The name of this blog is Marketing Trenches. We chose that name because we like to give readers real stories, based on real situations, with real clients. From the trenches, if you will.

We’re currently working with a startup software company on various facets of their official launch. We work with lots of software companies, and a few startups, but this one is different. First of all, the company is funded, which is no small feat these days. Second, the co-founders are very bright and experienced, but also understand that – as Will would say – they don’t know what they don’t know. Last but not least, they recognize the value of good marketing, even though it’s not their specialty.

One of the areas this company (and by the way, you’ll hear plenty about them upon launch in a couple of weeks) has been particularly interested in is SEO, and for good reason. While SEO is merely a component of the marketing mix, it’s one of few things a company can do to drive some immediate traffic and even brand awareness without spending “media” dollars.

While I could make this into a pretty exhaustive list, let me focus on a few items that every startup (or frankly, any company kicking off an SEO strategy) should be aware of.

Content is king. Say it again. Content is king.

Your most valuable resource from an SEO standpoint is your content. Most companies have it, yet fail to make it web accessible and fail to optimize it. If you have content – especially educational content – include it in your site or blog. Turn it into a web page, talk about it in a video, syndicate it through distribution channels.

Get analytical with your research and tags, but realize that trial and error rules.

In certain engagements, we spend a lot of time doing keyword research and then translating that into meta tags and copy. That’s absolutely the right thing to do.

That being said, the best way to determine whether “smb social media consulting” is a better performing keyword than “small business social media marketing” is to tag it, try it, and track it.

Focus on the magic combination: search volume + winnable + relevant + searcher intent.

I know, this sounds like a lot of things to take into consideration. It is. If you’re deciding between one or another keyword to focus on, remove search volume and winnability for a second. Focus on whether the keyword is truly relevant to your product/service, and whether the keyword indicates intent to explore or even purchase solutions.

Sure, a keyword like “planning software” may generate more than 300k searches per month, but how many of those searchers actually intend to explore or purchase your “project management software”?

Blog, blog again, blog once again for the long tail.

If you’re blogging the right way, without even thinking about it your posts are addressing long-tail search terms, the same long-tail search terms that your website will never capture.

For example, this post will likely rank on some variations of “startup SEO” within a few months. I didn’t think about this when I started writing the post, but it’s a nice secondary benefit, right?

Write well. Be interesting.

One of my favorite Davis-isms. When in doubt, write solid content and make it sizzle a bit. If you do that, chances are that it will eventually have an impact on your SEO efforts.

Bonus: One-time, on-page optimization is merely a starting point. Be patient. SEO is not a one-time tactic, not anymore.

Once upon a time, a company could launch a web site, write some nifty meta tags, wait a few weeks and BOOM – here comes the traffic explosion. Sorry, that doesn’t work anymore. This isn’t 1999, or 2003, or even 2007.

The most successful SEO programs we’ve developed or witnessed are those that are done right from the get go, and supported by the all-important link-building program.

SEO is not a one-time effort. If you take one thing away from this post, make it that one.

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