SEO first steps for startups

Trust us, we know the feeling well: you’ve just started up your dream company, and are finally on top of all the administrative bother attached. You’ve got a logo, and maybe you’ve even started trading. We’re happy for you, but at this point want to remind you that not having a website is almost the business equivalent of social suicide.

We know, we know — we’re a digital marketing company, so of course we’re going to tell you how important it is to set up a website. But the stats don’t lie: the ONS tells us that three in four Brits now do their shopping online, with those aged 25-34 more likely to carry out their day-to-day activities online, including internet banking, and online selling. In 2015, 62% of adults read online news, newspapers, or magazines, while seeking information on goods and services was the second most common online activity (second only to email — hello, remarketing).

But what good is a website if no-one can find it? This is where SEO (and us) come in. But before you think about giving us a ring, here’s a breakdown of the essential first steps in getting started with SEO.

1. Calm down

Calm down

First of all, calm down. Don’t panic — you might have heard that SEO is a dark art, and full of different complexities. But the bottom line is that Google bases its results on what it understands about your site, the content on it, and the type of other websites that are linking to it. If you can do all of this well, you’re effectively doing enough to give yourself the best shot at an SEO ‘optimised’ site. Ok, there are other factors too, but those are the basics. And there’s no dark art to that.

Plus, there are plenty of tools out there to help you understand the types of content you should put on your site, which is a major factor in helping Google (and your audience!) make sense of your site:

  • Google Keyword tool — type in a search term and get the volume for that keyword, along with similar or related keywords, and their search volume. This will give you an idea of the types of things people are actually interested in in relation to your product or service, which will help you determine the sorts of questions they are asking about it.
  • Google search/ Google suggest — this one is simple. Type a search term into Google search, and see what comes up: how is the search term you typed in being serviced by other websites? What does their content look like? Is this the sort of thing you should be doing?
  • Google trends — type a search term in the box, define your location and time period, and you’ll get an idea of who is searching for it, and how the amount of searches for it has changed over time.
  • SEMRush — this is a paid tool rather than the free Google ones, but if you want to go more in depth in understanding the types of sites showing up in search results for certain keyword phrases, then this is the one for you. We use it, and we love it.
  • 2. Know your audience

    Know your audience

    This one sounds obvious, but it’s completely essential before you even think about putting together the right content for your new site. You’ve no doubt done some audience research in the earlier phases of planning, and setting up your company. This is useful, but needs to be supplemented with some specific online insights to help you understand where your audience hangs out online, and the types of queries they are typing into Google to search for what you’re offering.

    The first and best place to start is via some simple keyword research. Use SEMRush to find out which sites rank for specific phrases, and then find out which other keywords they rank for. Look for patterns — are some keywords consistent across all your competitor’s sites? Are there many variations of the same phrase for the same competitor? This will tell you which sorts of things your audience are interested in, in relation to your product / service.

    3. Gap analysis

    Mind the gap

    The next step is to actually go onto their website and see how these competitors are editorially servicing those needs — and, crucially, how they aren’t. We call this process gap analysis, and it’s our signature move when we put together a content plan. It’s how we know we’re creating content that our audience genuinely wants to read.

    Gap analysis helps us figure out which sorts of informational gaps linger in our audience’s mind when seeking out help and advice on your product or service. It’s a way to get a one-over on your competition, and put out content that better services readers’ needs.

    The great thing about gap analysis though is that in lieu with keyword research, you can really get granular in figuring out the exact, specific types of information people are going to engage with. Say you sell hats. An insight as broad as ‘people are interested in fedoras’ isn’t going to help you much. What specifically do they want to know about them? Do they want style advice, or do they want to know what’s in fashion? Do they want fabric cleaning advice, or perhaps information on accessories they could add on to their hats? This sort of detail gives us a really, really complete idea of who we’re talking to, and how we can bring them content they’re genuinely interested in.

    4. Content plan

    Content plan

    If we haven’t implied it enough already, having good, relevant content positioned smartly on-site is absolutely key in bringing up your SEO. That’s why, once you’ve done all your research and have figured out what to write about, it’s time to create a content plan.

    A content plan is what it says on the tin — a plan you’ve made for exactly what you are going to put out, and when. An excel spreadsheet or Google doc sheet will do nicely. We recommend breaking it down by month (columns), and then breaking down the different types of content you want to produce by row. For instance, as well as posting on your blog (which we obviously recommend), you might need to create informational (‘sticky’) content to give more information on your product or service, or create informative blurbs that act as introductions to key pages. Putting together a plan is your chance to break down exactly how you’re going to bring your audience the information they need, and make realistic goals for actually doing it.

    5. Structure and optimisation

    Site structure

    Once you have your content in place, you need to think about where it will sit on your site. Think about creating a logical user journey — do you need to break things down into sections, or even sub-sections? How will all of this link together? URL structure is just one of many different SEO factors, but is instrumental in structuring your site logically. For example, if you have a help centre or information hub on your site, then a URL for an article would follow the structure of…

    If you produce a lot of content / blog articles then you could think about categorising these further. Say for example a lot of your blog content was tips & advice, and a lot of it was how to guides. Then, you might break it down thusly:

    The URL can also be optimised to a specific keyword phrase, and that keyword phrase can also feature as part of your meta data (titles & descriptions) as well as in the header tag (h1, h2, h3 etc..), and within on-site content (as long as it’s in context — keyword stuffing is a big no-no).

    The meta title is an SEO ranking factor, so try and get the phrase as early on in the title as you can, and for neatness use a pipe or dash symbol followed by your brand. So for example if you were optimising for ‘how to guides’ then your meta title would be:

    How To Guides | Example Site

    The meta description is not a ranking factor but it is a conversion factor — that is, you can use it to highlight USPs and calls to action. So for the above, you might want to write something like ‘download our how to guides for free’.

    Header tags are essentially the title of your content / article and again, they are a ranking factor, so make sure you include the keyword phrase (or variants of) in the title. Here it’s also important to make sure the phrase is in a correct editorial context.

    There are many other factors above and beyond this (these are just the basics) that can help you. Try this Moz guide for further reading:

    That may have seemed like a lot to take in, but once you wrap your head around it all, you should be able to find your way around the basics. However there are plenty of other, much more complicated SEO fixes and considerations you’ll need an expert eye to help you with. Get in touch and see what we can do for you!

    Gap analysis image Mind the Gap! Michele Landl, some rights reserved

    Content plan image Improved LEGO Calendar Front, Bill Ward, some rights reserved

    Structure and optimisation image Jenga! Ashley MacKinnon MacKinnon, some rights reserved

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