Search engines are still the number one place people turn when they want to learn something new or solve a problem. If you want your startup to attract and retain the level of attention it needs to survive, investment in SEO is a no-brainer. That said, SEO done poorly can end up doing more harm than good, and it’s easy to make mistakes if you don’t have the experience. Here are ten things to avoid if you want your startup to succeed in the search engines.
Mistake #1 – Poor/No UI and UX
It’s amazing how often webmasters still believe that you have to sacrifice the user interface and the user experience in order to get the best results in the search engines. If anything, this is the opposite of how search engines work today. Algorithm’s like Google’s Panda are designed to demote sites that offer users a poor experience.
Design always starts with the user. Search engines come second.
Test your interface by putting it in front of your users. Experience has taught us that the vast majority of users will interact with a website in the same way, and it only takes a small sample to figure out how most of your users are going to behave.
Mistake #2 – Slow Page Load Time
Do not assume that everybody has an internet connection like yours. Avoid the use of interfaces based on Flash and don’t use images or animations where text will suffice. This is especially important with the recent push toward mobile, where internet connections are much slower.
A large portion of your audience will leave if the site doesn’t load within a few seconds. You don’t have to sacrifice multimedia, but it should load last, and the site should be useable without it.
Don’t skimp on hosting. Nothing is more frustrating to a user than using high speed internet and still dealing with a website that loads as if it were on 56K.
Mistake #3 – Ignorance of Social Media
Even if all you cared about were the search engines (and what startup is that naïve?), you would still need to care about social media. The search engines currently use social signals as part of their ranking algorithms. While they still aren’t as important as links, social signals increasingly become a sign of trust that lends legitimacy to your other signals.
Mastering social media requires more than testing the placement of your social buttons. It requires the creation of content that demands to be shared, and regular interaction with your target audience. Interaction with social influencers is perhaps even more important.
Mistake #4 – Blog Content with No Value
The search engines are currently designed to evaluate how well a page solves problems for its users. It’s not a perfect system, as everybody who’s come across a spammy site knows, but it does tend to filter out the junk over time.
With every piece of content you create, you need to identify the problem it is attempting to solve, and make sure it solves that problem better than any other piece of content on the web. If you can’t do that, it means one of two things: you’re targeting saturated keywords, or you’re not investing enough in your content.
This is where it’s worth hiring outside talent. If you’re not knowledgeable enough about the subject, or don’t have the talent to portray it in the most helpful way, pay somebody with a proven track record. Hire somebody with a popular blog on the subject and leverage their reputation to bolster your own. This is what can really set you apart from the competition.
Mistake #5 – Targeting Search Engines Instead of Users
Hopefully you’ve already started to pick up on this message from the previous entries, but this subject is important enough to deserve its own subheading.