How to Kickstart an SEO Audit for Your Startup – Whiteboard Friday
Launching a startup is a huge task all on its own. While it can be a challenge to factor SEO into the mix, it’s an incredibly important consideration. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand shares a comprehensive plan to kick off your new SEO audit and grab a piece of that organic search pie from the get-go.
Hi, everyone down at StartCon. Thank you so much for having me. My name is Rand Fishkin. I’m the co-founder of Moz, and today I’m going to be talking to all of you and to Whiteboard Friday fans everywhere about how to kick-start an SEO audit for your startup.
So what I’ve done here is I’ve taken our classic SEO pyramid, sort of you’ve got to start with a strong base and work your way up. Well, I flipped it, because, in an audit scenario, we’re actually going to start from the bottom and work our way to the top. So I’ve inverted our pyramid. We’re going to start with crawling and accessibility, and we’re going to work all the way up to conversion.
Now, SEO in a startup setting can be challenging. I’m going to assume that your startup has already launched your website or your web content, your application, and that now you’ve just realized, “Wait, maybe we should do some of that SEO stuff.” And yes, you should. Let me make three big reasons, three big cases why you should.
- Search traffic is among the highest percentage of all referral traffic on the web. So whereas social traffic sends approximately 5% to 6% of all the web’s referral traffic, search engines send about 28% or 29% of all the web’s referring traffic. This is data according to SimilarWeb who has a large clickstream panel that they look at.
- Organic search traffic is more than 90% of all the clicks that go to search results. So 90% of the clicks are going to organic, 10% or actually less than 10% are going to the paid results. Companies around the world are spending $40, $50, $60 billion a year or more on Google’s paid search results alone. That organic stuff is a competitive advantage because it means low cost of customer acquisition. It tends to mean higher retention. It tends to mean higher conversion rates. Very, very attractive traffic.
- Searches are a specific request from a user that says, “I want this thing and I want it right now.” That’s some of the most powerful traffic you can possibly be in front of on the web, and, as a result, the startups that can get their product, their service, their company, their brand in front of those searchers can have an outsized impact.
Now, we need to kick off this audit.
Crawling, indexing, and website structure
What I’ve essentially done here is taken sort of the top three things to be thinking about for each of these and detailed them for you. So when it comes to crawling and web structure, we want:
1. Everything on one sub and root domain.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen startups use blog.startup.com, or use startupblog.com. Or they blog only on Medium.com instead of blogging on their own site and using Medium as an additional network to amplify that content. Or they put everything on their app and their app is one page, and so Google can’t index anything except that one page. Generally, all of these are terrible ideas. If you can, keep everything in subfolders, or if you call them subdirectories, of your website. Don’t separate out your content on to multiple sites, and don’t build anything on somebody else’s site unless you’re also using it on your site and just referring back. You want to use Medium, that’s great. You want to use Facebook, great. You want to use LinkedIn Publishing, fantastic. Always have the “Here’s the link to the original” and point it to your website.
2. You can sign up for Google Search Console (it is free).
That will help you identify a lot of crawl errors and issues. If you work with a professional SEO, chances are they’re going to use a tool like OnPage.org or Screaming Frog or Moz’s Crawl. Those are all good too. They can provide a little bit more extra detail.
3. Eliminate duplicates, search URLs, and thin pages
One of the things that you will want to do, when you’re looking at your site, is eliminate duplicates, search URLs, meaning pages on your site that are essentially just search results — Google does not like your search results in their search results — and thin pages, pages that have very little content. You might think, “Oh, but they target some extra keywords for me.” Yeah, but Google considers your site as a whole. If you have thousands of pages with very thin content, they’re going to rank your other content lower, and that is not a good thing. You do not want that.
Keyword research & targeting
1. Make a big, broad list.
You could do this in Excel. You could do it in a Google Spreadsheet. You could do it in a tool like Keyword Explorer. I want you to use a bunch of different sources. I want you to look at keywords that your competitors are ranking for. You can find that from lots of different tools. You could use something like Keyword Explorer. You could use SEMrush. You could use KeyCompete. You could use SpyFu. There are lots and lots of tools that allow you to do this.I want you to also use the related and suggested search terms that come up when you search for the key terms and phrases you’re already targeting in Google. I want you to use semantically-connected terms and terms that are in the format of questions. A lot of folks like Answer The Public. Moz also has the filter in Keyword Explorer for queries that are in the form of questions. These will give you a big, big, broad list.
2. From there, you’re going to need some metrics:
- You want volume, you can get that from Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool. You will have to either start an account and pay some money for some paid search ads. Otherwise, Google only shows you these terrible things. Or you’re going to have to use a third-party tool like a SEMrush or a Keyword Explorer.
- You want difficulty, so you want to know how hard it will be to rank. That is not the same as the Competition Score that you get from AdWords. Competition in AdWords is just the competition in the paid search results. Not the same thing as how difficult it will be to rank in the organic search results.
- You want to know click-through rate opportunity. If there are lots of ads above the fold, if there’s a knowledge graph, if there’s an answer box up top there, that’s going to drive clicks away from the organic results, and you need to know that before you choose to target a keyword.
3. Prioritize by the importance to you and to your company.
You’re going to use these metrics and you’re going to prioritize by the importance to you, to your company. You’re going to prioritize by the ease, the difficulty, and by the traffic, which is some function of the click-through rate opportunity and the volume, in order to choose right keywords for you. You’re going to prioritize that big list that you’ve got, and then you’re going to start targeting. We are going to create content that targets those searchers and serves them well.
Accessible content that delights searchers
Why do I say delight searchers here in this third section? Well, because content that merely serves your purposes, that ranks and maybe gets one or two percent of people to convert on your site, give you their email address or sign up for whatever it is you have to sign up for, a free trial, or a subscription to your software, that’s fine. But you’re probably going to be outranked by someone who does a fantastic job of serving searchers before putting their own interests into the mix. If you put your interest ahead of searcher’s interest, over time, someone else is going to take that traffic away from you and Google’s going to rank them first.
1. Don’t just serve your own interest, your own funnel.
Satisfy those searchers.
2. You can use low engagement metrics to identify poorly performing URLs.
So if you filter in your Google Analytics, your Omniture, whatever you’ve got, by pages that receive traffic from Google referrals and then you look at bounce rate, you look at time on site, you look at pages per visit, and you see pages that are very low on those metrics, well, that is going to tell you, you are not doing a great job of serving those searchers. Google will probably, over time, push you down, push your competitors up. That’s a bad thing.
We want content that is doing a great job of delighting searchers. It has to serve both their implicit and explicit query. The explicit part of the query, that’s usually obvious. The implicit part can be a, “What do they really want to do after that, once they have that answer?”
Keyword use & on-page optimization
Next, we’re going to take that content and we are going to optimize it for search engines and searchers. That means using keywords intelligently and doing some smart on-page optimization.
Now, classic SEO kinds of things, some of them no longer apply. The meta keywords tag, for example, that’s gone. We don’t need to do the same sort of every little variation of a keyword demands a different page that we used to do in the past. But things like…
1. Keyword use in the title, the URL, the meta description, the headline, and inside the content still matter.
What we should be doing nowadays, though, is taking all the keywords that share the same searcher intent, where the searcher is trying to essentially accomplish the same thing. Let’s say I’m a mobile phone directory and I have a bunch of reviews of mobile phone devices. “Best mobile phones, best cell phones, best smartphones, best smartphones 2016,” guess what? They all share the same searcher intent. I should have one page targeting all those keywords, not a separate one for each one.