This post is targeted at startup founders and SEO beginners, to help them acquire the essential knowledge to work on the SEO of their website themselves, or at least to discuss it intelligently with their SEO agency. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a critical factor to success for startups. Great SEO can turn a rather average idea into a success, while a poor SEO strategy might slow down an outstanding project. Thus, it is important for any founder to have at least some basic knowledge about it.
1. Use SEO tools to assess vertical markets
Even before launching your business, you can make good use of SEO tools to assess your ideas. If you did not create your company yet, you probably have multiple ideas that apply to different markets. When you assess vertical markets, take the competition on Google into account. Indeed, it would be wise to select a vertical market that generates an adequate amount of business, while not being too competitive on search engines. But do not make a decision based purely on the Google competition. Simply take it into account.
So, how do you check out the competition on the web?
Select a few queries for each market
Come up with Google queries (keywords) for each market. For example, if you intended to work on the professional liability insurance market, you could try these:
- “professional liability insurance”
- “professional liability insurance companies”
- “professional liability insurance cost”
To find out more query ideas, you can use:
Google search suggestions
Google “other questions” that appear at the top of the page after you type in a query:
Google related searches that appear at the bottom of the page after you type in a query:
Google Adwords Keyword Planner:
You need to create a Google Adwords account first, if you do not already have one, and then click on “Tools & settings,” then on “Keyword Planner,” and then on “Discover new keywords”:
SEO paid tools such as SemRush or Moz. I personally use the keyword explorer tool from Moz:
Check out the monthly search volume
For each of the Google queries you came up with, check out the monthly search volume. To do so, you can use:
Google Adwords Keyword Planner:
The average monthly number of researches will be displayed for the keywords you type in and for the keywords ideas provided by Adwords.
- 0-10 per month is a very weak volume. Working on this kind of query might be a waste of time.
- 10-100 per month is a weak volume. Unless you are convinced you will have both a very high Click-Through Rate (CTR) and a very high conversion rate for the query, it is probably not worth working on it.
- 100-1000 per month might be an interesting volume if the query is a specific one that expresses a strong buyer intent, and if you are confident about your Click-Through Rate. (The CTR is the ratio of users who click on the link pointing to your page, versus the number of times the link is diplayed on the results page).
- 1000-10,000 per month is a good range. Queries in that range should give you satisfying results if you can reach the first page of Google.
- 10,000 – 100,000 per month is a high volume, and you should check whether reaching the first page of Google for queries in that range is realistic.
SEO paid tools such as Moz:
The monthly volume provided by Moz is displayed by ranges. For example, the monthly volume for “professional liability insurance” is 11,500 to 30,300 researches per month:
Bear in mind that what you actually need is not traffic, but QUALIFIED traffic that is likely to be converted into registrations, subscriptions, leads, or purchases. Therefore, it might be more interesting to appear on the first page of Google for multiple queries with a 1000 to 10,000 searches per month volume, if those searches indicate a strong buyer intent; rather than reaching the first page of Google for a single and very generic search (with a 10,000 to 100,000 volume) that does not express a strong buyer intent.
Check out the difficulty level
After checking the monthly volume of your queries, assess the difficulty of reaching the first page of Google for those researches. You HAVE TO be on the first page of Google (ideally in the top 3 results). Indeed, being on page 2 brings almost no benefit: the first page generates about 95% of the search traffic.
Check out the top 10 on Google:
Take a look at the websites that are ranked in the top 10 of the organic results (which means natural search results, as opposed to paid Adwords ads). You will need to outrank at least one of those to reach the first page. You can check the Domain Authority (DA) of each of your competitor using this free tool: https://smallseotools.com/domain-authority-checker/
The Domain Authority is a score calculated by Moz. The maximum score is 100. It is a very reliable indicator of how strong a website is. The way the Domain Authority is calculated has not been disclosed, but it is based on the quality of the content and of the backlinks (external links pointing to the website). If all your competitors have got a score of 10 or less, it should be very easy to outrank them. But if your competitors all score more than 40, it might be difficult to reach the first page of Google (but not necessarily impossible - other factors, such as the relevance of the content of your pages, come into play as well).
Use paid tools:
You can use paid tools such as SemRush or Moz to get a more accurate assessment of the difficulty. I personally use Moz, which calculates a difficulty score. For example, the difficulty for the query “professional liability insurance” is 43 (out of 100), which is rather average: it will not be easy to rank in the top 10, but it should not be impossible either. The Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) analysis also displays the Page Authority and the Domain Authority of the 10 organic results on page one.
You can also take the number of results on Google and the Cost Per Click (CPC) of paid ads into account to assess the difficulty: the higher the figures, the harder it will be to get on the first page of Google. You can check the CPC in Google Adwords Keyword Planner.
2. Consider doing SEO yourself
As a startup founder, you should consider working on the SEO of your website yourself, at least partially. You need 3 skills to get SEO results:
- Writing skills to produce high quality content
- Some technical skills (see part 4 of this article)
- Web marketing skills to get backlinks
If possible, do at least the writing yourself: not only will you save money, but you will probably achieve better results by producing your own content. Indeed, you probably know your market better than SEO agencies, which are very likely to write some generic fluff for you. By having a deep understanding, and maybe even a passion for the market you're aim for, you have got the raw material to create some awesome content.
The technical skills needed to get some results can be acquired easily if you have a little knowledge of HTML. Honestly, the HTML coding for SEO is not very complicated. Plus, you will not have to actually write code in most cases. But if you have got no basic knowledge of HTML coding at all, and have no confidence in that department, you can ask an SEO agency to optimize your content for you.
Finally, you need to get quality backlinks to show Google that your website is popular. If you're starting from scratch, you will have to ask other websites for them. This require some knowledge about what a good backlink is. You will also have to be creative, to come up with fruitful partnerships with other websites.
3. Write high quality content
What I mean by “content” is articles (blog posts) about topics of interest to your customers. Your first goal should be to write articles answering questions that your prospective customers ask themselves and type into Google. Your second goal should be to rank in the top 10 pages of Google for those queries.
SEO is not about using “tricks” to get on top of Google. It is about writing high quality content that Google will naturally rank highly. You must create interesting content that will be an incentive for Internet users to browse on your website for as long as possible. You must also structure your pages and make good use of the HTML tags, so that Google will easily understand what your pages are about. If your content is outstanding, it will naturally be shared on the web, and you might even get backlinks without asking for them.
- Content is king: write high quality content and you will be rewarded. Do not resort to cheap tricks.
- Write for humans, not for the search engines. But come up with a clear outline and use the HTML tags in an appropriate way (continue reading for more information).
- If your content is engaging, Internet users will spend time on your page: Google will take those long sessions into account to assess whether it should rank your page highly. On the other hand, if your content is too thin or if it provides no value, the users will probably immediately leave your website, resulting in a high bounce rate, which will negatively affect your Google ranking.
- Create original exclusive content for your website: duplicate content is penalized by Google. Do not duplicate your articles on your own website either.
4. Technical knowledge
It is important to know the essential HTML tags for SEO. Do not worry if you are not used to reading HTML code, there is nothing too complicated here. Actually, if you use a blog such as WordPress, you will not have to write a single line of code. But you must know which fields and which options of your WYSIWYG (your user interface in which you type your post, and in which "What You See Is What You Get") correspond to the HTML tags below.
The title tags
In the HTML code of your page:
- <title> is the tag used for the title of the page. It is displayed as the name of the tab on your browser. Do not write generic content for that tag such as “Welcome” or “Untitled document”. Instead use it to tell what your page (or your website, if you are working on your homepage) is about.
- <h1> is the main title of the page. It is recommended to have only one main title and thus only one <h1> tag, even though it is technically possible to have multiple <h1> tags since the fifth version of HTML. You can use the same title for the <title> tag and the <h1> tag.
- <h2> is used for level 2 titles, meaning the titles of the parts of your article.
- <h3> is used for level 3 titles, meaning the titles of your subparts.
- To structure your page, you can use up to six levels of titles. That means you can also use <h4>, <h5>, or <h6> tags.
Google is going analyze the whole page to understand what it is about, but it will put emphasis on the title tags: <title></title>, <h1></h1>, <h2></h2>, <h3></h3>, etc. It will read the titles to get the page structure and to understand what the page topics are. Therefore, it is very important to have a clear structure, and to actually use the titles to describe the content of each part, as they are supposed to be used. Using the titles to deliver messages unrelated to the content (for example jokes or information such as the date of publication) is a bad idea. So, be very careful not to use <h2> or <h3> tags merely to get a stylized font for a phrase that is not a title. By doing so, you might make your page outline inconsistent.
Having no titles at all is not good practice either.
Check your page structure, and make it is consistent with the query (the keywords) that you're aiming for.
Example of <title> tag:
The title of the Founder Institute homepage is the following:
<title>Founder Institute: World's premier idea-stage accelerator & startup launch program.</title>
Search Engine Results Page (SERP):
As you can see, the title tag is used as a link just above the website URL in the Search Engine Page Result. Therefore, the title must be an incentive for users to click on it.
Here is an example of a bad outline for an article about professional liability insurances:
Having an outline such as the one above will not necessarily prevent you from reaching the first page of Google (other factors also come into play), but it will not help Google to understand what your page is about, because of the following issues:
- A <h3> and a <h2> tags are used before the <h1> tag (main title). Putting a title tag before the main title <h1> is not correct. Plus, the date and the author name are irrelevant to the outline and should not be placed in a <h3> tag and an <h2> tag.
- It is not recommended having two <h1> tags: it is clearer to have only one main title for each page.
- There is no <h2> tag between <h1>What is a professional liability insurance?</h1> and <h3>How does it work?</h3>. You cannot go from a level 1 title to a level 3 title without going through a level 2 title.
- At the end of the page there are two links “Subscribe to our newsletter” and “Contact us”, which should not belong to the outline, and thus should not be placed between <hn> tags.
And here is an example of a good outline for an article about professional liability insurances:
Such a clear outline will enable Google to easily understand your page's structure and topics.
Note: Be careful not to repeat too many times the same keywords on your page. This could be considered “keyword stuffing” by Google.
The meta description tag
The meta description tag is not used by Google to understand what your page is about. In other words, Google does not use it to assess the relevance of your page. The meta description is used by Google to describe your page in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Therefore, your meta description must be written solely for Internet users (humans) and not for Google. It is useless to stuff keywords in there. Instead write a good description (200 to 300 characters to describe what the page is about) that will attract users and make them click on your page.
The meta description of the Founder Institute homepage is the following:
<meta name="description" content="For aspiring and idea-stage entrepreneurs up to the challenge, the Founder Institute provides a comprehensive step-by-step program to build a startup, support from to startup mentors, and a global network of entrepreneurs to help you be successful.">
The meta description is not displayed on the page.
As you can see, the meta description is the snippet that is displayed just below the website URL in the Search Engine Page Result. Thus, it is a very important piece of text, and it must be a strong incentive for users to click on the link.
The strong tag (bold text)
Bolded text helps Google understand what your page is about. It has more weight than normal text in the relevance assessment. You can use bold font to highlight keywords with the <strong> tag, but do not overuse it.
The pictures file name and alternate text
Picture's file name and alternate text are read by Google. Therefore, you should carefully choose them.
For example, if you make a diagram explaining how professional liability insurance works, you should name it professional-liability-insurance.jpg instead of something like diagram.jpg or pic565545.jpg. Use hyphens (not underscores) to separate the keywords in the picture name.
The alternate text is the text that appears while the image is loading. You can use it to let the search engines know what the picture is about.
<img src=”professional-liability-insurance.jpg” alt=”Professional liability insurance : how does it work?”>
The page web address (the URL) is a minor ranking factor used by Google to assess the page relevance to a query. The page content is more important, but you should still pay attention to the URL to improve both the user experience and your page ranking. The URL should help understand what the page is about.
Good URL example:
Bad URL example:
Note: you can use SEO tools to make sure your HTML code is optimized for the keywords you aim for. I personally use the Moz On-Page Grader. It automatically checks all of the items above.
Internal links and external links
On your page, it is recommended to include links pointing to other internal pages from your website. This is called “crosslinking.” For example, you can add links pointing to internal pages with content related to the current topic, or to associated products. When you include internal links, avoid meaningless labels such as “click here” or “more information here”. Instead, describe the page the link is points to in a few words. For example: “The risk of not having a professional insurance” could be a label for a link to a page explaining what could happen if you do not subscribe to professional insurance.
You can also include a few external links on your page - these are links pointing to other websites. Of course, you do not want to put too much of these on your page, to prevent Internet users from leaving your website. But not putting any external link could send a negative message to Google. So, you should not refrain from including one or two external links that point to informative websites that provide interesting additional information.
5. Make one page for each query
You should make one post for each query you aim for. Indeed, optimizing a page for a single query is easier than for multiple queries. That way, you can optimize your titles, meta description, text, pictures, and URL, having just a single query in mind. (part 4 of this article).
6. Use Google Adwords to gather data
Use Google Adwords as a testing tool. Indeed, Google Adwords is a very quick way to burn cash, and for many startup websites, is not a sustainable method for getting visitors in the long term. Instead, use it as a tool to see which keywords generate the most conversions for you, with a $20 to $50 per day budget. Then stop using Adwords once you have enough data and/or organic traffic.
The ideal route would be the following:
7. Get backlinks
To sort the results, Google not only assesses the relevance of the pages, but also their popularity, which is measured by the number of backlinks a page has. A backlink is a link from another external website.
So, you should work to get quality backlinks from high Domain Authority websites by creating fruitful partnerships. Make a list of interesting websites in the same field as yours (or close to yours) with high Domain Authority. (Use this free tool to get the Domain Authority: https://smallseotools.com/domain-authority-checker/) Then, contact the website owners, digital marketing managers, or website administrator to see what can be done in terms of partnerships.
There is no point in getting hundreds of poor-quality backlinks (it could even be harmful). Aim for a few high-quality backlinks instead.
What is a good backlink?
- A link from a website with high Domain Authority
- A link from a page with high Page Authority
- A link from a page on which there are very few external links
- A link from a website whose domain activity is the same as yours or close to yours
- A link with a good label using interesting keywords
- A link in the content zone (not in the footer or the header)
- A backlink from a “Links” page will be useless if there are 50 others external links there.
8. Keep track of the results
When you are done publishing quality content, track the results!
First of all, check whether your page has been found by Google using the Google Search Console. Create an account, set it up, and use the “URL inspection” tool. It will tell you whether your page was indexed by Google. If not, then index it manually by clicking on the link “Request indexing” on the “URL inspection” page.
Then create a spreadsheet to keep track of the results for each query you aim for: the current position on Google, the number of impressions in the SERPs, the number of clicks, the CTR, and the conversion rate.
If you've got a high number of impressions but a low CTR, you should work on your <title> tag, your meta description, and your URL, to make them more attractive.
9. SEO summary in three points
To conclude, if I had to summarize this post in three points, they would be:
- Write high-quality exclusive content
- Help Google and Internet users understand what your page is about by making good use of the <title>, <h1>, <h2>, and <meta name=”description” content=””> tags.
- Get high quality backlinks
While SEO is not a hard skill to learn, it has a lot of depth to mastery, and is probably one of the most important “IT” skills for any business. Plus, SEO can be fun! You will probably feel a high sense of achievement when you reach the first position in Google for the query you aimed for.
This guest post was written by David Khoy, Founder of Lead Advisor (a Paris Founder Institute portfolio company), a website designed for companies looking for security services: guards, video monitoring systems, access control systems, intrusion alarms, fire alarms, and anti-theft devices.
Lead Advisor has partnered with 250 security companies, and aims to expand to other high-growth B2B vertical markets. David is an IT Engineer who started his first business (a successful IT company, which he still runs today) right after earning his engineering degree in Paris 14 years ago.
Graduates of the Founder Institute are creating some of the world's fastest growing startups, having raised over $1B in funding, and building products people love across over 185 cities worldwide.
See the most recent news from our Grads at FI.co/news, or learn more about their stories at FI.co/journey.