To build a business, you need to dream big. You take that big idea, break it down into actionable items, and then track its progress.
Our big dream at Ratehub.ca is to help Canadians make smarter financial decisions about mortgages, credit cards, and banking and investment products by using price comparison tools and educational content. In 2018, we wanted to expand our personal finance offerings and launch a new vertical: insurance. Even though Ratehub.ca has been around for almost 9 years, it felt akin to starting a brand-new business.
For us the goal was clear: build a product that compares home, life, and car insurance quotes from several providers in just a few minutes. Much like our other products, selecting the right insurance provider to meet your needs is a complicated financial decision we felt we could make easier for Canadians. It strategically aligned with our core goals and values, so we decided to get to work.
Building an excellent insurance comparison tool is just the first part of our dream. The second is getting Canadians to actually use the tool.
For that, we needed a robust search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. The right strategy would require us to tailor our site’s content with specific keywords, which helps search engines like Google understand a user's intent and allows us to rank higher on search engine results pages. The higher we rank, the more successful our business.
Why You Need to Invest in SEO
According to industry experts, investing in SEO is still the number one way to improve your ranking on a search engine results page (SERP) for targeted keywords relevant to your business.
Where you rank when someone types in a query has a significant impact on your business because the top result gets clicked on 80% of the time, and for all other positions, the clicks fall off exponentially.
Yes, social media, YouTube, and podcasts all play a valuable role and are worth exploring, but SEO is still the dominant tactic in a digital marketer’s toolkit. This is especially true for businesses like ours, where our user base goes to Google to start their search for the best products.
For an entrepreneur, the best part of SEO is that the only cost is your time. We know that time is money, but in the beginning, it might not make sense to spend money on advertising if you can acquire customers on your own through a cost-effective channel. No matter the business, it's about knowing your industry and writing about it in a way that search engines understand.
There’s a host of online resources and tools to help you uncover which keywords to focus on, topics to discuss, and give you an insider’s view of the competition.
How to Get Started With SEO
SEO is a grind and can seem uncertain at times, but once it’s working, search traffic can be a reliable source for your potential client acquisition.
While Google won’t divulge all the elements of their secret sauce, there are enough SEO experts that agree on best practices. These SEO authorities all believe in a loose set of strategies. If you’re doing all the right things - like page titles, meta descriptions, keywords, proper headings (i.e. H1s, H2s), and landing pages - you are setting yourself up for success. It’s just going to take time.
1. Start Early
We’ve found, through our experience, that it pays dividends to invest early.
For instance, we’ve been in the credit card game for a long time. We’ve made little tweaks to the keyword best credit cards in Canada, and we’ve seen positive returns. Visitors acquired from these targeted search efforts are ready to purchase, ready to convert into a customer, and if you can direct them to the exact result they want, it will make you money.
2. Keyword Research
To start doing the keyword research for your business, you have to think about all the ways people may search online for the product you're offering.
In our mortgage vertical, we have a strong presence for “mortgages” as a keyword, but we constantly ask ourselves - How can we improve on it? How else might people search for this when using their internet browser? For example, we could try an adjective to further refine the keyword by putting “renewal” in front of the word mortgage. We could add a few modifiers to end up at first time home buyer.
A great practice is to:
- Brainstorm all the potential keyword iterations and lay them out on a big mind map. For us, what are the variations of our insurance keywords? Let's take a word like "car." People might sometimes type in, "auto," "automobile," "vehicle" - you need to think about all the variations people might type into the search field.
- Put all those keywords and their variations into Google’s keyword planner (or similar tool) to uncover the search volumes of each word. Search volumes help you determine the order of priority and represent the number of customers searching for those keywords in your market. The volume can help you decide if a keyword is worth pursuing and incorporating into your content efforts (i.e. page building, blogging, link building).
As you scale and can afford more resources, you can work on those with smaller search volumes. For now, focus on the more impactful keywords. After we had boiled down our keywords to about 30-50, we started to map out a site architecture as part of our content strategy.
Building the Architecture
What is site architecture? If you’re going to build a house, you ask an architect for a design. From there, you work with a builder to accomplish that design. The same principles apply to a site architecture - we need to know the master plan of SEO-powered pages before we can task a content team to create the required pages.
At Ratehub.ca, we developed a meticulous plan based on Google’s best practices. We knew how we wanted our URLs to look, what the links would say, how our page titles would appear, right down to the number of characters in a title, before we built anything.
Basically, we took a big idea, broke it into bite-sized chunks and made priority lists and due dates. The big spreadsheet of related words turned into a master plan, and we started with the most critical main pages with the highest search volumes. With the plan in place, you can better understand how and when you can afford to scale, and once we start to see results, we can bring someone on full time to build more pages.
After going through this excercise, there are two main takeaways:
- Build to a plan today with a focus on tomorrow. With enough foresight, you can proactively think how it all works together. Otherwise, you risk mistakes or flaws that may require architectural fixes or content tweaks that could lead to a drop in your ranking. The more detailed the plan, the better the architecture.
- Build out more pages that target a specific set of keywords. Building 2-3 master pages that rank for hundreds of keywords can be confusing to a user searching for a particular result and extremely difficult to have those pages effectively rank for all keywords. The more targeted your pages, the happier your users and the search engine ranking algorithm will be.
Remember the better chance you have at ranking in the top 10, the better chance you have of converting searchers into users. What’s good for the user is good for business.
Outreach to Outrank Your Competition
Now that you've built your main landing pages for your product, you should start blogging to educate and inform your users. Drive them to your landing pages using targeted anchor text (i.e. hyperlinked keywords) and calls-to-action (CTA's).
Are you beginning to see the sales funnel you've created?
However, on-page SEO can only get you so far. Reaching out to establish external content partnerships is the essential next step to elevate your game by acquiring strategic backlinks. Backlinks are links to your site from another site which signals to search engines that you offer valuable content. They help to improve specific keyword performance and your domain authority (DA), which improves your site’s rankings.
To get backlinks, think about where your customers are spending their time researching. For instance, for us to rank for home insurance quotes, we could write an article for a renovation or real estate website that links back to our site to convert.
The important thing is building a list of targeted external content partners that can provide high value links back to your site.
You can use tools like Moz to determine a site’s DA, including your own, and to understand if they are an acceptable target. You can also use a tool like Buzzsumo to find out what people are talking about, their concerns, and needs as they relate to your industry. You can even try Ahrefs as a backlink checker and SEMrush as a tool to track the rankings of your competition against your common keywords. It’s worth reading Backlinko for advice and insights.
The higher the domain authority, the more valuable they are and the more you should want to create content for them, because it will help to increase your DA.
In Conclusion, SEO has No Conclusion
SEO doesn't stop - you tinker, you tweak, you write more content, and you adapt to trends in your industry.
The ultimate question on SEO is understanding how to improve over your competitor. If you're not on Google's page one, you're not in the game. Winning the game is being the top organic spot on Google’s page one.
Of course, revenue is the ultimate barometer of success, but it can be hard to measure in any product’s early stages. If you're getting external press and quality content exchanges, it’s a big win.
In the end:
- If you’re getting inbound links from other sources, then it’s improving your keyword rankings.
- If you’re progressing on your keyword rankings, then you will start to see improved traffic performance.
- The better your traffic performance, the higher the potential for revenue growth.
All these tasks crossed off your to-do list, and you’re making your dream a reality.
Remember SEO is a long game – results aren’t always instantaneous, but just continue to follow the best practices, and you will see the fruits of your labour in due time.
This post was written by Alyssa Furtado (Founder and CEO of Ratehub.ca, and Graduate of the Toronto Founder Institute)
Ratehub Inc. is Canada’s leading financial comparison platform. Ratehub.ca hosts five million unique users per year and helps Canadians get the best deals on their mortgage, credit card, insurance and investments. Ratehub.ca is a product of the people behind our company and our commonly-held beliefs on financial transparency, product innovation, entrepreneurship and community.