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SEO is known to be a significant digital marketing pillar, but in the recent years many professionals claim that SEO is dead. Too many marketers in the B2B tech industry are not sure if they should hire SEO agencies, wondering if such agencies will manage bring satisfying results or deal with their highly technical products, and too many of my colleagues from within the industry aren’t confident that investing in SEO makes sense, in their case. Disclaimer: I mostly support early-stage B2B startup companies (post seed to round A), where SEO potential and results are very different from what you can expect from B2C consumer product companies or more established B2B brands. Usually, the products I support are innovative, not yet in heavy demand and are therefore not heavily searched for. We often even create new categories…
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Long story short, very few people know exactly what approach they should take with SEO.
Thus, for all the people out there who care about their marketing efforts, I wish to offer my perspective and help dissolve the mist around SEO in our days.
What is SEO, in a nutshell?
I am assuming that you do have some basic marketing knowledge, but just to make sure that we are all on the same page: Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of increasing the quantity and improving the quality of organic (non paid) traffic to your website. The quality of traffic is about attracting visitors who are genuinely interested in what you have to offer. Once you have the right visitors coming to your website, you want to get more of them.
Why is SEO important?
Seriously? Is that even a valid question?
Well, it’s almost impossible to imagine how we managed our lives before the arrival of search engines. Nowadays, we use search engines for almost everything, and let’s face it – we almost never go below the top 5 search results. It means that if you have a website and you are trying to attract more visitors that run relevant searches, you must appear among targeted queries’ top results. SEO is the practice of achieving that.
Although search engines are incredibly subtle robots, they still can’t see a webpage and understand a website as a human can. SEO that is done right allows the search engine to understand what each page is about, what its quality is, how popular it is and how it addresses visitors’ needs. Once the search engine “gets” your website, it will be able to compare it to other relevant sites and decide how to rank it.
The way we were
Remember how it all started? SEO was mainly about technical activities and code manipulations. SEO pros would create endless web sites, microsites, mirrored sites, lobby site, and god knows what other sites.
Companies that could afford SEO would hire experts and they did stuff that nobody really got. Just to refresh your memory …
The way we became
But SEO people did what humans do, you know. They took it too far… until Google was fed up. That’s when black hat techniques were born, and punishments became part of the discussion.
SEO manipulation worked and managed to bring some companies to the top of the result lists, but most of them didn’t deserve it.
In those days SEO became critical to many (mainly B2B) companies and the SEO industry enjoyed growing budgets. The professional SEO tools that we all know were developed and used by professional agencies.
Marketers who had limited budget learned as much as they could about the field and did their best, alone.
More and more companies started running methodic SEO efforts, and a vicious cycle was born:
Online competition became more fierce > new SEO agencies emerged > more ‘black hat tactics were developed’ > Google modified its algorithms and added punishments > SEO agencies became more sophisticated > more ‘black hat tactics were developed’ > Google modified its algorithms and added punishments…
Until all traditional SEO tactics caused more harm than good. Something had to change.
Is SEO Really Dead?
Here we are today.
I keep hearing that SEO is dead. But SEO can’t be dead if you ask me. SEO equals “search engine optimization”. As long as there’s a list, there must be a way to make it to the top, right?
Terminology-wise… I agree that “old school” SEO is dead. Sometimes, when I see the amount of SEO-originated crap on the internet I think that old SEO should belong in hell….
OK, let’s agree:
Technological developments have a significant impact on the way we interact with the internet, search engines are here to stay, and optimizing our websites for the ever-evolving algorithms (only recently Google released a new broad core algorithm update) will always be relevant. Therefore, if you ever wondered, SEO is alive and kicking, but it is totally different. And you know what? With the huge supermarket of alternatives for anything… and with the huge portfolio of startup-based products and services for each need, and with B2B technologies and solutions included – SEO is more important today than ever.
So let’s move on to talk about the right approach to SEO.
No more cheap tricks like the examples below…
Heads up: Keywords stuffing will no longer push your website to the first page of the search results. Besides, you should know (if you don’t already), that Google is (rightfully) penalizing websites for keywords stuffing. Do you know why? Because it makes users suffer.
You know what is considered bad marketing? Making users suffer for no real reason. As there are other ways to gain SEO strength, there’s no need to make your readers miserable, though I do realize that many SEO people still don’t know how to stop doing it.
Another trick that must die is the practice of cloaking. Cloaking is a spammy technique of creating one version of your website for the user and another one for the search engine. This is prohibited by Google, and it will cause only trouble. You may enjoy nice results before you are caught. Don’t ever agree to this tactic and proactively ensure that your SEO agency doesn’t take that path.
Google will have no mercy, I assure you.
Another trick you should avoid is hiding texts. This trick is truly terrible, no surprise that Google had set punishments. Search engines are looking for high-quality content with real value to the readers, and they can detect hidden texts that naturally hold no value. Please keep in mind that this kind of action also carries penalties.
Keep up with the trends, though…
More and more people are using their phone or tablet to interact with websites, rather than their desktops, and this is why Google has decided to give more weight to its mobile-first index, which means that the mobile version of your website is now the starting point for what Google includes in its index. Simply put, you are judged by your mobile site.
Google’s mobile-first index (as well as the fact that I do see significant numbers of mobile views that keep growing, month by month, on Google Analytics) is the reason why I always create a mobile-friendly version of the websites I work on, and why I warmly recommend you will do so as well.
Checking the “mobile responsive” box isn’t enough. Treat your mobile exactly as you treat desktop, design, dev and analytics wise.
By the way, while working on your website’s mobile version, you should take into consideration the page load time, which is one of many aspects that impact the way Google shows mobile search results.
Listen to the keywords
Lately, I became a fan of voice search, and it seems like I’m not the only one. More and more people are using voice search and it means that your website should incorporate spoken phrases into its keywords to push your website to the first page of the search results. As mobile searchability improves, these spoken phrases are becoming significantly crucial for SEO. To optimize your website for voice search, you should consider these 3 simple tricks:
1) Make sure to include important spoken keywords on your homepage – You probably already did that, right? If not, make sure you do.
2) Make sure your content appears in a featured snippet – It’s simple to apply, and this is what it should look like:
3) Include questions and answers in your content – Voice searches are mostly question-based. In this case, Google will pick a page that contains a question and an answer.
A great user experience considers the needs of the visitors and the information that they are looking for. It’s about organizing the content in the right order, helping visitors consume it quickly and understand the essence as easily as possible. When I come to think about it, search engines and real website visitors have a lot in common – both want the website to load quickly, be easy to navigate through, have relevant, fresh and high-quality content, and answer their questions with minimal effort.
This may be a good time to say something about the Google RankBrain algorithm. RankBrain is a machine learning technology that Google uses to deliver its search results. RankBrain is focused on two things: 1) How long someone stays on your page (Dwell Time) 2) The percentage of people that click on your result (Click Through Rate).
You see where I’m going? There’s no point in playing tricks. Better do proper marketing, as god intended…
Time to talk about high-quality content that can help you improve your CTR.
High-quality content wins
Google is still using some good old methods to analyse web pages, and its ‘spiders’ are looking for relevant keywords in the URL, title tag, description tag, image ALT text, and H1 tag. But Google is also smarter today, so now it’s looking deeper into the content itself. A page that covers a topic in-depth and includes high-quality content, will have bigger chances to enjoy a better rank than a shallow one. As I recently mentioned in a related article, creating high-quality content is far from being an easy job, but it is the only alternative if you are after success – especially in the startup world, and 10 times more in the B2B arena.
In general, top quality content is one of the main missions of the B2B startup marketer. SEO gains are there, but I consider them a great side effect. Content is your gateway to win customer trust and become influencers in your industry. When you are selling a technical B2B product, content is a main way to educate the market, provoke curiosity and generate demand. And since great content around an interesting topic with a sexy title will make people click more to read it and spend more time in your blog, it will also play a key role in your SEO strategy. But, like I said, I don’t believe in creating “SEO content” – I do believe in making your content both great and SEO compatible.
OMG! Technical SEO
Don’t be scared. It’s technical, indeed. But the good news is that it’s not a never-ending project.
Technical SEO is an important process. It’s usually relevant to what’s going in your website’s back-office system, and how it communicates with search engines. If your technical SEO is not optimized, it’s likely that your SEO efforts will not perform as expected.
Again, like I said, the good news is that technical SEO can be treated as a one-time project. It is Sisyphean, demands experts, takes time – but once you do it right, you won’t have to cope with it again for a while. When you are ready, check out this 40-point SEO checklist for startups that I love using.
“I Need Someone to Manage My SEO”
Big mistake. Huge. In an early-stage B2B startup case. (if you ask me).
You know me, I tend to whine about startup founders from time to time (though I also adore them), and today is no exception. It all starts with what you, the product owner, ask for. If you don’t know what you are after, don’t be surprised later on when you receive the wrong service.
SEO agencies do what they need to do. They sell their services. And when it makes sense it’s super valuable. But, many of them will sell their services to anyone who would pay. That’s their way to survive and you can’t blame them for that. While their approach may be relevant for mass B2C product, or even SaaS products that are relevant to wide audiences, it’s not an optimal choice, to say the least, for a young B2B startup in a niche market.
Instead of asking for SEO services, you should first learn how many relevant online searches that fit your offering occur. You better first ask for proper marketing. It incorporates SEO, anyway. You must be looking beyond SEO right? You probably want to generate quality leads, gain traction in your market, nurture prospects until they are ready for outbound sales activities, be mentioned in relevant discussions… and the list goes on and on and is way beyond the scope of SEO.
When your marketing is done right, your SEO is done right. Today, SEO is a (crucial) part of your general marketing efforts, and my advice is clear: Don’t ask just for SEO and be careful of what you wish for.