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SEO for Startups: Build Authority Offsite

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Startups with newly purchased domains nearly always enter some iteration of a search engine sandbox; a purgatory of sorts to ensure fresh domains aren't masquerading as spam zombies. To get out of the sandbox, it takes three steps:

  1. Time.

  2. Incoming links.

  3. A modicum of content uniqueness.

This means that, for many startups, the old search engine optimization (SEO) adage "content is king" doesn't quite apply. That's because domains that are low in authority typically also lack brand power, meaning the content would have to be pretty mind blowing to achieve the incoming links required to elevate it in the SERPs.

SEO takes time and effort, but startups yet to hit the series-a round typically have a shorter window for success. So, how do new online businesses quickly create organic visibility while simultaneously building trust and authority within their domain?

The answer is through off-site optimization. By leveraging the powerful channels that already have search engine authority, it's much easier to create visibility, awareness, and a feeder system to your website.

Truth be told, there is more than one algorithm for which to optimize. Here are just a few couple great external sites that can help you occupy more SERP turf:

Optimizing on External Domains

  • Yelp/Google Local. Critical for local businesses, optimizing in these community pages should be priority number one. Don't forget: credible reviews play a role in both algorithms. Instead of creating a five Yelp accounts and spamming reviews (bad idea), see if some of your supporters (a.k.a. brand evangelists) are on Yelp. Ask them if they'd mind spreading the word about your great work. As for Google Local, take some time and care in creating your listing -- David Mihm has nailed it.

  • YouTube. YouTube is a fantastic way to establish thought leadership or create that perfect piece of viral content to bring your brand into the mainstream view. The quintessential example is Blendtec's, "Will it Blend?" an oddly fascinating web series in which the Blendtec people demonstrate their awesome blending power in tidy two minute videos that have reached more than 100 million viewers. The lessons of Blendtec are simple: use your product to tell a story that will mesmerize your audience.

    As for developing thought leadership, try developing a series of "how-to" guides to position your brand as informed experts. It's a less sexy permutation of its viral counterpart, but a great way to drive keyword friendly searches in a competitive landscape that's likely still wide open. Delallo's Pasta Channel is a solid example.

    When optimizing YouTube content, remember these important steps:
    • Tags matter: Use keywords in your titles, descriptions, and tags.

    • Encourage user interactions (they matter): These interactions include comments, ratings, views, favorites, likes, embeds, and incoming links.

    • Fascinate your audience: Don't waste your time creating YouTube videos if the content isn't going to compel your audience to share it.
  • SlideShare. Have a killer presentation? Slideshare is frequently one of the best places to share your authority documents as the domain has been trending much more highly in search engine results pages. Like YouTube, optimize your titles, tags, and summaries. A few incoming links won't hurt either.

  • Guest blogging. Top search rankings in Google aren't always realistic, especially if you're working with startup resources and a fresh domain. Try leveraging the authority of a strong domain by offering to guest post. It's a win-win scenario in which the domain owner receives traffic and the poster benefits from increased recognition. When selecting opportunities for guest posting, look for domains:
    • That frequently update.

    • With a solid following (comments and compete data are great sources).

    • That have at least the PageRank of the top result for the keyword you're looking to optimize.
    When optimizing blog posts, remember:
    • No keywords in title, no ranking: Semantic relevance is nice, but a bit unrealistic. A keyword-rich title tag is still a necessity when looking to rank traditional content.

    • Don't forget to link: An incoming link to your site won't hurt, so long as there's relevancy, right? Be sure to link with best interests of your readers in mind.

    • Add some attractive images, then optimize them: Try to summarize all of your thoughts into one attractive image and chart. It will be a powerful way to communicate your ideas and will be quite link friendly, as well.

    • 500 words, minimum: Don't skimp on the content. Make sure the search engine has enough crawlable content to determine your information to be rank-worthy. The length of content needed to rank will vary based on competition, query-type, and user intention, but a 500-word minimum is a great rule of thumb.

Put it All Together: On Your Domain

Your external efforts should create a bounty of dynamic and engaging content. Embed your YouTube videos, Slideshare presentations, and image bait with unique and rich content to form authority documents that will converge to create the most in-depth and richest content available for your subject matter.

Once the mousetrap is set, link back from your YouTube pages, guest posts, and other social channels. Now, it's time to start a more traditional link building campaign.

Don't to Forget to Measure

Regardless of your startup, it's invaluable to be able to justify efforts through measurement and reporting. Here are a few KPI's that will be beneficial for measurement:

  • External Reach
    • YouTube views
    • External blog views
    • Slideshare views, favorites, and embed
    • Incoming links to external pages using Yahoo Site Explorer
  • Incoming Traffic
    • Total search traffic (month-over-month and year-over-year)
    • Referral traffic
    • Time on site/return visits
    • PageRank and inbound links
    • Search rankings (use an external computer and log out of Gmail)

Beyond justifying your efforts, this data will prove exceptionally helpful in isolating the strategies that are creating the highest returns.

Remember

These simple steps should help accelerate the process of appearing in search engines, even if it isn't to your own domain. One of the most valuable benefits of this non-traditional form of SEO is that it facilitates greater protection over your brand-related search terms, ensuring potential customers will have positive touch points with your brand.

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