Hi, I’m Maile Ohye. I’m a developer programs tech lead at Google. I’ve been at Google since 2005 working with our search and our webmaster tools teams. But if I were a consultant for your startup, here’s all the advice I would give in under 10 minutes.
Basics of Search Engine Optimization
This talk is aimed for companies who have their main content below about 50 pages. For those sites that are looking to rank for thousands of unrelated keywords, like an ecommerce site or a news agency, you might wanna invest more time with SEO. My objective for this talk is to provide you the basics in the most efficient manner possible and to help you feel assured that you’re not doing something totally wrong related to search, and last, to provide pointers for more information. The first thing to do with your domain is to decide whether you want visitors to see the dub, dub, dub version or the non dub, dub, dub version. At which point your 301 redirect users from your non preferred to your preferred version.
Now, many large corporations, like Google and Facebook, actually keep the www. version, but you’re free to do whichever you want. The reason why we use a 301 and not a 302 is because a 301 is a permanent redirect and that way it signals to applications like search engines, to actually transfer all those indexing properties from the source to the target.
Verifying ownership in Webmaster Tools
The next step is to verify ownership of your site in Webmaster tools. And I don’t just say this because I work with the team, but I think this is really valuable. I encourage you to sign up for email forwarding. Email forwarding allows Google, when we have any message for you, like when we think you might have been hacked or we think your site is hosting malware, or we’re having trouble crawling your site and we found a high number of unreachable URLs. So any of those messages can be forwarded to Google Webmaster Tools and if you have email forwarding enabled, it can be forwarded directly to the inbox that you check every day.
One more research tip is to perform a background check on your domain. For example, if it was previously owned by spammers then you’re not going to rank very well now. So, one good way to check is to look at the keywords listed in Webmaster tools for your site and see if you see any unwanted words there. Also, you can see if you’re indexed by performing a site colon search with your domain. And if you see any problems the Webmaster guidelines can be found at this URL. And if you have questions about penalties or reconsideration requests and that entire process, my friend Tiffany Oberoi has a great interview listed here.
Fetch as Googlebot
I’d like to highlight the fetch as Googlebot feature in Webmaster tools. It’s a great feature cause you give us a URL and then we’ll perform a crawl as Googlebot, and you can see exactly whether we’ve been redirected appropriately and exactly what content we download. An additional part of this feature, and I think this is really useful, is that you can actually tell us to not just crawl but to submit to index for that URL. And this way, any time you update a page or you create an entirely new page, you can trigger that entire process to happen by Google and have it available to searchers even faster.
My next advice is to include Analytics code whether it’s Google Analytics or another provider. Now you wanna start collecting this data even if you’re not ready to use it because once you hire someone it’s better to have some historical information about your site. The next part is the strategy in your site design. You’ll want to create a great experience for all your visitors and their different personas. So, consider your customers. Also your investors and what content will they see? Or even the press. Some questions to ask when it comes to site strategy are utility. Does our site design meet the needs of each persona and does each persona have a great experience?
Navigation, if a searcher lands on a child page, and that’s common with search results they don’t funnel directly through your homepage all the time, can they figure out where they are? And can they easily navigate to where they want to be? Another question is about whether or not your site is focused. Does each page contain one logical topic that’s obvious to visitors? It’s common with startups that because you’re tight on time and resources, that as you collect more and more information, you just add that to existing pages and make those extremely long forcing users to scroll.
But, instead, think about your site design and if that should be broken up into separate pages. The next step, and this is especially helpful for Startups, is to define your conversion whether that means for “group foo” visitors to sign up for the newsletter or to contact bizdev lead or to try your product, you want to have a relevant conversion possible on every page. Like a call to action. And not force users to make extra clicks. When it comes to your copy or the actual information that you have on each page, it’s great to include relevant keywords naturally in your text. These keywords are like query terms that normal people would use to find your product or your business. So, for example, companies might call themselves as selling athletic footwear but in your actual copy it’s better to include terms like running shoes which is what people actually search for. One more thing I wanted to mention about the copy on your pages is to answer your visitors or the personas questions that they might have. For example, is the product reputable? Perhaps show reviews or let other users review.
Or if a user might ask, “What if this product doesn’t work” then explain the customer satisfaction policy. Every page should include a unique topic, a unique title as that can be displayed in search results, a unique meta description which might be displayed as the snippet and then for non-dynamic sites, this is just a best practice, but it’s good to have keywords in the filename, lowercase and hyphen separated. And then, of course, descriptive anchor text for every link whether you’re linking internally or externally to another site. So here’s anchor text that could use some improvement. For more information on our product specifications, click here. Click here is not that descriptive. Better way to have it would be, for more information please read our product specifications. So that’s what you wanna aim for.
A good example of a site that has a unique topic on each page as well as a unique title and descriptive anchor text, can be showing with this search result for NASA. Now, NASA doesn’t only have their homepage shown, but also has generated site links. These site links algorithmically by Google but they can influenced by great site design, having a unique title as well as great anchor text. I’ll quickly cover some potential pitfalls. Please do not hire a rogue or shady SEO.
If they guarantee any rankings it is too good to be true. Please don’t participate in link schemes or buying links for the purpose of passing PageRank. And last, I know it’s great to have a fancy site but try not to focus so much on site fanciness that you don’t actually have indexable and searchable text. Another thing to consider about your site is the page low time.
I’ve noticed a lot of Startups don’t necessarily have time to focus on this. But, it’s good to know that Akamai actually did a study of ecommerce sites and found that 2 seconds is the threshold for ecommerce sites acceptability. At Google, we aim for under a half second. In general, the longer your page takes to load, the more likely it is that users can click away.
Now, let’s talk about ranking. Check that you rank for your company name. Hopefully number once was site links. If you want to rank for other terms, you can use Webmaster tools’ search queries. And, I put this link earlier, but here’s the link to a video on using Webmaster tools. Then, get involved. For Startups it might be the case that no one searches for your new kind of product or service, so you have very low query volume. At that point, you could prioritize, finding a potential audience or community through existing forums, blogs or social media sites. Know that, to rank well and to stay on top, provide an awesome product or service. And then, generate buzz.
Startups often ask me about social media marketing and whether they should invest their time. Well, I think that social media is terrific and one big reason is that rather than just having an avenue of users coming through search, this really diversifies your approach and you can get visitors from different sources. But here are a few tips.
First of all, think holistically. So, you might create an identity on key sites, and then participate. But, remember, you eventually wanna connect users to an entry point of conversion. So think about that entire user experience from a social media site directly to conversion on your site. Also, and this is fairly obvious, but focus your energy where your audience hangs out.
And last, play to your authentic strengths, it’s likely that your company has limited resources. So, if your CEO likes to tweet, then go ahead and let them, or if you have a salesperson who really enjoys Facebook then that’s terrific, or if you have a developer who’s already on Google Plus or Stack Overflow then have them represent your company and interact with the community there. My last takeaway is this, even with great advertising and terrific marketing, valuable conversion still happens on your site. So please, stay focused and make sure you’re ready.