It's never been easier to start a business - and sadly there's more than enough misinformation to kill your chances of being found online before you put pen to paper (or is it fingers to keys?).
As I've gone head first into the world of SEO I've seen examples of companies that have been successful, but many more that are doing things that seem trendy but are severely lacking in substance. To go one step further, they are stunting a startup's growth, making it dead in the water.
SEO is the one tool that you have in your belt that you can start using to get traffic for free (or at least, just for an investment of time and maybe an intern or freelance writer). Ineffective SEO won't get you results, just wasted money and time, which no startup can afford.
In this article I will walk you through the most common blunders and mistakes I see websites making. I've worked with dozens of companies ranging from SaaS to E-commerce and even pharmaceuticals, it doesn't matter your industry though as these mistakes are (unfortunately) ubiquitous.
Fortunately, they are all easy mistakes to fix. Read on to learn more and find the fixes if you are making these errors on your website.
I see this all the time. All. The. Time.
Medium is a beautiful publication. Just look at it:
As beautiful as it is, hosting your blog on Medium is one of the worst things you can do if you want your website to rank. Will you score points for having a nice looking blog? Yes.
Will your blog build up your domain's authority so that people will find you over your competitors? No. Your blog will be hosted on Medium.
Any traffic it gets will build up Medium as a publication but it will do nothing for your website, which is the primary growth engine for building your business. As far as Google is concerned, if your blog is hosted on Medium it does not exist as your blog. It's just a random collection of pages on Medium among others.
Is your Medium blog the same as your website?
The typical path from idea to startup to scale up is to build a one-page site with a form to convert leads, and a few content pieces to round out the site and give it a little boost to start ranking. Ideally you are creating content regularly, or semi-regularly, to build out your business as a thought-leader as opposed to your competition who are all dunces (wink, wink).
If your blog is on Medium though all that effort put into creating content is for nothing. So don't do it. Most CMS (content management systems) platforms have blogging capabilities built right in making it extremely simple to set up a blog right alongside your website. No need for subdomains or fancy configuration, www.domain.com/blog will do.
A slight caveat here is importing a story from your site to Medium. Medium's import feature allows you to enter a URL from your website to which they then crawl and pull the content from it into a post draft. This sets the canonical URL for the URL you entered, meaning any traffic or SEO credit the story gets on Medium will go back to you.
Here's a new one - using Notion to build out a website.
I stumbled across a post on a startup forum, Indie Hackers, on using Notion as a website builder. To my dismay, it seemed quite a few people enjoyed the concept and some have been attempting to build their startups with a Notion homepage.
There are numerous services sprouting out that do this - convert Notion docs into websites with custom URLs. That's pretty cool, but what isn't cool is the complete lack of support for SEO in the platform and the fact that it actively kills your chances at ranking. Harsh? Maybe, but let's a take a look below the surface of a Notion website.
Here's a screenshot from the source code of a Notion-built homepage:
There's a lot there, what I want to focus on is the title tag and meta description. We've written about how titles affect your SEO, as well as how meta descriptions are important for ranking. Notice anything about the title set here?
Here's the title set for this website's homepage: Notion – The all-in-one workspace for your notes, tasks, wikis, and databases.
And here's the meta description: A new tool that blends your everyday work apps into one. It's the all-in-one workspace for you and your team
This is not just an SEO blunder, this is absolutely killing this website's chances at ranking. Not to mention the open graph information (used for social previews when the link is shared) is all set to Notion as well.
Now, many Notion built websites have a custom title and meta description, however the above appears to be a default. If you are not specifically setting a title, which is entirely up to these site builders, then your website will have a Notion title and a Notion meta description. If every page for every website has the same title and meta description pointing to Notion, that's worse than not having one set at all.
If the site ever ranks, this is the title and meta description that will appear in the search results. Building a site this way is a recipe for being dead in the water as far as SEO and growing your traffic goes.
Once you are blogging and creating content on the right platform, it's time to make sure you are creating the right content.
I see this often with startups, though small businesses fall culprit to it too - do not use your blog to create content that is all about your business.
Your blog is a library of content that should answer questions your target audience is asking throughout the buyer's journey. No one (well, few) are going onto Google to ask questions about your business. There are some exceptions to this rule, but by and large no one cares about the event you went to, the award you won, or the new feature of your product.
Do share this on a dedicated blog. For example, HubSpot has a product blog where they share insights about the product as well as thought leadership on product management, UX, and engineering:
If you have a Wordpress website this might be a default setting, change it now if you can (and 301 redirect every URL that you change).
Google favors URLs that are human-readable, we covered this in-depth in our guide to writing SEO-friendly URLs but we'll cover the basics here.
Your basic SEO-friendly URL will follow these guidelines:
And that's it! It's easy to overthink your URLs, but don't. Just make sure they are SEO friendly, that means no numbers, dashes between words, and ensuring they are easy to understand.
Now that we're creating content, how do we track its performance?
I see many teams picking a small subset of keywords that they want to rank for, and over-indexing on them. This is a difficult way to do SEO; I like to use an analogy of investing to help explain why.
Suppose you had $10,000 to invest - what would you do? Would you pick individual stocks to build a portfolio? Or invest in a broad index fund to cover a large section of the market? The safer bet is an index fund. Picking individual stocks ends up being little more than gambling, and that's why we use a similar process with Centori. Rather than invest in Apple, I want to invest in tech. Rather than buy Coca Cola, I want to buy consumer products. And rather than rank for one keyword, I want to rank for a question.
Here's an example. We ran a blog post a while back on why Google might show a meta description different from the one you created. The individual keyword here, "Google showing wrong meta description" shows 10 searches per month:
And yet this blog post has earned 33,000+ impressions and 450+ clicks from Google in the past 90 days:
That's because we rank for the core question "why is my meta description different from what I would expect?" and there are a lot of variations of that question:
Rather than rank for one keyword, identify a question your customer is asking and rank for every variation of that question. Yes the search volume is low for an individual keyword, but it adds up.
We've written before that domain authority, score, rating, (or whatever the SEO tool calls it) is overrated, but it is a common enough mistake to call out here.
I get it: we love numbers. We love numbers that go up, and we love to feel that we did something to make the number go up. At the same time, I see so many people obsess over their domain authority when there are things they could focus on instead that will actually move their business forward.
The authority of your website does matter... to an extent. If you have a new website with little authority it will be hard to rank for broad and competitive keywords. You could focus on building authority by creating content and building backlinks, but that takes time. Lots of time.
Instead, roll with the punches and target keywords you can rank for to build relevant traffic that converts. In the process of doing this you will raise the authority of your website (which will make it easier to rank for new keywords, this is the compounding effect of SEO).
I love learning about new technologies and trying out new tools too. When Medium came out I dabbled in blogging on it (and still write for my personal blog on it). When Notion gained popularity I signed up and was amazed at its capabilities for being a team knowledge center - or even a public one.
But there are certain SEO principles that we cannot ignore and must judge every new tool and technology by. Those don't change (unless Google changes their algorithm) and when it comes to SEO, Medium and Notion aren't just poor choices - they're hurting your chances at ranking.
Use the tools as intended. Build out a website with SEO in mind by creating high-quality content that answers questions and is well-optimized. That's the only recipe for ranking in search that you need.
This was written with my tongue firmly in my cheek, for advice that is a bit more helpful/actionable check out our ebook The Ultimate Guide to SEO which serves as an introduction to SEO, website optimization, keyword research and more.
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