Minimum Viable SEO: How To Get Startup SEO Right

This is an old post I wrote that still holds true today.

Recently on Hacker News, there was a discussion about minimum viable SEO. The concept of minimum viable X stems from Eric Ries’ Lean Startup concept of the minimum viable product. The minimum viable product, or MVP, is shipping the most basic version of your product and continually reiterating based on how the market reacts to it. Your product is never going to be perfect when you first ship.

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” -George S. Patton

In short, get all the basics right and continue to refine.

The same goes for SEO – get all the basics right and worry about the other stuff later. What’s really alarming is that a lot of startups seem to completely ignore even the most fundamental aspects of SEO. This is understandable because they’re laser focused on building remarkable products that will make the world a better place 🙂

But ignoring SEO altogether can be a costly mistake – you don’t want to miss out on twenty, thirty, or one hundred thousand monthly visitors right? Who knows – your next big evangelist or investor might be one of those visitors from organic search. So make sure you have your MVSEO right!

Here’s how you can get your minimum viable SEO right:

1. Title

Get your title right – For the most part, this means don’t put your brand name in the front of each title. The title is widely accepted as one of the most on-page SEO elements. Plus, it’s easy to do. So go do it.

Below is an example of a title that needs improvement and an example of a startup that has optimized their title.

Exhibit A: Needs Improvement

Let’s take a look at startup Segment:

segment

Problem: The title is THE spot to put in keywords that drive volume. The current title isn’t optimal because it’s clear no keyword research has been done. Every little bit of volume helps and the title is an easy win.

Solution: So instead of doing that, a better alternative might be: Data Segmentation Tool | Segment. (keep in mind we didn’t do keyword research here. Just an example.)

Exhibit B: Better!

Now let’s take a look at a startup that’s doing it right, Treehouse:

treehouse

By optimizing for other relevant keywords people are already searching, Treehouse is able to rank for more keywords and drive more relevant traffic to the site. There’s no need to push the brand heavily on the homepage title if that keyword isn’t that competitive.

2. Domain Canonicalization

Make sure add a rel=canonical tag to your default homepage so the search engine spiders know which one is the most important. As an added layer of support, if you have a non-www and www version of your website, 301 redirect the one with less links to the one with more links to preserve the link juice on your site.

Solution:Add a rel=canonical tag to relevant pages – here’s how you can do it. You can use Open Site Explorer to see which version has more/less links.

3. URL Structure

Note: You want to get this right from the beginning so you don’t have to go back and fix this when you have a lot more pages on your site. Then it becomes a pain.

Look at this URL: http://www.teamexpress.com/Equipment/Baseball-Equipment/team/lev/0/Ne/1300001/N/36+1101959+46/categoryId/1101959/pCategoryId/598/parentCatId/608/Ns/CATEGORY_SEQ_608%7C0/index.cat

Now look at this one: http://www.teamexpress.com/Equipment/Baseball-Equipment/

Which one is more intuitive? Which one is easier to remember? Which one causes less friction? The second one. Search engine spiders behave similarly. The more difficult it is for them to figure out what your pages are about, the less likely you’ll be maximizing the benefit of that page. That means giving up crawl bandwidth and possibly losing out on indexing other pages.

Solution: Get your URL structure right from the get go or else you’re going to be in a world of hurt later.

4. Take Blog off subdomain

For search engine optimization purposes, it’s best to use a subfolder instead of a subdomain. If you have a blog URL that looks like http://www.blog.mystartup.com, you’ll want to move it to something like http://www.mystartup.com/blog for your site to get all the credit from that rich blog content. The added long tail search traffic and link authority never hurts 🙂

Solution: SEOmoz has a great post on using a reverse proxy to help do this, but it’s recommended that you talk to your dev team first to see what potential risks there are and if the tradeoff is worth it.

5. Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs provide a logical path to each page and help funnel link juice (your site’s authority) throughout the site. Think of your site structured as an ant hill – all of the tunnels should have link juice flowing through it.

Solution:Breadcrumbs are a great automated way to add internal links throughout your site. Add them to strengthen your site as a whole.

6. Meta Robots

Rather than using robots.txt to block certain pages of your site, consider using the meta robots ‘noindex, follow’ tag. The robots.txt essentially stops link juice from flowing throughout your site. The ‘noindex, follow’ tag keeps the page out of index but allows the link juice to flow through. In most cases, the ‘noindex, follow’ tag is the better alternative.

Solution:Use the ‘noindex, follow’ instead of the robots.txt for blocking pages. Check out this post on SEOmoz to get more insight on robots.txt versus ‘noindex, follow’.

7. Images

Add a little more SEO juice to your site by tagging up your images with alt tags. Search engines crawl the alt tags to give you credit for the image. No alt tag = no credit.

Example: “img src=”http://www.evergreensearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/zappos-breadcrumbs.jpeg” alt=”zappos breadcrumbs” title=”zappos breadcrumbs” width=”326″ height=”186″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-674″

Solution:Add an alt tag to all of your images – better to get in the habit of this so you won’t have to go back and add them all later

8. User Generated Content

User generated content is a great scalable form of SEO that doesn’t require a lot of work on your part. For example, product reviews on e-commerce sites help give search engines more information on what the page is about and also help reduce friction in the buying process! The result is more long tail search traffic and more conversions! Win/win!

Solution:Add user generated reviews to assist customers in the buying process and increase long tail search traffic.

In your opinion, what are some other ways startups can get their minimum SEO right?

Disclaimer: As with any digital marketing campaign, your individual results may vary.