SEO for Startups

Photo by Med Badr Chemmaoui on Unsplash

Search engine optimization is essential for anyone running a website. No matter what your goals are, appearing on the first page for relevant web search results is the best way to get qualified traffic to your site.

Entrepreneur published an article on the importance of SEO for startups. While the listicle is full of many great reasons, item number one caught my attention right away.

“1. SEO delivers customer behavior data to startups.”

For a new business, a strong web presence is critical. As your brand builds awareness, people will go online to research what you and your business are all about. While some might think that publishing a website and possibly claiming a Google My Business listing is enough, it isn’t.

Spending time to educate yourself on how related search trends, then using that information to build your website, gets you in front of the right people even faster. A good SEO strategy involves keyword research, explorations of real-life questions, and critical thinking about user intent. This information helps you determine site structure, but is useful elsewhere, as you try and assess your offline marketing plans.

Once people start visiting your website, unique data is available to you. By connecting your site to Google Analytics, you can see in real time where your customers are coming from and how they behave once they arrive.

The article points out some other key reasons why SEO is essential for a startup. A good content strategy will lead to more traffic, higher conversion, and can lead to a robust long-term customer base. Read more at Entrepreneur.com.

Microsoft Now Uses Bing Data for LinkedIn Targeting

LinkedIn, the business-driven social networking site, now uses search data from Bing for ad targeting. On the flip side, your LinkedIn activity is also used for interest-targeted ads when you are on Bing. According to Search Engine Land, this is the first time search data is being used for targeting on LinkedIn since the network was purchased by Microsoft nearly three years ago.

LinkedIn added the interest targeting feature to its ad platform in January of this year. Advertisers can target users with specific interests, based on the content they have engaged with, both through the social network and Bing searches. Currently, more than 200 topics are listed as options for ad targeting.

While you may not hear much about LinkedIn compared to mega-networks like Facebook and Twitter, it is certainly influential when it comes to engaging the professional workforce. Hootsuite reports that, on average, two new users join LinkedIn every second. That’s a bigger growth rate than Twitter. Data also shows that 50 percent of Americans with college degrees have LinkedIn accounts, indicated it is one of the best ways to reach an educated demographic.

While LinkedIn is well known as a great recruitment and job search tool, it is also an excellent place to find local and national business news. As a marketer, I always encourage sharing press releases on your company profile page for two specific reasons. First, working professionals are more likely to engage with brand-related news on LinkedIn because they are already in “business mode.” On Facebook, users are often there to look at family photos or engage with recreational content. Second, posting corporate updates on LinkedIn makes it easier for job candidates, business journalists, and partner companies to see a curated list of what you’ve accomplished.

Technology and Education

In the midst of the teacher walkout here in Oklahoma this week, the crossroads of technology and education have been on my mind. It’s been two decades since I graduated high school, and I was unaware that so many of our schools were so behind in terms of staying up to date with technology. For me, classrooms were the first place I encountered all sorts of digital tools, from AutoCAD to Photoshop to Webmail.

On the list of teacher pay and education funding in America, Oklahoma ranks among the lowest of the 50 states. Several weeks ago, when news began to spread that teachers from across the state were planning a school walkout to demand funding increases, the state Legislature passed a bill increasing taxes and giving teachers a raise of about $6000 per year. However, many educators said that any acceptable package must include additional funding for classroom resources and support. So the walkout moved forward as planned.

Jennifer Jarnagan-Riem, a math teacher from Glenpool, OK, said the raises were a good start:

“It was a stepping stone. And now we’re ready for step two. We need proper funding, we need adequate funding and we need a long-term plan. It’s not something that’s just going to happen in a day.”

On Google’s blog, The Keyword, Lilyn Hester, Head of External Affairs for the Southeast United States, wrote about an initiative the company is developing that serves as a perfect example of the need for technology resources in public education. Hester says:

“I meet students who live in remote or rural areas and endure long bus rides to and from school—in some places up to 90 minutes each way. In these areas, like so many others across the country, a lot of students don’t have access to connectivity or devices at home, but they often have schoolwork that requires it… we live during a time where even astronauts can have Wi-Fi on their space stations. Why couldn’t our students have access to it on their bus rides home?”

So a volunteer team at Google helped install Wi-Fi on 11 buses throughout a small school district in Caldwell County, North Carolina. To help increase the efficacy of the program, they partnered with local leaders to put educators on each bus, providing support to students and helping with individual assignments.

The results were “immediate,” according to Hester’s article.

“…almost too immediate for some bus drivers who were shocked (and a little confused) when their commutes became so quiet. Students were engaged. They were learning. And after a few months, there were more real results: School officials saw students do better in school.”

Because of the success, Google is expanding their Rolling Study Halls program to a new area in Colorado, with more than a dozen additional districts in the works.

It’s well known that many public school teachers spend money from their own paychecks to purchase necessary supplies for their classrooms, but outfitting school buses with Wi-Fi would be outside the question, even in affluent areas. Seeing private companies take the lead on incorporating tech into education is a great way to supplement this gap, but even Google couldn’t roll out partnerships like this for every district in the entire country.

As of today, the teachers of Oklahoma continue to rally at the state capitol.

No matter how the funding situation turns out, it’s become clear to me that if tomorrow’s business leaders are going to get a good education, technology, and adept training on how to use it, will be imperative.

The Best Obtainable Version of the Answer

Recently, Oklahoma Humanities hosted an evening of commentary with Carl Bernstein, discussing truth in media and how it affects us as a democracy. Bernstein is well-known as one of the reporters assigned to cover the Watergate break-in at The Washington Post. His deep investigative reporting, along with his colleague Bob Woodward, helped uncover the now well-known illegal activities by the Nixon administration, which ultimately led to the President’s resignation in 1974. The forum also included a presentation from Ted Streuli, Editor and Associate Publisher of The Journal Record, who discussed different forms of “fake news,” and how each form affects trustworthiness of publications in a different way. The major emphasis of Bernstein’s remarks was a push for journalists to always strive for “the best obtainable version of the truth.” The event was in conjunction with the “Democracy and the Informed Citizen” initiative, which is administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils. This series of programs seeks to deepen public knowledge of the connections between “democracy, the humanities, journalism, and an informed citizenry.”

Although far from identical, content creation for brands is like journalism in many ways. Blog articles, FAQ pages, and press releases are all meant to give information to the public, with the added goal of familiarizing consumers with a company’s product. Like news journalism, brand content can be both factual and misleading, depending on the integrity of the company at its source. While it’s important for brand content to be true, the process of creating these resources does not require investigative deep-dives. Very often, the facts about a product or service are already well known by the marketing team. But if content distributed by a company is going to be the most effective, it must have a similar goal to that of good journalism: the best obtainable version of the answer. 

All marketing content should provide the answer to a question being raised by new or existing customers. These questions can range from how to use a product, to why it is better than a competitor’s, to where it can be most easily purchased. In all of these areas, the users who encounter the information will be more engaged if it gives them the best obtainable version of the answer. Why would they engage with your blog article if another brand is giving them something better? It is the responsibility of every business to offer honest, complete answers to any questions consumers are raising about their category of product or service. 

But answers can be complex. As Mr. Bernstein stated during the forum, the truth isn’t always a simple string of facts. Context is always needed to provide the reader with a full picture. Finding a balance of concise, to-the-point information, and fully fleshed-out context is difficult. That’s why digital content is so effective, allowing specific pieces of information to be linked to related topics, letting the user decide how much information they want to consume. Care should be taken that this network of brand information is user-friendly and easy to navigate. If a business launches a new product campaign, with multi-channel pieces of content, consumers must also be given a clear path to connecting all of the information. 

Mr. Bernstein also spoke about the need for institutional commitment to the truth in journalism. The same goes for brand content, where mixed messages create confusion for potential customers, and in turn, mistrust. Nothing will send a prospective client running for the hills faster than marketing information that is contradictory or seems fake. So it is highly important that brand messages be strictly curated throughout the company, from the executive level, all the way through customer service. If the CEO makes a statement in the newspaper that is at odds with an online video, users in the marketplace will notice and may turn away from your products toward those of a competitor in a split second, without taking any additional time to contact the company for clarification. If your content strategy involves a dedication to the best obtainable version of the answers, consistency won’t be a problem. 

Whether a company is working on a blueprint to rebrand, or a campaign to kick off the next quarter, answering the questions of potential new and repeat customers should be the number one goal of any content created. Do the materials show the product in a clear way? How do the words and images create real-life scenarios for customers? Where do individual marketing pieces disagree or contradict, and how can that be resolved? Asking these questions, and finding the best obtainable version of the answer, will lead to higher levels of engagement from digital consumers, and an increase in brand trust.