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One startup’s journey into SEO

Posted January 15, 2011 in

Cliff Notes (for those with an internet attention span):
How Google works:

Tools:

Actual Blog Post
Cam.ly has done some hacking on SEO. I’ve tried to be thorough in my investigation. I’ve read everything said about SEO on Hacker News and checked out seoMoz and seobooks. I want to give my not-so-expert (although we are on the first page for some searches) advice on SEO. Overall the process is simple, but there’s a lot of confusing information and snake oil out there. There’s also a lack of non-commercial advice. This is the story of one startup’s adventure into SEO.

First you have to understand how Google works. Here is the most comprehensive resource I’ve found on how Google ranks web pages: http://www.vaughns-1-pagers.com/internet/google-ranking-factors.htm. We always go back to this list whenever we make a web page and make sure we did our best on every point. I mean EVERY POINT. Be thorough as each point counts. This is where SEOquake, SEOmoz cheatsheet, and YSlow come in handy. SEOquake will help you make sure you’ve hit a keyword density that is high but not over the spam threshold. Check SEOmoz cheatsheet to make sure you put keywords in every appropriate spot. Use YSlow to keep your page load time low. The one item that this list doesn’t really hit is the rumored super bonus for having the exact match of a search without spaces in your domain name.

Example:
Search: Easter egg
These domains get a super bonus www.easteregg.com, www.easteregg.net, and www.easteregg.org

These domains have a good match for the search but don’t receive the super bonus: www.easter-egg.com, www.easter_egg.org, www.easter1egg.net

We can verify that your domain name is very important. We receive a disproportionate amount of traffic from Vietnam. Before we registered the cam.ly address we were unaware of the actress Cam Ly from Vietnam. Now we disappoint many of her fans when they land on our page to only find security cameras.

Picture of the actress Cam Ly

Picture of the actress Cam Ly

You’ve learned incoming links are important from the resource above. So, first think of easy links you can get because they relate to you or your product. If you went to college, you probably still have some connections there that can get you a link from your school. Colleges usually have a high page rank. Use your location to get links. We’re in Austin, so we searched “Austin startups” and found a few places to list us and talk about us. You should also make a Google places page for your startup because these come up as first page results now. I don’t know what your product is but use it to get links. SEOmoz has a lot of great tools that will help you find sites that might link to you (most of their tools are link finding tools), but they cost money and are confusing to navigate. A simpler and freer solution is to use Blekko’s /seo slashtag. Search a competitor’s domain or any related website with /seo and it will give you a lot of useful information about that site’s links. The list is also ordered by how important each link is so the best links come first. I was using this tool the other day and noticed that a CMU robots resources page was linking to a competitor SuperCircuits (which is a simple store front security camera reseller). I promptly wrote the owner of the page explaining that our cameras would be a much better fit because our cameras run linux and we sell them open and encourage hacking.

Now that you sought out a lot of links to improve your pagerank, you need to choose which keywords to target. The best tool I’ve found for this is Wordtracker, which fortunately offers a free trial. Wordtracker estimates the traffic various searches are receiving (which Google AdWords estimator will also do), and it will also suggest other keyword searches to target and gives you a competitive estimate on each search. You should think long and hard about searches people interested in your product enter. Come up with a huge list and check out the traffic each search gets and how competitive it is. Focus your main pages on a few keywords.

After focusing your main pages for a few keywords you should think about the long tail of searches. Blogs are a great way to attack longtail searches. Google eats up blogs. We made a game called the pinata buster at http://cam.ly/pinata_buster (its down right now) and a blog post about the pinata buster http://cam.ly/blog/2010/10/how-the-pinata-buster-works. Even though the webpage http://cam.ly/pinata_buster has more links and likes the blog post is higher when you search ‘pinata buster’. Our blog post is on the first page and the actually game is on the fourth. Google will also index a blog quickly and it’s rewarding to see it in searches two days after publication.

According to Patrick McKenzie (an SEO expert read some of his stuff here and here) there are two types of content for your blog: pillar content and bill’er content. Pillar content is to put your blog on the map (gather links and attention). Pillar content is usually a more enjoyable read. This blog entry is pillar content. Bill’er content is designed more to sell your product. Your customers are having difficulties right? That’s why you designed a product to make their lives easier right? People search Google to solve problems. What would a potential customer specifically search when they have a problem that your product can solve. Write content about these specific problems.

That has been the journey so far.

Discussion

6 Comments
  1. FYI, you can’t have a domain with an underscore (www.easter_egg.org). You can, however, have a domain with a dash (www.easter-egg.org).

  2. Thanks for the write up, it’s refershing to read some SEO advice from someone who isn’t trying to sell you something.

  3. Your article is good but you need to place links with good anchor text in an article to achieve greater effect. For example you should link all the word “security camera” in this post to cam.ly. There is also a wordpress plugin that do that named KB-linker.

    Regards.

  4. SEO is just a small factor of a successful website.

  5. Any thoughts on a blog that’s a cross between pill’er and bill’er (i.e. one that’s enjoyable to read but makes hints towards your product’s landing page)? Or would that ruin the pillar blog’s credibility?

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