How to Pick Strawberries by

Locate the nearest strawberry field near you…Most people select the location that is closest to them just because it is convenient. If you are meeting a bunch of people, you may want to select a place to pick strawberries that is in between.

You owe it to the world to make your website search engine friendly. You work at a startup that is changing the world. You’re creating beautiful content. You are answering the world’s trickiest questions. The other guys out there are writing about strawberries with the hopes that users click on the ads because the ads are better than the content. The incumbent competitors have polluted the web. They’ve nearly screwed the whole thing up with their unique blend of greed and incompetence. Your message needs to be heard, the incumbents need to be unseated.

You are exquisite sashimi in a world of spam masubi (an admittedly tasty treat).

Yet why do so many startups ignore search engine optimization (SEO) on day one? We asked a few:

"SEO seems like this big huge thing and that requires a lot of knowledge"

"I looked at the beginner’s SEO guide and it was like 50 pages and I wasn’t sure where to get started"

"I’m not an expert in this stuff"

Because of the perceived complexity of SEO, many web startups are ignoring the largest source of web users entirely. It’s troubling for the startups. It’s troubling for the world that is subjected to search engine spam.

Your SEO may be totally F’d

Uncertainty makes taking action difficult, and SEO is one big black box of uncertainty. Many startups don’t even realize that they are ignoring SEO.  Some are accidentally damaging their ability to be discovered on Google. 

 Some quick tests that your startup maybe be in this boat:

  • Doing a site search ( yields dramatically fewer pages than your website actually has
  • Your URLs are filled with things that are nonsense to users (“—b1822/abstract-posters.htm?ui=B2A5AE7A66ED4BF3997CD71FFD5ACA89”)
  • All the page titles on your site are the same, regardless of the content on that page

At Priceonomics, we (Rohin at least) will fess up to having made each of these errors in prior startups. The result is that you end up confusing Google about what’s going on with your site and they can’t understand your content. These mistakes can be very painful to undo later when you decide you’re a “real company” and need to get “serious about SEO.”

Minimum Viable SEO

As a startup you only need to be minimally good at SEO right out of the gate. Your goal should be simply “let Google access and understand the pages on the my site.” You’re not going to displace TripAdvisor on day one, but you can position yourself to get traffic from Google early on (or at least not hurt your chances of getting traffic later).

SEO is easiest when you think about it before you start coding. About 2 hours of upfront thought can save you weeks of frustration in the future. Think about SEO when you are sketching out the basic navigational structure of your site on a sheet of paper. There are literally hundreds of “advanced tips” that are best ignored at this stage unless you’ve done this before.  That stuff will eventually matter, but avoid SEO “feature creep” for now.

Priceonomics just launched and we spent a fair amount of time thinking about SEO before we wrote any code. We did this work up front not just because people look up prices on Google, but also because we remembered the painful lessons of past screw-ups. What we realized was some things matter a lot, and other things don’t matter too much right in the beginning but can drive you to distraction.

As we built our site, we focused on 3 basic things to make sure our content would be accessible to Google. If you want a minimally SEO friendly site, copy these 3 things and then you can stop thinking about SEO and focus on your company’s core product. It’s just one way of doing things, but sometimes it’s useful to hear from someone “just do it this way.”

3 things that will get you to Minimum Viable SEO so you can launch

1. Decide if you’re a “long tail” or “head” site.

If you’re a “long tail” site, you want to show up in Google search results when people infrequently type in seemingly obscure queries like “seagate 7200.7 160gb pn#9w2734-133” If you’re a head site, you’re trying to show up for terms that people search for millions of times a month like “how to ride a bike”.

If you’re a long tail site the good news is there is a lot of room for you to get traffic early because you’re targeting less competitive search terms. The bad news is that how you design your site is a lot more complex because you’re going to be creating tens of thousands of pages right from the beginning. Truila, Indeed, and Yelp are long tail sites par excellence worth imitating.  

If you’re a “head site” you really just need to focus on optimizing your homepage and optimizing for a particular search term like “print online checks” “SF real estate” and “Christmas photocards”. Typically it’s very hard to rank well for these terms if you’re targeting an attractive market. You should pick a term is that is achievable. 

Well played Code Academy. Well played.

As a gross simplification, most mobile apps, social apps, and SAAS companies are “head sites”. For example Bump, Farmville, and inDinero are likely focused on a few big important terms. Most “scalable web content companies” like Zillow, AirBnB, and Gogobot live and breathe on the long tail. 

2. Use bread crumb navigation

Think of Google as a curious toddler who keeps clicking through each link on your site to satisfy her unquenchable desire to make sense of your website. From any one page that Googlebot is perusing, you want to make it dead simple for it to click through and discover almost all of your content.

One easy way to let Google quickly access any page on your site with the fewest clicks is using a bread crumb navigation. Using this form of navigation forces you to structure your entire website in a way that Google will like. In this form of navigation your content is organized in a browseable hierarchy like:

Home > Category > Sub-Category > Product

For example on a Priceonomics product page:

Home > Tablets > Apple > Ipad 2 3g

From this page, Googlebot can click around to see all other Apple tablets, all tablets, or back the homepage and to start understanding other categories.

Now, take this bread crumb structure and mirror it to build your URL structure. 

You’ll have clean URLs with important keywords in them and it will be easy for both users and Googlebot to understand what’s going on. If the user removes the last directory from the URL, it should take them the prior directory in the hierarchy seamlessly. Using breadcrumbs forces you to organize your content in a logical and scalable fashion, you’ll be happy you did it later when it comes to basic things like maintaining your sitemap or more complicated things like how you spread your link equity across your site.

3. Page Titles

The act of titling the page is more important than the actual page titles (because it’s easy to tweak page titles later).  It’s like learning to write an essay where you have really good topic sentences. By doing so, the reader (Google) can quickly get the gist of what’s going on and dive in deeper if they’re intrigued. 

When you do a Google search, the Big Blue Underlined Links are almost always the site’s page titles. They matter because they tell Google “this is what my site is about, please show it if you think it’s relevant.” Not having accurate page titles is like writing a 5,000 word essay in one paragraph, it’s not advisable.

* * *

It seems today that search engine results have been taken over by the unscrupulous, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  You make nice web stuff and it should be accessible to the public through Google. Start with the easy things that makes intuitive sense and gets you 80% of the way to being search engine friendly. After you nail that, you’re off to the races with analyzing google webmaster tools account, submitting a kickass segmented sitemap, creating a robots.txt file, building embed widgets, using rel tags where appropriate, setting uniqueness and reading level thresholds for your content, optimizing the anchor text on your inbound links, using advanced tags, and on and on and on.

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Go forth and conquer.

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This post was written by Rohin Dhar. Follow him on Twitter here or Google. Get the latest from Priceonomics on Facebook or Twitter

Obviously, credit to Eric Ries for pioneering the term Minimum Viable Product. After googling the term “Minimum Viable SEO” it looks like it was also used by the Contenti Group, so mad props to them. 

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