If you have no intention to invest in content, paying for SEO services would be a waste of money in most cases. — Hadar Graf
To learn more about SEO and the particular benefits and challenges for early-stage B2B start-ups, Blue Seedling CEO Netta Kivilis sat down (well, Zoomed in) with SEO consultant Hadar Graf. Hadar shared advice on the best timing to start investing in SEO, how long it takes to see results, and what’s the most important element to make your SEO efforts successful.
Tell me about your background. How did you find yourself doing SEO, and what do you like about it?
I studied winemaking in Italy, but when I came back to Israel in 2008, I decided that I wanted to work in online marketing. I got my first SEO role optimizing Italian websites in the gaming industry, and that is how I learned the basics of SEO. I worked mainly in SEO and other marketing roles for nine years—including being a VP Marketing for a small start-up— until I decided to go freelance. Now I work mostly on SEO, specializing in B2B companies and start-ups. I like the challenge of optimizing and building strategies for interesting and unique tech services/products. I like helping companies grow their organic audience through creative content strategy that addresses their audience’s specific needs and pain points.
When should B2B startups start doing SEO?
You should definitely work on SEO if you have a website. Even prior to launching the website, you can consult about the structure and basic rules. Even if you don’t have the product yet, you can attract organic traffic from potential customers by giving them valuable content.
But you should really start when you have someone on hand who will write content and implement your SEO recommendations. Content and SEO go hand in hand, unless you’re just doing a technical audit to see if you have any SEO mistakes.
How long does it take to see results?
This is the number 1 question that I get, and obviously, there is no generic answer for it. The results depend on many factors that are client-specific, such as: what is their current SEO situation? How many pages do they have already? Do their existing pages have SEO value? What are the search volumes of the search terms they are targeting? And most importantly, how often do they upload new content to their website? I always set a timeline that is customized per client, based on the KPIs we set together.
The content strategy and its correct implementation is the most powerful practice in order to grow the website’s organic traffic.
Tell me how SEO works in the first six months of starting to invest in it.
The process consists of two parts: technical site audit and content research.
I always start with an SEO site audit, with technical recommendations on meta tags, mobile usability, and site speed. We want to make sure everything is in place, according to Google’s guidelines.
In parallel, I work with the client in order to understand the nature of their product/service, who are the buyers/personas we want to target, what the benefits are, and what kind of pain points their service solves.
Once I understand that, I start with keyword research and competitor analysis. I analyze the website’s existing pages in order to find low-hanging fruits: pages with ranking and traffic potential that I can optimize quickly and recommend some changes, with the goal of increasing their rank and traffic.
The final stage (and also the most interesting one) is building a content strategy based on keyword research, targeting relevant search terms that users are looking for. The content strategy and its correct implementation is the most powerful practice in order to grow the website’s organic traffic.
What do you think about founders (especially technical founders) trying to tackle SEO themselves?
In order to succeed with SEO, the founder has to be well-versed in the latest information about SEO. The challenge is that founders often think they’re familiar with SEO based on dated knowledge. And that could cause damage — if they use dated practices like keyword stuffing and building links, that can hurt them.
Market research, which is part of SEO, is very valuable for founders. They can get good insights, and should be doing research to inform their strategy and product roadmap. But for the actual technical and tactical content plan involved in SEO work, you should turn to an SEO expert. As a founder, your time is better spent elsewhere.
How does SEO relate to other marketing channels, and how should founders think about it in the mix?
Technically speaking, website traffic that is not organic doesn’t have a direct influence on SEO and organic traffic. However, the fact that the site gets all sorts of traffic with good user behavior is beneficial for SEO, as it signals to Google that your site is valid and has authority. This benefit can’t be empirically measured, but the overall benefit is known.
From a strategic standpoint, while SEO is a slow-growth marketing channel, there should be a synergy between paid campaigns and organic efforts. The paid campaigns are meant to deliver instant traffic and leads. Presence on social media and PR increase brand awareness and can contribute to an increasing trend of branded searches (users that search for the company name on Google, as well as direct traffic). Content, as I said previously, is crucial for the SEO effort, and there is very little that can be done without it. If you have no intention to invest in content, paying for SEO services would be a waste of money in most cases.
What should founders look for in a Google Analytics report (or other tools)?
Founders who want to be involved in their startup’s SEO efforts should regularly look at Google Analytics and Google Search Console. If the analytics goals are set correctly, they can analyze the different pages on their site and their conversion rate, and see which pages drove most of the traffic and which are converting better. They can analyze user behavior for each marketing channel and act on it.
Google Analytics shows traffic metrics overall, not just organic traffic. Look at it on a weekly basis to see dips & spikes, and understand the reason. Traffic increases/decreases can indicate SEO rank change.
You can see which pages bring the most organic traffic and the highest conversion rate. Consider putting CTAs on the pages that get a lot of traffic.
Google Search Console can be used to show which keyword brought visitors to every page. Google stopped doing that in Google Analytics to encourage paid spend on Google ads. Today, you can check a lot of proxies to help understand which keywords bring traffic – Google Search Console is one of them. You can also see site errors, like — is the site not mobile friendly? Does it not have a site map? And dive into organic traffic insights per page.
Does the website platform matter? WordPress vs. Hubspot vs. in-house platform, etc.?
They can all work well, as long as they have the right features for SEO, like supporting meta-tags. WordPress has a lot of features that make supporting SEO easy (e.g. the Yoast plug-in, plug-ins for automatically generating sitemaps and Google snippets). If you’re doing it in-house, you’ll have to develop those things on your own.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the SEO space since you started?
The Google algorithm is much more sophisticated. SEO used to be very technical. You had to include a certain number of keywords to be ranked, in a very unnatural way. Link-building used to be a very important practice with amazing results. Today, a lot of companies think you should still link, and companies offer “link building” services. But the best case is Google ignores it, and the worst case is that Google penalizes it.
There used to be more keyword optimization and less optimization for search intent. We used to create pages for each keyword, even if they were saying the same thing. Today, Google understands intent. When you search for “Who painted Starry Night?”, you’ll get Vincent van Gogh’s page, even though you didn’t use these keywords.
Also, exact domains used to be super important. Buying the domain “usedcarparts.com” helped with getting relevant traffic. Today the domain name isn’t the most important thing. Even if you’re called “carrotcars.com,” but you established your authority for used car parts, Google will send traffic your way.
Any last SEO tips for founders?
I can never say it enough: CONTENT. The best is an in-house, full-time content writer who understands the product and space. High-quality content costs a lot of money. Before even thinking about SEO, consider your audience’s problems and how you can help them, and start writing about it. Just that will help you with organic traffic, even before doing SEO.