Last week at Search Engine Strategies, I spoke about SEO in a web 2.0 world. My other panelists spoke about CSS and Ajax specifically, so I covered the overall things to look out for as you take advantage of the latest and greatest. Previously, I’ve spoken at search conferences on behalf of a search engine — I’ve covered the guidelines, the best practices, what works. This time, I was speaking from the other side of things, from the perspective of the audience. What are the things we should all watch out for, and how can we best implement what we know we should do?
The web 2.0 world is great for startups because you can get going with very little money or resources. If you have a great idea and some great data, you can be up and running in no time. SEO can seem like a low priority compared to putting together a working product. After all, if the site doesn’t work, what’s the point of traffic?
I know I may cause my SEO friends to gasp in horror when I say this, but if you have to balance priorities, you’re probably right to relegate SEO to phase two of your product development plan. However, if you do that, there’s definitely one thing you need to factor in to phase one, and that’s the ability to implement SEO later.
If you’re operating from a position of few resources, SEO may become one of your best friends as you build your customer base. It’s free traffic. Free! And it’s targeted like few advertising solutions can be. Potential customers are typing in exactly what they are looking for. There’s really no down side. So what are you waiting for? Stop reading and go implement already!
Sorry, got a little carried away there. What I meant to say is make sure that you build a flexible system that lets you augment the basics and build from there. For instance, maybe you don’t have time to create keyword-rich unique title tags and descriptions right this very minute. Just make sure your CMS or home grown system lets you go in and easily add them later.
In a situation like this, the noscript tag is your friend.
Which brings me back to my earlier point. It’s OK to launch if the SEO on the site isn’t perfect. Just make sure evolving the SEO of the site is on the list and the infrastructure of the site is such that you can in fact evolve it and you don’t have to start from scratch later to make these kinds of changes.
Speaking of evolving sites, I also used Zillow as an example. Again, I didn’t want my talk to be about throwing stones when I’m in one of those new-fangled web 2.0 glass houses! Web 2.0 has somehow become not just about shiny new technologies, but also about shiny new words. Company names, domain names, and product names are all zany and crazy and have rounded corners. Oh wait, that last thing might be more about the logos.
In any case, it might be boring and web 1.0, but fun new words are no substitute for keyword research. I’m pretty sure that someone wanting to know the general housing prices of a particular neighborhood is not going to type “zindex” into a seach box. Which doesn’t mean you have to use boring names and give up on having a site since every domain name with real dictionary-style words is taken. It just means that you want to add a bit of explanation to the page and use things like title tags and headings to your full advantage in incorporating those keywords you’ve come up with using that old fashioned research. For instance, truemors.com has “breaking rumors, news” in its home page title tag. They just need to throw in the word “gossip” and they’ll be set.
Another web 2.0 component is user-generated content. Which is awesome in so many ways. You really build a community of your users who keep coming back, you beef up your site’s content, which helps new and old visitors alike, and you give search engines that much more to index. But if you’re planning to launch user-generated sections for your site, make sure you have a strategy first. Don’t just put the pages out there and expect people to come. User-generated content is not like a creepy baseball field in a corn field.
So, how do you get people to show up and contribute? Depending on the type of site and content, you might want to partner up with someone to get content you can prepopulate; you could engage with active bloggers or customers to seed your content areas; you might pay moderators or writers to get things going. There are all kinds of ways to kick start your content areas, but leaving them empty isn’t one of them. As someone I was talking to about this said, that’s like starting a blog with no posts and expecting to still get comments.
Now is a really exciting time to launch a site. The technology makes it so much easier than back when I started creating web sites in the mid-nineties, when we only had HTML 1.0 tables and the font tag for making things pretty. (And we walked uphill in the snow to churn our butter.) And search can funnel targeted traffic right where we want it. But make sure you’re making the technology work for you, and not against you.