Most successful offline businesses consider their brand to be interwoven into every aspect of their company. When all other considerations (product, price etc.) are equal, a strong trusted brand may be the difference between you and your competitor.
Branding your startup goes further than creating a half decent logo for your website and email signature. With the ever-changing landscape of SEO, brands and branding are increasingly used in measuring a website’s authority and authenticity.
In recent years, links gave you rankings, and rankings gave you traffic. Many web masters manipulated flaws in the search engines algorithms to achieve the all-important top spot. As building links provided the biggest return on investment, little consideration was given to other more traditional marketing activities, such as branding.
Google responded by aiming its algorithm updates at reducing spam. One of the methods that Google used involved placing its trust in established brands. A modern-day searcher will see the SERPs packed full of established sites such as Amazon and Wikipedia. This is a calculated reaction to black hat link building strategies.
On the consumer side, it is easier to sell if you are a well-trusted brand. Customers feel more confident for a whole host of reasons, including secure payment, build quality, returns procedure and customer service. Most importantly of all, brands breed loyalty.
Google likes brands, people like brands. Your startup needs a strong brand to not only rank well but also to grow an established loyal customer base. There is no better time than now to establish yourself as an authority and move ahead of the trend and your competitors.
- 0.1 Lay the foundations
- 0.2 Storytelling
- 0.3 Optimise your website
- 0.4 Establishing yourself as an authority
- 0.5 Blogging / Linkable Assets
- 0.6 Guest blogging and beyond
- 1 What is Google’s view on guest blogging for links?
- 1.1 Press releases / the media
- 1.2 Advertisements
- 1.3 Question and answer sites
- 1.4 Comments on blogs and forums
- 1.5 White Papers
- 1.6 Video marketing
- 1.7 Events
- 1.8 Interviews
- 1.9 Wikipedia
- 1.10 Get Social
- 1.11 Be creative and just make it up
- 1.12 Online PR / Customer Relations
- 1.13 Web Alerts
- 1.14 Solicit good reviews
- 1.15 Responding to negative content
- 1.16 Link to positive content
- 1.17 Key Takeaways
Lay the foundations
Over the years, many organisations have tried to game Google by manipulating their algorithms. These sites run the risk of algorithm updates and may lose their rankings overnight.
As a new start-up, you will able to move past the era of link removal requests and start fresh, learn from the mistakes of others and focus on your benefits while creating a sustainable brand that engages and inspires your audience.
You need to distinguish yourself from your competition. What is your unique selling point? Start off by clearly defining the benefit to the customer. What problem do you solve? Many brands get this critical stage wrong. Instead of thinking in terms of ‘We sell X’, position your message to ‘We provide a solution to Y’. Once you have this basic concept in place it can form the foundations for your story.
Think about your favourite start-up brand. What is the first word that comes to your mind? Many of the most successful brands have an affinity with their customers and speak to them on a personal level with a conversational tone.
The key to any successful start-up brand is to create a unique dialogue that captivates the reader’s attention and leaves them hungry for more.
Telling stories is a relationship building tool. Center your story on your customer, then in the next layer; focus on how you help them solve problems.
It is vital that you talk to the reader on an individual level. Even though a large portion of your relationship will be through the customer reading online, they need to feel that there is a dialogue. This should not stop with the written word: images, video and animations are all brilliant storytelling tools.
- Speak truthfully
- Intertwine your personality into your marketing
- Include a beginning, middle, and end.
Optimise your website
When you use a search engine, do you have a rough idea what organisations will appear on the first page? Customers expect you to rank well for not only your brand name but also your industry-specific keywords. This builds trust which in turn builds your brand.
- Responsive design: customers expect your site to work well on a range of devices.
- Load time: A slow website is a huge turn off for customers, aim for your site to load in under two seconds.
- Branded design: your customers need to recognise your brand in seconds
- Site architecture: Your website’s architecture should resemble a family tree type structure.
- Internal linking: Do take the time to link internally. The results can be very powerful for giving signals to search engines and keeping your readers on site.
While your on-site SEO efforts lay the first level of your foundations, you cannot sit back with the field of dreams mentality – If you build it, they will come. You need to build links and you need to generate traffic.
The key to your online brand is establishing yourself as an authority within your industry. Your aim is to become a thought leader, knowledge center and the ‘go to’ resource for your sector.
Becoming an authority is easier said than done.
First of all, let’s start with what you are aiming for:
- Branded Anchor text links from other websites; especially from sites that Google already considers an authority
- Referral traffic
- Branded social links
- Increasing the volume of monthly branded search queries
Your link building strategy can have a huge impact on how your brand is perceived. The trick here is to use a huge variety of link building methods; some of these methods are considered a waste of time in a standard link building campaign. However, the point of this exercise is to maximise as many different channels as possible. Let’s not consider this as a link building campaign instead of a brand-building campaign.
Blogging / Linkable Assets
Integrating a blog into your site has been a tried and tested strategy that continues to produce great results. Search engines love fresh original content and customers love tips, advice and research.
Your blog allows your personality and knowledge to shine through. However, you need to be targeted with your approach. You need to produce content that is valuable and highly likely to be shared. Look at every blog post that you produce as a linkable asset. Combine with social and email outreach to maximise your traffic.
The perfect blog post is:
- Relevant to your industry
- Targeting content that people share / link to
- Marketed correctly
Other notable linkable assets include:
Tip: Buzzsumo is a brilliant tool to help you. Key in your industry-specific keywords and receive a breakdown of all the recent content and the volume that it has been shared on social networks.
Guest blogging and beyond
Although guest blogging as an SEO strategy has taken a recent hit, this is only because it was abused in the never-ending quest for links.
However, this is a very effective strategy if you change your perspective. By focusing on developing your brand instead of gaining a link – you can easily reach a wider audience, increase brand awareness, drive traffic and establish yourself as a go-to industry expert.
How to fail at Guest Blogging
Find any site willing to accept guest posts and submit, find another site and submit. Rinse and repeat.
This technique is aimed solely at creating a link.
How to succeed at Guest Blogging
- Research the top industry news sites and blogs.
- Craft a piece of quality content.
- Make an impact. Readers like actionable tips and advice.
Select Your Audience
You need to be highly targeted in your approach. The aim is quality over quantity. Choose sites where your ideal customers live and interact online.
Tip: Start by searching Google for “Top 10 [industry] blogs” and search using your industry keyword on Alltop.
Once you have found a site that you think is perfect for your post. Send them a quick email introducing yourself and your post ideas. Everybody is busy so keep it short and to the point.
Tip: To improve your chances of being accepted, follow the blog for a few weeks. Sign up for their newsletter and follow their social accounts. Ask questions and comment on their articles. Website owners are more willing to respond positively to a request if there is some form of relationship in place.
Create Great Content
Start off by asking if there are any specific guidelines to follow or a deadline to keep to.
This is your big opportunity. You are about to be exposed to the sites readers, subscribers and social followers. Your content needs to be researched, well-written, unique and intriguing.
Promote Your Post
When the post is released, link to it from your blog and social accounts and respond to any comments or questions that people may have.
Do not be afraid to think bigger
Turn your newfound online relationships to your advantage and if possible leverage a regular monthly column and forge a following.
Press releases / the media
Press releases have huge branding value, especially if your piece is picked up and turned into a mainstream story.
Do not optimise your links. You are writing for your customers and journalists, not for search engines. Branded links are perfect for building a brand. You need to keep your press releases:
- Full of facts
- Edited and proofread
If you have content that you deem newsworthy target news websites. The better the news site, the more exposure you will have. These sites receive a flood of press releases every day, to stand any chance of success you must provide some value.
Editors are busy people, do not beat around the bush, get straight to the point, it will work in your favour.
HARO (Help A Reporter Out) is an invaluable tool for connecting with the media. Just sign up for free and you are instantly connected to almost 30,000 journalists who are looking for content.
Tip: Use IFTTT to instantly alert you when you receive a HARO email. It is first to come first served so you have to be fast.
Ad networks such as Google AdSense can be a great tool in your arsenal at not only generating traffic but also gaining visibility for your brand.
A word of caution, you can burn through money using these platforms. It is vital that you select a budget and be highly targeted in your approach.
- Google AdSense
- Google AdWords
Do not forget to advertise your site on social networks as well:
- Stumble Upon
Tip: The key to successes with online advertising is selecting the right channel for your target audience. The options are limitless so be calculated with your strategy and your budget.
Question and answer sites
Q&A sites allow you to interact directly with customers and prospects that are actively looking for information.
You will often find that these pages continue to send you traffic months or even years after they were created. Due to the sites authoritative nature, they have a tendency to rank well especially for question driven queries.
Remember your aim here is not to spam links to every question. Use your knowledge and answer questions. If you find a question keeps recurring – consider writing a blog post on it.
Comments on blogs and forums
While now frowned upon as a method of building links – commenting on relevant blogs and forums has a number of functions.
- Forming relationships with key industry bloggers and website owners
- Forming relationships with customers and potential prospects
- Click through traffic
- Listening and learning
Use your list of industry-specific blogs that you created in the Guest Post section, bookmark the sites and sign up for their newsletters.
When you comment on a post you must add value. Comments such as “great post” and “thanks” are just a waste of your time. If you do not agree with something, say so. If you have something extra to add, add it.
Forums can be an amazing way of finding and interacting directly with your customers. They are great places to learn and generate ideas for blog posts.
Tip: Remember to set up your forums signature with a link to relevant content, you will be surprised how many people will click through.
The production and distribution of branded white papers serve two main purposes:
- Firstly by producing informative research in your industries niche you are establishing yourself as an authority figure and thought leader within your industry.
- Use your white paper as a linkable asset.
Tip: Exchange your whitepaper for the user signing up for your newsletter.
The use of video cannot be underestimated. If you are selling a product then I would recommend creating product demonstration videos and how to videos, embed them on your site and upload to YouTube.
Make sure that your videos contain your company logo and web address and you take advantage of in-video clicks and Analytics.
- Find YouTube channels with a large number of followers and send them samples in exchange for a review.
- Build an active channel.
- Engage with your target audience through subscribing and commenting.
Tip: Invest your time in setting up your channel with relevant cover photos, video descriptions and links.
Conferences, meet-ups, seminars and workshops provide a wealth of opportunities for your growing brand.
Interact face to face with like-minded individuals in your industry. Nothing builds trust, or links, like being able to put a face to an organisation.
Speak at the event. This provides credibility and exposure for your start-up.
Tip: Put the slides on your blog and give the link out during your presentation.
Find bloggers and ask if they are interested in doing an interview. Try to reference your linkable assets and your USP whenever possible but make sure that it flows naturally.
Research the blog’s readers and tailor the complexity of your answers to align to the readership.
Show some personality in your answers and give a back story of your start-up – look at the How and Why.
After the interview has been published remember to respond to comments and feedback. This last step is vital.
Tip: Make sure your answers are aligned with your story telling tone.
Having your own Wikipedia page is a huge branding opportunity. Not only is it highly trusted authority site that will return branded anchor text but it can also rank well in the SERPs.
Create an informative Wikipedia page for your start-up. Focus on facts and not your marketing copy.
Tip: To set up your own Wikipedia page, read and follow the Wikipedia guidelines closely.
The release of the Google Penguin update moved the goalposts in regards to search engine rankings. While links will always be important, social media has now become a key channel to amplify your story and connecting with your customers.
A few years ago, I was contemplating between using similar software from two different companies. So I turned to Twitter and asked if anyone had any experience or recommendations between the two.
Company A responded instantly. They did not try the hard sell but mentioned how they respected their competitor and how they would welcome me as a customer. Company B did not respond at all. Can you guess which company I went with? This is a small example, but it does show the power of social media.
There are loads of social sites, its recommend to sign up with all the major networks but focusing on which networks are most commonly used by your target audience. One network your start-up cannot ignore is Google+.
Be creative and just make it up
It can be difficult for any business to rank for competitive keywords. For your start-up, throwing money at an expensive AdWords or link building campaign may not be your best options.
If you have a revolutionary concept or product – or even if you are just improving on an established idea, give it an original name and promote it at every opportunity. If you do this correctly, you will have coined a new industry phrase that will become synonymous with your start-up.
Tip: Use a keyword research tool such as the Google keyword planner to assess the competitiveness of search terms.
Online PR / Customer Relations
When a potential prospect researches your company, you do not want them to be faced with an army of bad reviews and scathing comments.
The good news for you as a new company is that you have a blank slate to start from.
By setting up your online PR strategy now, you can future proof your online reputation for many years to come.
Sometimes the simplest tools can be the most effective; this is especially true of web alerts.
Enter a search query and the service scrapes all the latest content on the web and returns them to you in an email.
Web alerts are very simple to set up, go to google.com/alerts, enter your desired query, and narrow the results down by language, region, frequency, type, and quality.
What Queries should you use?
- brandname ltd
- brand name
- industry specific keywords
You will now receive any mentions of your queries on the web. You can use these alerts to monitor your online reputation, respond to any comments, and find new link building opportunities.
Solicit good reviews
Do not buy reviews. This goes against Google’s guidelines. However, this does not mean that they should not be encouraged.
Instead, encourage your customers to give reviews – send them an email once they have received your product with links to user guides, how to videos and the option of submitting a review.
Responding to negative content
Everybody makes mistakes; it is an inevitable part of life. How you respond to any mistake is the critical factor.
Respond quickly to the comment. Do not go into too much detail in the response. Tell them you are sending them a private message with more information.
This shows any other users that you are dealing with the problem professionally and promptly.
Tip: Instead of saying ‘I’m sorry’ use ‘I am sorry that you feel this way’. Should any legal issues develop down the line as this will stop you from taking full ownership.
Link to positive content
No matter how good you are at dealing with negative content, you do not want it to rank highly in the SERPs. So what do you do?
The answer is simple you build links to the positive content, links to it from question and answer sites, your guest blogging, your blog and your social profiles.
By building links to your positive comments, the aim is to build that pages popularity in the eyes of the search engines so that page will rank higher.
- Building a sustainable brand is a key investment for your start-up.
- Build your brand around trust and customer loyalty. Every business is different and every customer base is different. All business solves a problem; keep this at the forefront of your branding.
- Do not become obsessed with Google rankings, a strong brand will survive any number of Google updates
- Focus on creating quality content and getting it in front of your industry key influencers and customers.
- Embrace social media as a multifunctional tool for branding, research, and customer service.
- Work clever. Find out where your target audience lives online and how they interact. Then focus your attention on these sectors.
- All links must add value and have a realistic capacity to send targeted traffic.