I have included my article below. If you enjoy it, I would love it if you subscribe to my newsletter here: https://2.flexiple.com/entrepreneur-musings. I write each week about my mistakes & learnings building two startups. Below article can be found here: https://2.flexiple.com/newsletter/seo-explained.
A startup is assumed to be a highly innovative entity. In all fairness, the best startups do have some aspect of innovation. Not necessarily in their ideas, but also in other parts of execution.
However, this leads to a glaring misconception that everything at a startup needs to be innovative, to an extent where traditional and established methods are almost ignored. I, myself, didn’t focus on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for close to a couple of years.
To my surprise, many other guys I spoke to weren’t paying attention to SEO either. So today I plan to right that wrong. Let’s just put SEO in perspective and then I will attempt to explain the concept in very simple & engaging terms.
What’s the fuss about SEO?
Basics first. Among the various indisputable truths, such as the Earth being spherical and not flat, is that people don’t like being sold to. That’s why you find new ways to abuse the credit card salespersons when they call you.
Next, while I usually don’t like to throw stats at you, this one is quite staggering. 3.5 billion - that’s the number of searches on google, not every year or month, but every day. Picture this: by the time you read this mail, a few million new searches would have taken place. That’s why we have a popular saying: “Don’t ask a question before Googling it. Don’t answer a question as ‘Google it’”.
Also, each person searching on Google does it with a certain intent. That intent is expressed in the words they type. All you need to do is to figure out what your potential customers might type to express their intent. The process of listing those phrases and ensuring that when customers type those phrases, your website is what they see in results, is the entire game of SEO.
Finding what your potential customers search
First step, as discussed, is to find a list of phrases that your potential customers might type to find a service such as yours. These are called keywords. You need to “rank” for these keywords, i.e. your website should appear on the first page of Google. They say the best place to hide a dead body is the second page of Google - a morbid statement, but unfortunately true.
Now about keywords - the more specific, the better. But as you start to narrow down, so does the volume of people searching that phrase. Initially, even 50 specific searches a month can be good. To check the volume of your keywords, you can use this tool - it is decently extensive and also has a generous free plan. Frankly, shortlisting keywords does require some hit & trial. Looking at the keywords your competitors rank for can be a good starting point.
How do you convince Google to rank you?
Now that you have a list of keywords, we need to understand how Google works. For this, I would like to take the analogy of a library.
Let’s say you want to research about photosynthesis (I promise the example is arbitrary). The most relevant books would likely have “photosynthesis” in their title itself or at least in the title of the chapters. That might give you hundreds of books. To narrow it down, you might want to know the number of times the word photosynthesis appeared in the book.
That’s not a bad way of explaining how Google does its indexing. Instead of the book & chapter titles, it looks at the “Page title” and also the headings on each webpage, with total keyword occurrences on that page also taken into account. Therefore, you would want to optimise each page by including a keyword in these places. Naturally this is called “On-page optimisation”.
Since we might still have tens of books and require a way to order them, we now need a second level of ranking. So you might reach out to your friends and ask them for a reference. It is very likely that the book with the most references is the one you pick. But not all such endorsements are equal. Some friends might be more reliable than others and their opinion would have greater weight.
Now, replace friends in this analogy with other websites, and references with a link that other website gives to yours (also called a backlink). More reliable friends are popular websites, such as Forbes and TechCrunch. While Google doesn’t publicly share the reliability scores, some companies (Moz & Ahrefs) have formed estimates called Domain Authority or Rating. It can be a maximum of 100 and the higher the better.
Last nuance. Some friends might say that while they have heard of a particular book, they can’t speak for it completely. Even backlinks are similar. Some websites might be comfortable endorsing you (“do-follow” link) and some would not (“no-follow” link). Bottom line: you need as many backlinks (preferably do-follow) from high domain authority websites.
What should you do?
With that, I am done with the explanation of SEO - frankly, from a concept perspective that’s all there is to it. Now you just need to start executing.
Your next steps should be:
- Making a list of keywords
- Optimising your existing pages for those keywords and/or creating new pages
- Getting backlinks to your website. This article will help you get started with it
Surely, you don’t need more convincing to get started on SEO. Let’s kick-off then!
Here's what our users had to say:
Ashley Thomas said "Absolute beauty! Since we might still have tens of books and require a way to order them, we now need a second level of ranking. So you might reach out to your friends and ask them for a reference. It is very likely that the book with the most references is the one you pick. But not all such endorsements are equal. Some friends might be more reliable than others and their opinion would have greater weight. Perfect analogy for backlinks :-)"
Karthik Sridharan said "Hey Ashley, thanks for the kind words. Glad that you liked it :)"
Stella Russo said "Great article Karthik! Would also love to read any follow-ups to this you may intend to write. Do you run a newsletter or are these independent blogs?"
Karthik Sridharan said "Thanks a lot Stella! Also thanks for asking - I actually forgot to add a line about my newsletter :). I have a weekly newsletter called “An Entrepreneur’s Musings”: https://2.flexiple.com/entrepreneur-musings. I share my learnings and mistakes while building my startups, while also sharing case studies of other successful startups. Do let me know your thoughts on it when you get a chance :)."
Gabriel Bujold said "Cool way to explain it! My friends are not really tech-savvy people so I’m using a garden analogy to talk about SEO; SEO is like a garden. Your keywords are like differents plants & flowers. Your domain is your garden soil. Light, Water, and Manure are your On-page, Off-page, and Technical SEO efforts. And Google Algorithm updates are bad or good weather. Everybody wants to have a beautiful garden. But everyone wants their crops to grow fast. Patience is the key."
Karthik Sridharan said "Thanks Gabriel :) That’s a beautiful explanation too! Like the addition of Google’s algorithm as good and bad weather, haha."
Alda Lima said "Thank you for the great post, it made it easier for me to understand what SEO is. I have a question, though. Last year I studied Google Ads because a few clients were looking for Googe Ads certified professionals. I do want to learn SEO too because it’s another bonus skill in my line of work (translation). But I could never clearly understand the difference between Google Adwords and SEO. Do they complement each other somehow?"
Karthik Sridharan said "Thanks for the kind words :) Absolutely, SEO and Google Ads do complement one another. Let me explain :) (I am starting from a very basic level - please excuse that!) Whenever you search anything on Google, the results contain organic (that is they didn’t pay to show up in the results) and Ads (which are clearly paid). Here is a screenshot: ads and organic. So simply speaking, to make your website appear in front of your users, you can either pay Google to appear on the top or work your way up organically. Now, clearly the former just requires money and investing a certain amount of money needs to make financial sense. For e.g. If I pay $5 for each click of a user and out of every 5 users one person buys from me, then I pay $25 to get one customer. That customer needs to give a profit of at least $25, otherwise this is a poor strategy. There is a whole world of Google Ads which focuses on the strategies that can be used to decrease the cost of a click (in our example $5) and to increase customer conversions (in our example 1 in every 5). But is clear that if you want to immediately start featuring in Google’s search results for a particular phrase, Google Ads is going to give you the quick result - just that it costs money. The downside - you are not featured the moment you stop paying. On the other hand, SEO is a slow game :). You need to write quality content, optimise it with keywords and build links to that page from other websites (as explained in the above article). Your webpage will slowly rise in the Google rankings and hopefully, feature on the 1st page of Google’s results. This gives you long-term gains. You are likely going to be on the 1st page for a long time and people will be clicking on your link for FREE. But as is clear, it takes a lot of initial effort for this. Summary: Google ads for quick & short-term results backed by SEO work for long-term gains is a great combination :)"
Alda Lima said "Wow! I couldn’t have asked for a better explanation, it is crystal clear now. It makes sense. Thank you so much for that :) For me, SEO is going to be a lot more beneficial, especially because it involves writing quality content and that is something I already have to do in my work and also something I am currently studying (for travel writing). I bought an SEO course on Udemy a while ago and will definitely start asap! And yes, when I took the Google Ads certification I did add some money to my website’s account and experimented with it, so I saw how that works. But since I don’t sell products and my services are usually sought after by clients in other platforms (translator platforms or LinkedIn, not official websites), I noticed it wasn’t really worth it to me. Once again, thank you!"
Karthik Sridharan said "Sounds great :-) Do follow Ahrefs’ content (both articles and videos). I think they start from very basic to really advanced concepts. It is also a great tool, but a bit too costly! All the best!"
Robin Khokhar said "Yes, I have and at some point I was successful. The post I wrote was "How I grew my blog in Six months". And It was the real story. And I must say thanks for bringing up this kind of question and a topic with your own story. Keep up the good work."