SEO for Startups: Interview with John Doherty, Distilled NY Head

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Today, Ebyline proudly presents an exclusive interview with John F. Doherty, head of Distilled New York, founder of HireGun, international speaker, blogger, and photographer.

Distilled was ranked #1 this year in the top 50 SEO companies by bestseocompanies.com. They also occupy the highest ranks in many other lists.

John founded Hiregun.co this year to provide vetted, industry-respected consultants to businesses.

You can hear John speak at a number of SEO conferences around the country, and now abroad.

You’d think John would be busy enough with his day job, but he also finds time to manage a personal blog and build a portfolio of travel photography.

 

Below, John shares his expert tips about SEO for startup businesses:

What is the first thing a company should be thinking about when planning their online marketing strategy?

 

Who is their audience. Without a doubt, this is the place to start as it informs everything you do – what keywords you bid on, what keywords you optimize for, sites where you get content placed, sites you advertise on, the types of emails you send, and the content you produce and where you put it and promote it. In short, it influences everything!

Audience informs everything you do”

 

We often hear about startups struggling with traction. If you have little to no social media following, what is the best way to distribute and promote your content?

 

The best way that I have found is to connect with either people or sites who already have an audience that you want to engage with. By connecting with them they can then promote your content to their audience.

 

How can a new website compete with established companies that have already well-ranked keywords?

 

Go for the longtail of keywords (aka words that are lower competition according to the Adwords Keyword Tool and are usually 4+ words long) and build an audience on social media and email. Start producing content and getting social traction and links. By building up your site this way, you can increase the overall strength of the site which will then allow you to rank for those head terms that can drive a lot of traffic.

 

Go for the longtail of keywords”

 

What are the most common reasons companies get penalized from Google updates?

 

They are, in usual order:

Buying links and getting caught;

Too aggressive of anchor text (aka too many links with the phrase you are trying to rank for, like “blue widgets”);

Thin user-generated content (lots of short reviews, content written just for advertising purposes);

Cloaking/hiding content on their site (something that people used to do a lot because Google just read the words on the page)

 

What is a sustainable link-building technique that a company can implement immediately?

 

Start creating content and building an audience. Boom, links.

 

Where should a company start when addressing on-site errors that affect their rankings?

 

Fixing error pages and driving more internal links to their important pages.

 

What are some of the less common ways content can be used to optimize traffic?

 

I don’t know about less common ways, but some of the most effective ways I’ve seen it used is to rank for longer tail permutations of main keywords that then silo back up to the page ranking for the head term. It’s less effective after Panda, but definitely still works. Within blog posts, I think about what permutations of the head term I can also optimize the post for, ie “Best X” in a post about “X”.

 

Writing high quality content can take up a lot of resources. How do you select topics that will gain the highest ROI?

 

Choose topics that have high search volume. A client of mine built a free bike registry as linkbait (aka content created for the purpose of getting links), but it also drives decent traffic because they rank for it and they can use it to cross-sell their products on their ecommerce site.

I think it’s important to note that big content is always risky, and it takes time and practice to get it right. We’ve had what we thought were great pieces of content that flopped, and content that seemed less than stellar that did really well. This is also why you don’t put all of your marketing eggs in one basket, but rather diversify your tactics. 80% of your tactics are proven to work, and then you can take your 20% time and experiment.

Big content is always risky, and it takes time and practice to get it right”

 

What sources do you use to keep up to date on the latest news and trends in the industry?

 

Honestly, I’ve been reading less SEO content in the past year, but I read Moz for good inbound marketing content, Search Engine Land for search industry news, and then a few smaller sites for quality and actionable content, like PointBlankSEO about link building, ViperChill to keep me on my toes, anything Ross Hudgens writes, and anything by Michael King. I’ve also carefully curated my Twitter feed so that it’s a very high signal-to-noise ratio, so I get a lot of good content through there.

 

Tell us a little about the value of side projects. How do they diversify your thought process?

 

Side projects are SO important. I’ve done a lot of them, and currently I’m running HireGun, which is basically a lead referral service for good marketers. I’ve learned a lot about promotion, about testing hypotheses, and business models by running it. Doing HireGun has made me better at my day job because I understand having limited resources and time, needing to prioritize, and being constrained by my own knowledge.

 

 

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About Allen Narcisse

Allen is co-founder of Ebyline, a software company that makes quality content easy for publishers and brands. Follow Allen on Twitter.

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