A friend recently asked me to write about the difficulties that start-up owners go through to optimize their website and get found.
Without optimization, your website will be a tiny speck of salt in a vast--and rapidly expanding--cyber universe. Chances are, your market is probably packed with competitors, and any SEO consultant is going to ask for thousands of dollars a month just for the basic package.
Aside from dedicating every waking moment to understanding how SEO works, what new tactics are trending, and what Google really dislikes this year (coming in the form of Penguin and Panda updates), it's going to be quite hard to start receiving significant sales in the first months--or year--after you go live.
Here are a few things you can do to get started:
Optimizing Your Page Titles
Adding meta titles to your pages is the first and simplest thing you will need to do to let search engines know, "Hey, I'm out here, and I'm relevant for this keyword".
Every SEO expert will tell you that prior to beginning, they will need to find what the relevant keywords for your site are. Truth be told, this is something you can also do yourself. If your industry is particular (or specific), you probably know it better than any consultant.
Do some research, and find out what the most relevant keywords for your site are. Look at your competitor's page titles, for example. Aside from this, I would focus on "long-tail" keywords, which involve phrase-like words and are more specific to a particular topic (3 or 4 words). Long tail keywords convert better, and are easier to rank for.
"Natural" Link Building
Everyone that has a website has heard about link building, which essentially entails getting other websites to link back to your site. How to do this, however, has changed dramatically in the past few years, and doing it incorrectly can actually hurt you.
Recently, Google's algorithms were created in a way to detect "unnatural" links like certain paid links, overdone anchor texts, etc. This can get complicated for a freshman SEO strategist, but the bottom line is, links should not be forced. They should happen organically, and the way to solicit them and be successful at getting good links has a lot to do with the content you create.
Great ideas for natural link building involve writing guest posts on interesting blogs, successful social media activity (and building followers), and associating yourself with other bloggers with relative interests. A high-traffic blog is only as good as its content, otherwise readers wouldn't visit it often. If your cause is interesting--and related to a topic fellow bloggers care about--chances are, they will want to talk about you.
Fascinate With Content
Aside from writing content on other blogs, you also need to write interesting content on your website. In the old days, writing content on your website could include a bunch of gibberish and bad grammar. As long as the targeted keywords were jammed in there somehow, you would have good rankings on search engines. Those days are gone. Nowadays, creating fascinating content is the one distinguishing factor that can be unique to you.
From info graphics to video blogs to inspirational stories, you have to put yourself out there. Say something bold. Write about things that people care about. Put out an inspirational image. Make your audience laugh, cry... make your readers identify with your experience. This is my strongest suggestion for any aspiring ecommerce start-up: start with a daily blog, build your followers, and then blend in your ecommerce shopping cart onto your site. If you apply the analogy of the chicken and the egg, content is definitely the egg, which comes first in my book.
Once you get these three points down, you should start seeing an increase in traffic, a deeper interest in your products, and eventually, it should transfer into sales. As soon as your sales start growing, reinvest your earnings on expanding your traffic-building strategies. From PPC campaigns, to affiliate marketing, to an SEO consulting firm, they're all options I recommend--once you have an initial following.
I still look back at the early years of doing business and think that the grassroots strategies we came up with back then--in the guest bedroom of my old condo--were far more brilliant and exciting than what we do now. It's hard, but doable! After all, what that's worth it, isn't?