Off-site SEO. If you research it online, your head will probably start spinning in about 30 seconds. There is so much written on the subject, so many technical guidelines, and so many recommendations that the average startup company will wonder how in the world to even get started.
Well, let me take away the stress. For a startup, there is one thing and one thing only to do for off-site SEO: implement an off-site article writing campaign. You do not have to worry about directory listings, citations, a Google+ page, or any of the rest of it. Those things can and should be addressed in time. However, for the first 12-24 months, off-site article writing, if done correctly, will move the dial and lay the groundwork for maximum organic search visibility in the months and years ahead.
Why off-site publishing is THE place to start
First, off-site publishing addresses the most important off-site SEO consideration: your company’s link profile. The Google algorithm is heavily weighted to consider links coming into your website. The more relevant, high-authority links to your website, the more credible Google thinks your business is, and the more highly it will rank it when people search for your products or services.
Second, not only is it crucial to earn great inbound links, chances are your small and midsize competitors have very few of them. By creating a strong link profile, you will gain a very meaningful competitive edge. With large competitors having strong link profiles, you have got a lot of catching up to do and now is the time.
Third and perhaps most important of all, off-site article writing will significantly expand your brand awareness and credibility—two crucial things a startup never has enough of. Top publishers in your niche have big, relevant audiences that will be influenced by your content, and may be eager to share it with their social media communities. Building brand recognition through off-site publishing costs next to nothing, and can be just as effective or more effective than costly advertising and branding campaigns.
Best Practices for an Off-Site Publishing Campaign
Strategically, there are only a few things that must be done correctly for the campaign to succeed. I do not want to overstate the ease of implementation, however; while these strategic concepts are simple enough, executing them takes time and skill.
- Target the right publishers.
The websites and blogs you are looking for are in your niche or a related niche have high editorial standards, and accept outside contributions. They do not need to be giants, but they should all be reputable sites in good standing with Google.
- Develop article ideas that fit with the publisher you plan to pitch.
This can only be done by studying the website’s content, to gain an understanding of topics that are hot, or perhaps ones that are under-covered and deserve more attention.
- Pitch publishers on your article idea.
Give it an informative and interesting title, provide a synopsis of what you plan to cover, and explain why you think the article would appeal to the website’s audience. Effective pitches are as short as possible, businesslike, and most importantly, demonstrate an understanding of the publisher’s content and audience.
- Write the article personally or have a high-level associate write it.
A key advantage you have versus large competitors in an off-site publishing campaign may be you! Large companies often outsource articles to staff writers with limited understanding of the topic. Publishers, however, are eager to publish content from business leaders that have the depth of knowledge to create a truly valuable article. (Not a writer? That’s OK; provide detailed inputs to an experienced writer who can create the finished product with your byline. This is a common practice in business writing.)
- Set a pace for production you can live with, and track results.
In terms of pace, publishing one to three articles per month is an acceptable goal. Better to ramp up slowly than overcommit and fail quickly.
In terms of results, search for these:
- The number of total articles published.
- The amount of traffic referred to your site from publisher websites.
- Other sources of referred traffic (they may be related to your off-site publishers).
- The number of social shares your off-site content receives.
- The number of social mentions your company receives (they may be related to your off-site content).
- Links to your website.
All of these metrics have an impact on SEO and brand awareness. Do not be discouraged by small numbers in the first few months of the campaign. What counts is the trend.
A solid test campaign runs 12-24 months. If the numbers are still modest after six months—and even if they are not—evaluate the whole effort to look for areas to improve, and consider laying on other off-site SEO activities to supplement the campaign. The key attributes of successful SEO are diligence and focus. As an entrepreneur, you already know how these things lead to success in building a business. SEO is no different!
Image credit: CC by Paloma Gomez