SEO for Startups – The Knowledge Panel Episode 10

What are the main SEO challenges associated with startups? As a startup, how do you compete with Goliath-sized pre-existing brands that currently dominate the SERP? How do you make an impact when your budget is lower, your team is smaller and your domain is less authoritative? Those are some of the topics that Dixon Jones in episode 10 of the Knowledge Panel with Fabrizio Ballarini from Wise, Hellen Benavides from giffgaff and Kerstin Reichert from Tide.

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Dixon: Hi, everyone. Hello, and welcome to The Knowledge Panel episode 10: SEO for Startups. And I’m really pleased to say that the panel I’ve got today, I think, is ideal for this particular topic, SEO for Startups, because we’ve got three really quite well-known challenger brands that have disrupted their industry sectors since they’ve come into the world. And so having SEO managers from those businesses are absolutely great. So we’re gonna dive in and ask these people to introduce themselves and start with…well, I’m just gotta prove guys that I can pronounce names, and then you can laugh at me when I can’t pronounce them. So we have Hellen Benavides, Fabrizio Ballarini and Kerstin Reichert. And if I’ve got those right, you can…if I got those wrong, you can laugh at me. But, you know, why don’t you guys introduce yourself. So Hellen, who you are and where do you come from?

Hellen: Well, I am SEO manager for Giffgaff. I’ve been working for Giffgaff for the last seven years. So pretty much since the start, always on content and now natural move to SEO.

Dixon: And if there are people out there in markets that don’t know Giffgaff it’s disruptive brand in the telephone… So basically a mobile phone provider and completely disrupted the market with non-long term contracts, I think is a fair bit. Fabrizio, who you are and where do you come from, sir?

Fabrizio: Well, I’m obviously Italian, right? I don’t have many options with such a name, and I work at Wise. I’ve been at Wise for the past six years, and I joined as the first SEO-ish to be in the team. So I’ve been seeing a lot of things happening from where we just launched the website to where we are today. So that’s…and I’m still doing that to some extent. So that’s my line…

Dixon: And for those who don’t know Wise, are you allowed to see what it used to be called, or are you banned from saying that loud?

Fabrizio: Actually, I’m forcing myself or, like, trying to not call it TransferWise very odd because, obviously, I have six years’ worth of history on this. Yeah, like, we just rebranded, like, few months ago, from TransferWise to Wise, and, you know, that’s why these days we are Wise, but most of you probably know us as TransferWise, right?

Dixon: And if you haven’t used Wise, or then you know… If you wanna transfer money between countries, I use it all the time, and we use it to pay people around the world, it’s fantastic. So it really disrupted the, you know, FX industry, I’d say. Kerstin, who are you and where do you come from?

Kerstin: Hello, everyone. I am Kerstin. I am originally from Germany, but I’m in the UK now. And I work at Tide as the senior SEO manager or basically as the SEO department. I’ve been there for a little over two years. That’s mainly where the SEO journey started. So I’m really excited to be there and see what else is gonna happen with the company as we’re fairly new still.

Dixon: Yeah, and I’ve got at least two Tide accounts as well. So if you want a bank account, particularly if you’re from abroad, trying to get a bank account in the UK, the interesting thing about Tide is they kind of have really taken prepaid credit cards to its extreme, I’d say. It’s, you know, not quite fully FCS regulated yet but pretty darn close, and the apps and stuff are released to us. So definitely a big disruptor in the market.

Firstly, thank you very much for coming on, guys. You know, your big successes in the startup world, I would say, you know, for most of us that are startups, we can only dream of being, you know, a Tide or a Giffgaff or a Wise. So I wanna start with really the basic question. What are the big SEO challenges associated with startups in general? What things do you think startups…problems startups face that other businesses that have been around for a long time don’t face? So I don’t know who wants to head that one off. I’ll pick on someone then. Fabrizio, you can.

Fabrizio: I can start. I think that, like…

Dixon: Or even Fabrizio, sorry.

Fabrizio: It’s fine. Like, usually people can be Fab so at the third letter, you get it…

Dixon: I will do that now.

Fabrizio: Yeah. So I think the general problem that like is common among all startups, whether you’re a, you know, super well-funded company or whether you’re, like, a company that you’re starting in your bedroom is time, right? And this is…the timing in both sense of figuring out what to do first and what to prioritize and second is time to, you know, the clock ticking or your business becoming an actual business? And I think, like, that’s definitely the thing that we, you know, even though in our case, when we launched the SEO program, the company was already five years in, right? Into the business with…we already had, like, a funding, yet you still have limited time, you know? And I think that’s generally the biggest problem, as in figuring out what to do first, how to measure it, and, like, how to pick up from there.

Because definitely, I guess from, like, established brands, there’s a little bit less luxury of, like, what you can try and wait, right? There’s okay, if in an established brand if for a couple of quarters things don’t move, if you’re in a fast-moving startup, is unlikely that is okay that you spend like months without not much happening, right? So I think this is definitely the biggest challenge. Even though from a resource perspective, you tend to be a bit more agile, right? Like, it’s a bit faster to get things done. But then time and people, right? We should build on that to begin with is definitely the hardest thing to fix.

Dixon: So balancing resource and focus to sum that up is you think, is…

Fabrizio: Yeah, exactly. Even though you have unlimited money, I don’t think that can fix it either in a way that it takes time to hire the right people, to find them, convince them to join, early days to convince someone to actually join us to come in and build the team with us was not an easy thing to do. So, like, the second person that I had was like an ex-colleague, which I texted on WhatsApp. And then from there, I had to spend a lot of time on LinkedIn telling people, we are TransferWise, this is what we do, would you like to join us? This is how we work, as opposed to you know, people wanting to join other brands that is a bit easier to understand what their company is about, you know, it’s a bit less risky as well. So I think that’s definitely important, yeah.

Dixon: Hellen, Kerstin, any other challenges for startups, with small start-ups?

Hellen: Absolutely. I mean, we’re still not in, like, super early stages, but still early stages. So, I agree with Fab there that time is a massive constraint, because there’s so much you can do, which is also a good thing. Because you can be you know, very creative and basically, whatever you want to do, people will trust you and you can do it. So there’s a lot of scope, but that also means you really really have to become very good at prioritizing. Things move incredibly fast. So, yeah, definitely time, then unfortunately, we don’t have unlimited resources, sounded great, what Fab said there. I think in my case, it’s slightly different. So I am quite limited in, you know, other people’s capacity that I need to get things done. And also budget-wise, of course, we are well funded, and there is budget to go around. But I feel like being at a startup is just, you really have to squeeze as much as possible out of every single pound that you spend, whereas when I worked with bigger companies, that was not quite the case. I guess you had a bit more, you know, I guess you have flexibility in your budget.

Hellen: I agree. Yeah, limited resources, limited budget, and competing priorities in the business with especially with SEO are the challenges up till now, I would say. The way the business can be different is how you are going to rank, at least on Google, on the how you can differentiate your business, this differential point will be the key to get some ranking and traffic I believe for startups.

Dixon: So I think that brings naturally onto the next thing, it’s how the heck are we going to compete with Goliaths, like, you know, the Barclays or the Vodafone or, you know, or, whoever may be your competitor in your world. If you’re a startup by definition, there’s probably gonna be an incumbent or many in there that are gonna be hugely more powerful. So how do you go about making that differentiation? You know, how do you pitch your business so that it is different to other people? So you’ve got some chance in SEO at all? Is that done by you guys or is that fed down from top brass or, you know, because a lot of us as SEOs don’t necessarily have a top brass, we are the SEO. We are the CEO.

Fabrizio: Yeah, I think I can probably go again. I think is definitely a challenge when we first look at one of our direct competitor. They are the equivalent of links as Wikipedia, probably. So, it’s probably not a good strategy to try to beat a couple of links and figure out how you can beat them, right? But at the same time, over time, you know, your profile grows and things happen. So on this point, I was watching, like, it was an interview somewhere from like Kevin Indig a while ago, and he was mentioning, like, it wasn’t necessarily related to startups, but I think on this is very important not to take the same approach, like, like-for-like in every company, right?

So, if you work in a startup that is building Facebook v2 or booking v2, probably you just need to focus on getting the technical things right and then the product will scale pages and content and everything, right? If you’re working on a startup, where there’s no actual front-facing product that get indexed and then get searched, probably you have challenging building landing pages content, or maybe, like, do a blog or long-form content. I think different businesses they’ve got different challenges. And I think the most important that’s what eventually we decided early days is not to try to outlink these people, because it’s not possible on day one, even though we are, you know, a relatively popular startup, we get a lot of press coverage, like, we are in the…at some point, when we first launched, we had, like, a lot of coverage, really a lot of coverage, but it was still nowhere near comparable to anything like that.

And so I think in our case, we decided to, you know, become a bigger brand by building a lot of content and pages and at the search presence that would allow you with time to gain authority, but then equally, you know, not all startups they mean to compete with massive site out there, maybe we just focus in on a very narrow set of keywords, and then you want to take a slightly different approach.

I mean, the important thing is not to do, like, you know, by-the-book play, where you say, okay, I do a bit of technical work, a bit of content and a bit of links, and let’s hope that next month, we’ll do the same and they will go well. Because I don’t think it’s likely that all these things can go well, because you don’t have the team to do it, your website is not an authoritative website to do all these things in one go. So I think that’s the I guess, like, biggest challenge if you wanna face big brands. But we did manage to outrank some of them with time, right? So it’s not impossible. It’s just is, you know, like, if you’re relentlessly focusing, it’s not impossible, it’s just short term is right, that you have limited chances to compete or maybe should pick a fight on just one area, right?

Dixon: Hellen and Kerstin, any other ideas for differentiation?

Hellen: I don’t think, not on differentiation, but I do think in some things, you need to go by the book to start with, for example, the technical part of the website to get it right, to build the website on good technical foundations, to be able to scale, to grow, and take into account that your website in some years won’t be a mess. So this, I think is important to get right from the start. And then it’s the differential parts of the business that are creating quality content, comparing to all the other big brands. This will also help.

Kirsten: Yeah. I think also, it’s not necessarily just the big brands or your direct competitors, right? Because from a business point of view, you might have your top three or top five set competitors, but from an SEO point of view, you actually have a lot more competitors, because you’re competing for different areas, you’re competing with content, not only with your core product. And so I think it’s crucial that you don’t I guess try to mimic what everyone else is doing, just focus on what you’re really, really good at and do that very well. And then yeah, again, its short term is difficult, but you have to build it over time.

Fabrizio: If I could add one second from Hellen’s points. Picking the right technical setup to begin with is really crucial in future. I was thinking now, like, we changed domain five, six years into this. If when I joined we wouldn’t have got the right folder structure or a bunch of these things that we would have had to change at some point and then change domain and, like, I think some choices I think you have to remember that you have to stick them on the wall for a long time, and you don’t want to keep changing them, right? Like, at least, you know, the longer they are out and they’re wrong, the painful they’re gonna get, right, with time.

Hellen: Exactly.

Fabrizio: Yeah, I think some of these things definitely you don’t have to forget them because, yeah. When I first joined someone was about to launch countries on subdomains and they were very weird instruction that I had to stop on my first week. So, like, sometimes you have to make these calls and, like, not be popular, but it’s important, right? Because long term, you don’t wanna go down that path, right? Maybe…

Hellen: If possible to start with the right technical foundations if you have resources and budget, I would advise to get the fundamentals correct. For example, we started with our no-contract theme, was our only offer, and now the website’s real. And we have phones and many other offers, and the website should be fit to follow this growth. This will be ideally the thing to do. Yeah.

Dixon: And I think from the point of view of well, yeah, so the technical bit, really, really important, and if you haven’t got the funds, I think WordPress is still a good place to start. Myself, I mean, I think of a lot of businesses can do quite well with WordPress design well. I know a lot of small businesses seem to be jumping over to Wix now as well, but and if you’re a small, small business, I’m not talking about you guys, because you guys have got online, you know, parts that need to go sort of beyond the WordPress as well. But, you know, WordPress still is a hot favorite amongst SEOs for sure as a technology, but it still needs to be set up right and it still needs to be set up properly. So you can disagree as well.

But I wanna…going over to the, to the product differentiation bit, I mean, the way that, you know, InLinks did it was…I mean, we’re competing, theoretically. Say well, we kinda compete with all of your favorite tools guys, say, and all of the Ahrefs and the SEMrushes and all the other tools, but so we had to kind of say, well, I’m not gonna do that, and so entity SEO was our kind of approach. Because that was what was different for our world, and trying to look at the world from a topic point of view instead of from a QR point of view. And we’re kind of getting there now, you know, so entity SEO as a concept is becoming more well known.

And then we’re in a much smaller field, and I’d rather my chances talking, I think I can try to get to the top of entity SEO than anything that SEMrush is gonna fight me with because they’re big and they’ve just gone public. So, they made it and I’m… Okay, guys. So, getting that technical stuff, it’s great. What else can we do to differentiate ourselves from the competition? What about local stuff? Is that a way for a bricks-and-mortar business, perhaps not one of you like yourselves, but, you know, how can we use Google Local or local business, Google My Business, those kinds of things? Does that help a small business stand out and how do we set ourselves up on that path? Fabrizio, do you wanna jump in again?

Fabrizio: Yeah. We don’t have like physical branches, right? We don’t have shops, right? But we do have offices, right? We have our, like, customer partners, not customers, right? But partners and other people come through. Another bit that when people think local, like one part probably if you have a physical business, definitely there is the, you know, the Google My Business part that you can spend time on. The other bit that it’s very easy to, like, scale and, like, is relatively low internal resources is to think about local within your product, right? And figuring out even within your website, which local variants of your product exist, if they exist, and I guess in our case, we deal with currencies between countries, but even in that situation, we have like banks with the branch and chords and a lot of different, like, setup that are still suited to, like, having local landing pages, right?

So it’s not just about…one side you have the My Business part, but on the other side is the local when it comes to, like, more tailored, like, content or landing pages that your customer might be looking at, which is very simple to iterate on. Because the day you find that this type of article works in one city, right? To convert a customer it’s likely that is gonna work in another city. The only difference is you’re gonna reuse the same brief, the same template or the same, like, setup, you’re just gonna tailor the content, right? And customize maybe the offering, right? For that particular city.

Hellen: For Giffgaff, we have a similar story. We don’t have physical stores, but we have our themes offered in partners. And we are just starting to test local searches because we now have a partnership with O2 in some stores in North England, Northwest England, you will be able to find Giffgaff SIMs. So we are starting to try out these local search, and yeah, it will be live soon. So, I will then be able to let you know, and we are driving a footpath to discuss with local search.

Dixon: I think that that sounds an absolutely brilliant approach, Hellen actually. In that, you know, having, even though you’re, you know, you’ve got distribution outlets. So basically anywhere that sells your SIMs, you could probably set up as a Giffgaff redistributor or a Giffgaff reseller and effectively run all of their local marketing. And so you go onto Google, theoretically, and you know, Giffgaff distributors, it suddenly shows everybody that’s selling a Giffgaff SIM. So potentially could be a really, really powerful way of doing that I would guess. So, yeah, I like that idea. So…

Hellen: Sorry.

Dixon: I’m sorry, go on.

Hellen: Just to clarify why we’re on O2 stores is because we run on O2 network, that’s why the partnership.

Dixon: I understand. Nothing’s… Go on.

Fabrizio: So you can be even a bit brave and do local stuff if your competitor has got stores, right? Like, you don’t necessarily have to be local yourself. But if everyone is using a computer service in-store and you want to offer them, like, a web-only experience, you can still build, like, landing pages for your competitor. Obviously, it requires a bunch of legal trickery in between, but it’s not impossible. You’re not going to open Google My Business for them, right? But you can still try to challenge them on your… Even, like, we realize that apart from like a small percentage of users, a majority of the user, if you’re disrupting a business, they are with someone else already. So, you often have this challenge of trying to, like touch on that brand traffic as well, to figure how to promote your brand or even to let them know that you’re an alternative, right? Yeah.

Dixon: Okay. So we’ve got a question popped up there. If we get that question back on the screen again as well. If anybody has any questions, by the way, whether you’re on YouTube or on Facebook, hopefully, someone’s looking out for the questions on Facebook as well and we can get those off as well. But Mauro says, maybe basic, there’s no such thing as a basic question, but how does this local geo SEO work? Okay, so, anyone wanna jump in that? How does local geo SEO work? Or do you want me to do it?

Fabrizio: Up to you.

Dixon: Okay.

Fabrizio: There was actually a John Mueller, like, hangout, like, article a while ago, and they were talking about event companies having landing pages for local, like, cities, right? And I think when it comes to, like, having these approaches is often down to the content of these pages and their uniqueness, right? And whether you can offer a different proposition in one place or another. If you only have one event nationwide, you cannot be in the page for every city, because it’s the same content, is the same page. But there are companies that have different proposition or different, like, tailored version of the same, like, experience by city or by geographic area, and that where you can, you know, without having the exactly same page, you can offer a slightly more tailored intent and it can work, yeah.

Dixon: I think the interesting thing about local is that Google is much better at under…well, often it’s better understanding where the user is that’s doing the search than they are at understanding where the business is at the other end of the thing. So when I type in “pizza nearby,” that’s kind of where you’re starting to get to local, Google understands this is a local search and has a pretty good idea where, especially if it’s on a mobile phone, where the user is at that particular point. The question then is, if you’re a pizza company, should your results appear or not?

And so, you know, if you’re lucky enough to be able to have used Google My Business, and you have a lot of stores, if you’re a PC World, you’ve got lots and lots of stores around the place so you can find or a Pizza Hut, then it’ll show you the local Pizza Hut. So if you’re one Pizza Hut, you’ve gotta compete against that, and that’s where Google My Business comes in because you can just sign up at Google My Business which is free and get yourself at least in your local results pack or the local search pack in SEO to try and answer Mauro’s question there, I think. So, okay, Kerstin, you’ve…I left you outside, out of the loop for a little bit. So let me jump in. What are some of the common mistakes that you think startups make? You know, where do they go wrong, you know, or perhaps… Yes, go on?

Kerstin: Well, I think, probably not prioritizing, right? Sort of what I said earlier. It’s very, very easy to get distracted and to get overwhelmed because you know, you have huge competition and, yeah, it’s a very competitive space. So, I think not getting distracted and really trying to focus on your strength and where you can compete, and then prioritize and not try to do everything at once. So, we really focus on where you do have the best chances, and yeah, just focus.

Dixon: And how do you think SEO and PPC should balance themselves out, particularly in the early days of a startup? Should people be using PPC or just exclusively SEO or…because PPC, of course, cost money right out the box. So, you know, can people use PPC to enforce or to improve their SEO and vice versa? Should, yes, well, as Mauro says, should they be working together?

Kerstin: Yeah. I think it depends probably on your business. But short term, of course, PPC works straightaway, right? So SEO, you have to work, you have to build it over time. So if you have the budget, definitely go in with PPC, and then balance it over time, you will hopefully get into a position where you can start testing and say, you know, where are you getting stronger and stronger with SEO, but in our case, we rely heavily on PPC. Yeah, it’s just very, very fast and shows good results. So if you have the budget, I would definitely use PPC as well.

Dixon: Fabrizio.

Fabrizio: Yeah, but also, the other bit is for testing purposes, right? It takes a lot of time and pain to build the content, then test landing pages. If you can test them pretty quickly with that, often you’re on the right track, right? And it can accelerate a bit your process of figuring out where to focus even on search if your product goes against, you know, established search demand. The challenge that we had, for instance, in our industry, is that been a disruptive new service, people don’t google a lot the classic transactional stuff that you will do PPC on, right? So there are people searching money transfer and those kinds of terms, but it’s not a lot, right? We’re not gonna build such a big business just waiting for people to Google a bit more of that transactional stuff. So in some situation it’s not so helpful to look at paid search, because there is not enough demand from consumer against your product, and that’s where you have to, you know, work with more longer trail queries or, like different intents that you wouldn’t necessarily be done, right, with paid.

Hellen: Now, but there is the temptation, I think, for the startups, because when you pay, you get it. The temptation of forgetting, leaving SEO to the second plan, because it’s easier to get, to sell your product through PPC than working on your website structure and user journey to get more traffic. So yeah, it needs to have a bond.

Kerstin: Yeah, that’s true. You might get hooked on the quick term.

Hellen: Long term…

Fabrizio: Yeah. Back to mistakes. I sometimes spend time with very early-stage funders, and that started literally companies. And the hardest part is probably to set the expectation what you’re doing within SEO and when they have, like, few options within channels that they wanna test they will need to understand really well that, you know, in a month, they will not break the bank by doing a sale, right? They need to understand how they’re gonna invest, what others you’re gonna see within the landscape. And otherwise, they just get burned and then they lose confidence that this is gonna work, right? And obviously, not everyone has got the benefit of, like, spending a lot of resources and time to begin with, but I think the easiest mistake is to compare this to the other channels. After a few months there’s no results and then just turn it off and just do an IR team that set up an SEO program well, and then you just think that doesn’t work, right? And that’s very easy, especially when your company is well funded to just spend money, right? Like, many well-funded companies, they burn a lot of money for that reason, right?

Hellen: I see a lot of these expectations with digital PR. I don’t know, I would be interested in knowing from you guys, but it’s a lot of investment and sometimes we just get no followed links, I think this is the trend now. And this is a bit concerning because there is these expectations in increase the website authority. And yeah, it’s something that to pay attention when you invest in digital PR for external linking.

Dixon: Yeah, I think that external link bit is an interesting challenge for a startup, but also it’s a great opportunity because you are a disruptive business. You have that opportunity to cut through the story. You know, Barclays going out there and trying to get more links are gonna be just the same kind of links as before unless there’s…I mean, they’ve, they’ve got the same ability to come up with a brand new story or a brand new angle, but, you know, do they necessarily want to? Because they’re taking a punt on changing their existing business base.

Whereas, you know, you guys have got, you know, three very different disruptive businesses in your area. And I think Fabrizio mentioned it, I think, using PPC as a testing tool to work out what your SEO strategy might be, might be a very, very good idea and I think that’s an excellent approach, but you all had the problem of starting out with phrases, I suppose, key phrases that no one might want to search for, that no one’s searching. So no contract telephones or, you know, banking without a branch or, you know, transferring money. You know, all of those three things, or transferring money cheaply, or whatever, all of those three things are things that, you know, were not necessarily…there was no obvious phrase that was being used by people in large numbers, certainly not enough to justify the massive expansion, the rapid expansion of your businesses.

So, I mean, obviously, you know, that the business is not solely based around SEO, but how did you guys, you know, get into, you know, how did those businesses become big enough to have SEO managers like yourselves if there wasn’t enough phrase. An innovative business might start out with a product that has no search phrase at all. Brand new product, this is the first one that’s ever, you know, rains from the stars on a blue summery night or I don’t know whatever it may be, and it’s called a, you know, I think it’d be Bob, you know, and no one’s searching for it. How did you expand that marketplace to get enough terms to warrant SEO, organic search traffic? Who wants to go in there?

Fabrizio: We have a ton of these challenges, actually, that’s pretty much the brand that matter what they do, as in, there was actually not much demand to bank on to begin with. And then equally when it comes to things like links, obviously, you get a bit more coverage or because you know, you’re also a bit more brave, right? Barclays, the CEO, didn’t get naked at any point in time soon. But our CEOs many years ago, they got naked, right? And that makes PR right down the street, and then makes little PR. So there are areas where I guess, you know, being more flexible but there are equally areas where you don’t have such demand and that’s where, like, the…I guess the tricky part is to have confidence by talking to your customers, that sooner or later invest in one area.

And that is not necessarily that close to what they meant to do is okay, right? We even write content for people that may use our product 12 months down the line, right? And we still do it if we think that is a good investment within a certain investment appetite just because it’s better than solely relying on these people trying to, you know, search for something. The other bit that I think SEO can really fix is that your product needs to be good enough, and there needs to be enough word of mouth and enough epic customers that they will tell someone else, right?

And then same reason why I don’t think that neither PR can fix that, right? If you’ve got a boring company with a bad product, no matter how much PR you do, you’re still not gonna fix that that easily, right? It’s very difficult to get journalists to, you know, buy into your stuff. So, I think that when, like, sometimes it’s a bit of a function of how good is your product to some extent up to the point that at some point they justify, and there’s enough growth and there is enough spin to invest in building an SEO team, right?

We started, like, an SEO team when we already had a million customers, right? Like, so we weren’t, like, necessarily just a startup. Which is not the same for everyone, right? There are people that start with a bit less customer than that, but there are points at which I think is important to realize, okay, this product is sticking and therefore I’m gonna invest in something long term, which on the long run, it proves to be the best channel that we have, right? We paid back the investment in SEO like 10 times faster than all the other channel, it’s growing the fastest, it’s getting more and more share within marketing. It’s a good idea, but it just takes a bit of confidence and gut if you have a decent product that you can build upon. Otherwise, the risk is that you can try to fix with SEO all the other problem that your product has got and your company has got and that is very hard to do, right? Like, it’s not super simple.

Dixon: Fair enough.

Hellen: I agree. Word of mouth is key for this. Yes.

Kerstin: Yeah, absolutely. And I think, you know, yeah, if you don’t have the right product, SEO certainly can’t fix that. But if there is not much search demand about your actual product or your product term, you can always think about, you know, what is the need that people have and then try to think along the whole funnel, rather than at the endpoint where you have your product and then get to it that way. So, basically, build your topic universe around that and start very early.

Dixon: So, I mean, on that, Fabrizio said they actually had a million customers before they set up an SEO team. Kerstin, how many business accounts did Tide have before it set up an SEO team? You don’t have to answer, you may not be allowed to answer even if you knew…

Kerstin: Very, very little, I can tell you that.

Dixon: Very few. Okay. All right.

Kierstin: Yes. Very few customers. So definitely grown a lot since then, but I guess…

Dixon: Would you say Tide organic traffic has been a big source of new accounts for Tide or did that come later? Was that right near the start then?

Kerstin: Well, so it did take a while to build up, right? So, like, I said before, we balanced out quite a lot with paid channels with PPC because our I guess issue is not that there was no such demand for business accounts because there is demand for that, it’s more, you know, attracting the right people that are willing to have their account digitally and maybe don’t need a branch. But that’s also depending on how you position yourself, right? Because it doesn’t have to be a primary account. If you still need a branch that you walk into, you can keep your existing account and use this as your digital platform to do all your other business finance. But yeah, growing that customer base, organic, definitely played a big part in that.

Dixon: Sorry, Hellen, anyone want to jump in, or, I mean, how many, you know, Giffgaff must, you know…did you have loads and loads of customers before you became….add an SEO role or do you think Giffgaff also started organically?

Hellen: Yeah, we started organic really well also because of branded searches. So our activation base is a lot of branded searches. So it’s organic, but branded. On the generic, yeah, generic is always the challenge to grow in this area.

Dixon: Of course. So you got people to talk about Giffgaff then. So word of mouth was a big part of your strategy and that fed towards your organic…

Hellen: Exactly.

Dixon: So, which makes absolute sense. So this word of mouth, getting your customers to talk about it, even if they’re not your customers yet, is key, I think to SEO and for a startup. I think it’s a magic way. You know, you got to get your customers to be your salespeople because you can’t afford to do it yourself.

Hellen: Before, we want Giffgaff…we already had the community. So, word of mouth first and then PR, good PR, branding, and the differential of Giffgaff. They all helped a lot with searches.

Dixon: So I wanted to finish up with…we haven’t got very much time left already. But how much does it help if the business has either a flamboyant CEO or a knowledge leader CEO or not necessarily the CEO, but how important is it to a startup to have people in their organization who are already either respected or hated, it doesn’t matter which necessary from a marketing point of view, but they can then create that focus around the sort of the links and the comments you mentioned, you know, your CEO dressing up naked, you know, but, you know, has all of your businesses got somebody in the organization that within their industry sector is seen as a knowledge leader and somebody that’s respected in the field? And do you use them or what would you be worried as a startup that those people then might be too valuable for the business and too valuable for the business to risk as a main plank? Is that…can I go with Kerstin for that? Have you got anybody in the organization that, you know, you use as a content piece, so to speak?

Kerstin: Yeah, I would say it definitely helps. But if you don’t have that person or if your CEO happens to not want to be, like, out there all that much, I think that’s okay as well. But yeah, it definitely helps if you have someone who’s well known in the industry, if you have someone who has like proven thought leadership and you know you can work with that person for your content or PR campaigns and things like that. So I think it’s definitely beneficial. But I think, also doesn’t necessarily only have to be the CEO. If you have more people in your company, yeah, definitely also use them as authorities to speak about certain topics and work with them for PR, you know, content creation and things like that. So yeah, I would not only think about the CEO or just generally, who is there, that is a thought leader and can contribute to just different areas of your work.

Dixon: Hellen, you got anybody in your organization that stands out as a thought leader in your sector?

Hellen: Yes, I do have. And I tried to build up the SEO advocates within the business. So, yeah, this influence to get everyone on board with SEO is a very good point for companies that are not only starting up, but on the growth paths.

Dixon: Guys, we’re nearly to the end of the time. I just wanna finish up with one last question, because it leads into our next one, the next presentation, next month, which I’ll bring David in for it after that. Is there something that big organizations do that small organizations should not attempt to do, that startups should not attempt to do? Where is the, you know…is there something in the world of, you know, big organizations that they can, you know, do things and leverage that smaller businesses are unable to do. I’ve got internal link building comes to mind as a thing, you know, they’ve just gotten so much more content that they can start leveraging that. Any other thoughts in there or, you know…

Fabrizio: I think in terms of, like, not doing is probably even on, like, not doing structure on mistakes in the setup of the teams, right? And then, like, sometimes, it’s not such a good idea to look how these…some of these big organizations are built in terms of team structure and how they operate. And I think these are really important because you have one chance to build the team structure that is gonna scale and would make people happy to come every day to work rather than complaining about developer not shipping, technical changes about the content team not doing things. So, it’s probably your one-off chance to get the ground right.

And back to the probably leaders question as well, I think in our case, more than, like, having leaders that are authority in the space is probably more useful, that leader trust the teams to invest and have the right measurements in place. Otherwise, the risk is that you end up in a very large organization where you have someone making a decision on which keywords you should rank for, right? And this person does not understand much about search, right?

So you shouldn’t make sure that you don’t get to that point, right? And the decision maker, the team in terms of, like, resources, the engineers, everyone, is within your team or at least you have some control within in a smooth way. Otherwise, the bigger it gets, the more painful it gets, up to the point that you have, like, a large organization with SEO teams that are completely unable to move things because it’s blocked by a bunch of people. And luckily when we are in your company, you don’t have this issue because a lot of these people don’t exist yet, right? So you can work out the knots and making sure that they don’t work in that fashion.

I think for us it’s really important because we went from, like, you know, when we started the program, we were, like, a million customers, now we have around 10 million-ish, and then we went from like myself and three engineers to now 50+ people that work around SEO alone. And then in that situation is, yeah, like, the bigger you get the harder it gets. Yeah, it’s not gonna work really well with time.

Dixon: Okay. Well, I also quickly saw that one, that’s a good question to end up on, the sales flags that question came up there. So, let’s say you’ve only got one thing you wanna focus on first because the three experts here today have said, you know, focusing is a really good thing to do. We don’t waste our resources, because we can afford to waste our resources. So sales phrases come up with three really good ways to start developing your SEO. You know, link building, just go and get links to your site, versus writing that killer content, web page content, versus writing a killer PDF and ebook, which is the best for an early stage? Okay, what’s your opinions? Where would you go out of those three if you were gonna focus. And you’re not allowed to say all three now, because you said focus.

Hellen: I would go for killer page, having not only one, your key pages. The thing that startups can do that big ones cannot do because they are too big, is take care, pay attention to each journey, in each page content to build it as good as possible. Because Google is the…I say Google is the most picky user you can have, the most smart user. And if your page is relevant for Google, it’s good enough for Google, it’s good enough for the user. So, you need to make sure your journeys are sleek.

Dixon: Okay. Cool. Kerstin.

Kerstin: It’s a very, very hard question. It depends on your competitors and what you’re starting out with. So I’m slightly torn to pick one. I sort of agree on strong pages., but if I want to maybe collect leads very quickly, if I want to turn, you know, people interested into customers, I might even go with a PDF. It depends on my resources that I have. But yeah, depends what is my situation that I’m starting with and what’s the objective. So I’m leaning towards a PDF to promote, to get leads very early on that I can then market to you later on.

Dixon: Yeah, okay. Good as a lead gen. Okay, good. Fabrizio, what do you wanna go for?

Fabrizio: I mean, you could do lead gen anyway, regardless of the other two, eventually. But if I have to choose between building links and building pages, always pages, right? Like, you can build all the links you want but if you don’t have the pages, there’s no fun happening, right? So I think I would start there first. And then, you know, at some point if the pages don’t rank, maybe links are a problem, but at least you should build the pages first and then see what happens.

Dixon: I think I kind of agree that I think the page building, doing the killer page first allows you…I mean, you could then create an eBook out of that pillar page as well. So that’s okay, so obviously, if they can read it without downloading the book, then you’ve lost the lead maybe but so I guess you do have a fair point. But also, regardless, those are what, you know, if that pillar content is good, that will generate the links, if it’s genuinely good content, knowledge leadership contents.

Kerstin: I think maybe…

Dixon: Guys…

Kerstin: Sorry. I just wanted to say, because we’ve been talking about SEO and SEO only, but maybe, especially for startups that, you know, don’t have all the resources, I think it’s very important to see SEO, not as something that works in silo and always try to work across teams and make the most out of all the channels and work together.

Dixon: And I think the…I can’t remember his name, a guy…the SEO for LinkedIn for ages, he used PDFs almost exclusively as his SEO building tool. And you think LinkedIn, blame me, it’s LinkedIn, but, you know, he definitely used the PDF approach very, very effectively to generate leads and generate links, which, you know, effectively still lead to reasonably pillar page content, which did the whole thing. So, I guess it is, you know, where you are in your journey and what can stand out most is probably a good answer. Guys, thank you ever so much for your time. David, what do we got on next time? So…

David: We’re gonna be broadcasting live on Monday, the 17th of May at 4 p.m. UK time. We’re gonna be zeroing in on SEO for big brands. We’ve already got Turgay Akar from Sony, gonna be appearing on that one, a couple of other people that we’re still talking to about appearing in that one and…but make sure you sign up at theknowledgepanelshow.com so you can watch us live. We broadcast live on YouTube, on Facebook as well, and, of course, we’re available as a podcast to catch the replays on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Dixon: So guys, thank you very much. It just leaves me to say thanks ever so much for coming along today. If anybody wants to contact you guys, are they allowed to? What’s your Twitter handle, how can they get ahold of you, Hellen?

Hellen: Hellen, LinkedIn. Yeah, you can find me on LinkedIn, it’s the best way.

Dixon: Kerstin.

Kerstin: Given the name, easiest LinkedIn, my handle is a bit strange though. LinkedIn, yeah.

Dixon: Okay. And Fabrizio, can we find you?

Fabrizio: Yes, same. Google my name or on, like, Twitter my handle is @Pechnet, but yeah, probably Googling me is…

Dixon: Pechnet, how do you spell that?

Fabrizio: P-E-C-H-N-E-T. It’s my video game nickname. So it’s got nothing to do with everything, but I still keep it, yeah. Just being lazy.

Dixon: Guys, thank you ever so much for coming on today. I really do appreciate it. Your experience has been invaluable and so have the tips. So see you next time. Thanks, guys.

Hellen: Thank you.

Dixon: Bye-bye.

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