SEO Basics for Software Product Managers


I am sure you have heard about Search Engine Optimization, commonly referred to by its abbreviation of SEO. If not, which planet have you been living on? Welcome back to Earth! SEO efforts in companies are often handled by someone who knows more or is very interested in SEO (smaller companies) or an in-house expert or with the help of a consultant (in mid-size to large companies).

But given that we live in the times of social media and where findability of products is predominantly done via online searches, software product managers need to have basic understanding of SEO. It does not matter whether your company sells a dog-grooming product or document security to senior citizens, you as a software product manager must have a basic knowledge of SEO.

But why? Why should you as a software product manager care about SEO? Here is why. You have likely worked very hard in leading your development team to create a product for which you have determined there is a lot of market demand. We know that people are searching for stuff online all the time – doing research on possible solutions, understanding how to buy, what to look out for, reading reviews on products etc. So if your company is not doing SEO, your prospects are very unlikely to find about your product(s) online. And if they don’t, how is your sales team going to meet your product’s sales goals? If you as a product manager are responsible for your product’s business, then you should drive your company’s efforts to make sure your products are found online. This does not mean you do it yourself, but you make sure your marketing department gets it done either internally or by hiring an SEO consultant.

In my opinion, being clueless about SEO as a software product manager is not acceptable anymore. While I am not an SEO expert, here are 7 things that in my opinion all software product managers must know about Search Engine Optimization. My objective here is to give you a basic understanding of SEO such that you can learn more about via numerous resources available on the web.

For the purpose of this blog post, assume that you work for a fictitious company Shenoy Shoes that sells women’s shoes.

1) KeywordsSEO starts with keywords. Think of keywords as terms that users are searching for via the Search engines. You need to find keywords that are highly relevant to your products or business and then decide to optimize your website for that keyword. The strength of a keyword can be expressed as

Keyword strength = function (number of monthly searches for the keyword, competition for the keyword and relevancy of the keyword to your business)

So how do you select keywords? I use Google Keywords tool whenever I am looking to select keywords – whether it is for this blog or for websites I have been involved in.

Be very selective on which keywords you choose – the rule of thumb is not to select the keywords which have the highest search volume because this would also mean that the competition for those keywords is also very high. Instead, find your own niche by selecting keywords with decent volume, decent competition and highly relevant to your business. Selecting very basic keywords such as “tools”, “security”, “cars”, “shoes” “pants” etc. is usually not a good idea – they are too generic and are going to be highly competitive.

For example, for Shenoy Shoes trying to target the keyword of “women’s shoes” (monthly search volume is 45 million+) may not be a good idea given how highly competitive the keyword is. Instead if you optimize your pages for less competitive keywords (provided you carry these products) such as “suede women’s shoes” (monthly search volume is ~300,000) or “women’s boot shoes” (monthly search volume is ~246,000), you may be able to get the SEO efforts for your new website going.

Once customers find your website using these niche keywords, there are things (merchandising, promotions etc.) that you can do to get these customers interested in other shoes you sell. The most difficult step is to getting them to your website when they are searching for stuff you sell.

2) Creating content based on keywordsOnce you have selected the keywords you want to target, create content based on these keywords – content that is optimized for these keywords such that Google indexes your pages and dishes out your pages first when someone searches for these keywords.

Bear in mind, SEO efforts do not bear fruit overnight. It can typically take anywhere from 4-6 weeks before you start seeing results. SEO is not easy and is not scientific as far as I know. You need to keep at it and continue to create content that people want to consume. If you are selling B2B products, the idea is to establish yourself as a subject matter expert on the keywords you have selected that people start trusting you. It is all about building relationships first before you offer to sell them what you have.

For example, there are ~246,000 monthly searches for the keyword of “women’s shoes size” and the competition is not that high. This looks to be a good keyword for Shenoy Shoes to build content around. You could write articles on how to choose right shoe size for women, size conversion between different countries, things to watch out for when selecting shoes between different shoe types (boots, suede, walking shoes etc.) – content that will educate your target customers on to how size their shoes. Once they find this page and understand that your company is a subject matter expert on women’s shoes, they are bound to listen to your recommendations when it comes time to buy.

3) Landing PagesLanding page is simply a page that a website visitor lands on when he clicks a link in the search results or clicking on one of your ads or a link in your marketing campaign. Landing pages are great because you can have as many of them as you want, with each of them optimized for a specific keyword. Think of every landing page as an opportunity to optimize for a keyword. More landing pages you have, more opportunity you have to optimize for specific keywords. 100 landing pages are always better than 10 because you have an opportunity to optimize for 100 keywords.

For example, assume that Shenoy Shoes sells branded shoes such as Birkenstock, Clarks, Converse, Dansko, Ecco etc. Looking at Google keywords tool, we notice that the monthly searches for women’s shoes of these brands are as follows:

Birkenstock women’s shoes – ~33,000
Clarks women’s shoes – ~90,000
Converse women’s shoes – ~90,000
Dansko women’s shoes – ~33,000
Ecco women’s shoes – ~27,000

To get found when users search for each of these shoes, you want to create five landing pages, one for each of the above brands and where each page shows all the shoes of that particular brand. The landing page content should then be optimized for the keyword selected for that page. For example, the Clarks shoes landing page will be optimized for the keywords of “Clarks women’s shoes”.

Warning - NEVER EVER create landing pages that are optimized for stuff you do not carry. For example, if you optimize a landing page for Clarks women’s shoes and you get ranked, a user who clicks on that page link expects to find Clarks women’s shoes, period. So if you don’t carry these shoes and use the landing page only as a lure to get users to a page where you can show them the wares you actually sell, you are doing it wrong. Your visitors will be pissed and will walk away. Remember that on the web, it only takes one click to go to your competitor’s site. Hence always be honest and always establish trust and relationships first. Play only if you can help your target customers make right decisions and eventually purchase from you. Think long term and not just that first sale.

4) Title tagsA title tag is the title text that will appear in the header of the window when a page loads. Search engines pay a lot of attention to title tags. The title tag is also what search engines use as hyperlinks in search results – results users will click on. So it is extremely important that you define a title tag for each page you have on your website. It still appalls me that some well known companies even to this day use the same title tag for every page on their website.

For example, a title tag of “FAQ” for Shenoy Shoes FAQ page is essentially useless in my opinion from an SEO point of view. Instead, if the title tag said something like “FAQ – Women’s Shoes – Shenoy Shoes” it is more meaningful because it provides context. Otherwise, you are ignoring one of the precious SEO elements that has such a high impact on SEO ranking.

I would also advise against using just your company name as your title tag unless your company name is a household name among your customers or prospects and that they would be searching for your company name (I would doubt it).

For Shenoy shoes, the title tag for the home page could be something like

Women’s walking shoesShenoy Shoes

Women’s shoes online – Shenoy Shoes

This is likely to give you much better SEO results than “Shenoy Shoes” or something very generic as “Home Page”. Believe me when I see websites using such generic title tags as Home page or Home, I know that the company is missing out big time by not doing SEO.

5) H1 Tags – In HTML, headers of pages or paragraphs are coded using <h1> through <h6> tags. Of these tags, <h1> is the tag of the largest font size. Google thinks that if you’re using a <h1> tag, then the text between the <h1> tags must be more important in relevance to the content on the page than anything else on the page. Hence, <h1> tags have very significant value from an SEO perspective. It is important that you take advantage of this on every page

For example, the Clarks women’s shoes landing page should have the <h1> tag of “Clarks women’s shoes – Shenoy Shoes”.

6) Meaningful URLs
Another SEO element that Google pays a lot of attention to is the page URL. Keywords that occur in the URL are considered relevant to the search being performed.

For example, the page that lists all of the Clarks women’s shoes it carries should not have a url that reads something like

http://www.shenoyshoes.com/10/70/77.html

Instead a better URL would be

http://www.shenoyshoes.com/clarks-womens-shoes.html

In SEO jargon, this is often referred to as URL rewrite.

7) Measure, Iterate, Measure againNow that you have done the above basic SEO sites and launched your new pages/website. Are you done? No, absolutely not. SEO is a chess game. You are competing with everyone else, especially your competitors.

Your company needs to periodically measure whether your site is getting found by users and how. Many web analytics tool including the free Google Analytics tool can help you understand as to how many users are finding you while searching for the keywords you have selected. If not, you will have to make adjustments along the way. You may even have to choose different keywords if the initial ones do not get you results you intended to get.

So it is all about measuring, making adjustments and then continuously measuring the results again. Even if you get the results you wanted at your first attempt, it does mean you are all set. Remember that your competitors are also competing for the keywords you have targeted. They are going to be making changes along the way and trying to beat you to the top ranking on Google. So there is nothing called resting on your laurels.

I hope the above has helped you in understanding the basics of SEO. Believe me, this is just a start. Like everything else, there is a lot more to SEO than what is listed here – linking, anchor text, site maps, images vs. text etc. Here are some valuable resources I would suggest you read to get more knowledgeable.

Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide from Google

SEO Fast Start by Dan Thies

Internet Marketing Blog by Hubspot – this is a lot more than SEO and all about Inbound Marketing – I am sold that this is where marketing is going.

Your thoughts? How well is your company doing SEO? Do you know of any other good tips or resources for SEO and internet marketing in general? Please share via comments.

Image: Courtesy of Flashdaweb

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5 Responses to SEO Basics for Software Product Managers

  1. Gopal,

    Sigh, welcome to the world of SEO fixation. I’m sorta torn on this topic: is it really worth it? Case in point, the Google home page has lousy SEO but it’s one of the most visited pages on the web.

    It’s my personal belief that content is king when it comes to web drawing power. There are enough SEO scams out there to fill multiple books, but when you take a look at the highly ranked sites (www.problogger.com for example) what makes them a popular destination is not their use of H1 tags, but rather their compelling content.

    But hey, if your content isn’t all that great, then maybe the tricks are what they need to get more visitors, eh?

    – Dr. Jim Anderson
    The Accidental Product Manager Blog

    http://www.TheAccidentalPM.com

    Free 30-Page Product Manger Career Guide (and MP3) When You
    Subscribe to The Accidental Product Manager Newsletter:

    http://www.theaccidentalpm.com/subscribe-to-the-accidental-product-manager-newsletter

  2. gopalshenoy says:

    Jim – I disagree. Real SEO is not about tricks, it is all about making your “great” content found by users who are searching for that content. Keywords help you determine what users are searching for and help you write the great content that you have tailored to these keywords.

    What I have listed above are basics that work – I have personally put them to work on the websites I have worked on and also on this blog and it has worked wonders.

    Unfortunately, given the popularity of SEO, there are definitely some scam artists – here is a good post on how to sniff them out – 7 signs you should run screaming from an SEO consultant – http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/1466/7-Signs-You-Should-Run-Screaming-From-An-SEO-Consultant.aspx

  3. Sudhi says:

    Gopal,

    Thanks for this wonderful write-up on SEO.

    Sudhi

  4. Zoso says:

    @Jim,
    While concurring with the oft-repeated triplet “Content is King”, it doesn’t hurt to comply with SEO, which (according to me) is an alter-ego of online ads.

    @Gopal
    Wonderful post indeed.

  5. Pingback: B2C vs. B2B Product Management – 16 Differences | Z-S Knowledge Center

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