When we started out as a tiny startup in a dingy back office in Paris, we had no idea about Search Engine Optimisation. We knew that by setting ourselves up as company formation experts specialising in helping international entrepreneurs set up their business in France, we needed to reach as many people in as many countries as we could, but we had no real idea how to do it.
We started off like most newbies by creating a website, trying to put out quality information to help the types of entrepreneurs we wanted to attract. But what we didn’t realise was there was a whole series of complicated and subtle machinations we had to adhere to in order for search engines to recognise our company and let us creep up their rankings.
In the early days we attempted to do this ourselves by clicking on every SEO blog out there and trying to cherry-pick tips about keywords and algorithms. We set up our own business blog, used social media management platforms to put out consistently good content, created a mailing list and sent out regular newsletters. But despite spending hundreds of business hours on SEO we didn’t find ourselves ranking anywhere on any of the search engines. Quite frankly, we felt overwhelmed with the enormity of SEO.
So, with the recommendation of a fellow business owner, we decided to employ SEO expert Nick Huxsted from Gooey Digital to help us get our heads around the murky world of SEO. The first thing he told us was it would take over a year to see any real difference. Hmmmm. We knew that if we were going to commit to an SEO program, then we would have to be patient but we didn’t realise we’d have to be THAT patient.
Asking him why it took so long to get results, Nick explained: “The search engines are ultimately trying to determine how much of an authority you are on a particular topic. If you’re deemed trustworthy and authoritative, then that can be reflected in your visibility in the search results. That authority grows over time, and ‘one thing’ isn't going to move that bar too much, but by repeatedly positioning your business as a source of quality, trusted information that users regularly engage with, then that's a very positive sign. If for example you launch a brand new website, how does Google know that your content, products and services are to be trusted? By comparison, a very similar website that's been around for 10 years that has a large social following, a ton of customer reviews, mentions in the press, quality links from respected sources and a history of in-depth content/blog posts is almost certainly going to be ‘trusted’ more - and all of that takes time to earn.”
Right, understood. Despite the long wait for any return, we decided to go for it anyway.
First off, Gooey gave our website a digital audit to see where we were going wrong and see how well it was performing against other companies that offered similar services and used certain keywords. They found that because we had two different websites – one in English and one in French – we were halving our chances of a good SEO score because we were splitting our audience. Nick insisted on us redoing our website and having everything on one site but having language options that directed our French audiences to French pages and our English-speaking audiences to English pages.
They ran a keywords test and found the best keywords for us that created our company’s own special niche and didn’t copy the hundreds of other company formation businesses out there that were all competing for the same keywords. We were also advised to integrate our business blog onto the website and they worked up some great content that was high on information and research with clever contemporaneous angles for both our blog and for well-regarded websites that could give us the all-important back-links that would boost our rankings. With their help, we were also able to hone our Google Adwords campaigns to make sure we hit the right customers.
Nick explained his SEO strategy: “There are two fundamental principles that are vital for SEO. Great content, and always think about the user. The simple premise is that if ‘people’ love your content, then the search engines will too. If you were going to invest time and resources anywhere, it should be on regularly producing amazing content. By creating content that your customers want to read, find interesting, informative and helpful, then that's half the battle. There are a variety of tools that you can use to determine what people are searching for - some are free while others are paid - but research is an important part of the process. Overall, a simplistic approach would be to find out what content your competitors are doing, and do it better.”
But even the best laid plans go awry sometimes and our SEO journey had a few hiccups along the way. Our site got hit by Russian spammers who clogged up our inboxes with hundreds of emails (which we soon banished by making sure we had the correct captcha system in place) and our website shut down after we uploaded too many high-resolution photos on the site.
Little by little we started to get more enquiries, but after about a year we hadn’t seen a huge difference in our finances. A lot of the enquiries we were getting didn’t pan out. We decided to give SEO six more months and if we didn’t see a difference, then we’d just have to chalk it up to experience. Nick encouraged us to stick at it, explaining: “The biggest mistake people make with SEO is that they give up. SEO takes time, patience, perseverance and a lot of hard work. While there may be some technical issues that are preventing the search engines from crawling a website, generally speaking there's no quick fix. If you're consistently doing the right things, then it will work, but all too often people can give up, or lose interest after a few months. SEO is arguably one of the most effective marketing techniques, but it should almost always be viewed as a medium/long term strategy.”
Lo and behold, after waiting only another couple of months - just as Nick had promised – our inboxes started to fill up with proper leads and enquiries that actually brought in the money. One of the inspired ideas Gooey used was to design landing pages with fantastically detailed brochures to offer as free downloadable guides to our readers. This helped us follow up potential leads and see whereabouts in the world our customers were coming from. (You can see what we’re talking about by taking a look at the guide at the bottom of this post or clicking here to see our Starting A Company in France landing page.)
Even though our business picked up considerably, we didn’t ditch the SEO and just keep coasting with what we had. Because of ever-changing search engine algorithms and variations to social media feeds, we felt it was necessary to keep the SEO system in place so we didn’t slip back down the rankings.
So in finding your own SEO expert, you need to be a bit more discerning then just signing up for the first prospective SEO company email you receive. Nick advises: “While it would remiss of me to tarnish all SEO related emails as dubious, there are fair few of them around. The main danger is that they'll adopt techniques that can actually do more harm than good. When it comes to choosing a good SEO expert, it's much the same as any business relationship. You need confidence that they know what they're talking about, backed up by credible results. You can always ask to speak to one of their clients, just to get an impartial view of the quality of work they provide. But I think one of the key things to look for is how much attention they place on your actual business. Anyone can talk about improving rankings and traffic, but the real results come when a partner has a deep understanding of how your business works. Who are the competitors, which products/services generate the most revenue, what are your future plans, what challenges do you face, why do people use your services? All of that information is vital when determining your SEO strategy, and more importantly a sign that someone actually cares about the success of your business.”
If you want to give your SEO a boost, contact Nick Huxsted at www.gooeydigital.com or if you’re interested in starting your business in France, or you need more information on how to expand your business in over 30 countries worldwide including bank accounts, virtual offices and tax specialists, you can call us on 00 33 (0) 1 53 57 49 10 or email us through our contact page.
Download our free guide on opening a business in France
Learn the ins and outs of company formation in one of the world’s biggest and most prestigious markets