Creating a SEO Growth Machine
Lessons learned from Blueground's SEO strategy, AWS office opening, 5G fund launch, hiring PMs, 500 jobs, news and more
I hope this email finds you well. Welcome to Hunting Greek Unicorns #21. I’m a startup guy based out of Greece, and every two weeks I will share news, jobs and more from the Greek startup ecosystem, and not only.
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🎙️ Creating a powerful growth machine through SEO, with Yorgos Kleivokiotis, CMO at Blueground
This week, I’m excited to chat with Yorgos Kleivokiotis, CMO at Blueground, a Greek startup in the hospitality tech industry that is redefining big city living. It started from Athens in 2013 and is currently present in 13 cities and 6 countries, experiencing really high growth over the years. Among others, what is particularly impressive about this team, is the powerful organic growth machine they have created through search engine optimisation (SEO). Over the years, they have managed to rank on the top search engine results for relevant keywords, for most of the cities they operate in, both for guests and property owners. Thus, they are bringing significant % of their online traffic through organic means, lowering the cost of customer acquisition. I watched this happening first hand, spending two years as a PM at Blueground, so I invited Yorgos to delve into how Blueground made this happen. So many lessons. Read on!
When is the best time to invest in SEO and when did you do it at Blueground? How long did it take to see the first results?
At Blueground, we decided to focus on SEO right when we started investing in our online presence some four years ago. That was even before a guest could book properties through our website. The technical optimization of a website is a key aspect when putting together the different building blocks, if you want to eventually rank for important keywords and drive organic traffic. You need to follow a particular way of doing things when creating the site architecture, but also URL formats and metadata, which is much harder to change later on.
It took us over a year to see the first results, meaning organic traffic from people that were searching with relevant keywords in our category and not directly for Blueground (so called branded keywords). Since then, with all the work we have been putting on SEO, our domain authority in Google is rising, hence it takes a lot less time to rank high for new keywords. So, even though it took us more than a year to rank in the first page for some of our first cities such as NYC, now this happens much faster for new cities e.g. London. It’s usually a matter of a few months. All in all, SEO is a long-term game, and the earlier you invest in it, the better it is.
What are the different SEO tactics you have employed over years?
The way Google ranking algorithm works is that it tries to find the best page on the internet that satisfies a user query. In order to do this, it takes into account three different areas, which are related to your website’s technical characteristics, content and link building. Our efforts have been focused on systematically and consistently addressing all three fields.
On technical optimization, we have been focusing on things such as website’s architecture, loading time, accessibility, performance, security, mobile friendliness, structured data, breadcrumbs, etc. Google recently released some guidelines called Core Web Vitals that you have to monitor closely and adjust based on these principles. Essentially, these are rules that Googlebot uses to crawl a website and you have to facilitate this process as much as you can. For example, we chose to include links to all neighbourhoods on certain landing pages, because this is how Googlebot wanted to crawl it.
Through your content, you tell Google what your website and each page is about. And while Google is becoming better at understanding what we mean when we write certain things, it is always better to be very specific and write explicit content for what we would like to rank high for.
Creating content for a page starts with keyword research. You need to find out which keywords your users use to search for a product like yours and prioritise them, as every page can be optimised for a set of keywords, becoming relevant only for particular queries. In our case, we have several SEO landing pages for guests and property owners, which we constantly put out there, try to understand what worked and didn’t work and keep adjusting. Some of them are even in different languages, targeting audiences in local markets and each one ranks for specific keywords. Also, we expanded to lower intent searches that are covered with our blogs (both for guests and property owners).
Clearly all marketers focus on developing relevant content for the web pages. How will Google decide who to rank first? Basically, it will use two ways. One is by evaluating the quality of the content (clear, well written, formatted) against performance indicators such as time user spends on the page, bounce rate, etc. The other factor is how many other high quality websites link to that page in relation to the specific subject you want to rank for. This brings us to the third building factor of SEO.
Link building is all about having high-authority websites creating links to your website. This can happen organically as you grow and build your brand. The impact link building has depends on both the domain authority of the linking website and the keywords they use to describe your site (e.g. whether they link to you using your primary keywords, brand name, etc). At the same time, there are non-organic ways to grow link building, by reaching out to people and asking them to add a link to your site. At Blueground, work on link building has also been driven to some extent from our PR team, working with some of the biggest media outlets out there.
In terms of impact, all three areas matter. I believe having quality content is super important and should be a priority for every business that wants to rank high in search results. As time goes by, Googlebot is becoming more and more capable in understanding the meaning of words (e.g. recognise synonyms), therefore the rules you have to use when writing SEO-optimised content have changed recently.
Also, don’t forget that SEO is not only on Google search. You need to think where your customer is and which channels they use to search for your product. For instance, in our case we are investing in other search platforms as well such as YouTube and Google Maps.
In general, the total amount of organic traffic that you receive depends on how many people search for your targeted keywords, where you rank in the search results and if Google shows other types of results before organic for this particular query (paid ads, results from google maps, etc). Ranking at the top organic positions does not guarantee a user will click on your website and you need to be aware of that when deciding whether to invest in performance marketing as well.
What are some of the SEO tools you use?
Google provides the Search Console and keeps improving it year by year. I would start there. Then, there are many paid SEO tools that help with things such as competitor monitoring, link building, keyword research. We like SEMrush and Ahrefs.
What have been the biggest challenges so far investing in SEO?
I think one of the main challenges is the alignment and buy-in that is required across different functions inside the organisation. For example, at Blueground we have a dedicated SEO team, but thinking about who contributes to SEO you realise it’s a much broader team with content writers, engineers, designers, product managers, PR team, etc. Unless they all follow the same roadmap, it is highly likely that prioritisation conflicts will happen and this has been a challenge for us too. Furthermore, in certain cases, SEO optimisation decisions might come at the expense of design aesthetics and vice versa. Your website cannot be very minimal and without enough copy to rank in Google. These are some hard tradeoffs that we have made along the way.
What is the current impact in Blueground’s business growth?
At the moment, around 1/3 of our website traffic is organic and diving a bit deeper around 20% of the traffic comes from non-branded searches (people not using Blueground as keyword). The exact percentages can differ based on the budget we set for paid ads every month, which directly influences total traffic. There are various reports that we monitor monthly, with the different keywords that we are interested in, where we rank and how much traffic we get for each of them. Right now, for most of the cities we operate in, we rank #1 or #2 in the organic search results for our primary keywords and we are working hard to rank at the top for all of them.
🦄 Startup Jobs
Greek startups are hiring! Here are some of the latest job opportunities:
Accusonus - Product Marketing Copywriter & Content Editor (Remote) - Apply here
Beat - Engineering Manager (Athens) - Apply here
Filisia - Chief Commercial Officer (Remote) - Apply here
FlexCar - Principal - Corporate Finance (Athens) - Apply here
MarineTraffic - QA Automation Engineer (Athens) - Apply here
Netdata - Senior Software Engineer in Test (Remote) - Apply here
Signal - Digital Product Designer (Athens) - Apply here
Spitogatos - Junior Sales Account Manager (Athens) - Apply here
Woli Fintech - Lead Software Engineer (Athens) - Apply here
Workable - Web Developer (Athens/Remote) - Apply here
Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced the opening of their first office in Athens and they are currently building a sales team.
The new Greek office is part of AWS’s ongoing investment in Greece, as the company continues to expand the team supporting the growing number of customers & partners in the country.
Ernst & Young Greece acquired the consulting unit of Convert Group. Convert Group is a market intelligence startup for eCommerce with clients such as P&G, Rakuten, Nestle and more. The company has previously raised €1.4M from UniFund.
More Greek funds launching with the aim to invest in technology ventures. Phaistos Fund launched a few days ago with an initial size of €93M and will invest in companies developing 5G applications.
Endeavor Greece announced the companies participating in its second accelerator program Endeavor Scale-up: Apifon, Fantasy Sports Interactive, Futurae, PD Neurotechnology, Procureship, SafeSize, Savings United, Seervision, Weav music.
LAUNCHub Ventures, an early-stage European VC that focuses on Central-Eastern and South-Eastern Europe (previously invested in Ferryhopper), completed the first closing of its new fund at €44M.
Applications are open for Greek Startup Universe, an 8-week online program for Greek founders with the aim to connect them with investors, talent and experts.
TechCrunch is calling VCs in Athens to participate in a survey about the Greek startup scene.
Early applications are open for the Summer 2021 batch of Y Combinator, one of the most, if not the most, prestigious seed-money startup accelerator out there.
Workato, an enterprise automation platform with Greek co-founder and headquartered in California, raised $110M at a post-money valuation of $1.7B.
Fyllo, a digital marketing company focused on the cannabis industry that has raised $28M - another US startup with Greek co-founder, acquired DataOwl.
💭 Reading or listening
A post on when to hire your first Product Manager, how to find the right person for the role and how to make things work, from yours truly.
Six VCs (Apostolos Apostolakis, Alexandra Choli, Dimitris Kalavros-Gousiou, Katerina Pramatari, George Tziralis, Marco Veremis) shared their views on all things Greek startups in a roundtable discussion here.
Why 2021 is a new beginning for innovation from Niko Bonatsos, Managing Director at General Catalyst, here.
Philipp Deutscher, Managing Director at TeamViewer Greece, discussing about how TeamViewer landed in Ioannina to open an R&D office that has now more than 40 employees, the steps they took as soon as they decided to make this investment and much more.
Zoe, a London-based nutrition startup with Greek co-founder, published a really interesting research in Nature Medicine, revealing strong links between specific gut microbes, diet, and health.
A post on Forbes by Antonios Chalkiopoulos, founder & CEO of Lenses.io, about ways to achieve real-time data governance for digital businesses.
Panayotis Vryonis, previously founder & CEO of Longaccess, on how blockchains and crypto bring a new paradigm in computing, what this means and how to identify the areas it could disrupt here.
Stay safe and sane,
Greek Startup Pirate 👋