Some thoughts on SEO


“SEO” (==”Search Engine Optimization”) is a term widely used to mean “getting users to your site via organic search traffic.”  I don’t like the term at all.  For one thing, it’s been frequently associated with illicit techniques like link trading and search engine spamming.  It is also associated with consultants who don’t do much beyond very basic stuff your own developers should be able to do.   But the most pernicious aspect to the phrase is that the word “optimization” suggests that SEO is a finishing touch, something you bolt on, instead of central to the design and development of your site. Unfortunately, I think the term is so widespread that we are stuck with it.

SEO is extremely important because normal users – those who don’t live and breath technology – only type a few of their favorite websites directly into the URL bar and for everything else go to search engines, most likely Google*.  In the 90s, people talked a lot about “home pages” and “site flow.” This matters if you are getting most of your traffic from people typing in your URL directly.  For most startups, however, this isn’t the case, at least for the first few years. Instead, the flow you should be thinking about is users going to Google, typing in a keyphrase and landing on one of your internal pages.

The biggest choice you have to make when approaching SEO is whether you want to be a Google optimist or a Google pessimist**. Being an optimist means trusting that the smart people in the core algorithm team in Mountain View are doing their job well – that, in general, good content rises to the top.

The best way to be a Google optimist is to think of search engines as information marketplaces – matchmakers between users “demanding” information and websites “supplying” it. This means thinking hard about what users are looking for today, what they will be looking for in the future, how they express those intentions through keyphrases, where there are gaps in the supply of that information, and how you can create content and an experience to fill those gaps.

All this said, there does remain a technical, “optimization” side to SEO. Internal URL structure, text on your landing pages, and all those other things discussed by SEO consultants do matter.  Luckily, most good SEO practices are also good UI/UX practices.  Personally I like to do all of these things in house by asking our programmers and designers to include search sites like SEOMozSearch Engine Land, and Matt Cutts in their daily reading list

* I’m just going to drop the illusion here that most people optimize for anything besides Google.  ComScore says Google has ~70% market share but everyone I know gets >90% of their search traffic from Google.  At any rate, in my experience, if you optimize for Google, Bing/Yahoo will give you SEO love about a 1-6 months later.

** Even if you choose to be a pessimist, I strongly recommend you stay far away from so-called black hat techniques, especially schemes like link trading and paid text ads that are meant to trick crawlers.  Among other things, this can get your site banned for life from Google.

Next post: Does a VC’s brand matter?
Previous post: The importance of institutional redundancy

Views expressed in “content” (including posts, podcasts, videos) linked on this website or posted in social media and other platforms (collectively, “content distribution outlets”) are my own and are not the views of AH Capital Management, L.L.C. (“a16z”) or its respective affiliates. AH Capital Management is an investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Registration as an investment adviser does not imply any special skill or training. The posts are not directed to any investors or potential investors, and do not constitute an offer to sell -- or a solicitation of an offer to buy -- any securities, and may not be used or relied upon in evaluating the merits of any investment.

The content should not be construed as or relied upon in any manner as investment, legal, tax, or other advice. You should consult your own advisers as to legal, business, tax, and other related matters concerning any investment. Any projections, estimates, forecasts, targets, prospects and/or opinions expressed in these materials are subject to change without notice and may differ or be contrary to opinions expressed by others. Any charts provided here are for informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon when making any investment decision. Certain information contained in here has been obtained from third-party sources. While taken from sources believed to be reliable, I have not independently verified such information and makes no representations about the enduring accuracy of the information or its appropriateness for a given situation. The content speaks only as of the date indicated.

Under no circumstances should any posts or other information provided on this website -- or on associated content distribution outlets -- be construed as an offer soliciting the purchase or sale of any security or interest in any pooled investment vehicle sponsored, discussed, or mentioned by a16z personnel. Nor should it be construed as an offer to provide investment advisory services; an offer to invest in an a16z-managed pooled investment vehicle will be made separately and only by means of the confidential offering documents of the specific pooled investment vehicles -- which should be read in their entirety, and only to those who, among other requirements, meet certain qualifications under federal securities laws. Such investors, defined as accredited investors and qualified purchasers, are generally deemed capable of evaluating the merits and risks of prospective investments and financial matters. There can be no assurances that a16z’s investment objectives will be achieved or investment strategies will be successful. Any investment in a vehicle managed by a16z involves a high degree of risk including the risk that the entire amount invested is lost. Any investments or portfolio companies mentioned, referred to, or described are not representative of all investments in vehicles managed by a16z and there can be no assurance that the investments will be profitable or that other investments made in the future will have similar characteristics or results. A list of investments made by funds managed by a16z is available at Excluded from this list are investments for which the issuer has not provided permission for a16z to disclose publicly as well as unannounced investments in publicly traded digital assets. Past results of Andreessen Horowitz’s investments, pooled investment vehicles, or investment strategies are not necessarily indicative of future results. Please see for additional important information.