The Step-By-Step Guide to SEO for Startups
by Mike Khorev
Building a startup company is both fun and challenging activity. There are definitely a lot of things to focus on when building a startup, from developing your products to planning a killer marketing strategy to kickstart your sales.
Yet, more often than not, startups don’t recognize SEO as an important part of their early marketing strategy. There are many reasons for this: SEO is a long-term game, SEO is difficult to apply or simply not believing that SEO is a valid strategy in 2021.
SEO can be a really effective way to get ahead of the pack, especially in the tough competitions of startup. While it’s indeed a long-term game, SEO can act as a strong building block for your startup inbound marketing strategy onwards.
In this guide, we will share several effective tips on how to implement SEO for a startup company. Before we begin, let’s discuss the benefits of SEO services for startups.
The Benefits of SEO for Startups
1. SEO is About Content, And Content is King
Your website is the modern-day equivalent to storefront, and is a really important promotional tool for your business. Now, in this competitive, content-driven world, a well-designed website won’t bring you much value without comprehensive, engaging content.
The most common misconception for startup SEO is that we are only optimizing the contents for search engines, while in fact, optimizing for human readers is equally, if not the more important aspect of SEO.
So, by practicing SEO, you will also optimize your content, one of your most valuable marketing assets.
2. SEO is Cost-Effective
Compared to other forms of digital marketing for startups such as PPC advertising, social media marketing, influencer marketing, and others, SEO for startups is a relatively more affordable option, especially in the long run.
SEO might not have a similar short-term impact as with social media or paid advertising. However, it will be a great long-term foundation for your startup’s online presence. Controlling the budget is always one of the most important aspects of a startup, and investing in a startup SEO campaign is one of the very best bet to grow your startup.
3. Search Engine Has More Market Share Than Ever
We all know that more and more people are searching for reviews and information before deciding on virtually anything nowadays. Google now processes more than 3.5 billion searches daily, and that number continues to grow.
So, skipping on SEO for your startup means you are passing out on this huge market potential. Don’t forget the fact that even more people are going to spend most of their time on their mobile devices. Search engines will be an even bigger pillar of our lives, and without organic SEO, your potential customers will have a hard time finding your business.
The three reasons stated above are not the only ones, as there are many more benefits of practicing SEO for your startup businesses. We could probably even argue that SEO is no longer a luxury marketing strategy for startup businesses, but a necessity.
So, how can we apply the best SEO practices to a startup? For the rest of this guide, we will discuss the steps you will need to take to develop an effective SEO strategy for startup businesses.
Implementing SEO for Startups: The Right Mindset
What’s the first thing that comes into mind when you heard the term ‘SEO’? It can be different for everyone. But many people still think that SEO is about cheating Google and the other search engines to rank higher.
While it may be true in the early 2000s when blackhat SEO is still prominent, it’s actually no longer the case nowadays.
Nevertheless, there are still many misconceptions about startup SEO, and before we begin, we must address at least some of the important ones:
SEO is not a get-rich-quick scheme to cheat the search engine
There are, indeed, black hat SEO tactics that can give you short-term results. However, they are very risky and can get you penalized by Google, even got banned from ranking altogether.
Instead, you should change your perception that SEO for startups is a long-term, organic strategy. You might need to invest at least 6 to 12 months before seeing any results, but the results will indeed pay off.
SEO is not always about ranking
Too many startup SEO practitioners are too fixated on getting high search engine rankings, and solely that. Yet, being the first-ranked site won’t mean too much if you don’t get your investments back in the form of traffic, and ultimately, conversion.
But isn’t getting ranked high the way to get traffic? Yes, but not always. There are high-ranking sites with high bounce rates, and so they are losing potential leads. There are also sites with enough traffic, but nobody’s actually buying their products or services.
So, when you set up your startup goal(s) for SEO, avoid fixating too much on ranking, it is just a vanity metric. Instead, focus on your end goals: traffic, conversion and revenue.
SEO is NOT dead
Ah, this is also a common misconception. Almost every year, you will most likely stumble upon an article or two proclaiming the death of SEO, and quite often they are tied to a certain Google algorithm update or another.
Guess what? SEO is still living and breathing, and some might even argue that SEO is stronger than ever. There is, however, some truth in that statement, that SEO is always changing. So, a strategy that works in 2020 might need to change in 2021 and beyond. However, the good news is, as long as you are following the SEO strategy outlined here, you won’t need to worry about doing major changes every time an algorithm update is implemented.
In short, as long as you do SEO best practices, you are fine in the long run.
Step By Step Guide to Implementing SEO for Startups
Step 1: Defining Your Objectives
As discussed above, SERP ranking shouldn’t be the only goal of your startup SEO campaign, as most of the time, it can be misleading as a vanity metric.
Defining a clear and proper SEO objective is very important so you can adjust your priority in implementing the SEO campaign – which as discussed, is a long-term game. Knowing your SEO objectives alone can significantly save time and resources while maximizing ROI.
The general principle is that your SEO objectives should align well with your marketing goals and your startup business’s overall objectives. While the ideal objective(s) might vary depending on many different factors, here are some common SEO goals to consider:
- Increasing organic traffic: more visitors to your website would equal more opportunities to convert them into prospects and customers.
- Lead generation for startups: your content should be focused on how you can encourage as many people as possible to submit their contact information (email address). Lead generation should also be a part of your startup customer acquisition strategy.
- Brand awareness: pretty self-explanatory, getting more people to know your brand by attracting them to your content
- Sales: especially if you are an eCommerce business performing direct sales on your site, with this objective you can focus on driving relevant traffic to maximize transactional sales.
- Customer service: targeting individuals that might need specific help/solution with your content to provide value.
- Reputation management: ensuring your startup company ranks on top of branded keywords to maintain a positive reputation and ‘bury’ negative content.
Define your objectives, and make sure your objectives are clear, specific, and measurable so you can integrate these objectives in the next steps.
Step 2: Keyword Research
The next thing you will need to work on is finding your target keywords. There are several different approaches to achieve this: you can do a bit of competitive analysis, and look at the keywords your main competitors are targeting. You can also target keywords based on your customer’s behaviors, or other approaches.
In general, there are three main principles in performing your keyword research:
- Your target keyword should be relevant to your target audience. This is mainly done by measuring the monthly search volume for a specific keyword.
- The target keyword must be relevant for your brand/product/service. Not all keywords that are popular for your target audience are going to be relevant to your startup business
- Depending on your available budget and timeline, the competition for this target keyword must be realistic. The more popular the keyword is, the more competitive it would be. It might not be financially feasible to focus on overly-popular keywords.
Step 3: Content Planning
Next, plan your content based on your target keywords. There was a time when ‘content’ for SEO is just stuffing the keywords into an article, but that is no longer the case. To succeed, you will need to deliver content that gives value to your audience.
Content marketing for SEO is now about the consistent publication (both in quantity and quality) of your content. If you can consistently publish high-quality content, Google will perceive your site as credible and trustworthy and will recommend your content to rank on their SERPs.
It’s very important to understand that although we are developing SEO content, we shouldn’t blindly focus on ‘pleasing’ the search engine, for example by including too many keywords in our content. Instead, the focus should be to provide value for your human readers.
Although content marketing for startups can be a tough subject to discuss, here are some important principles to follow:
- Obviously, the main optimization here is to include your target keywords in the content, and there are two key things to understand:
- Include your keywords naturally. Again, focus on making the content as comprehensive and natural as possible for your target audience
- Pay attention to the potential search intent of the keyword, and develop your content to satisfy this search intent
- Do a quick Google search of your target keyword, and check the top-ranking pages. Your aim is to either create better content than these pages or cover the topic from a different angle and create something really unique.
- Optimize your content’s structure both in the eyes of human readers and the search engine’s algorithms. That is, optimize the readability of each content, and maintain a good internal linking structure. Also, implement structured data markup to help with indexing and for your content to be eligible as a rich/featured snippet.
Step 4: Technical Optimization
The next step is to optimize the technical aspect of on-site SEO for startups, and there are two main objectives of this step:
- To make sure Google (or the other search engines) can index your site properly and recognize all the different elements on your site correctly
- To improve the readability and user experience of your content and website in general, with the goal to keep your visitors as long as possible on your site.
Allimitedly, optimizing all the different technical factors can be overwhelming, especially for beginners. You can check our previous guide of technical SEO checklist here, but on this occasion, we will list the important ones you will need to focus on:
- XML Sitemap: Having the proper sitemap is essential so that Google can properly index your site. There are several tools available to achieve this and don’t forget to submit your sitemap to Google Webmaster Central.
- Title Tags: Include your focus keyword in your title tags, and make it interesting enough for your user to click. Remember that every single title tag must be unique.
- Meta Description: Meta descriptions are not a direct ranking signal. Yet, it will improve your click-through rate (CTR) which is a ranking signal. So, your focus in writing meta descriptions should be your human readers. Make them interesting and unique.
- Heading and Subheading: Not only using proper headings will make the content easier to read, it will also make it easier to sparse by search engines.
- Page load speed: According to Google, if your page loads in more than three seconds, more than 50% of your visitors will bounce. Analyze your site using Google’s PageSpeed Insights, and optimize load speed as much as possible.
- Mobile-friendliness: it’s no secret that nowadays, Google prioritizes mobile-friendly/mobile-responsive sites to rank on their SERP. Make sure your site is mobile-responsive, and test in as many devices as possible.
- HTTPS: If you haven’t already, make sure to migrate your site to HTTPS rather than HTTP (SSL certificate). Google may block your site in Chrome if you aren’t yet using HTTP.
- Crawl Errors: Use Google Search Console to analyze your site and fix any existing crawl errors.
Also, unless it’s absolutely necessary, avoid using sub-domains in your startup’s website setup. Google might recognize your subdomains as separate entities, and thus will require separate optimizations. It’s better to use subfolders in this case, if you still need the organization’s purpose.
Step 5: Link Building
Now that you’ve done the basics of on-site optimization, it’s time to start moving your focus off-site. Think of it this way: on-site SEO is, essentially, creating content with the right focus keyword and proper structure. Off-site SEO for startups, on the other hand, is putting your content out there and getting people to endorse your content in the form of backlink.
A backlink can be thought of as a vote of confidence on the internet: when a sitel links your page, they are saying that the content on this specific page is trustworthy. However, it’s important to understand that today, the quality of backlinks is more important than quality: a backlink coming from authoritative sites that are relevant to your niche will be worth more than a link from a brand new blog that is totally unrelated to what you sell or do.
However, obviously getting these high-quality backlinks can be easier said than done, but here are a few link building tips you can try:
- The main principle is to create high-quality content: if your content is valuable and well-promoted, you’ll get these backlinks sooner than later. Promote your content using all available marketing channels while aiming to get backlinks in the process.
- Give them a reason to link your content, which can be something like:
- Unique information/data not available anywhere else, for example in the case of original research report, etc.
- Data roundup posts where you list a lot of useful data/statistics in a page
- Aesthetically-pleasing content, like a well-taken photo or infographic
- An original, attractive story
- Collaborate with other websites on your niche/industry, the more influential they are, the better.
- Be active on your social media channels, and frequently link to quality contents
- If you are a brick and mortar startup, build your local citations and reviews. Check the detailed guide on link building for startups and my SEO services for startup companies.
Step 6: Evaluate and Re-optimize
The last (but not least) step here is to evaluate your SEO progress so far and make the necessary adjustment.
Since, again, startup SEO is a long-term project, then monitoring your progress is a very important thing to do, and most likely you’ll need to make adjustments and re-optimization along the way. Especially evaluate the following metrics:
- Ranking: pretty obvious, even though you haven’t reached the top spots or even the first page of SERP yet, you should check if your page is moving upwards the SERP gradually
- Organic traffic: in general, your site’s organic traffic should go hand-in-hand with your increase/decrease in ranking. If, for example, your ranking goes up but you have a decline in organic traffic, then you should check the other metrics for possible issues
- Conversion rate: the ‘conversion’ here would vary depending on your site, it can be email signups, form submissions, or even transactions.
- Link profile: check for new backlinks and referring domains, also check you competitors’ link profile to find link building opportunities and possible gaps in your strategy
- Local metrics: if you are also implementing local SEO (i.e. if you are a brick and mortar startup business), then you should check metrics like Google Maps ranking, number of local citations, session location, and so on
Adjust your strategy based on the evaluation, and don’t forget to check the latest startup SEO trends and updates, especially algorithm updates. Don’t be afraid to update or even revamp your content if necessary, for example if you can include more up-to-date information. In fact, Google tend to prioritize fresh content in its SERP.
End Words: Do’s and Don’ts
Implementing SEO for startups might not be a simple task, especially if you are completely new to SEO. However, by following our step-by-step above, you will have a strong building block on your journey ahead.
To close this guide, we will share several do’s and don’ts as you start implementing your SEO.
- Track your progress, and pivot when necessary
- Put professional SEO consultant in charge of your strategy, or outsource it to an agency
- SEO is always changing. So, keep yourself up-to-date with the latest tactics and knowledge base
- Duplicate content, or keyword-stuffed content
- Never pay for links, ever
- Never build links with spammy methods: forum comments, blog comments, posting on low-quality sites
January 15, 2022