With so many startups struggling post-pandemic, you may wonder what you can do for your startup to attract more prospects and acquire more customers.
One of the most cost-effective ways to get more customers is to attract more visitors to your website through Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Yet, SEO is often overlooked by many startup owners for one reason or another, preferring more ‘flashy’ tactics and strategies instead.
Even the most basic SEO strategies are likely to improve your startup’s online presence and help you generate more leads. Again, it’s among the most affordable marketing investment you can make, which should be a consideration, especially for startups that often struggle with a limited budget.
In this guide, we’ll discuss all you need to know about implementing SEO for startups, and by the end of this guide, you’d have learned about:
- The importance of SEO for startups
- What makes SEO implementation in startups unique
- Challenges in implementing SEO for startups
- A step-by-step guide to startup SEO
With that being said, let us start this guide with the basics: what actually is SEO?
Why Should Startup Owners Care About SEO: An introduction
What is SEO?
Most of us should be familiar with what SEO stands for: Search Engine Optimization. Yet, what actually is it?
As the name suggests, SEO is essentially a series of optimizations made on your website and its content to persuade search engines (mainly Google, but also others like Yahoo, Bing, etc.) so they’ll recommend your page to their users by ranking it higher on their search results pages.
SEO is not about cheating or tricking the search engine algorithms but rather aligning your website’s content with the search engine’s objectives.
What are those objectives? According to Google, the objectives related to SEO are:
- Delivering the most relevant and reliable information. Making sure search engine users get the information they’re looking for
- Maximize access to information. Making sure information is available to everyone. Content isn’t removed
- Present information in the most useful way. Content shouldn’t only be relevant but useful and actionable
Thus, in SEO, optimizations on your website should be made to ensure:
- Relevance. Your content should meet its audience’s search intent
- Usefulness. Your content should be factual, well-researched, and valuable
- Accessible. Your website should be accessible with optimal user experience and should be crawlable by Google’s bots
To achieve these, SEO optimizations are made in four different layers: content optimization, technical SEO, on-page SEO, and off-page SEO. We will discuss them one by one further below.
Four layers of SEO
In order to “convince” the search engine algorithm, the website should be optimized in a comprehensive way in these four different layers:
- Content optimization
The first, and arguably most important optimization is to optimize the website’s content to ensure:
- It naturally includes the target keyword and related phrases throughout the content
- The content is properly aligned with the searcher’s intent
- It contains relevant and valuable information for the searchers
2. Technical SEO
The objective of technical SEO is to optimize the technical aspect of the website as much as possible to make sure of two things:
- The relevant pages of the website can be properly crawled, indexed, and accurately recognized by the search engines’ bots
- Optimal readability and user experience
The website must be properly optimized not only to meet the search engine algorithm’s preferences but also to make sure it meets the human readers’ needs.
Some of the most important technical optimizations include ensuring mobile-friendliness, optimal page speed, structured data, indexing, and website security.
3. On-page SEO
On-page optimizations are focused on ensuring the search engine algorithm properly understands the website’s content and its context.
On-page SEO mainly involves the natural inclusion of keyword phrases in title, meta description, image alt tags, and throughout the body of the content.
4. Off-page SEO
The main focus of off-page SEO is to build the website’s authority.
This is mainly achieved by acquiring high-quality backlinks to the website (link building), but also other tactics like PR, gaining reviews from previous clients/customers, and other similar tactics outside the website (hence, off-page.)
Further below, when we discuss a step-by-step guide to startup SEO, we will once again cover these four layers of SEO.
Why is SEO important for startup businesses?
SEO can benefit startup businesses in two main ways:
In today’s social media age, the majority of people now rely on the internet and especially search engines (i.e., Google) when finding new businesses or purchasing things.
They will search online for online reviews and even competing products to make sure they are purchasing the most ideal option and if the business they are dealing with is trustworthy.
Meaning, if your startup business or your product/service can’t be found on Google and other search engines, you are not visible to your target audience.
If you’re not doing SEO, in their eyes, your startup doesn’t exist, so you’ll potentially miss out on leads and sales opportunities every single day.
The second consideration of why SEO is important for startups is its affordability.
Most startups struggle with limited or even non-existent marketing budgets, especially in their earlier lifecycle. On the other hand, SEO is among the most affordable marketing channels available, and theoretically, you can do it for 100% free.
SEO can be a very cost-effective way for startups to build a sustainable source of leads and customers, so it should be considered a viable option in any startup’s digital marketing strategy.
SEO for startups: challenges to consider
Although implementing SEO will be highly beneficial for startups—as discussed above—it doesn’t mean you won’t need a solid SEO strategy to ensure success.
Below are some important challenges to consider when planning and implementing an SEO campaign for your startup:
- Longer timeline
A very common mistake by those who aren’t yet familiar with SEO is to expect quick results.
Instead, when planning your SEO campaign for startups, it’s very important to have the right expectation that SEO is a long-term game.
Although, in some cases, you can get quick results in SEO and get your website to rank on the top 10 Google results relatively quickly; typically, it will take you some time.
Realistically, you should expect to wait 6-12 months for any SEO campaign before you can see significant results. Not to mention, consistent implementation of the SEO strategy should be maintained throughout this period, which can further add to the challenge. You will need to consistently produce great content, keep optimizing your website, and keep building high-quality links during this time.
However, despite this long timeline, successful SEO will also produce sustainable results that can last for a long time, even after you’ve stopped investing in the campaign. When one of your pages successfully ranks in the top 3 spots, for example, it will continue to attract organic visitors to your website for months or even years to come.
Although, as discussed, SEO is one of the most affordable marketing channels available, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare and allocate any budget.
When planning your SEO campaign for your startup, it’s important to consider potential expenses in several areas, including but not limited to:
- Content production. A core aspect of any SEO strategy is the consistent publication of high-quality, keyword-optimized, and authentic content. While technically, you can do it by yourself for free, most likely, you’ll need to spend some money on content creation.
- Content promotion. No matter how well-written and optimized your content is, it won’t bring much value to your SEO campaign if no one knows about it. You’ll ideally need to allocate some budget to promote your content through various channels like social media, influencer marketing, forums, press releases, and more.
- Technology infrastructure. You may need to invest in relevant technology solutions to aid your SEO campaign, like keyword research too, backlink analysis/link profile tools, and so on. While there are various free tools available, it’s best to prepare and allocate your budget to invest in high-quality tools.
- Link building. Although technically, link building should be organic (and free), in practice, you may need to spend some money in order to get backlinks from high-quality websites.
3. Scam/low-quality SEO companies
Startup companies may be tempted to hire SEO agencies and digital marketing companies to help them plan and execute their SEO campaigns.
The thing is, there are so many fake/scam and low-quality SEO companies available, and if you are not careful, partnering with these companies may cost your startup in many different ways.
For example, if you happen to hire an SEO company that relies on black hat tactics and fraudulent link-building schemes, your site may be penalized by Google, which can hurt its ranking for a long time and even permanently.
If an SEO company promises quick results within a month or even weeks, it’s a major red flag, and you better steer clear of it.
If you’re planning to work with an SEO company or a digital marketing agency, make sure to take enough time to analyze the prospective companies. Make sure they are trustworthy and credible before committing to them.
A step-by-step guide to startup SEO
It’s common for startup companies to be complete SEO first-timers and thus will need to start from scratch when planning their SEO campaigns. This is where this roadmap can help, and you can follow the following steps to establish a strong foundation for your SEO campaign:
Step 1: Define your SEO goals
The first and one of the most important steps in planning your startup SEO campaign is to define clear and specific goals for your SEO campaign.
Knowing your goals can help you when planning the next direction of your SEO campaign, and the more specific and measurable these goals are, the better.
When defining your SEO goals, consider the following:
- Your goal should be significant enough but must remain realistic/attainable. Keeping your goals attainable is important in maintaining your team’s morale throughout the duration of your SEO campaign. On the other hand, if the goal is not ambitious enough, keeping your team engaged can be difficult.
- Don’t try to achieve too many things at once. Stay focused on doing one thing before moving on to another one.
- Again, SEO is a long-term game. Don’t get discouraged when things don’t work out as planned initially. Evaluate, adjust, and try again.
- Keep monitoring your progress against each goal, and stay organized. Keep track of everything related to this progress. For example, document any changes and adjustments made throughout various stages of your SEO campaign. Also, document increases in ranking and organic traffic, as well as other metrics.
Keep in mind that search ranking should not be your SEO end goal. Ranking alone won’t mean anything unless it can help you generate more organic traffic. Search ranking is just a means to generating organic traffic, which in turn, will help you achieve your specific end goal, such as:
- Increase lead generation from organic traffic by 20% within 6 months
- Achieve $5,000 in sales from organic traffic within three months
- Increase organic engagement rate by 20% in a year
Step 2: Conduct an SEO audit
Once you’ve defined your goals, the next step you should take is to conduct an SEO audit on your website.
The objective of this SEO audit is to assess your website and digital infrastructure performance against your planned SEO objectives. You’ll use this audit’s results to plan your SEO strategy accordingly.
You can use tools like SEMRush to perform a comprehensive site audit or do it manually on your own. Nevertheless, your SEO audit should cover the assessment of the following areas:
- Content: how content is published site-wide, length and quality of each content, image links on each page, potential duplicate content issues, keyword optimization of each content, etc.
- Domain: domain name, age, history, and other factors
- On-page optimizations: headline tags, meta description, potential keyword cannibalization, user engagement (dwell time, bounce rate, etc.) factors, and more.
- Website structure: structured data markup, site architecture, etc.
- Technical SEO factors: crawlability issues (i.e., robots.txt issue), sitemap issues, etc.
- Website updates: how frequently the website is being updated and potential issues that can occur in the update process
Gather as much information as possible with the site audit, and we are going to use this data to define your organic search baseline: how visible your website is now in front of the search engines’ algorithms.
Step 3: Set up measurement and analytics
Once you’ve defined your objectives and performed a set audit, you can define the relevant metrics and KPIs that can help you achieve these objectives.
For example, if your SEO objective is to increase lead generation, then website traffic and the number of leads generated from organic traffic can be the metrics to measure.
The most common search analytics you should set up are Google Analytics and Bing Webmasters Tools—both are free—, and below we’ll share how to set up these tools.
Setting up Google Analytics
- Go here to create a Google Analytics account (for free)
- Create a “property” (your website’s information)
- Set up the “reporting view” in your property based on your goals. For example, you can set up one “view” to filter out all internal traffic or another to include only activity from a specific page (to monitor this page’s performance.)
- Insert a tracking code into your website’s source code by following the on-screen instructions. Your tracking code should always be placed just after the website’s opening <head> tag. Furthermore, you can follow this guide from Google on how to filter different “views” according to your needs.
Your “view” is ready, and you can start viewing data.
Setting up Bing Webmaster Tools
- Go here to sign up for a Bing Webmaster Tools account. You can use an existing Microsoft, Google, or Facebook account for this purpose
- Add your startup’s website to the newly created account
- Verify that you are the website’s owner. Microsoft allows three main ways of doing this: via an XML file, meta tag, or adding a CNAME record to the domain’s DNS.
- Add your sitemaps as needed. Bing supports different sitemap formats:
- XML Sitemaps and XML Sitemap index files
- Atom 0.3 and 1.0
- RSS 2.0
- Text files (one URL per line)
You can start using the Bing Webmaster Tools. You will get automated SEO Reports for any verified domain in your account every alternate week, in which you’ll get suggestions about which areas in your website you should optimize to improve its search engine ranking.
Step 4: Keyword research
Target keyword(s) should be the core of any effective SEO strategy, and whether you are targeting the right keywords will literally make or break your campaign’s success.
In SEO, keywords refer to any words or phrases the searcher inputs into the search engine (i.e., Google or Bing,) and the purpose of keyword research is to identify the keywords that:
- Align with your website’s content and is relevant to your startup’s business
- Match your target audience’s search intent and is relevant to your target audience’s needs. This is mainly identified by measuring search volume.
- Are feasible to pursue according to your available budget and timeline. Even if a keyword is very popular and theoretically very valuable for your business, it might not worth targeting if the competition is too tight.
You can use various SEO tools and keyword research tools like SEMRush, Ahrefs, or others to assist your keyword research, and here are a few tips on how you can conduct effective keyword research for your startup’s SEO campaign:
- Leverage Google Suggests
Google Suggest is a function of Google Search and a part of its algorithm that provides suggestions for users while they are typing their search query into the search box. It acts similarly to the autocomplete function in forms, or it may add more letters and words to the original search query.
These suggestions are made by Google’s algorithm by learning their users’ search behaviors. Thus, you can actually leverage it to find new potential keyword opportunities that your target audience may search for.
You can do it by:
- Start by building a list of general keywords that are relevant to your brand/product/service
- Type these keywords into Google’s search box
- See what Google “suggests” in the search box
You’ll notice that Google suggests a list of additional long-tail keywords that are related to the general keywords you’ve inputted, and you can add potential keywords and phrases as you see fit.
Google continuously updates its list of suggestions every couple of weeks or so, so you can actually use this approach periodically to continue building your list of target keywords.
An additional tip is that you can use the underscore ( _ ) character anywhere in your key phrase to look for suggestions for keywords that are in the middle or at the beginning of the phrase. This is often referred to as “Wildcards.
For example, when you search for “2023 _ fashion,” you can get a suggestion like this:
- Identify your competitors’ target keywords
One of the most effective yet often underutilized keyword research methods is to look at the keywords your competitors are currently targeting, especially direct competitors with whom you are fighting for the same target audience’s attention.
Fortunately, you can use Google’s Keyword Planner tool to easily do this:
- Go to Google Ads’ Keyword Planner tool
- Log in to your Google Ads account
- Choose “ Search for new keywords using a phrase, website, or category”
- Instead of inputting your own website URL, enter your competitor’s URL
Voila, Google will then provide you with a list of keywords and topics on this competitor’s site, complete with metrics like average monthly searches, competition level, and so on.
Furthermore, you can click on “Ad group ideas,” and Google will return with the keywords and phrases that this specific competitor is targeting on this website.
With this, you can potentially get a long list of keywords and phrases, and you can use this information either for pursuing the same keyword(s) you are confident to compete in or avoid very competitive keywords that aren’t worth investing your resources and time on.
- Leverage uncommon seed keywords
Most businesses and individuals do keyword research the same way and put too much focus on generic/broad keywords.
While there’s definitely nothing wrong with this approach, it may result in you and your competitors targeting the same keywords while there are actually opportunities elsewhere.
To tackle this issue and find these opportunities, you can start by identifying uncommon—less competitive—seed keywords.
Most keyword research tools (i.e., Ahrefs or SEMRush) provide the ability to exclude keywords containing common seeds. A good approach is to enter a popular website (including potentially your competitors’) into the keyword research tool and exclude common seeds by using the tool’s filter functionality.
Step 5: Create, publish, and promote optimized content
Now that you’ve identified your target keywords, you can start developing high-quality content to target these keywords
While content creation can be a pretty deep subject on its own, here are some general rules you can apply in developing your SEO content:
- Include the primary keyword in the H1 heading (title)
- Naturally, include the primary keyword in the page’s meta description. The meta description will be used as the snippet of your page’s search result on the SERP, so it will significantly affect the click-through rate.
- Include your target keywords naturally throughout the content. If you have a primary long-tail keyword, include it in the content’s body. Focus on making the content readable, relevant, and valuable for human readers, and don’t practice keyword stuffing.
- Spread secondary, semantically-related keywords throughout the body of the content. For example, if your primary keyword is “digital marketing,” your secondary keywords can be “digital advertising,” “social media marketing,” “SEO,” and others. In the future, you can consider creating new content pages targeting these secondary keywords linked to this former content. This is a good practice for building an optimal internal linking structure.
- Enrich your text content with other formats (i.e., images, infographics, videos, etc.) Include at least one piece of these rich formats in your content. Google and the other search engines will value this practice and may rank the page higher.
Some additional tips:
- If you are revamping old content, pay extra attention to avoid potential duplicate content issues. Make sure to upload the new content to the existing page or completely remove the older content first before creating a new page.
- Tools like PageImprove and Edge SEO can help you to update meta tags or other page elements faster. Consider leveraging these tools to ease the burden of your development team.
- If you are on WordPress or other website builders that enable the use of plug-ins, consider leveraging various SEO plug-ins to help you enhance the on-page SEO performance (i.e., Yoast SEO.)
No matter how well-written and how optimized your content is, it won’t bring value to your business—SEO performance or otherwise—if no one knows about it.
Thus, how you promote your content is just as, if not even more important, than the content creation process.
- Above anything else, optimize your content, so it’s as engaging and shareable as possible
- Explore the possibilities of using various channels to promote your content: social media, email newsletter, guest posting, content syndication, and so on.
- Make sure it’s as easy as possible to share your content on social media (i.e., adding a prominent share button)
- When using images to promote your content on social media, make sure the image used is clear, well-designed, and optimally sized
- Offer newsletter swaps with potential content partners (i.e., other businesses in your field with newsletters)
- Reaching out to relevant influencers in your niche and/or location to help promote your content
- Link other businesses/individuals in your content, and share your content with these parties. It’s likely they’ll help promote your content, at least by mentioning it on their socials
- Include internal links to your already popular (evergreen) content
Step 6: Technical optimization
The next step is to perform technical optimizations on your website to make sure your website is optimized for both search algorithms and user experience.
You can use this technical SEO checklist to start your technical optimizations, but the most important things to consider are:
- Use HTTPS
- Optimize page speed
- Fix potential crawl errors
Step 7: Link building and optimization
Backlinks remain one of the most important SEO ranking factors, so link building should be a core aspect of your overall SEO strategy.
Backlinks—or inbound links—help establish your site’s EAT (Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness.
When your site is linked by other websites—especially by high-quality and popular websites—you are getting a vote of confidence from these websites that your site is credible and trustworthy. The search engines will capture this signal and will rank websites with more high-quality inbound links higher.
So, how can you get these backlinks? There are many different approaches you can try, but here are some of the most effective ones:
- Above anything else, create linkable content. Give them a reason to link your content, like unique content, in-depth guides, aesthetically-pleasing infographics, and so on.
- Outreach. Reach out to other websites and ask for a backlink. You can leverage various link-building tools to find prospects you can reach out to.
- Broken link building. Find broken external links on other websites in your niche, and offer your content to replace these broken links. Again, there are various tools that can help you find these broken link opportunities.
By following these seven steps, you’ve established a strong SEO foundation for your startup business.
Yet, it’s important to remember that SEO is a long-term game, and you should monitor your progress regularly. It’s also important to keep up-to-date on SEO trends and news, especially updates in Google’s (and other search engines’) algorithm.
While SEO implementation may seem like a daunting task for startups, it doesn’t have to be. Start small and gradually fine-tune your strategy as you see fit.