SEO is one of those marketing channels that some companies swear by, and others never even test.
But, if you’re a startup looking for reliable growth channels, it’s hard to beat SEO.
You can leverage the power of Google (and other search engines) to show your brand and content to people who have questions you can answer, or who are interested in topics you can help them learn more about.
That said, there’s a lot of noise in the SEO industry. It’s easy to get confused if you’re just starting to explore it. For most startups, the key is to keep things simple, and stay focused.
In this guide, we’re going to help you cut through that noise and get actionable tips to see success with SEO at your startup.
We’ll show you:
- Reasons to consider SEO
- How to build strong foundations
- How to create an SEO strategy
- How to identify keyword opportunities
- Ways to find guest post opportunities
- Tools to help you plan and measure results
Let’s dive in.
Table of Contents
- What Exactly is SEO?
- Should Startups Invest in SEO?
- Examples of SEO Working for Startups
- Define Your Goals - What Do You Care About?
- Building Strong Foundations
- How Much Should a Startup Spend on SEO?
- How to Quickly Find Keyword Opportunities
- Expanding Your Reach with Guest Posting
- Managing Your SEO Strategy
- Tracking Your SEO Results
- Wrapping Up
What Exactly is SEO?
SEO in itself is a broad term. It stands for Search Engine Optimization, but is commonly used in a few different ways.
For the purpose of most startups, SEO is the way you drive traffic to your website from Google (and other search engines).
Common ways to do this are to write blog posts, create landing pages, and publish useful videos on YouTube. In this post, we’ll show you actionable ways to generate content ideas and grow your organic traffic using these methods.
Then, there’s the technical side of SEO.
For most startups, this won’t be a major focus. But, you do need to make sure your website is set up correctly, and you’re not doing anything that will hurt Google’s ability to index your pages and blog posts.
We’ll show you how to build strong technical foundations and identify problems that could hurt your results.
Should Startups Invest in SEO?
Not all startups need SEO. In fact, most probably find their initial traction through other strategies.
But if you’re looking for growth strategies that will compound in the long run and deliver ongoing results, SEO is worth considering.
Here are some of the key benefits:
- Long term, compounding growth
- Create strong technical website foundations
- Get found by problem-aware buyers
That said, there are a few potential barriers:
- Expensive in the short term as costs (time and money) are upfront
- Hard to do without specific knowledge
- May need to hire team members or work with freelancers and agencies to scale
- Easy to waste money if you don’t have a plan
Examples of SEO Working for Startups
There are hundreds of startups who have proven that:
- SEO works
- It’s a sustainable growth channel
- You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to see results
But, it’s always useful to see examples of companies that have generated real results for yourself. You’ll be able to take a look at their websites and blogs, see the standards of content they’re creating, and reverse-engineer your own strategy and goals based on those.
Let’s take a look at some examples.
Zapier is a tool that connects web apps together to help people automate tasks without coding.
SEO was a key part of their growth strategy, and they’re not seeing over 1.5M visits from Google every month.
HubSpot essentially invented the ‘inbound marketing’ term as we know it.
They’ve been publishing high-quality content to attract relevant visitors to their site for years, and still are today.
They’re currently getting over 8M organic visits every single month, and that number is continuing to grow.
3. Help Scout
Help Scout ramped up their content production to rank for terms relevant to their business, like “customer service”, “customer service skills”, and “customer satisfaction survey” (to name a few).
They only started seeing results in January 2019, but quickly scaled up, proving you didn’t have to start ten years ago if you want to see results.
Their relentless focus on high-quality content has led to them seeing over 130,000 monthly visitors from search, and is a major pillar of their growth.
Define Your Goals - What Do You Care About?
The SEO strategy you create will define your activity, and eventually, the results you get from it.
For most startups, the goal is going to be attracting more customers and building awareness simultaneously.
Luckily, that’s relatively easy with SEO.
We’re going to get more in-depth on this later, but during your initial strategy period, define some rough goals.
These could include:
- Grow blog traffic to 20,000 page views per month
- Publish eight articles per month
- Be seen as the experts on [the problem your startup solves]
Setting goals like these for your team will help you build systems to achieve them in a simple way.
If you tell your Head of Marketing or Content Manager that you want to ‘start with SEO’, they won’t know how much time or energy to invest, and it won’t become a priority.
Building Strong Foundations
Most startups shouldn’t focus too heavily on technical SEO.
As long as your website is technically sound and the structure makes sense, you’ll find more wins from publishing new content than optimizing page speed to save 0.01s of loading time.
That said, a strong foundation is important if you want to see results. No matter how good your content is, people won’t want to read it if your site loads too slowly or isn’t mobile-friendly.
Data from Google shows that as page load time goes from just 1 to 3 seconds, the probability of a visitor bouncing increases by 32%.
Here are some steps you should take to ensure your site runs well and you don’t miss opportunities.
Audit your website with a tool like SiteGuru.
SiteGuru analyzes your website and in just a few minutes you’ll be able to spot errors that could hurt your SEO efforts, such as:
- Slow loading pages
- Broken links
- Missing or suboptimal meta tags
- Find duplicate content
Usually, you’ll find a variety of easy fixes. These small fixes add up, so it’s worth doing.
You’ll also see pointers on things that are easy to forget about, like adding alt tags for accessibility, problems with your sitemap, or finding pages that aren’t linked from the rest of your site.
The good thing about making technical fixes is that once you’ve made them, you’ll be able to forget about them for a while.
Just set a regular schedule to review your site using a tool like SiteGuru, for example, once a month. Most startups shouldn’t be spending hours every week on fixes that may not have a big effect on increasing traffic or conversions, so keep that in mind.
You can also use Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool to run checks on your site to find ways to speed up your site.
You may need developer time to make some of these fixes, so prioritize based on the potential savings to page load time they bring.
How Much Should a Startup Spend on SEO?
Cost will clearly be an important factor in how quickly and effectively you can scale your SEO. But, the question is loaded – there’s no correct answer.
I’d recommend treating it like any other marketing channel. Set your goals, define your budgets, and execute to that level.
Once you start seeing results, you can re-invest knowing that your strategy is working.
However, there is one main difference that will affect the perception of the costs of building an SEO engine.
Unlike with paid ads, the cost of SEO is essentially all upfront.
The technical optimization of your website will be done when you’re building it.
The blog posts you publish will need to be written by someone in-house or externally, and paid for.
However, this doesn’t mean it’s necessarily more expensive than other channels.
The content you create (blog posts, videos, landing pages) will all be what’s commonly referred to as “evergreen”. They’ll be just as relevant in six months as they are today.
They’ll live on your site or marketing channels, and compound in effectiveness over time as they start to rank for important terms.
When creating your budget, keep in mind that it’s usually better to spend more on higher-quality assets than to get things done poorly, as you’ll end up needing to re-do those or spend hours editing them before publishing them.
How to Quickly Find Keyword Opportunities
One of the first steps in your SEO journey will be to identify the keywords and search terms you want to go after.
These will vary greatly depending on your business. But, they’re essentially the phrases people search in Google to find solutions like yours, or the queries they use when looking to solve a problem they have.
Keyword Research Tools
You’ll be able to add your main keyword to them and see what people are searching using that word.
For example, if your business sells email marketing software, adding “email marketing” as a keyword will show you a list of terms related to that.
Usually, you’ll see results like:
- Best email marketing software
- What is email marketing software
- Email marketing software for SaaS
You can then map those keywords to content ideas. For example, you might want to write a blog post for the first two results, and create a landing page targeting the third keyword.
Look up your main keyword, and find relevant long-tail opportunities with less competition.
For startups, focusing on these lower competition keywords will help you get more traffic without needing to compete with the big players with bigger budgets.
Find Common Searches on Google
Another simple way to find ideas is to head to Google and run a search for your main keyword.
At the bottom of the page, you’ll see the “Searches related to” section.
This will list commonly asked, related queries that people are looking for.
It’s a fast and simple way to find content ideas related to your main topic.
Answer The Public
Similar to a Google Search, AnswerThePublic is a nice tool that will help you discover commonly asked questions that you can answer in blog posts and videos.
Add your main keyword or topic in, run a search, and you’ll see all the common questions people are searching for.
For example, in the search below for “email marketing”, we can see questions like:
- How email marketing works
- How can email marketing improve sales
- Which email marketing service is the best
These are all questions that you could answer with a helpful blog post. The traffic will be qualified as it’s closely related to your business.
Find Questions on Quora
Quora is a goldmine for questions to answer in blog posts that will drive qualified traffic.
Run a search for your main keyword, and you’ll see a list of questions people are asking.
You can also answer questions directly, linking to your more detailed articles and blog posts on the topic, which is a great way to drive traffic to your site.
To help prioritize the ideas, filter the questions by the number of views they have. The more they’re viewed, the more people are searching for them and landing on them.
Expanding Your Reach with Guest Posting
Backlink building is a tedious and time-consuming process. There are a variety of ways to buy paid link placements on sites, but this isn’t a good way to build links. Google doesn’t look fondly on buying links.
Instead, consider guest posting on businesses with similar audiences to your own.
Guest posting is simple – reach out to a company you like, and ask if they’re accepting guest posts (and on what topics).
Usually, companies will be happy to accept high-quality content as long as it adds value to their audience.
Brian Dean of Backlinko has a great post on finding guest post opportunities here.
Guest posting isn’t a silver bullet, and it will take time.
But, it’s a great way to join forces with established companies with similar customers to yours, get in front of new audiences, and build backlinks to your website.
To track results, you can use a tool like Linkody.
It allows you to accurately track the success of your link building efforts, as well as running competitor analysis to find opportunities for guest posting and other link building opportunities.
Managing Your SEO Strategy
If you’re scaling your SEO efforts and creating content regularly, you’ll need a project management tool to help your team stay focused.
We recommend ClickUp (available on onetool). You can easily create task lists or boards, add team members to tasks, set due dates, and see an overview of everything going on.
If you’re working with freelance writers to write your blog content, you can add them to the board as well so they know what to work on, and what content is in the pipeline.
It’s a great alternative to other tools like Trello and Asana, and it’s packed with useful features to help you manage your content and SEO workflow.
Tracking Your SEO Results
A key reason most startups don’t invest in SEO is because it doesn’t deliver overnight results.
Expect to wait 2-6 months for results to start kicking in, even if you’re creating truly awesome content.
To see how your results are progressing, you can use your own Google Analytics and Search Console account. These are completely free and help you see real data in a simple, digestible way.
Search Console’s Performance report will show you the exact keywords your pages are ranking for, the average position you’re ranking in, and how many impressions and clicks you’re getting from organic search.
If you’re looking to get more granular and see how you compare to your competitors, Morningscore is a great option.
You’ll be able to see how your site ranks for specific keywords, and compare your ranking with your main competitors.
You can use that data to inform your own SEO strategy.
For example, you’ll be able to see what type of content your competitors are creating if it’s ranking above you, and use that to make relevant updates and optimizations to your content.
SEO is an awesome growth channel for startups.
But, you need to be patient, and be ready to invest in it for the long term.
It can take time to see results, but if you build a solid process, optimize your website’s health, and consistently create great content, you will see results.
You’ll be able to track results in your own Google Analytics and Search Console accounts, or use an accurate rank tracker and research tool like Morningscore to make important data easy-to-read and actionable.