SEO for Startups – Why, How, and Tips

seo for startups chartThe term SEO for startups is interesting, as it implies that SEO is necessary for startups to succeed. And the truth is, SEO for startups is not necessarily an important factor. And we’ve seen quite a few SEO startup guides which contain old, outdated, and overly basic tips – we’ll even show you here, here, and here.

Due to the lack of a solid SEO guide for startups, we set out to create this page, which we will constantly update with the latest SEO tips for startup companies to employ. (A bit about us: we are SEO experts who launched this awesome interviews with startup founders site, so we’ve got plenty to say on the matter 🙂

SEO for Startups Topics which we discuss in our guide:

  • Does your startup need SEO?
  • What is the timeline for results and how quickly can you expect success?
  • How much should you be spending on SEO?
  • Basic SEO best practices for a startup company which has plans to become a long term brand
  • Serious SEO tips to improve your organic rankings
  • Expanding your web visibility with keyword research and content
  • Top of the funnel lead acquisition and content expansion
  • How to mesh social and paid ads with SEO
  • Beware of shady SEO agencies

Does your startup company really need SEO?

This is the first question which we internally discuss when clients approach us about “getting some SEO” for their fledgling startup companies. The reason we take this question seriously is because there would be nothing worse than taking on a client who doesn’t really need any SEO, and after 3 months the client will angrily ask us why we aren’t bringing them leads. We try to avoid such situations 🙂

If you’re a newcomer to SEO, you’re probably wondering, “Well, what sort of website doesn’t need SEO?”, and the answer is simple. Many startups are flash in the pan and need one or two solid PR campaigns to get the ball rolling. They simply need advertising to get traffic or leads, as well as awareness, and that’s it. If they are pushing an app, then they need App Store Optimization, which is much more fishy than SEO ever was.

Many startup companies don’t really have a keyword they want to rank for. In fact, many startups offer a product or service which didn’t really exist 1 year ago – this means that no one is searching in Google for the very thing they are offering! This makes SEO mostly useless for them (granted, it helps for an SEO to give their website a once over so that in the future when they do need SEO, the inevitable SEO mistakes committed in the interim aren’t too bad and are easily fixable). And because many startups need to educate the masses, this means they need PR and advertising WAYYYY before SEO should enter the equation.

TLDR for Does Your Startup Company Really Need SEO:

  • Most startups don’t need SEO at first, rather a PR burst or paid ads
  • If your ideal user base isn’t using Google to search for you product because your product/service doesn’t exist, then you will need to educate the masses via PR and ads
  • If you have a budget and expect your company to be around for a long time, then it’s worth committing to basic SEO best practices to save your company time and money down the line

What is the timeline for results and how quickly can your startup expect SEO success?

Of course, there is no stock answer to this question. But the short answer is: a long time.

The biggest sign of an SEO fraud or huckster is one who promises you fast results, ESPECIALLY if you are a brand new website. There is a thing in SEO often referred to as the Google Sandbox, which basically says that Google will artificially hold back the organic growth of a website by a few months. Reasons behind this are unclear, but there is speculation that it is due to Google wanting a good user experience for website visitors, and a brand new website will be more unfinished and have less content than your average, aged website.

However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t see results quickly, on a certain scale, for a brand new site. In fact, there are basic elements such as your brand name, which you want to rank for quickly, and ahead of your social accounts, within 2-3 weeks.

Although this is an impossible task, for the sake of a visual we will add a rough, generic timeline for what a basic, brand new, startup website would look like in terms of SEO results:

  • Day 1: Create website, social profiles
  • Day 5-14: Begin to see impressions in Search Console, but no rankings or visitors
  • Day 14-21: Brand name ranks top 5, and visitors begin to trickle in
  • Day 21-30: Website ranks #1 for brand name, and there is at least 1 organic visitor a day
  • Day 30-60: Website ranks top 20 for homepage title tag (more on that below), and website content brings in steady flow of visitors, with 100’s of impressions per week
  • Day 60-180: Assuming links are built, and content is updated 3x a week, a website will begin to see 500-2000 visitors a month, which tens of thousands of impressions. There is now enough data to make serious tweaks in regard to on-site optimization.
  • Day 180-360: Organic traffic can explode beyond 2000 visitors a month, and your homepage and main category pages will rank top 10 across Google (depending on the keyword difficulty, of course).

How much should you be spending on SEO for your startup?

The question of how much of a startup company’s budget should be allocated toward SEO is a tricky one. First off, it depends on how well funded the startup is, and can fall into two categories:

  1. Did your startup receive funding yet? If so, how much was allocated toward the marketing budget?
  2. Are you a bootstrapped startup with just 1-2 employees?

If you are flush with funding, then let’s talk numbers. Say you have a $2k a month marketing budget, which is on top of your hypothetical salary. We would break it down to the following:

  • Social Media: in house
  • Paid Ad and Social Ads: $500
  • SEO: $500
  • Content: in house
  • PR: $1000

Yep, you read that correctly. We are SEO experts and we think that a startup would benefit more from PR than from SEO services. This is because SEO is worthless if no one finds out about your startup. There is a clock ticking aspect to a startup company. You can’t be a startup forever, right? Eventually, if your startup service or product does not succeed, then there won’t be a company anymore.

Sure, this logic can apply to many small businesses, but one cannot deny the ephemeral nature to startup companies. What good is SEO if your amazing startup remains a secret.

PR vs. SEO for startups

This battle which we just touched upon in the previous paragraph is a delicate one, and it all depends on whether your startup company’s services or product is being searched for in Google or needs some ol’ fashioned public relations in order to be found. In short, are people already searching for it, or do they need to be educated.

Now, occasionally, there may be a brand new service that users are already searching in Google for, such as “Uber for lawyers“. Uber is an extremely new concept that did not exist 3 years ago, but the Uber for X term has entered our vernacular and people are searching for it. This is an example of a startup service that although people don’t really know about, is being searched for, and serves as a case where SEO would indeed be beneficial.

But what about a product that people don’t know exists? Did you invent a bluetooth phone that works in the shower? Well, before we spend our money on PR, it would make sense to check out the search volume for this product. This can be done with Google AdWords, and it turns out there is no search volume for this product. THIS is the perfect situation to save your SEO money and burn through PR services.

Okay, well how about just a little SEO?

Okay fine, you can do a little SEO. The trick here is that even if your product falls under the category of education-required, and isn’t being searched for in Google, there are still some basic SEO aspects which can be taken care of, on a very easy to implement level so that you don’t even need to spend any money on SEO for your startup company.

At the very very least, it is important for your website to be found when people search for your company name in Google. This means 2 things:

  1. Register your startup with social profiles and make sure that each social profile (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc) all link back to the homepage of your website.
  2. Make sure that your startup website has a homepage title tag which says the brand name, and the main keyword of what your service or product is. This is because when people search for your keyword, you want to be found in Google. (Granted, it is possible that no one is searching for your keyword because it is so new, but regardless, they might search for it one day).

Paid ads vs SEO for startups

Here is another question we often get: Should we pay for SEO services for our startup company, or should we just dump that money into paid ads, which generally fall under Google AdWords and Facebook advertising (don’t forget LinkedIn and Twitter ads, which are considered to be super expensive, and wasteful, respectively).

The truth is, as we outlined above, you never want to ignore SEO, which is why we listed those 2 basic and super easy SEO tips that every startup company should execute. Beyond that, however, paid ads can indeed go a long way (so long as you have the dollars for it).

Again, going back to the notion of whether a startup product or service requires education, can impact the decision to spend money on paid ads. Paid ads is more similar to SEO in the sense that it kind of requires users to already be searching for it (Google AdWords). However, there are other social ads which can you let you play the PR angle and show your service to users who fit a particular demographic (Facebook) which does not require a user to already be searching for a keyword which they may never have thought to look for.

That is why paid ads touches on both PR and SEO for startups: Google AdWords is more similar to SEO as it pertains to the search ecosystem and is a question of ‘do users know about the product or service that we are selling and are therefore searching in Google (or even Amazon) for it?’. OR the question becomes ‘do users have no idea about our product or service, however, we think we know who the types of people are who would use our product, and then we spend money on Facebook ads to target these specific users’.

Advanced SEO strategies for startups:

If you’ve made it this far in this SEO for startups resource article, then it’s time to get advanced, and talk about how you can really stretch the organic presence of your startup company with a couple of advanced SEO strategies and tips for startups.

Make sure you get links. The reason why brand new websites take forever to rank for competitive keywords in Google is because they don’t have any links pointing to them. Google weighs the strength of websites via the number and quality of links pointing to them. (The reason why Google was able to easily defeat the former search engine giants such as Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, Lycos, Dogpile, Excite, and many others, is due to this clever heuristic of essentially counting inbound links and also weighing their quality).

As it pertains to brand new websites, ie startups, it can be a difficult climb. But because PR is the name of the game when it comes to product or service based startups, you can get coverage of your startups, then the coverage will invariably include links to your startup website, which in turn boosts the strength of your website, thereby allowing you to rank for more keywords. Remember, this only really matters if your product or service is actually a thing that people know about.

More to come…

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