SEO can be a complicated “affair”, even for well-established businesses. But when it comes to startups, they might even shy away from Search engine optimization for the sake of limited funds. However, SEO is not a place where you can cut a few corners and still succeed. Google has proved that it doesn’t like low-quality backlinks, aggressive pop-ups or the prioritization of monetization over user experience.
However, you might ask yourself, is there a difference between SEO for startups and regular SEO? The answer is no. There is no inherent difference, Google won’t go any easier on you if you are a startup. However, the scale of things is a little different and the challenge is bigger. You’ll have to grow quickly on a small budget.
However, before we dive in some great examples of how SEO can help startups and why it’s crucial to have a proper SEO strategy as a startup, let’s look in this trendy word which many people might think it means “tech company with less than 100 people”.
The truth is, not every small business is a startup, and a lot of people these days make this conceptual mistake of confusing small businesses and even well-established corporations with startups.
According to the Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Steve Blank, a startup provides a unique vision and product, creates a different kind of business model in terms of customers, distributions and finance. In Steve Blank’s words, “a startup is a temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model”.
Simply put, a startup needs to bring forth something revolutionary, to conceptualize and apply a whole new product, business, distribution model apart from what is on the market at the moment. More simply put, a startup needs to bring something revolutionary new to the world and find ways of making it a solid scalable business in the long term.
As an example, startups can be worth more than they actually make at a given time. For example, back in 2002, Google was a $3-billion-worth startup which refused to sell to Yahoo and grew up to become the giant of today.
Facebook scaled an interesting business model that resembles an ecosystem in which each new feature has the potential of a startup. The Messenger is a strong example. Facebook’s chat function is now an independent and co-dependent chat app belonging to Facebook, You cannot chat on Facebook independently, you’ll have to have the Messenger app installed in order to do so. So, we could call it a startup inside the Facebook ecosystem. Facebook depends on it and Messenger depends on Facebook. It makes no sense to have one without the other.
Moreover, Facebook has a reputation of buying startups and integrating them with their own services. Oculus is one good such example.
Startups are not only tech companies. According to Steve Blank, there are 6 types of startups.
The Social Startups’ mission is to make a difference in the world. They are driven to make an impact, and not necessary to build wealth.
Google has created Android, Facebook has also either bought or created other startups. Why? Because the competition is moving fast, there is a large pressure to create more innovative products for new customers and new markets. Large companies cannot thrive at their peak forever unless they always innovate. One of the best engine for innovation is a startup.
These startups are build for big cash. It happened with a lot of apps in the past and it will happen in the future. Big companies are out and about to buy these startups and the founders of these kinds of startups are eager to make a billion dollar in 5 years. Could you blame them? Not everybody wants to be Mark Zuckerberg.
This is the category of the big players. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Uber. The founders started with a very clear thought in mind: they are going to change the world. However, unlike the social startups, they also want to make a profit.
These startups are constantly trying scalable business models, hire the brightest and quirkiest minds, and always look for more and more venture capital to boost their business. They are often found in innovation clusters, such as Silicon Valley.
You might not call them “genuine startups”; however, you shouldn’t overlook them. These startups are also looking to create their own preferable business model, but they’re not build to scale, but rather to provide a constant income for family. They could provide a very nice healthy and happy lifestyle, without big ambitions.
The lifestyle entrepreneurs who have quit their jobs to work from home and freelance on a specific niche are the ones who fall into this category. They love what they do and are building their own lifestyle around their jobs. They might scale it big at some point, or not. However, we could still put them into the category of startups, as they have their own unique business model.
As you have probably seen, a startup is first and foremost, a passion, a drive, a specific focus or an idea. Startup entrepreneurs are really resistant to any kind of challenge, navigate through unbreakable barriers in order to live and convey forward their idea.
There’s one aspect on startups I’d like to emphasize here before getting to how important SEO is for startups. It’s one question that has probably been on your lips as well.
There are a couple of metrics that apply to startups. It is generally considered that a startup has less than $50 million revenue run rate, less than 100 employees and it is not worth more than $1 billion.
So, as you can see, the revenue rate is not grand, and there are a lot of things to consider when running a startup, so entrepreneurs are tempted to place SEO on a distant 10th place on the to-do list of priorities; maybe even lower. However, next big question follows through.
A startup marketer has got one of the most challenging jobs out there, turning a dime into a hundred dollar. There’s a famous saying that’s going around: “Startups should start doing SEO from day 1”.
To illustrate this, let’s take a personal finance app called Mint.com which was just getting started a few years ago. At that time, the hottest search terms on the market were in the line of “Which credit card is best for travel points” and they weren’t very competitive either. So, they took advantage of that and managed to build a list of 30,000 emails in less than a year, all through organic search. A few years later, they were both by Intuit for a whooping $170 million.
Their success came from a gold mine undisputed at that time: high search volume with low competition. Is this gold mine still standing today? Let’s follow a brief step-by-step case study of setting up a SEO strategy for startups.
Google is the lead dancer in the online marketing game. The only way to measure up to it is to be agile, to start as soon as possible, to test, gain data and feedback quickly and reset your marketing strategy accordingly, for the best results. You need to be adaptive, agile, to move swiftly and graciously. You need to get the right things done, and easily adapt to changes; it’s like a boxer’s leg dance.So let’s break it down.
You probably have the customer profile you want to impress written on paper. However, there’s one more important guy you need to win favour points from: the search engine. To make sure you got them both figured out, you first need to decide on a serious blog structure.
The backbone of a SEO strategy is formed before hitting the PUBLISH button. It stands in the structure and categories of your online website. Once you’ve got the categories straight, you need to find the best keywords and topics that will describe what your startup is about.
You can use an online keyword tool for generating user-friendly keywords and topics that will fit in your main content categories. Aim for the keywords with the most potential for traffic. Once you do find them, you can create cornerstone pages for the categories and continue repeating the process until you have all the main categories.
Experiment with topics, categories and keywords until you reach the best structure. Publish a few articles/pieces of content and monitor them closely. You shouldn’t be afraidof experimenting when in a startup. This is one of its many advantages.
One interesting strategy is to chase the low volume keywords that are business-focused on the ones you seek to impress. The low volume keywords strategy is an experiment that could give a startup some really good organic traffic in the beginning, even without building links.
Link building shouldn’t be as hard as it sounds. You can start by replicating your competitors’ first. Use an online tool to swiftly determine who your competitor is linking to and replicate that at first. Start with the easiest ones: social bookmarking sites, directories, forum links, social media or syndication like Medium.
The most difficult ones are the PR publications. Here you can try to approach a few authors yourself, send a couple of tips via e-mail or hire a PR firm to do it in your place. However, you have to measure this effort closely, as it might not bring as much conversion as you’d expect, only excitement at first.
The main idea is to diverse the links, the sources, while keeping relevant.
Follow your growth closely in organic traffic.If you start to appear between 11 and 20 positions, then you should really start acting and pushing those specific pages even more forward.
This is mined territory we’re entering here. Once a startup has come up with a revolutionary product, they should make sure they attract the customers’ attention and win them over faster than they invite the scrutiny of giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon or Microsoft. Why?
Because once you’re a tech giant like Microsoft, you can easily replicate the success of an underdog’s product, like Slack, and sell it to your already huge base of clients integrated in your other products, like Microsoft Teams. Big companies have the money, the reputation, and the client base. How do you replicate that? How do you make sure you do not end up like Snapchat after Facebook has snatched their 24-hour stories idea and turned it into a feature for their own Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp products?
It’s hard to say that SEO is the solution to this huge startup dilemma of this century. You might also say patents, but they’re hard to navigate and expensive to make for a startup on a tight budget. Maybe the solution is the combination of these factors. Maybe the solution is starting SEO from day one and creating your brand awareness and positioning so you won’t be usurped too easily. Maybe the solution is building affinity with your customers, linking emotionally to them on higher level than big companies could ever do, appealing as the underdog.
There are also “happy examples” of startups that managed to use big companies’ strengths to their advantage and implement their strategy. Wayfair, currently the largest online seller of home goods and furniture in the world, was a small emerging brand in 2014, constantly threatened by Amazon. What they did, was implement many features “borrowed” from Amazon, while Amazon was implementing other features from them. However, they managed to sit on top, having one ace up their sleeve: real-life photos of their products, something that a big giant like Amazon with billion of products could never pull off.
This same strategy could also apply to startup SEO. As I was saying above, do not shy away from replicating some of your bigger competition strategies. It’s not copying, it’s simply adopting the already tested methods.
Using SEO instead of paid advertising is like choosing to use your wits instead of your budget. That means it’s harder, but very much satisfying and healthier for your business. And here’s the punchline: SEO is getting harder and harder and that’s good news because it narrows down your competition. And here’s how you can beat big budget advertising with clever, creative SEO.
If we could sum up some of the biggest SEO mistakes a startup can make, we can formulate them this way:
If you catch yourself saying one of these sentences, then you should stop and restart your strategy from scratch. And I’m not saying these things myself, there are countless of SEO experts who say them as well.
First of all, you should always have the search engine in mind when you’re building for SEO. Both your customers and search engine are equally important. SEO might have an annoyingly delayed results rate. You should be patient. Indeed, if you don’t see any results in a 6-month-timeframe, then you should reassess your strategy.
Be aware of the so-called SEO tips and tricks. They might be outdated, and thus damage your SEO strategy on the long term. Don’t wait on SEO, SEO needs to be started right away. Always read Google guidelines and start with low-competition keywords to establish your niches.
As a startup entrepreneur, you could start with free SEO tools. There are plenty available and it is not worth it to spend money on SEO tools at the beginning.
“There are so many different free SEO tools that you can use to do competitor, keyword, and industry research. Google literally gives you free tools so that you can understand where your audience is coming from, where they are clicking, and where they are hanging out”, says Patricio Quiroz from Code Authority. To make things plain and simple, here’s a list of all the most important free SEO tools for startups:
SEO for startups is important. I know this sounds like something someone else said before. However, it is the “boring truth”. Getting a startup going is exciting, but the truth is, the only persons excited enough to search for your startup on Google will be you, the founders or team members. To build interest, you need to start with SEO and you need to do it from day 1 also.
The success of your SEO strategy depends on a number of key factors: your business niche and how you target it; your content, the keywords you use to highlight that content, your research, your website infrastructure, links, videos, and more.
Why all the trouble? Because the position one, two and three in google search rankings get 57% of the whole traffic, while positions 21 to 100 get only the remaining 10,8% of all the Google traffic. Where would you rather position yourself?