SEO for Startups: What to Do
Most professional digital marketers agree that SEO offers the highest ROI of all digital marketing channels, at least when you target suitable keywords and follow some basic best practices.
That makes SEO highly attractive to startups, especially since it is also scalable, and the results build on themselves.
That is to say, when you stop running a paid search marketing or social media campaign, results stop dead. With SEO, the work you put in today will continue to bring in leads for months, if not several years down the line.
So if you landed here because you have just launched a startup or have not yet done so, here’s some useful information on how to run SEO for a startup venture.
Set Some SEO Goals
First, you need to be clear about goals. SEO is a largely decentralized process, so if you don’t define your efforts with some goals, it will feel like you’re just throwing money in the wash.
Don’t get too ambitious. Set a few attainable goals so you don’t lose your drive.
For startups, practical goals might be something like these:
- Ranking on page one for 5 of your target keywords within a year
- Generating 5%-10% organic growth per month after the first 6 months of intensive efforts.
- Increasing time on page by a little bit each month.
- Capturing at least 10% of organic visits as leads, in some capacity or other.
When you’re really just starting out, it’s helpful not to think in terms of dollar values as you probably won’t see organic marketing really bringing in conversion value for close to a year – in some cases a little bit more or less.
But what you can follow are user metrics and shifts in keyword rankings (see below for what SEO tools to use).
Do a Little Keyword Research
Once you’ve established some basic goals, it’s time to figure out what specific keywords you want to target. Everything else you do in SEO will be, for the most part, an extension of this.
But how do you go about it?
Well, think about terms you imagine users would be searching for to find your business, or businesses like yours. Pop these into Google and see what comes up.
Take some search terms from the titles and headers of the top three results, and search those, too.
For the next part you’ll need the help of a keyword research assistant like SEMRush. Put these keywords into a tool like this and take a look at what comes up.
First, take a look at search intent. For most businesses, you will want to target keywords with either commercial or transactional search intent; these are keywords people are looking for when they want to buy things.
Since this is SEO for startups, you will want to target keywords that have very low difficulty and a low number of results. Try to keep your target keywords at difficulty scores of less than 25.
Volume is another thing. Ideally, you should target keywords with more than 50 searches per month, but higher is better, as long as difficulty is low.
Also, if you use a tool like SEMRush, you can see in the tool what keywords other people are searching that are similar to the one you entered, and you can filter by difficulty. This can make it a lot easier for you to look through a ton of results at once.
Another tip: for startups that have physical locations, try to find some valuable local SEO related keywords to bring foot traffic to your sites.
Pick a Suitable Domain Name
If you haven’t built a website yet, think about the domain name you want to use. Ideally, it should be one that contains keywords that are central to your model.
Think about your business. What does it sell, or what services does it offer? Your domain should contain some relevant keywords because it will make it much easier for you in the long run to rank for keywords that are similar if your domain name links up.
To be blunt, a company that sells shirts will rank much more easily for clothing keywords if its domain is “shirtoutlet.com” than it would with a domain name like “modernbazaar.com” even though the latter is very much more interesting than the other.
That’s just a very coarse example, though.
Invest in SEO-Friendly Design
Once you’ve selected a few target keywords and settled on a domain, you need to determine whether you want to choose a SaaS model, like Shopify or BigCommerce, or use an open-source platform like Magento or WordPress that will give you total flexibility, but will also require you to get your own hosting.
I won’t give advice on that here, but once you’ve launched a website, you need to think about design. One little secret of SEO is that website design and UX have big impacts on it.
For this part, I recommend working with a professional eCommerce web designer/developer if you don’t have a lot of experience with it. Don’t get me wrong, anyone can build a functional website on WordPress or one of the SaaS platforms, but little errors or lapses in judgment may compound into bigger SEO issues down the line.
Either way, here are some best practices for an SEO and UX-friendly design:
- Whatever theme you use, make sure it is both responsive and mobile-optimized. Mobile shoppers account for an increasing majority of online shoppers and SEO requires a high level of mobile-friendliness.
- Make sure that content elements (pictures/copy/banners) don’t take up too much of any portion of the screen, regardless of device.
- Include contact information at the top or bottom of the page (or both).
- Include a cart icon at the top of the page; top right is a basic standard.
- Use brand colors in your homepage design and on all of your other templates.
- Build a well-categorized mega menu from which users can get to all of your main pillar pages.
- Invest in search functionality, whether that means you use a native feature, a plug-in, or hire a developer for a custom job.
- Don’t use massive image files, as that will slow down speed (see below).
- Don’t rip copy from any other websites, write all your own, even if it takes a little longer (duplicate copy will hurt SEO).
I could go on, but taking a high-level view of SEO for startups, this should suffice to get you off the ground.
Build a Fast Website (Use Tools to Check for This)
One of the most important (if not the most important) technical SEO ranking factors is site speed.
For one thing, slow load speeds are a conversion-killer and a bounce machine. If your pages take 3 seconds or longer to load, you can forget about it. It isn’t 1997 anymore.
For another, Google will directly test your web page speeds before determining how to assign rankings. All else being equal, the slower web page loses.
You can even use some of their official tools. Visit Google’s Page Speed Insights and you can run your URLs through them to see how they stack up.
Page Speed Insights monitors a web page for speed according to several criteria, including time to first byte, first and largest contentful paint, first input delay, and cumulative layout shift.
Much of the time, if not most of the time, the culprit for failures is image size. One of the easiest things you can do to speed up your web pages is to compress images before uploading them.
There are lots of free optimizers and compression tools you can use. Just make sure to do this before building each page because it is a manual process and will take a lot of work to go back, remove, compress, and re-upload images.
Do it from the start.
Optimizing for Local Search
Unless you serve the national market, which, of course, is possible, you should make location specific landing pages. These will come in handy for optimizing for local search and voice search, as well as for if and when you run any local PPC campaigns.
Make a location landing page for each of your physical brick and mortar locations, or a single page about the market you serve if you are eCommerce only but serve a specific market. Make sure specific, physical addresses and phone numbers are listed on each of these pages.
This will help with Google’s local and voice searches. When a user searches for something near them, Google checks the searcher’s IP address and then cross-references listings on the web that might be a match, according to the voice query and the location.
If you have location pages optimized for these searches, your business will be more likely to rank.
Also, make sure you create a Google My Business profile and update it with names, locations, address, phone numbers, email addresses, and hours. Make sure it is linked to your website as well. This will also help you rank for local searches.
Optimizing at the Page Level for on-Page SEO
Once you have built a website, optimized for speed, partnered with a qualified eCommerce web designer for a custom, brand-integrated design, and optimized for local searches, you can start building out your category, service, CMS, and product pages.
This is where the value of your target keywords will really shine. Assign one or a few keywords to each target page that you really want to rank for it, then as you build the page, you can optimize in a piecemeal fashion.
For one, include the target keywords in page titles and page headers. This simple optimization is one of the most impactful ones you can make, hands down.
Go back and add target keywords into the alt text fields of your image files, and write custom meta descriptions for each page.
For each page, category and product pages, write a custom section for the description. Do not use duplicate for the product and category pages as this will not improve your rankings. It can even incur a penalty, in which case it will harm your rankings.
On pages where it makes sense, include internal links to other pages that present cross-selling opportunities. Where you link to these pages, use anchor text in the link for the page that you want to rank for that keyword. That transfers authority and context to Google and can help your rankings.
These are the most basic optimizations you can make at the page level with respect to SEO for startups – but you know what? If you picked quality target keywords with low difficulty, it will work.
Plus, going over the points mentioned here and implementing them will lay the foundation for more intensive SEO efforts in the future.
Content Marketing and SEO
If you’re looking at SEO for startups just to get an idea for how to begin your efforts, you might not have the time or bandwidth to sink into a full-blown content marketing SEO campaign.
But the truth here is that good content marketing fused with SEO best practices will have more of an impact on SEO for startups than all of the other things mentioned here, combined.
Those target keywords you uncovered for your key URLs are great keywords to include in blogs, guest posts, CMS pages like FAQ pages, and other content marketing efforts.
In fact, one good blog, ranking for one of those keywords, with a link to the target page, can vastly improve the number of impressions and clicks your pages get. Remember, a good blog can get thousands, if not tens of thousands of views per year, and in some cases even more.
So, if you can, in any way, budget time to run content marketing efforts, strongly consider doing so.
To come up with ideas for what to publish, reflect on questions customers have asked you. For startups that might not have a lot of history, check out your competitors’ blogs and CMS pages, and see what questions they’re answering in them.
Compile all of the information from two or three pages that are ranking well on your competitors websites, and then organize them in your own blog or on one of your own CMS pages. This is called skyscraping and it is an effective tactic to summarize a lot of helpful information in one place that online shoppers can easily find.
It can also increase your website’s chances of ranking for relevant and competitive search queries, even if it is new.
After all the dust has settled and you’ve done the hard work, you’ll want to know if it’s working or not, won’t you?
There are lots of tools that eCommerce SEO experts use, and there are two free ones that you can use, which are among the most helpful of all: Google Search Console and Google Analytics.
Configure your website so you can set up your account with both of these, and watch closely to see how your campaigns are performing.
Google Analytics is the best tool for monitoring traffic, sessions, time on page, pages per session, and for seeing what actions users took when they actually got to your page.
You can also use Google Analytics to see how many users bounced, as well as how many users converted, how much they bought, and how much each page produced.
As for Google Search Console, this is the tool to use to see how many impressions each page gets (useful to see which impressions your pages are getting clicks for as well as those that aren’t producing any) as well as clicks.
You can also use Google Search Console to see click-through rate, average position, and to sweep your website for links to each page. Through it, you can see which websites eventually send you referral traffic, and you can also disavow toxic backlinks that might be hurting your website.
Give your efforts a good six months and you should start to see increases in impressions, clicks, time on page, and if you’ve done good keyword research, conversions and sales.
Baby Steps in SEO for Startups: Start with a Free SEO Audit
SEO for startups will help your website rank higher in the search results and will help bring you more potential customers over the long term.
But it can be hard to start out, especially if you don’t know where or you’ve never developed a marketing strategy before.
One viable step that won’t cost you anything, at least if you already have a website built, is to get a free SEO audit.
One of these will show you how your competitors are performing and what specific opportunities there are for you to pursue with respect to search engine optimization.
Consider taking this as a first step toward SEO for startups if you don’t know where to start, then set the wheels in motion. It’s a lot of work, but you can do it.