You’ve secured your funding, assembled a core team and set some ambitious goals for growth. So far, so good. But now you need to kick things up a gear, get organised and start working towards generating results quickly. One of the ways you can do this is through search engine optimisation (SEO), one of the most effective and sustainable types of marketing you can invest in. Here’s what you need to know.
Background: it’s a hard knock life for startups
Here’s a startling stat for you – 90% of startups will fail. And of that number around 10% will shut up shop in the first year alone, with 70% succumbing by year five. Being an entrepreneurial success story in the second decade of the 21st century isn’t guaranteed, let alone easy.
The reasons why startups fail varies. Some fail to get the product-market fit right, some run out of cash and some just end up having the wrong leadership team in place from the get-go. Poor marketing, too, plays a major role, with 22% of failed startups found to be without a coherent and effective marketing strategy.
Which is telling. Without a robust marketing plan in place, a startup will undoubtedly suffer across the board – think a lack of brand awareness, a weak supply of leads and a sales pipeline that is far from what it should be.
Not only will this cause current and future investors some serious concern, but it’ll stymie growth aspirations and prevent your startup from achieving the kind of results that will, for instance, set you up for more investment, business and long-term success.
SEO for startups: setting you up for positive organic growth
This is where SEO comes into play. SEO will supercharge your website by ensuring that it continually remains healthy, optimised and relevant to your prospects over the long-term. This is important because it’s an important piece of digital real estate that you own and control – making it as good as it can be is essential for any business.
No other form of marketing, as useful as they all are as part of a multilayered approach to digital comms, does that. And given that your audience is always online and using a search engine to ultimately find you and your problem-solving solution – just over 50% of all website traffic comes from organic search as an FYI – and the fact people tend to focus almost exclusively on page one of Google, having a healthy organic presence is critical for startups looking to grow and make a splash.
You definitely do not want to be among the 90% or so of pages that Ahref’s has identified as getting no traffic whatsoever from Google, languishing in the digital abyss. And you also do not want to be forking out a sizeable chunk of your budget on paid advertising on a regular basis. Paid should really be more strategic. SEO is the only option for positive organic growth.
SEO benefits for startups
Investing in SEO is one of the best decisions that any ambitious startup can make from the get-go. Yes you can reap the benefits that come with SEO a little later down the line in your journey, but if you want to hit the proverbial ground running and get the kind of traction you need to grow fast and scale your operation, you’ll want to have SEO working its magic early on.
Here are a few of the specific benefits your startup can expect from a comprehensive and tailored SEO strategy.
Develop a more meaningful connections with your prospects
Your audience, as we noted earlier, is online, using Google, trying to get to the bottom of a problem that your business can fix (not that they necessarily know this).
What SEO helps do is bring the two of you together in a way that feels natural, unforced and sincere. That’s because all that happens is that you start to rank for keywords that your audience is searching for and you begin to make yourself known – principally because you provide the best responses (content that is good and helpful).
And because your future customers are dictating the conversation and engaging with you on their terms, you’re always going to come across far better than you would, for instance, if you were to cold call them or pop up in social media a little too frequently.
Market your business in a more organic way
This might sound like it’s stating the obvious, SEO being an organic form of marketing after all, but it is, nevertheless, a major benefit. Inbound marketing has become the powerhouse that it is because it’s designed to give people what they want or need in an intuitive way – and at the right time.
With SEO, what you’re effectively doing is creating a substantial online presence and giving people the option to interact with you. It’s like setting up numerous shops in numerous destinations and letting people come in as and when they need to.
Of course, the way you capture their attention is important, whether it’s a compelling hook or a nice looking shop window, but what sets you apart is that you’re not pushing your brand onto them.
Instead, what you’re doing is drawing them in. Whether they engage with you or not is their decision, and when they choose to do so, that positions you in a far more favourable and positive light.
Establish a long-term, high-up presence online
Once you start ranking for specific keywords, satisfying search intent more effectively and start gathering more and more quality backlinks, you’ll find yourself in a remarkable position – being seen favourably by Google and well set up to reach your prospects at every stage of the journey over the long-term.
And, further, once you’re up there, buoyed by ongoing SEO, high standards maintained, you’re likely to stay there save for any unusual quirks as a consequence of a Google update. For a startup, that level of stability can be a massive asset.
There are a number of reasons as to why. One, a higher ranking puts you front and centre of your audience every time they make a search. Two, your higher ranking sends a signal that you’re a brand that can be trusted. And three, as Moz has noted, where there’s a perfect fit between query and your response, “your traffic can snowball over time”.
Generate results cost-effective
It’s best to think of SEO less as a business expense and more as an ongoing investment that continues to deliver results even after the initial activity has been completed. It’s as close to free as marketing gets and, for a startup looking to maximise the cash that has been put into the business, this can be a game-changer.
Here’s an example. With paid advertising, you’re constantly handing over cash to sustain traffic, leads and conversions. But as soon as you amend your approach, reduce your budget or switch it off, you completely close yourself off to your audience. That always puts you at a disadvantage.
In contrast, with SEO, while there’s an upfront cost – and a comparably reduced cost for retained services (which more than pays for itself) – the great bulk of traffic, leads and conversions that come in on the back of that work is effectively cost-free.
Yes, SEO maintenance is important, but any pause in active optmisation efforts isn’t going to cut off access to your prospects and customers – your content is still going to reach them regardless.
What SEO for startups looks like
Before you even get started with SEO, you need to set goals for your startup. This will help anchor your organic marketing efforts on desired outcomes and allow you to measure the performance of your optimisation activities.
Here’s a rundown of some of the key aspects of SEO.
Keyword research is critical to SEO as it’s where you begin to properly identify opportunities that will allow you to connect with your audience online. It also helps you understand how you can make a name for yourself to the benefit of your business, your investors and, more importantly, your prospects and customers.
At its most basic, keyword research uncovers specific search opportunities that you can tap into. You get to see, in detail, the kind of queries that your audience is making in Google that are relevant to what you do and what you offer (namely you get to better understand the words and phrases people use).
This insight helps you figure out what your audience is looking for, what keywords you should be targeting and what your competition is doing. Your response to this can be transformative, especially if you do it at scale, which, as a startup, is advantageous if you’re keen on growing quickly.
Once you’ve got your game-changing keywords in the bag, you need to start competing for them. And the best way of doing this is by creating content that gives your audience exactly what they’re looking for – and doing it in a way that is far better than the competition.
In order to do this you need to recognise the intent behind what your audience is searching for and the type of content they expect to receive in response to a range of queries. In order for your content to reach your prospects, it has to be optimised – using the appropriate keywords smartly – and engaging.
Quality matters and it’s a point worth stressing because the more shortcuts you take, the more harm you’ll do to your startup and the more work you’ll have to do to remedy your mistakes. So, if you truly want to be helpful and build up a relationship with your audience, set yourself a high bar and stick to it.
On-page optimisation, in part, overlaps with content creation. What it refers to is the activity of improving elements on your website so that Google can better understand your content and how it relates to what your audience is looking for.
This covers things like meta tags – titles and descriptions – internal links, URLS, image alt-text, structure (including H2s, H3s, H4s, etc) and, of course, strategic and considered keyword usage.
Really, it’s about improving the overall quality of your pages so that they’re in the best condition they need to be in order for Google to find and understand them. The more optimised they are – again, done in line with best practice – the more likely they are going to surface high up in SERPs.
Technical SEO is about improving the overall technical structure, coherence and quality of your website so that Google has no trouble in discovering, crawling, understanding and indexing all your pages – and ranking you in SERPS accordingly.
This includes improving things like creating an XML sitemap, improving your site’s architecture, ensuring it’s optimised for mobile, boosting its speed and, among other things, sorting out dead links and making sure data is structured.
Link building falls under SEO activities known as off-page optimisation (aka the things you do beyond your actual website that also help to improve your visibility online). Simply put, Google loves a good backlink because, as is often remarked, they’re recognised by the search giant as “votes of confidence”.
The goal of any backlink strategy is to get other, reputable, relevant and high-quality websites to link back to your website. That’s it. But the simplicity of it isn’t matched by the work needed to get those backlinks – it does require deployment of a variety of marketing tactics, from digital PR campaigns to co-marketing initiatives, to have the desired impact.
Showing up for queries organically that your audience is making is vital for the success of your startup because it puts you front and centre of your prospects at every stage in their journey – 24/7.
And because every interaction with your brand via search is done primarily of their own free will – you show up in SERPs, they choose to tap on your link – the confidence they have in you as a trustworthy authority within your niche is likely to only increase –even more so the more consistent you are in delivering quality content that helps them edge closer and closer to a satisfactory result.
That’s a powerful position to be – and that’s the power of SEO.
We use AI to deliver innovative, personalised and scalable SEO strategies for growing startups that need a cost-effective solution. Get in touch to find out more about how we can give you the competitive edge here.