SEO for Startup
SEO for Startup – You’re a startup, which means you have limited resources and you need customers. Why should you bother investing in your website or worrying about Google results when you have investors to woo and sales you need to close?
It’s simple: Organic Search naturally brings in highly qualified customers and leads. When someone searches for something, they are expressing a clear interest in learning more about that topic or product. The higher your website ranks on search engine results, the more likely your brand will drive qualified traffic leads.
By investing in a solid SEO strategy, you can attract qualified leads while you sleep … or while you work on improving your product and closing that investment round.
Not only that, but people implicitly trust search engine results. Since 2015, Google and other search engines have overtaken traditional media outlets as the most trusted source of news and information. That means that if users find your web content or product through a search engine query, they will have a higher degree of trust than if found through another medium.
Creating an SEO Plan
It might seem self-evident, but the key to a good SEO strategy is to be intentional and, well, strategic. Having worked at a startup, I know firsthand that this can be harder than it sounds. You’re told that you need:
- A blog
- More content and articles
- More case studies
- A larger social following
All of these things can certainly contribute to a strong Link Building SEO strategy, but with limited resources and bandwidth, it’s important for startups to focus on the pieces that actually make the most sense for their business and audience – and answer “yes” to the following questions:
- Does my web content provide value to my target audience?
- Does my website answer customer’s questions?
- Am I using the same language as my target audience?
- Can people find what they are looking for on my site?
The right strategy is not one-size-fits-all, even for startups. Here’s how to get started in the right direction.
Set Your Goals (AKA why does your website exist?)
Before setting your SEO strategy, you need to have a clear understanding of the goal of your website. Chances are, your website probably exists for one or more of the following reasons:
- To sell more of a product online
- To get more qualified leads for your product or service through demo requests and/or newsletter sign-ups
- To drive app downloads or signups
- To find high-quality partners or members for your service/network
- To drive investor interest and credibility
- To recruit qualified talent for my team
It’s important to understand which of these goals applies to your business as it will have a direct impact on the type of content, keywords, and functionality you seek to deliver through your site. Keep these goals at the forefront of your digital and SEO strategies and make sure to revisit them as your business grows and pivot!
Identify Your Target Audience
Once you figure out what the purpose of your site is, the next step is to figure out who needs to see your site to reach those goals. Understanding who your target audience is key to the next step of your SEO strategy, keyword research, and to determining exactly what functionality and content to prioritize on your site.
(Note: Depending on your goals or business, the people who need to see your site may or may not be the same as who is actually using your product. This is especially true for B2B businesses.)
Not only that, but understanding your target audience is also great for driving your broader marketing and sales strategies.
Keyword Research 101
Keywords are the building blocks of SEO. It’s essential to target the right keywords in order to have an effective SEO strategy.
What are keywords and why do they matter?
Not totally sure what I mean by “keywords”? Keywords are the words that users enter into a search engine to find your site. There are a lot of different types of keywords, including:
- Head terms – more general keywords, which are usually shorter and have higher search volume (ex. “sales software”)
- Long-tail keywords – longer queries that tend to have lower search volume but are more specific (ex. “why crm is important for organization”)
- Branded keywords – queries that include a brand name or product name (e. “iPad Mini 4”)
- Non-branded keywords – keywords that do not include a specific brand or product name (ex. “tablet computer”)
Bootstrapping your keyword strategy
The key to a strong SEO strategy is to determine which keywords are most important and relevant to your company and then to optimize your site for those keywords. The goal is to not only rank higher for those keywords (meaning to be higher on the list of Google results when you search for that keyword), but also to make sure that the content users find when they land on your page actually addresses what they were looking for when they started their search.
Here’s the issue for startups: a lot of the words and phrases that are relevant to your website goals and target audience are probably extremely competitive. Since your business is young and your domain probably is too, it will be difficult for you to compete initially with more established companies and websites. For example, if you’re a startup with an innovative sales software, it is highly unlikely that you will outrank Salesforce for the keyword “sales software”.
The solution is to get creative and focus on more nuanced, long-tail keywords like “why crm is important for organization” that are still relevant to your target audience and that will get users to your site. Though fewer people may search for these longer keywords, many of these actually convert better than broader head terms.
How to pick your target keywords
There are a lot of ways to find keyword ideas, including:
- Google Search Console, which allows you to see what keywords users are currently using to get to your site.
- Tools like Moz Keyword Explorer, Google AdWords Keyword Planner, Answer the Public, and SEMrush Keyword Magic, which help to generate new ideas for keywords you might not currently be ranking for.
Google Suggestions and “don’t hit enter”. This means to literally start typing a keyword that you think is relevant to your business into Google’s search bar and to see what other types of queries Google suggests before you hit enter. You can then look at other features and results on the Google results page, including keyword suggestions at the bottom of the page, “People Also Ask” suggestions, and more to find related queries relevant to your brand.
Audience research. Talk to customers or members of your target audience to see what they would search for, to understand what the problem is that your product or service would solve, how your audience talks about the pain point that your business addresses. If you can’t interview members of your target audience, consider checking out relevant online forums or social media conversation.
Competitive analysis. Look at what keywords your competitors seem to be using or are currently ranking for. Once you get a list of potential keywords, it’s important to go back and evaluate them based on a couple of key factors:
- Monthly Search Volume (MSV or SV) – If you rank number #1 for a keyword that no one searches for, does it matter? This metric indicates the number of people who search for a keyword on average each month. You can find it using tools like Google Keyword Planner and Keywords Everywhere. It can still be worth targeting keywords with low search volumes, particularly if they indicate a strong user intent to convert, but you’ll probably want to save these keywords for website subpages or blog articles, and optimize pages like your homepage and product pages for higher volume keywords.
- Keyword competition – As a startup, your website is likely pretty new meaning you probably have a fairly low Domain Authority. That means that you are unlikely to rank for highly-competitive keywords anytime soon, even if your SEO strategy is top-notch. Use tools like Keywords Everywhere to get a sense of how competitive each keyword is. Until your site and business become more authoritative, focus on creative, lower-funnel, and less competitive queries to drive traffic.
- Keyword intent – You might think that a keyword is relevant to your site, but if Google isn’t currently showing sites or businesses like yours on the first page of it’s search results, it probably means that users have a different intent when they search for that query. A common example for this is keywords like “best CRM software 2017”. Sure, it would be great for you to rank well for this, but this is extremely unlikely as Google knows that what users are actually looking for when they search that query are articles reviewing and comparing different CRM options. Eliminate any keywords from your target list that don’t show competitors or similar websites in the results.