A few years ago I was working with one of those lucky startups. By lucky I mean they had a decent amount of VC funding and weren’t completely bootstrapped for a budget. They even had allocated a set amount of their marketing budget for a startup SEO campaign because they wanted the full SEO/social media marketing/online advertising enchilada. They wanted everything, and luckily for them they had the money to get what they wanted. Most startups aren’t in such a good place.
However, just because your startup might have the funding for an SEO campaign, that doesn’t mean you should just throw money at it and expect great things to happen. This former client, in my opinion, wasn’t doing enough to differentiate their brand in an already competitive market. All the startup SEO help in the world is only going to take your business so far if you don’t have a solid brand to fall back on and build the rest of your marketing from. The startup eventually folded and their site is completely offline, even though a lot of the SEO work that we did for them is still kicking around online.
Here are a few startup SEO tips to help ensure that doesn’t happen to your company:
1. Be conservatively aggressive.
You need to know how to pick your battles. As a startup, unless you are creating your own niche, you are going up against every major player (and all the little ones) in your industry; and they’ve been doing SEO for a lot longer than you have. Know right now that you won’t dominate for broad industry keywords like “marketing software” or “IT services” or “men’s shoes” any time soon. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t incorporate those keywords into your startup SEO campaign (they are what you want to do for in the end after all) but you need to pick battles you can actually win and go after the long tail. There might be less search volume but those visitors will help keep your website alive while you focus on growing your business and online brand.
2. Look long term.
When investors are breathing down your neck, waiting for you to give them back their money plus interest, it’s easy to get fixated on short term goals and wins. While that may be enough to keep your sites moving along from month to month, at some point you need to make plans for the long term. When it comes to startup SEO, it’s important to know that it is all going to be long term. There are very few quick and easy wins to be had in SEO, so patience is crucial. Many site owners have fun afoul of the search engines because they were looking to move their SEO along faster than the search engines likes to see.
3. Don’t double down on online advertising right away.
In my opinion, I think it’s important to focus on your niche and build up your brand over time. If you have a ton of money allocated to online advertising, why not pull a little away from that and focus on brand building instead. Hire an extra writer to pump out great content every day, get more involved in social media and local marketing, attend an extra conference to help get your name out there and so forth. Online advertising is essential for startups to help introduce your brand to your target audience but it is not the only thing that matters.
4. Don’t hire an SEO firm right out of the gate.
This might sound crazy coming from an SEO provider, but I don’t think most startups should worry about hiring an SEO firm right away. I think it’s much better to do most of your startup SEO work internally and fine tune all the details of your business (messaging strategy, target audience, major competitors, etc) before trying to get a third party involved with your SEO. Your SEO partner is going to need your guidance (you know your business better than they do) so it’s important you have all your ducks in a row before you ask someone else to take over.