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SEO for Startups: Proven Strategies to Rank a New Business

August 23, 2023

You probably know you “need SEO.” You need content. You need it to rank in organic search results.

But search engine optimization has tons of moving parts. Most businesses don’t have the time or resources to focus on everything.

Good news is, you don’t have to. In fact, you shouldn’t (regardless of the budget you’re working with).

In this guide, we’ll explore the ins and outs of SEO for startups, including tips on investing limited resources, what you should prioritize first, and best SEO practices.

Startup SEO is Unique…

very unique.

Most people (even experienced marketers) seem to think they can apply a one-size-fits-all approach to their SEO strategy.

  • Dive into keyword research.
  • Churn out articles.
  • Wait for the magic to happen.

For startups, this mindset is a trap.

The truth is, tons of startups waste hours creating content that might drive traffic. But it doesn’t convert. They might rank for terms tangential to their core offering, only to find that visitors bounce as quickly as they came.

The problem isn’t necessarily the content itself. It’s the alignment of that content with the startup’s product and the specific needs of its target audience.

SEO in New Markets

Most startups sell products that are at least somewhat nuanced. When you’re in uncharted territory, even the first step is an important one.

How you execute your search optimization and content marketing strategy depends on whether you’re working with brand-new terms or in a larger market.

SEO for Brand-New Terms

When you’re pioneering a solution and introducing brand-new terms to describe it, the first obstacle is visibility.

You need to bridge the gap between your niche terms and industry search terms.

  • Educate with content. Before people look for you on a search engine, they need to know your product exists. Use blog posts, videos, and infographics to explain the concept, its benefits, and how it fits into the existing landscape.
  • Capture search intent. Figure out what potential customers look for when they’re solving a problem, comparing options, researching a new concept, or ready to buy. Rank the right types of content for the right targeted keywords.
  • Link to established concepts. Use analogies, comparisons, or parallels to current industry terms. This will help in two ways: search engines will begin to understand the relevance and context of the new term, and users will find it easier to grasp the concept.
  • Build authority through guest posts. Eventually, you’ll need to earn backlinks. Quality over quantity here — the goal is to rank for the target keyword while introducing your new term to a broader audience.

SEO for Niche Players in a Large Market

Being a niche player can be advantageous. It’s usually a lot easier to rank for niche keywords because there aren’t many others vying for the space.

  • Highlight your UVP. Instead of competing with the enterprise players on every front, focus on what sets you apart. Your ideal customers don’t want to work with a generalist anyway.
  • Long-tail keywords are your friends. Generic industry keywords can be highly competitive. However, longer, more specific keywords or phrases related to your niche can yield better results. For example, rather than focusing on “HR platform,” our client Benepass might target “comprehensive benefits management platform for SMEs.”
  • Engage in community discussions. HARO replies, Quora responses, and guest contributions on other articles are all strategies that amplify your SEO efforts. Offer genuine insights and solutions; over time, you’ll establish your brand as an authoritative voice in that niche.
  • Collaborate with complementary brands. There are probably other businesses that aren’t direct competitors but cater to a similar audience (e.g., system integrators, reseller partners). Collaborative content, webinars, or shared resources can boost visibility for both brands without stepping on each other’s toes.

SEO With Limited Resources

Be it in terms of manpower, tools, or budget — doing more with less is the mantra in the startup world.

  • Lean (or nonexistent) teams generally wear multiple hats, and it’s easy to spread them too thin.
  • Premium tools for keyword research and content creation require extra room in the budget. And each piece of the puzzle requires different tools.
  • External agencies or freelancers might be out of reach. The ones that can actually understand your product, communicate it well, and rank it on search engines aren’t going to do so for $1,000 per month. They might charge you that for a blog.

Fortunately, when it comes to SEO, limited resources don’t necessarily mean limited potential. It’s about being strategic, using free SEO tools wherever possible, prioritizing tasks, and seeking out those impactful quick wins.

SEO ROI Speed

Much like founding your company, you won’t see immediate results from SEO. And giving up too early means your hard work goes to waste.

  • Patience is a virtue. SEO doesn’t deliver instant results. Even when you’re doing everything right, it often takes months to see substantial changes.
  • Rankings are a rollercoaster. Your website’s position in search results will fluctuate. It’s the nature of the beast. Keep an eye on the bigger picture. While monitoring is essential, avoid reactive changes based on short-lived dips.
  • Set clear expectations. Founders who aren’t well-versed in digital marketing usually anticipate quick wins in SEO, which isn’t always feasible. Transparency is key. You need to create an SEO roadmap before diving in.
  • Tackle one thing at a time. Diversifying too much can spread your authority thin, confusing search engines (and your target audience) about your niche expertise.
  • Adopt a content cluster approach. Focus on a single topic, creating interconnected content around it. Secure backlinks to your core page to reinforce your E-E-A-T signals, highlighting your expertise in that niche.

Use our SEO ROI calculator to understand the timeline and investment required to see a return on your SEO efforts.

Other Sales and Marketing Channels

Rule #1 of SEO for startups: Organic traffic isn’t meant to replace your other sources of customer acquisition.

At first, organic traffic is a very small component of a startup’s revenue strategy. Outbound is usually the main driver of sales, followed by word-of-mouth and paid ads.

Ultimately, startup websites serve multiple purposes:

  • Generate leads
  • Nurture and acquire customers
  • Educate users
  • Support long-term product adoption

It just so happens we can optimize some of that content for search engines. But it’s important to understand the difference.

For example, you wouldn’t “keyword optimize” your home page for a search term that describes your product. A 3,000-word page that mentions “CRM software” 20 times won’t actually help your keyword rankings. And it’ll kill your conversion rate.

Branded keywords and demand gen are the priority in those cases. That’s where sales development, ads, and a thoughtful PR strategy come into play.

It’s all part of a bigger picture.

How to Do SEO for Startups

Aside from everything mentioned above, the framework is quite simple. And it applies to SEO strategies for practically any company.

  • Set realistic goals and a budget.
  • Get stakeholder buy-in.
  • Build a technical foundation.
  • Create content that enables sellers and buyers.
  • Hop into link building once you have footing.
  • Track and measure results.

Below, we’ll explore each of these steps in more detail.

Goals, Budget, and Buy-In

Whether you work with a reputable SEO agency, a freelancer, or in-house marketers, long-term success is determined by three primary factors:

  • Clear goals. Ambitious targets can be really motivating, but keeping them grounded in reality will prevent future burnout.
  • A well-defined budget. Choose SEO strategies and tasks you can execute within your budgetary constraints. It’s all about making impactful strides.
  • Initial buy-in from stakeholders. Present stats and case studies from other startups that have successfully leveraged SEO.

In essence, know where you want to go, but make sure the path you choose is actually doable.

Most importantly, always underscore the nature of SEO — it’s a long game. While it demands patience, it produces evergreen results.

After 5 p.m., your sales reps enjoy the rest of their lives. Ads are happy to support you as long as you pay per click.

SEO is the sales team that never stops working. And organic traffic doesn’t cost you anything.

Technical SEO

As a startup, you’re actually at an advantage when it comes to technical SEO: you haven’t built many website pages (if any at all), so you definitely don’t have an outdated website with hundreds of broken links.

We’re the SEO nerds. We can go on and on about technical optimization. To spare you the boredom, let’s just highlight the essentials.

All of the following are updates you can start working on right now. And they’re all free or close to it.

Mobile Optimization

Google prefers websites that are mobile-friendly. More than 55% of search engine traffic comes from mobile devices.

Most people will read your content, book sales meetings, and make purchases on mobile. Your buttons and CTAs need to be clear and clickable on any device. And they need to load fast (<3 seconds).

Crawlability and Indexability

Make sure your website is easily accessible to search engine bots. Run regular health checkups with Screaming Frog SEO Spider, and use Google Search Console to identify crawl errors.

You’ll also have to submit your website’s XML sitemap to Google — a no-brainer task that could take you as little as 15 minutes using Google Search Console.

Structured Data and Schema Markup

Schema markup is code that helps search engines better understand the content on your website.

  • What does your page talk about?
  • Is it a product, an article, a service page?
  • What types of entities does it mention?

Schema markup provides this context and more. It’s particularly helpful for the Knowledge Graph, rich snippets, featured snippets, and local search results.

Google even offers a Structured Data Markup Helper that helps you generate the code.

Site Speed

Users and search engines favor fast websites. Use tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights to identify areas of improvement.

Optimize images, compress files, and minify your code. And, most importantly, choose performance over beauty. You don’t need the “coolest” website in the world to convert, and it often comes with the tradeoff of loading speed.

SSL and Website Security

Secure sites (HTTPS) are more trustworthy. When setting up your CMS, choose one that offers an SSL certificate and security updates.

4XX and 5XX Errors

Redirect users to relevant pages if you’ve deleted or restructured content. Use 301 redirects for permanent changes — it’s the most efficient way of preserving link juice and minimizing losses in organic traffic.

URL Structure

Keep it simple. A great URL structure looks like this:

example.com/topic/sub-topic/page-title

This is especially important for blog posts and product pages. It makes it easier for Google to identify the context of a particular page.

Additionally, make sure you’re using the target keywords (one keyphrase, max) in the URL and meta title/description tags. And use hyphens instead of underscores.

Optimizing for Core Web Vitals

These user-centered metrics judge your site’s speed, responsiveness, and visual stability. Google considers these vital for user experience.

You can use tools like Chrome UX Report (CrUX) to measure Core Web Vitals, which then helps you make informed fixes.

Before choosing a CMS platform, examine how well it meets these standards. Some make it practically impossible.

According to a report from Search Engine Journal, Duda is the best for this.

Content Strategy

SEO isn’t just about traffic; it’s about relevant traffic. For startups, especially those with limited resources, maximizing the ROI of every content piece produced is crucial.

That requires a product-led approach.

Instead of just looking at what’s trending in your space or what competitors are writing about, you need to think: “What are my target buyers typing into Google when they have a problem my product can solve?”

There are four main strategies we see startups have success with. All four work well together.

Hub-and-Spoke

This strategy involves creating content pillars and related subtopics.

Your hub is your cornerstone piece of content (e.g., an evergreen blog post or an ebook). It should contain all the information users need to decide whether they want to use your product or service.

The spokes are shorter pieces that go deeper into one area of the overarching content.

Pillar Pages

Pillar pages are comprehensive resources that cover a broad topic. They should contain all your team’s information on a subject, from foundational concepts to detailed use cases and tutorials.

They tend to rank well, attract links, and provide great value for users. You have to update them from time to time, but they mostly stay the same.

Target every pillar page at a specific business use case or buyer persona.

For example:

  • How to Use [Product Type] for [Business Need]
  • The Ultimate Guide to [Product Feature]
  • [Product Type] for [Industry]

Focus on bottom-of-the-funnel topics with this strategy. With limited resources, your content is more impactful when it prioritizes potential customers who are already close to buying.

Documentation and Tutorials

This one’s really important for SaaS content marketing. Your current customers can use it to get more out of your product. Your future ones can use it to learn more before deciding if your product is right for them.

If your company is a SaaS startup, many of your buyers will search for information like “how to set up Feature X in Product Y” or “how to integrate Service A with Tool B.”

Making this information easy to find on your website (and, eventually, search engines) helps interested customers get closer to a purchase decision and improves customer retention over the long term.

Glossary

A glossary is essentially a collection of definitions for terms related to your business, product, and industry. Each page includes a long-form definition of that term (1,000 – 3,000 words).

These pages won’t necessarily relate to your product, but they can help you capture a lot of search engine traffic for topics related to your industry.

They’re also quite easy to plan, outline, and write. They don’t require a lot of research or creativity — just a good understanding of the subject (and, of course, great writing skills!).

Off-Page SEO

Once you’ve built a solid technical foundation and have some great content, you can move on to link building.

Up to this point, you could probably do all of this yourself. But link building is a bit more complicated and requires some additional skills.

On the surface, the process is straightforward:

  • Subscribe to a keyword research tool.
  • Find keywords specific to your SEO goals.
  • Earn links to your content on others’ websites.

In reality, it involves a lot of research and time. If you’re unfamiliar, even finding the right keywords can be challenging (most founders don’t go long-tail enough).

There are a few ways you can earn links:

HARO link building is a fantastic way to get links to your website from industry publications and news sites. It’s time-consuming, but it’s excellent if you want to position yourself as a thought leader.

This strategy involves signing up for the HARO (Help A Reporter Out) service, which connects reporters with sources for their stories. As a source, you can offer information related to your industry and your product.

If it’s relevant to the story (and they use it), you can gain a link back to your website.

Guest Posting

Guest posting is the most common and well-known link building strategy.

  • You write a post for another website.
  • In your content, you include a link to your site with the target keyword.
  • If they accept it, you get a link back to your own website or content.

The trick is finding high-quality targets that accept guest posts and getting accepted in the first place. You want to make sure the other site has authority.

There are tons of bad websites out there that accept guest posts from anyone. They won’t pass as much link juice, and Google might even penalize you. So vet potential placement sites carefully.

An SEO Agency

It’s way (way) easier to outsource link building services to a reputable agency. If you need to hire new personnel to do the work, you’ll probably spend more bringing it in-house.

An SEO agency (like us!) has access to tools and resources you’d otherwise need to invest in yourself. 

If they’re well-versed in startup SEO, they’re already familiar with strategies to use. And they’ll play to your situation — e.g., lower budget, less content to rank, niche product.

Tracking and Analysis

While traditional KPIs like organic traffic, rankings, and conversions are vital, startups benefit from monitoring additional indicators.

This gives a more holistic view of how SEO influences other aspects of the business. It’ll be instrumental when pitching to investors or expanding your SEO strategy.

Also consider tracking:

  • Conversion rates (including MQL to SQL to understand content targeting success)
  • User engagement metrics (bounce rate, average session duration).
  • Behavior flow (how users navigate your site).
  • Brand searches (how often people search for your startup’s name).
  • Referral traffic (to gauge the quality and impact of backlinks).

You can easily track the basics of your website performance for free using Search Console and Google Analytics. And you can use Looker Studio to create custom dashboards tailored to your startup’s needs.

As for your search rankings, you’ll see them in whichever keyword research tool you use. You can opt for a free SEO tool, but we recommend using Ahrefs.

SEO is easy with Linkflow in your corner.

We’re going to give it to you straight. SEO is a tough egg to crack.

We’ve already learned (and executed) SEO for startups, so you don’t have to.

Talk to a startup SEO expert.

Brittney Fred, SEO Analyst
Brittney has been working in SEO and digital marketing for ten years and specializes in content strategy for the B2B SaaS industry. She is based in Denver, CO and absolutely fits the Denverite stereotype. You’re just as likely to find her hiking, snowboarding, or doing yoga as reading sci-fi or playing video games.