If you’re running a startup, then you probably know the statistics.
Every day, roughly 137,000 startups are launched—and roughly 120,000 businesses are terminated. Many don’t fail for lack of trying, but because capital has dried up or their marketing initiatives have gone awry.
Fortunately, there is one method of marketing that’s both cost-efficient and proven to work. While SEO’s impact varies from business to business, it’s often a safe investment for cash-strapped founders. It is affordable, easy to start, and continues to bear fruit many years to come.
If you’re curious to know how it all works, you’ve come to the right place. This guide will take you through the basics of SEO and how a startup like yours can get started.
What is SEO and why does it matter to your startup?
SEO (short for Search Engine Optimization) is the practice of getting your site ranking at the top of search results online. Say, for instance, that you own a pet supplies store. You’ll likely want your store to be listed if someone googles “pet stores in [your city]” or “where to buy dog toys online.”
When done right, SEO can make sure that your site appears within the first page of search results, where nearly 71% of all clicks take place. The ultimate goal is to drive more qualified traffic to your site that could eventually convert into a sale.
SEO is foundational to the performance of your site and expands far beyond your homepage or product pages. To maximize your reach, you’ll likely need to maintain a blog, social media accounts, and other properties that support regular content creation.
Unfortunately for some, SEO can’t be “growth-hacked.” SEO is a long-term commitment that has compounding benefits, which include:
- Greater brand visibility and discoverability online
- Greater brand authority from high-ranking, highly referenced bodies of work
- A marketing tactic that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to maintain (learn more about the true cost of SEO)
- An easier time building trust with leads, who may first turn to your content for advice before trusting you with their money
- Flexibility in targeting leads at various stages of the conversion funnel
How, then, do you get started? Here are four essential steps to take.
Step 1: Define Your SEO Goals
As with any marketing initiative, the more specific you can get with your goals, the better. “More traffic”—or even “first-page ranking”—aren’t specific enough goals to be actionable. In fact, both of these are common vanity metrics that don’t always yield the results many expect.
For example, you might get thousands of visitors to a blog that ranks for a high-volume term. But lo and behold, none actually converts into a buyer because none come with the intention of buying. They’re just there to perform research on a trending topic or to receive free advice (which isn’t always a bad thing).
Therefore, how you define your content goals (and subsequently your SEO goals) matter. At this stage, you’ll want to consider a few key factors.
Who are you writing for? What type of consumer are you looking to engage with your content? Whether you’re targeting existing customers or targeting new leads, you’ll want to develop detailed personas that help you anticipate their questions, interests, and the types of content they want to consume.
You’ll likely target multiple personas with your SEO strategy. The typical B2B funnel, after all, involves six to 10 decision-makers. So, you’ll want to have a clear idea of what each decision-maker is looking to find. Creating buyer persons will save you a heckuva lot of time later down the road when you’re brainstorming topics and digging up keywords.
Baseline and KPIs
Evaluate the organic performance of your site as it stands today. What searches do you currently show up for? Are most searches to your site unbranded or branded? How many people are able to find your site?
Using this data, you can start to identify primary metrics to target and track in order to better understand the ROI of your SEO efforts. There are various KPIs you can monitor, depending on your unique goals. Common metrics include keyword rankings, impressions, and clicks.
Given the factors stated above, what type of content should you create? If you’re looking to engage and delight current customers, then you may want to focus on building out a help center that includes articles and videos. If you’re looking to engage new hires, then you may want to launch blogs showcasing company culture and values. Alternatively, if you’re looking to generate new leads, then you may be creating a combination of case studies, site pages, and thought leadership blogs.
Think about both the focus and format of content that your target visitor will find engaging.
Step 2: Audit Current Site Performance
Technical SEO is a core ingredient of any organic strategy. It involves finessing the backend of your site so that it loads quickly, works on all mobile devices, and delivers a great user experience overall.
Search engines like Google evaluate your site for performance because they know that their reputation is on the line whenever they refer a user to a new page. Therefore, you’ll want to take the time to ensure that everything’s working as expected from a technical perspective before moving forward with your content strategy.
While a full SEO site audit can be very extensive, here are a few good places to start.
Google has come forward and said that mobile-friendliness is a key ranking factor. As more and more consumers are turning to their mobile devices to research brands and make purchases, it’s critical that your site is easy to use on small screens. Users shouldn’t have to squint to view text or images. Nor should they have to swipe or tap elements multiple times to find what they’re looking for. Google offers a mobile-friendly test tool to get you started, or you can consult a trained UI/UX designer.
A slow site tends to lead to high bounce rates. One study showed that half of visitors tend to jump ship if a site takes three seconds or longer to load, and 70% of consumers waver in their buying decisions because of loading times. For this reason, Google tends to suppress slow sites. Needless to say that whether accessed via desktop or mobile, your site should load beautifully and quickly.
Check that your site isn’t littered with broken redirects, returning 404 errors, or inadvertently blocking crawlers from accessing your pages. It’s possible to have pages that aren’t linked anywhere on your main site, too, making it difficult for crawlers to find them.
On a related note, you’ll want to avoid creating subdomains for your blog, help center, or other properties that you’ll be updating consistently with new content. Many startups make this mistake, only to realize that Google views their subdomain as separate from their main site, and therefore isn’t attributing any SEO gains to their main site.
Content management system (CMS)
This is not a factor that Google cares about, however, it’s important to note that you’ll likely want to host your site on a standard CMS (Think: WordPress or Webflow) to avoid bottlenecks in development. Your content team should be able to create, edit, and publish content without having to bug developers—and if you need a developer’s help, it shouldn’t be difficult to find someone who is familiar with your CMS.
Step 3: Research Keyword Opportunities
Keywords are the actual terms and phrases that you want your site to rank for. They are a core component of any SEO strategy but are often misunderstood. One big misconception: you want to target the keywords with the largest monthly search volume.
In most cases, this is not a winning strategy. Your startup will benefit more from targeting long-tail keywords (keywords that are more specific and have lower search volumes) that attract users with the right intent. Using SEO tools like ContentEdge and Semrush, you can research intent and other important characteristics of a keyword.
Monthly search volumes can be misleading without context—it’s easy to get excited about keywords that attract tens of thousands of searches a month. But when you’re researching keywords, you’ll want to dig deeper and discover who is performing those searches.
Use Google or your keyword tool and check out which pages currently rank for those keywords. Do the pages actually address what you expected them to? Are they written for people in your target audience?
Most blogs tend to target top-of-the-funnel phrases (like “how to train a puppy”) which don’t necessarily attract people with an intent to buy, but do attract people who have a need for your product or service. Meanwhile, homepages and other site pages tend to target purchase-based phrases (“top pet stores in San Francisco”).
If you’ve ever ran a Google ad campaign, then you’re familiar with looking up the average cost-per-click (CPC) of a term to gauge competition. Similarly, when you’re about to go head to head with other sites for organic rankings, you’ll want to understand organic keyword difficulty, which is a metric provided in tools like ContentEdge.
Along the same lines, you may be interested in looking up the Domain Authority (DA) of sites that rank for your keyword. If the first page is dominated by sites with high DA, or DA that is much higher than yours, then you may have trouble climbing your way up SERPs.
Aside from looking up their DA, you can investigate other details about your competitors’ keyword strategies and organic performance. With ContentEdge, for example, you can see other keywords that your competitors rank for and how much traffic they receive from their organic efforts. You can also see the number of backlinks they have, and who they often compete with organically. Is there any strategy that you could borrow?
Step 4: Build a Content Calendar
This is when everything comes together. At this stage you’ll want to create a content calendar that holds your team accountable to a regular (and realistic) publishing schedule. Your calendar should also enable you to work more efficiently by pre-defining topics for your team to write about for the next few weeks or months.
Furthermore, at this stage, you should take the time to develop processes for your team to follow to ensure that each piece of content has the best chance of ranking.
On-page SEO involves everything from the keywords you use, to the title tags that you write for each page. It’s helpful to create a checklist of on-page tasks to complete before hitting “publish” on any page. Your checklist should include thing like:
- Include your keyword (or a close variation) in your title and at least one header
- Create a custom title tag
- Create a custom meta description
- Compress images and check your image name, plus alt tag
- Include internal links to related blogs using strong anchor text
- And more
As you develop content, you should always make sure that content is written in a natural, authoritative way. To that end, you’ll want to use terminology that your target reader is familiar with. Avoid simply mimicking the examples, data, structure, and text that other high-ranking pages use.
Google will want to see that you provide unique insights, which indicate that your content is relevant to the keyword at hand.
Internal brainstorming sesh
While the steps before this should’ve helped you to brainstorm new topics to write about, it’s always a good idea to huddle up with your sales team, CX, and other departments that regularly engage with your core customer. By putting your heads together, you can more easily create a list of ideas based on what customers (or prospects) actually care about.
Need an extra hand?
Got big SEO dreams, but not enough time? RankScience’s team of SEO strategists and content creators are ready to help your business out. Schedule a consultation for free.