SEO for Startups: Tips and Warnings from 100+ Experts

Author's avatar Marketing UPDATED Apr 9, 2024 PUBLISHED Feb 20, 2024 40 minutes read

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    Peter Caputa

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    When you’re marketing for a startup, one of your top priorities is to put your company on the map. You want to get people familiar with your name and establish sustainable marketing systems.

    These goals make SEO an ideal target for businesses starting out. It expands your company’s reach, but it takes a while to start working, so it’s best to start it sooner than later.

    So, how should your startup dig into SEO? What tactics should come first for a growing business?

    We asked more than 100 marketers to share their tips for startups interested in SEO. Here’s what we learned on what to do and what to avoid.

    SEO Performance Dashboard Template by Databox

    What Is SEO for Startups?

    Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing your website for better visibility on search engines like Google. For startups, this means building your online resources from the ground up so they have a higher chance of ranking on search engine result pages.

    Why Is SEO Important for Startups?

    Every day, millions of people use search engines, making SEO a channel with high reach for startups. People make 6,300,000 Google searches every minute, and you could start including your startup’s website in those searches.

    SEO is also an approachable tactic for new businesses because it doesn’t have to be a “pay to win” channel like advertising. With ads, you have to pay to gain visibility. But, organic SEO, the practice of enhancing your search engine performance through inherent quality markers, focuses on ongoing work.

    23 Startup SEO Best Practices

    There are a lot of places to start when it comes to SEO, as evidenced by the 23 tips listed below. But you don’t have to follow every single tip right away. In fact, a couple of respondents said it’s a mistake to try to do everything right out of the gate.

    “Unless you have a bigger SEO budget, you’ll want to focus your efforts on a few things and not try to do it all,” says Camilla Hallstrom. “Focus on the basics. When you have a bigger budget, you can start growing your traffic faster.”

    “Stretching yourself too thin can render your hard work useless,” says Alexander Porter of Search It Local. “Keep the Pareto Principle in mind: 80% of your results will come from 20% of your efforts. Identify the SEO strategies that will lead to this 20%, and focus on those.”

    So as you review and consider the following 23 startup SEO best practices, try not to get overwhelmed. Just pick a few to focus on, test, measure, and adjust when needed:

    1. Start With an SEO Strategy
    2. Define Your SEO Goals
    3. Allocate Budget for SEO
    4. Start with a Strong Foundation
    5. Focus on Minimizing Load Speeds
    6. Make Sure Your Site is Mobile-Friendly
    7. Spend Time Doing Competitive Research
    8. Conduct Keyword Research
    9. Target Commercial Keywords
    10. Target Niche Keywords
    11. Understand the Intent Behind Keywords You’re Considering
    12. Limit Your Focus When Choosing Keywords
    13. Use Free SEO Tools
    14. Publish High-Quality Content
    15. Create Content That Supports Your Product
    16. Educate Your Audience About Your Product
    17. Answer the Questions Your Audience Is Asking
    18. Build a Library, Not a Publication
    19. Start Building Your Authority With Backlinks
    20. Focus on Getting Backlinks from Key Sources
    21. Partner With Other Companies
    22. Target a Global Audience
    23. Use Your Site’s Analytics Strategically

    1. Start With an SEO Strategy

    It’s easy to get caught up in other aspects of your business when you’re just getting started. But, it’s important to invest in SEO as early as you can to reap the benefits soon. Since SEO takes three to six months to show significant results, you want to establish your SEO program quickly.

    Killian Kostiha of Get Clicks says: “Startups tend to be quite busy working on developing their products, and sometimes, the marketing strategy comes in later stages. However, it’s quite important to integrate a proper strategy at the beginning of the project.”

    “This simple tip is often overlooked, and people start doing SEO tasks without having a strategy behind it, which may hurt you in the long run,” says McKenna Koster of MyAdvice.

    “As a startup, you need to know where you are now and where you want to be, and then you can create a strategy on how to get there with tasks that can and will be executed,” Koster says.

    Related: Content Strategy vs. SEO Strategy: How to Decide Which Comes First

    2. Define Your SEO Goals

    While you want to begin your SEO efforts as soon as possible, you also need to go in with a plan. SEO goals guide the exact tasks you’ll follow in your marketing efforts so you can get more value out of less time. 

    “You need to set reasonable, achievable SEO goals,” says Zarar Ameen of CANZ Marketing. “Most startups are either not guided right or are so busy keeping up with all the business challenges that they forget this critical step.”

    “Make it clear in your head and on paper what exactly you’re looking for in a quarter/year. Is it the search traffic for specific keywords that you want to optimize, average time spent on your website, bounce rate, brand awareness, number of purchases, or what? Once you get those answers, make your goals achievable.”

    “For instance, you can’t achieve ‘more search traffic’ unless you define ‘more.’ ‘More’ itself is quite misleading, ambiguous, and unachievable unless it’s given context with a specific figure. Make it ‘30% more traffic in the first quarter’ or ‘50% more traffic in the year 2020,’ etc. to be able to measure and achieve it.”

    “Also, while creating your SEO strategy, make sure that your SEO goals align with your business goals. If you are not wary of this, achieving your business goals with your SEO strategy would be no less than a miracle.”

    “For instance, people focused on SEO without considering business goals focus on traffic—not on quality traffic with high potential to convert for you. These people, too often startups, are doing nothing but wasting their time, precious dollars, and energies for nothing,” Ameen says.

    Related: The Goal-Setting Process We Used to Get to $1M+ in Annual Revenue

    3. Allocate Budget for SEO

    Even if you opt out of search engine advertising, SEO requires you to invest in the labor and tools behind it. For example, if you want to grow a blog to improve your website’s SEO, you’ll need to pay for analytics tools and content marketing services.

    “Many startups forget to allocate budget for their SEO needs,” says Morgan Lathaen of thumbprint. “If you want to maximize the results of your SEO strategy, you should allocate a budget for it right from the start.”

    So what’s a reasonable budget for startup SEO? The bulk of our respondents said it’s somewhere between $500 and $5,000 per month:

    Of course, not every startup can afford to invest $5,000 per month into SEO.

    If you’re an SEO for a startup with a limited budget, Brighter Digital’s Patrick Leonard offers this advice: “It can be frustrating as an SEO not to address every opportunity, but start-ups are particularly vulnerable. Limited resources should be directed to the most high-impact opportunities.”

    Key Insight: For a comprehensive understanding of your SEO performance and to identify high-impact opportunities, it’s important to regularly assess and analyze your website’s SEO status. You can generate an SEO report to evaluate your current standing and identify areas for improvement. There are plenty of SEO reporting tools out there that make this task easy.

    4. Start with a Strong Foundation

    Your SEO efforts will earn the best results when you integrate them with your website from the start. Search engines evaluate your site’s technical performance, making it important to design your website structure with those standards in mind. The content of your website should also align with SEO best practices for content, and it’s much easier to do things right from the beginning than to redesign your website.

    “SEO should be considered before you finish your website,” says Forrest Old of Today’s Business. “By properly implementing SEO at the development stage, you can accelerate your website’s growth by months. If you don’t, you can suffer the opposite.”

    “Startups should be wary of poorly built websites,” says Sam Olmsted of Honda of Harvey. “Many times, startups are running on a website built by an inexperienced company founder. Their website is not optimized for search, may have poor ecommerce capabilities, or there are just tons of technical issues on the backend.”

    “Spend the money to hire a professional to build the site. From there, you should be able to easily update it and maintain it,” Olmstead says.

    “All too often, web design and SEO are in conflict,” says Alistair Dodds of Ever Increasing Circles. “A web designer/developer will have their preferred way of building a site, and it may conflict with your SEO needs. In such cases, trust in your SEO needs!”

    “You could build the greatest, most beautiful website in the world, but if no one can find it, what’s the point? Whereas you could build a not-so-great looking site that is properly keyword-planned and optimized and receive a ton of traffic and make sales. Which would you rather have?” Dodds asks.

    “Get your technical SEO right,” says Paul Lovell of Always Evolving SEO. “Think of this as the foundation of your business. If you can not get this right, then don’t move forward with anything else. This is at the core of everything else you do: content marketing, page speed, everything.”

    “The number of startups that get this wrong is shocking,” Lovell says.

    Key Insights: How to Monitor and Evaluate Your SEO Performance

    If you want to understand how your visitors are behaving on your landing pages, there are several on-page events and metrics you can track from Google Analytics 4 and Google Search Console that will help:

    • Organic clicks by queries. Which search queries generate the most clicks to your website?
    • Organic clicks by page. Which pages receive the most clicks from search results pages?
    • Organic sessions. How many organic search sessions does your website receive?
    • Organic engaged sessions. How many website visitors were engaged with your content? An engaged session lasts longer than 10 seconds, has a conversion event, or has at least 2 pageviews or screenviews.
    • Views per channel. Which channels generate the most views to your website?

    And more…

    Now you can benefit from the experience of our SEO and website conversion experts, who have put together a plug-and-play Google Organic Dashboard Template showing the most important metrics for monitoring your landing page performance. It’s simple to implement and start using as a standalone dashboard or in marketing reports, and best of all, it’s free!

    Google Organic Dashboard Template

    You can easily set it up in just a few clicks – no coding required.

    To set up the dashboard, follow these 3 simple steps:

    Step 1: Get the template 

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    Related: Conduct a DIY Technical SEO Audit with These 17 Questions

    5. Focus on Minimizing Load Speeds

    Minimizing Load Speeds

    One element of technical SEO that makes a big impact on your search engine results is your site’s load speed. Search engines look for fast-loading websites to improve their users’ experience, so you’ll want to shorten your loading times.

    “My number-one tip for startups is to make your site load faster,” says Kulwant Nagi of AffloSpark. “It doesn’t matter how good your content is, how beautiful your theme is, or how much effort you are putting into promotion: if your site is taking too much time to load, you are losing a lot of potential customers.”

    “Use an SSD hosting server, CDN plugins, and an optimized theme so that your site loads faster and serves your visitors faster than your competitors,” Nagi says.

    Tom Buchok of MailCharts also recommends “keeping all of your images compressed to under 100 KB. You can usually use a simple tool like TinyJPG to the trick!”

    Visually monitor your page load speed using this SEO dashboard software.

    Related: 15 Website Speed Optimization Tips That Anyone Can Implement

    6. Make Sure Your Site is Mobile-Friendly

    mobile friendly testing tool

    Another aspect of technical SEO that startups look over is mobile responsiveness. Since a website’s functionality on mobile devices impacts user experience, search engines prioritize websites with mobile-friendly design. Make sure your site works well on PC and mobile to get the best search engine rankings.

    “Many startups neglect to create a mobile version of their websites,” says Jitendra Vaswani of BloggersIdeas. “Google prefers mobile-first indexing in 2019, and it will continue to give preference to mobile versions of sites.”

    “In a mobile-first world, you have less time to grab people,” says Paige Arnof-Fenn of Mavens & Moguls. “Attention spans are shorter than ever, so if your site is not optimized to be mobile friendly and load quickly, you will lose visitors’ attention.”

    Related: A Beginner’s Guide to Mobile Website Optimization

    7. Spend Time Doing Competitive Research

    Since SEO is such an approachable yet important marketing channel, it’s likely your competition is using it, too. You’ll need to monitor what they’re doing to give yourself a competitive advantage. Practices like competitive analysis are crucial here.

    “Doing your industry/competitor research is crucial,” says Tom Anders of Reload Media. “You should decide when to disrupt versus when to conform to industry conventions.”

    Some of our respondents said that competitor research is a great way to find out things competitors are doing that you should replicate.

    “Identify competitors in your industry and scrape their SEO,” says Cierra Flythe of BoardActive. “Find the terms and tactics that work for them already. It saves time and eliminates the need for guess and check.”

    Rebecca Caldwell of Mash Media agrees: “See what your competitors are ranking for and what questions they’re answering. This gives you a great indication of the right keywords to use in a content strategy.”

    Others say that competitive research is a great way to capitalize on what your competitors are neglecting.

    “If I was optimizing my own startup website, I would focus on missed opportunities by my competitors,” says Hamza Karim of Local Writer. “That could be content gaps, keyword gaps, some UX/UI functions, graphics, calls to action, whatever.”

    Key Insight: Another way to understand your SEO performance in the context of your industry is to join one of our Benchmark Groups related to SEO. In exchange for anonymously sharing your data, you’ll learn the median metrics for companies like yours. Read our SEO industry benchmarks to see what kind of data you can get access to.

    8. Conduct Keyword Research

    Keyword research is one of the most fundamental practices of SEO that new companies skip. Finding the right keywords to target lets you refine your tactics to rank for the terms your customers are searching.

    “One important thing to focus on with startup SEO is to make sure you conduct keyword research,” says Andrew Ruditser of Maxburst.

    Corey Haines of Swipe Files agrees: “Do thorough keyword research in the early days. The biggest mistake I see is that startups wait a year, two years, even three years to try to start optimizing for specific keywords when they could have been doing that the entire time.”

    “Taking a few days to really hone in on the keywords you want to rank for and then making simple optimizations on your site will pay off months and years down the road,” Haines says.

    Related: 14 Free Ways to Research and Analyze Keywords for Blog Posts

    9. Target Commercial Keywords

    “Do keyword research” is still a broad tip on its own. What types of keywords are the best to target in your early days? Some experts recommend commercial keywords. Semrush defines these keywords as terms that customers search for when they’re ready to buy.

    “Many startups fall into the trap of targeting any keyword under the sun to attract traffic,” says Vartika Kashyap of ProofHub. “But traffic doesn’t make sense without lead generation.”

    “Therefore, concentrate on driving the right kind of traffic by targeting commercial keywords that your audience is searching for,” Kashyap says.

    10. Target Niche Keywords

    Another useful type of keyword to target is niche keywords. As their name implies, these keywords target users looking for information related to your niche. They often come in the form of long-tail keywords – specific keywords related to terms your audience focuses on.

    “As a startup, you’re likely bringing a product or a service to the market because there is a specific, niche demand for it,” says Danielle Carson of Lake One. “Find how that demand translates into keywords and long-tail phrases. Then, build your SEO strategy around it.”

    Ben Cook of Low+Behold agrees: “It’s easy to make a list of keywords or phrases you feel like you should cover, but unless you can produce something really high quality and build links quickly, you’re far better off finding niche topics to target.”

    David James of Business Growth Digital Marketing recommends this process:

    “Identify the niche audience in your target market and develop a content marketing plan that will serve them with the information that they are searching for. Publish the content so that it is better than what is on the market. Then, promote it to the audience as much as possible.”

    “This will be the most cost-effective way to penetrate the SEO market as a startup, even if you are competing with major, established brands. The content will get found and shared and will eventually give your startup the competitive advantage in the SEO space,” James says.

    11. Understand the Intent Behind Keywords You’re Considering

    Both of the keyword types we covered relate to intent – the goals searchers have in mind when they search a term. When you understand what someone wants to do with the information they’re looking for, you can raise your chances of your website appearing in front of people who want to do something related to your page’s goals. For example, you can use keywords with high purchase intent for a shopping page.

    “Some keywords and their difficulty may look misleadingly attractive,” says Illia Termeno of Extrabrains Marketing Agency. “You need to check the search intent for each of the keywords you’re planning to target. If you use the keywords with irrelevant search intent, you’re going to face the following issues:”

    • “At first, your bounce rate will go up because people are landing on a page that is not answering their questions.”
    • “Then, Google’s algorithms will decrease your rankings for that page, and you will stop getting traffic to the page at all.”

    “Before creating content around a specific keyword, check the top 10 results on Google for the keyword. If you’re considering using this keyword for your ecommerce product page, for example—and the top 10 results contain only educational content—you will understand that the search intent is different,” Termeno says.

    12. Limit Your Focus When Choosing Keywords

    There are tons of keywords to choose from, making it tempting to take a broad approach. Focusing on the most impactful keywords will get you better SEO results than mass keyword targeting, however.

    When choosing keywords to focus on, Drew Cohen of SmartBug Media says to “limit your focus! Ask yourself: what are the top three search terms that you want to be found for? Think outside the box and identify questions or longer-tail keywords that align with your company focus.”

    “Once you’ve identified those three target keywords, make that what you build your on-page SEO strategy around, as well as your content marketing plan that generates blog material, premium content (ebooks, whitepapers, fact sheets, etc.), and web page copy,” Cohen says.

    13. Use Free SEO Tools

    Use Free SEO Tools

    SEO professionals who offer advice often use paid tools, meaning that most of the educational content on SEO you see involves those tools. But that doesn’t mean you have to use them. There are plenty of free options out there for low budgets.

    “The best thing for a small startup is to use free SEO tools,” says Nathan Finch of Aussie Hosting. “It sounds obvious, but I’ve worked with lots of startup entrepreneurs who ignore free SEO tools.”

    “You do not need to pay money for SEO tools. There are plenty of free tools that can help you like Google Analytics and Google Search Console. For startups, this means you won’t need to spend big on your SEO,” Finch says.

    Patricio Quiroz of Code Launch agrees: “There are so many different free SEO tools that you can use to do competitor, keyword, and industry research. Google literally gives you free tools so that you can understand where your audience is coming from, where they are clicking, and where they are hanging out.”

    “Then you have Ubersuggest which is basically an all-in-one marketing software that is great for competitor analysis, keyword research, and even backlink analysis. These are only a handful of tools out there that are completely free.”

    “When you’re starting off, you shouldn’t go broke trying to figure out a marketing strategy for your business. Use the resources and tools available to you in order to market your business correctly and efficiently,” Quiroz says.

    Editor’s note: Databox is a free tool you can use to monitor the impact of your SEO efforts and gather insights on what’s working and what’s not. Get started by grabbing this free Google Analytics Website Engagement Dashboard that gives you an overall view of which channels and keywords are driving traffic and conversions.

    14. Publish High-Quality Content

    While much of SEO involves keyword optimization and technical SEO, one of the most important SEO tasks is creating high-quality content. Search engines create quality standards to improve their users’ experience, and improving your content quality aligns with that vision.

    “Focus on creating unique, high-quality, insightful, and well-researched articles,” says Jonathan Aufray of Growth Hackers. “Write for people, not search engines. Focus on quality, not quantity. It’s better to publish one insightful, researched, and high-quality blog post every two weeks than two low-quality, low-value blog posts per week.”

    Lots of respondents agreed. In fact, when we asked what the most important SEO task was for a startup, content marketing received the most votes:

    Most important SEO Task for Startup Company

    “A lot of people think that SEO is about volume, which can be intimidating for a startup with limited resources,” says Jeremy Cross of Team Building Texas. “Instead, focus on writing two or three insanely detailed articles that could rank for your most important keywords, and then do link building for these.”

    “It’s much better to have three articles bringing in 20,000+ clicks per month than it is to have 100 articles with 10 clicks each,” Cross says.

    Zak Mustapha of Mustapha Holding Company agrees: “I’ve found that creating a few solid pieces of content can drive a ton of traffic. Creating a resource that people will want to come back to for reference instantly makes you a leader in that topic.”

    “Creating that go-to resource every now and then can have a tremendous impact on how people see your business. Are you just another startup pushing out good content, or are you the startup pushing out content that makes people think ‘wow, this is something I want to bookmark,’” Mustapha says.

    And in addition to creating fewer pieces of high-quality content, Clemens Rychlik of Bourbon Creative says, “you’ll need to spend even more resources to promote these assets and secure relevant and high-quality backlinks pointing to them.”

    To help you create the content you need, Deyan Drazov of VIP Games says to “use the resources and competencies you have available on your team. Find out what your team members are good at, let them brainstorm ideas, and get to work!”

    “Whether it is making engaging videos, writing blog posts, or creating infographics, generating content that’s relevant to its niche should be a startup’s main priority,” Drazov says.

    Related: 29 SEO Copywriting Tips for Writing High-Quality, High-Ranking Content

    15. Create Content That Supports Your Product

    High-level topics bring in customers at the top of your content funnel but make sure to cover the middle and bottom as well with content that supports your product. Product guides and blog posts that show how your product solves a problem promote the idea that your product is the solution to your readers’ problem.

    “Create canonical content that targets keywords your customers will be looking for when wanting your product,” says Jarie Bolander of JSY PR & Marketing.

    “Canonical content is content that teaches potential customers how to use your offering to solve their problems. Usually, it’s a series of posts that build upon each other,” Bolander says.

    MarketMuse’s Stephen Jeske agrees and says, “Your content can serve a myriad of needs for prospects, closing deals, customer support, and others.”

    “Underlying this content is the notion that your company is the expert in your chosen field. So, take that content and turn it into public-facing pages on your website. Use it to tell the story that you are an authority on your subject.”

    “Aim to create a minimal viable blog (MVB) just as you would an MVP, for all the same reasons,” Jeske says.

    “Your content can serve a myriad of needs for prospects, closing deals, customer support, and others.”

    Stephen Jeske

    Stephen Jeske

    Senior Content Strategist at MarketMuse

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    16. Educate Your Audience About Your Product

    As you involve your product in your content, give your audience a clear idea of what your product is about. They need to understand what your product is in the first place to see how it can solve their problem.

    “If you’re a startup with a new product or technology, you’re going to have to educate the market,” says Tanya Wigmore of CRO:NYX Digital.

    “Don’t assume that people know what to search for to find you. Keep your focus on TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU to make sure you can capture, nurture, and educate potential leads,” Wigmore says.

    Maria Cieślak of Onely provides some related advice: “Don’t be too geeky. I have analyzed many startup websites, and they all have something in common: they create innovative products and services, but they can’t clearly describe them.”

    “Sometimes, even after analyzing their website, I still don’t know what they are offering. They need to learn how to describe their products in simple words and match them with keywords and queries that normal users are searching for,” Cieślak says.

    “Focus on solving customer problems in your messaging,” says Jay Ratkowski of Transistor, focusing on SEO for tech and B2B startups.

    “Tech and B2B startups tend to talk about innovations and features in vague terms to create a lot of excitement, but it doesn’t directly speak to the problems folks are trying to solve. More directly, it doesn’t speak to the thing people are typing into Google for help,” Ratkowski says.

    17. Answer the Questions Your Audience Is Asking

    Google’s “People Also Ask” section offers a wealth of information you might be missing out on. Investigate the questions your audience asks through this feature or your customer service data, and create content that answers them.

    “My most successful startup SEO efforts largely started as writing about whatever questions and topics we thought were relevant without much thought to strategy, inbound linking, or actual SEO,” says Giuseppe Frustaci of Stick Shift Driving Academy.

    “We just identified the questions that buyers would probably ask through their journey (typically identified via paid search query reports) and then wrote content answering those questions.”

    “Once we did that, we used our analytics tools to see what queries Google was matching our content to. We did this via Google Search Console. As Google showed us the queries we were matching to, we would add those terms to our content.”

    “We’d go back and forth between writing content and seeing what terms Google thought was relevant that people were searching for. It’s an incredibly unsophisticated approach to content strategy, and it has now worked very well for me in three separate ventures,” Frustaci says.

    Another way to find the questions your prospects are asking and the terms they are using, according to Kelsey Formost of Tagger Media, is to “practice what I call ‘review mining.’ Pull your SEO keywords and phrases directly from your own customer feedback and the reviews of your competitors.”

    Answer the Questions Your Audience Is Asking

    “You’ll understand what your actual customer’s pain points are, not just what the competition’s marketing department wants you to see. If you practice approaching your SEO from the perspective of real customer language, you’ll naturally rise above the noise online.”

    18. Build a Library, Not a Publication

    As you add content to your website, think about its longevity in the long run. Content updates will be a part of your ongoing SEO strategy, but you’ll need content that you can update to begin with.

    Mollie Kuramoto of High Alpha recommends taking an approach coined by Jimmy Daly of Animalz: “View your own content as a library, not a publication.”

    “Focus on creating evergreen content that’s helpful to your users and supports your own products or services. While timely content can be good, startups will want to ditch the publication mentality and instead build a library of evergreen resources that generate organic traffic over time,” Kuramoto says.

    19. Start Building Your Authority With Backlinks

    In addition to evaluating your site’s on-page performance – its technical and content quality – search engines also look at off-page performance – how many people are linking to your site. Increasing off-page performance involves earning these backlinks through good content and professional relationships.

    “Focus on earning backlinks,” says Alex Vale of Attio. “There’s no point in focusing on trying to rank higher without having the authority that’s necessary to do so.”

    “Backlinks can be earned through lots of channels, but when you’re a young company, you should be leveraging your expertise in guest posts and capitalizing on things like fundraising and product update announcements in press releases on news sites,” Vale says.

    Robbie Richards agrees: Piggyback off the authority of larger sites to rank faster for ultra-competitive topics. This tactic is often referred to as ‘parasite SEO.’”

    “A simple example of this in action is publishing a guest post on a large industry publication that targets a specific keyword you would have no chance of ranking for on your own site. Because the site has loads of domain authority, your article will likely rank quickly and send passive referral traffic to your site each month.”

    “Basically, the ‘host’ is the middle man sending traffic through to the ‘parasite’ (your landing page) from the search engines. If you’re looking to get your brand out there and see a quick bump in targeted traffic, this strategy can work really well,” Richards says.

    “Building backlinks (good clean ones) is the key to ranking quickly and effectively,” says William Chin-Fook of Pickfu. “It helps you grow your digital footprint and get more eyeballs on your brand!”

    Related: Link Building 101: The Ultimate Guide to Building Free Backlinks and Outranking Your Competitors

    20. Focus on Getting Backlinks from Key Sources

     Focus on Getting Backlinks from Key Sources

    Search engines give backlinks from well-known websites more weight than backlinks from lesser-known sources. Aim for quality backlinks as you improve your off-page SEO.

    “Startups should focus on building quality backlinks from notable industry directories like Crunchbase, Startup Tracker, Gust, and BetaList, among others,” says Osiris Parikh of Summit Mindfulness.

    “In addition to providing quality backlinks that improve the startup’s website ranking, having a presence on those sites can attract attention from prospective clients and investors,” Parikh says.

    Takeshi Young of Optimizely offers a similar recommendation: “Press and news coverage are a great way to leverage the excitement of a new product to build quality backlinks. Conducting interviews on blogs can be another way, as well as submitting your site to various product directories such as Product Hunt.”

    “The benefit of these backlinks is that they will improve your domain authority and help any content you produce rank better in Google. They can also be a strong source of referral traffic aside from the SEO benefit, which can take some time to take effect,” Young says.

    21. Partner With Other Companies

    Backlink building is an incredibly social practice. When you form relationships with other companies trying to improve their SEO, you can advocate for each other’s content and earn more backlinks.

    “No company is an island, so connect with your fellow companies,” says Cayley Vos of Netpaths. “Write helpful, informative articles that complementary sites will publish, get published in industry sites, and get featured on their social media profiles.”

    Sarah McIntyre of Bright Inbound agrees: “Work on building your domain authority by partnering with other organizations to create and promote relevant content. This has a dual effect of increasing traffic and also building relationships with others in your industry.”

    Related: The 35 Most Effective Off-Page SEO Techniques (According to 98 SEOs)

    22. Target a Global Audience

    If you only create content in English, you’re missing out on the rest of worldwide search traffic that speaks other languages. Try offering content in other languages to teach an international audience about your brand and product.

    “My advice to any startup investing money, time, and energy on building an effective organic traffic machine is to act globally,” says Carlo Morandi of Callbell. “This means that, in my opinion, every startup should invest time in translating content into any language, besides English, that potential customers speak.”

    “Structuring a multi-language website from day one easily helps to build up traffic over time from any country where your potential customers might be located and to get backlinks from local websites.”

    “Often, content published in a language other than English finds much less competition when it comes to keyword targeting, and this allows you to generate traffic more easily for a specific target topic.”

    “It doesn’t really matter if then you need to switch to English when communicating with potential clients: once they want to talk to you because they are interested in your product, you will figure out how to make it work (it’s just a nice problem to face).”

    “Moreover, the effort to translate a piece of content is usually much smaller than the effort you need to invest to produce it. Once you’ve invested the time to write an article, then you can easily translate it into different languages through freelancers on Fiverr or Upwork,” Morandi says.

    23. Use Your Site’s Analytics Strategically

    Our final tip for startup SEO is to monitor your SEO analytics and use them to influence your strategy. These metrics show which parts of your strategy are working well and which aren’t so you can revise your tactics accordingly.

    UNIwise’s James Kingsley says to “keep your finger on the pulse when it comes to analytics. Granted, it may seem a little dry, and may not seem urgent given it tends to look at the past rather than the future, but stick with it.”

    “Delve into the granular details, and you can really figure out how your website’s visitors think. Set up a spreadsheet so you can track changes over time—that way, you can optimize your site as per user patterns.”

    “High bounce rate on one of your pages? Review it. Spike in visitors from Australia? Optimize for your new audience. There is incredible power in simply reading the data at your fingertips,” Kingsley says.

    “It’s important to understand what’s working and what’s not working,” says Veronica Batista of OnPoint Internet Marketing. “This way, you will be able to save time and prevent further mistakes.”

    Editor’s note: There’s no need for spreadsheets to track changes over time. Just build a Databox SEO dashboard showing the data you need with comparisons turned on. This Google Analytics Acquisition Snapshot Dashboard is a great example, showing month-over-month trends for channel and keyword acquisitions.

    Google Analytics Acquisition Snapshot Dashboard

    9 Pitfalls of Startup SEO to Avoid

    Now that we’ve looked at what our respondents believe are the best practices for startup SEO, let’s turn to the worst practices—the things you need to avoid or watch out for when optimizing your startup’s website for search.

    1. Believing Promises of Quick, Sweeping Results
    2. Using Blackhat SEO Techniques
    3. Being Too Patient
    4. Counting on Outdated Tactics
    5. Trying Unsuitable Tactics for Your Situation
    6. Striving for Backlink Quantity Over Quality
    7. Trying to Rank for Highly Competitive Keywords
    8. Pursuing Traffic Blindly
    9. Doing SEO Once

    1. Believing Promises of Quick, Sweeping Results

    As we covered earlier, SEO is a long game. However, some resources claim to provide quick results. Follow SEO fundamentals, not quick-fix promises.

    “Be wary of the easy fixes—companies or software that promise you quick results or mass-linking in a short amount of time or for a super low cost,” says Caterina Romano of Eric Mower + Associates.

    “There are so many bogus agencies out there wanting to take your money that you really need to be careful,” says Adam Hempenstall of Better Proposals. “Ask for previous results and solid proof before deciding on an agency or freelancer to work with.”

    “A startup’s biggest enemy is its own impatience when it comes to SEO,” says Tea Liarokapi of Moosend. “SEO is a long game. It will take combined efforts (content, keywords, backlinks, etc.) to make things work, and said things won’t work at the drop of a hat.”

    2. Using Blackhat SEO Techniques

    On top of quality guidelines, search engines also have ethical guidelines. Don’t follow deceptive or misleading tactics to improve your rank – it’s the right thing to do and lets you avoid penalties.

    “Startups should be wary of any blackhat SEO techniques,” says Patricio Quiroz of Code Launch. “Blackhat techniques are methods of applying SEO that are against Google’s rules. These tactics can end up penalizing your website and even removing it completely from the search engine.”

    “Everyone claims they do ‘whitehat SEO’ that ‘follows Google’s guidelines, but few actually do,” says Adam Thompson of ReliaSite. “Read Google’s actual guidelines, especially the guidelines around link schemes. If you get penalized by Google for breaking their guidelines, you can lose a lot of time and money trying to recover.”

    “It’s okay to not follow Google’s guidelines exactly, but you need to be aware of the risks and make your decision accordingly,” Thompson says.

    3. Being Too Patient

    SEO may take longer than many people think it will to get results, but that doesn’t mean waiting should be your primary tactic. Understand how long you’re supposed to take to rank higher, and use that timeline to determine if you need to change your tactics.

    “Regardless of how good your content is, it will take time to show up/move up in the SERPs,” says James McGrath of Yoreevo. “The delayed results can be frustrating for the obvious reasons (nobody likes to wait) but also because it makes it hard to pin down what’s actually helping.”

    “If you’re not seeing results in 3-6 months though, you should reevaluate your strategy. That should be enough time to get some feedback. This is especially relevant when you’re paying an SEO agency that says results are always a few months away. Eventually, you need to see results,” McGrath says.

    4. Counting on Outdated Tactics

    Every year, search engines go through multiple updates to meet user needs and SEO trends. Advice from a few years ago may not necessarily help you. Pay attention to algorithm updates and verify how current your resources are.

    “Be wary of outdated SEO tricks and hacks,” says Victor Antiu of Zenmate VPN. “A few years ago, many of these tactics worked—or at least did not do much damage—but now they could seriously hurt you.”

    Sameer Somal of Blue Ocean Global Technology concurs: “Techniques that worked a few years ago may attract penalties today.”

    “I’ve found that the majority of folks writing about SEO aren’t true practitioners,” says Adam Steele of Loganix. “A lot of what they are sharing is only based on a couple of experiences or what they’ve read or heard.”

    “It’s important—even in whatever small way—that you measure and test. Or, if you decide to hire outside help, that they do. Ideally, they don’t just say they do, they can also point to real-life studies they’ve published,” Steele says.

    Related: The 44 Most Destructive SEO Myths (According to 120 SEOs)

    5. Trying Unsuitable Tactics for Your Situation

    There’s no one-size-fits-all tactic for SEO. You need to identify the right methods for your business, audience, and situation, then test them to make sure they perform. Consider where your current strengths lie and build on them.

    “Not all SEO strategies are good for everyone,” says Jubaer Prodhan of Marketing Doorway. “For example, it’s extremely difficult for a new website to follow Brian Dean’s skyscraper technique. If you don’t have authority, people will be less likely to link to your website.”

    “Find a strategy that is beginner-friendly and can be started with zero backlinks (i.e. long-tail-keyword focused content marketing),” Prodhan says.

    6. Striving for Backlink Quantity Over Quality

    When a site builds backlinks, two of the factors search engines look for are website quality and spam. While you want to get plenty of backlinks, getting a large number of them from lower-quality websites can come across as “spammy.”

    “Don’t make the mistake of going for too many links right away,” says Farasat Khan of IIWP. “It is nice to get backlinks, but getting too many in an unnatural manner won’t bring results. It is highly advised to create great content and focus on getting quality links—not bulk links.”

    7. Trying to Rank for Highly Competitive Keywords

    Even if a keyword matches your product and audience, its competitiveness can make it a bad match for your website. When high-ranking sites with a lot of good-quality backlinks already rank for a keyword, you might want to try a keyword with less competition.

    “One of the things to be wary of, especially in the beginning, is going after high-competition keywords,” says Mack Dudayev of InsureChance. “You simply will not outrank websites who have very high authority, so it’s best to go after lower-competition keywords.”

    “When your site acquires higher domain authority, you can start going after those higher-competition keywords,” Dudayev says.

    Alexander de Ridder of INK agrees: “Don’t invest in content for keywords you can’t compete for yet. It’s a waste of time and money. Just like starting to lift weights, don’t damage yourself: start slow, build up strength, and keep at it.”

    “Don’t invest in content for keywords you can’t compete for yet. It’s a waste of time and money. Just like starting to lift weights, don’t damage yourself: start slow, build up strength, and keep at it.”

    Alexander de Ridder

    Alexander de Ridder

    Co-Founder & CTO at INK

    Want to get highlighted in our next report? Become a contributor now

    8. Pursuing Traffic Blindly

    Traffic is one of the first metrics SEO newbies look at as an indicator of their performance. While it is one figure to pay attention to, there are many other factors at hand.

    “B2B startups, in particular, should remember that SEO should be used to capture leads and not simply to generate traffic,” says Fiona Kay of Nigel Wright Group.

    “They should consider how they will maximize the value of their SEO efforts through lead generation via lead capture forms, live chat, and similar methods,” Kay says.

    9. Doing SEO Once

    If you haven’t guessed already from the multiple tactics covered in this startup SEO guide, SEO is a habit, not a one-off task on your checklist. You need to constantly adapt your strategy to your performance, your audience, and algorithm changes.

    “SEO is an ongoing process,” says Andrew McLoughlin of Colibri Digital Marketing. “All too often, businesses fall victim to the convenience of a set-it-and-forget-it mentality, and SEO simply doesn’t work that way.”

    Should You Invest in SEO for Your Startup?

    We started out talking about whether or not investing in SEO is a wise decision for startups, so let’s close by sharing a few of our respondents’ thoughts on that matter.

    Robin Rozhon of Electronic Arts (EA) says you should “understand your options before committing to an SEO strategy. If no one searches for your product, SEO may not be the right thing for you. Instead, explore other marketing channels.”

    “SEO is a long-term strategy. Some startups don’t have that much time and need to start driving results early,” Rozhon says.

    Related: SEO vs. PPC: Which Channel Generates More Sales?

    On the other hand, Grete Jeltsov of GSMTasks says that “SEO for startups is a huge topic because it works. When I began SEO at GSMtasks, we ranked for a super-high-volume keyword in three months.”

    “It wasn’t even a product-related keyword, but it drove a ton of signups. Why? Because we put out an incredibly helpful and useful resource that solved a problem for one of our key customer segments,” Jeltsov says.

    And finally, Carlo Barajas of Pillar4 Media recommends a measured approach: “As we know, SEO takes time to show results—sometimes a long time for a brand-new startup.”

    “I always recommend that startups focus on marketing tasks that can generate the fastest ROI because they tend to have smaller budgets and high burn rates.”

    “That said,” Barajas continues, “I also recommend that startups focus on foundational SEO activities (keyword research, technical audits, on-site optimization) so that as they naturally start to garner press and mentions around the web, they will enjoy the full benefits of every link.”

    SEO Performance Dashboard Template by Databox

    Track Your Startup’s SEO Performance With Databox

    Your startup’s SEO involves a lot of parts to monitor and adjust as you establish your strategy and start ranking. It helps to have tools that pull data from all of your sources so you have a headquarters to build your strategy from.

    Databox’s dashboards can become your new source of truth for SEO. Our SEO dashboard software makes it easy to display your most important metrics on the same databoard and get regular updates.

    When you sign up for Databox, you’ll have a go-to place for your SEO metrics so you can make strategic decisions in less time. Share your databoards with your team or put them into a distributable report.

    Author's avatar
    Article by
    Melissa King

    Melissa King is a freelance writer who helps B2B SaaS companies spread the word about their products through engaging content. Outside of the content marketing world, she writes about video games. Check out her work at melissakingfreelance.com.

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