It’s Never Too Soon for SEO—Here’s a Beginner’s Guide to Startup SEO Basics
Launching a new website is an exciting time for any startup owner, but especially when you’re in the early days of a business or just cutting your teeth as an entrepreneur.
For one, it finally confirms that your product or service is ready, and you can begin serving your first customers. In the current marketplace, the creation of a website is an early equivalent, and perhaps the closest you’ll ever come, to unlocking the doors of a shop and flipping that sign to “Open.”
But the difference between lighting up a new storefront and making a new website live is that it’s all too easy for a small-but-eager startup to get completely lost in the vast expanses of the web.
Anybody out there?
So before you start landing those first sales and getting featured by TechCrunch, you have a pretty big challenge to face, don’t you?
You have to somehow drive traffic to your site. You need to attract visitors, people you could convert into leads and clients who will help you validate your message, business positioning, product, and customer service.
And I’m sure you’ll agree—that’s not a small feat. There are a lot of marketing channels out there at your disposal, but one of the most fundamental is implementing some form of SEO, or search engine optimization. As crucial as it is, SEO is also probably the most daunting marketing channel for a lot of early entrepreneurs.
Pretty much anyone working in the online space has heard of SEO, which basically describes making your website more visible to people searching Google (or the search engine of your choice) for keywords relevant to your business.
It can be very powerful. For one, search traffic is free and delivers high-quality visitors that convert particularly well.
But it can be somewhat baffling to many, if for no other reason than the fact that Google’s algorithms are known only to its engineers, and change over time. There are also varying strategies for people who want to get into more advanced SEO.
For that reason, we see a lot of entrepreneurs who feel like they just don’t want to mess with it yet. They have a sense that they’re too early in their business’s development to make it a priority. It feels too complicated, too arcane, and it’s very hard to know where to get started.
And that’s what I’ve decided to help you with in this post. I’d make the case that, no matter where you are in the journey of your business, it’s never too early to pay attention to SEO. There are very basic, meaningful SEO steps you can take to start driving people to your business website.
Below, I’ll explain why you shouldn’t delay with launching your SEO strategy. And then, I’ll show you a couple of easy steps to get you started.
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Can SEO Deliver Instant Results?
At SEMrush, we get asked this question a lot, so I figured it would be good to clear things up from the start.
No, is unfortunately the answer. SEO doesn’t deliver instant results. You typically need to wait at least a couple of months to see a spike in search traffic. That only underscores the importance of getting started right away.
Zaki Usman, CEO of Pagezii Marketing puts it this way:
The best time to get started on your SEO strategy for your startup is right now. At the very least, get started with on-page optimization. That is to make your web pages linked and titled properly. Also, sign up for a Google webmaster account. Not only does this help search engines find your site, but it also forces you to think of marketing hooks that bring qualified visitors. SEO is a long process, and in no way is it a one-time effort. You need to stay on top of it and evolve your efforts to match the market.
Before you stop reading, though, let me assure you that the above doesn’t make it a weak marketing strategy.
By definition, SEO is “the process of getting traffic from the ‘free,’ ‘organic,’ ‘editorial,’ or ‘natural’ search results on search engines.” This process involves working on many different aspects of your site, and externally, building backlinks (getting other relevant websites to link you) to improve your site’s authority.
Google, in turn, has to index and processes those changes to your site, and other sites that reference you, every single time to assess where your website will rank in search results. You see, Google wants its users to see the most relevant, high-quality websites in response to search results, and it uses algorithms, or a set of automated rules, to determine who ranks the highest.
Naturally, the more competitive the niche you’re in, the more work you’ll have to do to position your site for relevant search terms.
For that reason, I’ll admit, SEO shouldn’t be your first choice for getting initial website traffic. You’ll almost certainly need to take other steps to draw your early customers. But if you neglect it, it could undermine your company’s progress.
Elena Terenteva, SEMrush’s product marketing manager says:
Business owners shouldn’t wait to get to the point when SEO is a must. It just doesn’t work this way, SEO is a part of a process of business growth. From website architecture to on-page optimization—everything should be properly made right from the beginning and then be timely audited. However, our recent study 11 Most Common On-Site SEO Issues shows that many website owners forget about timely audits. Website architecture issues are not very common, but a large amount of even minor issues can hurt website’s ranking very badly.
Think of it this way: SEO should be one of the main foundations of building your marketing house, you won’t notice its effect immediately but you’ll be glad that it’s there.
So while it shouldn’t be an early short-term strategy, SEO should be one of your main strategies for driving long-term business growth. If you make a priority, it will yield some significant return on investment. Consider:
• Organic visitors cost you nothing to acquire.
• SEO also delivers high-quality traffic that converts pretty well.
• And, you probably have enough technical talent in-house to implement many on-page SEO strategies on your own.
So how do you launch an SEO strategy for a startup?
Before we discuss that, let me reiterate a key point here—start as early as possible.
Given how long it takes for SEO to start delivering results, it is a good idea to launch your strategy early. Sure, it won’t generate immediate results, but at least you’ll have all the wheels in motion already.
Here’s the process I recommend:
1. Start with the Setup SEO
Personally, I like to think of the Setup SEO as laying the foundation for any SEO actions you’ll be taking in the future. Guy Regev explains the idea of the Setup SEO this way:
“Setup SEO consists of a few key actions that lock and ready your site for the web.”
In other words, the goal of the Setup SEO is to lay the groundwork for everything you’ll do later. Setup SEO does not concern itself with increasing a domain’s authority or improving rankings. It focuses on ensuring the site is ready for future optimization.
Setup SEO typically includes:
Defining the site architecture
Good site architecture makes it easier for Google bots to find and index all the pages on your site. Google basically orders huge sets of computers to “crawl” billion of pages on the web to look for features that will influence their rankings.
If your site’s architecture is too complex, however, it will most likely prevent the bots from finding the information they need.
One reason for that is because Google crawlers will spend only a limited time on every site (something known as the crawl budget). Good architecture, therefore, ensures that they find all the crucial pages on your site within that time.
Think of it like a world-famous food critic coming to review your restaurant, but your building’s layout is so confusing, they can’t even find the front door and eventually give up trying. Basic attention to your site’s architecture can go a long way to resolving this issue.
As an entrepreneur not having millions of dollars to invest in ppc, SEO appears to be the most cost-effective solution for any startup. … I launched many projects and a SEO strategy must be drafted before the website is even built. The reason is very simple: the SEO strategy will influence the structure of the website, its content and also the way it engages prospects. The SEO strategy should even start before buying a domain name because domain age and second hand domains’ links can significantly influence the results. – Jerome Bourgois, Retail Director at STELLA LUNA.
Optimizing meta tags on each page
The two meta tags, the title, and the description are among the strongest ranking factors influencing where Google places your pages in the search results for relevant phrases. The title tag is intended to define the title of an HTML document. The element is crucial for both user experience and search engine optimization. The meta description tag is used to provide concise explanation of a webpage’s content. Search engines usually use both of these elements to display preview snippets for a given page.
Each of them should include the main keyword you optimize a page for, and in the case of the description, some additional information. If you haven’t already, it’s important to choose a primary keyword, because it helps search engines to better understand what the webpage is about and index your pages for relevant terms and phrases. For example, if you have a business, you need to figure out your primary keywords relevant to your niche in order to attract qualified prospects. The more specific you are, the better.
The recent SEMrush Site Audit research shows that missing title tags are problematic on 8% of sites. Also we found that 30% of sites have duplicate meta descriptions and 25% of sites have no meta descriptions at all.
Optimizing your content
Similarly, to rank for a particular keyword, your page should:
- Be relevant to that keyword;
- Include that exact keyword in the copy (or at least its semantic variations);
- Pass various content optimization criteria (you can find a list of them here).
Samuel Sternweiler, CEO at Jewelv says:
“Content is the number one thing that companies need to be creating online to get noticed by search engines. As long as you are creating a website or putting content online, you should already be looking towards best keywords practices and delivering valuable and readable content.”
The Setup SEO ensures that these essential elements are all set and working before you start working on more complex SEO tasks.
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2. Set Up Relevant Social Media Accounts for Your Startup
If you haven’t done this already, create accounts for your startup on any social media networks where your target audience is present.
Here is an excellent breakdown of different social media demographics to help you get started:
Why social media?
Although marketers aren’t sure whether Google uses social shares as ranking signals, they agree that social media platforms play a significant role in an SEO strategy.
For one, these platforms help build audience and relationships that lead to direct SEO benefits—links, mentions, and traffic.
Second, social media profiles rank in search results too. And so, having them optimized for specific keywords might help you to increase your startup’s online visibility.
It should comes as no surprise then, that according to research by Econsultancy, only 18% of marketing agencies don’t integrate social media into their SEO strategies.
3. Add More Content to Your Site
Content is the backbone of SEO today. Without actual information on a page, Google can’t know what that page is about, and can’t assess where to rank it in the search results.
And so, the rule in SEO is that you should keep creating new content to expand the number of relevant keywords your website can rank for.
“Every startup is one hit away from SEO success. If you have a popular piece of content, keep the momentum going by acquiring more links to the post. A heavily-linked blog post can and usually does quickly rise in Google’s rank.” – Chris Rodriguez, Marketing Director at Сontactually.
Is That All?
The above, however, will get you started and help you build a solid foundation for the future SEO work.
“In my opinion, it is never too early to start SEO. SEO is a long term investment that will bring leads and revenue years into the future. Although your company may be young and strapped for resources, SEO doesn’t need to involve a lot of capital. There are countless free resources to help you optimize your site.” – Lindsay Boyajian, CMO at Augment.
Best of luck, and let me know in the comments if you have any beginner SEO tips yourself, or questions I can help you with.