You’re a startup looking to compete using SEO, whether through your website copy or content marketing. You understand the importance of SEO in reaching and converting new customers, but you can’t quite shell out the big bucks for an agency. What can you do instead?
Search engine optimization (SEO) for startups can seem like a skillset reserved for computer mavens and tech nerds. If you think the digital stuff just isn’t your strong suit, you’re not alone. But don’t sweat it.
You can add SEO to your DIY list, easy. And you should.
First, SEO agencies and consultants can be pricey for startups and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) looking to keep costs low. Websites, paid advertisements, ecommerce stores, and the people you hire to run them can all be expensive.
Despite how important SEO is to you, you’re probably not looking to add a new agency or consultant to your list of expenses.
Second, SME owners, ecommerce businesses, and digital marketers should know SEO strategy and best practices anyway. Not only does it expand your repertoire of skills, but it ensures that you can check (and double check) any SEO work you outsource in the future.
Let’s talk about how you can understand and analyze these concepts, and learn how to optimize SEO for free—or for less than an agency or consultant would cost.
DIY Your SEO With These 5 Steps
If you’ve taken your startup this far on your own (or with a small team), you can easily conduct your own search engine optimization. Just think of it as another tool in your ever-expanding, entrepreneurial toolbelt.
Technically, the below steps should be followed in order, but feel free to skip around depending on your previous SEO knowledge and how it applies to your current digital presence.
All right. Let’s jump in.
1. Know Your Target Audience
You may be thinking, “Well, duh.”
And, yes, of course you need to know your target market and who you’re selling to. Not only does this inspire and dictate your marketing efforts, but it will give you direction.
The essence of SEO for startups is optimizing your search engine presence. This is important because more than 70% of consumers start on a search engine when shopping and comparing products or services.
When improving your SEO, you have to consider who’s searching for you. That’s where your target audience comes in.
If you haven’t gotten chummy with your target audience yet, stop right here and read this post. In that article, I explore why you should define your target audience and how to go about doing so. And after reading it, you may know your target audience better than your best friend or significant other (just don’t tell them).
Let’s review some basic target audience research.
- Start with what you know. Sketch out the demographics (physical data) and psychographics (mental and emotional data) of your audience with which you’re familiar. If you don’t have customers right now, build a fake persona of your ideal buyer.
- Look around you. After exhausting you and your team’s knowledge of your audience, take a look around. Shake down your current customer base with a free survey, an interview (which could serve as user-generated content later), or a focus group. Conduct a competitive analysis to check out your competitors’ audiences. Conduct a deep dive into your product or service to figure out who it targets.
- Hop online. Look up what others have researched and written about your audience. Use databases such as Quantcast, Google Trends, and Ahrefs.
Great! So you’ve compiled a target audience persona. Now, let’s repurpose that persona to discover your core keywords. Start by asking yourself these questions.
- What are your audience’s pain points?
- Why would they search (and hopefully purchase) your product or service?
- What components of your product or service entice consumers to search for you?
For example, I own a local consignment pop-up event business. I would hardly expect consumers to search for me by name. Instead, they’re most likely searching for “local women’s consignment,” “how to sell used clothing,” or “shop used brand name purses.”
Use your target audience persona to brainstorm five to 10 words or phrases that a potential consumer might search. Aim to gather natural, conversational keywords, not industry-specific jargon. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes.
If you get stuck, that’s okay. The next section will help you expand.
2. Research and Apply Keywords
Free tools like Keyword Tool Dominator, Ubersuggest, and Soolve are good places to start when researching your proposed keywords. These tools help you expand on potential phrases and show you where certain search terms are active (on Google, Amazon, YouTube, etc.). Merge Words is another free tool that can help you aggregate all possible combinations of your keywords.
If you have funds to invest in this process (which you may if you do your own SEO…wink, wink), check out tools like Wordtracker and SEMRush. These babies provide not only keyword research but also search trends, SEO competition metrics, search engine results page (SERP) comparison, backlink audits, and negative keyword searches.
Alongside keyword research tools, you can also apply certain keyword tricks and techniques to help you feel out what your consumers may be searching. Note: Short-tail keywords are typically one or two words in length, whereas long-tail keywords are longer and more specific. For example, “entrepreneurship” is a short-tail keyword, and “building a website for your business” is a long-tail keyword.
While short-tail keywords are easier to brainstorm, they’re far more difficult to rank with. The goal with keyword research is to identify a strong mix of relevant short- and long-tail keywords that capture all possible consumer search engine behaviors. A healthy mix of keywords would include a few basic short-tail keywords that cover your industry (i.e. entrepreneurship, startups, business, e-commerce, etc.) and at least five long-tail keywords “under” each short-tail one.
Let’s return to the example of my own local business, a consignment pop-up event. I’m going to apply an SEO keyword analysis process referred to as “pattern qualification through stems and qualifiers.” This basically means you start with a keyword (the stem), and narrow the search term by adding some modifying words (qualifiers). Using the short-tail root keyword “consignment,” I’m going to apply eight common qualifiers to expand my long-term words:
- Adjective defining price and or product quality, such as “cheap consignment”
- Location, such as “consignment Louisville”
- Brand specificity, such as “Ivory Consignment”
- Product specification or feature, such as “women’s consignment”
- Product type, such as ”jeans consignment”
- Intended use or application, such as “holiday consignment”
- Comparison, such as “consignment versus resale”
- Action request, such as “shop consignment”
Putting your short-tail keywords through this expansion technique can help you identify long-tail keywords, providing you with more SEO real estate. Note that some of these qualifiers may not help you, though.
For example, a location qualifier is useful for smaller, local businesses (like mine!), whereas a location wouldn’t quite help an international e-commerce business. Also, instead of “business podcast,” Foundr would benefit more from “podcast for business founders”.
Now that you have a comprehensive list of your most searched and relevant keywords, let’s discuss how to put them to work on your website.
Understanding all orientations of your keywords will help you know which search behaviors should be directed to which web pages. Check out the table I’ve included below. These are search terms I’m currently applying to various pages of my website.
As you can see, my business brand name has no search volume. I’m relatively new in the area, so I know that keyword won’t quite help me compete. I still include it, though, as I’d eventually love consumers to search me by name!
How can you put your keywords to work on your website? Well, check each page’s URL and make sure it includes the relevant keyword, if not a shortened version. It doesn’t hurt to include it in the SEO title and meta description, too, although this won’t directly affect your search results. Also, place the keyword in the body text, in at least one header, and in the alt tags for each image. Images are good practice anyway, as they keep visitors around longer and lower your website’s bounce rate.
Speaking of your website, let’s dig into how to optimize your SEO using your blog.
3. Turn Up Your Content Volume
Time for your Marketing Cliché of the Day™!
Content is king. These days, having an inbound content marketing strategy is integral to gaining traction online, attracting, and converting leads, and curating a loyal reader/customer base.
Quality content creation can also help a ton when optimizing your startup’s SEO. And by quality, we’re referring to factual, actionable, enticing advice in the form of blog posts, ebooks, podcasts, online courses, infographics, and more.
This content is important for a couple reasons. For one, it’ll establish authority within your niche and industry. Blog posts, newsletters, and guides showcase your knowledge of your industry and will help people rely on you for unique perspective and education.
Second, it’ll attract quality backlinks. As people share your content and refer to your website, their backlinks will help establish your site as one of value and quality. Also, building out content will increase your chances of guest posting on bigger, better websites—like Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, or Foundr! The higher number quality backlinks, the higher your SEO.
According to Hobo, high-quality content is the #1 user-experience area to focus on across websites to earn traffic from Google. Great content will attract readers, convert visitors, and keep your website popping up in search results more than the mole in Whack-a-Mole.
As with your web pages, you’ll need to optimize each blog post and piece of content. As you establish a primary keyword for each post, make sure it’s present in the following:
- Post URL
- SEO title
- Meta description (Note: Including keywords in the meta description doesn’t directly affect search results, but it can provide clarity for and optimize searcher experience, thus increasing the chances of a click-through…which does help your SEO!)
- Post title
- At least one header
- Multiple times in the body text
- Alt text of all images
- Image filenames
These keyword placements will help optimize the page and increase its chances of being discovered in search results. (If you already have content on your website, audit and apply these changes to each post.)
Not sure you can create all this awesome content on your own? Consider outsourcing your content creation. There are plenty of qualified freelancers out there who are hungry to write up some great content!
If your business doesn’t have a social presence yet, well, you should get on that ASAP. Social media provides a fantastic avenue for connecting with your clients in a down-to-earth, personable way.
Not only does social media allow you to connect with your audience, but it gives your audience a variety of ways to connect with you. They can follow and interact with your posts, participate in unique offers and giveaways, and share your content with their audiences.
In return, you collect social signals—likes, comments, shares, and views—which actually help your overall SEO. The number of followers you have on your Facebook page, the number of retweets that mention your brand, and the number of views on your Instagram posts (for example) can lead to a boost in brand awareness and mentions as well as more time spent on your website, if it’s linked to your social media accounts.
Social media also provides another platform on which to share all that awesome content we discussed above. And with more eyes on your content, the greater the chance it’ll be shared and linked to, thus forming more backlinks that contribute to your SEO.
5. Analyze and Audit—the Best Tools for Ongoing SEO
The final thing to keep in mind when understanding SEO is that the rules are always changing. One minute, PageRank is the all-powerful metric; the next, Majestic’s citation flow is king. Google Penguin, a tool designed to catch spam links and websites, also updates their algorithm often and without giving much notice.
My point is that auditing and optimizing your SEO today likely won’t mean much in the future. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all process, and educating yourself about SEO requires staying on top of industry trends and best practices.
Thankfully, there are lots of tools that can help you manage your own SEO. As an entrepreneur and digital marketer, you should understand these tools anyway.
Start with Google Analytics. It’s free and pretty relevant, since more than 80% of search engine traffic happens on Google. The Google Analytics tools are actually pretty cool. Not only do the provide a look into your site activity, user source and session duration, and real-time page views, but they also give you details about your user demographics and behavior flow.
This information can feed back into what you know about your audience and how they interact with your site, thus creating an educated cycle of SEO auditing and optimizing.
Next, head to Google Webmaster. You’ll see the same kind of data as in Analytics, but Webmaster also provides a detailed report of your site’s backlinks—a direct dictator of SEO health. Webmaster also contains an indispensable SEO tool, the Google Disavow Links Tool. As you use Webmaster to review and sort your site’s backlinks, you might need to disavow a few that negatively impact your SEO. That’s where this tool comes in handy.
Next, let’s look at MozBar. This is an extension-type tool that gives you the rundown of each site that you visit, like the on-page links, ranking data, and page elements. Although the paid Moz tool provides even more, the free version is still super helpful for bootstrappin’ your SEO.
Lastly, check out WooRank. This free tool ranks your website, provides social shareability information, gives you great advice for search engine optimization, and lets you view your site on mobile (that’s pretty cool). Even though this data overlaps with Analytics and MozBar, it’s helpful to have another tool crawling your site data.
Leveraging tools like the ones above can help you keep a close eye on your site’s SEO and know when to change and optimize certain details. You’ll also be able to keep up with the ever-changing world of search engine optimization.
DIY SEO for Startups
Taking care of your own SEO isn’t that hard, is it? Even if you intend to hire an SEO agency or consultant down the road, it’s helpful to understand the mechanics how to optimize your website to respond to consumer search behavior.
Because the SEO world changes often, make it a priority to stay up to date with best practices. Bookmark SEO blogs and free courses to help you digest new data. Check out content like Google SEO Start Guide and the Google Webmasters YouTube channel to supplement what you’ve learned here.
Have you managed your own SEO? What have you learned and applied to your website in the process? Any tough questions or problems we can help you with? Share with us in the comments below!