SEO can help a growing startup establish its presence and meet business goals. Here’s how to get started with search engine optimization and which areas to focus on.
It’s a common challenge for early-stage and growing startups to find the resources and the time to focus on many different activities that can take their business to the next level. It’s also easy to feel lost among all the tasks, being unable to decide where to start.
SEO is sometimes ignored as an activity when it comes to setting priorities, but it can be very useful in:
- establishing your startup’s authority
- reaching a wider audience
- building traffic and brand awareness
- improving engagement
- generating interest in your business
This is an overview of how startups or new businesses can get started with SEO by following a series of steps that can help them improve their online presence and find a new audience.
Set your goals
One of the most important steps when starting with SEO is to align it with your wider goals. It’s useful to set initial goals for what you want to achieve with your content to explore how to involve SEO in the process.
These goals have to be measurable and clear to help you decide on specific ways to achieve them. For example:
- Double the number of visitors to the site in the next quarter
- Increase blog traffic by 30% in the next three months
- Generate interest from 20 new prospects in the next month
- Increase sales by 20% until the end of the year
The next step is to examine how content fits each goal and what that means for SEO.
For example, if your first goal is doubling the number of visitors in the next quarter, it’s important to build awareness through different channels in order to increase the traffic back to the site. This can be achieved by creating more targeted content, which can also be optimized for search engines.
Once your goals are set, it’s useful to explore how SEO can help the wider business.
Keyword research can help you discover new content opportunities, while it can also improve your existing content.
The focus on the right audience and the right content brings an understanding of the content that they’re more likely to consume. That’s when the keyword research can become more useful to provide you with content ideas and new opportunities to rise in the top of search.
You can start by creating an “ideal list” of the keywords you want to target. Chances are that this list will consist of many popular keywords, which means that it will probably be harder to reach the top of the search results as a new startup. The next step is to use a tool to perform the actual keyword research and find new opportunities for keywords to target.
Long tail keywords may offer more chances to show up higher in the search results, while you can also perform manual searches on your own to test the first pages of the keywords you want to target. This will allow you to understand how SEO can work for your target audience and what types of pages ranked higher in SERPs.
A keyword research can also be the start of your content planning, by producing more keyword-focused content in an authentic yet strategic way that can position your business higher in search results.
Analyze your existing content
An important next step is to create an overview of your existing content – any blog posts, or general pieces of copy you’ve created to promote your business. This allows you to spot any content gaps or pieces of content that need to be updated or even removed.
A content inventory allows you to organize every piece of content that exists on your site. This makes it easier to create a content audit for SEO purposes, to explore how your content currently performs and how you can improve it.
A content audit can be a spreadsheet that features all your published content and it can include:
- Page URL
- Page title
- Meta description
- Type of content
- Condition of content – Evergreen, out of date, re-used, off-topic, etc.
If you still haven’t written meta descriptions or set the conditions of each piece of content, then these can be filled gradually, as you start organizing your SEO strategy. Still, they can be very useful in having them all together in one spreadsheet, even when you fill them later on.
Check for errors
There are many possible errors that can affect your content’s SEO. That’s why it’s a good idea to spot and fix any issues, including:
There’s a danger that duplicate content will cannibalize the keywords you want to target in search. Duplicate content can be a problem on your own site, but also with any guest posts that you submit to other websites for backlinks – make sure that they don’t resemble your original piece of content too heavily. We’ll talk more about backlinks later on in this post.
It’s easy to have a broken image on your site, especially if you’re sharing it from an external source. That’s why it’s useful to check your pages for missing images, improving the first impressions of your content.
404 error pages
A page that’s no longer working can affect your site’s rankings in search engines, but also user experience and the engagement. If you recently migrated content or changed any URLs, you may need to check for any 404 error pages that you’re not aware of.
In fact, you can even turn them into a content marketing asset or add a fun element to them. For more on this, see Stuart Shaw’s excellent guide, ‘How to create the perfect 404 page‘.
As with broken images, broken links can harm your site’s reputation, but also the user experience. A broken link can affect your page’s ranking. Luckily it’s easy to discover broken links and fix them with tools such as Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider and Moz Pro.
There are many ways to optimize your content for search engines. The so-called on-site SEO can be improved with a number of fixes:
The structure of your URL can affect both your page’s ranking, but also the user experience. Thus, it’s a good idea to create clear and readable URLs, both for humans, but also for search engines. For example, this url www.example.com/seo-best-practices is better than this one www.example.com/index.php?id_sezione=360&sid=4j3898enno0223bns983201djis03
The title of each page should be clear, concise and descriptive. It can improve both the traffic on your page, but also the ranking provided that the rest of the text matches the title’s expectations.
A focus on the formatting of your page can facilitate the crawling for search engines, while it also enhances the readability for your readers. For example, the headings can make the scanning of the content easier, creating a smoother experience and a clear structure.
Meta tags are the HTML elements that search engines and visitors find your content. It’s what they can see in a search engine and thus, it’s important to add value in a limited number of characters. The title and the description should perfectly describe the topic; here are some examples to help you create better meta descriptions.
The addition of internal links – links from your own domain – to your content can be very effective for SEO. It’s a strategic way to inform search engines about the topics you want to serve as an authority, making it easier to showcase all the pages you’ve created for them. It also helps you rank higher on the keywords you are targeting, while facilitating the reading experience for the engaged readers who want to read more.
SEO for images
Search engine optimization goes beyond text. Visual content also requires optimization in order to be indexed by search engines.
The title has to be descriptive rather than generic, such as image32.jpg, while it’s also useful to add an alt-tag to help Google spot your images. Moreover, the size also contributes to your page’s user experience, so it’s better to keep it as small as possible.
Excessive use of generic stock photographs can undermine the authenticity of your content, so where possible, try to source your own, or use screenshots and other informative images instead.
Optimizing images for search also increases the chances for users to discover your content, as many people will come across a picture via image search and visit the original web page to find out its context.
Think about featured snippets
Google’s featured snippets, also known as “position zero” on the SERP, can be a great opportunity to get one over your competitors in search results.
Anyone can grab a featured snippet spot if you know how to optimize for it, which makes them a huge source of potential visibility for a startup trying to get its name out there.
The first thing to bear in mind is that your content should provide an answer to a specific question in a clear and descriptive way. The formatting, the word count and even the way you present the content can increase the chances of seeing your content appear as a featured snippet.
For more on this, check out our guides on featured snippets:
- How to optimize for Google’s featured snippets
- 5 ways to identify potential featured snippets to rank for
Involving PR, influencers, and backlinks
You can improve your SEO not only through on-site optimization, but also through external sources (known as off-page SEO). A startup that is just growing needs all the available coverage it can find for its services and its content. The combination of PR, influencers and backlinks can be very successful to an improved SEO strategy.
Public relations can help a startup build relationships with the right people in the industry. The combination of knowing your target audience and asking for professional help to expand your reach can increase the brand awareness and the interest in your business. This can boost your SEO by becoming an authority in your field, without spending time on networking all by yourself.
Moreover, influencer marketing can be very powerful and it can even be a manual activity, finding the best influencers for your niche and develop a genuine connection with them. As influencers have a big impact on affecting decisions, they can be the right people to help your startup grow. A startup should think like a person, not a business, that’s why it’s useful to put people to the front and start having conversations either online or offline during events and conferences.
Another useful way to build your authority and help SEO is to focus on gaining backlinks, or else links from external sources. If your business and your content are interesting enough to grab other sites’ attention, then this means that a larger audience will also be able to find you. Backlinks seem to be among the top three Google ranking factors, which means that it’s crucial to build a strategy on how to create interesting content and then how to promote it to the right sources.
- The collision between PR, content, and SEO: How to make it work for you
- How influencer marketing can benefit your SEO strategy
- Guide to Google ranking factors – Part 10: backlinks
Mobile optimization and UX
It’s critical nowadays to optimize your site for mobile devices. Google has already acknowledged the importance of mobile as a ranking signal and as more people consume content through their mobile devices, it becomes an even bigger priority to optimize your content.
While optimizing for mobile might seem like an expense you can do without in the early days of your startup, it’s also a vital component of being a competitive business, as well as getting your message out to the largest number of people.
Even a few simple things, like paying attention to image size and improving your site speed, will greatly boost your site’s performance on mobile and make it easier to implement full-on mobile optimization further down the line.
Use our mobile-friendly site checklist to make sure you hit the key points when optimizing your site for mobile.
A common question for anyone getting started with SEO is how to measure its success. A growing startup is interested in using SEO to:
- build authority
- increase traffic
- improve engagement
- expand reach
There are many ways to measure all these, but the most common metrics to focus on are:
Organic traffic can tell the number of users who visited your page through search results. This can be a good indication whether SEO has placed your content high up the rankings, or whether it’s interesting enough to make visitors search for it further in the results.
In either way, it’s a great sign that you’re on the right track to create a solid SEO strategy with the right content and an understanding of what your audience likes.
Engagement can be measured by the time users spend on the site, the bounce rate, or even the shares and the number of comments. All these can tell whether your content, the user experience, or the relevance match the readers’ expectations, offering a great start of what can be improved on each page.
Your content’s ranking on search results will gradually show your progress while improving SEO. Moreover, a keyword performance can indicate whether your content was successful enough to target specific keywords and how it performs compared to the competitors.
Conversions aren’t just about making sales – the term “conversion” can refer to any action you want users to perform after visiting your site, such as subscribing to a newsletter.
Domain authority and number of links
The actual number of links that you’ve gained from other sources leading back to your site serves as a great metric to show the interest towards your content. As the number of links increases, especially if they come from sources of high quality and relevance, so does your domain authority.
Domain authority is a measure of the “weight” your site carries in search, and as it improves, so do the chances of seeing your content higher up the search results.
There are many free tools you can use to measure your SEO performance, including:
- Google Analytics for traffic, engagement, conversion
- Google Search Console for keyword and page ranking
- Google PageSpeed Insights for your page’s performance
- Keywordtool.io / Google Keyword Planner (Adwords) for keyword ranking
- Copyscape for duplicate content
- MozBar for on-page metrics
Plus, check out our list of 15 Chrome extensions to aid in your SEO efforts.
SEO can help your startup grow in the crucial early stages of your business. While you don’t need to get hugely technical with SEO at this stage, following some simple steps will aid in discovery of your new brand, and help you to gain a foothold in your chosen niche.