SEO Guide for Start-Ups

Startup SEO involves increasing a startup’s website visibility on search engines like Google in order to attract valuable search traffic. Investing in SEO can lead to free organic traffic that can grow over time, making it a cost-effective alternative to paid advertising. SEO has the potential to become a key part of a startup’s marketing strategy.

SEO costs can vary, from expensive agencies to more affordable DIY approaches. Learning SEO is not overly complex and does not require special skills like coding. There are many online resources available, including free guides.

To effectively implement SEO, startups should follow eight key steps outlined in this article. This includes organizational preparations and the practice of SEO itself, such as keyword research, content creation, and link building.

Commitment to long-term goals is crucial for the success of an SEO strategy. While some results may be seen in a matter of days, it typically takes 3-6 months to see the full effects of SEO. Starting early is important for reaping the benefits of free, passive traffic.

If you are interested in SEO, this guide is a great place to start.

What are the benefits of startups investing in SEO?

If you are unsure about the relevance of SEO for your startup or need some evidence to back up your SEO strategy, here are three reasons why investing in SEO is crucial for startups.

Reason 1: Following the macro trend

In 2014, Google and Millward Brown Digital conducted a study on the research and purchasing behaviors of B2B decision-makers. The study found that 71% of B2B researchers begin their research with a generic search rather than a branded search.

As Google stated, “They are searching for a product first, not for your brand.”

Reason 2: People are actively looking for the products or services you offer

For example, take vegan seafood.

Even if your niche product has low search demand, related searches like “plant based seafood” “vegetarian fish,” or “plant based fish” contribute to the total search volume in a market for what you do. For example, the concept of plant-based fish may be new, but there is tangible demand for related searches.

Reason 3: You can generate organic traffic for free and increase it.

Currently, BloggerJet receives approximately 2,500 monthly visits from search engines. If we were to purchase this traffic through PPC ads, it would cost us an estimated $2k per month.

Traffic potential illustrating the passive flow of traffic

Although SEO requires investment in content creation and optimization, it does not require payment for every user or visit, unlike ads.

How to Implement SEO for Startups

Follow these eight steps to effectively implement SEO in your startup.

Step 1: Gain Support

Who do you need to persuade to implement SEO in your startup? The CMO, CFO, CEO, investors, your marketing team, or perhaps yourself? Regardless, the ultimate goal is to improve the company’s bottom line.

First and foremost, SEO is an investment that takes time to yield results. It requires time for keyword research, content creation, and promotion, as well as for search engines to crawl and index your content. However, the payoff from SEO can be substantial, as evidenced by Ahrefs, an eight-figure ARR company with an SEO-based marketing strategy.

If the person you need to persuade is interested in marketing, highlighting the benefits of SEO is a great way to gain their support. You can illustrate the benefits of SEO by showcasing the marketing tactics it supports, particularly content marketing.

Content marketing serves various purposes, including creating awareness, engaging the audience, building credibility, converting customers, and fostering loyalty and retention. Additionally, content marketing produces compounding results.

In other words, using SEO to create content impacts every phase of the marketing funnel. However, if you need to persuade someone solely concerned with the company’s revenue impact, that’s okay too. You just need to communicate in their language, such as using a chart to visualize the break-even point of your investment.

Step 2: Establish Objectives and Gather Resources

Once you have the green light for SEO, it’s time to move on to the next step: defining your objectives and assembling the necessary resources for the journey.

How to Define SEO Objectives

The main objective of SEO is to attract potential users through organic search and convert them into customers. However, this overarching goal can be challenging to work with as it doesn’t provide a clear roadmap for achieving it.

A more effective approach is to break down your high-level goal into smaller, actionable objectives that can help you progress towards the desired outcome.

Think of your SEO objectives as a pyramid, with the ultimate goal at the top and smaller objectives that contribute to it at the lower levels. The key is to start at the base of the pyramid and work your way up.

As you can see, we dissected something that cannot be done by one single action (ranking higher for a keyword) into smaller, doable tasks that have a high chance of influencing the outcome.

Necessary Resources for SEO in Startups

Startups must be mindful of the resources required for SEO, as they come with costs. Although SEO does not necessarily need a large advertising budget or expensive tools, it is not a completely cost-free process.

For SEO to be effective, the following resources are essential:

  • Research
  • Optimized content
  • Backlinks
  • Measurement tools

If you are a one-person team with no budget to hire additional help, the only option is to learn and implement these tasks yourself alongside your other responsibilities. However, with the right guidance, prioritization, and tools, this is achievable.

If your startup has the budget to hire someone for an SEO-related role, there are several options available:

  • Employ an individual with the necessary skills, such as a marketing expert who has experience in various operations. While top-tier professionals may be expensive, there are likely qualified candidates within your budget.
  • Hire someone with writing experience and an interest in SEO, allowing them to learn SEO while on the job. There are numerous online resources available for learning, including free courses like Ahrefs Academy.
  • Bring on a candidate with some SEO success and the ability to outsource certain tasks. An experienced SEO professional can develop a content strategy but may need to outsource tasks like content creation or link building to expedite the process.

SEO Tools

Startups are in luck when it comes to SEO tools, as there are plenty of free and freemium options available. In this article, we have compiled a list of the top 45 tools to help you get started.

When it comes to using SEO tools for a startup, you have two main options:

  1. Utilize free tools as much as possible – You can accomplish a lot with free SEO tools, as I will demonstrate in this guide. However, you will need to use different tools with different workflows, and the amount of data available will always be limited.
  2. Experiment with various premium SEO tools – Once you have done so, upgrade to the one that best suits your needs. By incorporating premium tools early in the SEO implementation process, you will have access to premium data and features that will help you and your team work more efficiently right from the beginning.

Technical SEO Issues in Ahrefs Webmaster Tools

One of the great features of AWT is that it sends regular emails, like the one below, to show the status of errors on your website even if you forget to check its health regularly.

Step 3: Conduct keyword research

Keyword research involves identifying the search terms your target audience uses on Google, then evaluating and comparing those terms to determine the best opportunities. To learn how to do this, we recommend this beginner’s guide on keyword research.

Since most startups lack authority and brand recognition, it is advisable to focus on low-competition keywords initially. These are keywords that you can rank for without needing many backlinks or a high website authority. For instance, insurance startups may struggle to rank for a competitive keyword like “dog insurance” due to the dominance of high-authority pages on the search engine results page.

Ahrefs’ free Keyword Difficulty checker estimates that you’d need links from approximately 300 websites to rank for “dog insurance.”

"dog insurance" is a pretty competitive keyword

But if you look for some less popular but also less competitive keywords, you can find something like “best pet insurance for bulldogs.”

Less popular, but also less competitive keywords

Step 4: Creating Content

Once you have identified the keywords to target, it is essential to develop high-quality, optimized content that will attract organic traffic. This involves several key components.

A. Understand your audience

While knowing what people search for online is important, relying solely on SEO metrics can cause you to lose sight of the individuals consuming your content. It is necessary to broaden your research and connect your SEO findings to your market research.

The selection of topics for your content is heavily influenced by your target audience, making it a critical element of your go-to market strategy. Therefore, it is important to have a clear understanding of your buyer persona before creating your first piece of SEO content.

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your typical customer, capturing their common characteristics (an archetype). For example, here is a buyer persona in our niche:

Buyer persona

B. When designing your content, keep search intent in mind.

Search intent refers to what the searcher is seeking. Google prioritizes helpful content, so your chances of ranking are higher if your content aligns with user intent. To determine the intent behind a keyword, analyze the search results using the three Cs of search intent:

  • content type
  • content format
  • content angle.

Look for patterns in the dominant type of content, format, and angle in the search engine results page (SERP) to better tailor your content to meet user needs.

Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, for example, can identify the search intent for you in one click:

Using AI power to identify search intent

So, as you can see, it’s unlikely that you can rank a page that will just educate people about what pet insurance is.

C. Plan, publish, and repurpose your content with a content calendar.

Content calendars are used by professional content creators to organize, manage, and schedule content production. There are various ways to create a content calendar, such as using a Google calendar, Notion or Trello, Asana, or a spreadsheet.

Information to include in a content calendar may consist of the topic, author, assignee, status, due date, relevant metadata, format, channel, and a link to the work in progress.

A sample content calendar

When it comes to writing, recording, and creating content, it is a personal process. Everyone has their own unique style and way of staying creative. In a small startup, tasks often require a level of autonomy, leaving most decisions up to the individual.

However, when creating content for business, it is important to establish a methodology and seek feedback before publishing. Developing efficient practices from the beginning will help streamline the content creation process as your business grows. Here are some tips:

  • Start with an outline to plan your content and avoid going off track.
  • Seek tips on writing, recording, and editing to improve productivity and engagement.
  • Implement standard operating procedures (SOPs) to streamline tasks like naming images.
  • Seek feedback from others to gain a fresh perspective on your content.

To increase efficiency, you can repurpose content for multiple channels to maximize its impact. This approach is effective for both startups and large corporations, and it is a common practice for us.

Step 5: Build links

Once your SEO content is finalized, it’s time to focus on one of the most crucial ranking factors: building links.

Internal Linking

Start by linking different pages within the same website. Here’s why internal linking is important:

– Helps new pages get noticed by search engines by providing a crawl path.

– Passes link authority between pages, boosting underperforming ones.

– Assists search engines in understanding the content of a page, crucial for ranking for relevant keywords.

Analyze the links of your competitors

Unless you are in a niche market with little competition, chances are that someone else has already established a presence in your industry. This means that they have conducted keyword research, created content, and built links to their website.

While your competitors may be ahead of you, the good news is that you can learn from their efforts and capitalize on their success. Interested?

By analyzing your competitors’ links, you can achieve two goals:

  1. Identify links that you can replicate – Some of your competitors’ links may come from sources that would be relevant to your website as well, such as lists of top apps or reviews. By reaching out to these sources, you can secure features and backlinks for your own site.
  2. Identify patterns in the types of backlinks – By studying the types of links that have helped your competitors rank, you can determine which strategies are likely to be effective for your own website. For example, you may discover that a competitor has gained numerous backlinks by conducting a unique study that other websites reference and link to.

Utilizing Digital PR

Securing press coverage for your business is a valuable achievement, and it can also improve your search engine rankings through the inclusion of links in the story. Startups, in particular, often attract attention from the press due to their novelty factor. For example, The Next Web featured a story on Sprig, a startup that has developed a never-before-seen AI-powered tool, and included a link to the company.

While some of the links you receive may be “nofollow” and not pass on “link authority,” it’s still worthwhile to pursue them. Even if a link doesn’t directly impact your rankings, a single story can lead to mentions on other websites, providing additional recognition and potentially boosting your rankings.

To increase your chances of getting press coverage and a link, consider the following tips:

  • Respond to journalist requests on platforms like HARO, ResponseSource, ProfNet, or SourceBottle, and monitor Twitter for hashtags like #journorequest. This can help you get quoted and request to include a link in your bio.
  • Write and pitch press releases to reputable and relevant media outlets, focusing on newsworthy facts and avoiding overdoing it to prevent being ignored in the future. Industry magazines may be more receptive to your pitches, so consider targeting these sites more frequently.
  • When pitching, include something “link-worthy” such as unique data and ensure you provide high-quality images.

Step 6: Constant monitoring and measuring

Determining the success of your SEO efforts is crucial. Which metrics should you prioritize to measure this success? This all comes back to the goals you established in step two of this guide.

Depending on your objectives, the key SEO metrics you should monitor regularly include:

  1. Organic traffic: This refers to the number of visits your website receives from search engine results pages (SERPs). Tools like Google Analytics, Matomo, Google Search Console, and Ahrefs can help you track this metric.
  2. Organic keywords: These are the keywords that your webpages are ranking for. While some tools may hide certain keywords under the “not provided” category, others like Google Search Console will display a limited number. Tools like AWT can help you uncover this information.
  3. Keyword rankings: Keep an eye on where your website ranks for specific keywords in the SERPs over time. For a simple and free solution, consider using our keyword rank checker tool.
  4. Backlinks: Backlinks are links from other websites that direct traffic to your site. As previously mentioned, backlinks are a critical ranking factor. A free backlink checker tool from Ahrefs can help you track up to 100 backlinks to any website.

There are plenty of free tools available to help you monitor these important metrics. Upgrading to a paid version typically provides access to more data, advanced filters, and additional insights such as data trends and historical information.

In conclusion

Starting to increase your organic traffic through SEO doesn’t require a large budget. Free tools can take you a long way, and the paid tools you may need later on are affordable. If you can invest in a premium SEO tool, consider an all-in-one option like Ahrefs for convenience.

Just like in life, the initial stages can be challenging. It may take time to establish your SEO strategy, but once you do, you can consistently apply the same tactics for long-lasting results that build upon each other.

Nick is a product marketer and a seasoned SEO specialist at Ahrefs. He is also a regular contributor to the Ahrefs Blog, dedicating his remaining time to enhancing the Ahrefs SEO Toolbar.