How do you know you’re doing things right when it comes to your business? Well, apart from the numbers at the end of each month’s financial report, you may also want to pay a bit more attention to your online presence.
According to Investopedia, 90% of startups doing amazing things end up going bust within ten years of their founding. Now that’s not just worrying. It also brings forth existential questions such as: are business ventures even worth investing in?
The short answer is a resounding yes. However, if you want to make your startup into a business that’ll keep you fed, clothed, and with a roof over your head for years to come, you’re going to need more than great products and a stellar business strategy. SEO is going to be one of those essential tactics for success.
Without further ado, the following are the steps you need to take if you want to make it in today’s market.
1. Understanding the Difference Between Paid and Organic Traffic
If you look at the definition of SEO, you’ll find that it stands for Search Engine Optimization. Essentially, the term denotes a set of activities that are implemented to drive traffic to your website. Ideally, you don’t just want more traffic, but you also want to get the right traffic.
Let’s put it this way: you don’t want just anyone coming to your website, then clicking away in under ten seconds after they’ve realized it’s not the right thing for them. You want your target audience to land and, more importantly, stick around.
Another thing you need to understand about SEO, that is, organic traffic, is that it isn’t a replacement for other marketing strategies. Yes, getting to the top of a SERP is the goal. However, unless you’ve got years to wait, you’ll need to spend money on paid advertising.
But, while the bad news is that you do need a padded budget to get your startup off the ground, there’s good news as well. And that is, you can use both paid and free traffic data to continually improve your advertising strategies, ultimately ensuring the biggest bang for your buck.
2. Research & Define
So, now that you understand that SEO isn’t an all-in-one solution but rather one part of your marketing strategy, it’s time to start getting more of that sweet free traffic.
Just like with any other business undertaking, you’ll need to start with research. To be able to promote, represent, and place your brand as the answer to your target audience’s needs, you need to have a strong understanding of three things:
- Your market and niche
Having insightful knowledge about your industry is a key element to making the right business decisions for your brand. Ultimately, you need to know the exact type of products and services available currently, the products that consumers want but that aren’t available, the challenges within the industry, as well as the opportunities your competition still hasn’t realized.
- Your competitors
Once you’ve got a solid understanding of the state of things in your niche, you’ll want to analyze the brands you’ll be going up against. What do they do? Are they good at it? What marketing strategies do they use? SEO tools like Ahrefs or SEMrush will help you get to the bottom of what they’re doing and give you clear guidelines on possible SEO strategies. You will also want to identify the instances where they can improve. And most importantly, identify the aspects of business where you can do a better job answering consumer needs.
- Your target audience
Finally, the last preparatory phase in your research is going to be a deep dive into the needs, motivations, and characteristics of your target audience. You’ll need to create buyer personas, identify their behaviors, challenges, and motivators. Ultimately, making a startup successful isn’t about millions of one-time sales but rather about creating a loyal audience who’ll be happy to recommend your products to the people in their social circle.
Once you’ve got these three basics covered, you’ll be well on your way to taking all the right steps to success.
3. Study User Intent & the Sales Funnel
Once you know what you’re up against, it’s time to set some goals. But how exactly do you do that with SEO?
Well, to create a plan of action for getting organic traffic to your website, you’ll need to take into consideration the fact that not all of your potential customers are the same. In fact, if you look at the sales funnel, you’ll find that there are three main sections of the buyer journey:
With this in mind, it’s quite important to set goals for each stage of the funnel, taking the necessary steps to get people from all these stages of the buyer journey to visit your website.
In the awareness stage, your users are still in the research phase. Perhaps they have a problem they require a solution to. Or, they might be looking for ways to do a thing on their own.
Whichever the case, their searches are bound to be informational. They’ll be using broad search terms and looking for highly informative content. In SEO terms, your goal in catering to the awareness stage should be providing educational content, preferably free of charge. Create insightful resources, blog posts, videos, and ebooks (which can be gated), and optimize these pages with on-page SEO.
In the consideration stage, your potential customers will already have a basic understanding of the topic. They will be looking at product/service options, with the ultimate goal of making a purchase.
When it comes to SEO for these consumers, you will want to aim for two things. Firstly, they need to come to your landing page. You’ll achieve this by optimizing your pages and distributing your content in the right way.
Secondly, you’ll want to ensure that the landing page is designed to convince. Basically, you want to show your visitors that your brand is the perfect answer to their needs. Ideally, they should be compelled to convert right away, either by signing up for a free trial, joining your mailing list, or contacting your sales team.
The last level of the sales funnel, the purchase stage, is where the consumer will already know that they want to buy from you. Here, you will want to minimize the number of steps it takes for a potential customer to become a buyer. If you are an eCommerce business, you will ideally get them straight from the SERP to the product page. Otherwise, you will want to give them clear directions to your physical location.
4. Identify Keywords
Once you have a clear division between your audience segments, your hands-on SEO work can begin. Again, you’ll have to do research, but being diligent about completing this step will ensure that your marketing strategies (free and paid) yield the desired results.
Most business owners know about the concept of keywords, yet it’s surprising how few of them truly understand the importance of using search terms in the right way. The standard course of action for businesses is often to only target ‘seed’ keywords. These are one or two-word terms that are related to their industry/niche.
But, the thing is, they’re unlikely to be enough to get you the results you need. The first reason for this is that there’s too much competition for these terms. The second is that your audience is unlikely to search for something like ‘fitness’ if they’re looking for a local gym that offers a Zumba class.
With this in mind, you will need to dedicate a fair amount of time to do keyword research properly. Here is a short step-by-step guide on how to get started:
- Identify the correct seed words for your industry. Try to think of as many as possible so that you have the highest chances of targeting relevant search terms that’ll get potential customers to you.
- Enter your seed keywords into a free tool like Google Keyword Planner. Or, if you’ve got the budget, invest in a solution like Semrush, Ahrefs, or Moz. Here, you will be looking to collect as many relevant phrases as possible. Pay equal attention to short and long-tail keywords, and don’t forget about questions either. All of these will come in handy once it’s time to start producing your content.
- Study your competitors. What search terms do they rank high for? What topics do they cover on their website? Is there anything they’re doing that you still aren’t?
- Move away from search engines and take a deep dive into more in-depth resources. Look at topics on websites like Quora and Reddit. Moreover, visit a few industry-oriented forums to see what people are asking/discussing.
- Finally, study the keywords you came up with. What’s their search volume, traffic potential, difficulty, and CPC? Moreover, look at how they rank per location, as well as if there are any seasonal fluctuations in popularity. All of this data will come in handy in determining your content marketing strategy, as it’ll give you guidelines on how to invest your energy to get the best possible results out of your efforts.
5. Create & Distribute Content
Now that you’ve done your share of research, you can start working on your data-driven content marketing strategy. Seeing that you have a strong understanding of your niche, audience, and keywords that will get you to the top of SERPs, you will want to get started with producing high-quality content for your website and social media channels.
If you plan on your main content marketing activity relying on your blog, pay attention to on-page optimization. Namely, make sure that your URLs, page titles, headings, and meta descriptions all include your keywords. If your website runs on WordPress, you can use a plugin such as Yoast that’ll check all of these elements for you.
Of course, you shouldn’t just stuff an article with keywords, hoping that search engines will pick up on your pages. Instead, aim to produce blog posts that will answer consumer questions and show them that you’re a trustworthy source of information in your industry.
It’s also advisable to pay attention to the quality of the copy you write, minding both grammatical correctness and readability. Free tools like Grammarly and Hemingway will help meet your goals, but it’s also not a bad idea to hire a professional writer.
Of course, the work doesn’t end once you’ve hit publish. To get the best possible results, you will also need to share your content with as many people as possible. To achieve this, do regular social shares, not shying away from reposting articles that perform well. Moreover, try to get as many high-quality backlinks from authority sites so that your own website’s rankings improve.
Other strategies to implement include guest posts, podcast interviews, influencer marketing on YouTube, and any other method that’ll get your branded content in front of a wide audience.
6. Don’t Forget About Technical SEO
The last step to success for startups relies on the technical aspects of SEO.
As you probably know, website performance, and consequently ranking, depends on a variety of factors. These include domain name, loading speed, mobile optimization, safety protocols, regular updates, etc. You can refer to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines on a list of Dos and Don’ts for your website, but, generally, investing in excellent UX will take care of all the possible issues of technical SEO.
Of course, if there’s an element you’re not sure about, it’s best to consult with a professional SEO service. Alternatively, you can take the DIY route. If that’s your choice, you’ll need to do a thorough analysis of your site’s performance with a tool like Google Analytics. Furthermore, you might benefit from testing practices to identify the small changes you can make to improve usability.
In the end, your goal should be to turn your business into a valuable resource to your potential customers, that is, a go-to address for everything related to your niche.
Despite its seemingly intimidating nature, SEO is an investment well worth making. Especially for startup owners who need to get their business off the ground. Fortunately, however, search engine optimization is not an impossible task, and you can even take the DIY route.
Whether you’re doing things on your own or hiring a professional, the backbone of your SEO strategy needs to be thorough research. Pair it with a passion for your subject, value to your customers, and a website with great UX, and you’ll be on your way to success. Even with a shoestring budget.
Sarah Kaminski is a freelance writer and social media marketer. She works with a number of small businesses to build their brands through more engaging marketing and content.