Having a solid Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy for any business website is imperative, but it's especially important for brands in the always competitive and fast paced startup mindset. As new technologies and tactics become more advanced in digital marketing, SEO will always remain constant. There are many reasons for this, but a few important ones to consider include:

  • Google processes over 2 trillion searches per year (SEL)
  • 93% of B2B buyers use search to begin buying process (HubSpot)
  • SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate - outbound has a 1.7% close rate (imFORZA)
  • Search is the #1 driver of traffic to content sites, beating social media by more than 300% (imFORZA)

While the entrepreneurial spirit often sees us dive into challenges headfirst, it's important to take a step back and look at the big picture of SEO and to understand what you'll need in order to make your campaign successful. Taking the time to set up a firm SEO foundation will not only ensure you are performing well from an organic search standpoint, but it also help you pick keywords and develop content that will help you engage your target audience at a deeper level and inspire them to convert when they browse your website.

Here are our SEO tips for startups and growth focused businesses...

Focus On Your Strategy

With any marketing strategy, you need to have a goal in pursuing that effort. Most of the time, because of general excitement or common lack of knowledge and resources such as time and budget, startups buy a dot com, build a website, push publish, and simply let the website exist as real estate. This approach is somewhat understandable as a lot of startup and business growth relies heavily on networking and word of mouth, but when you neglect a solid SEO strategy, you're literally leaving money and opportunity on the table, both valuable resources which we wish we had more of in growing our businesses.

So to start, you need to decide and understand what you ultimately want to accomplish with your SEO strategy. Is it to:

  • Drive more traffic and build brand awareness?
  • Drive more leads and opportunities?
  • Drive more revenue and boost the bottom line?

Once you decide on what you want to accomplish with your SEO strategy, it's time to get to working on building the target audience you're trying to attract to your website. To do this, go through previous clients or prospects that fit your "ideal" audience and conduct market research. Take the following into consideration:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Job title
  • Industry
  • Personality
  • Attitudes
  • Behavior

But also ask yourself questions about how you first came into contact with your current clients or prospects:

  • What issues were they having?
  • Why did they reach out or show interest?
  • Why were your conversations successful?
  • Why were your conversations unsuccessul?
  • What materials were valuable in your conversations?

Going through this exercise will help you better understand your prospective customers and also understand what marketing materials and content you'll need to create to attract them from search.

Focus On Keyword & Query Research

In order to attract your prospective clients and target audience from search, you'll need to know what keywords and queries they are using when they conduct their searches. First, again, consider your conversations with your clients and the language they are using. When they describe their problems or reasons for contacting you, what words or phrases do they use? What specific things are they saying that indicate how they would be searching?

Take these notes and compile a list of keywords, queries, and phrases your users might be using to search for your products or services. Consider various related phrases to the brainstorm list you just created and begin looking at how much search volume and competition those keywords and queries have. To do this, you'll need to have access to a keyword research tool such as: 

Most of these offer free plans, but in order to get the most out of their features and capabilities, you'll want to sign up for a premium account to get access to more data.

Another step you'll want to take in your keyword research is to review what keywords and queries your competitors are ranking for. To do this, pick a list of 3 to 5 competitors and take a look at what keywords are driving the most traffic to their website. To do this, you'll want to have access to a ranking tool like SpyFu or SEMRush. Not only will these tools show you the keywords are estimated to drive the most traffic to your competitor's website, but they will also show you the search volume, competition for that term, as well as what URL on their site is ranking for that term, helping you better understand the content needed to rank.

Once you have a list of prioritized keywords and queries (pro tip - go for high volume, low competition), you'll want to know what kind of content is ranking for those keywords and queries. To help you understand what I mean, I have broken this down into three search categories.

  • Transactional: This is where a user is trying to take an action. In this case, they could be making a purchase, downloading information, or more.
  • Informational: This is where a user is looking for a specific piece of information. In this case, this could be looking for information on products, services, or a topic.
  • Navigational: This is where a user is looking for a particular brand or website. In this case, it would be a user searching for a particular business to possibly learn more about it.

When users are searching they usually fall into one of these 3 categories. Take the time to put your prioritized keywords and queries into these three categories based on your research and review of the content types that are ranking for these keywords. From there, you can begin creating a content strategy to attract researchers and buyers alike.

Focus On Your Content Strategy

By now you've probably heard more times than you count that you need to be developing content on your website. In fact, you've probably heard it so much that you don't even know what it means anymore, right? What is "content"? What does it do? Why do I need to develop so much of it? How does it help grow my business?

To start, content is anything that communicates with and informs your end user or target audience. Content can come in many forms, for instance content can be (but of course isn't limited to):

  • Blog posts
  • Articles
  • Whitepapers
  • Video
  • Infographics
  • Podcasts
  • Guides

Creating and strategically distributing content is essential to any SEO strategy, but it's important that you do it all with a clear purpose and do it consistently. A lot of startups and businesses create massive amounts of content simply because they feel the more content they have, the more people will land on their site. This isn't always true and what it actually does is creates a massive volume of content that may actually serve no purpose - i.e., convincing your prospects to convert or keep moving through the site.

When you create a content marketing strategy, look at the content you create like a funnel...

Content Marketing Strategy

(We borrowed this awesome image from Hinge)

You'll want to, again, have content that is targeted toward your prospects at each stage of sales funnel and also fits the criteria of:

  • Transactional
  • Informational
  • Navigational

...with clear next steps and calls to action based on the content type to keep users moving through your site or ultimately converting. Remember, when you create content, there should ultimately be a next step for that user depending on where they are in the content funnel. Is it to make a purchase or download a resource? Is it to contact you or signup for an event or newsletter? Consider the next step and put it into the content so they know what you want them to do next.

Focus On Getting Quality Links & Mentions

Now, as you start creating this awesome, target audience driven content, you'll also want to be sharing and distributing it as much as possible. Of course there are the typical marketing channels you'll utilize such as your email marketing and social media platforms, but one of the most important factors in SEO is acquiring high quality, authoritative backlinks to your website and content. But obtaining quality backlinks isn't as simple as "if you build it, they will come". Oh no my friend, it takes legwork.

Attracting backlinks hasn't changed over the years. It still comes down to the following areas:

  • Creating killer content (duh)
  • Outreach (building relationships)
  • Guest blogging (become a resource or thought leader)
  • Link reclaimation (update out of date links to your content or competitor's content)
  • Relevant industry listings (local SEO and authoritative industry directories)

The first bulletpoint should be obvious, if you're not creating valuable, informative content, no one is going to want to link to it or read it. Start creating content that serves a purpose to the audience that's reading it, but also provides value for those linking to it, strengthening their content.

When you conduct outreach, make sure that what you are offering is something that is actually relevant to the person from whom you are asking to link. Give them a few quick bulletpoints on why your article or content will help them and let them know you are will to share their content to help get eyes on it. Remember to continue to build these relationships as well, don't simply ask for a link and never reach out to them again. Focus on continuing the conversations and ask them what type of content or information from you would help them in the future. This will also help with your guest blogging efforts bulleted above as well.

Lastly, link reclaimation is often an untapped resource. Take a look (using the backlink tools such as Majestic, Ahrefs, or Open Site Explorer) at your competitor's backlink profiles, looking specifically for broken or out of date links. What you can do now is compile these links and reach out to those sources offering up your content as a new source with better or more current data, or you can begin creating a content strategy around these topics and reach out at a later date.


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Focus On Website Errors & Issues

It's also extremely important that you are always on top of the technical issues or errors that are happening on your website. For instance, from a search engine standpoint, if Google or Bing see that you repeatedly have broken pages or website issues, they eventually will stop ranking you because you are providing a bad user experience, which is of the utmost importance to search engines. Think of it from their perspective - if they provide broken or useless websites riddled with technical errors in their search results, users will simply stop using that search engine.

When you check your website for these issues, check for things like:

  • Broken pages
  • Broken images
  • Broken links (inbound and outbound)
  • Thin or duplicate content
  • Spelling or grammatical errors
  • Duplicate or missing title tags

And a lot more. You'll want to regularly check the technical aspects of your website listed above, as well as others, to make sure you are staying on top of them and keeping an inventory of your fixes to see what changes had the biggest impact on organic performance. At Marcel Digital, we break our audits and analyses into:

  • Weekly
  • Monthly
  • Quarterly
  • Yearly

We suggest you break your SEO check ins around the same timelines. There are a ton of great crawlers and SEO platforms to help you find these issues, we suggest Google Search Console and ScreamingFrog. Otherwise, if you'd like, we're happy to take a look for you!

Focus On Mobile

Back in April of 2015, Google announced that "mobile-friendliness" would become a ranking factor in their algorithm. This means that Google would give preference to websites with a great mobile user experience to those that lacked in an optimized mobile experience. As more and more people use smartphones and tablets around the world to conduct their searches, it becomes more and more important to Google and other search engines to emphasize mobile optimization as a priority in SEO.

To optimize on mobile for SEO performance, focus on:

  • Responsive design
  • Speed
  • Viewports
  • Spacing of buttons and links
  • Not using popups or ads

If you're not sure how your website is performing from a mobile standpoint, or would like Google's direct opinion on your site, use their Mobile Friendliness Test tool. Remember, when you design or update your website, make sure you are testing it on your mobile and tablet devices to put yourself in the shoes of your users and get the full effect. Take notes of the issues you are experiencing and pass them along to your web development team to get them fixed and updated, and do so regularly!

Focus on Testing Your Site

While user engagement is not considered a direct ranking factor in the world of SEO, it is thought to have a strong indirect impact on your organic visibility. For instance, Google pays attention to users clicking from search over to your website and how often they come back if they didn't find what they were looking for. If users aren't engaging with your content or website for certain queries or keywords, again, Google and other search engines could potentially stop ranking your pages.

Google wants to rank websites that:

  • Relevant to a user's search
  • Easy to use and navigate
  • Work on different devices
  • Deliver high quality experiences

One way you can avoid this is to take a look at your Google Analytics account to see what pages are underperforming from an organic standpoint and prioritize those pages based on importance. Once you do that, hypothesize reasons as to why these pages are underperforming and start thinking of ways that these issues could be alleviated:

  • Is the content helpful?
  • Are calls to action hidden?
  • Are there distractions?
  • Are there no next steps?

Consider as many factors as you can when analyzing your page. After that, begin testing ideas on your website to help raise engagement metrics and keep users on your website and ultimately taking action. At Marcel Digital, we highly recommend considering Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) to help in testing changes on your website. Leveraging CRO gets you the data you need through not only Google Analytics, but heat and clicks maps, user videos, user surveys, and more, to give you ideas on where the biggest painpoints are on your website. From there, you can run A/B tests and split URL tests to see if your changes ultimately end in higher engagement and conversion rates, ensuring you are making the right changes to your website every time.

Be Patient

One of the biggest misconceptions about SEO is that it's a one time effort that will yield quick (and continual) results. I'm here to tell you, after many years and many campaigns - it ain't gonna work like that. SEO isn't a sprint, it's a marathon, a long term marketing strategy that is focused on your business goals while remaining flexible enough to withstand changes in your industry and your prospective client's tastes.

If you go into a SEO campaign thinking that it's a series of quick fixes, then your foundation and reasons for doing SEO are already flawed. Focus on developing a strong strategy that is tailored to your target audience and business goals. Overlapping these two areas will ensure that you are doing all you can to build your business and also provide a great, relevant user experience for those landing on your website from search. Happy optimizing!

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