Search Engine Optimization (SEO) still remains the heart of digital marketing. Although new methods and tactics emerge very frequently, many businesses successes still occur because of high SERP rankings of the business keywords.
The popularity of SEO lies in the fact that it is absolutely free. Where paid marketing brings in leads only the during of the campaign, organic marketing brings leads over time (Read: as long as your website stays in top rankings).
- Google Focused SEO Practices
If you are a startup on a budget and have serious competition in your target market, SEO can provide you the much-needed edge and maximum leverage. Understanding SEO for startups is a beneficial initial point for organic growth. In short,
- SEO helps startups show up higher in the search engine results.
- People have become dependent upon search engines – this translates into more traffic for your website
- SEO is free and leads to long-term startup growth
The biggest reason marketers prefer SEO is because of high ROI on minimum investments. At Cloudways, organic marketing makes up almost 60% of our overall digital marketing efforts. By leveraging SEO, we have built a broad digital marketing strategy in which our budget is spent less on marketing and more on customer success processes.
In order to build a similar structure, startups need to focus on on-page and off-page SEO factors. To help you understand how to implement SEO for your startup to leverage maximum benefit, here is a complete checklist of best SEO practices.
But before diving in, I suggest you go through the latest trends and practices of startup SEO.
1. Google Focused SEO Practices
The great thing about SEO is the complete change in the way organic marketing tactics are deployed in the last five years. Google appears to be successful in curbing a lot of shady black-hat practices. The latest changes in Google’s algorithms mean that startups who focus on long-term organic growth through the optimum use of SEO techniques will see an excellent return on their SEO strategies.
AI-Based Semantic Relationships
The search engines rely on semantic relationships. Google measures these relationships through link juice that is dependent upon the age of the website. Similarly, it also calculates the age of a website with Domain Authority (DA). So, websites that have been in the business for some time and have earned good repute (examples include Huffington Post, CNN, TechCrunch) have higher DA. If these website give your website a link, it will receive “link juice” that indirectly increases the search engine rankings of your website.
Voice Searches Have Changed Digital Landscape
Voice based search is fast becoming an important way users interact with search engines. Almost 40 percent of mobile searches in the US alone were voice searches. Voice search, thus, has become an important component of SEO for startups. Optimizing startups websites for voice search is a simple matter of following simple search engine guidelines.
Visual Searches are on the Rise on Mobile Devices
Google has already partnered with Pinterest to increase visual searches. Already Google Images has become an important search destination for many users, particularly the mobile device segment. In fact, ecommerce stores have now started using visual searches because of the precision of product discovery for the end users.
Now that you know about the hotest SEO trends, I will now move on to the tools that startups could use for building and managing better SEO campaigns
2. The SEO Toolbox for Startups
The good (and the bad) thing about SEO tools is the huge diversity in the market. This makes choosing the best tool for the job a bit difficult. To help out startups, I have compiled the following list of tools that startups could use for improving the organic marketing strategies and campaigns.
SEO Audit Tools
Audit tools are usually used to check the on-page optimization of a website, the keywords used, their density, on-page errors, server redirects and related errors. Many popular SEO audit tools are paid, but some are also available for free.
First on the list is Screaming Frog, that analyzes 30 different factors including meta descriptions, outbound links, response time, keyword placement and density, and anchor text. Screaming Frog is mostly used by ecommerce stores, news media websites, listing portals, and social media portals using technical SEO audits.
SEMRush is a multi-purpose SEO tool that is popularly used for a startup website audit. It checks keywords’ density, searches for broken links, fixes missing hrefs, detects possible AMP implementations, and ensures the security of the website.
Seomator is a free site audit tool that measures website friendliness, pagespeed, HTML tag optimization, broken links, text to code ratio, and provides the report in PDF format. It usually takes only three minutes to compile the report. Seomator is useful for young startups because it is free to use for a website audit with at most 10 pages.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a free tool for auditing and monitoring website traffic. It is probably the most accurate SEO tool on the market today because of it direct connection with Google. However, it has limited options and do not discover keyword density, broken backlinks, and missing content or H1 tags. However, it does show you how many website pages rank against specific keywords. It also checks links to the website, and the number of internal links for each page. The best part is that you can check if your website is under any manual penalty by Google. No other tool reveals these insights for your website.
SEOquake is another free SEO tool for auditing a website. You can download an easy-to-use Chrome extension for quick website analysis. It provides a basic report that covers main on-page factors including keyword rankings, missing heading tags, and text to HTML ratio.
Backlink Audit Tools
Backlink audit tools check the number of backlinks that point to your website. Backlinks boost site rankings by providing link juice and website credibility. It is important to monitor backlinks and the websites that provide those links because of the direct impact on your website’s SERP rankings and the possibility of being penalized by Google.
I will begin with a free backlink checker tool known as Backlink Watch. It searches for your startup website’s backlinks across the web, compiles a list, highlighting the anchor text, link type (dofollow or nofollow) and sometimes even the spam score.
Majestic SEO is another tool that should be an integral part of the SEO for startups strategy. It also provides complete site-audit and detailed competition analysis. Majestic SEO has its own metrics for evaluating a website’s popularity including Trust Flow and Citation Flow.
Keyword Discovery Tools
Nobody can perform website SEO without keywords. Finding keywords is a hard enough process because you never know which keywords are going to have an impact on your website’s SERP positions. That’s why the tools that present keywords and their difficulty, Keyword alternatives, semantic synonyms are the essential components for SEO for startups toolkit. These tools are invaluable for determining whether the keywords that you have picked are the right choice for your website.
KWFinder is a popular choice for keyword discovery, mainly due to the lowest price in the category. KWfinder is known for its Keyword SEO Difficulty score. A good trick for higher SERP rankings is to focus on long-tail keywords that have a keyword difficulty between 20 and 40.
Ahrefs Keyword Finder
Ahrefs offers multiple tools to optimize and get higher SERP ranks for your website. It offers a keyword finding tool, a backlink checker, a competition analysis tool, and a rank tracking tool. It is one of the best keyword finding tools in the market but comes at a hefty price.
Google Adwords Keyword Tool
Google Adwords keyword planner tool offers a wide range of keywords for paid marketing campaigns. It is a great tool to do SEO for Startups. This tool doesn’t exactly tell the organic difficulty of the keywords because that’s impossible to guess. However, it offers a competition level ranging from low to high. Startups can use this tool to get an idea about their keywords before carrying out deeper analysis using the premium tools.
Competition Analysis Tools
An important aspect of SEO for startups is keeping an eye on your competitors. The competition could be divided into two interlinked categories – Direct (those competitors that directly compete for the market share and revenue) and Indirect (those competitors that have an impact on the startup’s earnings and market share). It is important to understand the competitors’ SERP ranking strategy because of it’s direct impact on the revenue and brand position. Startups could now count on several SEO competition analysis tools to see what is going on in the market.
BuzzSumo is a content tracking and influencer discovery tool that offers a detailed competitor analysis by checking their content strategy, content length, number of links, and social profile. It also offers content monitoring and influencer strategy creation direction.
Moz Competition Checker
Moz is currently the most popular search engine optimization tool in the market. Developed by Rand Fishkin, the Moz keyword tool offers multiple tools that include a dedicated competitor analysis tool. Using this tool you can find the backlinks, domain authority and link opportunities and the spam score.
3. On-Page SEO for Startups
In this section, I will describe how startups could optimize their website. The idea is to tweak website elements to make it rank higher in SERP rankings. The process is multi-faceted and involves improving several website areas and the basic structure and layout.
On-page SEO is a very wide topic and it is impossible to cover all aspects in this article. However, I will touch upon the fundamentals of the process and offer suggestions for improving the on-page SEO for startups.
Find a keyword using one of the tools listed above. Your keyword should have a moderate difficulty score and high search volume. For example, consider ‘Startup Growth Hacks’ as my keyword. From the screenshot below, you could see that the Keyword Difficulty score is 50 and the search volume is 260.
The content for the title tag should include the focus keyword. The on-page SEO optimization is to place it as near to the start of the text as possible. The title is usually visible in the browser tab text. Here is how the Cloudways title tag looks like:
Remember to add the keyword in the URL. According to Google’s SEO optimization guide, URLs should be short and keyword rich. This helps bots easily understand what the URL and the pointed page is all about.
Here is how we have structured the URL of the page for the Cloudways Startup Program:
Page Headline (H1)
After the title tag and the URL, search engines prefer to the page headline. This feature is implemented using the HTML tag h1. It is essential that the focus keyword should be a part of the text of the h1 tag. Like elsewhere, the placement of the keywords as near to the start of the text adds value to the website’s ranking. This is how we have used the H1 tag on our website.
Use of Powerful Modifiers
Powerful Modifiers such as ‘best’, ‘top’, ‘Inspiring’, ‘Guide’, ‘Tutorial’, and many others add weight to the headline structure of the website’s content. In the following example, you could see that we have used ‘best’ to endorse our collection of site audit tools. In addition, we have also added this modifier to the description and title.
An important aspect of on-page SEO for startups is the overall optimization of the paragraphs on all the pages of the website. At the bare minimum, the focus keywords should appear in the first and the last paragraphs. In addition, remember to include LSI keywords in the body of the content.
The First Paragraph
Backlinko suggests using the focus keyword in the first 100 words of the content. This helps search engines understand the intent of the content. The following is the first paragraph of our Startup Program page. You could see the highlighted keyword in the first 100 words.
The Body Paragraph(s)
The focus keyword should also be a part of the body paragraphs. This increases the relevancy score of the content for the focus keywords. To avoid keyword stuffing, you should also use semantic keywords to maintain the impact. For instance, we are using promotions, packages, and the program offers instead of the word ‘startup program’ in our startup program page’s FAQ section.
The Final Paragraph
Many landing pages don’t have a final paragraph (that’s fine). Instead, landing pages have a Call to Action (CTA) that ask readers take a particular action. Here’s how we have used LSI keywords in our CTA while keeping it read-worthy.
Embedding multimedia (this include all non-text page elements) is not only valuable for retaining reader’s attention but also increases the average session duration. Landing pages usually have a wide banner, video, and several attractive images to add to the understanding of the visitor. By increasing average session length numbers, startups can present their USP for longer and influence their buy decision.
Responsive design is a web design methodology that ensures that the website looks and operates correctly on all screen sizes. In practical terms, Responsive Design is a ‘design-once-deploy-everywhere’ methodology that has made life very easy for the web designers and developers. Responsive design is an important search signal that Google uses to rank websites.
To check if your website’s design is responsive, run the following steps:
- If you are using Chrome, simply enable the ‘Developer Tools’ option by pressing Ctrl+Shift+I.
- Now, click on responsive on the top-center and select the mobile device of your choice.
Here is how our Startup Program Page looks:
Having external links on website pages increases its worth for the search engines. It is also a great way of optimizing a startup website for focus keywords. When this happens, search engine bots think that the page is providing value to the users and hence is linking to other websites. The bots visit the external websites with high DA and figure the type of content served on the startup’s website.
In fact, Moz has a whole list of reasons that encourages linking to external sources.
If you are unsure whether you have added external links to a page, simply install the Seoquake Chrome extension and run a ‘diagnostic test.’ It will list all the external links on the page.
Similar to external links, internal links pass link juice from one page to another. Google recommends a flat website architecture in which every page gets equal weightage.
According to the Moz blog, the deepest level shouldn’t take more than 3 clicks to reach. Additionally, a page shouldn’t have more than a 100 outgoing links. If you are not sure whether you can link to every page of the website, simply start using ‘Random posts’ section of your website as it brings various pages to the top whenever a user visits.
Website speed is an important ranking factor, especially after the Google’s ‘Speed update’ ranking algorithm update. Google wants all websites to become lightening-fast and with the introduction of AMP pages, this requirement has become an essential on-page SERP ranking signal.
Here is how you can check the website page speed.
- Go to Google page speed test
- Enter your website address and hit “Test”
- You will get a speed score and suggestions for further improvement
I have already discussed Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords in a previous section. To recap, think of LSI keywords as alternatives or “similar” keywords that you can use to boost SERP rankings. LSI keywords are usually available from two common sources. The first is the Google’s autocompleting feature that offers long-tail keyword variations.
The second source of LSI keywords is the ‘related searches’ section at the bottom of the search results listings.
Images on your website should be optimized for search engine bots. Usually, this involves providing two values for every image, the Caption and the Alt tag. In addition, the name of the image offers another opportunity to adjust keywords. Keyword optimizing these three areas improves the search engine ranking performance of your website for the targeted keywords.
According to a case study by Ahrefs, there is a direct relation between word count and website rankings. Here is a graph from the case study:
As you can see, websites and blogs with 3000-10000 words get more shares on social media. Consequently, these websites also rank higher in SERPs. Here is the proof:
As a general rule of thumb, websites on the first page of search engine results generally have more than 800 words per page.
Google now have several important sections on the results listing page. These areas include rich snippets, knowledge base, and ‘people search for’ sections. The purpose of these sections is to provide more information that is relevant to the users.
Websites with optimized content for targeted keywords are often included in the rich snippet area because they offer the most relevant information to the users. To optimize websites for rich snippets, simply add snippet codes for reviews, prices, articles, product description and title to the pages. If you are using WordPress, add a rich snippet plugin (a good option is All in One Schema Rich Snippets) to the page and optimize the content accordingly.
Given the rapidly increasing share of mobile users who search for products and services, a great idea is to enable AMP pages for your startup website to add to the user experience. AMP-based websites load faster, and provide uncluttered information, two important design elements that are essential for improved Google rankings.
Closely Monitor Bounce Rate, Average Page Time, & Traffic
Finally, once you have implemented all the above changes to your website, monitor it closely in Google Analytics. In the first few days, you will not see any dramatic improvements. However, by the end of the first week, you will see improved SERP positions for your targeted words.
It is time to start the off-page SEO for your website.
4. Off-Page SEO for Startups
Off-page SEO includes all the activities carried out to improve the SERP rankings of the website. Note that off-page SEO for startups does not include PPC or related paid activities. Popular off-page activities include link building, brand promotion and forum posts.
Dofollow vs Nofollow
Dofollow and Nofollow links play an important part in determining search engine rankings.
When a website provides a dofollow link to another website, it is a signal that the website endorses the content available on the linked website. Hence, the search engines also provide appropriate weightage (also known as the link juice) to the dofollow links.
On the other hand, nofollow links don’t provide any value to the linked website. This means the website linking to it either doesn’t trust it, or it is a paid link. Google encourages websites to use nofollow links for all websites that are not credible enough.
Here is how the dofollow link code looks like:
<a href=”http://cloudways.com“>Startup tool kit</a>
Here is how the nofollow link code looks like:
<a rel=”nofollow” href=”http://cloudways.com“>Startup tool kit</a>
Guest Post Outreach
Guests posting is a time-ested way of increasing the reach of your website. In particular, guest posting could be divided into:
Free Guest Posts
Free guest posts are generally published on low ranked websites (DA 10 to 30) and often comes with a dofollow link. You can easily pitch them with a ready-made template and many website owners are happy to publish your guest post to their website.
Paid Guest Posts
These posts are generally published on high traffic, high authority websites (generally DA 40 to 90). Generally, the price for publishing paid guest posts range from $50 to $5000(or even more).
Cross Guest Posts
Cross guest posting opportunities arise when you exchange a guest post with another website. Both websites usually have similar DA and traffic stats. In many cases, cross-posting opportunities are the result of mutual consent of the two websites.
Here is a guest posting template that startups can use to start outreach.
Source: Ninja Outreach
Discovering Guest Posting Opportunities
Searching for guest posting opportunities is a matter of executing the right Google searches. Some sample search queries are:
Keyword intitle:”write for us”
Keyword intitle:”submit” + inurl:blog
Keyword “guest author”
Keyword “guest post guidelines”
Another important activity that should be a part of evert SEO for startup strategies is commenting on relevant blogs. This has a huge impact on the organic rankings in SERPs. Blog comments are a great way to get links from other blogs.
Note that most blogs only offer nofollow links. So, blog commenting doesn’t have too much value in SERP rankings. However, it is a great way of improving brand reach, gaining initial traction and then building fruitful partnerships.
Forum postings are another off-page SEO tactic for effective startups marketing. Almost everyone involved with the startups is active on forums and generally mention their startups in forum posts. However, using it as a SEO tactic requires careful planning and attention to details. Generally, the idea is to add a link of your startup website on relevant forum threads.
Most newcomers can get a ban on forums pretty easily if they go against the official terms and conditions. So, here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Find forums that are relevant to your industry
- Create thought provoking posts that engage the users
- Don’t promote your products until and unless absolutely needed
- Only promote your startup in the designated promotional section
- Add a signature link so others know who you are
You can use advanced Google search queries to search for relevant forums. Several examples include:
Brand Authority Enhancement
As a startup, you need to build brand authority in your industry. The best way to start is to network with industry influencers and start contributing to their blogs. This presents your brand to a wide (and interested) audience. Gradually, this builds the reputation of your brand and you yourself grow as an influencer in your niche. Since you are publishing on high DA websites, this also affects your website’s SERP positions.
A good example of this strategy is Tim Soulo, Head of Marketing at Ahrefs. He joined Ahrefs three years ago and is credited for leading the brand’s growth. Soulo is currently an authority in search engine optimization and organic marketing.
Use Q&A Websites
Another way to build credibility and awareness about your brand is by answering questions on Q&A websites such as Quora and Reddit. Go to relevant topics and start answering questions. At the end of your answer, place your link so they can get to your official website.
Review websites are a great way of increasing product visibility and revenues. The good (and the bad) thing is that reviews left by visitors of these websites are visible in Google search results. The challenge here is to maintain good ratings and minimize the impact of negative ratings. Popular review websites include Trustpilot and Reseller ratings.
Get Links from .edu and .gov websites
Last year, a popular case study was about 10Beasts, an affiliate marketing website that became successful because of backlinks from education-focused websites. 10Beasts was able to gain top reviews and SERP results for difficult keywords by placing its links on the .edu websites. For this, the brand started a $500 scholarship, and pitched USA based community colleges to add the scholarship to the scholarship section. This increase the DA and search rankings for the focused keywords.
Backlinko has termed .edu links a SUPER POWERFUL formula to rank websites. Here is how to search for .Edu backlinks:
site:.edu “your keyword”
site:.edu “your keyword” + “resources”
site:.edu “your keyword” + inurl:links
site:.edu “your keyword” + “other sites”
What if you are out of ideas? What do you do? You ask others and curate a post based on their experiences. You can scale this idea into a skyscraper post on your blog and then ask the mentioned experts to promote it through their accounts. This way you get several quality links and plenty of initial traction.
Here is how we did one expert roundup on Cloudways.
We curated 101 opinions of bloggers, entrepreneurs, affiliate marketers, and journalists who are monetizing their blogs.
Steal Competitors Backlinks
Do you know you can steal competitors backlinks or get links from the same location from where your competitors are getting links. This is a simple way of going ahead in SERPs.
Simply use a competitor backlink checker tool and start searching for high DA websites in the list. Next, add you link to get the link juice. The link placement could be in the form of a guest post, a link placement or brand mention.
Here is a snapshot of the link we created using Backlinkwatcher tool.
Repair Broken Links
Links get broken all the time and this is not a very alarming situation. The best way to deal with these broken links is to either repair the links or add new ones. Thus, it is essential that you should regularly conduct broken link analysis and then take mitigating actions. Here is one tool to find broken backlinks on Wikipedia. It allows you to search for a keyword and find citation opportunities. In the example, I have used ‘Cloud hosting’ as the keyword to search for linking opportunities.
Creative Adword Ad Copy
Fake it till you make it! You must have heard this idiom and it is very true for digital marketing. To perform SEO for startups, simply use what is already working and (if you could) improve it. This applies to Google search ad copies can be your best bet.
For example, we need to find keywords for ‘Startup hosting’. Here are the results of Google ads.
As you can see these ads are keyword rich. You can easily find a few quality keywords such as app hosting, hybrid cloud hosting, ssd cloud hosting and many more. You can even re-purpose the content already available in the add as per your means.
Republish Old Posts
One essential but long term approach that works for SEO for startups is republication of old posts. In many cases, an year-old blog has old enough content that could be republished. For example, if your startup sells plugins for image compression, it can repurpose a previously published listicle into a new publication by changing the title, adding additional/fresh content, and adding engaging images.
Create Keyword Optimized YouTube Videos
One great off-page activity is creating videos that focus on relevant ideas and keywords. Once you are ready to upload, write video descriptions that are keyword optimized and include nofollow links to your landing pages.
Here is how to find valuable keywords to rank higher on Youtube.
I searched ‘Startup marketing…’
These are most searched long-tail keywords on YouTube. Videos that target these keywords have a greater chance of higher rankings and thus provide more link juice to the linked pages.
Promote on Pinterest
Pinterest plays a crucial role in boosting the visual search performance of startup websites. For this, promote your posts on Pinterest and they will show up in Google image results. So, here is how you can get traffic from Pinterest.
User Searches Google Images >>> Pinterest Images >>> Your Website
You can add your targeted URL in the description area. Note that you will need long-tail keywords for better results. In fact, Survivallife.com website gets the majority of its traffic from Pinterest alone.
Like YouTube, the process of discovering is simple. Search for your desired keywords and then produce targeted content. For instance, I have used ‘Startup marketing…’
Here are the results. As you can see, trending keywords are shown in the autocomplete section. However, you can also check ‘searches to try’ section to find more keyword ideas.
If you are just starting SEO optimization for the first time, don’t worry, here are some optimization questions that will trouble you in the start and their solutions.
Q1. Why is my website not getting ranked on Google?
One of the most asked questions is why the website is not getting ranked? This usually happens because Google has a sandbox feature. It keeps all new websites in the sand box for a few months to determine if it is a spam or an actual website.The sandbox period ranges from 2-4 months and during this time the website will not show up in Google searches. So, you will have to wait and keep working.
Q2. Why website is ranking on the wrong keywords?
Your startup can rank for wrong keywords if you didn’t optimize it properly. This usually happens when the website doesn’t have a focus keyword at major places including metas, titles, headings, image alts, and first few paragraphs.So, focus on the onpage methods that we provided above to rank for the right keyword for your startup.
Q3. Website is properly optimized but still not ranking for my desired keywords, why?
Even if your website is properly optimized there is a chance that the keywords it is using are difficult to rank on. You can check the difficulty level of the keyword by searching them in a keyword research tool like KWfinder or Moz. Once you have the right keywords, instead of just adding them to your page also create backlinks at high DA websites. After properly re-optimizing seo for startup’s website, this will help it rise in the rankings. If that still doesn’t happen, then check Google Webmaster Tools to see if any penalty exists.
This is one of the most comprehensive guides you will find on doing SEO for startups. Simply follow the above-described actions to optimize your startup website. Once you are done, wait for a few weeks to let your website rise in rankings. Repeat the offpage activities with all types of content to rank higher.
Remember consistency is the key to success.
If you have any question, feel free to ask in the comments below.
Arsalan, a Digital Marketer by profession, works as a Startups and Digital Agencies Community Manager at Cloudways. He loves all things entrepreneurial and wakes up every day with the desire to enable the dreams of aspiring entrepreneurs through his work!