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SEO for Growth

SEO for Startups: How to Grow Your Traffic on a Lean Budget

Startups looking to SEO as a growth channel have to be prudent with their budget. Here are 16 practical tips to help you scale traffic and drive results.

17 mins read time
Haley Kuehl
Haley Kuehl

Jul 01, 2022

Why Startups Should Invest in SEO from Day 1

Too slow. Too expensive. Too much work. That’s what a lot of startups say about SEO, and TBH, we get why it’s a pretty big turn-off. But every coin has a flip side, and this has a pretty major one. SEO may take time, but the results are long-lasting. 

Hiring an SEO agency may come at a big expense, but it delivers unbeatable ROI. And sure, SEO is a lot of work, but when you have the right partner, you can trust them to handle it while you focus on making your startup a success.

So, why SEO for startups? There are two big reasons:

Your Audience is Looking for You

That amazing product or service you’ve spent years perfecting? Imagine plopping it into a vast ocean, never to be seen again. That’s what it’ll be without SEO — a drop in the ocean. Think of SEO as a navigator for your audience. They’re looking for what you have to offer, and SEO will make sure they find it.

Not sure what your audience wants or where they’re looking for it? Ask yourself these questions:

startup seo questions

Answering these questions is the start of your startup’s SEO journey.

Scalable, Free Organic Traffic

As a startup, we’re betting the words “free” and “scalable” got your attention. Startups are notoriously scrappy, making the most of whatever resources they have available to them to achieve rapid growth.

But they often overlook “free” SEO. And like anything, there’s a bit of a catch. SEO practices are free to implement — but they won’t be as successful without the help of a knowledgeable SEO expert and a solid SEO strategy.

Still, once you get an SEO plan in place, it will continue to grow your site’s traffic over time, leading to “free” results and “scalable” growth. How?

how seo works

Once you start this cycle, the results will continue to roll in. The same can’t be said for other methods, like PPC, where the results end as soon as you stop paying for it.

How to Choose an SEO Agency for Your Startup

You may have a billion-dollar idea…just without the billion-dollar budget. We get that. Startups grow out of big, bold ideas, and you’ve probably already put in the hours and the energy to equal untold amounts of money. 

So now we’re asking you to pay even more…for SEO?

Yep. No matter how lean your budget, allocating a portion of it for SEO will pay off down the road. You’ll position your brand miles ahead of the other startups in your industry who chose to forgo it, and you’ll reap the rewards. If not today, then tomorrow. And for many tomorrows to come.

But with countless SEO agencies touting their startup expertise, how do you narrow the field? Here’s what to look for:

Experience Working with Startups in Your Niche

An SEO agency with a strong portfolio of startup clients is an absolute must. But even better — an agency that specializes in your niche. 

They’ll have unbeatable industry insights and an understanding of your brand’s competitive landscape. They’ll also know how to guide you through the specific stage of startup SEO.

stages of startup seo

 

Evidence of Scalable Traffic

When it comes to startup SEO, you want to see more traffic. But if you truly want to scale, you’ll need the right traffic. That comes from aligning keywords to search intent. Your SEO agency should be able to recommend high-converting long-tail keywords that grow traffic as your brand grows.

popular keywords vs long tail search traffic

 

Ability to Drive Meaningful Results Within Your Budget

“We can’t afford SEO” is a fallacy. Shift that thinking to, “We can’t afford not to do SEO.” SEO has some of the biggest ROI within the entire scope of marketing. That’s why so many brands are allocating more of their overall budget to search.

seo budget change in last year

Source: SearchEngine Journal

And when it comes to SEO services for startups, you usually find you get what you pay for.

seo budget and trafficSource: SearchEngine Journal

While it’s true that you often have to spend money to make money, you’ll want to be sure the SEO agency you choose can demonstrate results in line with your budget.
 

3 Startup SEO Success Stories

Need some SEO inspo? Check out how these startups went from zero to search hero.

Mint

The Start:

Mint was launching its financial management app in the midst of an already saturated market. They knew they had a superior product, but how would they stand out from the crowd?

The Method:

Mint took a good hard look at their USP and their buyer persona. They realized that security was their target audience’s #1 concern. Fortunately, that’s exactly what they offered. Aligning their keywords with search intent, they promoted their “bank-level data security” on every page. 

With minimal budget, the Mint team also chose to focus on content. They launched a blog optimized for SEO and ensured all landing pages were primed for SEO with easy navigation and a strong CTA. 

They also launched their own Q&A forum, Mint Answers, featuring a panel of financial experts. Experts and users both answered in-depth financial questions that often lined up with search queries, bringing even more organic traffic.

The Result:

In just two years, Mint grew from an unknown startup to 1.5 million users. At that point, the company sold for $170 million. A true SEO success story.

mint ss

 

Product Hunt

The Start:

Product Hunt knew they had a great idea, but they had a grand total of zero followers for their daily new product leaderboard. 

The Method:

Product Hunt went against the grain and bucked traditional startup advice. They went after user acquisition before they ever even had a product. Relying on word-of-mouth and referrals, the Product Hunt team put together exclusive invites and email lists for their ideal buyer persona. They also leaned into digital PR and sought out influencers to tout their product.

Product Hunt’s founder went hard at blogging, writing news releases, and brand journalism. His focus on outreach and link building paid off big time in the long run.

The Result:

Just a few weeks post-launch, Product Hunt had more than 2,000 verified users. Today, the company is swiftly approaching 5 million users, features hundreds of products, and brings in more than $3 million in revenue annually.

product hunt ss

Flow-e

The Start:

Flow-e, an email productivity tool for small businesses, had no dedicated SEO budget but understood the importance of getting their brand in front of consumers and increasing organic traffic to their site.

The Method:

The first hurdle was tackling the blog and optimizing the website architecture for search engine crawling and indexing. They took a siloed approach, breaking the blog down into categories by searching for parent topics that aligned with their priority keywords.

Flow-e also looked for low-volume, high-converting keywords that matched visitors’ search intent. It didn’t always deliver the most traffic, but it usually delivered the best.

From there, the goal was to build backlinks. Using an SEO tool, the Flow-e team monitored the outreach their competitors were doing, then put together a strategy to links from industry directories, forums, and social bookmarking sites.

The Result:

In one year, Flow-e was able to grow organic traffic by 889 percent. Also in 12 months’ time, the brand was able to grow referring domains from 1 to 189. 

flow-e ss


16 SEO Tips for Startup Businesses

So what do you do with a great idea and a kickass product when you barely have two coins to rub together? You do exactly what you’ve been doing: You get creative. SEO can be done within your budget and at scale. Here are some of the tips you can take to the bank (or take to your SEO agency).

1. Improve Website UX

User experience matters more than ever, and if you’re ignoring UX on your site, you're missing an important SEO opportunity. Your SEO agency will be able to audit your site for UX, using tools like heat maps or Google Analytics to discover where (and then hopefully why) visitors are abandoning ship. 

ux and seo

2. Get Buy-In from Decision Makers

If you’re expecting your partners or leaders to pay up, first you’re going to need to get them to buy in.

If the benefits of SEO (more traffic, more awareness, more conversions) aren’t enough, it’s time to switch tactics. Cut straight to the bottom line — how soon you can expect your investment to break even and start turning into profit.

seo break even pointSource

Make sure your pitch is realistic, well thought out, and answers the most critical question — what are we getting in return for our money?

3. Establish SEO Goals

You always want to be sure you’re setting SMART goals — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. But SEO comes with another set of parameters for setting the goals you want to achieve with your strategy.

seo goal pyramidSource

In this case, start at the top of the pyramid, beginning with the outcome you want to see from your SEO efforts. Work your way down from there with smaller goals that get you closer to achieving that outcome. Make sure you share all of these with your SEO agency and rely on them to help break your outcome goal down into achievable daily, weekly, and monthly goalposts you can meet.

4. Budget for SEO

When it comes to SEO, you get what you pay for. But when you’re a lean startup, you may not have much to put into it. Still, whatever your budget, we recommend that you allocate a good chunk of it to finding and retaining a reputable SEO agency. What can you expect to pay? SEO services really run the gamut, from next-to-nothing to eyeball-popping amounts.

monthly seo budget

We’ll be straight with you: If you want enterprise-level SEO on a startup budget, it’s not going to be easy. But before you start thinking cut-rate SEO is the way to go, think again. Bottom-dollar agencies are going to leave your brand at the bottom of the barrel. Instead, start vetting agencies now and plan for the one that’s the best fit. A reputable agency that’s knowledgeable in startups will see the potential and will work with you to create an SEO package that works for you.

5. Create an SEO Strategy

We love startups. We love the can-do mentality and the fierce energy you devote to getting going (and growing) as quickly as possible.

Sometimes, though, that comes at the expense of a strategic growth plan. Whether you’re pulling yourself up by your bootstraps or more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-er, you don’t always have the time to sit down and craft a detailed SEO strategy.

That’s where your SEO agency comes to the rescue. They have the time, the resources, and the know-how to get it done.

best practices for seo strategy

Your strategy should include all parts of SEO — technical, on-page, and off-page — and will likely overlap with other marketing channels, especially content, lead gen, and social.

6. Improve Technical SEO

Technical SEO gets brushed off at times and glossed over as “low-hanging fruit.” To that we say, “Just pick it!” Adjustments to technical SEO are something your SEO experts should be able to handle easily, and they often have the quickest and biggest impact. Here’s how to improve your site’s technical SEO:

Mobile Optimization

Go ahead and start assuming that anyone who finds and visits your site is doing so on a mobile device. If it looks clunky, is hard to browse, or doesn’t adapt to multiple device sizes, you can be sure those visitors won’t stick around long.

mobile search traffic

 

Site Speed

Waiting for a website to load? Who’s got time for that? Not your visitors. 

website load speed

Improving page load speed is one of the most important elements of technical SEO and a speedy way to ensure visitors hang around on your site.

Core Web Vitals

Google released its Core Web Vitals to measure websites’ overall user experience. It takes into consideration load time, navigation, image and visual quality, and more. It’s a key way that Google analyzes your site, and ensuring you hit the sweet spot in each will improve your rankings.

core web vitals

7. Conduct Keyword Research

Keywords have long been the foundation of SEO strategies. And while we’re learning that other tactics are equally as effective, it’s never wise to ignore your keywords. Your SEO agency will identify the keywords you need to be ranking for and put together a plan to make that happen.

keyword research process

It’s not likely you’re going to rank for broad, high-volume keywords (at least not well), so you’re usually better off targeting middle and bottom of the funnel commercial keywords. Also remember that niche keywords will likely be more effective because they fall in line with visitors’ search intent. Niche and long-tail keywords that answer specific questions will improve your visibility, but more importantly, they’ll improve conversions.

8. Create Content

Content and SEO are like PB&J — good on their own, better together. Content is a time-consuming process, but when done right, it’s sure to set you up for SEO success. Here’s how your SEO agency will weave content into your strategy:

Content for Each Stage of The Buyer's Journey

Where are your buyers in the funnel? It probably matters more than you know. Understanding where your visitors are in their decision-making process will help your SEO team craft a strategy that works at every stage.

the buyers journey

 

Content that Educates

Hopefully, as a startup, you’re offering something no one else has before (or at least perfecting what’s already on the market). But that means your buyers are going to need more education than average. And it’s probably why most B2B marketers say educational content is one of their top picks for customer nurturing.

 

content marketing methods b2b audience nurturingSource

Content that Answers Questions Your Audience is Asking

You may have noticed we’re talking about search intent a lot here. That’s because, on the whole, the marketing industry is beginning to understand just how powerful it is. When your content answers your visitors’ most pressing questions, you’ll get better results. 

matching user intent with contentSource

Hot tip for aligning content with search intent: Google your top keywords and check out the “People Also Ask” section. Make sure the content you’re creating answers these specific questions thoroughly. 

Content that Establishes Your Brand as an Authority

Your brand’s domain authority mostly comes from outreach and link building. A great backlink profile will improve your authority and move your brand up the SERPs (search engine results pages). But if you aren’t sure where to start, look inside your team. 

Who is well-positioned to act as a thought leader for your brand? Who has the loudest voice, strongest opinions, and isn’t afraid to share them? Start crafting your thought leadership plan now. It can begin with a few posts on LinkedIn, then possibly a guest blog opportunity. Whatever you do, it’s one of the best ways to increase traffic to your website.how marketers benefit from thought leadershipSource

9. Understand Search Intent

There it is again! Search intent. It’s changing the way we SEO. As noted above, search intent helps you understand exactly what information your buyer persona needs, at whatever stage of the buyer’s journey they’re in. Once you identify common search intents at each stage, you can start pulling keywords and building content around that intent. 

Search intent is a top consideration for Google (it’s sort of what their whole business model is based on), and it will impact how your pages rank. When looking at search intent in your target audience, consider all stages of the funnel and all types of intent, which include:

  • Navigational: Users know which website they want to visit, and it’s easier to search than trying to remember and type out the whole URL.
  • Informational: These users are typically early in the buyer’s journey. They want answers to a question, or they want more information on a specific subject.
  • Commercial: Also known as “preferential,” this search intent is when users start to research specific brands or products. They may also search for comparisons or reviews.
  • Transactional: This happens late in the buyer’s journey when they are ready to make a purchase. These searches are usually branded and far more likely to end in conversion.

10. Find Quick Wins with Existing Content

This is a biggie for the budget-minded startups out there. If you already have some existing content, you can refresh and repurpose it to bring in new traffic. Simply updating old blogs will make a big impact, but you can also repurpose them into other content formats, like infographics or videos.

biggest benefits of repurposing old content

 

11. Get Backlinks

As we’ve mentioned, outreach and link building are some of the top ways to improve your backlink profile, build authority, and increase traffic to your site. Surprisingly, 95 percent of all web pages have zero backlinks. But for those that do, the more, the better.

backlinks and google position

 

Backlinks will improve your ranking tremendously, and as long as they’re high-quality and reputable, you can’t have too many.

12. Conduct Competitor Research

You may not always be able to out-spend the competition, but you can outthink them. Conducting an in-depth competitor audit will tell you exactly what they’re doing to get traffic to their site and uncover gaps your product may be able to fill.

Your SEO agency will begin by using an SEO tool to research all the keywords they’re ranking for. From there, they’ll look at the messaging they’re using, the search intent they’re filling, and find opportunities for your brand to step in and shine.

13. Optimize for On-Page SEO

On-page SEO encompasses everything on your website, from site architecture to content optimization to CTAs. An SEO expert can audit your site to tell you exactly what adjustments need to be made to improve user experience, align with search intent, and increase conversions. 

On-page SEO can be as simple as tweaking title tags and meta descriptions or as complex as restructuring your entire website or migrating it to a new CMS.

14. Invest in Digital PR to Get Publicity

Digital PR is a lot like traditional PR, except it all happens online, where it can be linked and shared with ease. That means it’s a powerful tool for SEO and will drive traffic, awareness, and backlinks. Digital PR tactics include:

digital pr tactics



HARO (Help a Reporter Out) is a great free tool to get your startup featured on external media sites and build your backlink profile. Simply sign up for your account and respond to requests that deal with the industry subjects you know best. 

15. Collect Reviews

Reviews build trust and reputation, but even more than that, they can be used to generate more traffic and brand awareness through SEO. Here are some of the ways you can put reviews to work for your startup:

  • List your brand on industry directories that collect reviews and ratings.
  • Launch an email campaign to ask early customers or beta testers to submit a review.
  • Incentivize reviews with discounts, upgrades, early access, or other perks.
  • Add a review plugin to your website to make it easier for the user.
  • Use a widget to display recent reviews directly on the site.

More reviews make it more likely that your brand will be featured in Google review snippets in organic search.

16. Track and Measure

The benefit of having an SEO agency for startups is that they can not only collect the data, but they can distill it down into actionable insights and recommend actions that will improve your results. Some of the KPIs you’ll want to track include:

  • Organic traffic: How many visitors are finding your brand through organic search?
  • Keyword performance: What keywords does your brand rank for and which priority, niche, and long-tail keywords could be improved?
  • Backlinks: How many links are in your portfolio and are they from high-quality, reputable sources?
  • Domain authority: Also called domain rating or trust flow depending on the SEO service used, this measures the quality of your backlinks and health of your site.
  • Bounce rate: This tells you when visitors are leaving your blog and other pages so you can make decisions to optimize and keep them on-site.

Your SEO agency will have favorite tools they use to measure and report analytics and should help create a dashboard and reporting schedule to give you clear visibility into how your SEO strategy is performing. 

SEO Takes Time, but When it Works, the Results are Evergreen

There are a lot of arguments against startups going full-speed ahead with SEO. We know because we’ve heard them all. The big ones — too expensive, takes too much time — we can’t exactly argue. It does cost money (if you want it done right), and it will take time (usually 6-12 months for significant results). But, what we can tell you is this: Every dollar and every minute you invest in SEO will return to you. And it will be doubled, tripled, or even more. 

We know when you’re getting boots on the ground and getting your startup up and running, you’re focused on today. That’s why you need an SEO agency for startups that can stand in your place and focus on tomorrow. And all the tomorrows to come.

We promise it’s worth it.

At FPS, we’re knowledgeable in startup SEO, and we have a full-service team of experts waiting to get started today so you can experience tremendous growth now and in the future. Contact us to start the conversation.

 

Haley Kuehl

After getting her start in teaching, Haley fell in love with SEO because it let her combine two of her favorite things: writing and getting nerdy with data and code. She now has more than 12 years of SEO and inbound marketing experience with clients ranging from small ecommerce brands to huge associations and SaaS companies. She prides herself on being able to see the big picture while also noting the nitty gritty details that make a difference for users and search bots. In her free time she bakes a LOT of bread and cookies and loves to travel.

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