SEO for startups: 8 low effort tips that will help you scale
Mastering SEO is not the priority for any startup. Founders and their small agile teams are usually focused on proving their business model, figuring out how they’re going to monetise and building products that satisfy the needs of the market.
It makes sense. SEO is seen as a long term channel and startups need speed and agility. But hear me out: ignoring SEO will harm your growth and reduce your scalability.
In this article I will make the case for why startups need to think about SEO, and give you some low effort SEO tips that will save you money in the long run.
Making the case for SEO in startups
Startups need SEO. They don’t need to spend big bucks on it or dedicate entire teams to it, but it does need to be factored in decisions, early on, at many levels.
Imagine a CTO that’s torn between two CMS providers that seem equally good. Both are flexible, fast and at the right price point. It seems like both options are just as good, but have they considered SEO? The chosen CMS might make all the difference.
Choosing and buying a domain name is a very special point in the journey of a startup. Bringing SEO into the conversations will save the founders from buying a domain that is hard to type, with special characters in the URL that can affect how it’s displayed across the web or that has toxic links pointing to it.
These are just two examples of how bringing SEO into the decision does not take more time or money, but it could save you thousands in the long run.
Some business owners will make the case that SEO is not their acquisition channel, but that doesn’t mean it can be ignored.
Firstly, marketing attribution is muddy at best, you dismiss the contribution of organic search to your new business pipeline.
Secondly, if your brand is known, people are going to be searching for it, no matter what your vertical is. Users will be searching to learn more about your product features, compare you to your competitors, get your contact information, find testimonials about you or troubleshoot any issues they might encounter.
Owning the conversation around those searches is going to play a key role in your brand perception, your retention rate and your customer satisfaction.
In short: even as a startup your website is your best marketing asset and, at the very least, you need to make sure it doesn’t hurt your growth.
SEO tips for startups
Now that I have definitely convinced you that your startup needs SEO, we can get to the best part of the article: the actionable tips.
These tips are easy to implement, don’t require a lot of SEO knowledge and can be incorporated into the work that you’re already doing within your business.
1. Choose the right domain name
When choosing the domain for your business you’re going to need to take a few aspects of SEO into account. I’m going to cover these in the first 3 tips.
First, you’ll need a domain name. These are the golden rules:
Keep it short and memorable
Avoid numbers, separators and special characters
2. Pick the right TLD for your domain
Next, you’re going to have to decide what your top-level domain (TLD) is going to be. Using a “.com” domain is generally a safe bet and it allows you to create specific versions of your site for each territory by building them on a subfolder structure later on.
If you are going to be targeting one specific country, a country code top-level domain (ccTLD) is going to give you a ranking advantage.
3. Buy every domain version of your brand name
My last tip on website domains is to make sure you buy every misspelled and ccTLD version of your domain and redirect it to the right one. This will keep scammers from targeting your customers
4. Find the right front-end architecture
Building a product that’s agile and lean is perfectly compatible with SEO. The tools and frameworks you choose will impact your business's growth on search. It is worth looking at what the impact on SEO they might have before committing.
If you’re working with a CMS, make sure it’s one that gives you full control over your sitemap, your robots.txt file and your URL architecture. You also need a CMS that’s optimised for website performance, but I’m sure your development team is all over that already.
5. Make your URLs user-friendly
Your URLs should be readable by humans and give your users a good understanding of where they are within your site. This will improve your user experience, make your site more shareable and trustworthy. Search engines will love you for it.
If you want to earn extra points, you can implement breadcrumbs markup to show off your beautiful URLs on the SERPs.
6. Help your PR campaigns drive SEO value
The number, quality and relevance of the links a website receives is one of the many ways search engines measure how trustworthy and authoritative your site is.
Many startups grow their brand awareness through PR campaigns and traditional advertising. If your campaign is big enough to be talked about in the press, you have an opportunity to drive SEO value from them.
You’re already spending part of your very tight budget on PR and advertising, why not improve its ROI?
These are some ways you can drive SEO value from your PR campaigns:
Always include a link to your site on press releases and marketing collateral.
Ask journalists who cover your story to kindly add a link to your site.
Make sure your campaign has a digital counterpart. This is usually a linkable asset that expands on the main point of the campaign.
Share your campaign on social media, where it can get picked up by a wider audience who could also link to your site and talk about your brand and products.
An excellent example of this is the Christmas Tinner campaign for GAME.
7. Incorporate SEO into your content strategy
Even if there is no search volume around your brand and products, you can leverage your competitors’ data in your content strategy.
Look at some of the ways in which users search for your competitors and their products, and build content around those search terms. The most common types of content you can build with this strategy will be testimonials, product comparisons or after-purchase content.
If you wan to execute this strategy to perfection, this guide on doing SEO when there's no search volume is a fantastic starting point.
As you grow there will be searches around your brand too. Make sure that you monitor what users are searching for about your business and build content around it. As I mentioned earlier in this article, this will help you own the conversation around your brand and keep it healthy.
8. Monitor your website’s health
Development teams at startups are already working on website maintenance. Adding some SEO checks to their list is not going to take up much of their time but it can help keep the site healthy and ready for growth.
Google Search Console is a free tool that can easily be used to monitor any potential site health issues that can harm SEO. These are the checks that matter the most for a growing business:
Security issues and manual actions - Once the site is set up on GSC, Google will send you an email if a security threat is found on your site or if it has decided to stop showing the site on its search results due to a breach of their policies. 99% of the time this section is empty, but that 1% can be really harmful, so it needs to be monitored.
Index coverage - This section shows if any of the URLs on your site is responding with a 4XX or 5XX error or a 3XX redirect. Issues of duplicate pages or errors in the implementation of canonical URLs.
Index sitemaps - This section will flag up any errors with the sitemaps we’ve submitted to Google. If there’s any syntax issues in your XML sitemap, you can find it here. This section will also flag up sections of your site that have been submitted to Google as important but set up as non-indexable within the page’s HTML, which is a common occurrence in organisations that deploy new versions of their site often.
Page experience - This section will help you benchmark the live performance of your site against Google’s Web Core Vitals, a set of web performance metrics that heavily impact the user experience. If your score is low, you can use other free tools such as PageSpeed Insights to help you troubleshoot your web performance issues.
I hope this has been a helpful resource in making the case for SEO within your start-up (or client if you're agency-side). Feel free to send this article straight to stubborn CTOs or CMOs!