Why Startups Should Understand SEO Basics

One of the biggest challenges I’ve noticed startups facing is understanding how much marketing will be a driver of their success, and how much of the mix will be just down to their exceptional product. As Gary Vaynerchuk frequently points out on his #ASKGARYVEE show, no amount of marketing will fix a broken product, that doesn’t meet market needs. However, when you look at some of the most successful starups, marketing correctly definitely featured heavily in their success.

Shiny Object Syndrome

Many first time entrepreneurs, building their first venture, are easily caught up with the ‘shiny object syndrome’ that I see many first time builders in the old ‘internet entrepreneurship’ niche fall victim to. What that means is looking at ‘newer’ or ‘cooler’ marketing strategies that promise the ability to scale quickly, and deliver huge audiences through ‘hacking’ or using the very latest tools, ideas and gimmicks.

At the same time, traditional – and yes SEO is now old enough to definitely be considered one of the ‘traditional’ marketing approaches used by successful brands – approaches are neglected to the point of putting the venture at risk, or at least of throwing away millions of dollars in revenue for the sake of some simple fixes. I would be fairly confident that just a few hours of advice from a competent SEO professional could have an impact on more than half of struggling first year/two-year startups. But I don’t expect you to take my word for it, of course, let’s look at some examples.

Not Understanding How They’re Found

Optimizing your site is about more than just showing up in the search results, it’s about knowing which pages people are finding, improving how many pages are found, and optimizing the experience of users no matter which part of your ecosystem they land on. Let’s take a look at a startup trying to shake up a fairly new, but mostly retail based service in London (I won’t out them specifically here, naturally).

When you search for [their service] + locality they rank on Google for a page like this…


So their beautiful homepage, and planned customer journey from there is all for naught. Anyone who finds them searching for their service locally (probably the majority of searchers since their service is often provided by a local shop) lands on that awful page which doesn’t even offer any clear indication of what you’re meant to do to place an order and solve your problem. Nothing is clickable on that page. Just a map image and an unclickable list of towns.

Missing Easy Opportunities for Growth

The simple truth is that when you offer a service, people will usually find you by searching. Your press coverage, rave reviews on a few review sites, ProductHunt etc, will drive some initial traction but you have to leverage that into sustainable interest and traffic. Continuing to hustle, run amazing ads, write for hundreds of sites as a guest author explaining your industry and how to leverage your tools as part of the solution, and so on, will definitely work. However it’s a huge investment compared to what would often be very easy, instant, fixes.

Let’s go back to our London example. Even if you don’t understand SEO, all you need to think about for the purposes of this example is that all Google really wants to do is return the ‘best’ results for their users. It shouldn’t surprise you that, in this case, that sparse, and practically useless page, isn’t performing very well and Google has it consigned to page 4+ (where nobody looks) for most of their target search terms.

Terms that would be driving them a lot of business, as it is people searching, right that second, in need for their service. Needing it immediately.

They’ve done great marketing work, had coverage in the local press, tech press. Their site probably has solid authority in the eyes of Google, but because the page it is meant to return is so bad, they get nothing.

There’s very little ‘secret sauce’ in SEO when you’re working on a project like this one. All they need to do is make that page look better, and be functional, so it actually serves the needs of searchers. Then add more pages to target the specific towns they work in explaining useful information for that town (turnaround times, when the service will arrive etc). The combination of their previous promotional work, and some useful pages with decent content would drive immediate results.

Not understanding anything about SEO is giving up on easy, immediate results, in many, many cases. That’s not something I’d want to miss out on if I were building a new brand, even if all the other channels were working well, it’s just too much to leave on the table.

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Author: Steve Brownlie

Steve loves helping businesses grow and receive the press exposure they deserve. He does that every day as the lead consultant at palladous. He can be reached on Twitter.

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