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9 Steps For Startup SEO Websites

As a startup, you'll want to maximize your reach to find potential users at a low acquisition cost.

SEO, or search engine optimization is perfect for this because it can help you raise brand awareness and drive customers to your website without advertising overheads.

Startup SEO is slightly different from traditional SEO because it must account for relatively low authority and limited resources, at least when you're getting started.

What you will learn

  • Why SEO is important for startups
  • How to do SEO when you're a startup

Why SEO is important for startups

SEO is important for startups because it allows new companies to gain organic traction at relatively low costs. SEO helps startups improve their online presence and brand recognition, which can attract potential customers and investors.

Having a strong SEO strategy will level the playing field against established companies in your niche.

It builds credibility and trust with users who are new to your company. But perhaps, most importantly, SEO is a cost-effective and sustainable way to generate leads and grow the business.

A critical point in the early stages of a startup's lifecycle.

Here's how SEO can play an important role in the most important metrics you are tracking.

Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)

According to a study by Firstpage Sage, CAC from organic channels is approximately 42.8% cheaper than inorganic CAC across all industries combined.

Lifetime Value (LTV)

Research shows that businesses investing in SEO can see a return on investment between 275% and over 1000%, depending on your industry.

This means that for every dollar invested in SEO, you could see between 2.75 to 10 dollars in return.

Compare that to paid advertising, where Google estimates that companies make an average of $2 in revenue for every $1 spent.

Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR)

Of course, with a stronger ROI, you'll also experience a higher MRR for your startup.

In fact, B2B companies generate double the revenue from organic search than any other channel, according to Bridgtedge.

Churn Rate

Because SEO relies on providing value upfront unlike ads that first ask for a buy, users who have discovered your site through SEO tend to stick around much longer.

If you're an early-stage startup considering SEO, ensure these 3 things.

  • Ensure that your marketing budget allows you room. If you are already producing content, this may be a simple reallocation.
  • Note that the results from SEO will take between 3 and 6 months. If you need immediate results, focus on growth hacking your way to organic users.
  • Have at least 3–6 hours per week for SEO.

Here's a nice Reddit thread with balanced views on startup SEO that you can benefit from.

9 tips for startups to use SEO

Startup SEO doesn't have to be complicated. The good news is that you can start yourself before hiring a team or outsourcing to an agency.

SEO tools can help guide you through optimizing your content with simple, actionable steps so you can build an organic presence without needing deep SEO knowledge

Take a look at this startup, for example, which generated 1300% more visits to its website in about 7 months.

This is a screenshot from Google's own tool, Search Console, which provides valuable insights into how your site is performing in search results and where you can improve.

Let's now look at 9 steps you can take to improve your startup's organic presence with SEO.

1. Define your goals and KPIs

Identify the general objectives you want to achieve through SEO.

As a startup, you want to pick specific goals that will directly impact your business results. While improving credibility is great, it's better suited for more established companies.

For you, it's all about traffic, conversions, and brand awareness. 

Outstanding content marketing will drive much of your SEO success.

Here are a few examples of goals to consider:

  • Increase organic traffic
  • Generate leads
  • Enhance brand awareness

Once you've defined your goals, determine their key performance indicators (KPIs) to help you measure their success.

Remember, KPIs should be measurable and directly tied to your objectives. Again, as a startup, your KPIs should revolve around conversions, leads, sales, or traffic. 

Examples of SEO goals and their KPIs

Here are five examples of SEO goals and their corresponding KPIs:

1. Goal: increase organic search traffic

  • KPI: Percentage growth in the number of visitors from organic search results over a specific period (e.g., a 30% increase in organic traffic within the next quarter).

2. Goal: improve keyword rankings

  • KPI: Improvement in SERP positions for targeted keywords (e.g., achieving top 10 rankings for 50% of targeted keywords within 6 months).

3. Goal: boost conversion rates from organic traffic

  • KPI: Increase in the conversion rate of visitors from organic search (e.g., a 15% increase in conversions from organic traffic in the next 6 months).

4. Goal: enhance domain authority

  • KPI: Increase in domain authority and niche authority.

5. Goal: Grow the number of quality backlinks

  • KPI: The number of new backlinks from authoritative domains (e.g., acquire 100 new backlinks from domains with a Domain Authority of 50+ within the next 12 months).

2. Find relevant keywords

Keyword research is about understanding the words and phrases people use to search for products or services like yours. 

Pick one or two main topics that are core to your business, also called seed keywords.

Identify these keywords and create content that helps users resolve their problems or gives them the best answers to their questions.

  • Start by drawing up a list of potential keywords that are relevant to your business. 
  • Think about the terms your customers might use to find you. 
  • Consider your specific product names or services.
  • Include industry-related phrases.
  • Add location-based keywords, if applicable.

Put yourself in the shoes of your target audience and brainstorm those words.

You can use Google Autocomplete to find these keywords. Just cycle through different letters of the alphabet after your main topic.

For example, say your health tech startup provides health monitoring and telehealth services to patients.

Your potential users will be interested in how their insurance works with telehealth services.

You could enter "telehealth insurance" into Google and then cycle through the letters of the alphabet to find keywords that may be relevant to your startup.

Of course, this takes some effort, and you can probably think of a better way to spend your time.

Using a tool like Surfer can automate your keyword research process.

  1. Enter your main topic and country
  2. Click Create Keyword Research

Surfer will generate a list of keyword ideas that are thematically linked to your main topic.

Here's a list of 56 ideas on telehealth for new blog posts.

Here's what one of those suggested keywords looks like — a topic that potential users may be interested in.

The traffic potential of 1043 visits per month is a sizable amount of interested users to your site.

What if you had many more articles?

When deciding which keywords to turn into articles, prioritize realistic topics.

What do I mean by realistic topics? 

You don’t want to waste time and effort trying to compete against established domains for high-volume, popular keywords.

Instead, focus on topics that you can potentially rank for on the first page of search engine results pages.

Take the example of Hammr, an app for construction contractors to manage their teams. At the time of writing this article, they only have 3 blog posts.

Yet, with careful keyword selection, one of their pages ranks on the first page of Google for a highly relevant keyword.

Here are four factors to consider when picking your keywords:

1. Keyword Difficulty

If you see well-established domains and authoritative websites, it might be a difficult keyword to rank for.

Aim for keywords where you have a realistic chance of ranking. 

2. Search Intent

Enter your keyword and see what Google presents. For example, are there how-to guides or product pages?

Now that you understand the intent, does it align with your topic?

3. Business Potential

Consider the value the keyword holds for your target audience and your business.

Is it something that will attract your ideal customers?

Will you make a sale or get them on your mailing list? 

4. Search Volume

While search volume is important for driving traffic, don't ignore keywords with low volume. These keywords may have greater conversion potential. 

For example, using commercial buying keywords like "best" and "top" enables you to target potential customers who are prepared to make a purchase.

For example, ranking for a popular high search volume keyword like call-in doctor may be difficult.

Instead, it may be better to target a keyword like "tele-nursing" that is still relevant and can help you rank higher, thus bringing in similar traffic.

As you establish topical relevance, it will become easier to rank for more popular keywords.

Which brings me to my next point.

3. Aim for topical depth

Topical depth just means going deep into your core topics.

Having topical depth can have a big impact on your visibility and authority in search engine rankings.

Showing your expertise with quality content enables you to build topical authority in the eyes of readers and search engines.

Topical authority is to be recognized as a knowledgeable and trusted source of information on a specific topic.

An effective strategy to build topical authority is to create topic clusters or content hubs. These are interconnected pieces of content that cover different aspects of a specific topic. When put together, they cover the entire topic in detail.

Topical hubs, keyword clusters, hub and spoke models all belong to the same concept. These terms are interchangeable.

By creating a comprehensive resource on a subject, your startup can demonstrate expertise and increase the chances of search engines viewing your website as a go-to destination for that topic.

Middleware's blog, for example covers articles on cloud infrastructure and website applications in detail, thus communicating their expertise on subjects that are relevant to their business and users.

Here are some examples of content hubs for a telehealth startup.

  • costs of telehealth
  • virtual medical consultations
  • remote health monitoring

When put together, a group of your clusters will form a topical map – a collection of topics for your website.

Think of a topical map as a blueprint that outlines the structure and scope of your content hub.

You can use Surfer to automate this process by just entering your main topic.

You can choose from entering your keyword, connecting your Google Search Console account, or using your competitor's websites to analyze.

You'll be presented with a list of topical clusters under the "Topics" column in the left panel.

In the right panel, you'll also find which pages to write about under each cluster or hub, with the pillar page and supporting pages highlighted.

A pillar page is a comprehensive resource on a broad topic, serving as the foundation for a content hub. Supporting pages are detailed articles related to the pillar page's topic, diving deeper into specific subtopics.

4. Optimize internal links

Internal links are like pathways within your website that guide visitors and search engines to other relevant pages. 

In terms of search engines, internal links:

  • help to discover new pages
  • act as a signal to show the importance of certain pages
  • clarify the relationships between pages

Make sure to connect pages that share a similar theme or topic by using internal links.

A good practice is to link from all your supporting pages to the pillar page and then link sequentially from the first supporting page to the second, the second to the third and so on.

Think of internal linking as completing a circuit for your cluster.

It's okay to link outside the cluster – just ensure that the page is relevant and adds to the user's knowledge.

When creating internal links, use descriptive anchor text.

The anchor text is the clickable text that represents the link. By using descriptive and relevant anchor text, you provide search engines and readers with more context about the linked page. 

For example, don't use generic text like "click here." Instead, use specific keywords or phrases that accurately describe the linked content.

Now, let's talk about external links.

External links point from your website to other authoritative and credible websites. Include a few external links to reputable sources to provide additional value to your readers.

This will also send a signal to Google that your content is well-researched and trustworthy.

5. Create SEO-friendly content

When you understand and match the search intent of your audience, you're effectively answering the questions they're asking or providing the solutions they're seeking.

Satisfying user intent is critical because it affects how Google and other search engines rank your content in search results.

Search intent refers to the purpose behind a user's search query. It can be an informational, navigational, transactional, or commercial search.

To ensure that your page meets the user's intent, analyze the SERP in terms of:

  • Content type (for example, posts, product pages, videos, or landing pages)
  • Content format (how-to guides, listicles, news articles, or reviews)

Considering you're a startup, you likely don't have a team of content writers ready to start churning out content at scale.

In an internal study, we found that decent writers charge an average of 9 cents per word, which totals about $225 for a 2500-word article.

Instead, you can use an AI writer to generate AI content that you can then spend an hour reviewing and editing.

To be clear, Google isn't against AI content.

You can whip up an outline inside Surfer AI in a few minutes based on your brand's tone of voice and organic competitors.

Surfer AI will analyze existing pages, identify relevant information, and generate updated high-quality articles.

Your article will be optimized for relevant keywords so that it is already search engine optimized, but you can also use the Content Score to ensure that your page uses the right keywords.

This article by Headspace for example, ranks 7th for its target keyword and has room for keyword optimization.

Articles ranking higher have a greater Content Score and use keywords that this page does not.

In addition, here are four fundamental areas where you should also include your keywords to signal search engines about your context.

  1. Page title
    Your page title is like a headline for your content. It should accurately reflect the topic and include your target keyword. Craft a compelling title that grabs attention and entices users to click through to your content.
  1. Header tags
    Use header tags (such as H2, and H3) to structure your content. These tags not only help users navigate your page but also signal the importance and relevance of the content to Google. Include your keywords naturally within the headers to further optimize your content.
  1. URL structure
    Your URL plays a role in communicating the context of your content to Google. Include your target keyword in the URL to provide a clear indication of what the page is about. Keep it concise, descriptive, and user-friendly.
  1. Meta data
    Meta titles and meta descriptions are the snippets that appear in the search results. Craft compelling meta titles that include your target keyword and accurately summarize your content. Similarly, write engaging meta descriptions that entice users to click through to your page.

6. Build high-quality backlinks

Backlinks are one of the most powerful ranking factors and can make a significant difference for your website.

But link building is not easy.

To start building high-quality backlinks, you will need to identify opportunities.

Platforms such as HARO (Help a Reporter Out) offer opportunities for you to provide insights to journalists, resulting in valuable backlinks from reputable publications.

You can also use original research to publish industry insights that attract the attention of larger sites covering your industry.

Spoon University is a food publication that covers food news, reviews, and guides aimed at a younger demographic.

Here's an example of one of their articles that received links from over 100 websites.

It ranks for "how many ingredients are in McDonald's french fries" and brings a decent amount of visitors to their blog.

While these may not translate to business, the article does well to build a brand among their audience.

Guest posting is another technique where you write and publish articles on other industry websites or blogs in exchange for a backlink to your website.

If you have well-written and valuable articles, you can contact a website or blog owner who has already linked to similar content and request that they link to your article too.

You can use Surfer to identify websites that link to your competitors' pages and reach out to them since they're already open to linking back.

Backlinks from .edu and .gov sites are particularly powerful. This is how you can search for appropriate .edu backlink opportunities:

  • site:.edu “your keyword”
  • site:.edu “your keyword” + “resources”
  • site:.edu “your keyword” + inurl:links
  • site:.edu “your keyword” + “other sites”

Startup industry websites like Startup Tracker, Crunchbase, BetaList, and Gust also offer excellent backlink opportunities. Appearing on those types of sites can attract more clients and potential investors. 

Remember not to spread yourself too thin.

Instead of chasing countless link-building targets, focus on a select few websites that are relevant to your content. You can also offer something valuable in return for the link, such as:

  • Promoting their content on your social media
  • Providing access to your product or service
  • Offering a warm introduction to someone beneficial for them 

Use follow-up emails or messages to increase your chances of success.

Remember to monitor your backlink profile regularly to ensure you're gaining relevant links from your niche and that you're not falling victim to spammy websites.

If you outsource your link-building activities, keep a close eye on the quality of the backlinks.

7. Analyze competitor SEO strategies

You want to focus on other startups whose blogs are at a similar level to you in terms of their online presence and brand awareness.

So, Hubspot may not be the best comparison if you're just starting out, even if you both offer CRM and automation systems.

Start by identifying your main online competitors within the industry.

Look for companies that are targeting similar keywords and have a comparable organic presence.

Take a close look at the keywords they are targeting.

You can take a look at their sitemap to get an idea of the pages they publish.

Just type "https://domain.com/sitemap_index.xml".

Are there any specific keywords or topics that consistently appear in their content?

This can give you insights into what keywords are valuable for your industry so you can cover them too.

Next, examine the quality of their content. What type of articles are they producing? 

  • How to guides
  • Listicles
  • Roundups, comparison and versus pages

Understand the content formats that resonate with your target audience to help shape your own content strategy.

You can automate competitor analysis in Surfer Audit by entering their page URL.

The resulting report will tell you a couple of things.

  • average content length
  • recommended phrases and keywords
  • keyword optimization and keyword density
  • meta tags
  • internal links
  • technical details

8. Conduct a technical SEO audit

Conducting technical SEO audits is crucial to identifying and rectifying issues that could hinder your site's performance in search engine rankings.

Here are a few points that your startup should prioritize in its technical audit.

Discover and fix crawl issues: Search engines need to crawl your website to index its content. Technical audits can uncover any crawl blocks or inefficient use of crawl budget, ensuring search engines can access and index your content efficiently.

Enhance user experience: Technical issues like slow loading times, broken links, or mobile unfriendliness can frustrate users and increase bounce rates. Audits help you spot and fix these issues, leading to a smoother user experience and potentially higher engagement and conversion rates.

Improve site structure: A well-structured website with a logical hierarchy and clear navigation aids both users and search engines. An audit can highlight structural weaknesses, enabling you to make improvements that facilitate better understanding and indexing of your site's content.

Secure your website: Security issues can damage your reputation and result in penalties from search engines. Regular audits help ensure that your site is secure and that sensitive data is protected, which is essential for maintaining user trust and search engine confidence.

Address indexing issues: Sometimes, pages that should be indexed are not, and vice versa. Technical SEO audits can reveal such discrepancies and help you adjust your indexing directives to align with your SEO goals.

Improve website speed: Page load speed is a ranking factor for search engines, and users expect fast-loading pages. Audits can pinpoint factors slowing down your site, allowing you to make necessary optimizations for better performance.

You'll find any issues in your Google Search Console account but can also use tools like Screaming Frog.

9. Tell your story

When you're starting out, you might rightfully feel like you're at a disadvantage compared to more established companies.

But you have something unique that sets you apart from the rest: your story.

Build a compelling narrative around your company.

  • your founding story
  • why you're building your products
  • create case studies
  • encourage reviews and testimonials
  • build comparisons with competing sites

It's a great way to showcase your authenticity and connect with your audience on a deeper level. 

A strong story can do wonders for your SEO efforts.

It can help you pitch and secure organic features and backlinks from high-authority websites and news publications. These mentions and backlinks act as powerful endorsements for your brand and website.

They generate buzz around your brand without the hefty costs of traditional PR.

Take a look at Airbnb as an example of a story that was told well.

They successfully recounted the origins of how they started as a small apartment-sharing platform and grew into a global hospitality organization.

Got a nice backlink out of it as well!

People love authenticity. When they resonate with your story, they are more likely to become loyal customers and advocates for your brand.

The additional buzz from your story and media coverage can also send trust signals to Google showing them that your brand is authoritative and trustworthy.

Telling your story can also open doors for speaking engagements, podcasts, and interviews that can lead to benefits outside of SEO.

When do startups need SEO?

For startups, SEO is important to their growth strategy and should be implemented early on.

You should start doing SEO if your startup wants to reach more people, make your business more visible, and build a strong online presence without spending a lot of money.

Doing SEO from the beginning ensures that your startup is discoverable by potential customers from day one.

Here are specific scenarios when startups should intensify their SEO efforts:

Attracting users

Pay-per-click advertising only targets users with commercial intent. As a startup, you need to attract visitors from all parts of the sales funnel.

By providing valuable content that solves user problems, you'll be able to attract potential customers and win their trust over time.

Product launches

Search visibility can generate valuable organic traffic. It can also attract early adopters and create buzz around your offerings. 

Spreading the word about your new product via your email list or social media will also help to attract more visitors to your site. You can also repurpose your content into other media like podcasts and webinars to reach wider audiences.

Product or service expansion

Optimizing your content can reach a wider audience and ensure that your new offerings gain the visibility they deserve.

Imagine this.

Potential customers are out there, actively searching for the exact products or services you're expanding into. With SEO, you can ensure your startup appears at the top of those search results, capturing the attention of those interested in what you have to offer. 

Entering competitive markets

Targeting specific keywords and creating high-quality content can position your brand as a leader in your niche.

Studies show that customers trust organic channels more than paid ads because they're searching for your product instead of having their browsing experience interrupted.

Think about it. When potential customers are searching for solutions within your niche, you want to be right there in the search results, ready to capture their attention.

Generating leads

One of the biggest challenges for startups is finding customers.

SEO is a cost-effective alternative to paid advertising channels, with the added benefit of providing long-term results.

Unlike paid ads that require constant funding, SEO keeps working for you even when you're not actively spending on it. 

Key takeaways

  • SEO increases brand visibility and drives website traffic. It also improves credibility when your website ranks highly on Google. And it enhances the user experience through improved usability. SEO is a cost-effective marketing channel that offers long-term benefits. 
  • To implement SEO for startups, you must first define your goals and KPIs. This will ensure that your SEO strategy, including content marketing, aligns with your business objectives. 
  • Identify keywords that you can rank for and that relate directly to your business offering. Choose realistic topics and consider keyword difficulty, search intent, business potential, and search volume (but don’t dismiss low-volume keywords as they could be profitable).   
  • Aim for topical depth by covering your main and subtopics fully in individual articles and your website as a whole. Topical depth will improve your visibility and authority in search engine rankings.
  • Create SEO-friendly content that gives users the best answers to their queries or helps them solve their problems. Use internal links between pages that share a similar theme or topic. Add external links to authoritative sites to provide more value to readers.
  • Google sees backlinks as a sign of authority. Identify opportunities by analyzing your competitors’ backlinks. Then build high-quality backlinks to reputable and authoritative sites.
  • Conduct technical SEO audits regularly using Google Search Console and other SEO tools like Screaming Frog. This ensures the crawlability and indexing of your pages, leading to improved visibility in search results. In addition, a user-friendly website experience keeps visitors engaged. 
  • Monitor your SEO performance using Google Analytics and Search Console. Check your KPIs to see if you're making progress toward your goals.
  • Startups need SEO to attract more customers and generate leads or for a new product launch. It is also helpful when scaling your business, expanding your product or service, and entering a competitive market.


SEO is a vital tool for startups aiming to enhance online visibility, attract customers, and grow sustainably.

Ranking organically can help startups get around unique challenges like having to build brand recognition from scratch, competing with companies that have more resources, and working with smaller budgets.  

The lifetime value (LTV) of organic traffic that comes from SEO tends to be higher than that of paid traffic. People who find you through organic search are also more likely to buy from you again and tell their friends about you.

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Screenshot of Surfer SEO Content Editor interface, displaying the 'Essential Content Marketing Metrics' article with a content score of 82/100. The editor highlights sections like 'Key Takeaways' and offers SEO suggestions for terms such as 'content marketing metrics