Often in the world of SEO, we’re called upon to make improvements to an existing website — there’s an established business behind the site, one with analytics and customer data we can draw on to inform our SEO recommendations. Even in the case of a full site redesign, we’re not starting entirely from scratch; if nothing else, our clients know enough about their business and their customers to help us on our way.
SEO for a brand-new business is another kettle of fish entirely. A new startup is not only building a fresh website with no domain history or link equity behind it; they’re also growing a new company from the ground up. In a go-to-market strategy, agility is paramount and there are a lot of fast-moving pieces, but that doesn’t mean SEO has to fall by the wayside. Let’s talk about how to build SEO into your startup’s website from day one.
How Early Is Too Early for SEO?
We’re occasionally approached by startup founders who are in the nascent stages of business planning, and sometimes we have to tell them: you are simply not ready for this jelly.
If you don’t have a fleshed-out business model for your startup, it’s not time to be thinking about SEO yet. More to the point, SEO can be a powerful tool to drive traffic, but it’s often something that can take a few months to start delivering a significant ROI. If you’re counting every penny in the first few months of your business’s life, you may be better off spending those pennies on paid advertising and PR, to get the word out about your new venture as quickly as possible.
On the other hand, if you’ve already secured some funding and are in a position to make an up-front investment in your company’s long-term success, a qualified SEO professional or agency can build the foundation of an SEO strategy into your launch planning even before your website officially makes its debut.
SEO for the Pre-Launch Website
Strategic consulting. It’s helpful to have an SEO-focused eye in the planning stages to help you select the right platform for your site, plan your taxonomy and information architecture, and coordinate with your web developers to ensure your site is as light, clean, fast, and useful as possible.
Keyword discovery for product-market fit. Long before you know what your sitemap is going to look like, keyword research can be a valuable tool — in fact, well-timed keyword research can help inform your sitemap during the planning stages (more on that in a moment). Research into the search landscape around your new business will help you understand how your users are thinking about, talking about, and searching for information related to your products and services. It can give you an idea of the overall organic traffic potential in your niche, to help you realistically forecast. It can even inform your brand voice and product naming conventions, ensuring that you don’t fall into that all-too-common B2B industry trap of discussing your product in your terms instead of your users’ terms. When you’re thinking about your core differentiators in your competitive space, keyword research can help you understand which of those features your users will truly find the most valuable.
Competitive research. I know what you’re thinking: of course you’re doing competitive research. You know everything about your competitive landscape — you don’t need an SEO company to tell you about that. One thing I often find, however, is that while our clients may think they understand who their main competitors are, the list of sites returned in organic search for their core keywords almost never corresponds perfectly to the list of competitors that they identified through traditional market research. Competitive research often neglects to ask, “who else shows up when people search for your target topics?” This may include businesses who provide a related service to yours, or who offer a similar service as a one-off outside of the offerings they’re more known for. It may even include industry news publications or business intelligence providers — places where users at the start of their customer journey may be looking for information. In some cases, you’ll be trying to knock these competitors out of a coveted top-ten spot in the search results; in others, you’ll be trying to join forces with these information providers to make sure your business is part of the conversation. In either case, you can’t compete unless you truly understand the whole of your competitive landscape, which is why SEO-focused competitive research is so important.
Link and authority building. In much the same way that you wouldn’t launch a startup without a solid PR and marketing plan in place to support that launch, you shouldn’t launch a website without a plan in place for where and how you’re going to promote that site on the web. A qualified SEO consultant can work with your PR team to ensure you’re attracting the online coverage you need to build domain equity and brand awareness. Many startups have a landing page in place teasing more information and collecting lead data to let potential customers know about launch; building links to that page ahead of the full site launch helps ensure you’re not starting from square one on launch day.
Keyword and content planning. As launch day approaches, you’ll be finalizing your sitemap and beginning to create content. During this phase, your SEO consultant should be nailing down your keyword targeting plan and helping you optimize content. That competitive research comes into play here, as well — a nuanced understanding of the existing search landscape is key to making sure each page contains the information a user needs to make it to the next stage of their journey.
Brand-new businesses often have an additional challenge when it comes to marketing themselves: their target users may not even know that a solution like theirs exists. If I’m opening a shoe store, I don’t have to worry that my customers won’t know what shoes are — but ranking number one for “llama-wrangling workflow solutions” is only going to help me if my users already know that llama-wrangling workflow solutions are available, and that a llama-wrangling workflow solution is what they need. For that reason, a go-to-market SEO strategy should include keyword research and content planning around the problems that the new product is designed to solve, to draw in new users at the very beginning of their information-gathering journey and let them know that you have what they need. You can begin building out your site with this content ahead of launch, seeding your market with industry know-how; or use this research to build out a content calendar to support your ongoing marketing efforts post-launch.
Analytics tracking and success metrics. Whenever taking on a new SEO project, I like to ask “what are we trying to do, and how will we know if we’ve succeeded?” This is especially important for a product or company launch, when the first few days, weeks, and months will be closely watched by a variety of key stakeholders. Taking the time to discuss KPIs and set up and customize tracking as needed, as well as build out dashboards so that everyone can get the data they need to make quick decisions about next steps, is an excellent way to make sure you’re all working toward the same goals.
Of course, launching your new company in its market is just the first step in a long process of building, optimization, and growth, both on your website and outside of it. Having key SEO elements in place up front will save you a world of trouble down the line and mean you’re able to reap the rewards of your hard work as soon as possible.