SEO For Startups: 8 Steps For Long Term, Sustainable Growth

SEO is really hard, but it’s a lot harder if you’re a startup without money and you’re not taking a targeted practical approach to your marketing. 

Here at 8 steps to SEO success within your startup:

  1. Set and define your goals and desired outcomes.
  2. Develop a measurement strategy: determine what, how, and why to measure.
  3. Crawl your website and review technical SEO.
  4. Review opportunities for on-page optimization.
  5. Review branded search opportunities and reputation protection.
  6. Perform non-branded keyword research and find long tail opportunities.
  7. Leverage link building and get influencer amplification.
  8. Stay updated on SEO news, trends, and Google updates.

Let’s deep dive into each one of them!

Step 1: Set and Define Your Goals and Desired Outcomes

This all depends on what type of business you have and how your business makes money.

Here’s a breakdown of business types and their revenue frameworks:

  • Big Publishers – All they care about is traffic and personalization because they make money from ads.
  • Channel Partners and Resellers – These businesses don’t have tangible products, but they have audiences. They help market other products and services from partner brands. Therefore these businesses care a lot about email list growth, top of the funnel awareness, high volume of return visitor traffic, improving brand authority and P.R.
  • E-Commerce – They obviously care about transactional sales directly from the website, and having a flawless technical SEO setup. An SEO goal for an e-Commerce brand might be to increase rankings for purchase intent keywords, and decrease product page bounce rates from traffic that comes in from organic search.
  • Local Businesses – Think restaurants, brick and mortar locations, etc. SEO goals for these businesses would likely revolve around optimizing for “near me” searches as well as voice and mobile search. A huge percentage of retail consumers search for product information from their mobile devices WHILE they’re shopping.
  • SaaSSEO for SaaS startups is a huge topic, and we know why – because it works. While I ran SEO at Pipedrive, we ranked for a super high volume keyword in 3 months. It wasn’t even a product related keyword, but it drove a ton of signups. Why? Because we put out an incredibly helpful and useful resource that solved a problem for one of our key customer segments.

Some more examples of broad SEO goals might be:

  • Increasing your startup’s topical authority in a given content subject.
  • Increasing awareness in a specific industry who might want your product.
  • Increasing more qualified traffic to your product pages.
  • Improving engagement: think average time on page, scroll depth, etc.

Some examples of specific SEO goals might be:

  • Double the number of new visitors to the site in Q1.
  • Increase blog traffic by 50% in 2018.
  • Increase email subscriptions from organic traffic by 10%.
  • Generate leads to your site from a specific industry – real estate, construction, etc.
  • Increase # of transactions on an eCommerce landing page from X to Y.

Step 2: Develop a Measurement Strategy – Determine What, How, and Why to Measure

There are some foundational actions you want to take here:

  1. Set up Google Analytics.
  2. Set up Google Search Console.
  3. Set up Goal Conversion Tracking in Analytics.
  4. Integrate marketing automation and CRM with your lead capture sources.
  5. Map out all your metrics and align them back to their data sources.
  6. Consider automating some of your reporting via dashboard solutions.

Here are some excellent resources that provide in-depth coverage of this subject:

Step 3: Crawl Your Website and Review Technical SEO

Here are the main things you should be looking for in your high-level Technical SEO audit:

  • Duplicate Content – This is a huge problem for eCommerce sites in particular, but it can plague any site. Duplicate content comes in many forms, shapes, and sizes. For a full breakdown, this resource from Yoast explains it all.
  • Meta Robots – You don’t want to accidentally non-index key pages or unfollow links. This happens sometimes when developers shift things from staging to production. Rand Fishkin explains everything you need to know about Meta Robots in this episode of Whiteboard Friday on Moz.
  • Robots.txt – Developers might temporarily block search engines from crawling certain sections of their site, and forget to change it back. That’s why you must audit your robots.txt file to ensure that your site is being crawled. The command you need to look for in your robots.txt file is “disallow” to make sure nothing is being blocked that should be crawled. This guide on Moz explains everything you need to know about robots.txt.
  • Improper Redirects & Redirect Chains – This can ruin hard-won link equity and destroy the user experience. Learn more about redirects for SEO from Cyrus Sheppard.
  • Broken Media Assets – Things like expired SoundCloud links and broken video files can shatter the user experience. You’ll want to clean those up FAST. Check out this resource from SEMrush that dives into common on-site SEO mistakes.
  • 404 Pages – Broken pages will destroy your site’s rankings in search engines, along with the user experience and visitor engagement. Conventional wisdom recommends fixing 404 errors with 301 redirects.
  • Broken Links – Broken links are a prime source of leaking link equity. You can find these with Screaming Frog, Ahrefs or Moz.
  • URL Structure – Keep URLs clean, short, consistent and keyword relevant. Rand Fishkin outlines URL structure best practices on Moz.
  • Pages With Long Load Times – Site speed is a ranking factor and impacts the UX. You can use Google’s page speed insights API to get this information at the URL level. Here’s a resource from ConversionXL that outlines common low hanging fruit opportunities.

Step 4: Review Opportunities For On-Page Optimization

On-page optimization is all about aligning your content to the right keywords within the context of user intent based on where they might be on the buyer’s journey.

This guide to on-page SEO from Brian Dean is the most comprehensive resource available on the entire subject. If you’re totally clueless, you should start there.

If you want my personal on-page SEO checklist that I personally use to optimize all my content, here you go, totally free.

On-page-optimization-SEOStep 5: Review Branded Search Opportunities and Reputation Protection

The first thing you should do is type your brand’s name into Google and inspect what type of results you’re seeing.

You want to check for the following:

  1. Bad press and negative brand reviews.
  2. Ensure your site metadata accurately reflects your brand story and clearly explains your products.
  3. Review and implement schema markup opportunities for your brand.
  4. Make sure your site links and social accounts are properly set up and aligned.
  5. Go the bottom of the search results page and check “searches related to” to see what searchers care about when looking for your brand.
  6. Use auto-suggest to see what long tail brand queries are populating.
  7. Play defense and check for “alternatives to” and “versus” queries – see this article from SEMrush for a deep dive.

For example, if I search my company’s brand name in Google, I’m pleased with the results. Our site links are intact, our metadata looks good, and there are no threats / negative brand results showing anywhere in Google.


Then, at the bottom of the search page, we can also see that people search for our founder, Max, who is a prominent figure in Sales.

But for the most part, people are searching for our conferences, which we are ranking for.


Hilariously, people are also interested in Max’s net worth.

Step 6: Perform Non-branded Keyword Research To Find Long Tail Opportunities

The first thing you want to do here is start breaking out your keyword research into topical buckets. Don’t think in terms of specific keywords yet, just start thinking about the broad segments of head terms to start with.

Usually, this is reflected in a website’s taxonomy and or navigation. A little trick I like to do here is stealing topical buckets from a competitor’s site.

So for example, if my startup were a career building/matchmaking site, I could start by looking at an established site like The Muse for inspiration.

You can see by their nav that they’ve clearly segmented their topical buckets out, so that would be a great place to start.


Then, you want to start figuring out how to build topical authority while focusing on keywords that are low difficulty and winnable, but still relevant to your business.

A very quick and dirty way to do this FAST is to build persona specific long tail content by using Google’s auto-suggest.

Sticking to the career site example, using the modifier “for” I can quickly find lots of long tail targeting opportunities.

If you’re really tight on budget, use a free app like to scrape the keywords, then dump those keywords into Google keyword explorer to get the search volumes.

If you’ve got a few hundred bucks a month to spare, I would highly recommend investing in a tool like Moz Keyword Explorer or Ahrefs Keyword Explorer to automate this!

Step 7: Utilize Link Building and Influencer Amplification

In a nutshell, here’s what you need to do.

  1. NEVER pay for links.
  2. Start by monitoring for unlinked brand mentions.
  3. Search your brand name, domain name, and founder’s/execs names for unlinked mentions.
  4. Find relevant directories and round up articles like “best sales tools” and make sure your site is mentioned and linked there.
  5. Find out where and how your competitors are getting links, then get links from those sites.
  6. Do interviews and get influencers involved in your site’s content.
  7. Don’t waste time with going for high volume link acquisition. Quality trumps quantity in this case, and remember that relationships will get you further than asking for links.

This Whiteboard Friday from Moz is another excellent example of how to build links in a very targeted and cost-effective manner.

Step 8: Stay Updated on SEO News, Trends, Google Updates and More!

Here are sites I would recommend following and subscribing to:


My final takeaways for any startup attempting to tackle SEO:


  1. Focus on small, manageable wins.
  2. Avoid cheap SEO services that sound too good to be true.
  3. Don’t think you can dance with the goliaths right away. Big competitor sites are more powerful than you, and you will not beat them until you build up your own authority.
  4. Make sure Technical SEO is intact before you start going crazy on content.
  5. Build content that your audience actually cares about, not just a bunch of stuff that will make your products look good.
  6. Tie everything back to measurement, analytics, and conversions. Avoid vanity metrics like “raw traffic” and social shares.
  7. Communicate reporting in ways that C-Level Executives will care about and understand.

And that’s a wrap. Are there any other tips your startup has seen success with? We’d love to know!