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SEO for Early-Stage Startups: How to Get Found in Competitive SERPs

Early-stage startups typically don't have the budget to compete against established brands for top keyword terms. Learn what to do instead.

SEO for Early-Stage Startups: How to Get Found in Competitive SERPs

In early-stage startups, funding and cash flow are tight. You need to balance marketing spend across strategies and channels that will bring both more immediate returns on investment.

At the same time, it’s important to build sustainable acquisition funnels that can be scaled as the business expands.

SEO is often seen as a “slow burner” when it comes to return on investment, and for a number of strategies and situations, this can be true.

Investing in your SEO early on can not only help build an acquisition funnel and create brand visibility, but can also function as both customer retention and customer service aid.

In a previous column, you learned why SEO should be a prominent consideration for early funding phase start-ups such as pre-seed, seed, or series A.

Now, let’s take it a step further with proven SEO strategies early-stage startups can use to help grow the business, regardless of its niche.

Invest in Support Center Content

Typically, we break keywords and pages on a SaaS site down into commercial and non-commercial, or top of the funnel and bottom of the funnel. This is great and can help better match content to user intent but from experience, we neglect “support” content.

We invest in specialist CRM and support platforms, map them as a support subdomain, and then just add a few FAQs and questions. We don’t really invest in them.

We may even have some hesitancy of putting good content on the subdomain because it’s a subdomain, or we may dismiss most questions (search phrases) because tools show a very low (or no) search volume. Or maybe they don’t fit a particular persona that has been identified.

Whilst personas can be a great asset for marketing teams, from my experience they shouldn’t be used as strict guidelines from which you build all your marketing channels — especially SEO.

By investing in your Support sections, and taking feedback from customer service and sales teams, you can build it out with both the standard FAQ-style support articles. You can also include a number of niche/edge case and compatibility support articles that would otherwise go answered by developer forums or product comparison blog posts – content outside of your site.

If users are looking for content and answers to questions that are relevant to your brand/product, you need to be part of that conversation.

You can identify the different questions you could be answering here by looking at:

  • Conversations between prospects and the sales team.
  • Conversations on the site’s live chat.
  • Threads in developer forums.
  • The content third-party websites and competitors produce comparing your products and services to others.

Optimize Content for Pain Points

When you’re establishing a product or brand in a vertical with existing companies, or you’re developing and selling a next-generation product that is emerging and not yet adopted on a great scale, chances are pretty good that keyword search volumes will not be your friends.

A common pitfall here among startups is that the concept of pain points is mistaken for solutions or product features. These are great, but a list of features and sales messaging doesn’t always directly (or even partially) address the user’s pain points or address why they’re on that page in the first place.

In a number of traditional verticals, it’s commonplace to take a high search volume term — a head term — and work backward. But what do you do if there are no “head” terms?

Or, more to the point, what do you do if ranking in the traffic-driving positions for a keyword isn’t possible short-term due to competition and variables outside of your control?

Instead, you scrutinize the scenario in which your product would provide a solution.

This means forgetting your product features and sales tag lines. Instead, look at the “why” the product might be needed.

From this analysis and critical thinking, you can identify new messages (and content) to implement that your more established competition might not have thought of, and answers to questions that your solution-unaware audience know how to ask.

There is a good possibility that a lot of this information will be unearthed during persona development, or even when planning GTMs (Go To Market strategies).

Whilst on paper this strategy will have low search volumes, you’ll also likely find that answering a lot of these questions isn’t too resource-intensive. Some questions might just need a sentence or two to answer them, before linking off to blog articles, resources, or even commercial pages to provide further information.

These shorter articles can naturally live on your Support section, if there are concerns about content length on your “main” website.

Balancing Gated & Ungated Content

Over the years one of the most difficult but oftentimes most impactful strategies I’ve been able to implement with SaaS companies is helping clients understand when to gate content — and when not to.

By gated content, I mean content that’s designed to be lead generative in nature, such as whitepapers, ebooks, and webinars.

Whilst this type of content does have a place in the wider ecosystem, strategy conflicts between sales and marketing can occur early on. This is especially true where this lead generation content is produced taking into account prominent search queries and topics.

Typically, this will lead to a page optimized for one or two high search volume queries with little user value proposition, and a lead gen form.

It’s unlikely that this content will rank well and drive the leads it’s designed to, especially when competitors have ungated content covering answering the same questions. When trying to create content that offers the same value proposition as the gated content, you’ll face conflicts from other stakeholders.

By ungating this content, you can potentially build and scale assets that can be used to attract relevant traffic to the site — assets that will build trust. Then you can ask for contact information, once that relationship has been established.

Conclusion

Formulating an SEO strategy for your early-stage startup requires a more innovative, agile mindset. Be prepared to seek out and capitalize on opportunities your better-known competitors may be missing out on, rather than trying to compete for the most desirable and often-used keywords.

Most important is that you listen intently wherever customers are communicating their needs to you. Use that to inform content that speaks directly to the needs of relevant searchers.

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Dan Taylor

Head of Research & Development at SALT.agency

I'm Head of Research & Development at SALT.agency, a bespoke technical SEO consultancy with offices in the UK and the ... [Read full bio]

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