SEO for Startups

SEO for Startups

Business StrategyFounder Resource

Key takeaways (read the original full post here):

Most Startups wish they’d started Search Engine Optimization (SEO) earlier.

SEO is indispensable for companies and facilitates the 3 most important goals for a startup:

  • Scaling customer acquisition
  • Finding product market fit faster
  • Controlling reputation

Steps to Improve SEO for Startups

A strong online presence allows people to find you more easily, better understand what you do, and get to know you. All of these improve your chances to get funded.

Your website will have many purposes, but from an investor standpoint it has to:

  • Clearly explain what you do
  • Show your product or a prototype
  • Tell your story

It should clearly define your brand. However, your brand doesn’t just live on your website. Think about your brand in a larger sense, especially in terms of its Google search results (SERPs).

Build a defence that pushes negative results further down where nobody can see them. That means, a) building a presence on other sites that rank for your brand and b) creating assets on your own site that you can control.

Some assets you can control:

  • Social media accounts
  • Directories
  • App stores
  • Your Blog
  • Microsites
  • List of assets you can influence
  • Forums
  • List of assets you cannot control
  • Google news
  • Coverage from other publishers

Consider how your brand comes across in the search results before you pick a name for your company.

Find and Control Threats to Your Product

After brand searches, comparison queries are the second biggest threat to your brand. This is when users search for “[brand] alternative” or “[brand 1] vs [brand 2]”.

Create one landing page for every “vs. query” and address your unique USPs over your competitor. Long-form and structured content works well on these pages.

Accelerate the Authority of Your Startup

Authority is one of the two most important principles in SEO. The other principle is relevancy. How do you build authority? — backlinks.

Backlink Principles to Remember

You should strive for a “natural” backlink profile, which grows at the right pace and has the right ratios. Pace means how many new links you gain and lose over a given time. Ratios are the relation between Nofollow and Follow links, backlink types, TLDs & country, hard vs. brand anchor text, and the authority of the linking sources.

Backlink Analysis

Analyse your own and your competitor’s profiles because optimal backlink profiles are different from industry to industry. When you know what the profile of your top 5 competitors looks like, you can develop a strategy to earn the links you need, increase your authority, and outrank them.

Another important factor of a healthy link profile is the anchor text distribution.

The most spammy signal you can send to Google is a high amount of links with your target keywords in the anchor text (e.g., “cheap shoes for men”). Instead, go for brand links like [brand], [], [] and so on.

Lastly, the linking sites have to be relevant to yours.

Additional Strategies for Outreach, Guest Posts, Blogging, and VC

Contact startup-oriented journalists, who want interesting, fresh material. Build a true relationship with them, tell them about your mission and give them the information they need. You won’t have to ask for backlinks. That will happen naturally.

Most publishers have guest article guidelines (simply google [publisher] + guest article). Focus on writing about your mission and what change you are trying to make. That will get you valuable backlinks and even more important, attention from the right people.

Scale User Acquisition Exponentially

Since Google released its Hummingbird update, pages can provide exponential ROI by ranking for many relevant queries.

User Intent

These pages rank well because they’re satisfying user intent.

They contain a map that’s quick and easy to use, but also a list with more detailed descriptions of the locations. The content is well-curated. Focus on user intent, outstanding content, and easy consumption of information to rank well (+ authority of course). This is what the high-level process:

  • Find something you can scale up online
  • Figure out user intent
  • Create a small set of test pages
  • Measure their performance
  • Refine
  • Scale up

If your product lives online, you’ll probably not spend a lot of time on step one since you already know what to scale. For you, it’ll be more about the refinement of those pages before you scale them up. That goes from components and content on the landing pages to snippet design.

You obviously can’t create a handwritten snippet for each landing page, so you will have to work with patterns to optimize your meta titles and descriptions.


When you cannot scale landing pages easily because they are part of your product, your best bet is a microsite.

Microsites are clusters of pages that address users in the informative stage of the funnel. They are usually isolated from the rest of the domain, by design, navigation, or both.

  • A Defined Focused Topic

Microsites have one focused topic. They can be a one-pager, but don’t have to be. They are powerful when they consist of many pages. It’s important that they appear as a closed entity that is not pushing sales too hard. They often have a different design compared to the main site.

  • Subdomain vs. Directory

There are pros and cons to putting a microsite on a subdomain vs. a directory. On a subdomain, it’s easier to provide an isolated environment. The downside is that you have to make sure to link smartly to the most important pages on your main site since Google sees subdomains as its own entity. A better choice is often directories as they are regarded as part of the main site. It’s a hub to educate users, not to sell to them.

Content Funnel

Users are sensitive to being sold and have short attention spans. So it’s smarter to provide them value without expecting anything in return. Separating your content into three categories that each appeal to the information, consideration, and conversion stage makes sure you address the user in every touchpoint of his journey.

Focus On the Right SEO Opportunities

Different types of startups require different attention to areas of SEO. Social networks have to focus on other things than SaaS startups. We can roughly cluster SEO into technical optimization, backlinks, and content.

Technical optimization often comes down to improving crawlability. Social networks, e-commerce startups and marketplaces should spend a lot of time thinking about how they can help Google to find all of their pages. Their problems usually aren’t backlinks or content, which their users or products provide, but surfacing these on the SERPs.

They should focus more on creating highly valuable content and earning backlinks on Microsites and blogs. Add in targeted outreach to make sure influencers and hubs in your industry are aware of your great content.

SEO Provides 5 Tremendous Opportunities for Startups

1. The best levers for your startup ultimately depend on your market and business model

2. Scale SEO by identifying the best page type to scale, figure out user intent, create a small set of test pages and measure their performance, refine them and then scale up.

3. Authority is a crucial topic every startup needs to think about. Improve it by identifying what backlinks you need and creating a strategy to earn them. 

4. Be aware of the threats to your product by researching what comes up for comparison queries and what questions users have. Build your defence with targeted content and steer the conversation.

5. Your reputation is not solely shaped by your website, but by how it appears in the search results and what accompanies it. 

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