SEO for Startup Founders - The Definitive Guide
Here's the skinny on how startup founders can plan and crush their SEO strategy
Before I knew anything about SEO, I remember I had difficulty even knowing where to start learning. There wasn’t a clear path to proficiency. It seemed like every post or piece of information I read from Moz, SEMrush, Udemy, Medium, and other places contradicted each other. As a result I thought SEO strategy and marketing was much more complicated than it actually is.
Luckily, I traveled long enough through the SEO jungle to end up on the other side. With my machete in hand, I learned everything there was to learn about SEO as a startup founder. Whether it be keyword research, best tools to use, onsite SEO, local SEO, or anything else, I had just enough of a level of proficiency that made me dangerous.
The purpose of this blog post is to highlight the primary aspects of SEO and what you need to care about as startup founder. Note, I am not covering everything there is to know about SEO here. I’m covering everything you need to know as a founder who need to know enough to get the job done, not be an expert.
That boils down to four topics:
SEO comes down to keywords. If it weren’t for keywords, SEO couldn’t exist and thousands of people would be out of a job. A keyword is a term someone submits a search query for on Google. When I check my search history, I can see that the last term I searched for was “adorable animals.” In this case, that’s the keyword.
Now, when I search “adorable animals” on Google, a list of 540 million results appears like magic. These results all rank for the same keyword: “adorable animals.”
Although there are 540 million results, there is only one top page. The top page of the search engine results has approximately ten spots, and these are the pages that Google deems as the most relevant to the searcher. A post from Justsomething.co has the top ranking, because Google is under the assumption that the specific page is the best and most relevant result to the person searching adorable animals. This is content marketing at work.
How does one get to the top spot, or the top page? That my friends, is through what we call SEO. Search engine optimization. SEO is the art and science of optimizing a web page to show Google that it is the most relevant option for a specific keyword that is being searched. There are literally millions of web pages try to be ranked first on the search results page, but only ten(ish) make it. Sound like a fun game? It is! That’s why we do what we do.
It’s important to note that not all keywords are created equal. Keywords with higher search volume tend to have more competition than keywords with lower search volume. But oftentimes, ranking for lower traffic keywords with low competition can yield very positive results.
Picking a Keyword
When picking a keyword, you need a software like SEMrush or Moz to analyze the search volume for that keyword. When you do a search for keywords, you’ll find a list with volume number as well as KD.
Volume = Monthly searches for the keyword, averaged out over the last year.
KD= Keyword Difficulty, or how hard it’s going to be to rank for a keyword.
There is a lot of nuance here, but from a founder’s perspective, just aim to find keywords with a KD below 65. Don’t put a minimum on volume, because long tail keyword strategies can work wonders. Long tail keywords are keywords have lower search volume, but have a more specific audience searching for it. So go ahead. Do some keyword research. Find the keywords that are lucrative to rank for. Once you have a list of five to ten, come back. We’ll get to the fun part: on-site SEO, occasionally called technical SEO.
On-site search engine optimization is considered one of the more technical aspects of SEO. The goal of on-site SEO is to help Google crawl your website as quickly as possible, so it can determine the category to put your site in. It does this by discovering what your intended keywords are. See, when it comes to keywords, your site is going to rank for them whether you know it or not.
If you don’t think about it, you will likely rank for unrelated keywords; terms you never intended to target. Due to this, it’s best to fix up your site so Google can crawl it easily—but even more importantly, structure your website so your domain and keywords are clear and Google categorizes you correctly. There are a few steps to get started with this, and I will link to other resources at the end of this section to go more into detail.
The Basic Components of On Site SEO For Founders
Sitemap — A sitemap is a page that tells Google spiders (crawlers) how your page is structured via links. This makes your website easier to crawl, and Google will lightly reward you for this—or at least, they won’t penalize you!
Title tags and meta descriptions — For every page, you can include a meta description that tells Google what that page is about. This can’t be seen on the webpage by a human, but it’s critical your meta description has your keyword in it so Google can properly categorize you.
Mobile-friendly site — In 2010, you could get away with a site that didn’t function well on a mobile device. Times have changed. If your site isn’t responsive, then Google will heavily penalize you. This is also important if you care about your site visitors having a good user experience on mobile.
Robots.txt file — If you have any pages that you don’t want Google’s spiders to crawl, you can specify this in your robots.txt file. You can also share with Google your sitemap URL in this file, which makes Google’s life easier to crawl your web page.
The list goes on and on. Read more about optimizing your onsite SEO and learn about other factors that influence Google in the following places:
So you know what a keyword is, if you didn’t before.. You now have Google recognizing that your website is relevant to the keywords you’re trying to rank for. The job is done, right? Not yet! If two sites have equally optimized their sites for a specific keyword, how does Google pick which one to rank? It chooses the more authoritative domain. How can a domain become authoritative? This is where off-site SEO comes into play!
Offsite SEO is the act of ensuring that your website is seen as authoritative in the eyes of Google. To do this, you need to acquire backlinks (or inbound links) from other websites, ultimately meaning getting people to link back to your domain. You get a backlink when another website links back to your website. The more authoritative the inbound links, the more SEO juice you get from it.
Ultimately, if you get a backlink from Techcrunch.com, that is going to hold more value in Google’s eyes than getting a backlink from Techmunch.com. This is because TechCrunch has many backlinks pointing to it, so it’s more authoritative; it has higher domain authority. That’s the whole idea that helped Google become the biggest search engine in the world. It’s called PageRank.
Unfortunately, getting other links to your site is really hard. There are always creative (and questionable) ways to go about it, but you’re generally just going to have to do a lot of cold outreach. No one has really cracked the code for a really efficient way to get backlinks. There are strategies out there, but this still may be considered the hardest part of search engine optimization. The people that become SEO experts generally have mastered their process for getting backlinks. Here are some resources where you can learn how to get backlinks to your domain, and become an SEO expert yourself.
Writing Blog Content
Many non-marketers don’t see the value in having a blog. It’s nice to have, but never a necessity to them. Unsurprisingly, these are the people that get all their leads from Facebook and Google ads… and that’s very expensive.
When it comes down to it, having a blog is obscenely valuable. It serves dozens of purposes, kind of like a Swiss Army Knife. One of those purposes is to target a keyword so Google sees it online, and can ascertain its relevance. If you do a good job, Google will find your blog post relevant and will rank you accordingly. It’s much easier said than done.
Blogging is like baseball
Instead of seeing your blog as just a blog, see each blog post like an at bat. In baseball, you might get a hit from two out of ten attempts, and sometimes those hits are singles, doubles, or even home runs. Blogs are the same way. You write content with the goal of getting ranked number one for that keyword. Every time you publish a post, you’re giving Google a chance to crawl it, get it inside of the Google index, judge its relevance, and determine whether you:
struck out (no ranking).
got a single (ranking on 2nd page of Google), or
knocked it out of the park (ranked it #1).
It’s about odds: striking out many times often brings with it many home runs. In blogging, write as many quality posts as you can and you maximize the chances to get a hit on Google. Write one blog post that sticks, and get traffic from it forever—sounds good to me!
The name of the game is consistency. Every blog post you write gives Google another chance to index your page, find keywords, and rank that post for those keywords. As you build backlinks to your page, ranking for keywords will become easier over time, because your domain authority will keep growing. SEO is a long-term investment, but as you now know, it pays off.
Other Things To Know
File these under miscellaneous, SEO-related.
Technical SEO is all about page load speed and optimizing your HTML to load as fast as it can. It also could include advanced onsite SEO techniques that require more of a technical skillset. The faster your webpage loads, the happier Google is. Learn more about how to get started with technical SEO with some of these sources:
There are tons of SEO tools out on the internet, it’s just a matter of sifting through them to find the ones which will help you best. My personal favorite tools to use are SEMrush, Google Search Console, and Neil Patel’s tools on his website. Other SEO tools that are widely used are Ahrefs, Majestic, Moz, and Screaming Frog, among many others. My advice when it comes to SEO tools would be to start with one and branch out as needed. I highly vouch for SEMrush.
To stay on top of SEO happenings, news, and things to know (as best practice changes very frequently), start following these blogs and publications. There are obviously a variety of blogs you can read, but these ones I’m about to list are widely popular in the industry:
White hat vs. black hat
You might see people mentioning “black hat” SEO and “white hat” SEO every so often. In short, this just means how ethical someone is being as they are working on the SEO. White hat is the ethical option here. There are plenty of ethically questionable hacks like buying backlinks or running a private blog network. They generally have short-term benefits, but in the long run, Google will recognize this and penalize those domains very harshly.
You Ready to Get Ranked?
That’s it, my friend. You have the knowledge to use search engine optimization on your own website and reap the benefit that millions of companies are already getting: organic traffic.
You understand the base of search engine optimization which is keywords. You know to optimize your onsite SEO with keywords that have a high volume but low competition. You know to write blog content to continue to keep Google’s eyes on you (and get it to index you for your ideal keywords). You know how to boost your domain authority online with backlink building. Now, what are you waiting for? Go off and get it done.