I’ve had the opportunity to speak with a number of startups during my career, and I have helped several with digital marketing strategy. If you’ve worked with startups before, you know how inherently fast-paced, exciting, and challenging they can be. The fact of the matter is that startups are facing an uphill battle that most will never win. As a brand new company with a new product or service, with no brand recognition and no customers, startups are in an incredibly challenging position, to say the least.
From a marketing perspective, many startups have a hard time with SEO and inbound marketing in general. It makes sense when you break down everything involved in building SEO strength from scratch. SEO requires resources, time, and patience, and, as you can guess, those three items aren’t found in many startups. You often have visionary founders who have identified gaps in the market and who have ponied up their own money and moved at light speed to develop solutions. They need to get to market quickly, and they want things done yesterday. They don’t want to hear that it can take months, or longer, to begin to rank for target keywords.
All of this leads to an organized state of marketing chaos, with SEO sometimes getting put on the back burner. And if that happens, it can lead to a host of problems in gaining new customers. In this post, I’m going to cover some key SEO issues that startups face and explain how to address those issues. My hope is that startups reading this post can plan, budget, and then execute better from an inbound marketing standpoint.
A Cautionary Tale – Don’t Let This Happen to Your Startup
Before I cover some of the key reasons I believe startups run into SEO problems, I wanted to give you a quick example. And it’s a scary one. There was a startup that contacted me about a year ago that was very interested in building an inbound marketing strategy, and they were particularly interested in SEO.
Like many innovative startups, they had developed a service to overcome a common, nagging problem that many people face. They had been working on the solution for almost two years already, and they were getting close to launching. When they first contacted me, the founders’ enthusiasm was contagious. I could tell they were extremely business-savvy and knew their vertical inside and out, and they believed they had a successful service on their hands. But you could also tell they weren’t marketers, and they definitely weren’t digital marketers. This was a huge risk for them, as they were ready to launch in just a few months.
I met with them several times and educated them as best I could about inbound marketing, SEO, the impact of a strong social strategy, how blogging could impact targeted traffic, etc. The education was necessary since they had explained to me that they wanted to rank for [enter ridiculously broad keyword here] and [enter even more ridiculously broad keyword here] and possibly even [enter fall-out-of-your-chair broad keyword here]. And this from a website that wasn’t even up and running yet. Remember, they were really smart founders, but they were not marketers, and they definitely were not familiar with SEO.
To make a long story short, they had a limited amount of budget remaining and not much time, and they needed to make hard decisions about where to focus that budget. Unfortunately, they ended up not focusing on inbound marketing or SEO. They both felt strongly that the service would go viral and that customers sharing word of mouth experiences would spark a viral fire that would drive new customers, revenue, and profits.
In addition, they thought some key PR efforts would expose the new service to the masses, and they believed that exposure would create massive amounts of interest and adoption. I explained to the founders that, although it could work, placing their eggs solely in the viral and PR baskets was a huge risk for their startup. The founders understood my concerns, but they wanted to move on until they “had enough revenue to invest in the marketing strategies I was advocating.” They definitely wanted to tackle SEO, but they felt like it could wait.
Hard Decision, Hard Results to Digest
Fast forward to today. I’ve kept an eye on their progress since I really enjoyed speaking with them, and I wanted to see how the launch went. The startup’s solution launched about four months ago, and the results seem weak, especially from a digital marketing standpoint. The website launched way too late, and it contains just a handful of unoptimized content (less than 25 pages). The site hasn’t built any links, and there are no links from relevant and powerful sites in their niche. They also have some great digital assets that are completely underused and unoptimized. They weren’t kidding when they said that SEO would wait.
Their social efforts are non-existent. Literally, the accounts are claimed, but they are not being used. The site ranks for almost no target keywords, and traffic is very low (based on third-party, competitive intelligence tools I use). PR-wise, the startup has not been covered by the publications they thought would cover them. That obviously didn’t pan out for some reason.