SEO for Startups: 5 Rules to Apply Now

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Rules to ApplyIf you have recently launched a new company, let me go ahead and introduce you to your new best friend … It’s SEO! The goal of search engine optimization is to get your website to appear in the search engine results listings whenever users enter certain phrases into their search boxes.

For example, if you run a pet training tips website, you want your site to appear at the top of the results whenever a search user enters “pet training tips” into the search bar. Achieving these top rankings puts your site in front of as many eyeballs as possible, leading to an influx of new traffic—and potential new customers—to your website.

Unfortunately, simply writing good website content isn’t enough to secure these top spots alone. Not only are you competing against hundreds of thousands of websites online, you’ve also got to navigate the maze of ranking signals that the search engines use in their algorithms to determine where sites should appear in the search listings.

The following five rules represent only the briefest of introductions to the field of SEO. Start by applying these techniques to your site and then, once you feel comfortable understanding the theory behind these strategies, continue to seek out new opportunities to learn SEO and leverage the practice on your site to increase its search results visibility.

Rule #1: Make Sure Your Site Can Be Indexed

If you implement only one SEO rule on your site, make it this one!

To see why this is so important, you must first understand that search engines rely on automated programs known as “bots” or “spiders” to move between internal and external website links, storing copies of the information they find in the engine’s “index.”  Given the size of the Web, these indexes are massively huge databases from which the search engines’ algorithms pull pages to appear whenever users submit search queries.

Because these programs are automated and travel through website links (referred to as “crawling”), it’s up to you to make sure their path is clear. If the search engines can’t fully explore the pages on your site (whether due to broken links, hidden content, or any other crawl issues), your content won’t be captured in the index and won’t be displayed in the natural search results.

The easiest way to identify issues that prevent the search engines’ bots from crawling your site is to set up an account with Google’s Webmaster Tools program. Once your site is enrolled, logging in to the program’s dashboard will show you a list of any “Crawl Errors” that should be addressed.

Rule #2: Focus on Both Industry and Branded Keywords

Next up, you need to be aware that the practice of SEO relies heavily on the identification of individual “keywords.” That is, the specific search queries for which you’d like your site to appear in the natural search results.

Again, keep in mind that the search engines’ indexing programs are automated, which means that they must rely on arbitrary signals to determine what your content is about and whether or not it’s any good. One of these signals is the presence of keywords in certain key areas.

Continuing with our earlier example, if you want your website to appear in the search results for the keyword phrase “pet training tips,” you can increase your chances by including this search query in several different places on your website (as in, in your title tag, in your headline tag, and in your body content).

But since you can’t possibly optimize your site for every single keyword phrase out there, webmasters must take a number of different factors into consideration when deciding how to allocate their targeting efforts.

As a startup, you’ll want to split your time between two types of keyword phrases: industry and branded keywords. Imagine, for a second, that you’re a startup accounting software firm to see how this principle plays out in real life…

  • Industry phrases include broad, generic search queries, like “accounting software” and “bookkeeping program.” Getting your site to appear in the search results for one of these phrases will put your new brand in front of people who are already looking for the type of product you offer, even if they don’t yet know your company’s name.
  • Branded keywords include phrases based around your company’s name, tagline and URL. As a startup, people might not be entering these queries into the search engines yet, but by optimizing your website for these terms, you’ll be well-positioned to receive additional traffic as soon as your startup gains brand recognition.

Rule #3: Choose Keywords Based on Search Intent and Other Metrics

In addition to choosing a mix of industry and branded keyword phrases, you’ll want to keep the following keyword characteristics in mind when determining which search queries to optimize your websites for:

  • Search volume. Keyword research programs can give you an estimate of the number of times every potential keyword phrase is searched for each month. The higher this number is, the more potential traffic you stand to gain by ranking well in the natural search results.
  • Competition. These same research programs will tell you how “competitive” potential keyword phrases are (that is, how many other sites have optimized their pages for these search queries). Unless your startup is particularly well-funded, avoid high-competition phrases and focus on keywords that are likely to lead to quick wins in the search listings.
  • Search intent. Obviously, the keywords you choose to focus on should be related to your site’s mission. Don’t target the phrase “Las Vegas travel” on your pet training tips website, no matter how attractive its combination of search volume and competitiveness may be.

Once you have taken all of these different factors into account, you should have a short list of at least five to 10 keywords to target on your startup’s website. Then, add these keywords to your website in accordance with on-site SEO best practices described above and with those found on other SEO training sites.

Rule #4: Make Link Building a Priority from the Start

Another key priority for startups should be to start building inbound backlinks to their sites as quickly as possible, as both the number and quality of the links pointing back at a site plays a big role in its overall natural search performance.

A few of the different ways you can go about building these critical connections include:

  • Providing guest posts for other websites that include a link back to your pages.
  • Contacting sites that review products in your industry and asking them to include your startup’s offerings on their pages.
  • Sending press releases to major news services whenever your startup has an achievement to celebrate.
  • Disseminating viral-style content on social media networks (with the intention that it will be shared on your followers’ websites).
  • Adding your website to any relevant business directories within your industry.

Of course, these are just a few ideas for building links back to your startup’s website. For others, take a look at my complete list, “101 Ways to Link Build in 2012” (don’t worry, all the techniques described in this article still hold up in 2013!).

Rule #5: Publish Awesome Content

Finally, one of the best things you can do to optimize your startup’s website is to publish awesome content to your company’s pages.  This offers several key advantages:

  • When you publish awesome content, others in your industry will link back to it naturally, minimizing the amount of manual link building you need to do.
  • The more content you have on your website, the more opportunities you’ll have to get ranked for different keywords in the natural search results. This can lead to substantially more traffic than your original target keyword list can account for.
  • If your content is good enough, readers will share it amongst one another in a viral fashion, quickly improving your young company’s brand recognition.

To ensure that any content you publish meets this “awesome” criterion, set aside enough time to produce great content and review every piece you intend to publish carefully before adding it to your site. If you are not confident that your potential content pieces will pass muster with your target audience, scrap them and replace them with higher-quality articles.

Clearly, as anyone who’s been engaged in the process of SEO for any length of time will tell you, these strategies represent just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to website optimization. If you’re new to the field, start with these five rules, but then make it a priority to learn and apply more in-depth techniques in order to skyrocket your startup’s natural search performance.

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Ekaterina Bykova

Sujan Patel
Sujan Patel has over 12 years of digital marketing experience and has helped hundreds of clients increase web traffic, boost user acquisition, and grow their... Read Full Bio
Sujan Patel
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  • A good basic understanding of the first steps to carrying out SEO. I would say picking the right keywords from the start can be of real benefit to a website so taking the time to choose wisely is also a good tactic which will help later on!

  • Hi Sujan,

    I’ll have to respectfully disagree with you on #4. Building backlinks should not come before #5 which is to create great content. Only after you create enough high quality evergreen content to answer informational search queries, should you then spend time on building backlinks.

    Other than that, I think you hit the nail on the head in helping new website owners understand what to focus on in the early days of building a solid online presence.


    • I would certainly start building links straight away – if you are a new business, you need to get yourself out there, driving traffic and spreading awareness of your name. I totally agree you need to start creating great content, but that shouldn’t stop you from building links from the off.

  • Good tips Sujan. This will certainly help most of the startups get things started as far as SEO for their site is concerned. But they should also consider setting up Google analytics for tracking and measuring the success of the campaign, which in turn will give them more insights on what they lack and how they need to improve to improve the traffic to the site & hence the conversions.

  • In a space that becomes as increasingly active and crowded as the internet, SEO is of much importance not just to get noticed but also to survive for start-ups. It is more like a journey than a race. And if you conduct good quality efforts that help market and brand your business while using ingredients the search engines like to see, you will be in good shape. It is important to understand that SEO is a mindset. It is not just about rankings but also overall visibility and efficiency with your digital voice and your marketing efforts. Every situation is unique and every company is unique. Without deep understanding the competitive environment and competitive advantages, any framework is useless. Just my two cents to add to this great post.

  • Matt Shealy

    Great point about the need for brands to rank for their brand name, tag line and closely related keywords. This is so important to do early on so you aren’t scrambling down the road to rank for things that should be intuitive. I also want to point out that it is becoming increasingly more difficult for a new brand/property to quickly rank in a competitive market with SEO alone. I think that today its critical to have a holistic plan that includes social media to mitigate risk that SEO alone can cause.

  • I think it’s more than just SEO. SEO is not all about content marketing and PR in my opinion. While building links is the main focus (for my philosophy at least) it’s should be about killer content, relationships with influences, and branding.


  • I think today the most important thing is SEO is to pretend that your links are not from artifical link building. Providing good content is the key of your incoming links but it’s surely not enough to get the first page so you need links but not “as quickly as possible” as we can read in the posts. Keep the natural flow of new links and don’t try to achieve hundrends of incoming links at once.

  • great post, have pinned it. hopefully some start up websites will take your advice. It is so important to make sure that you research the market and find keyword phrases that suit your business needs. having long tail keywords is sometimes a great way to start, providing there is enough volume to get traffic/ leads/ sales.

  • Hi, Sujan! These are really great tips–publishing great content that people love is really the best way to go!

  • Barney Harty

    Well very impress Sujan as a start-up this is the first clear guide I have found for SEO working any more help I will absorb, I rate the standard of the comments you have received