10 SEO mistakes startups make
If you’re ready to bring your brand to a wider audience then SEO deserves a prime slot in your digital marketing mix. Whether you’re a start-up who wants to be found online, or a scale-up looking to increase your digital footprint, SEO can help build brand awareness and deliver long-term, sustainable revenue growth. Whilst it may not produce the quick wins of paid advertising, the impact of SEO is cumulative, making it a savvy choice. An investment made now may take 6-12 months to pay off, but once it does, it will continue to pay off, month after month, often for years.
Why then, do businesses who start SEO often become rapidly disillusioned? This seems like a lot of work? Why hasn’t anything happened yet? Why isn’t my site ranking? Projects are abandoned before they’ve barely begun.
Here are the top 10 SEO mistakes we see start-up and scale-up businesses make and how to swerve them so you can triumph in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
1. Starting SEO too late
We get it, it’s so very tempting to spend all your money on marketing channels that deliver quick results, particularly if you have the newly added pressure of investors to consider. SEO is undeniably a slow burn tactic. Quick wins aren’t impossible, but they are unlikely and usually reserved for sites with well established authority and traffic.
Businesses often wait until they have several years trading under their belts before they start to seriously consider SEO. Unfortunately, the larger and more established your website becomes, the more opportunities there are for substantial issues to evolve and the more complex the solutions. As businesses grow, flexibility tends to decrease, getting sign-off for changes becomes more challenging and as a result, it takes longer to implement SEO recommendations.
Thinking about SEO as early as possible in your business journey, even if it makes up a small percentage of your overall marketing activity, reduces the risk you’ll need to make large structural or technical website changes at a later date.
2. Fixating on growing traffic
The number one SEO goal among start-ups (and most other businesses if we’re honest) is more traffic, lots more traffic, an unreasonably, spectacular amount of traffic. We hear from founders with targets like taking 10k clicks per month to 100k or 200k clicks in the next 12 months. Without significant investment that’s probably not practical, but perhaps more importantly it may not even be helpful.
What often gets overlooked when setting SEO goals is considering what value all that shiny new traffic will deliver. What will those extra clicks do for your business? Focusing on a much smaller traffic increase, let’s say 10k on top of the 10k you already have, but directing that additional traffic to pages that drive conversions, might be more lucrative. If optimisation is used to redirect existing traffic to more valuable parts of a site, it’s possible to get positive results even if overall traffic decreases, because the clicks you do get are more likely to convert.
Increasing overall traffic does have its own value, particularly if you want to increase brand awareness, but when considered in isolation you risk setting unrealistic targets that won’t deliver ROI.
3. Losing patience after a month
You’re super proud of the two articles you posted this month, and wait confidently for your witty take on industry hot topics to knock your competitors off the top spots… We hate to break it to you, it’s going to be a long wait.
‘Moving the needle’ takes more than a handful of articles and for start-ups we recommend 12 months of consistent effort before performance is evaluated. Ahrefs calculated that, “only 5.7% of pages will rank in the top 10 search results within a year of publication”. You can view the first 6 months as your runway, where you learn what works, what doesn’t and set things up for success. In months 6-12 you should begin to see results.
4. Underestimating the competition
Your product or service really might be the ‘next big thing’, but this means very little in the SERPs when you’re the ‘new kid on the block’. Authority takes time to cultivate, so whilst it’s right to have absolute confidence in your brand, it’s also important to be realistic about the time and effort needed to out-rank established competitors.
Building up organic visibility as a start-up isn’t easy, it involves strategically choosing topics where competition is lower – perhaps targeting long tail keywords or zero search volume terms to start with. Great content alone isn’t enough to shake up the SERPs.
5. Focusing on head keywords terms
Head terms are broad phrases, usually one or two words, that have high search volume and high competition. For example, in the insurance industry terms like ‘home insurance’ or ‘travel insurance’ could be described as head terms. Drawn in by the high search volume and strong audience relevance, start-ups often focus on these terms, hoping they can entice a proportion of the traffic to their website.
The challenge with targeting these keywords is that they are massively competitive, and as we’ve highlighted, underestimating the competition is unwise. Ignoring head terms altogether is also rarely the answer. An effective content strategy will target a broad range of terms and start-ups are likely to have more success going after longer tail and industry niche phrases.
6. Churning out content
In contrast to the businesses that craft a handful of articles and expect traffic to flood in, some go all in on content but neglect everything else! Yes, content generation is important, particularly for a newer site that wants to scale, but there are other factors like technical SEO, on-page quality and internal linking that also need to be considered. There is no ‘one thing’ that guarantees SEO results. Success comes from consistent effort, over time on a combination of activities.
7. Not committing enough budget
Don’t imagine that SEO can be done on a shoestring. Long term, it can be an incredibly cost effective tactic, but getting started requires investment. We’re not suggesting you throw all your cash at one marketing channel, it’s important to invest at a level you can maintain as it takes time to see results. Consider your search competition and the value of bringing more traffic to your site to work out how much optimisation is ‘worth’ to your business. If you’ve allocated a large chunk of budget to paid advertising, or another marketing channel, could you redistribute a proportion for SEO?
A half-hearted approach to SEO is unlikely to be successful and may even create future issues. If SEO efforts are seen to have ‘failed’, it could make it difficult to get buy-in for more activity in the future. The key is to prioritise. If organic traffic has been identified as an important channel, don’t choose to make it fail, make a reasonable investment and give yourself the opportunity to succeed.
8. Not allocating enough resource
Scaling up means letting go (at least a little). Optimisation projects often falter early on when founders who thought they could do it all, realise they really can’t. To give SEO the attention it needs you’ll need to enlist the support of other people and empower them to make decisions about your website.
At a minimum this will be one person, probably within your marketing function, working full or part time on optimisation. Add to this contributions from your wider team. Do you have a web developer contracted for a few days a month who can be utilised? Do you have a content writer outside your SEO or marketing team who could write a few articles each month?
Within your resourcing plan make sure you have someone who can give expert input, whether that’s in-house or through an SEO agency or freelancer. You need someone knowledgeable in all aspects of SEO to guide the process.
9. Lack of business direction
If you’re working with a MVP that is regularly evolving or are unsure of your customer base it’s going to be difficult to come up with an effective SEO strategy. Whilst this is a normal part of developing a product or service, taking a scattergun approach to optimisation whilst you work out the details is inviting failure.
Getting a foothold in the SERPs as a new business is a challenge. One of the keys to success is a laser focus on your niche and audience. Without that clarity, you’re just guessing at how and what you should be communicating. Don’t waste time trying to optimise your site until you’ve pinned down what you are selling and who it’s for.
10. Ignoring Low Search Demand
In some hyper-niche industries there may be very low, or negligible search demand. If no-one is using search engines to look for what you’re selling, then SEO isn’t going to work. This issue typically affects emerging industries that consumers are unfamiliar with, or brands with highly technical offerings (for example BioTech) that are sourced primarily through other channels, such as industry networks or events.
If any of these criteria apply to your business, don’t ignore the signs – evaluate whether SEO is really the best use of your marketing spend right now using paid search. Whilst there are ways to turn low search volumes to your advantage and take early ownership of industry SERPs, you can’t magically create demand where there is none and there are limits to what SEO can achieve in these situations.
Get started with SEO the right way
Now you know how to avoid the worst SEO pitfalls, it’s time to get started the right way. Don’t be afraid to seek out expert input early on to help define your strategy and set realistic goals. Commit to 12 months of effort before evaluating performance and allocate an appropriate amount of budget and people power. Having a clear plan and being smart about how you target your niche will set you up for success.