Competing in Google's search results can be daunting. As an SEO consultant, I've worked with many startups that have small budgets but big aspirations, and the question I'm always faced with is, "How can we compete against X?"
X is typically a brand with 20 years of organic SEO growth that dominates a particular industry. They exist in nearly every industry, and sometimes, there's more than one. No startup wants to go head-to-head with a company with an SEO budget that exceeds seven figures a year.
The answer to beating another company's SEO is to find the gaps in their strategy and be tactical with how you regain market share from them.
Here are five simple steps to start generating organic traffic to your website immediately, with a limited but well-placed budget.
Before you consider SEO a growth channel for your startup, you need to establish market demand in your niche. Search traffic is driven by billions of searches happening every day. Your job is to calculate exactly how many of these searches are relevant to your startup.
You should be able to:
Knowledge on these fronts will help you understand two things: where you need to invest capital and where your biggest organic wins are going to come from.
If you're in the early stages of your business, chances are you won't have much (or any) customer data to lean on for ideas. This is why, initially, we build growth strategies on keywords.
Search data has become more reliable over the past decade, and you can now lean on tools like Ahrefs and Semrush to find what you need.
You can leverage data points like:
While third-party data has inherent limitations, it'll allow you to quantify your market with more conviction. Your aim here is to use as many data points as possible to get a complete picture of your market and the keywords that formulate your organic opportunity.
If you're unfamiliar with where to get this data, you can try Google Search Console, Google Keyword Planner, or Keywords Everywhere, which is great for seasonality.
The tricky part is potentially ending up with thousands of keywords without cleaning your data. Data cleansing can be extensive, so here are a few hard-and-fast rules to help you do this:
You should end up with a list of grouped keywords that have search volume and traffic potential. This means you can focus on categories that have the greatest potential for traffic without wasting money on content first.
Once you know which categories have potential, you now need to fill that gap. The only way to do this is with content.
People tend to overcomplicate content marketing, but it's simple. Your job is to be front of mind throughout the entire customer journey.
Startups typically don't benefit from having a huge brand presence in the first six to 12 months, depending on your industry. Which means top-of-funnel traffic will be how you absorb non-brand market share, or keywords and searches that don't contain the name of your company, and build brand awareness.
SEO relies on building topical authority and topical relevance, both of which help you continue to strengthen your ability to rank in the results pages. Google has said it would have no reason to trust a site with less than 30 pages, because it uses content to understand what your brand is. If you continue to produce and distribute high-quality content at scale consistently, Google has more available information to assess you.
The benchmark for high-quality content is different for each industry. But some hard-and-fast rules to consider are:
There are no set limits on what establishes you as an authority. This takes patience and the belief that continuing to do the right thing for the search engines and your users will eventually pay off. Based on my past experience, most websites should expect a minimum of six months before they see traction. Once you start seeing this initial uplift, the compound effect of SEO comes into play.
Google wants to rank brands, not websites. Anybody can launch a website, but not everybody takes the time to build a brand that people recognize and love.
Popularity, multiple sources of traffic, word of mouth, and association to a product or service make a brand stand out. The easiest way to achieve these is getting your brand mentioned on popular websites.
Startup founders tend to overcomplicate this by trying to reinvent the wheel. Keep it simple by:
There are platforms like HARO (Help A Reporter Out) and Response Source where brands can submit expert commentary, opinions, and studies to journalists. Typically, you'll receive three emails a day with journalist requests if you sign up. In the early stages, I'd pitch to every relevant website.
PR is not only great for brand awareness but also for link building. Links are undoubtedly one of the most powerful signals Google uses to rank a website, but not every link is built the same.
Powerful, authoritative links have significantly more weight than lesser-known websites. This is because Google often values reputable news outlets as trusted sources. Receiving a link from a website like this is considered an incredibly powerful vote of confidence in Google's eyes. The more you can do this, the better it'll be for your rankings and organic traffic.
Finally, don't rely entirely on Google for growth. You can take a single piece of content and repurpose it across as many platforms as you like.
Being able to generate traffic from popular websites like Pinterest, Facebook, Reddit, and major news outlets is one of the most powerful ways to supercharge your SEO.
Google uses these signals to validate how popular your brand may be. This isn't noted anywhere in their official guidelines, but over the past decade of ranking websites, referral traffic has had a tremendous impact on sales and rankings.
For example, if your brand has been mentioned alongside nine other brands in an expert roundup, this link will help you build authority over time. The more mentions and links you receive from other relevant websites, the more potential you have to generate organic traffic.
The next time you plan a piece of content, take the time to ask yourself: Where can I get this featured? Where can I distribute it? What links could I achieve?