There is more to creating a website than meets the eye. It’s not just a great design, adding some blog posts, slapping on some CTAs on there and then kicking back as the organic traffic rolls in and your posts appear at the top of the search results . It’s crucial that you consider Search Engine Optimization (SEO) when building your site. This ensures that your content - and therefore your business - can actually be found online by your potential customers. This is doubly important when it comes to SEO for startups. If you’re a startup, you’ve got a small team, very little time and you begin with zero or few customers. You don't have the time - or money - to hire an SEO expert, so the time you spend on trying to sell your product or service must be optimized to the max.
But SEO is one of those things that covers a wide range of topics, issues and thus… info.
Although we’ve called this article ‘SEO for startups’, it isn't a guide for content marketing. Instead, we're focusing on the basics of being found online. Search engines crawl the web with ‘spiders’, looking for fresh sites, pages and content. They use the information they find to work out how useful it may be for potential readers. The information gathered when crawling the web is then visible on Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). This isn’t just about keywords, but also the content that people actually want to read and share. Good content helps a site rank higher in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) which in turn leads to more traffic, more potential customers, more leads, and more buyers.
Begin with the end in mind
There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to SEO for startups - and just as many blogs already dedicated to the best way to rank on a SERP page (literally - ranking factors). We suggest you read the links we’ve added to the end of this article if you want to dive deeper. They’re the best you’ll find anywhere and cover things like technical SEO, link building and research for long-tail keywords. 🙂
What we’re going to cover here are the basics of being found online. Too often we begin a mission with a client - especially early-stage startups - and not only do we need to explain the benefits of SEO, but we also discover a bunch of issues that are simple to fix. If only they knew how. The good news is that we approach this problem by going through our checklist: site architecture, specific keywords, meta descriptions, meta titles, image optimization and more.
It is also important to keep in mind that SEO takes time, patience, and effort. It requires continuous work to maintain and improve results. But if you don’t begin with the basics of SEO we detail here, your pages will never be found no matter how good your content creation and long-tail keywords research is.
Data: Google Analytics, Plausible, Mixpanel or Kissmetrics
It’s important to begin with how you measure your data. Maybe you’re doing everything perfectly and it’s going great - but if you’ve never been responsible for content creation before or had to identify a target audience and follow how they interact organically, how would you even know what high-quality content looks like?
The most commonly used analytics tool for analysing the organic search performance of your web pages is Google Analytics. Other tools that provide similar data include Plausible, Mixpanel and Kissmetrics.
Google Analytics: Google Analytics is a free web analytics tool that provides detailed insights into your site traffic and user behavior. With it, you can see how many people visit your site, where they come from, which pages have high search volume, and how long they stay on each page. This information is crucial to understand how users interact with your content, identify areas that need improvement, and optimize your content to drive more traffic. On July 1st, 2023 Google stopped supplying data to their current version of this platform - known as Universal Analytics - so everyone must use Google Analytics 4. There is a lot of great content to be found on how to use GA4, and we’ll provide our own guide soon.
Plausible: Plausible is a lightweight, privacy-focused web analytics tool that provides similar insights to Google Analytics, but without tracking any personal data. This makes it a great choice for working on SEO for startups that want to prioritize user privacy and GDPR compliance - a key issue many see with Google Analytics. Plausible offers simple, easy-to-use dashboards that display metrics such as page views, bounce rate, and referral sources, making it just as easy to track the performance of your content over time as with Google Analytics.
Mixpanel: Mixpanel goes beyond basic website analytics to track user behavior across multiple platforms and devices so you can understand different buyer personas. It is particularly useful to apply best practices for SEO to startups that offer mobile apps or other digital products requiring more sophisticated analytics and dedicated tracking of user engagement. You can track engagement, retention and conversion rates, to optimize marketing campaigns and user experience.
Kissmetrics: Kissmetrics helps track the user experience across multiple touchpoints. You can track interactions across website, mobile app, email campaigns and more. You can then use this data to create a personalized user experience and improve conversion rates. Kissmetrics offers a range of advanced features like cohort analysis, funnel visualization, and A/B testing, making it a good choice for startups that want to take analytics to another level.
The problem with not being on Google Search Console isn’t that you won’t be found at all, it’s that you’re less likely to be found and more importantly, will have little idea of how search brings users to your pages, and little to no control over it.
Google Search Console is the first step to help you monitor and maintain your presence on SERPs. With Google Search Console, you can see how your site is being crawled and indexed (or how it isn’t). You can also identify and fix technical issues that may affect page rank, you can see how you're performing on mobile devices and understand how to optimize existing content to improve user experience and organic performance. Google Search Console helps you understand the specific keywords that bring people to your site, your keyword rankings and the relevant content that is most popular in search results.
If you’ve just read the previous paragraph but have never heard about Search Console, don’t worry. You’re not alone. You’re one of a lot of startups and many business owners who are aware of SEO, know they should have a solid SEO strategy, that they should be in the business of content creation and be ‘publishing great content’ but have no idea how any of what we've just described even works. We even have a question for it on our client pre-kickoff questionnaire that looks like this:
So, if you’re not set up on Google Search Console, go ahead and do it right now. The simplest way is to do this is as a ‘domain property’. Just make sure you choose the 100% correct URL. Check the EXACT live URL of your site: make sure you match the https (NOT http) and whether the site uses www or not in your live URL. The fastest way is to click on your domain name in a browser and copy and paste that URL - when you click on the URL in your browser you’ll see the FULL detail of your site URL with your domain name.
Not a way to find buried treasure, nor how builders navigate a construction site. Read on…
1. What is a Sitemap?
The sitemap is much like a restaurant menu: this is how your site tells Google and other search engines which pages exist and how they are ordered according to their relative importance.
To make best use of the sitemap, you should first make sure that it is actually a list of the web pages you want search engines to find.
2. How to find your sitemap?
To find the site map, check if there is one submitted to Google Search Console by looking under ‘Sitemap’ in the left section of the control panel. If there isn’t, there will be nothing under ‘submitted sitemaps’.
In any case, you’ll need to find your sitemap on your live pages and understand how it is populated. You should be able to find it in your CMS (webflow, wordpress, Squarespace) usually under SEO ‘tools’ or ‘settings’. This is important because if you need to change the sitemap, you’ll need to know where it is and how it functions in your particular CMS.
Keep in mind that most sitemaps that are linked to a CMS are auto-populated. This means that if you add new pages they are immediately added and published to the sitemap. But you may not want this to happen, or you’ll only want certain pages to appear in the sitemap.
For example, with our CMS. We have created a way to add customer testimonials called ‘shoutouts’ which you can see here. However, we use the same database to add the logos you see on the homepage. If we don’t have a full testimonial such as this one, it isn’t added to the shoutouts page BUT the actual ‘shout out’ is still created and it creates a page. We'd prefer if people didn't find these pages as it dilutes the user experience (and looks a bit weird) so we don’t link to them anywhere. However the only way to remove them from the sitemap is to update it manually. So... that’s what we do.
It is important to keep in mind - like with the shoutouts example above - that removing web pages from your sitemap doesn’t mean that search engines - and therefore users - won’t find them. It just means you have more control of what you want the search engine to consider important, and how the search engine web crawlers should view your site structure.
Once you find or add the sitemap to Google Search Console, you should next check whether your pages are actually being indexed. This means that the pages can be found via Google and other search engines.
Indexing may not happen immediately. You can wait a few days if the sitemap - or your pages - are new. Even then, you may encounter issues or decide you want submit your pages directly, both of which are covered by the section below: ‘non-indexed pages’.
1. What should and shouldn’t be indexed?
That’s a decision for you. A good example is where you have authors and tags that are auto created for blog content, as happens in Wordpress. It automatically creates a page for each author and each tag, but this is not necessarily valuable or relevant content.
If your site doesn’t have many pages, it probably doesn’t matter too much. But understanding how indexing functions gives you some control over the web pages of your site that are and are not being indexed.
2. Non-indexed pages
If you’ve been producing new, high-quality content for months but have'nt seen an uplift in organic traffic, then It’s possible your web pages aren’t being indexed. The easiest way to find out whether this is the case, is to look at the sitemap section in Google Search Console.
In GSC go to ‘Sitemaps’ under ‘Indexing’ in the left menu.
In most cases, you’ll have one (and should only have ONE) site map. However if you have an exceptionally large site, or are on Wordpress and using a plug-in like Yoast, you may have more than one, and that’s ok as well. Here we’ll focus on what happens when we have just one.
Click on that sitemap and the following page will open up:
Click on ‘See Page Indexing’.
What you want to see here is that all the pages on your sitemap have been indexed, like in the iytro site above.
Now click on ‘Pages’ under ‘Indexing’ in the left menu.
You’ll see how many pages are indexed and how many are not (see below)
Having non-indexed web pages doesn’t necessarily mean you have problems. Any page from the entire history of your site that has not been indexed will be here.
It is important, however, to consider the reasons why these particular web pages are not being indexed.
In this case, let’s start with “Alternative page with proper canonical tag”.
This reason implies that there are new pages that have been found, but they’re not the ‘proper’ page as they do not have the ‘canonical’ within the page code.
In our case, they look like ‘invented’ pages. Our CMS is somehow creating new URLs of existing pages (see below):
Therefore we’re not too concerned with these pages not being indexed.
In fact, we're happy that google is doing its job and not indexing them.
If they should be indexed, then we need to work out why they are not which we cover in the next section.
3. How to fix non-indexed pages
Unfortunately, the only way to do this is manually.
If there are many pages that require indexing, create a list; the easiest and best way is to download it directly from Search Console. Then follow the instructions below.
1. Copy a URL and paste it into ‘Inspect any URL’ at the top of the page.
2. The page should display ‘not indexed’ as per the below (if it says ‘page indexed', then you’re fine - this process can stop here - it is only a matter of time before this web page will appear in search engine results!)
3. Click on ‘Test Live URL’ to see if it finds any reason the page may not be indexed. If it does, you’ll need to work out how to fix the page.
4. If it says ‘page can be indexed’ then click on 'Request Indexing’.
5. Be aware that there is a daily limit of 10 pages which can be submitted daily to 'Request Indexing’.
6. Do this for each of the web pages you need to be indexed.
It may take a few days for each page to be indexed after being submitted. However if you have many pages that you’re submitting, you should see something your indexed pages increase - with impressions for search engines increasing along with it: a perfect result!
Be careful that you’re not submitting pages you shouldn’t. A great example relates to the URL that has been allocated to the ‘domain property’ we discussed earlier. For example you may have a blog that exists as yourdomain.com/blog
Depending on whether your primary domain uses www or not, a page with the alternative may appear in the ‘not indexed’ group. So if your page is yourdomain.com/blog, you may find www.yourdomain.com/blog in the non-indexed pages. But you needn’t request that this be indexed. The first page - yourdomain.com/blog - is the correct one. Therefore, you don’t need to do anything.
The same applies to http pages. If your site is https (and it definitely should be - as mentioned earlier)
The architecture of your site can have a significant impact on the SEO performance of your startup. A well-structured architecture helps search engines crawl and index your site more effectively, which can improve your visibility in search engine results pages. Factors to consider include:
Hierarchy: Your website should have a clear hierarchy of pages and content that reflects the most important topics and categories. This can be achieved through a clear navigation menu, adding breadcrumbs, and a well-organized sitemap.
URL structure: Your URLs should be concise and reflect the content and topic of each page. This helps search engines understand the relevance of your pages and thus improve visibility in search engine results.
Internal Linking: an important part of any link building strategy is internal linking (alongside generating high-quality backlinks and adding external links) this helps search engines understand the structure and hierarchy of your website's content, and especially which is the high-quality content. When done properly, internal linking can also help distribute page authority and improve the potential of your pages to drive up your website rank. The simplest way to do this is to look for the right keywords within your site content, and link to the most relevant pages for those target keywords.
It’s crucial that you consider SEO when publishing your content, especially if you are or intend to publish content at a high volume. Here is a summary of the main points covered here:
- SEO is vital for startups to ensure online visibility and attract potential customers through organic traffic.
- Startups should Prioritize SEO as they have limited resources and need to maximize their time.
- Search engines use 'spiders' to crawl the web, ranking valuable content higher.
- Good content leads to better search rankings and increased traffic, customers, and leads.
- Understand that there are a variety of SEO topics and issues beyond this guide.
- Start with basics like site architecture, specific keywords, meta data, and image optimization.
- SEO is a gradual process requiring time, patience, and continuous effort.
- Measure the data of your web pages using tools like Google Analytics, Plausible, Mixpanel, or Kissmetrics.
- Google Search Console allows you to monitor and maintains the presence of your web pages on SERPs.
- It helps track crawl and index status, fix technical issues, and optimize content.
- Sitemap is a list of web pages for search engines to find.
- Verify sitemap existence and location in your CMS settings.
- Understand the role of a sitemap in your site's structure.
- Check page indexing status to ensure visibility on search engines.
- Decide which of your web pages should and shouldn't be indexed.
- Non-indexed pages might just be new pages, and need manual intervention.
- To fix non-indexed pages, inspect the URLs or your web pages and request indexing on google search console if needed.
- The architecture of your site impacts SEO performance.
- Create a clear hierarchy, optimize URL structure, and employ a link building strategy, including internal linking.
- Internal linking enhances content distribution and page authority.
- Focus on relevant target keywords and link to pertinent pages.
- Implement these fundamental SEO steps to build a strong online presence for startups.
We recommend that anyone publishing content takes the time to understand as much as possible about the state of SEO in 2023, and so we recommend the following as some of the best resources we know.
Good luck and if you want some SEO advice, feel free to contact us!