Working for a startup is never easy. I don’t mean the fact that you’re probably going to put in considerably more hours than the average or the fact that you’re going to be 90% reliant on a series of funding just to stay afloat. No, I’m talking about the fact that whenever someone asks you what you do for a living, you’re going to have to be prepared to give a long answer. If you tell people you work for Commonwealth Bank or Qantas, they could immediately understand what it is but if you mention you’re working for a no-name startup, you’re probably going to be asked the details of what you actually do.
I’ve seen this happens to an ex-colleague of mine even when the startup he went on to work for isn’t without cachet. Some startups are constantly in the headlines, the Ubers and Spotifys of the world basically, that mentioning their name would be more than enough but most aren’t so lucky to have that kind of reputation. This lack of reputation can also be a professional obstacle as it’s difficult to showcase your capabilities when they don’t even know who you are, which is why SEO and SEO services can be such a boon to startups, especially on the earlier stages of their lifecycle.
The concept of a digital public square
Three decades ago, whenever you are in need of something, you browse through the yellow pages or ask friends, families and neighbors to find what you were looking for. In 2019, as long as you have a working internet connection, all you have to do is open a browser and type a search query. If you feel like talking to a person, you could simply access the various forums or subreddits online for information on what you need. The point is, you’re still going to be using the internet anyway.
This is also the reason why conventional marketing is no longer as effective as it used to be given that we now spend the majority of our free time online. If prime marketing space in the 80s is defined as somewhere with large foot traffic like the Federation Square in Melbourne or a hit television show such as Neighbors or Home and Away (I’m just spitballing here, I was born in the 90s), today’s prime marketing space in the topmost result in the first page of a search engine results page (SERP).
The tricky thing with the prime marketing space we have right now is that money wouldn’t be enough to get you into the first page of Google’s SERP; it’s SEO that going to get you over the finish line. When you look at it this way, SEO is important for every business but startups and by extension, small businesses, are in a unique position that makes SEO more or less necessary to their success or even survival, as will be explained further on.
Startups and small businesses can’t rely on word-of-mouth reputation
If I wrote the word Apple here, even if I wasn’t directly referring to the Cupertino company, the tech giant is still going to be the first thing that comes into your mind. Use that word in a conversation and the people you’re talking with would still be able to catch on to what you were referring to. Google too has become so ingrained in our lives that the company’s name is now being used regularly as a verb as a code to look something up on Google search like we used to but with a dictionary.
This brings me to the point I was trying to make at the beginning of this piece, about how name-dropping a startup company would simply lead to more questions and how it might be of a problem, professionally speaking. SEO helps startups sidestep around this issue because there’s something trustworthy about a business that is featured in the first page of a SERP. It helps foster credibility and build your reputation even before potential customers know exactly who you are.
Results from SEO take time
Another reason why SEO is important for startups is that it allows you to start fresh and early and reap the results of your SEO efforts when your business is in the growing stage. The results of your SEO efforts is proportional to the time you spent making that effort and by starting as early as possible, you could possibly get a headstart on some of your competitors who might not be as forward-thinking as you. Rome wasn’t built in a day, which is why it’s important for startups to begin considering putting some of their resource, no matter how small, on SEO as early as possible.
SEO could function as market research
While at its core SEO is about making you as high as possible on a given SERP, the research you’ve done as part of your SEO efforts can help shape how your business is going to look like. Both keyword research and content marketing, two fields that fall under the general purview of SEO, deals heavily on market research. Finding out what words people are using when it comes to your industry and keeping an eye out for trends that are shaping within your industry is the foundation of keyword research and content marketing and the information you obtain can help your business in more ways than just simple SEO.
It’s a way to size up the competition
One important part of SEO is opposition research. As a new business, you’re going to have to look into other established business in your industry and figure out a way to be one of two things, how you could beat them at their own game or how you could set yourself apart from the rest of the competition. That is true in your products and/or services and that’s also true in SEO as well. SEO is after all, a zero sum game, for a new company to rise up in the search rankings; another must go down as well.
With SEO, you’re going to have to figure out what keyword your competitors are using and then figure out if that specific keywords is the one you should be going for as well or to figure out another set of keywords that you feel better describes your business. The market is a very crowded place and the ability to think outside the box might be necessary. Optimizing for a popular keyword might not be the best way if you can find a slightly less popular keyword but with much less competition and this is where your SEO research could prove useful.