SEO for Startups | 6 Key Steps for Founders

Organic search or SEO can become a scaleable and high-margin traffic source for startups. Here are six steps for founders to get started.

January 8, 2024
Written by
Lizzie Davey
Reviewed by
Nate Matherson

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The main goal for most startups is to rapidly scale — and getting their name out there is a crucial part of that effort.

While social media stunts and quickly jumping on trends might get you a moment in the spotlight (we’re looking at you, TikTok), building an SEO channel can have a snowball effect on your traffic and revenue. A well-implemented SEO strategy usually takes time to show results, but organic search can become an ongoing high-margin traffic source. 

However, it’s not enough to create content and hope for the best — in fact, 96.55% of pages get no organic traffic. If you want to stop your content from disappearing into the ether, follow these steps to secure more visibility in search results. 

Why Should Startups Build SEO Channels? 

Some founders might think they don’t have the time or resources to build out an SEO channel, but here are some reasons it’s a must-do for startups. 

Connect with Potential Buyers with High Intent

Someone who lands on your website via Google Search is looking for something in particular. They have a mission and a purpose. Compare them with someone who’s aimlessly scrolling through Instagram or LinkedIn — chances are, they’re looking for inspiration or entertainment, not to make a purchase. 

SEO helps you attract visitors with high intent. They’re readier to buy than those sent from most other channels.

Create a Durable Asset 

Yes, it takes time for a startup to build out a successful SEO channel, but optimized web content lasts much longer than a quick Instagram post or TikTok video. Every piece of SEO content you create becomes a durable asset and a source of continual traffic. Once you’ve put in the upfront work, you can reap the rewards for years. 

This post from Adobe ranks second on Google for the search term “how to do email marketing,” and it was published more than a year ago. Second-position results have an average 18.7% click-through rate, so there’s a good chance this post is still getting a ton of traffic today. 

Build a High-Margin Channel

While SEO is not completely free, as some guides would have you believe, it’s a relatively low-cost marketing method. This means that the margins are higher than with other tactics, once you’ve accounted for the cost of content creation. The cost inputs for building an SEO channel are often very straightforward, too.

Building an SEO channel typically comes with a cost (for instance, the cost of creating the content or webpages). But as long as you’re writing about evergreen topics or topics with a long shelf life, the money you spend on content creation will pay dividends for years to come.

Many startups hire freelance content writers to help with content creation. But at the very early stages, the startup’s founders themselves might be writing the content — this doesn’t exactly make the content free, but it doesn’t require an outlay of cash. For example, at Positional, our co-founder Nate Matherson typically writes about one blog post per week.

Alternatively, if you’re building a programmatic SEO strategy and generating webpages automatically, the cost of creating content would be very low.

When Startups Shouldn’t Start Building SEO Channels

If you need immediate growth right now, it might be wiser to focus your efforts elsewhere. There are other channels you can use to move the needle (like paid ads and social media platforms), especially if you need to get immediate results. SEO is a longer-term investment that takes time to pick up but can have amazing compounding effects once it’s in play. 

6 Steps to Building Your SEO Channel

1. Set Clear Goals and Commit to Being Consistent

SEO isn’t a quick fix, so acknowledge upfront that you’re going to be in it for the long haul. You won’t see results immediately, but that doesn’t mean you can’t set clear KPIs and monitor your efforts. 

Think about what you want to achieve with SEO and what you’ll need to do to get there. For example, if you want to rank in the top five results for 100 industry-relevant keywords, you’ll need to plan to publish enough content to reach that goal. 

You might set an output-related goal, like “publish four bottom-of-the-funnel (BoFu) and four top-of-the-funnel (ToFu) blog posts every month for one year,” or you might set a results-based goal, like “increase blog traffic by 25% in six months.” 

2. Do Keyword Research

Once you have your plan in place, it’s time to start working on the practical side of things — and there’s no better place to start than keyword research. This process involves finding relevant keywords with a decent search volume and difficulty level and creating content that targets them. You can use a keyword tool like Positional's Keyword Research, Ahrefs, or Semrush to create a master list of keywords. When you’re doing keyword research, keep the following points in mind:

Think About the Different Stages of the Funnel

Don’t focus only on ToFu keywords, as they often have more competition. Instead, ensure that you’re also targeting long-tail keywords that people with higher intent are searching for. These keywords will most likely be transactional or commercial, rather than informational or navigational, but start by mapping out the needs of consumers at each stage of the funnel. 

Let’s say you have a SaaS-based email marketing product. Someone at the ToFu might be looking for general information about what email marketing is and why they might need it. Someone in the middle of the funnel might be looking for comparison tables so they can understand their options. Someone at the BoFu might be looking for product-specific tutorials, case studies, and reviews. 

These two posts are targeting people in the middle of the funnel. They’re in the decision-making stage and want to find out which solution is best for their needs. 

This post targets people who aren’t even sure about email marketing. Note the two very different intents and the keywords used for each. 

Identify Keywords That Your Buyers Are Searching For

It’s tempting to choose keywords that have high search volumes even if they’re only loosely related to your startup. But these might not be the words your target audience is using. Instead of simply choosing the most popular search terms:

  • Use sites like Google Trends to find out what topics are trending.
  • Use a keyword research tool to find relevant keywords in your niche. 
  • Check your Google Search Console (GSC) to see which phrases people are using to find your website.
  • Use Google’s autocomplete feature to find long-tail keywords related to broader topics. 

Google’s autocomplete feature remains an easy, free way to find long-tail keywords. 

Do Competitor Keyword Research

Competitor research can help you find relevant keywords that similar brands are already ranking for. You can use a keyword tool to either run dedicated competitor keyword research or do a content gap analysis to find topics that your competitors have targeted that you haven’t yet. 

Start Building Topical Authority

At this point, you should have a relatively large list of keywords to choose from. To build topical authority (which will help Google consider you an expert in your industry), start clustering relevant keywords. This is sometimes called the hub and spoke method, which ensures that you’re creating content that covers every aspect of a topic your audience is interested in.

For example, you might create a hub page (also called a pillar page) that acts as an overview guide to email marketing; then publish pieces that target more focused keywords, with topics like open rates, building a list, and different email marketing platforms; and then link to those pages from your hub page. The more content you have and the more keywords you target in your niche, the easier it’ll be for Google to identify you as an authority. 

Positional’s Keyword Clustering tool automatically groups together related keywords. 

3. Power Up Your Content Creation Engine

Now, it’s time to start creating content. This is the part that will take the most time, and it’ll become an ongoing part of your strategy. For best results and to stay in Google’s good books, you should post fresh content regularly.

  • Put together an editorial calendar: Decide how often you want to publish, and start mapping your keywords in a calendar.
  • Create thoughtful content outlines: Write an outline for each piece of content you plan to create. The outline should define the primary and longer-tail keywords to target, the key sections, and a general flow.

Positional’s Content Planner pulls together an outline for your chosen keywords in seconds. 

  • Start creating content: Decide whether you’re going to write the content in-house or work with freelance writers. Working with freelancers can be a great way to scale, but you might also want to hire a freelance copy editor so you don’t have to run edits yourself. This is where your detailed outlines will come in useful. 
  • Get into a regular cadence: Publish one to two pieces of content per week at minimum. It’ll often take 20 to 30 pieces of content for Google to start paying attention to your site. 

Once you’ve designed a slick workflow, it’ll become much easier to stay on top of your content calendar and scale your SEO efforts. Make sure you tweak any processes that are causing bottlenecks, and experiment with different ways of writing, outlining, and publishing. 

Here are some best practices to make sure your content is the best it can be: 

Best Practice 1: Be Wary of AI-Generated Content

AI makes lofty promises, like creating hundreds of pieces of content in seconds. While it can do this, the quality of that content is questionable, and there’s a good chance you’ll need to comb through every word to check for consistency, relevancy, and accuracy. You can certainly use AI as a starting point, but humans should do the bulk of the work. Google has said that you can use AI-generated content but that it shouldn’t be used as a means to manipulate search results. And it has recently been speculated that Google manually penalized a popular website that almost exclusively used AI-generated content.

Best Practice 2: Quality Over Quantity

Google rewards only the best content on a topic — after all, it wants to create the best experience for searchers. Your content should be fantastic and uniquely helpful. Think about how you can set it apart from similar pieces of content with expert commentary, graphics, videos, and personal anecdotes. According to Mike Haney, a recent guest on the Optimize podcast, at the very least, you should be able to answer the question “What is this article adding to the internet?”

Best Practice 3: Optimize Your Content 

Use a content optimization tool like Positional’s Optimize, Clearscope, or Surfer. These tools show you what topics and keywords to cover in a piece and how well you stack up against your competitors. Don’t keyword-stuff pieces for the sake of it, but ensure that you’re touching on the most important points in each piece. 

4. Do Technical SEO Basics 

Keywords are only a part of the SEO puzzle. Google uses multiple different ranking factors to fuel its algorithm, including page speed and ease of navigation. These are considered “technical SEO elements,” and while they can give your site a little nudge in the right direction, don’t sweat them too much in the very beginning. Just make sure that your website loads quickly and that you’ve submitted your sitemap to Google. 

The most important thing is that you prioritize internal linking to build an SEO-friendly site structure and use good, keyword-infused title tags and meta descriptions for each piece. 

5. Build Backlinks 

Backlinks come after you’ve established a good keyword strategy and are creating lots of great content. Backlinks from websites with high domain authority tell Google that your content is relevant and important. The more backlinks you have, the better it will look in Google’s eyes and the higher you’ll show up in search engine results pages (SERPs). 

Here are some ways your startup can build backlinks

  • Guest posting: Submit engaging guest posts to high-authority sites. Run a Google search for [your industry] + “write for us” to find potential candidates, and then follow the submission guidelines. 
  • Resource pages: Create helpful content that would fit well within resource pages, and ask those websites to link to your content. For example, a college’s career planning department might have a resources page for students, and you might ask them to link to your article on how students can start a career in SEO.
  • Digital PR: Submit responses on websites like HARO and Help a B2B Writer to get a mention and a link back to your site. 
  • Ask investors: One quick hack is encouraging your investors to link to your website from their sites (both your venture capitalists and angel investors)!
  • First-hand research: Run surveys and polls to generate useful research and statistics that other sites can link to from their content. 

6. Track Your Performance

Now that your startup SEO strategy is in motion, it’s time to track its results. Start by verifying that your pages are indexed. To do this, go into GSC, select your website from the list, find the URL inspection tool in the menu, and enter the URL of the page you want to check. 

You can also go to Pages > Indexing to see all of your indexed pages.

In the performance section of GSC, you can see which keywords your site is starting to rank for and how many impressions you’re getting on each page. Keep an eye on GSC as you start building out your content library to see which pieces get the most impressions and which keywords are the most popular. This will help you plan future content ideas and help you optimize content that’s not performing as well as you’d like. 

In the very beginning, you’ll want to see an uptick in search impressions, as this is typically a leading indicator of search traffic.

Tools to Get Your Startup Started with SEO 

Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a free tool provided by Google to help website owners track their search performance.

As a starting point, submit your sitemap to GSC so that Google can find and index all of your pages faster. Through the tool, you can track how well your content is ranking for your target keywords and identify where there’s room for improvement. GSC will also alert you to any issues with your website, for example, indexing issues like “Discovered - currently not indexed” or issues with Core Web Vitals or Manual Actions.


Positional’s suite of SEO tools is the perfect arsenal for your startup:

  • Keyword Research helps you discover relevant keywords that have a decent search volume and low difficulty scores.
  • Optimize ensures that your pieces include the right keywords and phrases to rank well. 
  • Keyword Tracking helps you map out your calendar and monitor the performance of your chosen keywords over time. 
  • Internals finds contextual missing internal links in new and existing content and suggests links across your entire website.
  • Content Analytics scores pages on granular metrics and provides heat mapping insights to see where readers are dropping off. 

Should Startups Hire An Agency or Go It Alone?

There are a lot of moving parts involved in SEO for startups, and if you’re working with a small team, you might not have enough people to do it well. This begs an important question: Should you hire an agency or try to do it all yourself? 

There will be several factors at play here, like how lofty your SEO goals are and the budget you’re working with. 

Here are some pros and cons of working with an agency.

Pros of Working with an Agency

  • You can save time by outsourcing bulky tasks to an external party.
  • You can benefit from the deep SEO knowledge and experience of experts.
  • You can find an agency that has worked with startups like yours and that therefore knows the best path to success.
  • Better efficiency through tried and tested workflows. 

Cons of Working with an Agency 

  • Some agencies might not have specialist experience in your niche.
  • You’ll have less control over the SEO strategies that are implemented. 
  • Nobody knows your product and audience better than you. 

The Cost of Working with an SEO Agency

According to research, the average cost of outsourced SEO services is $497 a month, but the numbers can be anywhere from $100 to $5,000 per month depending on how hands-on you want your agency to be. If you want to pay by the hour, you can expect to pay between $50 to $150 per hour. The research revealed that the more you pay, the better the quality of the service, which is what you’d expect. 

The costs can rise dramatically depending on the type of agency you hire. On the Optimize podcast, Tyler Hakes, founder of Optimist, an SEO agency for startups, suggested that hiring a good SEO agency costs closer to $10,000 per month.

A lot of startups choose to hire an agency and start building their SEO channel in-house. They often rely on an agency for certain parts of the process, like outlining and content creation, but handle the keyword research and performance tracking themselves. 

SEO Resources for Startups

Now you know how fruitful SEO can be for startups, you’re probably itching to find out more. Here are some top SEO resources to whet your whistle: 

Final Thoughts

SEO is powerful for startups. It’s not as glitzy or as glamorous as going viral on TikTok or Instagram, but it has longevity. The content you create now can generate organic search traffic for months and even years down the line. But ranking well on Google doesn’t just mean more click-throughs. It can also lead to a stronger brand and one that is seen as a resource within its industry, increased visibility, and a much needed competitive edge. 

Get started by planning your goals, mapping out your keywords and content calendar, and building a slick content creation workflow that enables you to publish high-quality content at least once or twice a week.  

Lizzie Davey

Lizzie is a freelance writer for B2B e-commerce and SaaS brands. Over the past ten years, she's written millions of words that have turned readers into customers and loyal fans. When she's not typing away at her desk in Brighton, she's creating resources for freelancers, practicing aerial silks, or hopping on a plane. Lizzie has worked with several fantastic content marketing teams, including those at Zapier, Shopify, and Klaviyo.

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