will-seo-work-for-me-2018

Will SEO Work for My Startup?

I'm a marketing guy, a pizza enthusiast and San Francisco resident. Also, I started this blog, Growth Marketing Pro and built it into a 6-figure passive income business in 18 months.
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SEO stands for search engine optimization — the art of gratifying Google so that your website comes up #1 in the Google search engine results page (SERP).

Agencies, bloggers, growth marketers and founders often misunderstand SEO.

Why? Because SEO isn’t for everyone.

Every business is different. Some are made for SEO and some aren’t. Why spend your valuable time on a strategy that won’t work, right?

So anyone who tells you to “do more SEO” without taking the time to understand your business doesn’t know what he/she is talking about.

Fortunately, I know what I’m talking about when it comes to SEO.

SEO course

How do search engines work?

Big search engines are the everyman’s portal to the internet. If you need restaurant reviews, how-to guides, song lyrics, news, a job or even underwear, you might start your search with Google.

This makes it very valuable to be the first result for common queries or queries relevant to your industry.

Search engines like Google “know” what to display first in the search results by scanning their massive index of webpages for those that are most relevant to the searcher’s query.

How does Google decide which query is most relevant?

In order to rank information, Google uses web crawlers, which meticulously “crawl” from page-to-page around the internet. Web crawlers are programs that catalog the internet. Google’s web crawler is aptly named GoogleBot.

Web crawlers follow the URL trail — bouncing from site to site via websites’ internal and external links. In this way, the crawlers build up a repository of information. They make a digital trail map of the internet.

A little more about SEO and page rankings

Google has to prioritize websites somehow. Googlers are much happier with an ordered list of the most relevant search results than with an unorganized list of 100,000 search results.

When I search for “Drake Gifs,” I want the most relevant and funny ones to appear first.

Google’s algorithm, PageRank is used to determine “authority” of crawled pages and then rank those pages accordingly in the SERP.

So if you can figure out how to convince Google that your website is the most authoritative on a topic, you will get a lot of free traffic from Google searchers who “organically” land on your website.

Even though Google is a very big and transparent company, the specifics of its PageRank algorithm are purposefully kept hidden. Google doesn’t want savvy marketers like us trying to trick the algorithm — rather, it wants search results to be a real interpretation of a webpage’s relevance, importance, readability, robustness and popularity.

There are a few factors that will always influence page rank, including: internal and external hyperlinks, backlinks from other credible websites, keyword relevancy, site map, website age and website speed.

But Google’s “secret sauce” is ever-changing.

seo tips

Will SEO work for my company?

This is an important question that so many people fail to ask!

Just because SEO exists doesn’t mean you should be using it for your website or business! There are tons of marketing tactics out there. SEO is just one of them.

You could try:

Some businesses lend themselves very well to search engine optimization, and others don’t — even with a lot of great, consistent effort from marketers.

High search, low competition 

To explain: all things equal, SEO works much better for businesses or products with high search volume (or at least, moderate search volume)

For example: there’s probably not many people searching for “hats for a pet lizard.” Similarly, an SEO strategy would only be minimally effective for an entrepreneur selling just “Zimbabwean organic handbags.”

Some keywords are highly searched, but may also be highly competitive. For example, it would be stupid to try and rank above Amazon for people searching for “Amazon Echo.” Ranking #1 for “tee shirt” would be a very tall order — you’ll never beat Teespring, Gap and Nordstrom — who have teams devoted to keeping them on the first page of Google.

seo tips

The businesses that have the best luck with SEO are businesses that fall in the “high search volume”/”low competition” category. 

To illustrate:

In 2007, when personal finance app, Mint.com was trying to get off the ground, search terms like, “which credit card is best for travel points?” were highly searched and not very competitive.

Before launching, Mint took advantage of that fact, building up an email list of 30,000 in less than a year completely through organic (Google) search acquisitions. A few years later, Mint sold for about $170 million to Intuit.

How can I determine if my business is high search, low competition?

Some of this stuff is just logic:

If you’re selling Michael Jordan memorabilia, I’d be willing to bet you have a million competitors and it’s going to be difficult to dethrone them all. Duh.

Another way to gauge competitiveness is with a Google search. See what the quality of the search results look like for queries your customer might be searching for. If the top 10 results reveal primarily NY Times articles, huge blogs, .gov and .edu websites, big industry publications and other really dense competition, it might be worth abandoning an SEO strategy for now.

But remember to search for a bunch of “long tail” terms as well. Sure, you might never rank #1 for “auctions.”

But you might be able to rank #1 for “car auctions in California,” which seems to have a lot of low competition search volume.

SEO low competition

Tools to determine whether SEO will work for you

Pretty nifty little report in the image above, huh? That’s from a tool called Google Keyword Planner.

If you’re interested in making a determination about SEO for your business, use one of my favorite tools, or see the list of best SEO software tools here.

All of these tools will enable you search for term and understand the search volume and relative competitiveness.

Is my business high search, low competitiveness?”

Hailey and I always take great care when deciding whether to begin writing about a topic or not. We don’t write about everything — just topics that are at the intersection of what we know real well and what our customers are searching for.

One of our personal areas of expertise is webinar software.

We know that marketers and founders are often trying to learn about how to host webinars and how to choose the right hosting tools. Before deciding whether to write or not, we look at Google’s Keyword Tool or GrowthBar.

“Webinar software” and other permutations of the phrase see about ~10,000 searches per month and very light competition.

We decided to begin writing about webinar software and lo and behold, we rank in the top 3 for the term organically nearly all the time.

webinar software growth marketing pro SEO
Note that the search results outlined in yellow are Google Ads, not organic results.

There are a some verticals that I’ve frequently found have some SEO opportunity:

  • Businesses with a ton of SKUs: if you have an ecommerce store with hundreds of SKUs, each one is an opportunity to rank for something new. You will naturally have a lot of content, just by having so many product pages.
  • Businesses with local search intent: it’s much easier to rank for “computer repair in san francisco” than “computer repair.”
  • Businesses that are in traditionally offline industries, just entering the online space: service industries, urgent care/doctor offices, pet care and a lot more.
  • There are some spaces, like personal finance, credit cards, airline travel, health and wellness and hotels that have been online for a while — it wouldn’t seem there is room for new entrants. But every year there are new companies making an SEO splash in these spaces. Simply, there is so much search volume for these subjects that even the small guys can capture long tail keyword volume.

7 SEO tips for the modern marketer

If you do decide to go the SEO route, there’s a few things you can take to the bank.

1. Content marketing

Content marketing is still the best way to curry favor with Google. Strong and relevant, written and video content will continue to be rewarded by Google.

Websites with some of the highest Google ranks in the world like Nerdwallet, NY Times and Amazon are huge content machines – each publishes thousands of words of content and many pictures/videos every day.

The more content you have, the more opportunity you have to rank for some of the billions of Google searches that happen every day.

2. Mobile 

Google is beginning mobile-first indexing. This means that websites which are mobile-responsive and formatted correctly on mobile phones will be rewarded with better search rankings. More, structured markup on websites must be proper for both desktop and mobile.

seo tips

Hint: use short paragraphs (like I’m doing in this post) whenever possible. Visitors reading posts on mobile devices will be much more engaged than they will be sifting through very dense, long paragraphs.

3. AMP

AMP stands for accelerated mobile pages. It is one way that Google’s mobile-first approach is changing how marketers and developers do search engine optimization.

After Google announced AMP in 2015, 37% of news sites had AMP versions. AMP’s purpose is to improve the load time and functionality of mobile sites.

Also, AMP allows developers to build websites for desktop and mobile in one fell swoop, reducing time spent optimizing code for different platforms. Unless you understand HTML, the differences in the code may not mean much – they are not terribly complex, but they are very impactful.

seo tips

While AMP is pretty cool for advanced SEOs, it’s definitely not necessary for most marketers… yet.

4. Google Plus

I include this one, only to make clear that Google+ is dead. It’s sad, but true. The network didn’t catch on like they had hoped. For a while, many SEO experts swore that G+ would be an important factor in search ranking, that is definitely not the case.

Ffossils of G+ still remain in Google search results, don’t bother spending any of your time on this social network.

5. Local Search

In a mobile-first world, local search is very relevant. The Google Possum Update and all the tests we see in local, indicate that local is going to continue to be important in search results. When you search “san francisco burgers,” Google wants to ensure your results are local and rich in content.

6. Tools

Marketing tools can be super important in making great SEO decisions. There are some great ones, like Yoast, which is a WordPress plugin, gives you tips on how to optimize your site for SEO. Most website builders have app stores that contain tools for search optimization.

[Of course, we have to plug our tool, GrowthBar too].

7. The Normal Stuff

Today, SEO is still about the same stuff it’s always been about…the stuff you’ve probably heard about. Do the following:

  • Make relevant titles: your webpage titles should speak to your focus keyword — it should answer the Google searcher’s question
  • Create orderly content — it should be organized and structured with h1’s, h2’s text, etc.
  • Keep people on your website: Google knows if people are hanging on your page for a while or bouncing right off. If you write compelling content you will keep visitors for longer. Uses short, precise sentences and line breaks to make it an easy read.
  • Link to other reputable sources
  • Link to other pages within your website

Don’t worry, if you’ve built your website or blog on WordPress, Jumla, Drupal or some other content management system, your content is going to appear nice and orderly for Google without much effort on your part — h1’s, title tags, meta tags, etc. are usually taken care of.

If you’re interested, learn how to start a WordPress blog here.

Even if you’re using a website builder like Wix (which is not a CMS) you will have some basic SEO functionality to work with.

FYI: If you’re an ecommerce company using Shopify, BigCommerce or something like it, you’re in an okay place. Those platforms don’t prioritize search robustness like content management systems do — they’re built for selling! So if SEO is a part of your ecommerce strategy, you could look into a CMS ecommerce plugin like WooCommerce.

Closing thoughts on SEO

SEO, like all of marketing, is about prioritization.

You can acquire customers with Facebook, LinkedIn, Outbrain, press, events and a million other marketing channels. Is SEO worth your time?

I hope it’s a little clearer now.

SEO course

Also read:


42 Comments

  • Avatar

    Arijit Gupta

    December 20, 2018

    Any beginner-friendly SEO tools you can recommend? I’m a solo founder and very willing to do SEO work to get my site up there in the ranks.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Billy

      February 8, 2019

      You can try Ranking Coach. A great SEO blog for WordPress is https://onlinemediamasters.com/

      Reply
    • Avatar

      Mark Spera

      February 18, 2019

      SEMRush and Google’s Keyword Tool are both great. And once you get some great organic traffic, don’t forget to use a tool like HelloBar to create calls-to-action and/or capture leads and convert them into users.

      Reply
    • Avatar

      Ryan Hough

      August 18, 2019

      Google itself has very useful tools for SEO. The most obvious is using Google itself and then looking at the related searches and also the sites that it’s rewarding. Every keyword has different intent so searching and looking at the results will tell you what type if content you need to create.
      Google search console is great for figuring out whether your pages are being indexed and the keywords your pages are getting impressions for.
      Google analytics can tell you how users are behaving on your website. Are they bouncing right away or finding value? Etc etc

      Reply
  • Avatar

    Zari

    January 21, 2019

    @markspera at what stage of a company’s growth cycle would you recommend spending time and $$ on SEO – especially if you’re in a space where there is a lot of competition for keywords?

    Reply
    • Avatar

      James

      February 5, 2019

      Hey @zari, as someone who has helped startups with SEO, here are a few thoughts that might help answer your question:
      1. SEO takes time. Newer businesses who need to grow FAST and don’t have time to be patient would be better off putting time and money into something else. But if you aren’t under the gun at the moment, SEO has a lower cost and greater ROI than many ads. And if you have plenty of time, that is true even in highly competitive fields.
      2. Many other forms of marketing are also good for your SEO. Keyword planning for Google Ads and creating landing pages will also probably benefit your SEO to some extent. So look at ways to combine marketing methods to get the most bang for your buck.

      Reply
      • Avatar

        Mark Spera

        February 18, 2019

        In general, I agree with @James. If you’re in a competitive keyword space, it’s best not to start with SEO. But, if you have a long cash runway, it’s never too early to start taking on some of the bigger guys. As a founder, you’re an expert. If you can create better content than the competitors you can outrank them on Google.

        Reply
    • Avatar

      Mark Spera

      April 16, 2019

      Hi Zari
      Great question. I think it’s not the stage, but rather the 1) SEO opportunity (is there one) and 2) the time horizon (SEO isn’t fast). If there’s competition on your keywords, then it’s definitely a long-term strategy, as your domain authority is probably low in the beginning and it will take a while for Google to recognize your great content!

      Reply
  • Avatar

    Bright Speed Media

    January 28, 2019

    Hey there. Great article. You’ve got some great points here. Never seen your blog before but I grabbed a few new tips. thanks!

    Reply
  • Avatar

    Mark Spera

    February 16, 2019

    Thanks Bright Speed Media! Spread the word!

    Reply
  • Avatar

    vervelogic

    March 5, 2019

    Hey Mark,

    You have shown an another side of a coin! And I totally agree with you and definitely going to share it with my team

    Reply
  • Avatar

    Jordan Gross

    April 1, 2019

    This is a simplistic and extremely helpful approach! Thanks for outlining the SEO in a way that is digestible and implementable for any sort of endeavor!

    Reply
  • Avatar

    Jordan Gross

    April 1, 2019

    Thanks for outlining the SEO in a way that is digestible and implementable for any sort of endeavor! This is a simplistic and extremely helpful approach!

    Reply
  • Avatar

    Mark

    April 2, 2019

    I’ve tried SEO in the past but progress was slow. From your experience, how long does it take to see results?

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Mark Spera

      April 26, 2019

      Progress is slow, but speeds up as Google recognizes your website’s domain authority. A good SEO strategy that makes millions of dollars per year will take years. Hailey and I made our first $100k with Growth Marketing Pro after about 12 months. Hope that helps. Good name, Mark.

      Reply
  • Avatar

    Dave

    April 3, 2019

    This is exactly what I needed. I have almost no competition, but was struggling. It’s the little details that you always seem to identify and I always miss. Thank you for getting me on the right track.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Mark Spera

      April 16, 2019

      Awesome. Glad I can help, Dave.

      Reply
  • Avatar

    Neha

    April 11, 2019

    So true about mobile-focused content. Mobile compatibility and AMP are only going to become more important to getting noticed.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Mark Spera

      April 16, 2019

      Yes, we noticed that our traffic fell off a while back. It became clear to us after running some tests that our mobile site speed was the culprit. More and more, Google wants the user mobile experience to be perfect. It would behoove us all to focus on mobile!

      Reply
  • Avatar

    Bello O

    April 21, 2019

    This is very useful for me

    Reply
  • Avatar

    Jennifer Garzon

    April 24, 2019

    I’ve been seeing this SEO almost everywhere ! but i have to read a lot more to understand this concept !! Do you know of a good “Beginners guide ” ?

    Reply
  • Avatar

    Jawad

    April 25, 2019

    How can i determine That the keyword i want to rank is high search and low competition ? i have used many tools but am not been able to find the correct one. Can You Please suggest some good tools ?

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Mark Spera

      April 26, 2019

      Google’s Keyword Planner/Tool is the best in my opinion.. both in terms of accuracy and price (it’s free!).

      Reply
  • Avatar

    Jason Hashian

    April 26, 2019

    Someone told me about white, black, and gray SEO. How can be sure which one is good and which one we are using?

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Mark Spera

      April 26, 2019

      You want to stay away from black hat SEO. That basically encompasses anything Google might find sketchy — like paying for backlinks or spamming your URLs across the internet. Google may penalize you for those types of things. Hope that helps.

      Reply
  • Avatar

    Miss Naheed

    April 28, 2019

    Hello Mark,
    I’m using SEO from a couple of years. I have made my own lIterature review website on WordPress. It has a free version and the premium, the premium is a paid one as always. SO can you please let me know which version will be better for my site Search Engine Optimization or google ranking? And do the free SEO tools works the same or are these tools as reliable as the paid tools are?

    Reply
  • sofiewise

    sofiewise

    April 28, 2019

    Love this article. SEO has made such a difference for my marketing work, and its always so exciting to see it succeed. My advice to anyone starting out with SEO: trust the process. If you are using Mark’s guidelines, you will see results, but it can take some time. Stay patient and keep at it – it really does work!

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Mark Spera

      May 2, 2019

      Thank you, Sofie. Glad you like the tips!

      Reply
  • Avatar

    Matabel R.

    April 29, 2019

    Could you also post something on a beginner’s guide? I am now just getting into SEO writing and would love all the help I can get. Thanks Mark!

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Mark Spera

      May 7, 2019

      If you guys would find a beginner’s guide helpful, I can put something together 🙂

      Reply
  • Avatar

    Douglas Wafula

    April 29, 2019

    Very important information @mark, I did not have such information before, my website has been ranking poorly on search engines but I think once I implement everything you have stated, I will start seeing positive results. If I may ask, How long will it take for me to start seeing positive results?

    cheers

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Mark Spera

      May 7, 2019

      Douglas: it can be slow. Even the best SEOs in the world take years to get millions of visitors: https://firstround.com/review/the-seo-tips-that-helped-tally-20-million-visits-a-month/
      It’s also variable by industry…. If you’re starting a blog/website, you should expect at least 3 months before you see any results. But after 6 months you should be seeing a couple thousand organic visitors per month with a solid SEO strategy.

      Reply
  • Avatar

    Sudesh Kumar

    April 30, 2019

    Hi, Mark

    Well said, “Content marketing is still the best way to curry favor with Google.” It is my favorite strategy to build trust with my audience. I think content marketing will never die in the future but support SEO.
    What do you think about its future?

    By the way, great info for the startup to grow their businesses.

    Reply
  • Avatar

    Ajiya

    April 30, 2019

    Great article Mark, I read the whole thing without even getting distracted. You made two very brilliant points first it’s true that SEO is not for all business types people need to understand that and second its all about prioritization.
    can you please tell me can a person use SEO in a personal blog?

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Mark Spera

      May 7, 2019

      Ajiya, a personal blog can definitely consider an SEO strategy if they’re blogging about a niche and really focusing on that niche. Personal/lifestyle blogs probably don’t have much SEO oppt’y, but any blog that’s a bit more specialized/focused has an SEO oppt’y.

      Reply
  • Avatar

    Steven J Hensley

    May 1, 2019

    Great article. I have been trying to improve my SEO on my site, and this info will definitely help.

    You mentioned Google, but are the other search engines any different as far as how the algorithm works, or should we just focus on making Google happy?

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Mark Spera

      May 7, 2019

      Steven, good question. Just focus on Google. The others — Bing, DuckDuckGo and Yahoo — have a very small share of the worldwide search volume.

      Reply
  • Avatar

    Matthew

    May 3, 2019

    Thanks, Mark.

    Your post is excellent, I am interested in improving organic ranking your post inspired me a lot.

    Keep on posting such great stuff and sharing your valuable ideas.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Mark Spera

      May 7, 2019

      🙏

      Reply
  • Avatar

    Iris

    May 10, 2019

    Baidu is the popular search engine in China. Does it use the same criteria as Google to determine relevance?

    Reply

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