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Pitfalls When Doing SEO for Startups – Where To Start and What Not to Do


As a follow-on to the excellent article from our very own Dom Moriarty entitled “Start-up Guide to (Virtually) Free Digital Marketing” I thought it would be helpful to go into further detail on some of the things you will want to avoid (or at least keep in mind) when looking to promote a brand spanking new website. If you’ve not already read that article it might be worth checking it out first as this post follows on from it.

When doing SEO for startups, you need to take into account lower risk tolerances. Whilst the basic principles are the same, there are still a few things unique to web startups that don’t apply in the same way to established brands.

1.       Your link profile is vulnerable

A while ago, SEO was chock full of snazzy shortcuts that would enable you to create a site and have it increase search rankings very quickly. This would work even  for very competitive terms, in such an easy and predictable way that it was possible to dominate whole topics with very little effort.

This was rooted in the way the search engines worked – their over-reliance on anchor text made it possible to manipulate their algorithms by creating huge volumes of links with the right terms in the link text. It still actually is possible to an extent (though more so on Bing than on Google).

For major brands, it can still be quite lucrative to engage in algorithm chasing, but when doing SEO for start-ups, such methods are potentially perilous.

Put simply, something that would work without causing problems for an established site could completely wipe out a new one.

New sites must pay careful attention to their link profiles (the ‘picture’ that search engines can see of the links that come back to your site). Of course, EVERYONE needs to pay attention to their link profiles, as Google undoubtedly do, but start-up sites need to be particularly careful. Whilst there is no exact tipping point before Google decides to filter a website for link manipulation, there are certainly some set criteria. As a new site will have a non-existent link profile, it will have a far lower tolerance for rubbish links.

Let me explain.

Let’s say you get a link from a rubbishy free directory. That sort of link Google is likely to ignore on the basis that it was super easy to obtain- anyone can get one, so it’s unlikely that they linked to you as a result of editorial discretion.

Equally, let’s say that in addition to getting 10 links from rubbishy free directories, you use the term “payday loans” to link to yourself each time because you want to rank for that term.

So your new website, only a day old, now has 10 links pointing to it, all from poor quality sites, and all with the exact same anchor text.  This means that 100 per cent of your links are likely to be classified as manipulation by Google. On the contrary, for an established site with loads of links pointing to it, these 10 links would be a drop in the ocean. Therefore for a new site, as the overall number of links will be low, the proportions will be high. One link could have a really bad effect on your site, or a really good effect. For this reason, if you are looking to create links back to your site, you need to be obsessively picky about how you go about it.

If Google’s dreaded Panda algorithm (my previous article that goes over this in more detail) gets you at this stage, you might have to buy a new domain and start again. If you just went through all the trouble of registering a trademark, but can’t find a decent replacement domain name that fits your brand, you might have to redo your entire branding effort.

Your first forays into link building should ignore search engines, odd as that sounds. At this stage, you are going to get more value out of getting your brand in front of people and getting some referral traffic to your site than risking it all to chase dangerous links that may or may not increase your rankings.

2.       SEO shouldn’t necessarily be your day-one priority

SEO is vital to ensuring long term search visibility. However, in the days following your site going live you will need to focus on building your site, brand, and differentiating yourself from your competitors. Content, in other words! Whilst you might have some key words in mind that you want your site to rank for, this is a time to play to the strengths of what it is you do. This means that you should create useful content that your potential customers would find useful.

Remember that search engines don’t know anything about your site yet; by creating things like buyers guides, hints and tips and product reviews, you will increase the semantic relevance of your site to the industry that you operate in. This is an important first step to focus on, as similarly to managing your link profile, day 1 is not the time to focus on worming keywords into everything!

When you have a decent body of content on your site you can start to focus more on optimising for certain key phrases, but remember that you need to establish a site first.

3.       Differentiate yourself

I said it before, and I’m saying it again. You must differentiate yourself from your competitors. If you have your credit card in hand and you’re sat on the Go Daddy site about to purchase a domain name and you want to rank number 1 in Google for “insurance” then stop! First, have a think about how you are going to differentiate your site from the competition, before you start. If you have your heart set on a ultra-high competition keyword, think carefully. A given keyword has 10 positions. There are only 10 sites that can be found on page 1 and only 2 or 3 of them will really be competing for user attention effectively. It is unlikely or maybe even impossible for you to make a dent in very short-tail verticals as a start-up.

Instead, focus on picking the battles you can win. Have a look around for the sorts of search terms where the relevance is high, but competition is not so cut-throat that you won’t be able to make a dent. Develop a portfolio of core topics for your industry and start to think about how you can create differentiated content that will stand out and answer those unanswered questions that make searchers into customers. This is all about creating your own angle on the problems that searchers in your market want solved.

This sort of thing should extend to your other basic SEO considerations. Make sure your brand is prominently displayed in your titles, rather than just relying on generic high traffic keywords. You don’t stand out by being generic!

4.       Get your PR on!

PR and communications can have an excellent impact on your site’s SEO performance if you apply a few basic principles to your approach. So you decide to write a press release to announce your new site to the world at large. Don’t just plonk it on your site. Grab a newswire and amplify it. The added benefit to reaching a bigger audience is all the links you’ll get from the newswires and other sites that take it up. However, remember the first point- you don’t want to be attacking press releases with thousands of links at a time on day one.

Only make press releases when something happens that’s newsworthy. In other words, don’t just blast them out for easy links; however, don’t under-estimate the usefulness of press releases for SEO.

There is a host of other PR and SEO tie-ins but they go rather beyond the scope of my blog post and the capabilities afforded by a brand new business. We’ll be covering PR in more depth in a later post.

5.       There is more to SEO than Google

In the same way it is folly to rely on a single keyword to get all your traffic, it is similarly a bad idea to rely solely on one search engine. Whilst Google is by far the biggest search provider in the UK, diversity is the key to effective risk management. If you don’t consider Bing and other search providers, you’re missing traffic, and putting all your eggs in one (admittedly massive) basket.

6.       Slow and steady stops you being disqualified from the race

Finally, make sure you are familiar with Google’s and Bing’s guidelines to make sure that you don’t do something to incur the wrath of the algorithms. To give you some do’s and don’ts:

  • Don’t buy followed links. Or, if you must, make sure they make up a very small contingent of your link profile. Buying links is the number one way to permanently eradicate your website from the face of the Earth. This is extra risky for a new site.
  • Vary your anchor text. A zillion links with the same anchor text is a sure-fire way to get your site looked at very closely.
  • Please, please don’t do silly things like employ hidden text, hidden links, or hidden CSS.
  • Don’t scrape text from other websites.
  • Don’t ‘spin’ or auto-generate text.
  • Don’t get involved in comment spam, or any other nefarious practises.

Hopefully, this gives you an idea as to where to start with SEO! If you have any questions or want some help getting your start-up SEO campaign up and running, please get in touch and we’ll be glad to help you out. We specialise in SEO for startups and have had some great successes, so if it all seems a bit daunting we can manage the process for you.