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Should Startups Fight the SEO War?

SEO warAbout a year ago, three friends and I began the daunting journey of building our tech startup, GreenPal.

Taking the leap of faith to start was the hardest part, as often, ideas are stillborn. They require a plan with relentless execution for them to manifest into reality.

By now we are all familiar with the lean startup methodology of deploying, testing, and iterating new ideas to discover and establish a product’s problem-market fit. Once a startup has launched a product and gained early adopters’ feedback, and the founders discover they are scratching an itch, what are the smartest methods to begin distributing that product to more early adopters?

With resources scarce, does it make sense for a startup to invest your precious few dollars of seed capital on paid acquisition methods such as PPC campaigns, search retargeting, or FB marketing? Or should a startup invest resources into organic SEO? A few key points should be considered with respect to SEO marketing and your startup.

 Time and Faith are vital:

Getting your site to naturally rank well for the keywords you are targeting, known as organic SEO, will require months and years of building the necessary momentum to see tangible benefits. While there are over 200 factors to Google’s search algorithm, SEO today is still heavily weighted on what is called Domain Authority (DA) and Page Rank (PR). It takes time (3-12 months of steady work) to establish strong enough values to improve meaningfully how your site will rank. The beginning will be an exercise in faith, as there is little instant gratification to organic SEO work.

 Who is going to put in the work:

So the question is, who in your startup team will dedicate the hours to SEO, primarily the grueling work of building quality back links from authoritative sites? My experience is that a robust link building campaign will require a minimum of 20 hours per week of steady dedication, writing quality articles, and creating attractive linkable assets such as graphics, illustrations, industry reports, and videos to name a few. Then, outreach must be conducted to find webmasters and bloggers that will want to feature this content and link back to your site. All this takes time, plain and simple.

In our team we have assigned the SEO discipline to our non-technical cofounders to grind on while product development is taking place before initial launch. However, when post launch bandwidth dries up, balancing the time needed to stay the course on your SEO strategy is challenging as the job is never finished. It will takes years to build your DA to the level of established incumbents who have big marketing budgets and most likely full time experienced SEO’s on staff.

 Why not just outsource your SEO?:

It is possible to outsource the heavy lifting of your SEO strategy such as the creation of attractive linkable assets, the manual outreach, and the link-building. However, it may prove to be cost prohibitive for your cash strapped startup. There is no immediate measurable ROI on SEO efforts, so explaining that seed capital burn will be a difficult conversation with your stake holders. Additionally, the lag in time for when the money invested in SEO activities through an agency will yield actual fruit proves prohibitive for most startups. This is why most startups double down on PPC and other paid channels—such methods yield an immediate result and ROI.

 So, should a Startup even fight the SEO war:

My humble opinion is, yes, if at all possible. Once a startup has created a product that people will actually like to use, growth is all that matters. Forget growth hacking; every startup must have a comprehensive digital marketing strategy that encompasses a blend of channels. Whether paid acquisition such as AdWords, FB marketing, Search Retargeting, or natural organic methods such as SEO, content marketing, and intensifying the viral coefficient of your product, every startup has to experiment to find the proper marketing formula. While this will certainly vary from product to product, in most cases, natural SEO will be a large component to the strategy.

I recommend startups make the time to begin SEO efforts early. For two reasons: first, because it takes so long to build the momentum in natural SEO, and second, because the investment of time builds equity in your company’s DA. Once authoritative DA is established, this is an asset that will yield returns in perpetuity in the form of your homepage and landing pages ranking well for targeted keywords.

In the end, you’ll be glad you no longer have to pay Google $3 for that click.

 Bryan Clayton is a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of GreenPal.

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