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Research Shows That Early-Stage Startups Find SEO Irrelevant – Should You Too?

What visual data mining and topic-modeling techniques have shown us about the SEO sentiment among early-stage startups

A startup is a company designed to grow fast. Being newly founded does not in itself make a company a startup. Nor is it necessary for a startup to work on technology, or take venture funding, or have some sort of “exit.” The only essential thing is growth. Everything else we associate with startups follows from growth.

– Paul Graham

A quick summary of the research

A recent study published on Research Gate titled Does SEO matter for early-stage startups? Insights from visual data mining and topic-modeling techniques caught my eye a few weeks back. Now, although it is mainly about SEO, it is relevant to content marketing. Why? This is because SEO touches every aspect of online marketing including content marketing. The content you create whether written, video or infographics (especially HTML based infographics) will always have to be SEO-optimized.

Goal of the research

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing the indicators that measure the relevance of a web page or website as a whole. Based on the relevance of these indicators, search engines like Google and Bing index your website’s pages on its Search Engine Result Pages (SERP).

As a startup, in order to obtain quality traffic and publicize your products and services at an early stage of your development, you will need to generate impact and visibility of your businesses for search engines.

This is why it is important to evaluate the effectiveness of the SEO strategy for early-stage startups and whether it would be worth investing in it in order to generate the required results.

The research looked for answers to the following:

  • What are the dominant discussion themes on SEO in early-stage startups?
  • What are the dominant sentiments (positive, negative and neutral) in these discussions?
  • What is the structure of the network that participates in these discussions?
  • Are the startup CEOs satisfied with the goals achieved by their SEO strategies?
  • If not, what are the drivers of dissatisfaction?

Techniques utilized during the research

In this study, the researchers analyzed User Generated Content (UGC) in order to gauge the importance of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for early-stage startups. Their methodology focused on social media analytics techniques that were used to derive insights from Twitter-based UGC.

In their own words:

“Data visualization and topic-modeling algorithms were applied to a dataset of tweets (n = 67,126). Specifically, hashtag analysis, polarity and emotion analysis, word analysis, topic modeling, and other relevant approaches were used. In addition, we also performed a qualitative case study on an early-state startup to validate our findings.”

Pretty cool stuff, right?

Results from the research

The researchers were able to identify the communities on Twitter that talk about SEO for early-stage startups and the main optimization indicators. They based findings on the feelings expressed in tweets (positive, negative and neutral).

The results also clearly showed that SEO is not revered as the most relevant online marketing strategy for early-stage startups. Despite SEO being used by the early-stage startups, it is mostly negatively perceived by those who were researched on Twitter.

The researchers conclude:

“In addition, our results show that SEO is not always the strategy that should be carried out in terms of better positioning of startups in search engines. Instead, alternative strategies, such as PPC, SEM, content marketing, SMM or influencers marketing.”

Why you shouldn’t think of SEO as irrelevant for your early-stage startup

Looking closely at this study you will notice that the communities that were researched were not SEO experts. They were business owners who did not have a clear understanding of the benefits of SEO and that in fact those benefits come in the long run.

The benefits of SEO for your startup

As Arsalan Sajid at Cloudways put it:

“The popularity of SEO lies in the fact that it is absolutely free. Where paid marketing brings in leads only during the campaign, organic marketing brings leads over time.”

“The latest changes in Google’s algorithms mean that startups that focus on long-term organic growth through the optimum use of SEO tactics will see an excellent return on their SEO strategies.”

Bang on!

I recommend his article: SEO for Startups: A Complete Guide for Optimizing Your Startup’s Website where you will find everything you need to optimize your content for SEO. Among other things he covers:

Google Focused SEO Practices

  • AI-Based Semantic Relationships
  • Voice Searches Have Changed Digital Landscape
  • Visual Searches are on the Rise on Mobile Devices

The SEO Toolbox for Startups

  • SEO Audit Tools
  • Backlink Audit Tools
  • Keyword Discovery Tools

On-Page SEO for Startups

  • Keyword
  • Title Tag
  • URL
  • Page Headline (H1)
  • Use of powerful modifiers
  • Paragraph optimization
  • Image optimization

Off-Page SEO for Startups

  • Dofollow vs Nofollow links
  • Guest post outreach
  • Brand authority enhancement
  • Use Q&A Websites

As a startup, you are either strapped for cash or have an investor who wants to see healthy ROI on money spent. Guess what, SEO has a high ROI as it is free and most of the time only the cost of labor and SEO tools is required as an investment. Either way, you cannot afford to depend solely on paid ad campaigns as this will deplete your budget really fast. With tough competition for recognition online, SEO will provide you the much-needed leverage. Besides, with a good on-page SEO strategy alone, your paid ad campaigns will burn fewer holes in your pocket. In the end, SEO will bring you free leads in the long run, something every startup can cherish.

Check out Jeff Chang’s breakdown of early-stage startup acquisition distribution:

early-stage startups SEO

Now look at what happens in the later stages when SEO is consistently applied (according to the best practices of course):

Later-stage startups SEO

You can read more on this in Jeff’s article: SEO for early stage startups – Must-dos and FAQ

The problem was never SEO for early-stage startups

It is very important to know that a portion of the researched audience did not apply proper SEO tactics. In fact some of them even resorted to harmful ones as it is stated by the researches themselves:

“These results demonstrate that, at an early stage, startups more effectively cover negative indicators than positive indicators. This pattern could be attributed to the fact that, since early-stage startups aim to rapidly grow in impact on the SERPs, they are more willing to use SEO black hat tactics that increase their visibility in the SERPs within a shorter period of time, even if this strategy increases the risk of a possible penalty.”

You will not get results from SEO the day after optimizing your content or webpage. It is a slower process than paid campaigns. However, its ROI is high and its benefits are long-term. It’s like planting a seed and watching it grow and then blossom (I’m a romantic; I can’t help myself).

So the problem is not that SEO does not work for early-stage startups. The problem is one of perception.

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Alwi Suleiman
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