illustration of seo activities for startups and small businesses

SEO: The Ultimate Guide for Startups and Small Businesses

Over the last few years, there has been a significant increase in people using search engines. According to Hubspot, it is estimated that Google performs 63,000 searches per second,  translating to 5.6 billion searches per day and approximately 2 trillion global searches per year. This is why startups, small-medium businesses and even enterprises today look at SEO as an important part of their digital marketing strategy.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and consists of multiple strategies and tactics to make your website more visible on search engines like Google, Microsoft Bing, Yahoo etc.

Whereas Search Engine Marketing (or SEM Marketing) focuses on paid advertising to make your website more visible, SEO uses non-paid (also known as “organic”) search engine results.

SEO is all about understanding people’s behaviour when they try to find information on search engines and optimising your business website around that behaviour.

From the words they enter for searching to the answers they eventually click on, all this activity contributes to the page ranking of your content.

What is SERP?

SERP stands for Search Engine Results Page and is the results returned from a user’s search.

Each page groups 10 results that the search engine thinks are most likely answers based on complex algorithms.

The table below (courtesy of Sistrex), shows the behaviour of users using the Google search engine (which holds a massive 80% of the market share of all searches).

This shows that over 1/3 of all searches do not make it to page 2.

This is why SEO ranking on page 1 for your content is highly sought after by businesses to increase their visibility.

Google Click-Through-Rate (CTR): Organic

  • Page 1 Results 34.2% 34.2%
  • Page 2 Results 17.1% 17.1%
  • Page 3 Results 11.4% 11.4%
  • Page 4 Results 8.1% 8.1%
  • Page 5 Results 7.4% 7.4%
  • Page 6 Results 5.1% 5.1%
  • Page 7 Results 4.1% 4.1%
  • Page 8 Results 3.3% 3.3%
  • Page 9 Results 2.9% 2.9%
  • Page 10 Results 2.6% 2.6%

Source: Sistrex

Onsite vs Offsite SEO

There are two types of SEO.

On-site SEO (often referred to as “on-page SEO”) and off-site SEO (often referred to as “off-page SEO”). However, both are focused on influencing your page rankings for your website and its content through search engines.

On-page SEO refers to the activity you can do on your business website:

  • speed of page loading
  • presence of keywords
  • design responsiveness of your website is to mobile devices
  • metadata (description and titles)
  • page type (i.e.
  • image descriptions (i.e. image tags)
  • readability of content
  • word length
  • XML site map
  • creating new and regular content
  • + more…

Tool Tip: Yoast SEO can really help to analyse and advise your content in real-time on most of the above.

Off-site SEO refers to the activity you do on other people’s sites.

This generally means building links from your website to theirs.

Choosing the right keyword search terms

Keyword search terms help search engines identify the focus of your content and structure it for search results.

There are two types; short-tail and long-tail.

Short-tail keyword search terms generally contain 3 words or less whereas long-tail contain 4 or more words.

The general rule is that the longer the keyword search term the fewer people will search for it. As a result, this means less competition for that keyword search term making it easier for your content to appear higher on search engines.

Let’s look at an example:

A startup business is selling medical courses to doctors online.

Below are two options they could focus their content around:

Option 1 (keyword short-tail) = online medical courses

  • Search volume per month: 3,400
  • SEO Difficulty Ranking: 57 (HARD)

This does have a good search volume, but the difficulty level is identified as “hard”.

It will also include online medical courses for nurses, trainee students and other healthcare professionals as well as doctors.

This search term is too generic.

Option 2 (keyword long-tail) = online medical courses for doctors

  • Search volume per month: 540
  • SEO Difficulty ranking: 40 (POSSIBLE)

The monthly search term for this is much lower.

However, the difficulty level is identified as “possible” and it is targeted at your specific audience – doctors.

Chasing the big short-tail keyword search terms is not smart SEO, particularly when you are a new startup or small business.

Start with the long-tail keyword search terms that relate specifically to your business and are easier to rank higher for.

Once you succeed with those you can expand.

Tool Tip: Mangools is a tool that can identify and monitor the progress of your keyword search terms.

White Hat and Black Hat SEO tactics for business

Yes, even in the SEO world there is good and evil!

“White-hat” SEO refers to good practices, whereas “black-hat” SEO refers to practitioners who understand (or think they do) how search engines work and use shortcuts to circumnavigate the rules.

To say this is frowned upon by search engines is a vast understatement.

If your website is found to be using “black-hat” SEO techniques you will be black-listed.

This means your business will not appear in any searches.

Whilst there are ways to reinstate your website if it is black-listed, the best solution is just don’t do it in the first place.

The rules of the web are there so we can all compete fairly.

Local SEO for small businesses

If you are a restaurant based in London you don’t want to be appearing in searches for someone looking to eat in Paris.

Local SEO optimises your online content to specific areas (i.e. towns, cities, regions or counties) so people local to that area can find you more easily.

Search engines then use the IP address of desktops and geo-location on mobiles to display the results in the vicinity of the user’s location.

Why is SEO so important for Startups and Small Businesses?

Whether you are a startup, small business or large enterprise, SEO evens out the playing field enabling all businesses to compete fairly.

Without it, startups and small businesses just wouldn’t be able to survive the first two years.

Yes, it will take about 6-12 months to implement the SEO strategy but the advantages are significant once established.

Increases Traffic

With over a third of searches not making it to page 2, the higher your content ranks the more traffic you will see coming through your organic inbound sales funnel.

Attracts Quality Traffic

As well as an increase in traffic, you will see quality traffic.

People landing on your website are looking for your business.

Improves conversion rates

Websites that are SEO optimised are faster to load, simple to read and easy to navigate.

With mobile taking over 50% of the market share of accessing the internet, an optimised website for all devices will also keep potential buyers on your website for longer.

This makes for a better user experience and ultimately an improved conversation rate.

Most cost-effective marketing channel

SEO is undoubtedly the most cost-effective and cost-efficient marketing strategy you can implement with a higher ROI for your startup or small business.

With just under a 15% close rate on average compared to a 2% for outbound leads, it is a great investment as part of your marketing strategy.

Raises Brand Awareness

Within the first 12 months of a startup or a new small business venture, raising your visibility is an absolute priority.

This is where SEO can really make an impact.

Whilst you will see little in the way of results in the first 6 months, as your content moves up the page rankings your brand will become more recognisable.

Works while you sleep

Organic searching works 24/7 and you don’t need personnel to drive it.

With a good inbound sales funnel, and the right adopted SEO strategy, you can have leads sitting in your inbox at the start of your business day.

Builds Trust & Credibility

Part of the SEO strategy is to design a crisp, clean website to create a better user experience.

Users that stay on your website for longer increase the credibility and trust of your brand with search engines making you more discoverable.

Key Takeaway

I’m guessing by now that SEO probably sounds a little complicated and a lot of work. And you’d be right!

Delivering great SEO is truly an art form and a dedicated one at that for any business.

The challenge is to optimise your website for search engines but keep the content engaging for the reader.

The biggest mistake many businesses make is to stuff their website with keywords thinking this will improve their SERP ranking.

This is a mistake.

The simple rule of thumb for good SEO is to always write content with the reader in mind and then tweak it for search engines.

For great SEO however, particularly if you are a startup or new small business, you will likely need to hire a specialist with in-depth knowledge.

Are you looking to grow rapidly?

Hello, I’m David Christopher. I help Startups and Small Businesses grow rapidly in the first 12 months.

Maybe we can work together?

woman shaking hands after closing sales lead with social media marketing strategy

About David Christopher

He is the founder of Three Billboards.  He has over 25 years of experience in digital media, marketing and communications with 20 years working for a Fortune 500 company, heading up the Digital Media & Communication division.


July 7, 2022

Are you looking to grow rapidly?

Hello, I’m David Christopher. I help Startups and Small Businesses grow rapidly in the first 12 months.

Maybe we can work together?

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