Launching a startup is exhaustive. Once you finally get your business operating–your platform is built, or your site is created–there is always another monumental task ahead.

As Rob Kalin, founder of Etsy, puts it, “The last 10 percent it takes to launch something takes as much energy as the first 90 percent.”

In the digital economy, the last 10 percent your startup needs to devote energy to after establishing the foundation of your idea is an effective digital marketing strategy. Since search engines now operate as the central forum for online commerce, it is imperative that your startup appears for relevant search engine results to access your target audiences.

To accomplish this goal, your company needs to invest or implement search engine optimization (SEO). Over the past few years, SEO has moved from an online marketing advantage to an online marketing requirement. For startups, there are three options for SEO services and search optimization:

  1. In-house SEO

  2. Paid advertising campaign(s) (i.e. PPC)

  3. Hire an SEO agency or consultant

This article discusses the pros and cons to each of these options in efforts to help startups identify which is best to help their business grow through search engine visibility and engagement.

In-house SEO Channels the Startup DIY Attitude

A DIY mentality exists at the core of nearly every startup. This mindset extends to SEO with in-house SEO efforts. There are crucial, basic SEO services that can be implemented in-house that can help your startup establish visibility through search. Two SEO services in particular help outline and drive strategy:

  • Keyword strategy: research and optimization.

  • Content efforts: blog and content marketing.

Keyword Strategy: Research & Optimization

Keywords are the heart of SEO strategy. For beginning .your SEO efforts, research and optimize your site for the keywords that your target audiences are likely to search and engage with. 

Keyword Research

Keyword research is the starting point for every SEO strategy. Without knowing which keywords you should target to engage with your consumers, SEO is pointless and ineffective.

There are a bevy of tools startups can use to research their keyword targets, both free and paid. If you are serious about SEO, I would suggest paying for a tool from a service like Moz or AWR Cloud, or using Google Adwords itself. The findings of your keyword research should be the guiding force for how you proceed with an SEO strategy.

For example, if you run a startup that focuses on mobile app development, you should use keyword research to identify reasonable keyword targets, likely that have to do with a type of application you specialize in developing, rather than high volume keywords that are dominated by established industry players.


For example, the key phrase “mobile app development” receives 27,100 searches per month, a competition level Google qualifies as “medium”. “Android app developers”, on the other hand, receives nearly 50,000 searches per month.

This keyword research should direct a company that develops apps to select a term like “ios app development” (bottom of image) as their target, given its relatively moderate competition and decent search volume (and assuming you offer ios development services).

In addition, this “ios app development” can be categorized as a “high intent” term, or a phrase that actual buyers of mobile app development services are likely to search. Thus, there is a reasonable chance you can compete for this term and engage searchers who are more likely to convert.

Keyword Optimization

After selecting keyword targets, startups can tab their internal teams to optimize their site to feature these terms where relevant, which helps Google associate your site with your target keyword. The presence of target terms or phrases on visible elements of your site improves your company’s chances of ranking among the top results for those terms.

However, optimizing your site to feature target keywords requires balance and control. Do not randomly place key terms in every position possible. Doing so, referred to as “keyword stuffing” can actually hurt your search ranking. So, place target keywords in content on your where it would be relevant to include them.

Content efforts: blogs and content marketing.

Content needs to be a focal point of your SEO strategy. Producing content allows for your company to communicate its expertise through writing, which in turn helps search engines index your site as relevant to your key terms.

The primary vehicles for your content are assets are your site’s blog and content marketing.

Company Blog

Every site needs to have a blog. Use your blog to demonstrate expertise in your industry and give users a more holistic experience on your site. The longer users spend on your site, especially from organic search traffic, that signals to Google that your site should be displayed higher in the search rankings as an outlet searchers enjoy visiting.  Having a blog also allows you to naturally reference your keyword targets.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is another content opportunity for your startup to establish thought leadership and communicate expertise on a given topic. Content marketing is exactly what it sounds like; you produce content and then market that content to other sites to publish.

Content marketing efforts also allow for your company to place links back to your site through the content you produce. Links play a huge role in search rankings; they both serve as endorsements from Google that your site is relevant to a target keyword and they drive traffic to your site, another positive for SEO.  

The control over the location and direction of inbound links to your site gives you a great deal of control over what sort of endorsements your company receives. It is imperative, though, that you are balanced in your link strategy. Avoid stuffing links back to your site in your content marketing and only link where relevant. 

SEO Agencies and Consultants Guarantee Expertise

Professional SEO services-agencies and consultants-provide established expertise and industry knowledge to help your startup navigate SEO strategy.

A complex SEO strategy requires a great deal of time and resources, including technical knowledge of the backend of a website’s design. Even if your company has talent with high-grade technical knowledge, the amount of time it would take to institute and maintain favorable technical structure for SEO may not be worth it.

In case of a lack of knowledge, wanting to create a structurally sound strategy, or not wanting to devote the time/resources, startups can hire an SEO agency or consultant.

SEO agencies and consultants have extensive experience in the industry and help to create and maintain a formidable strategy over the long-term. Consultants, for example, provide counseling and practical lessons to your team about how to effectively maintain an SEO strategy.

Agencies, on the other hand, provide comprehensive SEO services, from keyword targeting through your social media marketing. This allows your startup to focus its energy on other efforts to grow your business with confidence that your SEO will be implemented by true experts.

The experience and proven effectiveness of professional SEO services is appealing. However, they come at a cost that is easily unsustainable for most startups and growing firms, particularly for full-blown SEO services, which often require that an agency or consultancy are kept on retainer.

Paid Ad campaigns are immediate and informative

The easiest and most immediate way to achieve good search engine results is to launch a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign through Google Adwords.

In-house SEO and hiring an agency or consultant usually consists of a program of mostly organic SEO services (although most offer PPC services as well). Organic SEO is an effective long-term search optimization play, in that organic services help achieve, and then maintain, search rankings over an extended period of time.

However, the process of achieving those target top rankings is a massive time investment. It cannot, and will not, happen in a day.

The screenshot above shows the front-and-center view a PPC campaign through Google Adwords provides. These top placements are reserved for ads and can be achieved literally in one day. If you want to make an immediate impact, this would be the way to do it.

PPC campaigns are also a good benchmark for your startup’s SEO strategy. Your company can use PPC campaigns to A/B test ad copy and meta information (the title and description that appears on search engine result listings) to gauge the sort of language and display that drives the most engagement from searchers. Your startup can use takeaways from these campaigns to inform how to optimize your site for organic SEO.

That being said, PPC campaigns can be prohibitively expensive, particularly for high-volume, competitive keywords. Even for moderately competitive keywords, where campaigns don’t have high initial costs, a long-term PPC strategy requires substantial monetary resources to maintain.

Experiment with combinations of SEO strategies.

Most startups are not flush with resources. However, this does not need to act as a barrier to entry to establish a respectable presence on search engine results. In the digital economy, achieving solid search rankings is becoming more of a necessity.

Fortunately, there are impactful SEO services that startups can handle in-house, such as keyword research and optimization and content strategy.

Understandably, though, time is constrained and businesses may want to turn to more immediate or tried means to get their name out there, like launching a PPC campaign or hiring an expert agency or consultant for SEO services.

Startups are also about experimentation.

Extend that idea to your SEO strategy; tinker with combinations until you find what works best for your company, and run with it. For example, using SEO and PPC in concert can actually better inform SEO strategy and provide an element of short-term and long-term visibility through search engine traffic.

In addition, SEO experts can be brought in for specific SEO services, such as keyword optimization, for a lower cost than a full-retainer service package (depending on the provider).