How start-up companies can compete with the big boys in natural Google rankings

A guide for start-ups on how to create successful SEO campaigns without spending much money

Newly established companies will often be at an experimental stage in their marketing efforts; trying different avenues until they find the ones that work best for them is clearly the sensible thing to do. Eventually though, all companies should be using a number of different strategies for marketing their product or service in order to reach different audiences. However, if you expect to find the majority of your customers via the web then online marketing should be the main focus of your efforts. Moreover, if you are thinking of concentrating on online marketing you will not be able to avoid devoting a considerable amount of time to search engine optimisation (SEO). SEO is the process that will help your website rank as highly as possible in the natural search engine listings, which in the UK essentially means Google, but could conceivably include Microsoft’s Bing, which also powers Yahoo!.

Is search engine optimisation (SEO) a feasible option for start-ups?

Many small start-up companies are concerned that they will not be able to compete in the natural Google rankings with big organisations that have a large budget and a dedicated SEO team. And certainly in some industries this can be the case, particularly if your business is a new brand competing against well-known and well-established brands.. So, is it worth embarking on, or persevering with, an SEO campaign if you run a small start-up business with a limited marketing budget? If you want, and expect, to find your visitors online then the simple answer is yes. But you will need to consider the following tips:

Allow reasonable time for SEO to work

You need to realise that an effective SEO campaign will take time. Unlike traditional forms of marketing it can take a while for the results to be visible – you won’t see a glossy advert in a publication as an example of how your money has been spent. Sometimes the best result after one, two, or even three months of SEO effort is simply appearing low down in Google’s top 100 search listings where very few, if any, potential customers are likely to find you. Establishing a reputation for your brand and respectable search engine rankings will take considerably longer. This is particularly true if you’re going down the route of carrying out the SEO work yourself.

Invest a realistic budget

If you have had some SEO work done in the past and been disappointed by the results you might be inclined to think that your budget was not large enough or your SEO professional was not knowledgeable enough. Although both could actually be true in some instances, it can also come down to budget. Whilst it’s understandable that start-ups may only have modest funds – you need to invest a reasonable amount to see results. For example, a small online gift company was spending £50 per month on SEO and wondering why they were seeing no results. Considering the UK National Minimum Wage at the time of writing, the spend amounts to about one eight-hour day per month. But for a skilled SEO professional it is likely to be no more than two hours work at most. By anyone’s calculations, results for that amount of monthly effort would be a very long time coming. So do bear in mind the old adage that you get what you pay for.

Use an SEO professional

SEO methods change as Google’s algorithm changes and now also include Social Media Marketing (SMM), but providing you use an SEO professional who stays abreast of current SEO trends then it can offer a route to online success for almost every budget. This person would need to fully understand the implications of changes to Google algorithms, which often go by the name of a popular animal, such as Panda or Penguin. Don’t be fooled by the cuddly image the names might convey as the changes typically turn common SEO practice on its head in order to ensure sharp companies are not ‘manipulating’ search results by discovering chinks in Google’s claimed desire to deliver the most relevant pages to users.

Consider pay-per-click (PPC) appropriately

Of course you can always embark on a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign [link to PPC article] to get you to the top of the search engine listings immediately (depending on your budget). This can be useful in the early days of a start-up company to bring in some business while the SEO work starts to take effect but as a long-term strategy it will typically be more expensive than SEO. PPC can offer immediate but expensive results, whereas SEO offers a more practical option for start-ups seeking long-term returns.

Make the most of your SEO clean slate

Older websites may have the advantage of having been around for longer and therefore may have built up an online reputation but they are also likely to be less well-designed – both from an SEO perspective and from the perspective of engaging visitors when they arrive on the site. They are likely to have used older SEO methods that are now out-dated and have minimal effect on their rankings or, even worse, have a detrimental effect on rankings, so new sites have the advantage of starting SEO with a clean slate. Through perseverance with SEO it is possible to see significant results for less than the cost of a national magazine advert or two per month. And even with Google’s apparent bias towards brands, there are small start-up companies that have achieved great success in niche, but nonetheless competitive, markets. It just takes good, ethical SEO plus hard work and commitment. Businesses also need boost their SEO efforts by engaging with potential customers through social media, forums and interesting content on their own blogs, and also by constantly striving to improve their websites.

An SEO success story

Take the example of a UK-based start-up project management training company, which has attributed its online success to good search engine optimisation and being committed to building up its online presence and authority. The company’s SEO strategy is based around good content and high-quality links and simply following Google’s guidelines (it’s surprising how often this is not considered a priority). This is done in a number of ways:

  • Publishing content widely across the internet to establish an online reputation for interesting articles and good advice
  • Writing and distributing online press releases regularly
  • Producing unique, interesting posts on a regular basis for its own blog
  • Writing interesting posts for external blogs in its particular area of expertise
  • Actively building up human relationships through social media.

This strategy has meant that in little over a year the company reached the top organic spot in the Google search listings both nationally and internationally for a range of high-traffic keywords. For some search phrases it now dominates the top five positions via its own sites and through content and guest blogs published on other sites. For a company that started out with just two founders in 2009 this is a great illustration of good SEO at its best and an example of just what can be achieved on a modest budget with the right sort of SEO strategy. So to all those small start-up companies out there who want to achieve one of the top three positions in Google but are concerned about whether they should embark on, or persevere with, an SEO strategy – your goal really is possible with the right SEO and the commitment to drive a campaign forward. Many companies abandon their SEO efforts once they have reached page two of the search listings for just a few keywords and never reap the benefits that a final push to page one can bring. A top three position in the search listings can increase visitor numbers by anything between 40% and 250% compared with position 10. The project management training company is just one example of an SEO success story on a modest budget – it has not only competed with larger, more well-established websites through the use of SEO but is now outranking its competitors. Michelle Symonds is a freelance SEO consultant helping small businesses optimise their websites and increase their online reputation via effective search engine optimisation, article writing, blogging and social


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