Over the years, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has proven itself to be a very effective marketing method for startups. Let’s face it, life as a startup isn’t easy. Going up against proven online competitors is like throwing a goldfish into a shark tank. It’s not easy being a little fish in a big pond. Startups have little brand awareness with marketing budgets to match. Some startups have even relied on PPC as opposed to SEO to bring immediate traffic, which is a poor strategy without large brand awareness.
Yet, SEO has allowed startups to “even the playing field” by outranking the competition in search engine results. They’ve done it by learning to take advantage of valuable keywords and providing the most relevant content to their audience.
Since its launch in 2007, Mint has become one of the most successful personal finance destinations on the Internet. But it wasn’t always this way. The company started out facing some stiff competition from the likes of Quicken Online, Microsoft Money Online, and Wesabe. Still, they put in place some successful startup SEO techniques that helped them reach over a million users in only two years. This helped increase their valuation to $170 million by the time they sold to Intuit in 2009.
With a limited marketing budget, Mint’s initial strategy was simply to do whatever it could inexpensively or for free The startup focused on building an incredible blog, which attracted a highly targeted audience. Within a short time, Mint became the number one online personal finance blog.
By offering a link in exchange for content, the startup persuaded several personal finance bloggers to write on Mint’s blog for free. Although many take guest posting for granted, back then it was a novelty as were personal finance infographics. Yet Mint rode this trend, producing many infographics that became huge hits on Reddit and similar platforms.
By the time of their product launch, Mint had more traffic than all its competitors combined.
Smart startup SEO drove 20% of Mint’s new users. Although its blog received massive amounts of search engine traffic, the company decided to launch “Mint Answers.” This was a question and answer site for personal finance where users could submit questions and a panel of experts would provide answers. When questions such as “Should I lease a vehicle?” were searched for on Google, Mint Answers would frequently be one of the first results.
Jason Putorti, former lead designer of Mint, once said, “We had a lot of landing pages, content on the blog and marketing sites, and a very metrics driven approach to all of it. For every popular finance query on Google, we had a page and content for it and iterated landing pages to optimize conversion.”
Weebly is a web-hosting service and drag-and-drop website builder similar to Wix and Squarespace. Initially, this 2007 Y-Combinator participant lacked the large marketing budget of its competitors. With no money for expensive television commercials, Weebly focused on creating great content to drive their SEO strategy. With 30+ million websites built using this platform, it’s safe to say that they found success!
Weebly’s strategy focused on creating content to attract clients within their target market. Specifically, it focused on entrepreneurs who needed a low-cost and easy to setup website. The startup created a blog and an “Inspiration Center” featuring entrepreneur-related articles such as “Free Places to Advertise Your Website” and “Starter Guide to Pinterest Marketing.”
Due to high competition for the most popular keywords, Weebly spent a great deal of effort in identifying valuable niche keywords. This is a common and successful strategy in startup SEO: you need to find long tails or niche keywords you can rank for, not focus on highly competitive keywords. When it comes to SEO, Weebly’s Head of Organic Growth Adam Tanguay says, “SEO is important as the hub that your other growth strategies revolve around. SEO helps feed into every channel by driving organic traffic to your website, while every action you take for growth helps feed back into SEO if your site is set up properly.”
College Raptor is a planning tool helping students and families to make better decisions about going to college. Founded in 2014, this startup attracted some of Iowa’s most notable investors with Series A funding of over $2 million. Although they were ready to take on established players such as Scholarship.com, starting from zero traffic wasn’t easy. Yet, the startup managed to grow organic traffic to more than 100,000 visitors per month using some effective startup SEO techniques.
College Raptor’s initial marketing strategy was simple: “blog and pray,” but the company quickly discovered that great results required a great startup SEO plan. To crush their competitors, they would need both great content and strong domain authority. The startup developed a “trifecta” approach to creating new content, focusing on three specific content types:
Evergreen Content: Topical, keyword-rich articles that answer the questions their market typically asks when searching. These pieces had titles such as “What is a Good ACT Score?”
Social-Viral Content: Content designed specifically to generate likes, shares, and traffic from their social audience. These articles had titles such as “10 Expensive Colleges that Have Free Tuition and Free-Ride Scholarships for Middle Class Families.”
Link-Building Content: Content assets aimed at earning links, developed around the interests of other sites, writers and publishers. College Raptor produced and promoted many articles and infographics with titles such as “The Most Unique College Major in Every State”.
In reference to the “trifecta” startup SEO strategy, Tyler Hakes, Director of Marketing at College Raptor, said, “This strategy was ultimately so effective at generating huge amounts of search traffic because we went wide and shallow in terms of SEO. We had a huge number of pages related to a broad range of college topics.”
FieldWire is a web and mobile collaboration platform for the commercial construction industry. Launched in 2013, FieldWire was selected for participation in the AngelPad startup incubator. Initially, the startup team consisted solely of a few engineers, with no in-house marketing team. Launching into a competitive industry dominated by several established players was undoubtedly challenging.
With no prior SEO expertise, FieldWire’s founders knew it would be tough to get any attention. To give them an edge, they leveraged CanIRank’s smart SEO software to help them rank faster. The app identified existing high potential pages and provided on-page recommendations that led to almost immediate improvements in FieldWire’s rankings.
As a result, FieldWire added more than 100 new rankings, increased the position of 200 current rankings, and boosted all primary keywords to the top three positions. The startup accomplished all this in a short period of only three months.
Major increases followed when the startup upgraded to CanIRank’s Full-Service SEO solution. Dedicated SEO experts from the CanIRank team used the software’s “Grow My Content” tool to find content topics offering a balance of traffic value and ranking difficulty. These specialists also tapped into the “Promote My Content” feature to assemble a list of media contacts within Fieldwire’s industry. Reaching out to these contacts for product reviews, company profiles, and founder interviews, the team acquired many high-quality authoritative links.
The growth in traffic not only established FieldWire as a leading expert within its industry, it also helped them land a $6.6 million funding round. That additional cash allowed the startup to add new employees to its sales and marketing department.
PDF Pro is a cloud-based solution for creating, editing, and reviewing PDF files. This innovative startup launched with a solution that was faster, easier to use, and more affordable than any similar product. However, like many startups, their focus on product didn’t make it any easier to compete. Larger players already dominated the search engines due to their domain authority.
As a new startup, PDF Pro’s marketing budget was strict and limited. Paid channels were too expensive, and a low domain authority made ranking seem impossible.
Determined not to be deterred, PDF Pro outsourced its entire growth marketing strategy to CanIRank’s digital marketing agency. The team went to work devising a winning custom strategy focused on SEO for SaaS startups.
Using CanIRank’s software, SEO specialists identified several keyword variations for which PDF Pro could compete. Similar to most of the other companies in our startup SEO case studies, PDFPro’s best strategy in high competition SEO is to begin with the niche keywords and build from there. The CanIRank team also revised the website’s information architecture, improved thematic relevance, and optimized its strongest pages to target the most competitive keywords.
Over two dozen guest posts, reviews, interviews, roundups, and resource pages were obtained through the help of CanIRank’s “Promote My Content” tool. These high-quality links brought traffic and boosted the brand’s domain authority.
Within just six months, PDF Pro was crushing its competitors in search engine results. This period saw its search traffic increase by a whopping 106,283%. With more than 5,000 new rankings added, PDF Pro began ranking on page one for some of the most critical key terms within its industry. For advice targeted to SaaS, look at our expert roundup on marketing for SaaS startups.
The startup SEO case studies from these five brands prove that you, too, can win the startup SEO game. But to do so, you must quickly identify great opportunities and execute them successfully. Try CanIRank for free. See what opportunities you are missing, and get a step-by-step actionable plan to crush your competitors and become one our small business SEO success stories!