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So you’ve founded your own company. You’re bootstrapping everything from office desks to logo design. Of course, this includes your marketing budget (which is a fraction of your competition’s). With this limited marketing budget, you decide to focus on the free traffic you can get from SEO… right?

Unfortunately, many start-ups make false assumptions about SEO and, as a result, become increasingly frustrated when they can’t achieve what they expect. Here are 10 common SEO mistakes start-up founders make.

  1. You don’t realise you’re in the Sandbox

Whenever Google finds a new domain/website, it’s placed into what’s called the ‘Google Sandbox’. The idea of the Sandbox is to dampen the total SEO power of a new website so that aggressive (see ‘blackhat’) SEOs can’t churn and burn new websites and game Google.

It can take anywhere from 3 to 9 months to fully exit the Sandbox. For many start-ups, this timeframe will exceed their initial marketing plan. While the existence and impact of the Sandbox is debatable, the overall result is that you need to take a slow and steady long-term view to SEO on your new website.

  1. You start SEO before PPC

A common misconception for founders is that because SEO is free traffic and because they’re bootstrapping, SEO should be the focus of their marketing strategy. In reality, SEO is a long-term strategy, and it’s essential that when you do start to invest in SEO that you target the correct keywords.

By running an AdWords campaign before you start your SEO strategy, you gain valuable insights into not only consumer demand but, more importantly, how (if at all) these keywords convert into customers. Typically, you won’t turn a profit from your first AdWords campaigns, but if you can’t convert any of the traffic you’re paying for into customers, it won’t convert for SEO either – after all, it’s the same people.

It’s also important to realise that one of the emerging trends in SEO is the consumer engagement with your website. If your website has a higher-than-average bounce rate with consumers conducting follow-up searches after visiting your website, then Google will actually reduce your website’s rankings in the SERPs.

  1. You publish all your content on your site

Great content without an audience is pointless. You’re a start-up with limited money, so if you’re going to write some killer content, try to get it published on high-traffic and relevant websites.

When looking at websites to place content on, an SEO expert will consider many factors. But for a quick SEO hack, just focus on websites where you think you’ll actually attract customers. If the website that hosts your content is likely to drive clicks and then customers, this is where you want to be.

  1. You don’t realise that SEO is not an ‘investable’ marketing strategy for VCs

Venture capitalists love repeatable marketing. Pitch decks that rely on viral or word-of-mouth marketing almost never get funding from sophisticated VCs. If you’re lucky enough to have already gone viral (great for you) you’ll be fine, but VCs won’t take a punt on this marketing strategy.

SEO is only slightly better than ‘viral’ marketing when it comes to risky investments. No one can guarantee SEO results. Even if you’ve already established great SEO rankings, this is still not an easily defendable marketing position. SEO should absolutely be part of your marketing mix, but if SEO is your main focus, don’t expect VCs to tip any money in.

  1. Your SEO timeline is longer than your cash runway

Unfortunately, SEO is a long-term strategy. With Google’s move to focus on the consumer, by the time you’re succeeding with SEO, you will most likely also be succeeding in other forms of marketing. SEO should be seen as a highly profitable supporting marketing channel. The days when you could place SEO in a silo are long gone.

  1. You pivot during your SEO strategy

Very few start-ups (if any) actually turn out exactly as founders plan them. The pivots are often minor but any pivot of your company’s customer, product or services will also mean you need to re-position your SEO strategy. If your audience has changed, Google will need to figure this out, and because Google are focused on links and content, they’ll be much slower to pick up on this change. For a major pivot, it could take months to change Google’s view of your website.

  1. You change your website monthly or even weekly

Start-ups have to be nimble, so websites are typically updated on the fly by founders directly. As such, investing in full site audits while you’re constantly changing the website is wasted money. Instead:

  1. You confuse long-term global strategies with SEO opportunity

Of course your start-up is going global and you’re going to dominate the world. But just before you do take over the world, having a regional focus is probably the best approach. By all means, register that killer 1-word .com TLD. But if you’re going to be focusing on Australia for your launch, update Google’s search console to reflect this. It’s always going to be easier to rank for your target keywords with an Australian focus.

  1. You hire an in-house SEO

By the time you’re considering hiring your own in-house SEO, you shouldn’t be calling yourself a start-up anymore. If you pick up SEO talent with another hire, this is a bonus. But as a general rule, you shouldn’t have a dedicated SEO in your start-up.

Firstly, staff members are an expensive overhead for a start-up. If you need to slow your cash-burn, redundancies are awful and could have been avoided by hiring a contractor or outsourcing to an agency. Also, the scale of an agency means you gain the spread of experience across a range of SEOs. One single in-house SEO is always going to be over- or under-skilled for your needs.

  1. You try to become an SEO expert yourself

It’s your business, your baby, and every dollar you spend on external help is another dollar you can’t pay yourself or that shortens your runway. However, it’s essential to know when to use an expert consultant and when to do the work yourself.

Programs like Google Analytics and concepts like ‘search demand’ are critical to founders understanding their business and marketplace. But once you find yourself researching ‘latent semantic analysis’, you know it’s time to bring in the experts and focus your time where you can add real value to your business.

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