Is SEO essential for bootstrapped businesses?
It’s a common narrative that you can’t bootstrap your business off of SEO, but the reality is actually different. Some brands have done it. But it’s a few and far between because so much has to align for you for that to happen. Let’s take a closer look.
Your industry matters
It really depends on your industry and your internal setup as a business as well. I mean, some industries just naturally get shared more, and certain products are more glamorous in the consumers’ eyes.
So for that reason, they get a lot more backlinks naturally. And again, like a lot of brand mentions, because of that, it’s not the same for every business. I mean, you can be in a business category that is classified as a boring industry. It doesn’t immediately mean that you can’t appeal to a big market. It could be the reason, however, that people don’t talk about it online as much.
Is SEO important for your brand?
- Do you think it could be easier at the same time for “boring” businesses? If a certain company is exceptionally strong in SEO and talks about stuff like accounting and CRM giving, very detailed tutorials and instructions on how to use the product and how to succeed in this kind of space. Would it still give them an advantage?
The short answer is Yes. SEO is important to do for any sort of brand or website. In terms of how much it will be prioritized, that depends on quite a few factors like your product, if you have a team, and what budgets you have.
Doing SEO on a tight budget
If you’re very, very tight on budget, that means you’re going to have to be very creative with how you’re going to access your audience and get your product in front of the right people.
In the beginning, that would mean that you would have to forego some of the bigger growth stuff like content creation, for example. That requires quite a lot of planning and resources that you’d need for that if you want to do that at scale.
On a side note, I would recommend being careful using AI tools to create content. I don’t think that will really work or add value. I just think it’s important for all sorts of brands to at least get the basics right at SEO. So that when their website is published, search engines are at least able to crawl and index them and understand what the website is about.
You can’t start with content if you don’t have the basics in place. I’m not talking about any of the more aggressive SEO growth tactics or anything, just getting the foundations and the best practices in place.
Depending on your industry and also your business goals, you have to get your priorities straight.
Let’s say you have a product. It’s great but not really unique. Let’s say it’s a CRM. There are a lot of CRM options available. So how do you as a new brand stand out and get organic traffic in a cluttered space? On the flip side, it’s totally different when you create something innovative. Then it’s a different challenge because there might not be search volumes for what you’ve done. Maybe it even requires new terminology. In this case, you almost have to tap into existing spaces, but then at the same time, double down on educating people about your solution.
To get to the basics, they are a must if you want your website to serve as the tool it is intended to be. Then, once you’re ready to prioritize this channel, you can go all in because half-assing it won’t do the job. And this is the best time to get SEO specialists involved, too. Not because you absolutely can’t do it alone but because they’ll save a lot of time for you. A professional SEO manager knows exactly where to look and how to develop an actionable strategy that will serve your purpose.
Take a data-first approach, never assume
- Let’s assume I’m a bootstrapping solo founder with no budget for SEO. I went to keyword.com and ahrefs.com and I know the keywords that I want to work with. What do I do next? Do I just try to use these words as much as possible on my website?
So, this is something that I’ve realized after years in the industry. Never assume you know your keywords.
You would just naturally assume that in a certain industry, people will look for certain things. Never assume, research is your best friend here. Because then when you actually go and see what people are searching for and what descriptions they are using, you’ll see that your assumptions are usually off.
The example that I’m going to give you is of a product – a nutrition drink, that I actually worked with. It’s a simple shake-and-go kind of thing, the convenience is there and the nutritional value is there, so the first assumption you make is that this product is for someone who’s into sports, maybe follows a diet, and whatnot. With this target audience in mind, we started working on the SEO campaign, only to realize that busy moms use this product, too, and a lot. It makes complete sense, right? And we were shooting ourselves in the foot, completely abandoning this huge market.
That’s why I’m saying, never assume and never just start producing a ton of content without prior research. This will help you understand the exact features people are looking to use and the problems they want to solve.
This is also something to keep in mind if you’re hiring an SEO specialist. It’s not a quick hack that they’re supposed to do. There are no quick hacks in the SEO industry. Blackhat SEO exists, of course, but there are consequences. Google may not pick up what you’re doing at first but then there are also your competitors who look at your pages, as any competitor would do.
How to select keywords when you don’t have an SEO specialist
Be very selective and transparent in SEO. You may not see the results of your work affect your audience or even the search engines immediately. But what you can do is track everything that you’re doing to make sure you know what brings the results later on and double your attention to this.
- What are backlinks and why is everyone talking about needing to have them (and a lot of them) for the business one way or another?
Building backlinks is a mundane task. It’s probably something that you’ll hate all the way from the start. And I’ve seen companies that have backlinks that are 100% irrelevant and even harmful to the business. It’s also something that created two rival groups within the SEO community. Some people believe exactly what Google says. And that is that their systems are clever enough to tell good lınks apart from bad ones. To the extent that you don’t have to worry about the bad ones anymore.
I have a totally different opinion on that, though. I do believe that it has an impact because I’ve seen it. I’ve definitely dealt with enough scenarios where I had to fix those things to think that Google will just ignore them.
If you follow this closely, you’ll see how Google contradicts itself regarding the best practices when it comes to bad backlinks or what to do with them. I mean, how would Google system know where it’s your SEO specialist or yourself went and bought these spammy low-quality links or if it’s the competitors that have done it for you? How would they know who went to Fiverr to buy 1000 backlinks? Anyone can log a ticket like that. So how would they know whether you ordered it or not? There’s just no way.
Unfortunately, it does happen quite often that the link-building stuff is so tricky. And from time to time there are some benefits from having even the spammy links, at least, at the very beginning. It works until it doesn’t, and then you have to go all the way to point zero and do the work you were supposed to do, anyway. Only by this time your reputation and your ranking are both under the radar.
- Should I list my project on all the websites that collect business listings to generate a lot of quality backlinks? And should I have unique descriptions for all of them?
Well, I wish it was a yes or no kind of question, but again it’s a bit more complicated than that. The first thing that I’d do is actually go to all those websites and try to analyze if it would make sense to have a listing on each particular one. Then, if you’re pressed for time and I only have one description, I’d still try and use it everywhere. Given that later on, I’ll come back to optimize those descriptions to make them relevant.
Remember, that it’s not only the relevance for the platform you’re looking for, it’s also the relevance for the audience it’s serving.
One more thing to keep in mind is that if you’re just after branded search, you want people to see the reviews for your company, exact same descriptions won’t hurt you. If a product category is what you want to focus on then have as many different descriptions as possible.
I’d say, don’t stress it too much, you can always come back to optimizing your listing later. But not doing it altogether is definitely a lost opportunity.
- Could it be something bootstrapped businesses start with to build an online presence with zero budget?
I wouldn’t consider only SEO in this case. Remember that if you list your business on every platform possible you also give people an opportunity to contact you on those platforms. Someone will have to reply to the messages and comments, and this someone is probably you. And if you abandon your listings after posting you will be criticized by allowing this to ruin the perception of your company.
This could harm you and it had nothing to do with SEO. My best advice is to keep a list of the most relevant platforms, post there, reply, and use this opportunity to grow a community and show that you care. Otherwise, you’re asking for trouble and making replying to comments your second job. And the one you’re not good at.
Choose platforms that make sense for your business. Better focus on more niche ones than try to stand out in the broader, more generic spaces.
As you can see, there are many things to consider based on your personal scenario. And it’s a cliche thing to say but whether or not SEO can be your primary source of leads depends on many different things. However, as I mentioned earlier, not doing SEO at all means shooting yourself in the foot, and who’d benefit from that?