The 50-Point SEO Checklist for Startups
Startup marketing ain’t easy. The budget is never big enough, and let’s be real: Facebook ads are looking shadier and shadier by the minute.
This is where SEO for startups is an absolute golden ticket. It’s efficient and inexpensive. But there are a few factors you should consider if you want to make your startup content marketing a resounding success.
In this checklist post, we’ll cover them all. Let’s dive in!
1. Hosting and server SEO factors
2. Site architecture
3. Mobile factors
4. Indexing and ranking
1. Hosting and Server SEO Factors
You can do plenty yourself to improve your startup marketing with search engine optimization, but your server hosting provider is the foundation.
1. Is your site up or down?
Before you choose a hosting provider, take a look at their uptime score. If your site is down most of the time, no bot or human is going to use it.
Ideally, you want to go for 99.99% uptime but since most hosting providers promise that (and don’t make good on it), use a tool like Uptime Robot to see how your site is performing.
2. Who are you sharing your IP address with?
Hosting providers may be giving you space to store your site on, but some hosting plans also mean that you’ll be sharing IP addresses with plenty of other sites.
Unfortunately, some of them may not have the best intentions. And if your startup is sharing the IP address with spam/scam sites, your SEO results could suffer.
3. Checking for DNS errors
If your domain is down, Google can’t communicate with your site.
In other cases, it can result in bad user experience, so if you want to use SEO marketing for startups, your priority should be making sure that you don’t have any DNS errors (check in the Google Search Console).
If you’re changing DNS providers, make sure you set up the right redirects.
4. Offer security with HTTPS and SSL certificates
There’s nothing like clicking through to a site and then seeing the red padlock of death AKA no SSL certificate.
You should set up the HTTPS protocol as soon as you can and for as many pages as possible. Before that, make sure you’ve obtained and set up the right SSL certificate.
5. What is the state of your redirects?
Redirects are the often invisible troublemakers when it comes to SEO for startups.
First of all, check your servers. Use tools like Ahrefs and Screaming Frog to see if you have any unintentional redirects and server errors. These are typically 301 and 302 redirects. And then remove links to 403 redirects as well.
6. How about 404 redirects?
According to just about every SEO expert we’ve talked to, 404 redirects are the silent killers of your search engine marketing.
They typically happen when you’ve deleted a page but it’s still being linked to from another page on your site.
Again, you can use a tool like Screaming Frog to check whether any of your pages are resulting in a 404, and remove the link to them.
7. Is your site www or non-www?
Google bots distinguish between www and non-www sites.
For example, if someone links to us as www.contentfly.co, and we opted for the non-www contentfly.co in the Google Search Console, the bots will treat that as two different sites.
Since you don’t want to miss out on the link juice, make sure you set up http to https and www to non-www (or the other way around) redirects.
8. Stalkers are acceptable only in SEO (AKA: nofollow and noindex)
When your pages are marked with nofollow or noindex attributes, it means that the search bots won’t crawl, index and rank them. Double-check that content pages don’t contain these attributes, and market-away!
9. Got malware?
Even if you’re a startup on the rise that shouldn’t be a target of any hackers, you should still make sure there’s no malware on your site.
Simply use Google’s Transparency Report to scan your site for any signs of danger.
2. Site Architecture: Future-Proofing SEO for Startups
When everything on your site is important, nothing really is. Google uses your site architecture to prioritize content and get a better understanding of what your business is really about. It does it through the following factors:
10. Hierarchical site architecture
First things first: your site shouldn’t be all over the place. It’s bad for the customers, bots, and your business.
Ideally, you want to leave “breadcrumbs” for your visitors (and the bots).
This means you shouldn’t stuff links on your homepage, but you should create an organized system. The homepage should direct visitors to the most important category pages, and the category pages should link out to other important pages.
Just like the navigational hierarchy matters, so does URL hierarchy. Every page should be in one category. Avoid using multiple categories, duplicating URLs, and make sure everything is logically ordered to the tune of your site structure.
12. Startup marketing isn’t Oliver Twist (no orphan pages)
Orphan pages are the pages that somehow exist on your site and yet, they’re never being directly linked to. Google sees that as unnecessary pages from a sloppy business so your results can decrease accordingly.
To find out if you’ve got an Oliver Twist in your midst, take a look at crawl data in the Google Search Console.
13. Can visitors get home from every page?
The logo should link to the homepage no matter where your visitor lands.
If your logo isn’t hyperlinked, that ruins the prioritization and the structure of your site, so make sure you can click-through to home wherever you are.
14. URLs are a must
Obviously, this can get messy today, as it’s impossible for Google to index those sites properly (it “sees” by using links), so make sure you’re not using Java but proper, logical URLs.
To put it simply: if the user clicks through to a different page, the URL should change.
15. How deep are your links?
You never put the most important things under a pile of other stuff, and the same goes for important pages.
For example, your features and pricing pages should be easily available, link-wise. Don’t make your visitors click through ten pages to get to the right link.
You can check this manually, by seeing how many times you need to click to get to the page you’re interested in (typically, pages targeting the major keywords). Or use a tool like Screaming Frog.
16. Appropriate anchor text
Anchor text is the hyperlinked text.
When it comes to navigation, it shouldn’t be keyword-stuffed but simple to understand. So instead of hyperlinking the following anchor text to the pricing page: “Incredible software 50% off,” go for “Pricing” in the menus.
If you’re linking from the homepage content, make the anchor text contextually-relevant but brief.
17. Contextually-relevant links
The rule of thumb with contextual linking is using the right anchor text and linking to relevant pages.
You wouldn’t link to apples from a page about pears, but you would link to a page about different types of apples.
18. External links
Ideally, you don’t want external links in your main navigation. It’s all about your site.
However, if you’re linking to other sites from a piece of content (e.g. a blog post), then it can be beneficial. It gives Google the wider context of your site, and how it fits into the niche you’re targeting.
19. Remove or consolidate duplicate and unnecessary pages
Duplicate pages create confusion and can even lead to poor rankings in the search engine results, so they’re a big no-no.
If you have any duplicate pages (pages that reinforce the same action and provide similar information), consolidate them or remove them entirely.
Worst case scenario, add “canonical” tags to define which page is the original source of content.
20. URLs don’t vary
Avoid URL variables that can come from filtering or reordering. This commonly happens on product pages.
However, since the original URL and the URL variable contain the same information, you should use canonical tags to determine the original source of content and avoid any search engine confusion.
21. Optimize images and rich media for startup marketing
Finally, images and other forms of media (files, videos, etc.) can also be optimized.
First of all, compress them, and then make sure that the file names contain the right keywords. Since Google also crawls images, you should make sure the file names correspond the keywords you’re targeting.
It can be another valuable source of traffic for startup content marketing.
3. SEO for Startups: Mobile Factors
Since the majority of search traffic now comes from mobile, Google decided to roll out the mobile-first indexing. This means that the quality of your site will be judged by your mobile structure and content.
Here’s how to optimize for mobile SEO factors:
22. Run the mobile-friendly test
Before you do anything, run Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. Since the majority of sites are designed to provide a good mobile experience, chances are you won’t have to work on a lot of things to improve your SEO.
However, the test will show you what areas need improving if you want to successfully optimize for your startup marketing.
23. Use responsive web design
Responsive is the new responsible.
Responsive web design adapts perfectly to all kinds of devices; from laptops to phones and tablets.
It’s actually all about user experience. You don’t want mobile visitors to have a bad experience just because you’re using your website from your laptop.
24. Is your navigation responsive?
You’ve probably noticed that navigation is super important, so you want to make sure that it’s as visually appealing and useful on mobile as it is on desktop.
Make sure everything’s displayed properly and that the UX doesn’t suffer when the site is accessed from a smartphone.
25. Make sure your images and other media are responsive, too
You don’t want images to cover the entire mobile version of your site, or for visitors to wait longer than the 3 seconds they’re willing to wait because you’ve got all those images that need to load.
When it comes to media on your site and mobile-first indexing, make sure everything’s lightning fast and responsive.
Java and Flash don’t really load on mobile so if you can do without them, remove them.
If they’re vital to the desktop experience… Seriously, consider creating a workaround.
But if you can’t, use CSS and HTML to block them from appearing in the mobile versions.
27. Tread carefully with pop-ups
Pop-ups and interstitials can be great at capturing last-minute attention, but they can completely alter the functionality of your website.
Make sure that they can always be closed, and that their sizes adapt to different devices that will be accessing your site.
4. Indexing and Ranking
Now we’re getting to the thick of it! Once you’ve set up your site and made sure you’re not getting any errors, it’s time to optimize, optimize and – you guessed it – optimize!
28. Upload your sitemap to the Search Console
Once you’re ready for the bots to crawl, index and rank your site, visit the sitemap URL on your site (usually at [yourdomain].com/sitemap.xml). Then, submit the link in the Google Search Console.
Whenever you make significant changes or additions to your site, re-upload the sitemap.
29. Check indexed pages
When you’ve submitted the sitemap to GSC and some time has passed, search for site:[yourdomain].com to see which pages have been indexed.
If you notice that a lot of pages haven’t been indexed, there may have been an error, or the bots simply need more time.
You can also check the crawl status within the Search Console dashboard.
30. Use schema markup to get rich snippets
Whenever you search for a recipe, chances are you’ll see one or two results that include prep time, images and a lot more. They’re called rich snippets.
If you want your results to be shiny (and as such, beneficial for startup content marketing as you’ll be getting attention), you should use the structured markup – schema markup - within your content.
31. How does Google see your site?
Check the cache to see how Google sees your site. You can do it at the following page: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:[yourdomain.com]
This will show you if Google’s loading all the necessary element and if everything is crawled and indexed exactly as you see it.
32. Are you using RSS feeds?
Ever since Twitter and newsletters happened, people haven’t been really using RSS feeds. However, crawlers still use them.
If you want to make sure that your RSS feed is seen by the bots, you can use a “rel=alternate” to specify it.
33. SEO and social media go hand in hand
Whenever you share your content to social media, it gets more visibility. However, it also gives Googlebots another link to follow, and another link to discover your content by.
If you’re using some of the popular platforms, you can automatically post your content to social networks as soon as you publish it.
34. Monitor linkless brand mentions
While Google still relies heavily on links, it’s starting to monitor linkless brand mentions and the context. And if Google’s doing it, so should you.
Make sure you’ve claimed all the business profiles of your startup on social media. If you get reviews, respond to them. Especially if they’re negative, as Google will alter its perception of your startup if it sees a lot of negative mentions.
35. Improve your EAT score
EAT stands for expertise, authority and trustworthiness, and it’s a new approach Google will be taking for measuring content quality. Especially when it comes to medical, law and finance content that requires certain authority.
Make sure you’re citing relevant sources or displaying your credentials in the content if you want to improve your startup’s EAT score.
5. Content Is King for Startup Marketing
Finally, content can make or break your startup. Here’s how to make sure you’re doing everything right:
36. Content quality and quantity
Your content has to go deeper (and cooler) if you want to stand out in the vast amounts of content being published every day.
And in addition to quality, the quantity of content matters. Companies that publish 16+ blog posts per month receive 3.5x more traffic than companies that publish only a few posts.
A good option is outsourcing content creation.
You can’t write 16 posts on your own, but you can get expert writers at ContentFly, for as little as $0.06/word. Your SEO will constantly be getting a boost, and so will your sales.
Make sure you use Google Keyword Planner to find the right keywords; short and long-tail ones. You can also use social media and message boards to see what’s trending in your niche.
Avoid keyword stuffing and instead…
38. Use LSI keywords
Google has increasingly shifted to context, so in addition to the main keywords you’re targeting, use semantically-related keywords.
They’ll improve your topic coverage and show Google that you know what you’re talking about.
39. Optimize for featured snippets
Featured snippets are the bits of content that are specially highlighted in the search results. The best way to do it is by directly answering questions posed in search queries and structuring your content similarly to a FAQ section.
You can find the questions that your audience asks with a tool like Answer The Public.
40. Title tags
Make sure every post you publish has a title tag – visually and with code. You can use a crawler tool like SEO Crawler to check.
41. Title length
Don’t make your titles longer than 50-60 characters, as Google doesn’t display more than that.
42. Title keywords
It’s always a good idea to include a keyword relevant to content in the title tag.
Not only does it give you a boost at SEO for startups, but it also reinforces searcher’s intent.
43. H1, H2 and H3 tags
Use header tags to separate your content into contextually relevant subtopics.
For extra SEO points, include keywords that make it easy for readers to skim through the content and find what they need, and don’t use the H1 tag more than once.
44. Optimize alt text
Alt text is what’s shown to readers when an element can’t load, or if they can’t see it. And since alt text can be crawled, it should include a relevant keyword.
45. Meta descriptions
Meta descriptions are what will be shown under the title tag in the search results displaying your content, so make sure they’re interesting and enticing.
After all, a good meta description is the perfect way to make a reader click through to your content.
46. Internal links
Your internal links should always be contextually relevant and helpful for the visitor.
If you want to bring more order to your internal linking structure, you can also create comprehensive pillar page content that branches out into separate, in-depth pages.
47. External links
External links are a great way of helping Google understand how your startup fits into the niche so don’t be afraid to use them.
They’re a way of connecting your site to the niche at large, but be selective about the sources you’re linking to. They should always be trustworthy and authoritative.
48. Increase dwell time
Dwell time is a major signal of your site quality. The longer visitors dwell on your site, the better does Google perceive it to be.
The best way to increase it is by creating unique and interesting content. You can also embed a relevant video that your audience will be enamored with (AKA: they’ll spend more time on your site watching it).
49. Prove your authority with author boxes
Segueing onto the EAT score, prove you’re an authority by displaying an author box with your credentials. Tell the world why you’re an expert.
50. Create landing pages that reinforce searcher intent
Finally, everyone who lands on your landing page is there for a reason. Ideally, you want to understand it.
Are they there because they’re still educating themselves on an issue?
Are they comparing options?
Or are they there because they’re ready to buy?
All of these are different types of searcher intents. You target them with different content and different keywords.
But once they click through to your landing page, they should be wowed. And it’s exactly where most of the sites fail.
The language and the message you’re conveying are incredibly important. Leave it to the professionals.
At ContentFly, we work with the best copywriters across a variety of industries. They craft copy that makes a Bedouin feel like he needs more sand in his life.
Because Google cares about sites who care about their content.