A Five Minute Intro to Startup SEO
By Hillary Bush
I built SEO engines at MasterClass and Bungalow, and developed strategies for companies like Copeland, Outschool, and Adobe. Founders often cite SEO as a key distribution strategy but lack the knowledge of how to build one. I want to share the essentials I’ve gathered:
It’s not just a growth engine, it’s a demand compass. Basic SEO research using tools like SEMRush can tell you that the search volume for ‘painting class’ is 2.5x higher than that for ‘drawing class’. Which do you think has a larger TAM?
📖 SEO can tell you a lot about your business
And answer questions like:
🔎 How many people are searching for this?
📱 Should I advertise on mobile or desktop?
☃️ How seasonal is demand?
🥊 Is this space really competitive?
🏆 Who are the major players in this space?
⏬ Organic channels keep CAC low long term
SEO requires upfront cost but pays dividends for years after. Creating organic content also expands the surface area on which you can be discovered and people can share what you’re about.
Companies get addicted to the paid marketing sugar high. It gets you customers fast instantly and predictably but it’s expensive and doesn’t last. Ex. MasterClass’s early days were fueled by trailer ads on FB/IG. Still, once CACs grew, we built our SEO program.
Second, what do you need to know to be dangerous? When it comes to SEO, there is always more to know. In my mind, here are the essentials to your startup strategy:
🚫 Don’t treat SEO like paid
The biggest challenge in starting SEO is getting execs to think of it differently. SEO requires upfront investment and frustratingly takes ~3 months to show even early results. Prepare yourself for this and don’t freak out.
🎯 Target your SEO efforts
As a starting point, you can think of this in terms of Platforms (Google, YouTube, App Store, ec) or if you’re focused on one platform like Google, in terms of page type (Video, Local, Recipe, Editorial, etc).
This choice is based on the queries your target customers make. E.g. A local food chain is probably best suited for local SEO (i.e., “best barbacoa tacos near me”) but a food influencer may be better suited for recipe / editorial (i.e., “authentic barbacoa taco recipe”).
🧹 Practice good hygiene
Minor errors will kill your SEO efforts if done poorly. So many companies lose $$ because of bad technical hygiene.
Make sure site architecture, crawlability, indexability, structured data, speed, and mobile-friendliness etc. are all up to par.
If you are brand new to SEO, these three links will get you well up the learning curve:
⏱️ Page Speed
🔖 Give content purpose with keyword research
Just because an article is written doesn’t mean it will rank.
Basic keyword optimization is essential to give any page a chance to rank.
Tools like Clearscope are great for measuring your effectiveness on this.
🖼️ Invest in UX
Increasingly Google’s ranking algorithm values good UX over external optimizations like link building.
Excellent UX means many things, and the important parts are content discoverability, site architecture, mobile friendly design, and fast loading pages.
Each SEO strategy has their own dynamics and you can never be 100% confident that you’ll get the results you want. But, when it pays off, it really does. And that’s what makes it fun.
If you want to learn more, here are some resources I recommend:
SEO Cheat Sheet
📒 WTF SEO
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