Episode 5

How to Evalute SEO Opportunity for a Startup?

Are you wondering whether it even makes sense to invest in SEO? Want to know what sort of returns you could expect from organic search?

In this episode, I walk you through two methods to evaluate the SEO potential for your startup.

Episode transcript:

Hello there, and welcome to another episode of our journey through the intricacies of startup SEO. I’m super delighted that you have me back in your ears. And if this is my first episode you’re listening to, well, hello, and it's great to meet you.

In this episode, we’re talking about two ways that you could use to evaluate the SEO potential or SEO opportunity for your startup. Full disclaimer: neither of these methods is perfect and bullet-proof. But they are good enough to indicate what total potential traffic and growth you could expect from SEO, both in the long and short term.

And we’re talking about this because, if you think about it, the biggest objection against SEO is that it takes so much time.

Now, I talked about average SEO timelines in the previous solo episode. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, I strongly recommend that you craft some time and dive into that information. It’s not a long episode; like most of my solo ones, it’s below ten minutes. And in that short time, I’ll help you understand what happens from the moment when you hit publish on a new page to the point where it starts driving organic traffic.

But if you’ve heard it already, then you know what the process looks like, and you know that it takes time.

This timeline brings a certain challenge, and the objection I mentioned earlier - You need to invest in SEO for quite some time and keep doing it month after month after month to start seeing results and getting some meaningful ROI.

Naturally, this can be problematic. Because let’s face it, how can you be sure that, after having invested so much time and money into SEO, you will get something in return?

You may have heard so much about SEO from other founders, but how can you tell if it’s worth it for your startup? How can you justify the business decision to invest in the channel?

Today, we’re talking about two ways to figure that out.

There’s something I need to explain before we get to the good stuff. We need to talk about why two methods. Because, it would be logical to just have one and be done with it, right? Having two methods doesn’t make sense, they can’t deliver different data, after all.

And they don’t. The reason why cover the two methods is because each focuses on a different startup scenario.

The first method helps to evaluate SEO opportunity if you have some organic performance data. In other words, you use this method when you’ve already had the website up, perhaps you’ve even done some basic SEO, and published some content, and have SEO-related data that you could use to base the evaluation on.

The other method is useful if your startup has no meaningful performance data. Perhaps you’ve just launched the site or have never actually collected any performance data. In this case, you have to base the evaluation on other factors.

So, with that out of the way - What are those two methods?

Let’s start with the method for when you have some performance data.

This is a more scientific method, well, because it’s based on data, of course. In a nutshell, in this method, you evaluate the SEO potential by analyzing your current organic performance, doing the same for your competitors, looking at gaps between theirs and your performance, and using that data to understand the total search visibility that you could achieve with the SEO program.

I realize that this sounds complex and tricky, but in reality, it’s not that hard to do, so let me walk you through how it works.

You start by evaluating your keyword rankings. It really helps if you’ve been collecting ranking data already, but it’s not a must-have. You can also tap into keyword databases of various SEO platforms like SEMrush or Ahrefs to see how your domain ranks in search. The data will show you all the keywords in the database for which your domain ranks, along with some additional data like search volume, etc.

Review those rankings, of course. But in particular, check whether your top-ranking keywords, and by this, I don’t necessarily mean phrases that you rank in the top 3 spots for but your highest-ranking keywords overall, are relevant to your startup and could attract potential customers. Also, take note of the search volume and search potential of phrases that you don’t rank well for. You don’t need to do any specific math here. Just check if there are many keywords that you don’t rank well for and they promise to attract at least some visitors.

Then, do the same for your competitors. Providing they’ve been doing SEO far longer than you, their data will, of course, be different. That’s the potential world that you could, well, conquer. Looking at that can help you understand what might be the total addressable search volume that you could achieve.

Then, analyze keyword gaps between you and your competition AND just between your competitors. Most SEO platforms offer that functionality, and it’s quite intuitive to use.  You just add the domains you want to compare to a list, and the platform delivers various data points on their common keywords, and so on. This data will help you understand the market opportunities and show you what topics and keywords your competitors find the most valuable.Because let’s face it, if two or three of your competitors are putting time and effort into ranking for certain phrases, these keywords are, most likely, important to the industry. (or your competitors are entirely wrong, but that’s usually not the case. Not with all of them, anyway.)

Finally, and I admit this is the trickiest part, one that might require some SEO insight to complete - use all that data to understand the search volume and visibility that you could achieve with the SEO program. Look at the total search volumes for the data you have - It can give you an indication of traffic levels you could achieve if you’ve conquered that space, too. You could also merge this data with business performance - average conversion rates, etc. - to project your potential acquisition and conversion levels, and so on.

So, that’s the process for when you have performance data. As you can see, it’s very data-driven and delivers hard numbers.

But not everybody is in a situation where they have those numbers. If you’ve just launched the site, for example, then, naturally, no SEO platform will have any rankings or performance data to base the evaluation on. You might not even be getting much organic traffic yet.

In this case, you need to use a bit of gut feeling, I’m afraid. But you still can determine whether it makes sense to focus on SEO for you.

To do that, you need to research and answer a couple of questions.

The first one is - Are people even searching for what my startup does? Or, to phrase it differently, are they trying to find information to help them solve those pain points? There are different ways to find this out but the best one in this case would be to do some keyword research around your category keywords or phrases that focus on whatever pain points your product helps overcome. I admit, it’s not a super scientific approach but if there are searches for these or relevant phrases, it means that people are searching for this information.

The next thing to research is whether your competitors are targeting those searches. Again, the logic here is simple - If people are searching for the information, and your competitors are trying to rank for those phrases, then you could assume that there is some commercial value in doing so.

Finally, there’s user engagement. And that’s what often helps you get to the top three spots.

A quick research like this around those categories or pain point keywords will help you confirm that there is an audience for you in organic search.

And if the answer is yes, then, most likely, you should start building your search visibility.

Now, are these methods guaranteed to reveal the value of SEO? No, of course not. They do help establish the potential opportunity. But how well SEO works for you will depend on many other factors, too, like how well you do it, how you’ll be engaging your audience, your organic user acquisition strategies, and so on.

Overall, however, these two methods are a good way to evaluate the SEO potential and provide you with insights to help you decide whether to launch an SEO program or not.

And that's it for today's episode. You can always head to gopancakego.com/podcast to find the show notes for each episode. You can also check my full guide to startup SEO, where I outline the entire process of building search visibility for an early-stage startup. Again, head to my site, gopancakego.com, and you'll find a link to it in the Resources section of the main navigation.

Don't forget to subscribe to the show. I'll see you here in two weeks, and until then, take care.

Copyright: Smashing Copy Limited T/A Pancake 2023