Episode 8

What Startup SEO is Going to Look Like Tomorrow

Discover how startup SEO is going to change, and what you'll need to be doing to build organic search visibility in the future.

Episode transcript:

Hello there, and welcome to another episode of Stacking Pancakes, a show that helps you build your startup’s organic growth. I’m super delighted that you have me back in your ears. And if this is my first episode that you’re listening to, hello, it's amazing to meet you.

Today, I thought I’d do something different. Instead of offering you advice on boosting your startup’s SEO, I thought I’d share some ideas about how it’s all going to change. Maybe not change soon, but what startup SEO is going to look like eventually. And you know what, part of me wants to add that that “eventually” is not that far away but maybe that’s something for another episode.

For now, let’s stick with discussing the future of startup SEO in a less defined timeline.

But overall, let’s face it, startup SEO is going to change.

Now, first things first, by change, I don’t mean anything super drastic. No. Not at all.

Now, I do appreciate that you must have heard the evergreen “SEO is dead” statements at least a hundred times last year. For some reason, it’s the most natural response many folks have to any bigger changes in the industry (and also, probably the easiest claim to make if you want to stir up some feathers), but it’s not that type of change that I’m talking about.

The changes we might face will be more subtle, but they might force us to change our approach - the things we do to promote and grow the startup organically.

Before I get to that, a quick disclaimer: Everything you’re going to hear from now on in this episode is pure and utter speculation. It’s what I predict might happen based on observation and my experience. But by far and away, it’s not a given. It would be nice to my ego if it did come true, of course, but until we have any proof to confirm it, let’s consider all this as speculation and best guesses, alright?

So, with that out of the way, let’s discuss what startup SEO is going to look like tomorrow.

And let’s start by assessing the signs suggesting a change is coming…

2023 was quite a year for us SEOs. We’ve faced several bigh algorithm updates, some quite intense, I shall say.

Then, there was the helpful content update that raised the bar for quality quite high and pretty much obliterated some industries in the process. The SERP has changed greatly as a result, also. In many instances, G has replaced even seemingly valid articles with old forum posts, Reddit got a significant boost, etc. In other words, in a bit of a harsh way, the search engine told us that it now sees more value in expertise, even if it comes in the shape of misspelled and poorly written forum responses.

The result - The informational SERP is becoming harder to get into.

I assume that the Search Generative Experience is only going to make it even harder. I can’t tell it myself yet. I live in Ireland and we don’t have access to test it, as far as I know. But from what I hear, it does affect the informational SERP quite intensely.

On top of that, many people are turning to ChatGPT for answers and advice. Even though it's rarely perfect, we cling to ChatGPT for various (unfortunately, generic and often ridiculously bad) advice.

And all that really is just the tip of the iceberg of changes that happened last year.

So what’s all of this got to do with you?

Well, again, I can only speculate. At the same time, I have seen similar shifts several times in my career, and usually, they deliver the same outcome: A major change in our searching behavior.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Once we realize that we can search differently, we rarely go back.

Just think about the times before the hummingbird algorithm update, for example. Back then, we had to be very precise in our search queries, right? It is ridiculous if you compare it with the way we search now. However, since the update, we have been able to use more natural language to describe the information we need.

And that way of searching stuck.

The same goes for pretty much every other major algorithm update - and that’s regardless of whether it changed the way G processes our queries or added new elements to the SERP, like featured snippets or local results.

It doesn’t take much to see that a similar thing is going to happen now. But contrary to what many claim, we will still use G. We will continue to rely on it a lot. But we might be doing it slightly differently, and that’s exactly what might affect how you grow your startup organically.

Once again, before I explain what I think might happen, let me restate that it’s all speculation for now. This is what I predict might happen, at least to some degree, but there is absolutely no proof that it will. So, take it all with a pinch of salt, please.

But overall, here’s what I think might happen…

The big shift is going to be that we’re going to have to put more emphasis on commercial presence.

You know - Most people in the startup world associate SEO with content. And rightly so, but I also notice that they probably go a little too far with this.

When startups think of SEO, they immediately think of articles, blogs, and so on.  But the changes I mentioned earlier will, most likely, affect the informational SERP. In fact, some of that has already happened, at least to some degree. The SERP values old and outdated content from forums , for example, over your carefully crafted blog posts. Users turn to ChatGPT for basic information, and so on.

However, the commercial search landscape hasn’t changed and is not likely to change, and that also includes the searching behavior.

In other words, we might not be turning to G for basic information, the kind of information we, SEOs, would associate with the top-of-the-funnel. But we will still be using the search engine to find products. Sure, the SERP itself might change, but the fact will remain that it will present the searcher with product options.

So, instead of focusing on producing hundreds of content assets to target large volumes of informational, top-of-the-funnel keywords, we might be focusing on smaller batches of keywords with greater commercial potential. We will be working towards ranking for those in whatever the SERP looks like rather than casting a wide net as we do now.

Sure, some startups might have to build some body of content, even to confirm their authority, but they'd be doing that only to boost those commercial keywords.

Of course, that will bring a different challenge -  Greater SERP competitiveness. Fewer keywords to target will mean greater competition for those. As a startup, you will, most likely, have to deal with completely new ranking factors to compete with bigger sites. Plus, you’ll have fewer “entry points” to the SERP as there will be fewer low-hanging fruit keywords that you could start with, and so on. This will force you to focus on another thing - Making the site to look stronger among bigger sites to boost your authority and even stand a chance of getting into the SERP.

SEO timelines might be different, too, and building search visibility is going to be an even longer process.

And finally, SEO will not be a channel for all startups anymore. Some products require laser focus on the ToFU since there is nothing at the bottom of the funnel in G, and for these sites, other channels will work better.

In other words, startup SEO will become more commercial. It’s not going to be about casting a wider net through producing countless top-of-the-funnel content assets anymore but being laser-focused on building rankings for the most promising commercial keywords.

But what does that mean in practice?

First of all, we might need to focus on fewer pages and work on getting those to rank vs. creating a large body of content.

Activities like SEO testing will become key terms in the startup SEO of tomorrow. Since you’ll have fewer pages to work with, much of the effort will go toward testing, optimizing, and iterating the existing content.  Also, since SEO will not be all about content anymore, you’ll have to focus on new ranking factors, ones that hardly anybody in the startup world really cares about now. These factors will relate to the technical setup, user experience, and so on.

But again,  this is all just speculation for now. It’s just me looking ahead and trying to predict what we’ll have to be doing to grow startups organically.

Only time will tell whether I’m right here. But regardless, it’s shaping up to be an exciting time for startups and SEOs alike.

I, for one, can’t wait to experience it firsthand.

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 if you haven’t already, and I'll see you here in two weeks.

Until then, take care.

Copyright: Smashing Copy Limited T/A Pancake 2023