Should Startups Invest Heavily in SEO?

by Jeff Quipp May 4th, 2011 

I read with deep interest today, an article in the Financial Post titled Marketing: Is SEO DOA? In this article, Chris Dixon, CEO of Hunch blogged that startups should not rely on SEO as a core marketing strategy. I wanted to weight in on this article, because a definitive "YES and "NO" is incorrect … but rather it requires a situational response!

When Does SEO Work Best?
In order to understand when SEO might work exceptionally well for a startup, its important to understand why SEO works when it does, which means understanding the role that SEO plays in the marketing mix.

    The Role of SEO in the Marketing Mix:
    Within the marketing mix, different types of media perform different roles. Some media is better at creating awareness or generating interest. Other media performs better later in the purchase process. The key is in understanding these distinctions, and specifically 'Creative' and 'Directive' types of media.

    Creative Media:
    Radio, television, newspapers for example, are all types of Creative media. Creative types of media are great for creating awareness or need because they are intrusive forms of media. Intrusive from the perspective that we didn't ask for the ads, but they were shown to us. This isn't good or bad, but it means that these types of media are better at creating awareness and need.

    Directive Media:
    Search on the other hand is a form of directive media, meaning the ads/results are user initiated. Think about it … you only search for something when you know it exists. By definition this means that if something is revolutionary, most can't search for it because they don't yet know it exists. I wrote a more in depth post about the differences at "The Role of Search in Advertising".

Conclusions:
When a startup is launching a novel new (revolutionary) concept (imagine Groupon 2 years ago), most of us don't know that the product or service already exists … so SEO won't serve the company well. Instead, much larger investments in creative media such as newspapers, radio, television, social media, etc. would serve the company much better.

If on the other hand the startup is more of an evolutionary leap than a revolutionary leap forward (eg. Living Social, WagJag) … and the industry has already been well established, then search works much better.

Lastly … its also important to note that as a revolutionary new concept gains awareness, companies will need to begin investing more in SEO as search volumes for related terms increase. This is one of the other advantages of SEO … because searchers per-qualify themselves as being interested in whatever it is they're searching for, they're typically much later in the purchase process (ie. nearer the purchase decision).

What are your thoughts? Do you have a different perspective?

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3 Responses to “Should Startups Invest Heavily in SEO?”

  1. Hi Jeff!

    To read Chris' original blog post on cdixon.org is more clear than the Financial Post article on same.
    He is clear on the blog stating SEO is not a viable marketing strategy.

    SEO never was, nor should be a marketing strategy; however, SEO is an essential component of an online strategy – anyone with a website with adequate content requires SEO.

    SEO is a tactic to drive traffic to a property – in itself, there is nothing strategic about it. While startups rarely have decent/sufficient content to optimize, neither do their domains have trust/authority/history or earned link popularity – the primary levers that support high rankings in organic search.

    I read Chris' original post to opine that start-ups should not rely solely on SEO to build awareness, generate demand and acquire early customers. I agree with his post as written – there are no quick wins with SEO, nor do they drive conversions very well.

    After all, startups need to acquire customers to become going concerns and mature into mid-size companies.

    Start-ups should develop a marketing strategy with a requisite marketing mix – and I agree that SEO is not the recommended core of such a strategy for startups.

  2. Julie says:

    I think all new businesses need to invest in SEO from the start. How heavily will of course depend on the site and the industry. But it's necessary they start SEO'ing their site as soon as; they're competing with competitors that have been online for much longer so have built up domain authority in terms of links and domain age, etc. SEO shouldn't be the be all and end all – like Michelle says, it should be part of the marketing mix and not the core focus.

  3. Ashley Krtamer says:

    I totally agree with most points made here. Yes, it is like being stuck between a rock and a hard place when you need to promote a new business that searchers aren't already searching for. If you are going after keywords that already have a good volume of searches then SEO can and does benefit you. If you are a local as opposed to national or global business then SEO can benefit you almost immediately. It's a harder slog to get up the rankings if you are competing nationwide or even globally though. In these geographically larger markets it can be wise to use SEO as part of your arsenal of tools driving your business forward.