We’ve had the chance to work with some great startups and seen the important part that SEO has played in their growth but I don’t think investing heavily in SEO is the right strategy for everybody.
For me there are two levels to SEO. The first is doing the on-site aspects and basic keyword research/link-building which every startup simply has to do in order to be visible on the web. This is virtually zero cost so everybody needs to do it.
The second is the higher level SEO involving a decent agency or perhaps a strong in-house team. This typically costs anywhere from £50k/year upwards if you want to compete for decent keywords and factoring agency fees as well as developer time to implement changes.
For startups the key thing to understand when deciding whether to invest in SEO are the simple laws of supply & demand. If you are launching a new service such as WakeMate then very few people are likely to search for such a product, there simply isn’t an established market for it. You need to build the demand first.
On the other hand if you want to launch a new business doing a great job of selling office supplies or perhaps a hotel booking engine there are literally millions to be made every month if you rank well on Google for loads of keywords. The problem is that to compete in these sectors you will need a £50k plus annual SEO budget in place which might be a stretch if you don’t have sufficient funding. Lots of demand but also lots of supply & competition too.
So the short answer is that if you are a startup in a sector where there is lots of demand and you have the budget to compete then SEO is definitely a strategy to pursue. If you are in a sector where you need to create demand then it’s probably best to put your budget elsewhere and just do the basics.