SEO Advice for Start-Up Businesses

by Jack Norell on Wednesday 18 March 2015

Leading up to ecomTeam's 'Taking eCommerce to the TOP' event , Jack Norell from our SEO team answered questions surrounding how SEO  can work for small or start-up businesses. 

What three pieces of SEO advice would you give a new entrepreneur?

The first thing is to know your market before launching the business. Carry out a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) on your business idea and market.

If you don’t find a clear go-to-market weakness in your competitors that you can exploit, it becomes vital that your idea is powerful enough to disrupt the market. Avoid taking on entrenched businesses using the same business model.

In short, know both the areas you can beat your competition, but also where your own weaknesses will lie.

The second is to hire a good accountant to help with your cash flow. A problem with cash flow is the most common reason for new businesses to fail.

The third is to focus on making customers happy happy and helping them to spread the word about your business. Word of Mouth is your strongest and cheapest advertising channel and social media enables these message to quickly spread.

It is much cheaper to keep a repeat customer than to find a new one: And happy customers tell their friends.


So, none of the above are ‘SEO’ tips?

That’s because if you haven’t figured these three things out, no amount of SEO will create a sustainable business.

Conversely, the above allows you to do good ethical SEO work through customers, business partners and publishers who want to work with you.

Great companies find it much easier to build links, create social shares and offline word of mouth than those that view SEO as a cure-all.

If you’re in luck, your competitors haven’t figured out SEO basics yet, and this is actually surprisingly common. Most will have duplicated page titles, bloated indexation, stock product descriptions and no user-friendly content on their site. And they’ll often have a poor backlink profile.

Here are the SEO tips that go along with the first three ideas:

1. Indexation - Help Google to understand your website by indexing only valuable pages; excluding search results and facets.

Use a clean XML sitemap that updates daily as new products are added.

2. Content - If you’re selling products or services that are also available elsewhere online, then you need to avoid duplicating the same on-site descriptions (often simply taken from suppliers) that your competitors are using. 

Google wants unique, in-depth content. Stock descriptions do not provide any new value, and your rankings will be too dependent on your site’s overall authority.

Create new, engaging, and helpful descriptions for your categories, products and services. This boosts onsite conversion and also your rankings.

Then make amazing videos, articles, graphics and other content around your products or industry that let people learn more. These can be how to guides, fun projects, photo galleries and much more.

Not only will search engines send organic traffic to these pages, but they add quality to your entire site.

3. Links & Social - The content that you’ve already created is what provides an opportunity for you to build editorial (or natural) links. 

After all, if there are 10 other sites that are exactly the same, why would a national newspaper link to your site?

The same is true on social media, only great things are shared widely.

Since Google’s Penguin & spam updates, link numbers are only a small factor in what makes sites rank. Quality is absolutely vital, and can help a site to rank much higher than the competition in a short period of time. What’s more, focusing on quality ensures that your high rankings are not easily overtaken.

Essentially, the more difficult a link is to get for free, the higher quality it is.  


What are 2-3 mistakes entrepreneurs make when using SEO tools?

The most common mistake I see with small business is subscribing to tools such as Moz Pro but not using the insights. All the reputable tools work well if used regularly so take a few hours per week to understand the recommendations and act.

Another mistake is chasing cheap and easy advantages. Good SEO takes time, not simply firing up ScrapeBox or Xrumer to drop a few thousand comment links.

The final mistake is ignoring analytics. Your site visitors will help you understand their needs through the way they interact with your site.

Learn how your analytics software works and make sure it’s set up correctly. Figure out what pages & paths convert well, and create more like those.


What secrets can you use in eCommerce to beat the competition if they have 2-3 years head start on you?

Most eCommerce sites try to appeal to a mass market, or a large vertical like “travel”.
It’s big, it’s sexy, and a small share can mean big money. But it’s also competitive, and margins are low.

Online, we have the luxury of reaching customers across the globe for a small cost. This means that small & specialized markets are still large enough to create a very profitable business.


Aligned with the first part of the post, the best secret is to focus on the 0.1% of the global market that can love your business. These customers are your tribe. Make sure your tribe is incredibly happy with your products and service.

Not only can you sell products at higher margins, but those customers will come back again and again, and bring their friends too.

Customer satisfaction should be your killer app.


In your entire career, what are 2-3 things you’ve learned when working for big clients, in terms of SEO?

Large organisations find it difficult to make small changes.

For SEO, this means that the sites are usually full of small problems such as poor title tags, short and boring product descriptions, XML sitemaps with errors, and lots of inbound links to 404 pages.

If you fix these basic SEO ‘hygiene’ issues, the site performance can take a major leap forward thanks to the high site authority and deep backlink profile.

For enterprise sites, SEO hygiene issues are important.

Large businesses are usually good at traditional marketing channels, such as TV & PR, but are challenged when speaking to customers 1-to-1. Smaller businesses can use this opportunity to engage directly with their audience and win passionate, high spending customers.

Great traditional marketing is also good SEO, so large clients almost always have quality backlink profiles and social footprints. Companies that run TV advertising tend to gain more and better quality links faster than competitors.

If you can afford ongoing TV advertising, it does great things for your SEO performance.

Working with any large client means that you have to achieve two things:

Great organic results. A relentless focus on finding opportunities to increase site visibility is required. At the same time, it must be ethical work since a penalised client means the consultant is out of a job.

Make the in-house team look amazing. The second task is to help the in-house team achieve their goals so the business directors are happy. This means going over and above for your client contacts in providing insights, results and value.

Help your in-house contacts do a great job. Then they’ll fight your corner when you need it.



Jack Norell - Blog / Twitter

Jack will be running an 'Ecommerce SEO 101 Workshop' as part of the Taking Ecommerce to the Top Event  on the  2nd April in Brașov, Romania. More information is available here

This article originally appeared in Romanian on here