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Tom Zaragoza
Tom Zaragoza

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SEO For Bootstrapped SaaS Founders

Intro

(Warning: Extra long post ahead. Around 10k words. Grab a coffee, it's going to be a long read!)

If you're here to learn SEO for your bootstrapped business, welcome!

Previously, I was thinking of selling this as a course, but I've decided to instead open source for anyone to read here.

In the following sections, you'll learn the strategies and tactics I used to grow my SaaS product to 50,000 visitors per month. I know this isn't a crazy high number, but these are targetted users visiting the my product's website and trying it out (we get a 50% conversion rate of users).

I hope what you learn here will help you grow your business!

(originally posted on my website here: SEO for Bootstrapped Founders)

Concepts

Before we get into the actionable strategies and tactics, what I’d like to do is paint a picture of concepts around how I think about SEO.

Don’t just get traffic

First, what you should know is that the overall goal of SEO shouldn’t be to just get traffic. Not all traffic is the same.

Instead…

Your goal should be to get your target users visiting your website and interacting with your website in a meaningful way for your business.

In a bootstrapped founder’s case, the goal is getting users who ideally turn into customers.

You can apply this thinking to any type of website. For example, a blog could have the goal of getting readers (users) that subscribe to their newsletter (who could become customers).

An Automated Research Team Of One

Second, once your website is known by the search engines, treat is as an automated research team of 1.

Your marketing website is the most important asset you have at your disposal: it will be collecting first-party data, namely user search keywords, that you can use to fuel your future growth. In Growth + Compounding, you’ll learn just that.

Think of SEO as a campfire

And finally, my favourite way of looking at SEO: as a campfire.

campfire by the mountains

Here’s how I build campfires — maybe it’s similar to how you do it as well.

First, I find the pit or place to build the fire. Then, I properly place large logs into the center of it.

Next, I gather small branches and dried leaves nearby which I place underneath and around the logs. Dried pinecones work really well too, with the added benefit that they smell great once they burn! (Shoutout to Justin of CrowdParty for this one!)

After I’ve gathered enough smaller, dried items, I get a lighter, light up a small branch or get some paper and use that to catch fire from the lighter then place it where the small branches, leaves, and pinecones are so that they catch fire.

If the large logs don’t catch fire after lighting the small branches and dried leaves, I find more small branches and dried leaves to place underneath to try and catch fire again.

I repeat this until the large logs have successfully caught fire! 🔥

What does this have to do with SEO?

Think of the large logs as analogous to your website.

It’s important how those logs were placed so they can get as much exposure to the initial fire to catch, similar to how it’s important that a website has proper structure.

The better the website structure, the better chance the pages getting crawled by search engine bots, pages getting ranked and starts getting organic traffic.

Next, think of gathering the small branches, dried leaves, and dried pinecones and lighting them on fire as the work you will put in to getting organic traffic started. By this I mean content creation, media creation, distributing your content and more.

Eventually, with enough effort in the right direction, the logs will catch fire and keep on burning!

the same way that…

With enough effort in the right direction, you will attract the right users to your website and keep doing so!

Hopefully this paints a decent picture of what it looks like to venture off into SEO.

The Algorithm is a Big Mystery

Before we actually venture off into the article, there’s an important point I’d like to make. It’s that…

No one knows exactly how the search algorithms work

All the tactics that you come across — even the ones in this course — are at best, best guesses for what the algorithm will surface.

This might sound worrying but it’s actually very liberating.

No one knows the exact inputs you need to be able to rank well in the search engines.

But, as I mentioned before, one thing’s for certain:

Give users what they are looking for and you’ll go a long way

Search engines are working hard for the end users just as much as it’s working hard for those providing for those end users.

Search engines are working hard to surface your helpful content to help their users.

If you build within the parameters of the needs of the search engine and their end users — you’ll do great.

Now the big question is: “How do I do this?”

The same way you’re focussed on building your product based on customer feedback, you must apply this same product-minded thinking to your approach in SEO:

You must build and iterate towards the best content for what the user is looking for, using the tools, data, and mental models around SEO that’s available to you.

And that’s what I hope to center your attention and efforts towards in this course!

With that said, let’s dive into the first piece of the puzzle that will lead you to finding out what your users are looking for.

Keyword Research

When people talk about SEO, the first thing they talk about are keywords.

Here’s what you need to know.

Note: as you go along, take note of the highlighted, bolded words. These will be the core concepts you should pay the most attention to. We’ll bring it all together to align it with your growth strategy.

In short, keywords are the words and sentences that your customers are entering into search engines to find your product. But there’s a little bit more to it than that.

Keywords have a few characteristics. The first is based on it’s length:

Short-tail Keywords: these tend to be shorter sentences (1-2 words) that generally cover a topic, but aren’t highly specific.

Long-tail Keywords: these tend to be longer sentences (3+ words) which are more specific to what a user is searching for.

Generally speaking, short-tail keywords are a bit harder to rank for in that they are less specific so more websites and pages are targetting them. For long-tail keywords, since they are longer and more specific, there are less websites and pages targetting long-tail keywords.

To move the needle in your SEO journey, you want to target as many long-tail keywords that are relevant to your business as possible

The reason for this is because of the lower number of competitors ranking for those long-tail keywords.

Let’s say there are 10 long-tail keywords you can go after, but they have a search volume of about 10-20 each.

A group of content around those 10 long-tail keywords can amount to 100-200 visitors per month. That’s pretty good when you’re getting started.

On top of that, you’ll start to see the keywords your pages are ranking for, which will allow you to iterate on your growth using Google Search Console. Keep this in mind - we’ll talk more about that in Growth + Compounding.

Next up, let’s talk about Keyword Intent.

Sometimes also referred to as user intent, keyword intent is the purpose behind the user’s search query. They can be:

Informational

Users searching for “How to…”, “What is…”, “Why does a…”.

Their intent is to learn more about a topic. The informational keywords you should focus on are the “How To” keywords.

Navigational

Users already know about your brand and are trying to find specific pages. Not really a type of keyword to focus on, but good for you to know that it exists, since it means your website is structured properly.

Commercial

Users are entering keywords such as “Buy…”, “Deals…” etc.

Since the audience of this course are bootstrapped SaaS founders, these keywords might not apply, since users don’t really look for the “Buy” page, until after they use your free trial or know who you are.

And finally, the last, and what I think is the most important keyword type:

Product Defining Keywords

These are the keywords that best describe your product.

Why is it important to know these keywords for your business?

Because it’s what the average user is entering into Google to try and find your product.

Now, let me give you more examples with one of my products, Vocalmatic.

Technically speaking, Vocalmatic is transcription software. More specifically, it’s automatic transcription software.

But unless you were already in the industry, you wouldn’t know what the heck transcription is.

So what are typical users entering into Google to find this product?

They are entering:

“audio to text converter”

“video to text converter”

“convert video to subtitles”

“automatic subtitling software”

“automatic captioning software”

and so on.

💡 These keywords were ones that *made the most sense in the head of the users*

That’s the most important part.

Here’s another example.

Let’s say you’re the founder of a social media post scheduling software.

One product defining keyword could be "Automated Tweet Scheduler", and another one could be "Social media post planner".

Product defining keywords are really powerful and should be incorporated into your website!

Brand Keyword

This is simply the name of your product. Your brand name. When people search this on Google, they expect to see your product’s URL right at the top.

When we talk about distribution strategies, we’ll go over how to incorporate your Brand Keyword into your overall SEO strategy.

Discovering Keywords with Free Tools

Now that you know what type of keywords to search for, you need to find more information on your keywords.

As a recap, we’re now on the hunt for Long-Tail Keywords, Informational Keywords, and Product Defining Keywords.

When getting started, you don’t need to spend money on expensive SEO software. There are plenty of free tools out there that you can use.

I’ll summarize the tools you can use here.

Google Auto-Complete

Look no further than Google’s search box itself for keyword inspiration. You can trust these because the auto-complete is based on what other people have been searching for.

The only downside to using Google Auto-Complete is that it doesn’t give you search volume data, so you won’t get an idea of how many searches per month are happening for the keywords you discover using this method.

What this method will give you, however, is what Google thinks people want to find when searching. That’s valuable in itself.

What I like to do is take these keywords and put them into Google Ads Keyword Tool. It will give you a general idea of how many people might be searching for that specific term.

It’s only until you build a page, get it indexed, and check search volume on Google Search Console that you will find out how many people are visiting your website based on that keyword.

Google Ads Keyword Tool

Another tool you can use is the Google Ads Keyword tool.

In here, you’ll know a little more accurate numbers when it comes to search volume. That’s because it’s direct data coming from Google for their ads.

As mentioned before, pair this with using the auto-complete tool on Google and you’ll start to get a better picture of what your search volume is going to look like.

AnswerThePublic

There is a website called AnswerThePublic where you can enter a keyword and find out all the question-type keywords are out there that people are searching for.

This is super helpful for finding Informational keywords around your product.

The types of keywords you want to spot are the “How To” keywords. These are queries where the user wants to learn how to do a particular thing.

Where you come in is answering specifically that query in a blogpost or video and plugging your product in the process.

If you can answer their “How To” question with your product, you’re going to be that much closer to getting a new user!

I’ll go into this a bit more in Content & Media Creation

Your Strategy

In your list of keywords, what you should have is a healthy mix of:

Informational keywords that explain “How To” do the thing your SaaS product is supposed to do.

Product Defining Keywords that covers all the ways your potential user might search for your product on search engines

And finally, long-tail keywords which have less competition for it.

The goal with these types of keywords is the intent behind them, and to position your product where your potential users are searching for you.

Your keywords will be the building blocks of your overall SEO strategy.

In Summary

At the start of your journey, you should have a baseline of keywords that you want to target. Ideally, your keywords cover bottom of funnel searches, such as questions and how-to’s.

With this foundation set, the real growth happens in the later stages. That’s when you will start to discover the other actual keywords that your users are searching for on Google.

Structuring Your Website

Now that you have one part of your foundation — your keywords — the next step in your bootstrapped SEO journey is to build the proper structural foundation of your website.

A properly structured website which also strategically contains the keywords you researched will position your business well for getting discovered organically

Have a look at the following links:

MyApp (an example)

https://myapp.com\
https://myapp.com/industries\
https://myapp.com/industries/education\
https://myapp.com/industries/marketing\
https://myapp.com/industries/law

Vocalmatic

https://vocalmatic.com\
https://vocalmatic.com/languages\
https://vocalmatic.com/languages/english\
https://vocalmatic.com/languages/spanish\
https://vocalmatic.com/languages/french

https://vocalmatic.com/auto-transcribe/mp3-to-text\
https://vocalmatic.com/auto-transcribe/mp4-to-text

https://vocalmatic.com/auto-transcribe/lawyers\
https://vocalmatic.com/auto-transcribe/customer-support\
https://vocalmatic.com/auto-transcribe/marketers

Notice how there are levels to the URL?

First you have your domain, then after the first / you have your next level down.

Let’s define the pages which live in the next level down as nth-level pages where n is the depth of the page in the URL

For all the computer science folks out there, I like to think of these as a Tree Structure:

vocalmatic.com -> root node\
vocalmatic.com/languages -> child nodevocalmatic.com/languages/english -> child node of a child node (leaf node)…and so on

Where english is a 3rd-level page and languages is a 2nd-level page

Why is this important?

Search engines send out a bot that will crawl the Internet and it’s websites, with the goal of sending back what it finds, so search engines can try to make sense of it.

If your website is structured properly with an understandable, logically grouped hierarchy, it will make the crawl easier for the bot and help search engines make better sense of your website.

Which helps search engines make better decisions on which content to surface to their users.

Category Pages

Structurally, this is how to think about organizing your website.

But in terms of how to logically group your pages, it’s best to think of your 2nd-level pages as Category Pages

One classic example is Industries. There might be multiple industries that could benefit from using your product — in this case, each industry can become it’s own landing page.

You can structure your website as follows:

myapp.com/industry -> 2nd-level page linking to 3rd-level pages\
myapp.com/industry/education -> 3rd-level page of the actual industry\
myapp.com/industry/film -> same\
myapp.com/industry/medical -> same

These categories let you logically group these pages based on related subtopics of your main website’s topic.

As for the content of these pages, we’ll cover that in Content and Media Creation.

An Example Out In The Wild

Let’s talk about my SaaS product, Vocalmatic.

In the links above, you’ll see that there are two different 2nd-level pages that live below the domain (root):

/languages\
/auto-transcribe

and within each of the 2nd-level pages, there are these pages:

/languages/english\
/languages/spanish\
/languages/french

/auto-transcribe/mp3-to-text\
/auto-transcribe/mp4-to-text

/auto-transcribe/lawyers\
/auto-transcribe/customer-support\
/auto-transcribe/marketers

Here’s the strategy behind this:

For /languages, I added pages underneath it to support what /languages is all about.

It’s also grouped logically → language related pages live under /languages . Easy enough.

But take a look at /auto-transcribe, what I did was added various types of 3rd-level supporting pages:

→ Lawyers, customer support, marketer

These are pages for the types of people and industries that could benefit from my product.

→ MP3 to Text, MP4 to Text

These are actual keywords that I discovered during my keyword research.

Where possible, create 2nd-level pages which are **Product Defining Keywords, and have multiple, relevant 3rd-level pages underneath it**

As in the example above with mp3 to text, your 3rd-level pages can also have a slug that is a product defining keyword.

The more these types of keywords intrinsically live on your website’s structure, the better.

Now, exact match in the URL doesn’t directly give ranking signals, but imagine the customer search journey, where they see your result and see your URL matching their query, they might be more enticed to click through.

What should be on these pages?

We’ll go over this more in Content and Media Creation, but you want to write unique content on each and every single one of these pages.

It’s tedious and a lot of work, but there’s a reason for this:

When you create multiple pages with unique content, it increases your website’s Keyword Surface Area

What is Keyword Surface Area?

Let me explain what I mean by keyword surface area.

Imagine a plant. Most plants like sunlight. For the plant to thrive, it needs water, a great environment and access to plenty of sunlight.

Leave a plant with plenty of room to grow and you’ll notice that the plant will branch off into more parts so it can gather more sunlight with more surface area.

The same principle applies to your website — as you create more pages on your website, you’re branching out and creating pages (leaves) that will gather more keywords (sunlight).

This is what I mean by increasing your Keyword Surface Area.

Increased Keyword Surface Area == Increased Competitve Advantage

On each page that you write, if Google ranks that page, it means there are keywords associated with that page that is appearing on Google search for. This is where your impressions come from.

This is a first-person source. It’s the actual keywords you can build around because you know for a fact that Google is showing this page exactly for these terms.

It’s one thing to get some data from Google Ads Keywords and other apps

But it’s another thing to get them straight from Google Web Console.

Most importantly, this data with this type of accuracy will not appear on other 3rd-party SEO keyword tools. **This data is yours to iterate on!**

In Growth + Compounding, we’ll cover how to iterate on your keyword surface area.

In Summary

Structure your website properly so search engine crawl bots can easily make sense of what your website is about. In the process, you’re preparing your website structure so that when you do create content, you can easily follow a system for choosing where to place your newly created content.

We also covered the idea of Keyword Surface Area, which is the concept that as you generate more content on your website, you’re creating more opportunities for keyword data collection that you can iterate on to further your growth.

Content and Media Creation

In Structuring Your Website, we went over website structure using nth-level pages and talked about Keyword Surface Area.

In this section, we're going to build on everything that we've covered so far and how it all ties together. From Keywords to Website Structure.

Before we go into the strategies and tactics of content and media creation, there's a few SEO concepts we need to cover as a pre-requisite

SERPs & Search Journey

In SEOLand, there's a concept of the Search Engine Results Page or SERP for short.

The SERP itself is an ever-evolving landscape. It's full of ads, images, videos, articles — all with the end goal of the search engine giving the end user what they are searching for.

Bernard Huang, Founder of Clearscope likes to call it the Search Engine Results Puzzle instead and I agree with him! That clearly explains the user journey and the puzzle that they have to figure out to get to the answer they are looking for.

What does this have to do with you?

Well, regardless of what SERP stands for (puzzle or page), there's something inherent about it in the results page itself — the search engine is making it's best guess of what type of media the user wants to see for their query.

This is called SERP Intent

Doing a quick search and getting an idea of the other content out there that is ranking for the query you tested is important in guiding you on what content to build.

It also gives you an idea of the gaps that your competitors have in the content that they are ranking for, finding out if the content that appear on the SERP is also missing other elements like videos that might better explain for the search query they entered.

The Strategy

There are two types of pages that need to be part of your website: Conversion Pages and Bottom of the Funnel Pages

Conversion Pages

These pages are created with the sole purpose of converting a visitor into a user.

What your customer is thinking when they land on your conversion page is:

"Will this product solve the problem(s) I have?"

Your goal is to convince the visitor the answer is "yes"

Bottom Of The Funnel Pages

In marketing, there is the concept of a funnel which is divided into 3 parts: Top, Middle, Bottom. These describe the stage your customer is on on their journey towards becoming your customer.

Top and middle are where the customer is doing their initial research around your product. They are gathering more information around their problem and starting to narrow down the path they wish to take to solve their problems.

The bottom of the funnel is where they are much closer to a conversion. They have an idea of what the solution might look like, and are looking for that piece of content that goes into detail on how to solve their problem.

This is where you want to focus your efforts when you're creating bottom of the funnel pages.

Let's Go Into More Detail

We just covered two types of pages that your website should contain. In this section, we'll cover the types within those types of pages that you must create.

For Conversion Pages, these are:

  • SEO Landing Pages
  • "For Who" SEO Landing Pages
  • "Features" SEO Landing Pages

For Bottom of The Funnel Pages, these are:

  • Blogposts

SEO Landing Pages

The concept of nth-level pages helped illustrate how to structure your website, but the pages themselves are also called SEO Landing Pages

All SEO Landing Pages are Conversion Pages:

They are short, to the point, and optimized for converting that visitor into a user

Building your SEO Landing Pages

Let's start building your landing pages.

Pull up your list of Product Defining Keywords

They are going to be the focus of your landing pages — these are called your target keywords

For each product defining keyword, create a page. That keyword should appear in the following places:

  • The <title></title> tag, ideally at the start of the tag
  • The <h1></h1> tag, ideally at the start of the tag
  • Naturally appear in the description metatag. Don't sound robotic here.
  • And in the URL slug itself, separated by hyphens.

Note: While having the URL slug match exactly with a search query won't instantly shoot your page up the search engine rankings, what you're really aiming for is increasing the chances that the user clicks through to your website when seeing your website on search results.

Where to place the landing page?

2nd-level is the ideal spot to place these landing pages.

So, for example with Vocalmatic:

https://vocalmatic.com/video-to-text-converter

What else should go on the page?

Your SEO landing page should consist of copy that is aimed at explaining why that particular visitor should try out your product.

For a comprehensive outline of what an optimized conversion landing page should be, read up on Julian Shapiro's article on Creating Landing Pages.

But to get you started, here are key features of an SEO landing page you should include:

Benefits of your product

You should clearly illustrate that you understand the visitor by writing copy that speaks to their needs.

In the copy of your website, make sure to tell them exactly what it is they will get out of using your product.

Features of your product worth highlighting

A lot of advice out there says to focus more on benefits over features, but there's nothing wrong with adding your features to your SEO landing pages.

Think about your user: they are browsing these pages hoping to find a solution to their problem.

Having features outlined on the page could let that visitor know that a particular feature solves their exact problem and lead them to convert on your page.

Don't discount having features described on your landing pages!

Quick glance into the future: the features described on these landing pages could serve as internal links to your "Features" SEO Landing Pages. Just wanted to give you a heads up on how to think about this — more on this topic in Distribution.

Pictures, Videos, Gifs of your Product

Visitors want to see visuals of your product to decide if they want to use it or not. Help them see that your product is for them with pictures, videos, and GIFs.

Answers to questions about your product

Remember your Informational Keywords?

Specifically, your "How To" or "How Do I" keywords?

Dedicate a section of your SEO landing page to answer these questions in bullet point form.

Don't use up too much space on the page for this. Remember, the goal of this page is a conversion and you don't want to distract them with too much copy.

You will also want to make sure to add the appropriate schema for Q&A so that search engines know to surface these questions when people search for these specific questions as queries.

Here are some docs you can read up on provided by Google:

https://developers.google.com/search/docs/advanced/structured-data/intro-structured-data

Write unique content specific to your visitor

Here's an example of an SEO landing page that illustrates this tactic:

https://vocalmatic.com/auto-transcribe/lawyers

For this page, I was targetting the keyword: automatic transcription for lawyers

After the fold, there's a section that reads:

Automatically transcribe your Depositions, Court Hearings, Interviews, and More!\
Vocalmatic makes it easier for you to turn any audio recordings you may have into text.\
As a lawyer, you probably need time for many other things.\
Let Vocalmatic save you time transcribing your audio files into text.\
CTA HERE

Notice that I wrote copy to show the visitor I understood what it is they were trying to transcribe. I made sure to add that to the header of section.

For each and every landing page targetted at a specific demographic, I wrote a unique piece like this

So I encourage you to think: what are the unique pieces of content you can write on your landing pages?

Dedicating time to write each and every single one per landing page could give you a slight edge on the search rankings.

Thankfully, this page that I created ranks about 2-3 on the search results page.

About 10-15 minutes of coming up with a unique piece helped with ranking this page!

"For Who" SEO Landing Pages

When it comes to SEO Landing Pages, one of the more powerful ones to focus on I like to call the "For Who" landing pages.

These are simply landing pages that answer the question: Who is this product for?

In the section above, I gave an example of a "For Who" landing page specifically targetted for lawyers.

Again, the idea spot for placing these pages on your website at the 2nd-level.

Why does this work?

Different jobs have different workflows. Sometimes the pages targetting these people search for software specifically for their usecase.

Your goal is to be ahead of the search query by creating these pages. When visitors search for:

<product defining keyword> for <target demographic>

Your landing page will be there for them to click on!

"Product Features" SEO Landing Pages

A great opportunity for 2nd-level pages are what I call "Product Features" landing pages.

Note: although 2nd-level pages can house all your product features on one page, I'll leave it up to you to decide if it should follow this structure. Sometimes, your product could have a lot of features that you can write about, so having a 2nd-level category page called /features with 3rd-level pages under /features to write more in depth about each feature could make more sense.

On these pages, make sure to clearly explain why this feature is relevant to the user's overall goal of solving the problem they have.

With that, let's talk more another type of page — blogposts.

Blogposts

Everyone recommends building a blog for your product and that's for many good reasons.

First, it's an owned media meaning it's a channel that you directly own and operate. You can write about anything you want.

Second, a blogpost can be treated as another type of product and repurposed. We'll talk more about how this can further your reach in Distribution.

And finally, the blogpost can help with increasing your keyword surface area!

Let's talk about what to write in your blogposts.

Focus on Bottom Of Funnel "How To" Informational Keywords

In the SEO landing page section, I mentioned that on your landing pages you can have answers to your "How To" keywords on there, but they must be short and in bulletpoint form.

You might have thought: "Well, where can I answer these questions in more detail, then?"

The answer is in your blogposts!

When starting out with writing your blog and blogposts, you need to focus on the bottom of the funnel content — "How To" blogposts are perfect for this.

Write in great detail about how the visitor can use your product to solve their problem and remember to use screenshots and videos on this blogpost to fully engage your reader.

In terms of the blogpost title, you can use the following formula to get an idea:

How to <the workflow of user> with our <feature>

An example might be: How to create videos with our video creator

Or simply: How to <the workflow of user>

And with that blogpost, you can add links back to landing pages related to that blogpost itself.

The Importance of these blogposts

From an SEO perspective, long-form blogposts are great for increasing your keyword surface area. You will be able to uncover new topics to cover based on the keywords your blogpost is able to attract.

It's also easy to update blogposts when the content is outdated or if you can add more relevant content to the blogpost.

And finally, longer-form blogposts tend to be very linkable and shareable. People link to or share blogposts they find helpful, valuable or interesting.

The thinking behind creating all these pages

It might sound like I'm just suggesting that you create these pages randomly, but there's a reason for it all.

Think about what will these pages do for your business. How does it relate back to your business?

Main website → Landing Pages (for conversion) → Blogpost (for conversion, shareability, ranking & repurposability)

Things to note

Alright, that's a good amount of info to get you started. But there's a few things you should be aware of:

You shouldn't expect all your pages to rank

You're going to spend a good amount of time writing and creating these pages, but the reality of it is a good number of these pages won't get ranked highly or even at all.

What happens is most businesses end up having 2-4 pages that their entire business is anchored on when it comes to SEO. So really it ends up being a numbers game of creating as many high value pages as possible.

At times, it might seem like wasted work, but here's a quick refresher on why this is important:

  • You're working to increase your keyword surface area so you can hone in on what’s working and collect more data
  • You're also building a website that acts as an automated keyword research team

In the end, a handful of your pages are what will get ranked on search engines, but these pages themselves will be bringing in a lot of users to your website.

Don't worry too much about 0 volume keywords

Keyword research tools are great, but they don't have all the data.

So if you come across a keyword tool that says a keyword has 0 volume, don't worry.

Keep in mind: your end users are all that matter. If the keyword makes sense for what you are building and it's relevant to your business, I'd say go ahead and try to rank for it.

Create that piece of content, place it within your website and do the work to get it discovered.

Sometimes, you'll be pleasantly surprised that the page gets ranked & pulls in new keywords.

It's just another ace up your sleeve when it comes to building a moat!

Distribution

There’s a saying in the startup world:

First time founders are obssessed with product. Second time founders are obsessed with distribution.

This section is all about how to widen your organic reach further via distribution.

The Strategy

You’ve been doing a lot of work up until this point: creating content like blogposts, landing pages, videos on YouTube, and structuring your website for optimal crawlability.

Now, let’s switch gears a bit to outline your distribution strategy — which is to make it as easy as possible for your customers to find your content and, as a result, your product.

This section will be a lot more tactical than it is strategic.

But before we go into the tactics, there’s a few SEO concepts we need to cover as a pre-requisite.

What are Internal Links?

First, let’s talk about internal links.

Put simply, they are links from one page of your website that points to another page of your website. For example, a link from your homepage to a 2nd-level landing page is an internal link.

But how does this relate your SEO strategy?

You can strategically link to pages within your website from pages that are already ranking well on search engines.

Doing so helps pass what is called “Link Juice” to the linked page.

What is Link Juice?

Link Juice is a slang term in the industry that refers to the power that a backlink (in this case, an internal backlink) passes to another page which strengthens it’s ranking ability.

When one page is ranking highly on search engine results and it links to another page within your website, it gives that page some link juice which helps search engines know that it’s another page that should be considered for ranking as well.

Keep these concepts in mind as we go through the tactics.

The Tactics

Backlink Farming

I know, I know.

Most people would simply call this “getting backlinks”, but let’s add a more descriptive image to this process.

When building out your distribution, your goal is to attract and gather as many backlinks as possible — and it’s a lot of work, hence the farming!

As you venture off into the Internet to start farming your backlinks, you should know about the types of backlinks: do-follow, no-follow, and implied backlinks

Do-Follow Backlinks

These are the holy grail of links. When a website points back to a page on your website without specifying rel=nofollow, they are telling search engines that yes, we’d like to transfer some link juice back to the place we are linking to, and yes crawl it and check this page out.

This does wonders for your search engine rankings. It’s not an exact science — no one really knows exactly how search engines use backlinks to rank content, but they are important nonetheless.

Generally speaking, the more do-follow backlinks a website gets, the higher it’s domain authority, and the higher chance that search engines ranks it’s content well on search results pages.

No-Follow Backlinks

These are links back to your website, but the anchor text has the property rel="nofollow", which signal to search engine crawlers to ignore the link.

Now, even if it tells crawlers not to go follow through on the link…

Don’t forget that users can still click it!

If the link is relevant to the user, they could click through and end up on a page on your website. And if the content is what the user is looking for and they stay a while, that’s a win.

Don’t discount no-follow backlinks. They can still serve your bottom line of getting visitors that convert into customers.

Implied Backlinks

There’s also the concept of implied backlinks, which are simply brand mentions.

Although they are not direct <a></a> links, search engines like Google takes note of mentions of your brand.

This goes back to when I mentioned that everything you do as a founder is SEO. The more you grow your business, the more people talk about it.

And the more people talk about your brand, the more the search engines take notice and this could help your rankings in the long run.

An important note regarding Backlink Farming before we go on

You’ll notice that the term “building backlinks” gets thrown around in SEO circles.

It’s somewhat of an outdated concept but there is merit to it when starting out.

Right after this, I’ll show you a way to jumpstart your backlink building efforts, but central to the philosophy behind Bootstrapped SEO is this:

Build content & media that is compelling enough to attract backlinks naturally

Personally, I haven’t gone down the route of buying guest posts on other websites and I have no doubts that that approach works.

But as a founder that’s building a product while building up SEO, I found that spending my energy on increasing keyword surface area while collecting and iterating on the incoming keyword data from Google Search Console to be very effective.

Later on in Growth + Compounding, I’ll show you ways that you can leverage your skills as a product developer to build media that will be compelling enough to attract these backlinks organically, without having to do cold-email or relationship management with other website owners.

With that covered, let’s move on to our first distribution tactics!

Profile Linking, Launching, and Submitting to Directories

Here’s a 3-in-1 tactic.

First up, Profile Linking

Straightfoward tactic - just create profiles of your product on websites, usually social media platforms that get indexed, forums, and anywhere else, and add your link to the profile.

For the most part, these links will end up being no-follow links, or just redirects, but remember what I said about these links: if they are relevant to users, they will click through.

This is a very low-effort way to get some sort of links pointing back to your website. At the very least, your brand name will be out there. Don’t spend too much time on this — it won’t have an absolutely massive impact on your SEO. All we’re doing is covering the basics.

Next up, Launching

This is a favorite in the maker community — submit your product to the likes of BetaList and Product Hunt.

But what gets missed is what happens after you submit your product for launch on those platforms: other websites pick up on the product and write about it on their websites.

These websites rely on the likes of ProductHunt or BetaList for their content, so it’s a simple way to get your product name out there.

And finally, Submitting to Directories

There are plenty of websites out there that list products and are looking for people like you to submit their products to them.

Find as many directories out there as you can and submit your product! It’s a tactic similar to Profile Linking, except instead of making a personal profile, it’s using your product instead.

If you want to skip the work required to find places to submit your product, check out fellow maker Xavier Coiffard’s product Spread The World to find as many as possible places to post your product!

This brings me to a key mindset shift you should adopt:

Look for opportunities to submit your product where it will get picked up by other websites and written about, effectively multiplying your distribution efforts

Internal Linking

Next up, we have internal linking.

Here’s a powerful notion I want you to think about:

Once you have various landing pages from your website that are ranking and getting traffic, you now own a distribution channel.

This is something you can leverage further for growing your website.

How? Through internal linking!

Internal Linking your SEO Landing Pages

Let’s talk about how to get your SEO landing pages discovered.

Step 1

Once you’ve created multiple SEO landing pages as 2nd-level pages, simply link to them in your footer.

That way, when people visit your pages that are already getting ranked and are generating traffic, there will be a direct link to these landing pages to get discovered by the search engine crawlers and your visitors.

Check out a few of the “For Who” pages and other landing pages on the right of the footer of Vocalmatic:

Repeat this for as many SEO landing pages that you create, but don’t overcrowd the footer.

Step 2

For maximum discoverability, for each page that lives under a category, create internal links to other pages within that category.

Don’t go too crazy here — create enough links for a visitor or a spider crawling the page to navigate to other pages within that category. Since these landing pages are based on your keywords, you can choose which pages to link to based on the keyword search volume to help you narrow down which pages to link to.

To put it more concretely, if you have a category at the 2nd-level, and under that category page you have multiple 3rd-level pages, create internal links between your 3rd-level pages.

Reasoning behind this

As some of your pages begin to rank on search engines and get traffic, the internal links are ready to serve as a “pointer” to other pages on your website that are worth checking out for both visitors and spiders crawling your website.

This leads to a better navigational experience & UX for users to find what they are looking for and for crawlers to get a better understanding of what your website is about.

In addition to that, creating links to pages within your website reduces the number of orphaned pages on it. This makes it possible to surface your content to the search engines and get discoverd.

Blogpost Links to Landing Pages

In Content and Media Creation, we talked about creating both blogposts and landing pages.

When creating these two types of content, you want them to be complementary. What I mean by that is they will cover the same general topic around your keywords, but each page will serve slightly different purposes from an SEO and traffic perspective and work together to serve your overall goals.

Let’s contrast the two types of pages.

Role of the Blogpost

Blogposts tend to be more in-depth and instructional. They also allow for you to update the blogpost more often than a landing page.

As a result, you can consistently iterate on a blogpost to improve the content in it.

For example, if you add a new section to the page, you are also adding to the Keyword Surface Area of the blogpost itself — and by extension, your website.

Because of these properties, your blogposts will be the primary vehicle for ranking on search engines. You can then use this ranking + traffic to internally link to other pages on your website.

Another thing to note: blogposts tend to be what gets shared on the Internet, so that is another avenue for discoverability.

Role of the SEO Landing Page

On the other hand, landing pages are not meant to be as in-depth as blogposts, but are optimized for converting users. They will of course contribute to the overall Keyword Surface Area of your website, but should remain focussed on the goal of converting visitors into users.

Let’s talk about how to use and connect these two types of pages.

Step 1

Start with your “How-To” informational keywords. Choose the keyword to target that is closely related to the problem that your product solves for customers. Ultimately, you’re going to funnel the user from this blogpost to a conversion optimized landing page where the reader will hopefully convert into a user.

Step 2

Next, create an in-depth descriptive blogpost on how to do X in relation to your product. Make sure to include detailed steps, explained through media such as photos, videos, and GIFs. This will keep your visitors engaged.

Step 3

And finally, where it makes sense within your blogpost, create backlinks to the landing page which should also answer the How-To informational keyword on the landing page.

In Summary

Just to recap, the blogpost serves as content to get ranked, discovered, and that can be regularly updated, whereas the landing page serves to convert visitors into users.

Now, at this point, you should have:

  • Landing pages internally linking to each other
  • Blogposts which complement landing pages where the blogposts link to the landing pages

But the missing component to these landing pages is actual traffic. This is where your first external tactic comes into play.

Coattailing

To understand coattailing, it’s best to first understand Domain Authority.

Although it’s not a direct metric, but one that was invented by the SEO industry, in particular a company called Moz, it’s a great indicator of if pages under your domain will rank on search engines.

When starting out, your website is not going to have a high domain authority — meaning that the pages you create won’t get the best visibility on search engines.

So, the best strategy here is to piggyback off the domain authority of popular websites for distributing your content.

The benefits here are twofold:

  1. As mentioned, because their domain authority is much higher than yours, there’s a better chance their content will rank on search results pages
  2. These platforms tend to have their own discoverability mechanisms built in — their own micro search engines if you will. This gives your content the chance to get discovered on their platforms as well, where other search engines are in addition to that.

Using your Blogposts for Coattailing

Let’s use your blogposts as an example.

You can post it on your blog, but the problem is no one will know that it exists on your blog — meaning it won’t get discovered on search engines if your website is new.

What you can do to fix this is post it on a larger blogging platform, such as Medium, or Dev.to, or hashnode.dev — websites that do have a great domain authority — and you leave it up to these platforms to rank your written blog post.

The only thing you need to do is link to your blog post using a canonical link so search engines do not penalize you for duplicate content.

Here’s an article on canonical links: Canonical Links: The Ultimate Guide

Think of the user and traffic flow from doing this:

  • You post your blogpost on a platform
  • Visitors read your blogpost on a trusted platform
  • They realize that your product solves their issue
  • They are enticed to click through to your landing page, wherever you added a link

And remember, your landing page is optimized for conversions, so a percentage of visitors will convert into users.

I also wanted to point out something else out that we touched on earlier — the goal of SEO is to get targetted traffic visiting your website. Getting traffic from a place such as another blogging platform shouldn’t matter as much, so long as they are visiting your landing page and converting into a user.

And that’s the core concept behind coattailing — you post your media on websites that have better domain authority than yours, taking advantage of the fact that their pages will rank on search engines better, then linking back to your original content on your website.

Over time, as your website’s domain authority improves, you will be able to post content on your own blog and you don’t need to solely rely on the distribution abilities of other platforms to rank that blogpost — their distribution will simply be the cherry on top of your own distribution!

At this early stage, you are simply borrowing their authority to help build up your own website’s traffic initially.

Repurposing

Now, let’s take the concept of coattailing even further.

Up until now, we’ve focussed on blogposts and written content.

But written content isn’t the only types of media you can create. You can also create videos and audio recordings.

Think about repurposing in this way:

For every media that you create, whether it’s a new feature of your product, a blogpost, video, or podcast recording, you should think about and find all the various places that these media can live. You job is then to post that media in those places to leverage that platform’s visibility so you can benefit from getting discovered as a result.

At it’s core, repurposing is all about multiplying your distribution efforts with a fixed input. For every piece of media you create, there is possibly a > 1 number of places this media can live. You’re looking for the One-To-Many opportunities to distribute your content.

So, how do we do this?

Let’s start off with the blogposts you’ve written and build a repurposing workflow that you can apply.

Step 1

Choose you best performing blogposts in terms of traffic and conversions. Stick with traffic & clicks as the metrics if conversions aren’t fully tracked.

Then, record a video which simply talks about the content of the blogpost.

It’s up to you to decide on how creative you want to get with your videos, but a video of you just re-reading your content will do!

Step 2

Post this video to YouTube and within the title of video, add the title of the blogpost. Make sure to

also add a description which will include a link to your website and to the blogpost itself.

This opens you up to exposure on YouTube, the second largest search engine in the world.

You can repeat this multiple times for other video platforms out there for all the blogposts you choose.

Step 3

Rip the audio from this YouTube video and create a podcast with it.

Many podcasting software out there distributes your episodes to the likes of Google Podcasts, Spotify, Apple Podcasts and more. Extremely high domain authority websites and platforms. Not to mention, your podcast will live on the subdomain of the podcast hosting website as well.

When creating the podcast, make sure to add in the description of the episode, actual links to your website and your blogpost.

The amazing thing is that those description links get turned into actual links on those platforms. That results in a backlink from those super high domain authority websites.

Not only that, but there are plenty of other podcast directory websites out there that do the same thing and sources their podcast from feeds directly. It’s just backlinks on backlinks.

Look at this repurposing framework as a function:

For every blogpost created, you can repurpose it into a video and audio, which can then be distributed in their respective platforms for more reach and visibility.

For every blogpost created
-> Repurpose into video
-> Post that video on various video platforms
-> Repurpose video into audio
-> Post create a podcast and get it listed on podcasting directories
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Repurposing Code

Why stop at media such as blogposts, videos, and audio? It’s also possible to repurpose code!

I don’t mean to open-source and distribute your product’s code, but instead to:

Make your core product available in other platforms

My favorite example are Chrome Extensions.

Think about where extensions live — The Google Web Store. You can have a listing on there, with your brand name, and even a few links from the store itself.

Not only that, but being a directory, there are other websites out there that aggregate listings on the extension Web Store which will be another dsitribution point for your product and your brand name.

This is the tactic of Coattailing at play once again.

Integrations

Similar to repurposing code, building integrations with other platforms where it makes sense will also help with distribution.

Growth + Compounding

At this point, you should have all the foundations set, made use of several distribution channels, and are generating the targetted traffic you’re after.

The goal of this section is to outline what you can do next to really get the compounding growth effects to take place.

Strategy

Over the sections, we’ve covered the core strategies of the Bootstrapped SEO approach:

  • Attracting your target users that will interact with your business in a meaningful way
  • Obsessing over increasing your Keyword Surface Area
  • and strategically distributing your content & media all over the internet to get discovered

The tactics in this section will build even more on these strategies.

I’m pretty excited you’re finally here, so let’s get started.

Tactics

Iterating on your Keyword Surface Area

Regardless of which tactic we cover, the core strategy remains the same - to increase keyword surface area and to iterate on this new data. The best part of this new data that you’re attracting from an increased keyword surface area is now a first-party data source that only you can see.

What do I mean by iterate on this new keyword data?

As you’ve created more and more content on your website, it will have attracted new keywords from Google itself. Using Google Search Console, you can find keywords that your content ranked for but does not get any clicks. It’s this data that you can use to either update your content or create new content, while taking into account where to place in your website structure.

We’re going to cover Google Search Console, one of the most powerful free tools in your arsenal. It comes with a lot of data and tools to help you discover what you can iterate on.

Engineering as Marketing

One of my favorite books, Traction, talks about engineering as marketing as a traction channel.

To summarize the tactic, it’s using your engineering skills to create micro-apps and micro-products related to your core business to drive awareness and traffic to it.

Think of the free products you can build that will support your core business. Some examples include calculators, games, mini-search engines, or even a core feature of your business that you can remove a login screen from.

These are powerful because they are very interactive and they can be shared. Not to mention, a bit harder to replicate vs a piece of content.

Also remember that since these are actual products, you can apply the same distribution strategies and tactics covered in Distribution for each one that you build.

Some examples

Vocalmatic → Podcast search engine, subtitle converter, pronounciation practice

Finance Apps & Banks → Mortgage Calculators, Investment Calculators, Dividend Calculators

And my favourite example:

Shopify → Think about all the other things you need to do when running an eCommerce store:

Privacy Policy generator, Logo Designer, Shipping Label Printer, and so on

Build micro-apps into your product offering, for free, at the 2nd-level and you’ll be able to attract users to your business.

Where to place your micro-products

You have a few options:

  • Place the micro-app as a 2nd-level page
  • For example, bigbank.com/mortgage-calculator
  • It’s own domain (gives you another reason to buy one!)
  • or on a subdomain

Ideally, you should place it as a 2nd-level page because when it’s shared and posted on the internet, it’s a backlink that is tied directly to your main domain.

However, sometimes it’s not technically feasible and the other two options of putting it on a domain or a subdomain works as well.

If you go this route, the important thing is that your app must have a link back to your main website — something like a “Made By X” link.

Acquiring Traffic Generating Websites

As a bootstrapper, I’d like to share this idea with you. Acquiring websites that have traffic actually is a more meta approach to growing.

But before I get into that, let’s cover why you should acquire traffic generating websites.

If you can find a website that is related to your product’s niche that already has traffic, it’s a great way to build another traffic source for your website as well. Simply acquire the website and add links to your main product from that website and you will start to funnel users to your main website.

This has a few benefits:

  • If the website has a good domain authority, those backlinks will help your main website
  • Since it’s relevant to your product, you will be funneling targetted users to your main website

What can you do with your newly acquired website?

  • Deploy some capital from your main business to build out the content marketing on the new website
  • Apply the same principle of iterating on keyword surface area to this website and it’s content
  • Distribute and cross-post the content on your main business’ website to this new website, adding in canonical links

Now, about why this is a meta approach to growing as a bootstrapped founder:

As you acquire more websites, you can start to build a small portfolio of content websites.

This gives you your own launchpad for building new products. When you come up with a new idea and decide to build it out, you can lean on the traffic coming from your small portfolio of content websites to bring targetted traffic in to your new product.

For example, if you have a small network of health related websites and you decide “Hey, I’m going to build a meditation app”, you can use these websites to push this meditation app.

It’s an extremely powerful move you can make if you’re a serial bootstrapper!

Affiliate Program

By creating an affiliate program for your product, you’re effectively building out a small army of marketers that are willing to post your link wherever they promote.

Recall back in Distribution where we discussed, even if it’s a no-follow link, but it’s relevant to users, they will click through and view your website.

However, say for example people that sign up to be an affiliate for your product has a blog with decent traffic, in the niche you are in. When they write an article on your product and link to it with their affiliate link, you will get that backlink, especially if you use an affiliate service that lets you use your domain as part of URL that affiliates get.

If that’s the case and they post this link all over the internet, you could get those sweet do-follow backlinks without doing any extra work!

Translation

Most of the time, website can be translated into another language and open up the doors to an even larger user base.

And given that there is plenty of competition for products in English, you can branch out to another language that is underserved.

Although this is a great way to expand your reach, there are a few things you should watch out for

Do not use Google Translate

Search engines such as Google can tell if you are simply running your website copy through Google Translate. You don’t want to be doing this because the translations will not be native and it’s prett spammy.

Instead, you need to hire a native speaker to translate your website for you. They will know the nuances of sentences and how they are actually said in their native language so your website will be properly localized to them

Do not translate if your customer support can’t handle it

You will be getting new customers that speak a particular language. This means you need to have the proper customer support infrastructure to handle requests that these new customers will have.

If you cannot support new languages, it might not be worth your time to pursue this avenue.

More to come

This isn’t an exhaustive list of growth + compounding tactics and strategies. They are simply the ones that I’ve deployed and have seen work.

Same principles apply — when you create an integration, you can become an app on another high-authority domain where you brand name and backlinks can live.

Summary

Overall, the biggest takeaway of this section should be the following:

  • Leverage the media you create, whether that is written, video, audio, and code as products themselves
  • Distribute them to their respective platforms, as well as to those platform’s competitors
  • Let the discovery mechanisms on each of these platforms run it’s course so that your media will also get discovered in the process

In esssense, an effective distribution strategy is bringing together: **Media Creation + Repurposing & Coattailing**

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