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Two Content Marketing Strategies for Early-Stage Startup SEO

We’ve worked with over 100 startups over the past three years at Draft.dev, so I’ve heard just about every question about SEO (search engine optimization) you can imagine.

Two of the most common questions that founders and early marketing hires ask me are:

  1. Is SEO worth it for early-stage startups? Does it work?
  2. How should we approach SEO given very limited time and budget?

These are complex questions, but after digging into them many times, here’s what I typically tell people:

Does SEO Work for Early-Stage Startups?

The short answer is: yes, it can.

Even if it takes months to build up content as an organic traffic source, content marketing provides many other benefits to both sales and product-focused startups.

Creating content and optimizing your website for search engines early will help a lot in 6, 12, or 24 months when the efforts really start to pay off.

That said, it’s a waste of time and money if you don’t have some of the fundamentals down first.

Prerequisites for SEO

The only thing that’s constant in an early-stage startup is change. With pivots so common (and often so stark), there are some basic things you want to have in place before you sink a lot of resources into SEO:

  1. Some degree of product-market fit - This doesn’t have to be perfect, but you should know who you serve and what need your product fulfills.
  2. Basic messaging - The way in which you talk about your solution is often instrumental in creating good content. If you don’t have product and company landing pages down yet, don’t worry about SEO yet.
  3. A clear CTA (call to action) - You need something for readers to do after they find your site. Typically, this would be a free trial of your product, a newsletter subscription, or a call booking page.
  4. A basic understanding of SEO (or time to learn) - Staff at early-stage startups are notoriously stretched thin. If nobody on your team understands basic SEO and content, this isn’t going to be the highest leverage strategy for you.

Assuming you have the above in place, you might be ready to start your search engine optimization journey. The next logical question that founders and marketing leads ask me then, is “What kind of content should we create?”

Let’s dive into that question next.

What Kind of Content Works in Early-Stage Startup SEO?

I’ve found that there are two paths early-stage startups can go down when it comes to SEO content creation. The first is more often the right option, but the second can put up some truly impressive numbers if you have the budget.

Path 1: Focus on Conversions

Conversion rate is the percentage of readers that take a desired action (eg: sign up for a trial, schedule a sales call, subscribe to a newsletter, etc.). Content that focuses on conversions does so at the expense of total traffic volume.

The content most likely to convert is typically bottom or middle of the funnel and highly targeted. Because of this, it typically has very low monthly search volume, but high purchase or conversion intent.


For example, if you ran marketing for an SMS API, the keyword “python sms” would be a great keyword to rank for. Developers searching for this tool are likely looking for a tool exactly like yours, so content that shows how well your tool works for sending SMS messages via Python could do well and lead to a lot of conversions.

But, when you look at the keyword volume in ahrefs, you can see that there are only an estimated 350 searches per month for this term.

Python SMS keyword data from ahrefs

That said, the conversion rate for a keyword like “python sms” will likely be much better for you than content that ranks for “python frameworks.

Python frameworks keyword data from ahrefs

There’s more search volume for “python frameworks” (as you can see above), but developers looking for this term are much less likely to be looking for an SMS API.

When to Choose This Path

Low-volume, high-conversion content is best when you want to sell your C-suite on the value of content with a very small budget. You can target just 3-6 keywords, write a few pillar pieces of content, see them rank and show your boss your conversion rates.

Using this early, low-volume success, you’ll be able to sell the team on scaling up your content operation and pursuing keywords further up the funnel.

Path 2: Focus on Capturing Search Marketshare

The other method that early-stage startups use for SEO is to flood their entire niche with lots of relevant content designed to capture as much readership and search volume as possible. This effectively creates a moat that is exponentially harder for competitors to cross without investing even more in content than you are.

Then, after capturing as many high-volume, low-difficulty keywords as possible, you can use your high domain authority and reputation to start turning this top-of-funnel traffic into trials and paid users.

You can also mix in thought leadership and “hot takes” designed to go viral, attract more backlinks, and build brand awareness on social platforms. This allows you to continue ranking new content faster and the virtuous cycle continues.


If you’re focused on capturing as much search traffic as possible, you want to build up a massive list of high-volume, low-difficulty keywords to pursue in your space. These keywords will typically be less focused on your product and more generally aimed at topics that your target audience might read about.

One of our clients, ContainIQ, took this approach to build a Kubernetes blog with over 200,000 visitors every month before they sold in 2023.

Kubernetes keywords with high volume, low difficulty

As you can imagine, you have to create a lot of content in a highly focused area to make this work, but it’s one of the most reliable ways to generate traffic that I’ve ever seen.

When to Choose This Path

The problem with this approach is that it requires significantly more investment in content than the first pathway, and you still won’t see results for a couple months. So, there’s a period of blind faith where you’ll need to spend a lot of resources to get the machine running before you see a couple pieces start to climb in the rankings.

The only times I’ve seen this method of quickly scaling developer content work are when the founders are experienced in content and bullish on it as a long-term asset. Typically, this path will require hiring a few content managers and several freelancers (or agencies) to oversee and optimize the high volume of content you produce.


Whether you choose the high-volume/low-conversion or low-volume/high-conversion path, we highly recommend the topic cluster model for selecting keywords. This ensures that you have opportunities to interlink content and prevents the scattered approach that many unsuccessful content operations take.

If you have questions about early-stage startup SEO or you’d like to learn more about how we work with startups to create technical content at scale, schedule a call with us today.

Karl Hughes

By Karl Hughes

Karl is a former startup CTO and the founder of Draft.dev. He writes about technical blogging and content management.