Stephan Aarstol Talks Building a Business with Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Everyone knows they need to optimize their company websites for SEO, but most only think about it after the fact.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is an essential tool for small businesses. SEO improves Google page rank, leading to more prominence in search results. Higher search results lead to more clicks, which can lead to more sales, and so on. However, a lot of small business owners overlook the fact that SEO can actually be the basis — not just an accelerator — for business.

When you get down to it, any startup boils down to two tasks: knowing what to sell and selling it. Most people think SEO lives firmly in the “selling” category, but it actually has great potential for initial market research. Good keyword research can tell you exactly what to sell.


Leveraging Keyword Data for Market Research

A few years ago, a friend took me out on a stand up paddle (SUP) board, and I fell in love with the sport. Already an entrepreneur, I was always looking for new business ideas.

After my outing, I did initial research and discovered a “sneaky big” market. Stand up paddle boarding wasn’t just popular among surfers. It was growing in popularity with everyone from fitness buffs to yogis and the older generation seeking a new hobby.

By doing a simple keyword search, I instantly understood what the market wanted. There was no expensive market research or months of planning needed. All I had to do was look at what paddle boarders were searching for and build it.

My keyword research also indicated a larger demand than I originally expected. Meanwhile the companies selling stand up paddle (SUP) boards weren’t very Internet-savvy. Opportunity was knocking.

After initial research and product development, those same keywords brought in customers. Because this is an ongoing source, I did not need expensive salesmen or account managers; SEO did all of the legwork for me.


Lean Startups Don’t Equal Lean SEO

In the startup world, there’s a lot of talk about going lean. In a lean startup, you focus on the very basic things you need to get your product into the market. This means: no human resources manager, no extra sales staff, and no trained PR people. With limited cash and resources, it’s go lean or die.

But for many startups and existing small businesses you don’t need to do more with less. Instead, small business owners should focus on how SEO can help to replace these types of duties and keep your business growing with little overhead.

SEO-centric businesses aren’t hard to start or run. It just takes a little know-how and some legwork. Here are several quick tips to get started:

  • Do your keyword research first. By using a tool like WordTracker, this becomes your market research and customer discovery phase. Use keyword research to confirm demand for a certain kind of product or service.
  • Create an exceptional service or product. Today’s SEO game is about making great things easily available. If you don’t have something great to offer, you’ll ultimately lose with SEO.
  • Make your site SEO-friendly. This is easy to do, but it can be a pretty involved process. I usually recommend reading the book Search Engine Visibility by Shari Thurow.
  • Go get links from high-trust sites. SEO improves when well-trafficked sites provide a link to your company website. However, this is hard to do if your product isn’t exceptional.

Everyone knows they need to optimize their company websites for SEO, but most only think about it after the fact. And at this point, it may be too late. Don’t waste your time optimizing a website if no one wants what you’re selling. Do the research and build a business around what people have been searching for — using data to verify your assumptions.


Stephan Aarstol is the CEO and founder of Tower Paddle Boards, an online, manufacturer-direct brand in stand up paddle boarding. Tower Paddle Boards was invested in by Mark Cuban on ABC’s “Shark Tank” and was named one of the top 10 success stories in the history of the show by Entrepreneur Magazine. Stephan is an entrepreneurial thought leader and online marketing expert, and he welcomes anyone to reach out to him on Twitter.


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