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16 Ways Startups Can Quickly Recover from an SEO Setback

Navigating the choppy waters of SEO setbacks can be daunting for startups, which is why we’ve gathered insights from Founders, CEOs, and SEO experts. From the proactive measure of shipping free AI products for traction to the strategic implementation of a four-step recovery process, discover 16 pivotal steps these professionals recommend for a swift SEO recovery.

  • Ship Free AI Products for Traction
  • Analyze Traffic and Rankings
  • Conduct a Technical SEO Audit
  • Adopt a Content Strategy Pyramid
  • Delete Outdated Content
  • Stay Calm and Act Strategically
  • Hire an SEO Agency for an Audit
  • Optimize Existing Content
  • Leverage User-Generated Content
  • Integrate Emotional Email Marketing
  • Analyze and Update Post-SEO Setback
  • Stick to SEO Best Practices
  • Convert Brand Mentions to Backlinks
  • Examine Google Search Console Report
  • Focus on Quick SEO Wins
  • Implement a Four-Step Recovery Process

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Ship Free AI Products for Traction

With the volatile search algorithm, content has become a commodity. Creating more or better content may not work, as SERPs are crowded. But leveraging technology as a differentiator can do nicely.

SaaS startups, specifically, can scale their organic traffic by simply shipping one of their features as a free AI product. Just find a viable need in your market by doing SEO research with tools like Ahrefs. Then package a feature into a search-friendly product.

For instance, if your company creates tools for email marketers, you can create a free email subject-writing tool powered by GPT-4. If possible, launch it on a community like Product Hunt to gain initial traction.

Developing technology like this will involve investment in tech resources. But it can drive brand awareness and even serve as a passive link-building asset once you get the initial word out.

If you manage to drive links and organic traffic via one free tool, keep shipping multiple such free products. Each one will compound your organic traffic and build a moat around your SEO—not beatable by blog posts.

Chintan Zalani, Founder, Bot Memo

Analyze Traffic and Rankings

Take the time to understand the root cause of the setback before taking action. You can do this by analyzing and comparing organic traffic and rankings before and after the setback, noting particular pages or page types that have been hit the hardest. Line these up with any recent changes made to the site.

This will help you shortlist potential reasons, which can then be actioned. If a straightforward technical issue caused the setback, then this can be quickly remedied, and you can expect a swift recovery. However, a more systemic issue, such as sitewide spammy or unhelpful content, can require a much more concerted effort to recover lost traffic.

Edward Roberts, SEO Specialist, Page Not Found 

Conduct a Technical SEO Audit

Hire a technical SEO to perform an in-depth technical SEO audit. A thorough SEO audit will not only uncover the cause of the SEO decline, but will also mitigate future risks going forward. The goal of every SEO audit is to bring a site up to industry best practices and remove any blockers to growth. 

Having that level of intel before you make other decisions will also help mitigate wasting budget on tasks that may not provide benefit or won’t see their full potential ROI without other things being done first.

Joe Hall, SEO Consultant, Hall Analysis

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Adopt a Content Strategy Pyramid

For startups looking to quickly recover from an SEO setback, a strategic shift towards building a content strategy pyramid, rather than a traditional funnel, can be a game-changer. This approach not only addresses the immediate need to bounce back, but also lays a foundation for sustained growth and user retention.

  1. Establish a Strong Base with Commercial Content: Start by laying a solid foundation of commercial and transactional content that makes up 20% of your strategy. This base is crucial for driving direct conversions and establishing the groundwork for attracting and converting users. This should include:
    • Use Case Pages: Highlight how your product solves specific problems with examples such as “[use case] software” or “[use case] tool.”
    • ICP Pages: Tailor content to show your product’s benefits for different industries, personas, or teams, like “[product type] for [industry]” or “[product type] for [persona].”
    • Buying Guides and Comparison Pages: Create content that helps users make purchasing decisions, such as “top [product type] software” or “[product] vs [competitor]” comparisons.
  2. Build Up with Educational Content: The pyramid’s structure should then extend upwards, with 80% dedicated to educational content aimed at onboarding users and establishing your authority. This content tier should offer value beyond mere product promotion, focusing on engaging and informing potential customers. It includes crafting how-to guides, case studies, and lead magnets that address users’ needs and interests.
  3. Strengthen with Strategic Link Building: The coherence of your pyramid depends on effective link building. Ensure that links not only boost your sales content’s visibility but also connect to educational material, creating a comprehensive authority web. This strategy emphasizes the importance of directing traffic towards conversion-ready pages while nurturing an informed audience.

This pyramid approach to content strategy is particularly effective for startups aiming to recover from SEO setbacks quickly. By focusing on a balanced mix of commercial and educational content, startups can attract a broader audience, establish credibility, and ultimately, convert users into loyal customers. Implementing this strategy has proven to enhance SEO outcomes significantly, demonstrating its efficacy across various business stages and challenges.

Victoria Olsina, SEO Consultant, Speaker and Comedian, Victoria Olsina Growth Consultancy

Delete Outdated Content

Delete outdated content. It’s funny because it’s such a simple thing to do, but many don’t dare to do it because what if, all of a sudden, they start picking up traffic again? Quick answer: They won’t. Even though Google hasn’t officially said it, it’s clear that after the recent Google Helpful Content Update, Google gives your website a score based on the content. 

Each content piece counts, and outdated content counts negatively as it’s no longer helpful content. That’s why so many websites have deleted old content and seen an uptick in traffic. You can also choose to optimize your outdated content, but if you can’t see yourself doing that within the next three months, then delete it and write it as a new piece when you get to it.

Phillip Stemann, SEO Consultant, Phillip Stemann

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Stay Calm and Act Strategically

As an SEO expert with over a decade of experience helping startups, I’ve seen my fair share of search engine optimization setbacks. It’s never fun when an update or penalty hits a site’s rankings seemingly overnight. While completely avoiding penalties and fluctuations is impossible, there are strategies startups can use to recover quickly when they do occur. 

The number one thing I recommend is staying calm and avoiding knee-jerk reactions. I’ve seen startups make rash decisions like removing huge chunks of content or changing domain names when rankings drop. This almost always makes the situation worse. Take time to thoroughly analyze what changed and why. Review your link profile for sketchy links and prune ones that could be problematic. Check for technical problems like site speed. Update content to be more relevant and valuable to users. Build new high-quality links slowly and steadily. 

Patience and persistence are key. Don’t expect overnight miracles. Depending on the severity of the issue, recovery can take months. But sticking to white-hat techniques and focusing on great content will get you there in the end. The sites I’ve seen recover quickest are the ones that stay focused on creating value rather than chasing rankings. They use setbacks as opportunities to improve and come back stronger.

So stay calm, act strategically, and keep providing value to users. With this approach, any startup can recover from an SEO setback.

Gert Kulla, CEO, RedBat.Agency

Hire an SEO Agency for an Audit

I think the most efficient way to bounce back after an SEO setback is by bringing in an SEO agency to conduct an SEO audit of your website. An experienced team will dive deep into your site’s structure, content, and backlink profile to pinpoint exactly what’s holding you back. They’ll not only identify the root causes of your SEO challenges but also provide a clear, actionable plan to address them.

This not only saves you significant time and effort but also gives you peace of mind, knowing that you’re implementing the most effective solutions to recover your SEO performance quickly and efficiently. It also means you can focus on running your business while they handle the complex details of your SEO strategy.

Josien Nation, Co-Founder and Head of SEO, Operation Nation LLC

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Optimize Existing Content

Having navigated the fascinating yet challenging world of startups from the ground up in the digital marketing sphere, I can attest to the critical importance of a swift recovery from SEO setbacks. Drawing upon my experience as a founder of a digital marketing company and then moving onto software and marketing business ventures, here’s a specific strategy that has consistently proven effective for rapid recovery: realigning and doubling down on content marketing with an SEO focus. 

One practical step that I implemented, and which I highly recommend, is the in-depth analysis and optimization of existing content on your website. This process involves identifying high-value but underperforming pages through tools like Google Analytics. From there, enhancing those pages with targeted keyword integration, updating outdated information, and improving readability can make a significant difference. For instance, in one of my businesses, we identified several blog posts that weren’t ranking as well as they could. By researching current keywords and re-optimizing those posts, we saw a noticeable uplift in their SERP rankings and organic traffic within months. 

Furthermore, leveraging the “Skyscraper Technique” for content creation and link-building has also yielded great results. This method entails finding well-performing content within your niche, creating a piece that adds even more value, and then reaching out to websites that are linked to the original content to link to your superior piece instead. This approach not only improves content quality and relevance on your site but also enhances your backlink profile, both of which are crucial for SEO recovery. For example, after launching our software business, we applied this technique to a key article, resulting in a 20% increase in organic traffic and a significant spike in high-quality backlinks. 

Lastly, engaging with your community through social media and forums related to your industry can indirectly boost your SEO efforts. Sharing your content, soliciting feedback, and participating in discussions increases visibility and drives traffic, which signals to search engines that your website is a valuable resource. This strategy turned out to be an incremental, yet effective, tactic for one of my startups, enhancing our online presence and contributing to a steady improvement in our SEO performance post-setback. 

In conclusion, recovering from SEO setbacks requires a multifaceted approach that includes content optimization, strategic content creation, and community engagement.

Joe Amaral, Founder, Elevated Marketing Experts

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Leverage User-Generated Content

From my experience in digital marketing and branding, particularly in the SaaS and digital transformation spaces, one specific strategy I recommend for startups looking to recover quickly from SEO setbacks is leveraging user-generated content (UGC). UGC not only enriches your site with fresh and relevant content, which search engines love, but it also significantly improves user engagement and trust. For instance, running a successful UGC campaign for a startup client involved encouraging their users to share reviews and how-to guides on using their product. This strategy not only populated their site with keyword-rich content but also increased time spent on the site, which is a positive signal to search engines. 

Another effective step is optimizing for voice search. With the rise in smart speakers and voice-activated devices, making your website voice-search friendly can give you an edge. During my tenure guiding companies through digital landscapes, we focused on long-tail keywords and structured data markup to optimize for voice search. For example, for a digital transformation service provider, we implemented FAQs and “how to” guides framed in a conversational tone that aligned with voice search queries. This not only helped in recovering from their SEO slump but also positioned them ahead of competitors in voice search results. 

Lastly, doubling down on technical SEO can yield substantial benefits. A common issue I’ve observed is startups overlooking the technical aspect of SEO. Ensuring that your website is crawlable and indexable is foundational. A startup I worked with was facing SEO setbacks because of technical oversights such as broken links and unoptimized images. By conducting a comprehensive technical SEO audit and addressing these issues, we could significantly improve their search engine rankings. This included optimizing images for faster loading times and fixing broken links, which enhanced the overall user experience and‌ SEO performance. 

These strategies are based on proven results and my hands-on experience in the field. Combining user-generated content, voice search optimization, and a focus on technical SEO helps in quickly recovering from SEO setbacks and strengthens your overall digital marketing efforts.

Haiko de Poel, Owner, Mass Impact

Integrate Emotional Email Marketing

Often, I have seen businesses incorrectly making use of email campaigns. Even if you are not doing email campaigns, it shows nothing, but doing it incorrectly can have its effects on SEO performance too. While crafting content for email marketing, it is important to make it relatable to readers. 

I have gradually increased my SEO impact through my email marketing strategy by including material that resonates with my audience emotionally. Email writing that emphasizes communication and empathy—two human aspects of soft skills—has raised open rates. Search engine optimization is indirectly impacted by this interaction, which is gauged by click-through rates and time spent on content. 

Emails that evoke strong feelings in readers stimulate deeper connections and indicate relevance to search engines, which is something that Google’s algorithms cherish. Authenticity and relatability will make a big difference in your email campaigns and increase engagement. In the long run, this will also have a favorable SEO influence.

Ashwin Ramesh, CEO, Synup

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Analyze and Update Post-SEO Setback

I am not sure if you can ever recover “quickly” from an SEO setback, especially with what has happened in October and November with Google’s major core updates.

Startups always need to see the root of the cause and analyze it properly. If there is a major Google update, and your website has been thoroughly affected, you need to see where you lack to stay up-to-date as per Google’s standards.

These days, most websites literally have to ‘pray’ to Google in order to stay relevant.

Focus on high-quality content – Google can easily detect plagiarism and AI-generated text. Refrain from having content solely written by AI. You can always get help, but remember: Google is not stupid.

You can always take inspiration from somewhere else, but do not duplicate content, especially from a competitor. It will get you absolutely nowhere.

Don’t do any “keyword stuffing” – We all know that’s bad, and it will create even bigger problems in the long run.

Make sure you never link to any “shady websites.”

If these steps are done after an SEO setback happens, it will be much more beneficial, and you will easily recover.

Lysakowska Maria Izabela, Global Country Manager,

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Stick to SEO Best Practices

If your startup is facing an SEO setback, don’t worry! Whether an algorithm update caused it, or your dev team accidentally blocked your entire site with robots.txt, it’s not the end of the world. The easiest way to recover is to skip black-hat SEO, get back to basics, and ensure that all SEO best practices have gotten you where you were before the setback. 

While trying black-hat tactics for quick results may be tempting, they can ultimately harm your business’s reputation and rankings. Instead, focus on creating valuable and relevant content, optimizing your website for search engines, and building backlinks through legitimate means. By following these best practices, you can recover from an SEO setback and establish a strong foundation for long-term success. 

Remember, taking shortcuts with black-hat SEO isn’t worth the risk, so stick with ethical and sustainable practices to achieve your SEO goals.

Katherine Bakken, Director, Train River Publishing

Convert Brand Mentions to Backlinks

An effective move for startups facing an SEO setback is to leverage “Brand Mentions.” Actively seek out where your brand is mentioned online, even without a link. Then, reach out to those sources and request a link to your website. 

For instance, if a blog talks about your product but doesn’t link to your site, politely ask for a link. This method can swiftly boost your SEO by turning existing mentions into valuable backlinks, signaling search engines about your credibility and improving your rankings.

Jon Torres, CEO, Jon Torres

Examine Google Search Console Report

Addressing an SEO setback effectively, especially when it results from an algorithm update, requires a methodical strategy rather than a quick-fix treatment. My first tip is to thoroughly examine your Google Search Console report. 

This stage is critical because it provides a clear picture of where your website stands in terms of search performance, indicating areas that require fixing. Whether it’s technical issues, indexing problems, or content that doesn’t quite meet current standards, the Search Console is your first line of defense when trying to figure out what went wrong.

After understanding the issues through Google Search Console, the next step is to address them directly. Concentrate on the technical components of your site, making it completely accessible to search engines for crawling and indexing. 

Examine the content attentively to ensure it is fresh, educational, and, most importantly, relevant to what your audience is looking for. Keep in mind that SEO recovery is a long-term process; changes won’t happen overnight.

Armen Davtyan, Head of SEO, Market Apartments

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Focus on Quick SEO Wins

Immediately conduct a thorough SEO audit. Identify where you’ve lost ground—whether it’s technical issues, content quality, or backlink profile. Rectify these issues swiftly.

Focus on creating high-quality, value-driven content. Content that truly resonates with your audience can quickly gain traction, helping to recover from an SEO setback.

Don’t overlook the power of quick wins. Optimize for low-hanging-fruit keywords that have less competition. It can provide a much-needed boost in traffic while you work on more competitive terms.

Remember, SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. Recovery takes time. But with a laser-focused approach, the climb back up can be faster than you think.

Casey Jones, Founder and Head of Marketing, CJ&CO

Implement a Four-Step Recovery Process

I often recommend a four-step process to my clients in recovering from an SEO misstep. Step one involves a thorough investigation as to why you’re experiencing this issue. Is it just a short-term fluctuation or a longer-term problem that you need to address? Does it have something to do with something you did, or is it something simple like the keyword that was performing well suddenly losing popularity, impacting your numbers? Step two is to revisit any recent changes. 

Make a list of what they were so that you can react to each thing you’ve done individually and see if that’s what did it. Step three is to start the recovery process. Depending on what the issue was, there are any number of fixes you can look into, whether it be doing necessary content updates, fixing technical problems, focusing on backlink recovery, etc. 

You need to identify the specific stream you need to address and go after it quickly. Step four is, naturally, to closely monitor the actions you’ve taken in step three and climb your way back up the rankings because you’ve hopefully fixed the issue at this point.

Kate Kandefer, CEO, SEOwind

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