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Why Lean SEO Just Doesn’t Cut It

Think lean SEO could help you easily rank for important keywords? Running a lean company and plan to use the same tactics for your marketing? Read this first! 

Apr 13, 2024

5 m read

When I first heard about lean SEO, I thought it sounded pretty interesting. A way to test which keywords could best drive traffic to your website without putting in the hard work of extensive keyword and content research? I get it, it’s tempting. After a bit of digging, though, I came to the conclusion that it’s a shortcut that could, at best, limit your ranking potential and, at worst, jeopardize your business. Yes, that sounds dramatic, so let me explain.

What Is Lean SEO?

Lean SEO is the idea that you can apply lean startup methods to search engine optimization. 

Lean startups attempt to test their unique value proposition (UVP) by creating a minimum viable product (MVP). This MVP is produced quickly and with the minimum features needed to ascertain whether there’s a market for the product. SaaS companies often use this to gauge the viability of new software or features. Once they’ve received validation, they then invest more and flesh out the product.

Some companies have tried to translate this idea into SEO. They do the minimum keyword research needed and produce a fast web page or blog post to see if they get any traction in search results. If the keyword starts to rank or draw traffic in, they then commit more resources to building out the page or writing a more in-depth blog post. 

The helpful content update, which was released in August 2022, has made this tactic riskier and less useful.

The Helpful Content Update

The Google helpful content update targets websites with content created to rank rather than to help people. Basically: Does the content prioritize search crawlers over real people? If Google believes it does, it may rank the website lower in search results.

Now, we all want the content we create to rank well in SERPs. But since Google’s main objective is to provide searchers with a great experience so they’ll continue to use its platform, it’s in their best interest to only showcase the results that best meet users’ needs. And that generally means pages that are written by and for humans.

Does that mean you should ignore SEO? Of course not. SEO best practices can serve as a guideline for creating helpful content — but only if you invest the time and resources to do it right. 

Useful content and SEO aren’t at odds. However, because of the helpful content update, the lean SEO framework of publishing short posts in hopes that something sticks could lead to a drop in keyword rankings across your site. 

While a minimum viable product may be sufficient for a lean startup to learn more about its target audience, applying the same approach to creating content won’t lead to SEO success. Whether you choose to use ChatGPT for content or just do the bare minimum research before creating a blog post, search engines will take note that the content isn’t as high quality as other posts on the topic. 

To improve search visibility, make sure your SEO campaign includes keyword research services and SEO content writing services

Is Lean SEO Enough? 

That doesn’t mean you can’t take a lean approach to SEO, though. It just means configuring how we define things as “lean.”

When people talk about a lean business plan or lean startup, they’re usually talking about using the least amount of time or resources to determine whether the business plan or startup idea is viable. For example, will it make money? Do people want the product or the service?

Lean SEO’s Blindspots

One thing I’ve noticed about lean SEO is that it focuses on keyword research and content creation while ignoring technical SEO and off-page SEO, much to its detriment.

If your pages aren’t being indexed or if they’re loading too slowly, you can create great content that just won’t rank. Ignoring technical SEO and off-page SEO to save a dollar will cost you in the long run. Without addressing your site’s technical health or introducing a link-building strategy, you reduce your chances of securing the top spots in SERPs. 

Learn more about the critical technical SEO factors you need to keep in mind here.

Lean SEO vs. Partnering With an SEO Agency

Lean business is all about removing excess to find what works and then replicating success.

Honestly, that’s not too far from what a quality SEO agency does. When you work with an SEO agency that has already proven its effectiveness and honed in on the most beneficial tactics, you eliminate a lot of waste: No guessing games about what may work, no wasted time trying to unlock an algorithm, no throwing money at a company and hoping for results.

A qualified SEO agency can help you:

  • Pinpoint the keywords that are most relevant and beneficial to your business.
  • Highlight the keywords you can actually capture.
  • Create useful content to increase search visibility.
  • Tackle technical issues hindering your online growth.
  • Build backlinks to increase your brand awareness.

If someone is trying to sell you lean SEO — bottom line — they don’t know SEO. If they say that Google’s algorithm doesn’t matter, they aren’t paying attention. Google is the number one search engine and owns the number one web browser. Chances are, your potential customers use Google. If you want them to find you, you need an SEO agency with a process that’s unaffected by shifts in Google’s algorithm. 

Why SEO Doesn’t Fit Into a Lean Sprint

Search engine optimization is an iterative process. With each improvement, you aim to make your site better than it was before. This is pretty similar to the idea of lean sprints, except for one crucial aspect. While lean sprints are generally one to four weeks, that isn’t enough time to measure the effectiveness of an SEO campaign or strategy. 

SEO takes time. Capturing additional keywords takes time. Thankfully, you can start improving your SEO before your MVP is ready to launch.

Can SEO Be a Part of Lean Marketing?

Yes, when you use proven SEO tactics as part of an SEO campaign, you can capitalize on tactics that have already been tested — they work and you don’t have to test them again. While there’s some configuration needed to make sure you’ve chosen the right keywords, other processes like an SEO audit and content creation are dialed in so you don’t lose any time figuring things out.

If lean marketing is all about reducing waste, then SEO may be the number one lean marketing tool. With a higher ROI than most PPC campaigns, SEO manages to do multiple things at once:

Plus, when you outsource your SEO, you don’t have to worry about maintaining SEO tools — that’s one less monthly invoice. 

Is Lean SEO Best for Lean Startups?

If you truly want to reach people quickly to see whether your MVP is adequate/sufficient, you need to invest in quality SEO and marketing. Otherwise, you won’t know whether your results are due to poor SEO, lackluster marketing, or lack of interest in your product.

Maximize visibility by investing in a process-driven SEO strategy that will support your business objectives.

When It Matters: Don’t Bank on Lean

The lean strategy is great for minimizing go-to-market costs, but it doesn’t work well when it comes to SEO. Rather than expending time and energy on testing keywords and creating content that only scratches the surface in hopes that something will stick, choose an SEO agency with proven tactics that will help you succeed.

If you’re working on a go-to-market strategy for your latest MVP, launching a new site, or just researching SEO in general, schedule a free SEO consultation to discover how our approach to SEO can provide you with data-driven results.  

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