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Impact of SEO As Marketing Tool On Startup Businesses

It is undeniable that the usage of internet is increasing at a very high rate which makes it a compulsory channel for marketing. For instance, the growth of internet users increased from around one billion in 2015 to over 3.5 billion in 2016 across the globe (Burgess 2016). Search engines such as Google and others are currently being used by more than 70% of internet users to look up for information on various issues such as events, people, products and places (Aswaniet al. 2018). Many successful businesses have taken advantage of search engines to have worldwide visibility.According to Crane (2011, p.120), hourly SEO averages at $75 and monthly retainer ranges between $1500-$3000. In the same vein, pay for performance SEO is the cheapest, because the payment is only done after the ranking is executed. SEM goes beyond online ranking and focuses on the entirety of digital marketing (Royo-Vela and Hunermund 2016). Search Engine Marketing involves other methods such as PPC, which can significantly improve the visibility of the startups at a lower cost (Shih et al. 2011). However, SEO is more focused, and would ideally position the new businesses to a better place in comparison to the competitors.

Search Engine Optimization is specialized software that searches content over the World Wide Web (Gaur 2014). It enables the users to get the exact information, which they need to find out (Dinesh et al. 2011). Currently, different platforms are allowing the people to look up for information. Some of them are Yahoo, Bing among others. With increasing use of internet, search engines are becoming paramount for businesses and individuals (Crane 2011). They are used to extract the data and subsequently utilized to serve the purposes of the users. For example, the business can use the information to position its products to the prospective customers (Berman and Katona 2013). On the other hand, the buyers search for the companies that could be offering what they need. In particular, Google has become the most effective engine in linking the customers to the buyers (Sergey and Page 2012). Due to these effects, Cui and Hu (2011, p.100) noted that designers of the business’s website should take keen consideration in learning effective techniques to improve ranking in online searches. The study conducted by Shih et al. (2011, p.528) pointed out that about 60% of the people get attracted to the front page of the search engine when locating products or services. The research further illustrates that about 40% of the online visitors go beyond the second page, and those who navigate beyond the third page are 5%. Therefore, getting the high ranking in the search platform is important, thus the need of SEO.

To achieve a high ranking when a potential customer searches in the engine, the publisher needs to create web documents and other information in a manner that the search engine can easily find them (Zlincan2015). This mechanism of making it easy and quick for the search engine to crawl, index and understand the contents of a website is called Search Engine Optimisation shortened as ‘SEO.’ It is one of the commonly used online marketing strategies by various businesses, both large and middle level, while some start-ups are also trying to follow the path (Aswaniet al. 2018). Other online marketing strategies include content and social media marketing.

Start-up businesses are characterized by lack of enough capital to venture into expensive marketing techniques (Sergey and Page 2012). The inability to understand the market better limit their operations thus faces a lot of competition from the already established enterprises. Again, they lack specialized and skilled labor that can offer important guidance on daily operation. As observed by Sinicki (2018, p.97), some outsource certain services, which increases their operational cost. It’s difficult for a new entrant to dive into account based marketing, without a clear knowledge of the kind of customers they serve. They need to be so effective in using SEO, to mitigate the chances of employing more funds in campaigns as opposed to what they get in return. There is no consensus about which mechanisms are better to increase visibility.

This paper mainly examines how the various start-up businesses can effectively employ the various SEO mechanisms to improve their rank in search results hence leading to increased visibility to potential customers. The chapter gives the background of the study and enable establish the gaps that still exist in the sector and therefore be able to come up with effective solutions that will improve their overall performance.

The traditional marketing strategies have mainly revolved around print advertising, spam, cold marketing, junk mails and television among other methods. Although the strategies generated meaningful impacts, the explosion of the internet has changed the way businesses relate to customers (Lee et al. 2014). Also , the advance in the internet has largely altered the manner in which people access relevant information about various products, services, location, and pricing. This brings in a need for businesses and other enterprises to market themselves online through the effective use of search engines. The website of a business can easily be found through use of a search engine even without having a direct link to the site by the appropriate use of keywords when searching (Abrar et al. 2016).

The various proponents of SEO support it as an important mechanism in-bound marketing strategy that effectively targets a potential customer without even a need for adding store locations. It is a long-term strategy in marketing, where higher ranking in search results will probably lead to higher traffic to a site hence trapping more customers, thus improving the online visibility of a business (Royo-Vela and Hunermund 2016).Several strategies for implementing search engine optimization have been fronted. Among them include an on-page strategy which involves the modification of a website to make it easily searchable by the publisher through the content package, titles, structure and so forth.Another one is, use off- page modification strategy where other persons and visitors boost the traffic of the website through actions such as link sharing and referrals to a website mainly through the use of social networks, blogs and other forums (Shih et al. 2013)

Analytical research by Nayyar and Pandey (2016, p.6) observed that more than 60% of searches are organic where the visitors are referred by search engine instead of using direct links. Therefore, by incorporating SEO techniques, there are high opportunities for getting more visibility and clients. A survey carried out by Zhang and Dimitroff (2013, p.698) indicates that more than 80% of consumers in the U.S searched for local businesses using the search engines. The same survey indicated that among the various small upcoming businesses in, many customers would hardly look for results beyond the first one or two pages of the Google or Bing Search. This point to a dire need to implement SEO to make the business website more visible during searches. Research carried out in 2015 to test the impact of SEO on the website traffic indicated quantitively, that there was an increase in the organic traffic search after implementation of SEO techniques (Zilincan 2015).

The results of a study carried out by Shih et al.( 2013, p.532) indicates that with a well-designed SEO strategy coupled with proper social networking, there is a high probability of an increase in traffic to a website which could consequently lead to increased visibility of a product to potential customers. It also plays a very critical role in linking the firms with potential customers and at the same time improving their brand image.

These empirical findings have demonstrated that proper implementation of SEO is beneficial to any website especially for the independent professionals and small businesses that are struggling to get visibility compared to the giant businesses which are already established.However; this cannot be achieved without understanding the right mix of both the on-page and off-page optimization techniques. The clear finding is that mere optimization of engine search is not adequate. This essentially means that a publisher has to modify the website in a unique way that captures the keywords, relevant title, descriptive heading and appropriately structuring the URL to be very user-friendly. This should be augmented by building up stronger external connections and quality links with the relevant partners and combining it with content marketing (Barredaet al. 2016)

According to Panda ( 2013, p.57), while recognizing increased rankings on the search engine as the main goals for adopting SEO strategies, the real pointer of success should be on the real revenue a business derives from the increased exposure. This is the driving force that makes more and more businesses strive to utilize these strategies.

Problem Statement

All the reviewed literaturehas indicated the importance that comes up with embracing SEO as a marketing strategy. The proper implementation of SEO is beneficial to any website especially for the small businesses that compete with big companies (Barredaet al. 2016). SEO is constantly on growth and expanding to new areas. It has played a significant role for the large and mid-size businesses (Kritzinger and Weideman 2013). The existing literatureis mainly praising SEO as a vital strategy in marketing. However, there exists little or no adequate understanding of the most optimal approach that the start-up business should undertake when implementing the digital marketing strategy (Kritzinger and Weideman 2013). This, therefore, brings in a need to identify and establish the best strategic plan a start-up business can utilize the SEO techniques to compete favorably with the already big and established corporations. The research problem can be hypothesized as:

The lack of an appropriate SEO implementation plan, with key emphasis on cost-benefit analysis, may be a contributing factor to why many start-up businesses shy away from implementing SEO strategies as their marketing tool.

Objectives

  • To determine the effectiveness of SEO techniques in establishing links between new and existing customers.
  • To evaluate how SEO affect the Return on Investment (ROI).

The aimof the study

The purpose of this study is to evaluate how start-up businesses can leverage on the use of SEO techniques to create links with customers and improve Return on Investment (ROI). The study will use secondary sources, to shed insight on the topic under discussion. This research is inductive as it involves the use of qualitative data to describe the phenomena, which allows the use of qualitative research methodology.The main deliverable is, therefore, an establishment of a framework that the start-up businesses can use to improve their search engine result rankings which are expected to lead to increased visibility for the potential customers.

Research questions

The main question: With the rapid increase in the usage of search engines by customers when looking for various products online, what are the most feasible search engine optimization strategies that start-up business can implement to reap maximum benefit from this rapid development? To answer this question, the specific research questions to be answered are:

  • How effectively do the various SEO techniques create links with the new and existing customers?
  • How do SEO affect the ROI (Return on Investment)?

Advancing Scientific Knowledge and Significance of the study

The use of Search engine optimization has been indicated by several studies as an important online marketing strategy. However, it has also been shown that there is little information showing or demonstrating the most feasible and effective strategy that the start-ups should use in marketing themselves. It is this gap in the knowledge this study is set to fill. The finding of this study will be a big step for the start-up businesses which are looking at search engine as their marketing outlet. The various business managers both for the start-ups and even in some established organizations will find a useful and actionable framework in optimizing their online visibility in the search ranking.

Definition of terms

Optimization: The process of designing, coding, writing and submitting web pages to search engine to increase the probability of the page appearing on top of search results for given keywords (Abrar et al. 2016).

Listings the result usually displayed by the search engine on the screen of the user after typing in keywords(Nayyar and Pandey 2016).

Keyword refers to the single word or phrase that a user types in the search engine when searching for a particular result (Burgess 2016).

The ranking is the method that the search engine uses to list and display results with the most relevant answers coming through first on the listings (Abrar et al. 2016).

Traffic refers to the number of visitors subscribing or making a query to a particular webpage

URL- Universal Resource Locator, which is the specific name that takes you to a particular website (Nayyar and Pandey 2016).

Web page refers to a single page of a given website which includes graphics, texts, etc. (Shih et al. 2013).

The website refers to a whole assortment of web pages and any other information such as video files, pictures, audio, links to other websites and so forth (Shih et al. 2013).

Summary and organization

Search engine optimization has revolutionized the way marketing is done in the realm of business. Although this area has been dominated by large organizations, the new entrants in the markets can still leverage on this wide area. For quite long the start-up businesses have relied on traditional marketing while losing the benefits of content marketing. To get more insight on the topic under study, the remaining structure of this work is organized in the following format: literature review (Chapter 2), Methodology (Chapter 3), data analysis and the result (Chapter 4) and summary, conclusion, and recommendations (Chapter 5).

Chapter 2: Literature Review

Introduction

Startup business is the one that moves in different cycles before it becomes stable enough to support various operations (Berman and Katona 2013). It begins with the concept, then financial sourcing, laying structures and finally actualizing the primary idea. It differs from the SME in the sense that the latter targets profitability on a long-term basis (Shih et al. 2011). For a starting business, the major objective is top- end revenue to support its growth. According to Crane (2011, p.120), the new entrants in the markets face the challenge of lack of enough capital, which impedes their penetration into the diverse market. Such, they miss out on the modern and most compelling SEO marketing. The efficiency of startups to maneuver in the global economies has continually been subdued by large corporations, which can target the market. However, Sinicki (2018, p.97) noted that the starting businesses could utilize non-paid SEOs to reach out to the customers.

Crane (2011, p.120) opines that search engine optimization is the central forum where sellers and buyers engage. Furthermore, he noted that there are three SEO options for the young businesses, which he classifies as; hiring the SEO agency, in-house SEO or paid campaigns (Shih et al. 2013, p.528). The literature affirms that startups are struggling to incorporate the modern technologies into their marketing plans, which impedes their possibility of growth (Sinicki 2018, p.97). While Crane (2011, p.119) notes that managers should be responsible for the integration of modern technology in startups, Berman and Katona (2013, p.644) feel that it’s expensive. The authors have not given clear thoughts on how new entrants should embrace Search Engine Optimization as a way of marketing.

Return on Investments (ROI)

Return on investment is a method that is commonly used as a metric to measure the performance of the business (Rowley 2000). It’s used by both small and large corporation, to determine the worthiness of investing in a particular idea. SEO is one of the methods used to improve the returns after a business invests in a given concept(Cui and Hu 2011).ROI as a tool of measurement helps in making recommendations on where to improve the operations (Chen et al. 2011).

Rowley (2000, p.203) noted that analytics tools are essential in evaluating which content is most popular with the people. Based on his argument, he opined that it is possible to determine the preferences and trends of customers. Consequently, the business tailors products that meet the exact needs of the clients, hence staying on top of the competitors. However, this research concludes that it’s difficult to ascertain the feedbacks generated through the search engines. Ghose and Yang (2009, p.1605) comment that due to unethical marketing such as keyword spamming, it has become so difficult for the start-ups to tenure the sophisticated market. Instead, he suggests that designers should come up with an SEO system that can generate correct and reliable information. He argues that the proper use of SEO reduces the cost of marketing and consequently increasing the returns, compared to the costs.

The cases study conducted by Rowley (2000, p.212) compared the SEO marketing and pay-per-click advertising. In the research, they aimed to ascertain the cost of implementing the two methods and the one which could generate more return for a startup business. The outcome of this study was interesting because it was noted that SEO marketing cost the pilot companies an average of $3600, to cater for the salaries of the employees and to operate the marketing campaign for one year. Furthermore, the number of visitors who were directed to the companies’ websites totaled to 93,207, and the cost of attracting every single new client was $0.4. On the other hand, pay-per-click (PPP) was regarded as a method that generated quick responses. Regarding cost, the companies spent an average of $1250 to bring in 2057 visitors. The cost of every visit averaged at $61. The study illustrates that SEO marketing is more effective in minimizing the operation cost. The amount of funds used to reach out to the prospective customers is much less than the traffic that is finally generated. Drawing visitors to the website is equated to return that a business receives (Rowley 2000).

Sinicki (2018, p.97) conducted a study to evaluate the impact of SEO marketing on ROI. In their research, they affirmed that SEO tune-upcould be utilized to leverage on the visibility to the online users. The study aimed to optimize search keywords, create new pages with the right content, fix technical errors and set up the Google analytics. The results of this study indicated that the strategy improved the traffic from 90 visitors to 279, which was an estimate percentage increase of 179%. It was also noted that there was a conversion rate of 5%, which was related to the returns of $25,000. The average marketing package for the singled start-ups averaged at $500/month, which brought the ROI calculation to 317%. However, the study notes that inaccuracy of content still affects the ROI for start-ups and other established corporations. A more accurate system should be designed to eliminate fake marketers, who aim to subdue the ethical companies. That way, more benefits would be reaped from the investments in digital marketing.

Search Engine Optimization Techniques

SEO techniques are gaining track in the modern world (Dinesh et al. 2011). There is more inclination of the businesses, towards using particular channels, to communicate with a particular set of the group. According to Gaur (2014, p.33), a business resort to the usage of a strategy that would enable them to generate more traffic and save on cost. In the digital era, use of content creation and social platforms has made it easy to reach the target customers (Hutter and Hoffmann 2011). However, adoption of a particular technique is regulated by the nature of the business, regarding size and the products offered.

According to Frydenberg and Miko (2011, p.24), there is a needfor learning the emerging trends in web searching. He noted that the continued use of the internet and improvement of technology is impacting the way things are done. Designers of search systems should stand alert to study what other engines are using, helping the clients rank high. Again, Dinesh et al. (2011, p.3847) are of the idea that there is a continuous evolution in SEO concept. Based on their argument, the more people become users of online platforms, the more the companies improve their SEO marketing strategies. Search engines eased the searching of online information (Jamehshooran et al. 2011). The possibility of getting relevant information is, therefore, minimal. Shih et al. (2011, p.528) notes that the marketers should understand the ranking algorithms, to position the business on top of the competitors. Similarly, they noted that there is an importance of understanding the changing practices as well as search engine guidelines. According to Gaur (2014, p.35), the SEO techniques are classified into two broad groups: White Hat and Black Hat. White Hat is the strategy that is used to target the audience and characteristically linked to long-term benefits (Sergey and Page 2012). The content is tailored to focus on the customer’s needs. Some of the techniques under this category are user experience (UX), content development and keywords. On the other hand, the Black Hat is not customer directed. It focuses on getting higher rankings and fails to attend to the clients. Most of them get de-indexed due to use of unethical methods. Some of them are keyword stuffing and use of hidden text (Gaur 2014, p.33). Therefore, the White Hat is more preferred as it guarantees longer outcomes and it is more ethical.

A study conducted by Shafiee et al. (2016, p.7) illustrated that SEO techniques are effective in generating the traffic in the ecotourism websites. It was noted that on-page SEO had a greater impact, as opposed to off-page strategies. The results later confirmed that the marketers were unable to measure the rank changes, which is core information in enabling the managers to make decisions regarding the best alternatives. The feedback from the customers, as noted by Chen et al. (2011, p.464) is essential for startups, which are aiming to grow and expand. The current algorithm in search engine optimization fails to give the responses, which make it hard to determine where to rectify for efficiency improvement.

Sinicki (2018, p.97) notes that amidst stiff competition, start-up businesses need to remain aware of the techniques that they can employ to curtail market denial.SEO is vital in hastening information search since it allows both off – page and on-page marketing, hence leading the customers to their websites. The authors further note that the SEO techniques interact with the customer effectively, without the need for physical demonstrations. Anything can be presented either in the form of images, video clips, or content. This way, the start-ups can venture even in different places irrespective of geographic limitations (Shih et al.2018).

Research conducted by Sharma and Bansal (2016, p.5347) indicated that websites that are well optimized are more visible to the end users. They argue that the designers should always use the right content that aims to capture the first search of the visitors. The authors identified there are no accurate SEO ranking systems, which impedes the visibility of the most websites after organic searches. The accuracy of the content is limited by aspects such as keyword spamming initiated by unethical marketers.

As the businesses seek to go global, so is the competition becoming stiffer, making it hard for the small businesses to thrive (Van de Sand 2017). The study conducted by Berman and Katona (2013, p.650) identified that startups could leverage the power of ranking on Google, to increase their visibility to the potential customers. Furthermore, the campaign can be structured to introduce new consumers who have little knowledge of the products that a particular company offers. According to Perez-Montoro and Codina (2017, p.78), they opine that current customers have turned most of their transactions to the online platforms. The choice allows them to evaluate the provider who meets the specifications they desire in the products. Due to this reason, large organizations have continually dominated the markets (Tsiakali 2018). Supporting this argument, Zhao and Tse (2011, p.123) propound that large corporations have high financial outlay, which makes them stand out among others. Essentially, the starting businesses are subdued and denied visibility. Some of the techniques of SEO marketing are discussed below.

User Experience (UX)

User experience is defined as the effects felt by the final user of a product, device or system (Zuze and Weideman 2013).The purpose of UX is to improve the customer satisfaction and increase the brand loyalty (Tsiakali 2018). Furthermore, he noted that a business should be able to design a website that is user-friendly and easily navigable by any new user. He concluded in his study that the major intention of this method is to generate more traffic and subsequently to improve the sales.

Lack of incorporation of thoughts and their suggestions could impede the growth of the business in the planned manner (Shih et al. 2013). In line with the argument, Tsiakali (2018,p.25) alludes in his study that most of the small businesses have little knowledge on how to go about SEO marketing, which is ideally done to improve the experience of the users. In his study, he employed design science to establish the major reasons the small companies fail to appeal to the customers. He singled out the research papers and consulted commerce databases, to come up with guiding information regarding this matter. In his result, he found out that 83% of the newly established businesses rarely use the SEO marketing, which limits their performance in the complicated market. However, the large corporations continue to dominate this arena, thus making more profits.

User experience is still practiced in the modern digital era (Chen et al. 2011). They also note that the reason people choose to resort to online platforms is that they have other things to do.Reaching out to the customers is a psychological design that aims to lure them towards appreciating what is offered(Zhao and Tse 2011). Therefore, there are some elemental requirements that are neededto meet the competitive edge (Hipwell and Reeves 2013). They arethe goal of the business, desire, fear, ambition, and behaviors of the customers. These are core aspects needed for a service or product provider to satisfy the experience of the users. A study conducted by Sinicki (2018, p.97) noted that about 72% of the businesses engaging the SEO marketing improved their bottom line. Another research done by Crane (2011, p.120) affirms that the conversion rate for this kind of marketing stands at 14.6% compared to 1.7% for outbound marketing. It was observed that startups lack enough capital to engage in online marketing, and miss out on the benefits of improving online visibility.

Optimizing Content Search

The major purpose of SEO is to increase the chances of the user, to find the products that business is offering (Cui and Hu 2011). Achieving this role is accompanied by coming up with a well-designed content, that can appeal to the needs of the final user (Shih et al. 2013). Ranking high in the Google search is guided by the use of right keywords, based on the industry. Thisallows the search engine to crawl through the website, and come up with the correct information (Berman and Katona 2013).Tsiakali (2018, p.24) states that the quality of the content determines the organic traffic generated on the company’s website per a given period.

As it is stated in the research conducted by Cui and Hu (2011, p.102), the business that can create well-curated content can improve its stand based on competition. The higher the ranking on Google, the greater the chance of securing more customers. However, Frydenberg and Miko (2011, p.24) is of the idea that coming up with well-written content is not enough to guarantee more clients. They conducted a study of the fifty best-performing companies in the United States, and fifty startups. Questionnaires were administered to seek more information regarding the impact of SEO on their performance. Based on the results, they noted that the established companies went ahead of just creating the marketing content. Instead, they integrated the aspects of understanding the need and demand of the customers. Also, the startups that had embraced SEO marketing coupled it with outbound familiarization to stimulate growth. They also noted there was laxity in use of SEO among the entrants in the market due to misconception, lack of enough funds, and unwillingness to learn.

As the world continues to experience rapid digital changes, the businesses face internal disruptions (Shih et al. 2013, p.537). The startups feel the shake up more than already established organizations. However, both have to come up with ways of remaining relevant to the outside world (Gaur 2014). The study conducted by Zhao and Tse (2011, p.143) involving one hundred top executives officers identified that machine learning is one of the areas that is gaining momentum. They noted that the new system would allow the organizations to save on cost, and significantly improve the return. Search Engine Optimization is one way that displays the power of machine learning (Hipwell and Reeves 2013). Through the use of words, the business can position itself on top of the rest. However, sustaining and maintenance of the system is considered expensive for the small businesses that are yet to understand the market dynamics (Berman and Katona 2013).

Understanding the Audience

The final consumer is the center for every marketing strategy that a business wishes to adopt (Van de Sand 2017). The SEO is one of the most impactful tools in online visibility and continues to grow as the time goes (Zuze and Weideman 2013). Crane (2011, p.119) confirms that the best way for a startup to grow is through increasing their visibility in Google, where clients congregate to search for the best products to satisfy their needs. Three elements that a provider should understand about the audience are taste, financial capacity, and preference (Jamehshooran et al. 2011). According to Shih et al. (2013, p.536), the keywords employed in the content of the company’s website might attract or completely shun away the customers.

Understandingthe customers start with acquiring the information that most of the company’s website viewers like to search (Berman and Katona 2013). Continued reliance on managerial decisions might fail to give a concrete picture of the real market. As a way to create reliable links with the clients and give the right products, Tsiakali (2018, p.26) is of the idea that proper indexing of data is required at preliminary stages. He proposes the need for a system that can parse and store the customers’ information. Vital insight is gotten from the psychological profiles of the clients, which most startups fail to understand (Zhao and Tse 2011).

Summary

Marketing has transformed from the traditional means to the one controlled by modern technology. Again, irrespective of the use of digital marketing, the creation of content that suffices the services of a particular company improves the ranking on Google. Search Engine Optimization is a strategy that is adopted by large corporations to retain their relevance through online platforms. It has helped the businesses to improve the profitability, by increasing the number of customers. In the same vein, SEO marketing is believed to help the organizations to improve their competitive edge. Despite enormous literature supporting the importance of search engine (Crane 2011, p.120), the startups have not embraced the idea fully. For example, about 70% of the new entrants in the United States do not use the SEO marketing, whereas an estimate of 80% of the customers prefers to search for products online (Hipwell and Reeves 2013, p.64). Entrepreneurs should be educated on the importance of embracing the new technology to improve the performance and online visibility.

Chapter 3: Methodology

The previous section discussed the views of various authors based on the issue of the impact of SEO as a marketing tool for startup businesses. Also, the indicative information illustrated the research gaps and the areas where the current authors have not been able to offer solutions. The current chapters explain the methodology and design that was adopted to generate themes that were used to create the previous sections of this dissertation. The coding of information was pegged to the opinions of the various researchers, who had conducted similar or related studies on the topic under review. The following objectives that were highlighted in both the introduction and the literature review will be addressed.

  • To determine the effectiveness of SEO techniques in establishing links between new and existing customers.
  • To evaluate how SEO affect the Return on Investment (ROI).

The chapter will be organized in a manner that will elaborate on the actual steps that were taken to make a valid conclusion based on the topic under study. It will discuss the research approaches and justify the methodology that was adopted to conduct the research. Furthermore, the research philosophies will be considered, and the most appropriate one was selected to answer the research questions appropriately. Again, the tools of data collection and sampling techniques will also be featured. Finally, the trustworthiness of the data (secondary literature) will have to be justified, to ensure that the research was conducted ethically.

Research Approach

Research is defined as the process of examining ideas or specific facts to come up with new information (Schroeder 2018). Also, it can be conducted with the sole objective of adding into what is already known. Therefore, conducting a study on a particular topic does not necessarily mean that one would invent a new thing. According to Worster (2013, p.120) most of the issues that are covered in various researches are not new, but they build on each other by creating gaps for future studies. Finding solutions for a particular topic of research is accomplished by inductive or deductive approaches. Schroeder (2018, p.18) notes that the deductive method of reasoning is whereby the researcher explores an already existing theory. The author develops a hypothesis to form the conclusion accurately. It starts with the argument from a broader perspective to the specific particulars (Morse 2010). This form of reasoning is classified as Top to Down method.

Moreover, the other approach is inductive, where the researcher explores an individual phenomenon, and creates theories and themes based on observation or reviewing the literature (Tech 2018). The hypothesis cannot be formed until the author makes a more in-depth study and identification of interrelating variables. Again, the final results are not predictive until the final research comes into completion. This way, it is regarded as Bottom to Up, since the researcher moves from unknown to known. Deductive approach is associated with the quantitative data that requires statistical analysis, while inductive is linked to the qualitative data.

This research is employing inductive reasoning, as the researcher is concerned with learning on the effects of the SEO as a marketing tool on start-up businesses. The secondary literature that was generated from different databases was selected based on themes that cover the concepts of SEO marketing. Choosing this strategy was supported by the fact that deductive is primarily concerned with quantitative data, which can only be achieved through extracting actual figures from reliable platforms. However, getting such information might have failed to answer the research questions fully. Therefore, reviewing the themes and views of already interviewed participants was the only option that could have achieved the researcher’s objectives.

However, the inductive approach does not lead to accurate results. The information collected from the various sources might be misleading, since it is difficult to test the viability of the responses, of already conducted interviews. The generated results are always probable, with some elements of errors. Conclusions drawn from inductive approach can be challenged by a contradicting study.

Research Philosophy

The study adopted interpretive philosophy. However, it is paramount to discuss other philosophies, to justify the choice of the researcher. According to Foster (1996, p.192), the other two philosophies are positivism and pragmatism.

Positivism is linked to the facts that are derived from a scientific measurement. Based on this philosophy, numerical figures are more important in helping to solve particular problems. It uses statistical analysis to test the hypothesis, hence more inclined to the quantitative data. As it is driven by numeric, Morse (2010, p.484) noted that it follows the deductive research approach. On the other hand, interpretivism is built on the fact that reality can be tested through social interaction and the use of appropriate instruments to collect the data (Foster 1996). He further noted that some of the tools that can be used are questionnaires, interviews, previous literature, among other reliable sources. Moreover, he opines that this philosophy focuses on variables, to derive the meaning from them, which later answers the research questions.

In the same vein, pragmatic is a combination of both interpretive and positivism. Researchers using this philosophy aim to derive a deeper understanding of the topic under study. However, it is more tasking and takes a lot of time. Therefore, this study settled on interpretive philosophy, because it enables interrelation of variables, thus giving the researcher broader access to varied responses.

Research Methodology

The study adopts an inductive approach, and therefore, literature review method was used to evaluate previous qualitative data, to bring insight into the issue under consideration. There are other two methodologies namely quantitative and mixed. The qualitative methodology enables the researcher, to get a clearer understanding of the topic, based on the feedbacks of either the respondents or the themes discussed in the literature. Due to the accessibility of extensive data, qualitative becomes an option to study topics which are more focused on getting concepts rather than figures. While quantitative methodology aims at explaining the trends, the choice of the method is determined by what the researcher wants to investigate. The following paragraphs discuss all the three methodologies, for justifying the selection of qualitative methods.

Qualitative data describes the information that is generated from the people through interviews or extracting themes from the secondary sources. It explains the natures of the problems beyond the information provided by the respondents (Morse 2010, p.490). For example, if the sources of information are derived from the past literature, the researcher explains the data in more details while contrasting with the studies conducted by other authors. For quantitative methodology, reliance on numerical figures is heavily employed. The statistical analysis guides the conclusion arrived at, hence lacks the essence of human interaction. As it was eluded earlier, incorporation of human feelings and their views mainly influence the reliability of the final results. Elimination of this elemental factor from quantitative methodology makes it more of personal analysis, rather than a study directed towards understanding the real problem. Table 1 compares the two to help get a deeper understanding.

Table1: Comparison of qualitative and quantitative Methods

Of importance, qualitative researchers are mostly instructed by guidelines, which make them more flexible (Dillard and Pevehouse 2017). The strategy enables them to collect as much information as possible since they can explore a broad base of data. Again, it is possible to restructure themes to assist in gathering the actual data they need. In contrast, quantitative researchers are restricted by rules. The limitation makes it difficult to go beyond certain boundaries hence mitigating the possibilities of improving the findings. The final one is a mixed methodology, which integrates both qualitative and quantitative paradigms. The researchers frequently utilize this method if they want to get an in-depth understanding of the study topic (Tech 2018). Due to this, it gives more accurate information, but it consumes a lot of time and energy. Also, it takes time to align the data making it complicated to adopt.

Literature review of qualitative data was adopted because it allows access to information that cannot be gotten through quantitative methods. Moreover, it is less complicated compared to the mixed way. However, the challenge of the chosen approach is that it does not allow the testing of variables.

Research Design

From the previous section, it can be identified that the methodology adopted for this study was qualitative. To generate more information enough to answer the research questions, the phenomenological design was adopted. The strategy is used to establish how the sampled participants respond to the issues which affect them in the real world (John, 2020). In this case, the researcher utilized the documented information gathered from various companies and individuals, regarding the effects of SEO as a marketing tool on start-ups. Phenomenology helps to gain a greater understanding and the thoughts of the people. Therefore, the reasons detailed above gives this research design an upper hand in comparison to others such as narrative, case study and grounded theory (Nyika 2018).

Data Collection and Sampling

The principal purpose of this research is to evaluate the effects of search engine optimization on the start-up businesses. To come up with the meaningful solutions, the researcher approached this study in a structured manner. The relevant information was gathered from the possible secondary sources such as books and journals and extracted the data based on themes. Mills (2014, p.139) notes on the importance of using all available information in forming a cogent argument regarding a particular topic. This approach was used by the author, to develop the current work. Detailed documents were used as tools for collecting the data.

As the study is primarily based on the secondary sources, the literature was searched based on the themes of interest, but related to SEO. Peer-reviewed journals written in English were used in this case, and the researcher further filtered the data to get more focused information. The extraction process involved use of more elaborate keywords to minimize the load of literature that was generated online. Non-random sampling of previous research was conducted because it is purposive and more convenient to use. To ensure the correct data was utilized, the literature was classified based on the dates of publication, and mostly that covered the concepts of search engine optimization. The final references were settled on after validating the methodology, design, and sampling techniques that were used in the primary research.

Convenience sampling is used in this study since it reduces the high load of secondary sources generated at a given time. Searching for content via the established platforms using keywords displays enormous content, some important, while others non-useful. The only way to make sense of such massive data is to reduce the number, by designing more focused terms with the intention of minimizing the load. The advantage of this approach is that it reduces the time taken to consolidate reliable sources. However, the challenge of convenience sampling is the lack of precision in gathering the required references.

Trustworthiness

The confidence of the results and methods used in research are elemental, in converting the readers to trust the conclusions made (Jordan et al. 2011). This section describes the four factors that control the trustworthiness of this secondary research. The first one is credibility, which is defined by Blake (2002, p.76) as the effectiveness of the researcher’s findings, in representing the thoughts and experiences documented in the previous researches. From the qualitative methodology that was adopted, one of the significant challenges was to ascertain the correctness of recorded information. The researcher was able to overcome this threat by conducting a deep engagement with literature covering the current topic from diverse perspectives. Also, comparing the variables enabled to make valid judgments in regards to the usability of the data.

The second element is transferability. It is defined as ease of the results obtained from the qualitative research to be used for future studies (Maciejewski and Lipnicki 2008). In other words, the topic under investigation should contribute to the body of knowledge. Based on the current research, the author conducted a thick description to make more meaning in future studies. This was achieved through critiquing the available literature. Furthermore, dependability is referred to as the ability to rely on the procedures used in a study (Tomanik 2009). The current work has achieved this through use of evidence generated from previous studies and description of elaborate methods used to achieve the results. Finally, conformability is the effectiveness of the findings of a research to be confirmed by another scholar (Blake 2002). The use of correct methodology and research design makes it easy for another person to confirm the outcome, which creates room for learning. In this study, the literature review section is organized based on themes, making it easy to reference the documented facts.

Ethical Consideration

There are a number of factors that can result to violation of ethics of a research. Some of the contributing elements are confidentiality, consent, and voluntary participation. As the current work does not involve any primary data collection, the issue of ethics was not so much taken into consideration. The researcher assumed that primary authors of the papers adhered to all required standards to qualify the studies to be accepted for publishing. Close scrutiny of the selected resources indicated that the samples used by various scholars met the criteria of size and reliability. It’s paramount to note that the information extracted did not result to any form of bias and was used with utmost sincerity.

This section discusses in full details the literature review method, which was used to answer the research question and test the hypothesis. Phenomenological design was chosen as the right option since it gives the researcher the space to seek more clarification from other sources, apart from the responses of the participants. Furthermore, the sampling was based on convenience. The previous literature covering the topic under discussion was considered for deeper analysis. To compound it all, ethical considerations did not play a major role in the current study, as it was purely a desktop review. The next chapter will discuss the data analysis and results.

Chapter 4: Data analysis and results

The previous sections illustrate that startup businesses have failed to leverage on the benefits of search engine optimizations, in their marketing strategies. However, the research indicates that the startups can effectively utilize the method to reach to more customers, hence improving their growth. The method that was adopted to arrive at the conclusions was literature review, which aimed to shed more insight regarding the matter. Themes collected from different authors helped to answer the research questions. The current chapter will discuss the descriptive findings, analysis procedures and finally present the results gathered from various secondary sources.

Descriptive findings

A literature review is one of the trusted methods used to get in-depth information concerning the topic under research (Crane 2011). Various authors such as Jordan et al.(2011,p.190), believes that secondary sources are most impactful, in collecting the opinions and justification from a broad base of scholars. This way, it allows the researcher to make judgment guided by valid data that can be tested and evaluated. In this study, the literaturewas derived from established databases and online searches. The selection was based on the papers that had covered the topic on search engine optimization. One of the factors that were consideredis the number of the participant that the primary study had employed to find the results. In this case, literature that has used a high number of participants were selected, because it minimized the biasness of the documented facts. Furthermore, researches that had covered the responses of the owners and managers of the startup businesses were taken into consideration.

Data analysis procedure

Secondary data is purely reliant on the researches conducted by another scholar (John, 2020). To derive meaning from such data, it is crucial to understand the concepts discussed in every section. The scholar cancompare the thoughts and concepts, thus coming up with the most appropriate conclusion. The approach of data analysis procedure that was used in this case was phenomenological analysis. However, there are other possible procedures which will be discussed below.

The first one is the narrative approach, which primarily focuses on the stories of the participants. The researcher, in this case, takes the role of the audience and documents every detail that the respondents give regarding the matter at hand. The information is later consolidated for interpretation. The other method is thematic, which organizes the content based on particular key points of interest. It does not allow further critique of the data beyond the stated facts. Therefore, the phenomenological analysis was used because it allows an in-depth understanding.

Results

The outcome of the literature review is arrived at after evaluating the concepts and research gaps available in the sampled studies. To present clear information that can be used as a lead in the future works, the emerging themes were compared. The views of various authors were subjected to thorough analysis by invoking the known theories on the topic under study. The outcomes are organizedin the form of themes derived from the research questions.

Search engine optimization improves Google ranking

The rankingis defined as the position of appearance on the search engine (Panda 2013). He further notes that the page on which the information about a company is displayed is dependent on how well they optimize their keywords. More focused content improve the ranking as opposed to writing information that does not address the main concerns of the customers. Again, Rowley (2001, p.204) noted that most of the start-up could easily utilize unpaid SEO, to improve their visibility via online visitors.

SEO boosts Brand equity

According to Baye et al. (2013, p.26), it was noted that more focused keywords on the company’s website improved the brand equity. It is defined as the ability of the users to relate to the product. The more the brand equity, the more the customers. Figure 1 illustrates the elasticity in the form of confidence levels and the type of search engine optimization utilized.

Figure 1: Elasticity in form of confidence level (Baye et al. 2013)

Generate more traffic

A study conducted by Khraim (2015, p.83) among one hundred companies aimed to establish the factors that influence the effectiveness of the search engine optimization. The researcher tabulated the regressions findings, to shed light on the impact of using SEO in both start-ups and established businesses. To test the hypothesis, he used the four variables: competitiveness (Factor1), experience (Factor2), techniques (Factor3) and strategies (Factor5). The outcome was represented in the Table2 below.

Table 2: Regression analysis results (Khraim 2015)

Effects of SEO on Return on Investment

Return on investment is what exactly the business receives after investing in a particular form of marketing. The literature reviewed indicated that ROI for small businesses is greatly affected by the nature of the SEO adopted to position the products to the customers. Mills (2014, p.140) noted that return on investment could be accurately be improved by utilizing the Google analytics. This enables understanding the indicative figures in a way that can be used to benefit the organization. Table 3 gives an illustration of the Google analytics with a description of numbers.

Table 3: Traffic generation through SEO (Mills 2014)

The information gathered through the review of the literature indicated that SEO marketing plays a significant role in improving the ROI of a given company. The studied research works conducted by previous researchers showed a high correlation of ROI to the effective SEO strategy. Figure 2 compares the different marketing medium, and the returns received per a given time.

Figure 2: Average returns of various marketing methods (Crane 2011)

The reviewed literature confirmed that itis ofsignificant importance for the startups to embrace search engine optimization strategies as a tool of marketing. The data indicate that the impact of this tool is appropriate for improving the return on investment, and continually attract new and existing customers. To arrive at these findings, the data was analyzed using phenomenological analysis. The approach enabled the researcher to get an in-depth understanding of the topic under consideration. The major limitation of the analysis was that it was difficult to test variables since secondary sources guided this study. Therefore, to ascertain the correctness and validity of the responses was a bit difficult. The following chapter will discuss the findings, to arrive at conclusions and later offer recommendations based on the results.

Chapter 5: Summary, Conclusion, and Recommendations

The importance of this study was to shed light on how the start-ups can invest in effective SEO marketing techniques, and benefit largely. It is also important to note that the research aimed to identify the opportunity in content marketing, which has not been fully integratedinto starting enterprises. To have a glimpse of the entire concept, the author formulated research questions which were primarily constructed to guide in the rest of the process. First, there was a need to establish the relationship between return on investment and the SEO and the implications of the search engine optimization on attracting more customers. The hypothesis was tested by applying the literature review method while employing interpretative philosophy. The current chapter discusses the results found in the previous section and provides recommendations based on the outcome.

Summary of Findings and conclusion

Search engine optimization was observed to have great impact on the performance of the startups and already established businesses. According to the assertion that was presented by Panda (2013p.62), he noted that an organization could leverage on both on-page and off-page SEO, to generate traffic on the company’s website. The assertion illustrated that use of specific keywords has an impact on improving the ranking on the search engines such as Google. The more optimized the content is, the higher the rate of online visitors seeking to relate with the brand of the advertised business. The common theme that was extracted from the studied literature confirmed that start-ups could use the same strategy, to improve their visibility to the world. Rowley (2001, p.212) further supported this information by alluding to the need of the managers to understand the type of technique that works well depending on the services offered to the customers. Therefore, the indicative data supports that the well-designed content has the capability of improving the competitiveness of the startups with the already established enterprises.

Figure 1 in the previous chapter represents the different types of SEO marketing, classified as direct, indirect and the totals of the two. The variable on the Y-axis is indicated as the elasticity in the form of confidence levels. According to this graph, the use of both methods of marketing (direct and indirect) has generated more confidence in the brand awareness. Sharma and Bansal (2016, p.5347) affirmed that customers are widespread over different geographic locations. Using only one method of marketing might fail to reach out to the potential customers. Combination of different techniques of SEO gives more results, regarding product familiarization, as opposed to using only one strategy.

Table 2 was used to tabulate the results showing the significance of the four factors that make SEO a more desirable method for the startups. The independent variables are competitiveness (Factor1), experience (Factor2), techniques (Factor3) and strategies (Factor4). From the results, strategies were less significant in determining the effectiveness of the SEO. The other three contributed a bigger share, on the nature of progress the business can derive from using this form of marketing. It was noted that the nature of the competitions drives the organization, to continually update their website content, to reach the target customers appropriately. This, therefore, leads to the generation of more customers thus improving the sales.

Table 3 was generated to illustrate the importance of Google analytics in helping to gather meaningful information to guide the marketer. The data indicate the number of visits in a given time. Most importantly, it can be seen that in the first ten seconds, the number of visits stands at 68.37%, and the percentages seem to decrease with time. This is where the importance of well-curated SEO content comes in, to stand out among the competitors. Ideally, a customer is always attracted to the first pages of the search engine and tends to ignore anything else (Sergey and Page 2012).The data shows that startups cannot rely only on one method of SEO marketing, and expect to override the companies that employ huge funds to support their marketing platforms. As such, Panda (2013, p.64) noted that page views are controlled by several factors such as the content and the ease of use. Furthermore, the literature supports that user experience should be the first objective of any startup that wishes to remain on top of the complex market.

Figure 2 compares the return on investment generated from the various marketing methods used by different businesses. Email based marketing, also regarded as account marketing is observed to generate higher ROI, while the SEO follows. Since the startups might be unable to sustain the high cost of email marketing, SEO is the best option. The result confirms that the entrepreneurs can choose to embark on non-paid search engine optimization, first of all, to create the relevant links with the customers. Thus, use of the right techniques increases ROI.

Search engine optimization improves the connection between the customers and the business, hence increasing the profitability. Furthermore, the return on investment is greatly improved, since the business uses less in marketing but the returns are more. Start-ups miss out from the advantages of content marketing, due to the challenges of initial capital (Crane 2011). Instead, the managers can utilize nonpaid SEOs, which have almost equal impacts to the paid ones. Cogent data from the literature review have shown that organizations that use on-page and off-page marketing have witnessed tremendous traffic, hence improving the brand awareness.

Implications

The current research plays a vital role in addressing the topic of effects of SEO as a marketing tool on start-up businesses. To assess the validity of the study, this research is evaluatedby theoretical implication, future implication, and practical implication.

 Based on the theoretical perspective, the findings observed in the previous chapter supports the hypothesis and the two research questions that were developed in chapter one. There is a significant amount of data and interrelation of ideas among the authors, supporting the idea of SEO in improving the performance of the business. Furthermore, the return on investment was seen to be linearly related with the choice of correct SEO technique. On practical implication, the results are useful for the start-up businesses, which are struggling to fight for their space in the market. The evidenced data can be used as a guideline to help the managers to decide on the best SEO strategy.For future implication, the research was able to confirm that SEO marketing is effective for the start-up businesses. However, it was not possible to determine the cost of its application, as it was noted that most of the new entrants rarely used search engines to market their products.

One of the limitations of this study is that it did not allow testing of the variables, as it was based on secondary sources. The researcher could not validate the themes and responses discussed in the previous researches, which makes it not 100% correct. However, the research was supported by a wide variety of data, collected from different sources. This makes it more meaningful as common themes were compared, and the conclusion made. The ability to use wide data reduced the bias to an acceptable level. The literature review methodand the phenomenological design were utilized in the study. The two are elaborative and looks at the issue more critically, thus supporting the conclusion- SEO marketing increases the return on investment and brings more customers to the start-up businesses.

Recommendations

  • The start-up businesses should incorporate the SEO marketing, as a strategy to generate more traffic. It would assist in curbing the stiff competition posed by the already established enterprises, and give them a share in the wide market.
  • The managers should seek to understand the cost of implementing SEO marketing for start-ups. The choice of the best technique is optimal forgenerate more returns. The owners of the new businesses should focus their energies more on understanding the choice of SEO that would improve their performance within a short period.
  • Other methods of marketing such as account based should be used together with the SEO, to improve the outcome. SEO alone might fail to achieve the predetermined results, hence the need for engaging other strategies.
  • The start-ups should focus on the quality of the content they display to the online platforms. User-friendly information motivates the individual to refer others. Therefore, it is essential for the marketers to continually update the information to fit the required standards.

The research has accurately addressed the research questions and tested the hypothesis. From the findings, search engine optimization is paramount in positioning the start-up businesses to the global visibility. However, further research is required to design a system which would be able to provide feedback for use in making paramount decisions. Again, it’s not clear on how the ranking algorithm works, hence the need for more studies to guide the users.

 

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