Hey there Starter Story community! I’m Shane and I’m the founder of Lookup, which is an online business directory for local businesses here in my country, Singapore. At the moment, we’re still in the early stages of a startup.
However, we’ve been using newly accessible SEO strategies to propel our growth faster than any other site I’ve created, and I’d love to share how I’m turning this into a profitable SEO-based business at scale!
Lookup was created using Programmatic SEO (PSEO), which is a new strategy that allows you to create numerous content pages at scale to dominate traditional content blogs. It was made popular by companies like Canva and Airbnb, but only recently became accessible to all thanks to the rise of no-code tools like Webflow and Airtable! With PSEO, I was able to rank Lookup on page 2 of Google within 2 days of launching the domain.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
At the moment, I’m still a 22-year-old college student studying Computer Science in Singapore. However, I never saw myself as the type to work a 9 to 5 job, especially if that meant coding at my desk for hours on end as a software engineer. Hence, I’ve been whatever extra time I have as a student to create a startup on the side as my way out.
I initially started working as a freelancer over a year ago, working in web development. While I was able to grow to around $2,000/month, it was difficult to sustain as a student. During periods of exams or heavy assignments, my income would plummet. Hence, I wanted to start a compounding asset that could keep running even if I were to take a break for 1-2 weeks. That’s when I landed on SEO.
Lookup was not the first site I created, it was my third. The first was a website I created under my name (ShaneDuggan.com) that I made using SEO tactics taught by Adam Enfroy. I pretty much worked full-time on it, but with such a competitive niche, it took around 4 months before I even saw my first sign of traffic. I realized it was probably a lost cause due to how competitive the niche of online courses was.
I then started a food blog for my girlfriend, as a mini side-project. However, with my knowledge of SEO and blogging, I was able to grow that site, created under her name (Zen Sze's blog), to 2.5k monthly traffic within 3 months. I realized then that the missing piece the whole time was targeting the right keywords. I had always tried to rank for lucrative keywords in the US market. However, I didn’t realize there were heaps of untapped local keywords, and that’s why I decided to start Lookup.
Lookup became the culmination of all of my SEO skills, content writing, web development, and more. Combining all of those, I wanted to find the most efficient way to target the huge array of low-competition keywords. That’s how I landed on the business model of online directories. With my business plan in order, all I had left was to put it together with speed. I launched the site within 7 days of the idea.
The focus for me lies in the two pillars of SEO growth - content and links.
Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.
One of the things I learned from Adam Enfroy was to launch your website quickly as an MVP to get it recognized in the eyes of Google. So I quickly settled on a no-code tech stack, with Webflow for the website and Airtable for the business database. I’d never used these tools before, so the first 7 days were largely spent on studying. For the website, I decided to use a Webflow template to get things going as soon as possible.
The most important thing for any website launch is just to make sure that everything is ready in staging before going live. If Google crawls a half-made website, it’s going to get a poor initial impression of your site which will make it harder to rank. Hence, I used the template, included appropriate social links, and populated a decent amount of content before going live.
All in all, I spent around $350 on the site MVP. The result? After 1 day of launching I had 86 pages indexed on Google and one of those was rocketed to page 2. That’s when I knew I had a viable idea going as I achieved in 2 days what it took my first site 4 months.
Describe the process of launching the business.
As mentioned, it’s difficult to see the needle move initially for a site that’s designed to attract purely organic SEO traffic. Hence, I didn’t place much emphasis on the actual launch of the website. Even launching the site on social media wouldn’t mean much to the business in the long term because my target customers would be from organic SEO. But to keep myself on track to grow the business, I decided to build Lookup completely in public on Twitter.
I set myself on a challenge to post updates every single day until 2024. It garnered some great support and I was able to get feedback from some of my audience. But more than that, building in public helped to keep the growth of Lookup top-of-mind and made me accountable for putting in the repetitive work to move the SEO needle.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
You’ve just got to stick to the early days of stagnant growth.
At the moment, Lookup has yet to monetize as the current focus is on building strong branding and monthly traffic flow. To achieve that, the focus for me lies in the two pillars of SEO growth - content and links.
By publishing high-quality content on your site, coupled with building backlinks through a variety of techniques, you’ll dominate your niche in SEO. Hence, my to-do list primarily consists of publishing more business categories and business pages to establish my site as an authority of local business in the eyes of Google, as well as reaching out to website owners in search of links. If you want great resources for link building, I’d highly recommend Matt Diggity’s channel!
In the future, my plans for monetization are from two main channels - sponsored placements and premium business listings. Sponsored placements are self-explanatory. If businesses want to be featured at the top of their business category, they can purchase a sponsored placement.
For premium listings, businesses can pay a much smaller monthly fee to feature more Call-To-Actions and self-promotion on their business listing to convert Lookup’s organic traffic into potential leads. I plan to put these in motion in around 2-3 months and scale the price and volume up over the next year.
As of right now, I’m only focusing on local Singapore service businesses and restaurants. However, I’m looking to expand into tourist activities, tour bookings, staycations, and more!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
When I compare my progress with Lookup compared to my previous sites made one thing very clear to me. If you want to start a business that involves SEO, the key lies in your initial keyword and competitor research. As mentioned, starting with the right keyword research made a world of difference when it came to the results produced. I fell in love with this quote because I think it encapsulates this idea perfectly: “Rowing harder doesn’t help if the boat is headed in the wrong direction.”
And other than that, the one quality you need to grow with SEO is consistency. If you want to grow with SEO, you need to be producing content and building high-quality links from day to day. If you stay consistent on that path, SEO can be very rewarding.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Here’s the full tech stack for running a PSEO online directory like Lookup!
- Webflow - Website builder and hosting
- Airtable - Low-code database management solution
- Whalesync - Data syncing tools between Webflow and Airtable
- Make/Integromat - Workflow automation for mass content generation
- OpenAI API - Used in conjunction with Make to create content
And here’s why I chose these particular tools. Primarily, the entire business runs for around $110/month with these tools. For each particular tool, it was a balance of price, features, integrations, and how much information was available online for these tools. For PSEO, I found that Webflow had the most support to create such a site due to its CMS features. Hence, I transitioned over from a long-term WordPress user, and I’ve never looked back.
I decided to move the CMS database from Webflow’s native CMS out to Airtable for two reasons. Firstly, it’s a much better front-end system compared to Webflow’s CMS. Secondly, it had much more integration and automation features and could easily be used with Make/Integromat. With my experience using Make, I was able to combine all these 4 tools easily.
With the other tools being fairly easy to use, I spent most of my time creating a proper automation system on Make. There’s a lot to unpack from above, but essentially this workflow allows me to one-click generate business information for an entire business listing in a matter of seconds.
Using Whalesync, it’s immediately updated to Webflow and goes live on the website with a couple of clicks! Hence, I can run Lookup easily as a one-man team as AI, automation, and no-code tools do 95% of the heavy lifting.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I’ve got a long list of brilliant resources for both starting a business as well as for learning SEO. I would say I learn 85% of these skills through YouTube as my primary source of information. So here are my top choices.
For entrepreneurship and productivity, some of my favorites are Dan Koe’s The Koe Cast, and funnily enough, Starter Story! I’m the type to plow through a podcast or series once I find it, listen to it in the gym, shower while driving, etc. Starter Story is great to inspire new ideas or to see what people are doing to reach new levels. The Koe Cast is great for understanding the basics of work, productivity, and motivation.
In terms of SEO, my two top channels for learning SEO as a whole are Adam Enfroy, as mentioned, as well as Matt Diggity. I learned a ton of knowledge, techniques, and tips from these channels. However, what I’d recommend for learning SEO is not to just learn from one source, but to learn from as many different sources as you can.
SEO is surprisingly subjective, so it’s good to get advice from various people and apply the bits and pieces you learn from each of them. Spend some time on YouTube and you’ll find endless videos and channels to learn from!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I’ll re-emphasize this point again because I truly believe it’s the key to succeeding in SEO, and that’s consistency! There will be hours and days of doing the same old things, content, and links on repeat, and you’ll likely have to wait days and months before seeing any tangible results. Without a doubt, there will be moments where you don’t feel like continuing to publish content or email website owners for links (I know all too well…).
The most important thing to remember is that SEO is a compounding channel. Unlike ads, where if you want to increase your reach, you’ll have to spend more money. However, the beauty of SEO is that its growth is exponential. It’s slow to start, but eventually, it compounds into a massive source of traffic. It’s just one of those things that you’ll thank yourself for doing looking back on a long timeframe. You’ve just got to stick to the early days of stagnant growth.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
As I’m bootstrapping Lookup, I’m trying to keep things as lean as possible. However, there’s always one SEO position that I’d love to find someone irreplaceable for - an off-page SEO outreach specialist.
If you’re someone who can consistently land guest posts or link insertions for your clients, I’d be more than happy to pay a good commission for that. As a commission-based role, you’d be free to work in your own time and get paid depending on how often the links come. If that’s something you can do, feel free to drop me an email or DM me on Twitter!
Where can we go to learn more?
I’m loving my PSEO journey so far and I’d love to share more about it! If it’s interesting to you or something you might even want to incorporate into your startup’s SEO strategy, I’d love to provide some advice. Just get in touch with me from any of the channels below, and I’ll be ready to answer your questions!
I’m also still on my #BuildInPublic streak on Twitter for every day until 2024, so feel free to drop a follow and join my daily journey!
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
- 4,818 founder case studies
- Access to our founder directory
- Live events, courses and recordings
- 8,628 business ideas
- $1M in software savings