Starting a company is no easy task. From marketing to operations to funding, there’s a countless number of responsibilities for a founder to handle in order to start a company off in the right direction. But, in my opinion, there’s no greater task for a new startup than to gain traction. Traction allows for greater funding, more growth, increased cash for hiring, etc.
Thus, today we are going into the top six ways startups can “start up” their marketing. From where to focus and why, to hiring agencies or keeping the work in house, we will leave no stone unturned. Let’s begin!
I. Clear Messaging + Great Design
Far too often, startups have come to us looking for PPC management or SEO consulting, but they have yet to even focus on their brand, design, and messaging. Why pay to pour a bunch of water into a bucket that’s filled with holes?
In fact, we see this from funded startups to enterprise brands so often that we now include conversion rate optimization in every one of our SEO projects. We are not far removed from being a startup ourselves. Through the startup process, I have gained a lot of practical advice on how to get your messaging and design correct.
Here’s how we built our own website for less than $2,000.
Step 1. Get a great wireframe from a freelance designer
As a startup, I would avoid a design agency at all costs. Why pay $50k for a site that has no traction? (Here we are going back to traction again.) Instead, I highly recommend that you look on Yelp and find a great freelance designer that’s local, you can work with directly, and has a portfolio you enjoy.
Step 2. Send your wireframe to Codeable
If you are able to put your own site together using drag and drop editors, then go for it! We use Divi for that, but if you are not a technical founder, then I recommend you outsource the development of the wireframe to Codeable.
Once again, this is an example of hiring a specific freelancer to do the work, and there is no better place than Codeable to find one.
Here’s why: Every “real agency” in the world charges at least $150 an hour. A freelancer on Codeable who is vetted, reviewed and reputable costs $60 an hour…you’re welcome 😉
Step 3. Hire a freelance copywriter to redo what you wrote
It’s no offense to you or your copy, but most people are not able to clearly communicate their product in written word. This usually happens because the writer comes into the work with an inherent understanding of their own product or service. Instead, write your copy yourself and do the leg work. Once finished, have a pro re-write it to close the gaps for someone who has not heard of your product or service.
II. Determine your keywords
Keyword research is the backbone of all search marketing. If you know what terms your user is searching during his or her buyer journey, it is easier for you to make sure that your brand is ranking in every possible spot in the top ten of a search engine results page (SERP).
If you are not currently sure what your keywords are, a reliable course of action would be to ask some of your current customers what they searched for when they initially found you or what they would search if they wanted your product or service.
If this is not an option, enter your competitors into SEMrush.com. From here, you can see what keywords they are ranking for or advertising on for PPC.
III. Start creating the best and most niched content out there
Countless competitors exist in almost every industry. When you enter a market and have a new website, you have limited strength and ranking potential. This is because you do not have links pointing at your site and you do not have the best information in your industry.
While you could hire a content marketing agency, it is often recommended that you take this on yourself. It’s incredibly difficult to outsource thought leadership. Assuming you have your primary keywords in mind, take your primary keyword and enter it into answerthepublic.com.
Now, we have our content calendar with some of the most frequent questions our audience has on our niched service. The next step is to create unique, evergreen content on these topics. Here’s how:
Step 1: Search your topic on Google and see who ranks the best in your industry
What content is ranking for that topic? Do they have your exact search topic in the title of their post? How well do they answer the user’s question? Could you write a better piece?
If you are able to come up with the best piece of information, that’s a good start. Once you see what people are asking in the questions of these posts, you can start to see the info they really want and you can create a better, more thorough piece of content, as well as a better design.
The better design piece is crucial and overlooked far too often. Time on site and behavioral metrics matter for ranking and your brand.
Step 2: Write over 1,500 words
While word count is not an exact science, if you need to build links and plan on outranking sites that have been performing well in the SERPs for years, creating a piece that’s more thorough is a good first step.
Writing only 300-500 words in a blog post no longer cuts it.
Step 3: Send your draft back to the freelance designer
Like I said before, design matters. For a startup, first impressions are imperative as well. Make sure you build that impression around quality design and information. If you have a poor design and bad content, what does that tell a consumer about your product or service? People can connect the dots.
IV. Build Targeted PPC Campaigns + Landing Pages
Once you know your top keywords, it’s time to launch an AdWords campaign. To avoid wasting money, you should add negative keywords to your ad group as a first step. Here’s a list of them!
Next, build custom landing pages using Unbounce.
Each of your ad groups should be focused on a single keyword and have four ads, plus a unique landing page. By building your campaign in such a focused manner, you are able to quickly raise your quality score and have a the lowest CPC possible, which is critical for a startup.
Start with only your biggest keywords, evaluate your search terms report, learn quickly and then build more ad groups and landing pages. PPC is well worth it if you are thorough. If not, you’re throwing money away. Here’s a post on when to do SEO and when to do PPC.
V. Guest Post for Your Industry’s Top Blogs
Startups’ authorities are based on their founders. If you do not yet have authority for yourself or your brand, guest posting is the quickest way to build it. Authority is crucial for every aspect of your startup’s marketing, so there are no shortcuts here.
I have created a whole guide here on how you can guest post.
The key takeaways are simple (full examples in linked post above):
- Find out which blogs your audience reads
- Write a killer subject line
- Build a compelling pitch and story
- Reach out to the editors of these blogs via LinkedIn sales navigator or email with a compelling reason why they should feature you
- Reach out to more editors letting them know about all the other blogs you’ve now been featured in
Now, you can establish your authority in an effective way and start to build your brand. While paying to be on these top publications can range from $5-10k, guest posting is free. As a startup, time is your friend. There is no better way to allocate your time than to focus on building your brand’s authority via content.
VI. Scour the SERPs for Paid Lists, Display Ad Opportunities, and Top Lists
The last tip here is completely traction-focused and is for direct conversions. Across all of our accounts, we have found that no channel outperforms referral traffic.
Referral traffic is traffic that is sent to your site from people clicking to you from other websites via linking. Not only does that build your site’s link profile and branding, it converts. Keep in mind, the best links are not from high-domain authorities, but instead sites that rank exceedingly well for the same keywords your startup is ranking for.
Let me explain. We want to rank really well for an SEO agency, but we are not there yet. Instead, we search “SEO agency” and look for sites that already rank for that term or have a list of “top SEO agencies” and we reach out to them to make sure we can advertise or be included on their list. While it can be expensive, as a startup ourselves, these are our highest performing ad channels.
Some sites might rank but not allow ads, (i.e. Forbes and Entrepreneur). With these, however, you can take out targeted display ads on the Google Display Network and advertise there as well. Your goal is to find what sites rank for your primary keywords and take as much SERP market share as possible.
These are all great tips to help you get the ball rolling. From here, it’s important that you dive deep into each of these categories and spread your expertise. I truly do not believe hiring an agency or outsourcing your marketing is a good idea for most startups. There’s too much to learn about your own business that needs to be integrated into your campaigns. Agencies know this and do not like working with startups in general because there’s so much uncertainty and time spent trying to find a product market fit. Save your money, bust your butt and learn SEO, PPC, content and social.
As a startup founder, you have time. It’s your greatest asset, and in my opinion, the full focus of your time should be gaining traction. Feel free to add to these tips in the comments below!
Garrett Mehrguth is the CEO of Directive Consulting. They are a Google, Bing, Moz, & Unbounce partner serving mid-enterprise level firms with search marketing.
He has been published in Moz, Kissmetrics, Crazy Egg, Ahref, Convince and Convert, Wordstream, Raven, Marin, Acquisio, Local Search Ranking Factors, and more. He has spoken at State of Search, MozCon Ignite, Big Digital, General Assembly, PeopleSpace Innovation Labs, SoCal Code Camp and others.