Startup founders, especially when first stepping out, often shoulder the mantle of being jack of all trades, master of none. They are stretched in a dozen different directions each week, perfecting their product, acquiring customers and — hopefully — securing the next round of funding. With their time, energy, and financial resources tapped to near-exhaustion, can a new founder create and sustain an impactful marketing strategy without a big budget?
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The short answer is yes; a startup doesn’t always need an expensive, flashy ad campaign to make its mark. Instead, the idea is to produce well-written content (aka owned media) that draws in customers — and investors — and to maximize that content with SEO best practices.
[TL;DR: Great content and smart SEO practices beget better search engine rankings and increased traffic for your brand.]
In addition to all of the benefits you’ll see from increased conversion rates and enhancing your brand reputation, adopting a robust content marketing strategy ensures that once you’ve gotten attention from investors, you can hold their interest and prove your credibility.
Following our last post on ways in which early-stage companies can leverage PR, or earned media, on a limited budget, in this post we’ll explore methods to complement those efforts through SEO, content marketing, and social media.
SEO For Beginners
How vital is it for early-stage companies to consider their SEO strategies as they build their content program, and what are some non-threatening ways to start? What is SEO and why is it important?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization: the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results. One of the best aspects of SEO is that once you start seeing results it creates a snowball effect where the results continue to build on themselves. Tamara Sykes with legal marketing firm Postali recommends reading through MOZ's introduction to SEO to get a better idea of what SEO is and why it's so important.
Often, early-stage companies don’t consider SEO as part of their initial marketing strategy his can be a mistake. SEO is a long-term game but when applied correctly, it can be an effective way to get ahead of the competition. Where brand awareness can help you build authority and credibility in your industry, increasing organic traffic can give you fresh visitors who can be converted into customers. Used the right way, SEO can be the foundation of your inbound marketing strategy.
How Do You Start an SEO Strategy?
How can a startup that’s already stretched to its limits think about implementing SEO into its business? It’s less scary and complicated than you might think — and well worth the effort.
First, says Matt Bertram, CEO and SEO strategist at EWR Digital, a full service digital marketing agency in Houston, start by defining your SEO goals. A common SEO goal, for example, is to increase your website’s organic traffic by X percent.
Next, research keywords that are relevant to your target audience and align with your defined goals. Ahrefs has this nifty list of free keyword research tools available.
Pick keywords that are realistic for you or your firm to get a search ranking. Focus on long-tail keywords that have less competition. A long-tail keyword is called “long-tail” not because of the number of words in the query but rather, because the search volume is low. For example if you’re in the travel industry, don’t target “holidays.” Try targeting instead “beginner mountain climbing holidays.”
A free tool to help you get started on identifying keywords is Answer the Public, a keyword tool that visualizes search questions and suggests autocomplete searches in an image called a search cloud.
Finally, take a look at your website structure, a crucial aspect of early-stage SEO. Search engines look at site structure when ranking websites. On a technical level, this simply means you need to use the appropriate H1–H5 tags when you post articles.
As a simple HTML lesson, the title of any page on your website should be in the H1 format. Then, subheadings should be H2, and smaller headings H3 and continue the trend.
“This simple formatting of text on a site will help startup companies start the long game of ranking well for desired keywords (that should ideally be in the title of website pages),” says Sarah Sherren, who does content marketing and is on the editorial team at customer review and information site Best Company. “It takes time to build website authority, but having things set up correctly from the start will allow Google to take notice of your company right away.”
Quality Content and SEO are Like Bananas and Peanut Butter: Better Together
Now that you have a primer on SEO, we’ll walk you through how to layer SEO on top of your content marketing program. SEO works well only if you also have quality content to keep people interested and engaged on your website.
Google's goal is for people to find exactly what they want. With this in mind, the ideal way to approach your content plan is to focus on research and on giving people the kind of content they are seeking out. Start by generating excellent content that aligns with Google's goal of upvoting quality content, advises Reuben Yonatan, founder and CEO of GetVoIP, a site that provides advice on selecting VoIP providers
Bertram of EWR Digital suggests planning your content around chosen keywords, and ensuring the content is of the highest quality and offers more value than other online content on that topic. The better your content is the more people will link to it; and ultimately, high-quality links are what will drive your website up search engine rankings.
Images Need SEO Love Too
While you’re at it, don't forget about unique tags and metadata descriptions — those special tags that Google reads to understand what your page or content is about — for your images. Using tags and meta for your images and video will allow the search engine algorithms to place the images in the right places and rate them accordingly.
The more tags and meta you use, the better chance of your SEO scoring highly on search engines.
“You want to aim for 3–4 tags at least per image and a brief yet descriptive way of commenting what the image shows the audience,” says Chans Weber, founder and CEO of Leap Clixx, an inbound marketing agency. “It can make a world of difference for very little work, do it from the start and you'll see the changes it makes.”
Make the Most Out of Every Piece of Content
When you have a lot of content to generate, streamlining your efforts is a must. With blogs, guest posts, social media content taking up mental bandwidth, it all can spread any stellar content writer a little thin. A consistent, simple SEO strategy will not only help you save time: it will drive more and more readers to your site. After all, that’s ultimately the bottom line, notes Alexandra Zamolo, head of content marketing at Beekeeper, a mobile platform for frontline workers. She offers the following simple-yet-effective methods when writing content as an excellent first step in streamlining your entire SEO strategy:
- Write with your keywords in mind. Attempting to add or "stuff" them into an article after the fact is not only time-consuming, but it keeps your content from having that authentic, organic feel that will entertain your readers and build trust with your audience.
- Place your keywords strategically in each post. Start off with consistently placing your primary keyword in your article title, first and last paragraphs, and both meta title and description. With secondary keywords, good placement is in the sub-headers and throughout the body of the text.
“You don’t need to hire a team to get started with SEO. The easiest way to start with SEO is just by writing blogs that thoroughly answer questions and solve problems for your potential customers,” says Colin Palfrey, CMO at Majesty Coffee. “Use the same words that your customers use when they are searching for the answer to this question, and Google will connect you with the right reader. The most important thing is to stay consistent, and you’ll start seeing your domain ranking increase over time.”
How Does Social Media Fit In?
According to SEMrush, social media does not directly contribute to SEO ranking, though the links you share across social platforms increase brand exposure. They add up and influence search engine optimization in six ways:
- Extensive content distribution
- Longer lifespan of your posts
- Improve online visibility and organic traffic
- Increase brand recognition
- Enhance brand reputation
- Boosts local SEO
That is to say, social media platforms’ algorithms tend to reward and focus on more popular posts. This means that the more hype there is around a post, the more chance there is that the algorithm in question will show it to more people.
“You therefore need to get the people that are involved with your brand (e.g. employees, investors, etc.) to share the positive media about your brand and reach more consumers. This will hopefully inspire more people to interact with the post and create the hype you’re looking for,” says Carla Diaz, co-founder of Broadband Search.
Another way to generate high engagement rates on social media without paid promotion is through contests and freebies.
“Social media is generally the easiest low-cost option, and social media giveaways in particular can garner high rates of engagement without paid promotion,” says Luke Thomas, PR specialist at Strong Automotive Merchandising.
Conclusion: The Best SEO Content is Readable Content
Rather than trying to game the system and stuff keywords willy-nilly into your content, begin first with empathy for your customers. Infuse the keywords that best address the pain points of your target customers or clients into your web copy.
“Don't write for search spiders. Write for eyeballs,” says Rafe Gomez of VC Inc. Marketing. “Don't try to be slick and cute with the placement of these words. Be honest, tasteful, and helpful. While seemingly simple, I've found that this methodology is the most effective when merging your search result goals with the needs, goals, and challenges of your intended buyer audience.”
Paid search ads might put you at the top of the results while you’re spending money on them, but SEO is forever, notes Thomas.
It’s easy to get caught in the weeds of ever-changing algorithms and technical know-how. But when you first think and act like a human being, the SEO will follow. The algorithms and bots are tools to find readers to bring to your brand. Your human content will keep them there.