Startups inevitably have limited resources, so it’s crucial to make every penny count. Whether you’ve secured backing from investors or you’re using personal savings, it’s easy to fritter money away without thinking strategically, setting goals and weighing-up the potential ROI of every online avenue.
Since forming my own online marketing company four years ago, I’ve had numerous conversations with business owners about dividing spend between SEO, social media and how to use a PPC agency to increase conversions. Ultimately, it’s about getting the balance right between achieving long-term goals and facilitating growth by quickly reaching the right people, so here’s my method for online marketing success.
1. Get your site up to scratch
Someone recently asked me whether SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) still matters, and there appears to be some misconception about this fundamental building block of online success. For most people, the term seems to refer to the practices of keyword optimisation and acquiring backlinks to your website – marketing methods that were once open to abuse but have since evolved.
Google used to rank web pages simply based on the number keywords and backlinks they had, seeing keywords as a signifier of relevant content and backlinks as recommendations – the more you had, the better quality your page must be, the higher you’d rank.
However, this led to the sly practice quantity over quality, with some companies littering their sites with keyword-rich but incoherent text and paying for backlinks from spurious third-parties with no regard for their legitimacy or value. People tried to game the system, but Google got smart; the ‘Panda’ and ‘Penguin’ updates now penalise those that dabble in these dodgy tactics.
So, unfortunately, many seem to view SEO as an outdated, underhand ‘dark art’, whereas SEO best practice should actually form the foundations of how your website is built. In short, search engine optimisation is all about making your site easy for search engines to read and understand, so it should be structured accordingly, making full use of every contributory factor.
That means: ALT tags for images (allowing search engines to ‘read’ them); creating a header to list your main navigation pages; building internal links between each page, indicating which ones are most important and telling search engines how to get there; following the rules for correct URL structure and ensuring your site is mobile-friendly.
Optimising your website is the first step to gaining traction in organic search listings, and the principles listed above will go a long way to improving the user experience, converting visitors into customers while also satisfying search engine bots. Thus, before you focus on any real marketing efforts, driving traffic to your site, it’s essential that your little corner of the Internet is designed properly, so make sure your web developer is well-versed in web design trends that are here to stay.
2. Quality content is key
These days, Google values the user experience above all else, and quality content will thrive in the rankings. The golden rule is to write directly for your audience, not the search engines. As mentioned above, the shady days of keyword-stuffing are over, but that doesn’t mean keywords don’t matter.
There are many free and subscription tools you can use to conduct keyword research, giving you clues as to popular search queries related to your business, allowing you to create content accordingly, but don’t try to cram them in if they feel unnatural.
If you write with a specific demographic in mind, crafting sales copy that inspires action and frames you as a market leader, your audience will find you. Google is clever enough to think semantically, i.e. it recognises closely-related words and phrases, so you’ll benefit from writing naturally rather than repeating the same phrase time and again purely in the hope of ranking.
Quality trumps quantity, but, having said that, product and service pages should contain a minimum of 250 words, giving plenty of scope to accurately sell yourself while also maximising the chances of search engine bots being able to read, understand and actually list your pages.
You should also ensure that all content is original; if you’ve copied swathes of text from other sites you’ll face duplication penalties, affecting your rankings and potentially leading to legal challenges from the original source. That goes for images, too – if pictures have been sourced from third-parties, be sure that you have the right to use them.
Talking of imagery, the medium of moving pictures is rapidly taking over the web and Cisco’s annual Visual Networking Index predicts that video content will account for 82% of all consumer internet traffic by the end of the decade.
Having a video on your product or service page allows people to see your wares in action, boosting conversion rates and encouraging more time spent on your site – another ranking factor that Google uses to determine how good your site is.
So, once the framework is in place and your website is correctly structured, you need to flesh it out with quality content. If you’re not a natural wordsmith, hire a decent copywriter with experience of writing for the web and if the money is there, you should also seriously consider producing explainer videos for your business.
3. Click into action
Once your site is fully-optimised, you can then get on with the ‘real’ marketing.
Dedicating some time to social media is a must, allowing you to get seen by the right people, but don’t try to do too much too soon. I’ve seen many businesses open accounts on multiple platforms only to let them stagnate, and there’s nothing more off-putting than stumbling across a profile that hasn’t been updated for two years.
Being social media savvy means making a commitment, so only target the platforms that really engage your customer base and don’t spread yourself too thin. The best way to extend your reach is to invest in social advertising, but it’s important to understand the difference between Impressions, Likes and Sales.
The great thing about social advertising and Pay Per Click marketing is the range of analytics on offer, allowing you to review, test and refine campaigns until they deliver serious returns.
Social media sites allow you to drill deep into the background, circumstances and behaviour of your target audience, guaranteeing your ads only get seen by those likely to buy. Likewise, PPC platforms, like Google AdWords, ensure that you dominate search results for specific keywords and target audiences, driving very focused traffic to your site.
The real beauty of Pay Per Click is that it does exactly what it says on the tin – you only pay when people click on your ad, making it the most cost-efficient form of online advertising. Provided that your site is structured properly and your landing pages are optimised to convert, PPC marketers are virtually guaranteed to see impressive ROIs.
Healthy AdWords campaign management should also involve split testing to see what works, with daily monitoring to ensure your Cost Per Click and Quality Scores are maximised and that your budget is accurately set.
There’s a fair bit of jargon to get your head around initially, but PPC is definitely worth the investment because, as long as the building blocks are in place, it should bring immediate results. If you decide to outsource your PPC efforts, here’s five questions to ask your AdWords agency.
Ultimately, before you start allocating funds to online marketing, you need to be absolutely certain that the architecture and content of your site is designed to convert. Once you’re satisfied that the foundations are in place, you can then start chasing customers through highly-targeted social advertising and PPC management.
The success of your startup will undoubtedly depend on getting the basics right, so don’t run before you can walk.