Written by Sam Yadegar on Dec 9 , 2022

Hey, startups: Are your digital marketing efforts falling flat? Try these 8 tips to catapult your success.

Here, you’ll find:

Launching a startup is like bungee jumping — thrilling and terrifying all at once. 

But seeing your idea come to life is pretty hard to beat.

And in an industry full of digitally savvy owners and employees, startup businesses understand the important role digital marketing plays in their business’s success. 

But if you took the leap, only to find your digital marketing efforts left you hanging, don’t panic. These 8 tips can launch your digital marketing strategy (and startup) toward serious success.

hawksem: digital marketing for startups

You can find free tools to do everything from keyword search and content improvement to PPC campaign analysis and competition monitoring. (Image: Unsplash)

1. Don’t skip keyword research

The buying journey begins with a keyword. 

From search engine optimization (SEO) to pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, keywords act as the blueprint for your strategy. The more relevant your keywords are, the better chances you’ll have at engaging the right audience. 

Consider using tools like AnswerThePublic and Keywords Everywhere: Enter at least two words that describe your product, service, or offer. These tools will give you suggestions for keywords you can target in your ad campaigns and website content.

Besides the basic keyword research practices, it’s also essential to keep the following in mind:

  • Stage of the funnel – keywords need to differ for potential customers at different stages of the sales funnel
  • Existing content – if two or more pages on your website are targeting the same keyword, they’re competing against each other on the search engine results page (SERP), which can hurt your rankings
  • Branded keywords – this is especially geared toward PPC ads, however, be sure to include branded keywords in your marketing campaign (because your competition certainly will)

And, look. We all have a tendency to over-complicate things. 

While keyword research tools are extremely useful, don’t forget that Google search itself is perhaps the most insightful (and free!) tool of all. Put yourself in the shoes of your target audience and enter a few Google searches. 

Do your competitors show up? What are Google’s predictive text suggestions? Check out the “People also ask,” and “related searches” sections, too. 

Once you’ve done some research and determined the best keywords to go after, you can build a more organized campaign in Google Ads, write smart ad copy, create a content calendar, optimize your website, and design eye-catching landing pages that motivate action.

Pro tip: Don’t forget to pay special attention to negative keywords — the search terms you don’t want to target in your PPC campaigns. Common examples include “Free,” and “Cheap.”

2. Review your website

The top search result in Google’s organic listings has an average CTR of 27.6%. Needless to say, the quality of your website has a direct effect on the success of your digital marketing strategy.

Google works hard to make the searcher’s experience as helpful and effortless as possible. To accomplish this, Google uses web crawlers that read and index the pages on your website and, using an algorithm with ranking factors that signify how helpful and relevant a website is to a searcher.

To ensure your website has a better chance of ranking, conduct a quick website audit. You can use a tool like Ahrefs to help you with your website audit. When you go to Ahrefs, enter your website’s URL and run an audit. 

Ahrefs will crawl your site and return an overall “health” score of your site. It will also show you areas where you can improve the health of your site. This includes fixing broken links, testing your site speed, reviewing the mobile-friendliness of your site, and making sure your pages are indexed properly.

Google rewards you for creating a high-quality website, and an engaging website will keep people on your website longer. This gives you more time to engage customers and encourage them to buy.

When it comes to everything from the design to the technical SEO, you want to ensure your website is in top form. 

Pro tip: In 2021, Core Web Vitals became an official ranking factor. Take the time to make sure your website’s vitals are in top shape. Otherwise, they could hinder your marketing strategy.

3. Explore free tools to drive paid and organic traffic to your site

Paid search marketing (also referred to as PPC) is one of the most effective methods around when it comes to digital marketing for startups

And many of the tools used to assist your PPC campaign buildout and optimization (think keyword research and competitor analysis) offer a free version or a free trial.

Even if free options don’t offer the same functionality, they can be useful for your preliminary strategy and ongoing PPC and organic optimization alike. 

Here are some tools that help improve your digital presence:

In addition to improving your digital presence, you’ll also want to properly track where your conversions are coming from, so you can maximize your ad spend. For this, there’s ConversionIQ.

Our proprietary marketing platform connects all of your online advertising and marketing channels into one dashboard

The result? A reporting system and optimization tool that gives us a clear picture of your marketing efforts — and where improvement opportunities exist. 

Transparent analytics and reporting without hopping around from platform to platform.

4. Use audience research to guide your social media marketing decisions

More than 70% of American adults use social media.

Most startups choose Facebook as their debut to the social media world, because it has the highest global reach rate. However, Facebook might not always be the best fit for you. 

Instead, use audience research to identify which social platform the majority of your audience uses most. Audience research tells you more than what search terms your customers are using — it tells you who your customers are, what sources of influence matter to them, and where they spend their time on social media.

“You need audience research to get your message where your ideal customer already is,” says Amanda Natividad, VP of marketing at SparkToro.

An audience research strategy means you’re keeping a pulse on what your audience cares about and what they’re already talking about. Then it’s up to you to create the content that resonates with them.”

To conduct audience research, start by engaging in organic conversations with your audience to learn what they care about, what social accounts they follow, what problems they have, and where they spend time. 

You can also use a tool like SparkToro to enter keywords and learn more about how your audience behaves online. Compare and contrast the information you found in your SparkToro search with the conversations you had with customers to draw conclusions.

Once you find out who your audience is and where they spend their time, you can focus your content creation efforts on the social media platform that makes the most sense for your startup

What’s more, your audience research will tell you what kind of content will engage them most.

Pro tip: Even if you don’t start posting on all social channels immediately, it’s a good idea to go ahead and claim your company’s name as your username across the major platforms, so you’ll be aligned and easy to locate once you expand your posting.

5. Optimize your knowledge base

According to Salesforce, 89% of millennials will use a search engine before calling customer service. 

That means startups should create a knowledge base to provide excellent resources right on their website. 

Be it technical documentation, FAQs, or how-to guides, you can take full advantage of these materials to provide a top-notch customer experience online.

But providing tutorials and answers to customer questions aren’t the only benefits of a robust knowledge base. These resources also help dictate your company’s content marketing and search engine optimization strategy.

Creating quality content is time-consuming but crucial to help your startup stand out in a crowded sea of competitors.

And while creating new content for your website goes a long way, you don’t have to create all new content to boost your SEO efforts. It’s just as effective to optimize and repurpose existing content (score!).

The reason? The age of a particular URL is a Google ranking factor. 

As such, you often have a higher chance of ranking for a particular keyword if you optimize and refresh an old post instead of creating a completely new post.

Some ways to refresh old posts include:

  • Add keywords to your knowledge base materials and post the full texts on your website 
  • Use the existing content in blogs and on social media to establish yourself as an industry expert
  • Add links to this content on your website for internal linking purposes (when it makes sense)

When you create new knowledge base content, keep SEO best practices in mind

6. Start building your email lists

Like paid search and content marketing, email marketing is another component of a well-rounded digital marketing strategy

Stats show there are 4 billion daily email users and that people engage with company emails. And 77% of marketers saw a boost in email engagement in the 12-month period from July 2021 to July 2022, according to HubSpot.

The best news about email marketing? Startups can use an email service provider (ESP) that integrates with ecommerce websites. These ESPs have features that make it possible to easily capture email addresses, segment lists, and test emails to increase open and click-through rates.

Start your email marketing strategy by including an email subscriber form on any page where your audience frequents. Add a subscriber form to your home page, your checkout process, and your most popular blog posts.

Additionally, you can take advantage of automation and other tools to create personalized email campaigns that target the right people at the right stage of the buyer’s journey.

Automated emails generate 320% more revenue than manual emails. Once your list is ready, you can initiate various automated email marketing campaigns for different segments of your audience at different stages of the sales funnel.

Once you’ve picked out a solid email platform to use, you can work on building your list through tactics including:

  • A limited-time offer or special discount
  • Offering exclusive content
  • Putting an email signup form on your website
  • Creating a contest that involves opting in to enter

Of all the various email automation tactics startups can use to engage customers, it’s essential to set up an abandoned cart automation.

Research from the Baymard Institute found that the average cart abandonment rate across industries is nearly 70%.

Startups that are not using an abandoned cart recovery email are wasting a huge opportunity to re-engage customers and capture a sale. In fact, online shoppers openly admit they abandon carts and wait for a re-engagement email to get a discount.

Online shopping Tweet

Image: Twitter

To quantify the importance of sending abandoned cart automation emails, Omnisend found sending three abandoned cart emails results in 69% more orders than a single email.

Your ESP will walk you through the exact steps of how to set up an abandoned cart automation email series. Typically, you’ll start by requiring an email address during the checkout process. Then, you’ll set up a trigger in your ESP to send an automated email to any subscriber who clicked out of your site before finishing their purchase.

7. Leverage user-generated content

User-generated content (UGC) is a powerful marketing tool that often costs you next to nothing. This smart marketing solution allows your customers to become brand ambassadors while making your job easier so you can focus on other marketing matters.

According to Forbes, More than 86% of companies use UGC as part of their marketing strategy. And, stats show UGC works well in influencing purchasing decisions. Customer Acquisition found that brands have a high track record of success with UGC. It reported the following impressive metrics:

  • 28% increase in conversion rate when combining paid content and UGC
  • 12X engagement for video UGC over other types of videos
  • 20%-50% more attention to UGC ads over conventional ads on the same topic

In short, consumers love UGC because they trust other consumers and influencers over branded content.

There are several types of UGC startups can use to boost credibility and lend social proof to their company. UGC includes reviews, unboxing videos, how-to tutorials, Instagram content, TikTok videos, and sponsored posts.

Startups can also use UGC across all platforms to improve digital marketing efforts. This includes posting UGC on their website, social accounts, and review pages.

Il Makiage is an example of a brand that uses UGC effectively. It pulls content from its customers right into its web design and product description pages to show other consumers how real customers are using the product in question.

User generated content

Showing how real customers use your product is a brilliant way to encourage other customers who are browsing your products to buy.

Simple ways to gather UGC marketing for your content strategy include:

  • Creating customer surveys
  • Interviewing experts in your field
  • Running contests with branded hashtags
  • Asking customers to leave reviews
  • Posting customers’ content on your website and social media (with permission)
  • Offering incentives to loyal customers who refer new customers
  • Gifting customers free products

Pro tip: To gather more reviews, register your company on Google Business Profile and Bing Places.

8. Keep an eye on the competition

With robust advances in technology, high growth rates in retail, tech and commerce, nearly 5 billion global internet users, and more people than ever are using the internet to shop, we’ve seen a staggering number of new, competitive, startups enter the business landscape. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing — if you’re strategic about it.

You can actually use your competition to your advantage by studying their case studies and what works for them — and how you could potentially make it work for you to provide a better user experience.

While you don’t want to mimic or copy another brand, you can make note of successful tactics and brainstorm how your team can use them in your own ways, and implement their tactics as part of your growth strategy.

Ask yourself questions like: Are they ranking for a topic you could write a better, more recent content piece about? Are there high-volume keywords they’re not targeting? 

Once you’ve got the 411 on online marketing for startups, find out how we can help you maximize your resources, optimize your marketing channels, and crush your competition with our digital marketing services.

The takeaway

There’s a lot that goes into effective digital marketing for startups. But when you prioritize these eight practices, you’ll be poised to see impressive success, growth, and development. 

Of course, it can feel overwhelming with all that goes into keeping a nascent company powering through, especially in times like these. Create an action plan with the help of a startup marketing agency that’s thorough yet doable, and you’ll be headed in the right direction.

When in doubt, HawkSEM is the digital marketing agency trusted by startups to boost brand awareness, lead generation, and scale their business.

This article has been updated and was originally published in June 2020.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

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