Written by Sam Yadegar on Jun 15 , 2020

To survive in the competitive startup world, establishing a strong online presence through digital marketing is key.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Why digital marketing for startups is so important
  • How to create a digital marketing plan for your startup
  • A variety of digital marketing tactics to explore
  • Actionable search engine marketing (SEM) tactics

Launching a startup is like bungee jumping — both thrilling and terrifying at once! But seeing your business idea come to life is a feeling that’s hard to beat.

Once you’ve got your startup going, digital marketing is the essential tool you’ll need to get the word out. While you can start implementing digital marketing at any stage of your business development, the earlier you do it, the faster you’re likely to see results.

Many facets of digital marketing are ongoing processes that build up value over time. The earlier you get your ducks in a row when it comes to your marketing plan, the better off you’ll be — even when adjustments need to be made.

Below, we lay out how to build a strong foundation when it comes to digital marketing for startups.

hawksem: digital marketing for startups

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

1. Explore free tools

Paid search marketing (also referred to as pay-per-click or PPC) is one of the most effective digital marketing methods around. It makes sense: people typing queries related to your offering in search engines will — ideally — see your ads on the search engine results page (SERP) and click through to learn more about you. 

Luckily, you don’t need a huge budget to include paid search in your marketing program. Particularly when it comes to crafting your ads and targeting your audience, you can find free tools to do everything from keyword search and content improvement to competition monitoring.

The majority of such tools come with a free version or a free trial. While free options don’t offer the same functionality as full versions, they can be a great place to start when it comes to familiarizing yourself with the platform. 

These tools include:

2. Be thoughtful about your social media

Depending on your target audience, odds are they’re spending at least some time on social media platforms. About 97% of U.S. adults under 65 are using social media. More than half of the world’s population is there as well.

It may be tempting to take full advantage of this platform for organic and affordable paid efforts. But social media marketing takes time and serious involvement, potentially leaving you with fewer resources for other tactics, depending on your team size.

Instead of randomly posting on all of the major platforms without a cohesive plan, startups can begin by picking one platform to start focusing efforts on. The majority of startups choose Facebook since it shows the highest global reach rate.

You should opt for whichever one the majority of your audience uses most. Depending on the products or services you’re selling, you may want to start with Instagram. This platform is a good choice for beauty, fashion, and other visual-centric industries. 

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 do expand your posting.

3. Hack your knowledge base

Most startups eventually create a knowledge base for their clients to access. Be it technical documentation or how-to guides, you can take full advantage of these materials for your company’s own SEO purposes.

Creating quality content is time-consuming but crucial for a fruitful digital marketing campaign. Optimizing and repurposing content you already have or are in the process of creating is a way to work smarter vs. harder. Some ways to do this include:

  • Add keywords to your knowledge base materials and post the fulls 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

4. Start building your email lists

Like paid search, email marketing is another component of a strong digital marketing strategy. Not only that, but email marketing has come quite a long way since it was created decades ago.

These days, 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. 

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
hawksem: digital marketing for startups blog

You can actually use your competition to your advantage by studying what works for them. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Leverage user-generated content

User-generated content (UGC) is a powerful marketing tool that costs you close to nothing. It allows your customers to become brand ambassadors, while making your job easier so you focus on other marketing strategies.

According to Social Media Week, 78% of millennials would rather see photos of real customers using products than more polished brand-generated images.

Simple ways to gather UGC marketing for startups include:

  • Creating customer surveys
  • Interviewing experts in your field
  • Running contests
  • 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

6. Keep an eye on the competition

Chances are, your startup company has some competition. Not only is this to be expected, but it can even benefit you! You can actually use your competition to your advantage by studying what works for them — and how you could potentially make it work for you.

While you don’t want to simply mimic, rip off, or copycat another brand, you can make note of successful tactics and brainstorm how your team can use them in your own ways. 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? 

7. Focus on PPC campaign quality vs. quantity

PPC advertising is an excellent way to generate leads. That’s why many new brands sometimes dive deep into PPC ads, spending more money than they should.

In reality, when it comes to marketing for startups, it’s better to focus on quality instead of quantity when it comes to your paid search campaigns.

Once you launch your first campaign, you’ll quickly learn how much attention it requires, from regular monitoring to A/B testing. As soon as you build one successful campaign, you can consider creating more, then optimizing the existing ones so they continue performing well.

Pro tip: If you’re working with an experienced SEM agency and they suggest a different tactic, go with that — they know what they’re talking about!

The takeaway

With digital marketing as a priority for your startup, you’ll be poised to see impressive success, growth, and development. 

It can feel overwhelming with all that goes into keeping a nascent company powering through, especially in time like these. Create an action plan that’s thorough yet doable, and you’ll be headed in the right direction.

Know that you’ve got the 411 on digital marketing for startups, find out how we can help you maximize your resources and crush your competition.

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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