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Written by Sam Yadegar on Nov 29 , 2021

Digital marketing could be your key to surviving in the competitive, ever-evolving startup world.

Here, you’ll find:

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

Once you’ve got your business going, digital marketing is the essential tool you’ll need to get the word out. 

While you can implement digital marketing at any stage of your startup development, the earlier you do it, the faster you can begin to see results.

Many digital marketing practices are ongoing and build up value over time. So, 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 PPC campaign analysis and competition monitoring. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Do your keyword research

Keywords help guide multiple facets of your digital marketing strategy. Once you determine the right keywords to go after, you can take the next steps to create content, set up your paid marketing campaign, design landing pages, and more.

Besides the basic keyword research practices, keep in mind:

  • Stage of the funnel – keywords need to differ for 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 – include branded keywords in your marketing campaign — because it’s likely your competition will

It’s also a good idea to pay special attention to negative keywords. These are the terms you don’t want to target in your PPC campaign.

For example, you’re selling laptops and setting up a Google Ads campaign. Since you don’t offer any repair services, you don’t want people who are looking for “laptop repair” to click your ads. Place “repair” on the negative keyword list. Otherwise, your cost-per-click rate will go up needlessly.

2. Review your website

Your website’s quality has a direct effect on the success of your digital marketing strategy. 

Google is working hard to make the experience as close to perfect as possible for the searcher. Doing the same won’t just help you get higher rankings, but it’ll also keep people on your website longer. This gives you more time to drive the sale through.

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

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

It makes sense: people typing queries related to your offering in search engines will, ideally, see your ads on the SERP and click through to learn more about you. 

Particularly when 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 (or working with a hands-on agency), they can be a great place to start when it comes to familiarizing yourself with the platform. 

These tools include:

4. Be thoughtful about your social media

Depending on your target audience, odds are they’re spending at least some time on social media platforms. That’s because more than 70% of American adults use some type of social media.

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. 

If you’re a B2B company, LinkedIn is the social media channel to explore first. Today, more than 65 million decision-makers take advantage of this social media platform. At least a third of them use LinkedIn for product search.

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. 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 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, email marketing is another component of a well-rounded digital marketing strategy. 

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. 

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
hawksem: digital marketing for startups blog

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

7. Leverage user-generated content

User-generated content (UGC) is a powerful marketing tool that generally costs you next to nothing. It 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.

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

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

8. 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 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? 

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

The takeaway

There’s a lot that goes into digital marketing for startups. But when you prioritize these 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 that’s thorough yet doable, and you’ll be headed in the right direction.

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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