Startup Web Marketing: Where to Invest and Where to Skimp

As a successful entrepreneur, you’re well acquainted with picking and choosing where you’ll get the highest ROI with your limited startup funds. Expenses that will be more than justified 12 months into the company may not bring the right return in month one, two, or three.

From a web marketing standpoint, I want to give you an overview of where you need to invest right away, and where you can, and sometimes should, “skimp” for now.

1. Invest: Professional Website

I understand that appealing web design is very subjective. If for no other reason I know this because of my wife. Sometimes I’ll be in love with a web design which she things is, “meh.” Other times I despise a website design that she simply loves. Putting our preferences of design aside, one thing we can almost always agree on is when a website feels professional or not.

I think the closest analogy is a brick-and-mortar storefront. If you’re opening up a new storefront that you plan on making very successful, you’re simply not going to start out with a storefront that is less-than-professional. The lighting will be right. The parking lot will be accessible and clean. The signage will be modern and appealing. You simply won’t have a storefront that looks like it was thrown together by amateurs. You’re going to put your best foot forward and make the right impression.

It’s the same with your website. As a new company, your website is your first impression to potential customers. Putting your best foot forward by having a professional looking website will help set you up for success.

Skimp: Unneeded Bells & Whistles

While having a professional-looking website is key, as a startup often your website does not have to be packed full of a ton of features. Look at your website as an MVP (Minimum Viable Product). Often the features you think are essential right now will completely change in the next number of months. If the feature is essential to your business, go for it right away. But if you can wait on a certain feature, then wait. This is an opportunity to save costs, but more importantly it’s an opportunity to move quicker and not spent the time to build out features which you don’t know are needed yet.

2. Invest: Outside Web Design & Marketing Agency

Unless you’re in a position to be able to create a web presence and market it yourself, hiring a competent and results-focused agency can bring your highest ROI.

Web design and web marketing currently requires a very wide range of skill sets. They include:

  • Web Design
  • Front End Web Development
  • Back End Web Development
  • Paid Advertising
  • Organic Search Marketing
  • Copywriting
  • Graphic Design
  • Online PR
  • Social Media Community Management

While at times one person may excel in more than one of these skill sets, most often a different person is required for each area. By hiring a results-focused web marketing agency, you can tap into a full team of individuals who are able to lead you in the right direction (and do the work).

You can also hit the ground running with an agency. While there will be some special nuances of your company, market, and service offering, the agency should be able to get to work on day-1 as they do this on a regular basis.

Skimp: In-House Web Marketing Staff

In the beginning months, outsourcing all of your web marketing and design to a web design and marketing agency allows you to tap into one source for all the different skill sets which are needed for an effective web presence. The alternative would be to hire all of these skill sets in-house which would require at least five people.

When you do make a hire in the web marketing area, I recommend starting with a Marketing Director. This Marketing Director can work closely with your outside agency. It may be helpful for you in later months or years to continue building out an in-house staff of web design and marketers, though you may find that working with an outside agency indefinitely brings you the highest ROI.

3. Invest: Content Marketing & Online PR

In National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Clark starts having a breakdown when his much anticipated Christmas Bonus is a jelly of the month club membership. Cousin Eddy tries to reassure Clark that it’s “the gift that keeps on giving the whole year.

Just like the jelly of the month club (well, 100x better), content marketing can be the gift that keeps on giving the whole year (and the next and the next). Paid advertising will likely play a role, but the ultimate goal will be to create steady streams of incoming (relevant) traffic to your website. Traffic that you don’t have to pay for every time they click. Content marketing is the best way to ensure this.

What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is providing truly valuable information and tools to your target market, usually related to your business category, which draws an engaged audience ready to be taken to a next step. Notice I said “truly valuable”. This content needs to provide actual value to your target market with no strings attached. Even if the consumer of the content never buys from you, she should be able to get value from that content; that’s what makes it effective for your company.

Content marketing is nothing new, but I believe the ROI effects are able to be greater than ever.

Old-school examples of content marketing include:

  • The Furrow: a magazine for farmers published by John Deere since 1895
  • Jell-O Cookbook: a free cookbook distributed by Jell-O beginning in 1904

Modern day examples of content marketing include:

Why Content Marketing?

Communities online gather around content. It’s the centerpiece of online engagement. Whether it’s a meme, news piece, how-to article, tool, interview, or any other type of content, users gravitate to finding content they find relevant and valuable and then they share this content with their network.

By creating content which is specifically created to fill a need for a very focused target audience, you’re putting inbound marketing to work by first solving a problem in the form of content (when will then lead to solving a problem in the form of your product or service).

Content marketing is also at the heart of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). A foundational key to winning the Google-game is to create content which your target market finds valuable. The side benefit is that this content, when done right, will begin to show in Google results pages, generating traffic which you don’t have to pay for each time someone clicks your website’s listing.

Skimp: Press Releases and Traditional PR

Unless you have an announcement to make which is truly news-worthy, press releases are quickly becoming a thing of the past when it comes to ROI. Instead of putting your money into regular press releases, invest those resources into creating and distributing valuable content to your target audience.

4. Invest: Social Media Advertising

When I refer to social media advertising, I’m referring specifically to paying for ads to show on certain social networking websites (such as Facebook and LinkedIn). Facebook, for example, provides businesses with the ability to create and distribute ads to highly targeted demographics.

For example, let’s say your startup is a luxury brand geared towards females and you’re going to start in Los Angeles and San Diego. You can create a Facebook ad that targets females in Southern California who are college graduates, between the age of 27-45, and have expressed interest in other luxury brands (such as Louis Vuitton or Chanel).

These ads should be created with your intended action goal in mind. This might be “liking” your page on Facebook, signing up for a free offer (with their email) on your landing page, or completing a purchase. Facebook also gives you the ability to install a tracking “pixel” on your website so you can easily see your cost per signup/purchase/etc.

Social Media advertising gives you the ability to generate traffic quickly, but it also gives you the ability to get a sense of how your target market responds to specific messaging or your service offering in general. The immediate feedback that social media advertising can give you makes it an easy option for advertising when you’re getting started.

Skimp: Social Media Community Management

Social Media Community Management is the process of managing and developing a community of individuals who know, like, or follow your brand on social media. This often comes in the form of regular posts on a social media channel (Facebook, Twitter, etc) and engaging with the community to foster participation and discussion. This can be an incredibly valuable strategy when your company is at the point of having an established brand with either customers or those who know about your company and have an interest in your products or services.

As a startup, this is most likely an area you can skimp on for now. For social media, focus in on social media advertising (paid ads) and wait on community management until you’ve begun to generate a customer base.

Getting Started Right

As a recap, focus your startup’s early web marketing spending on:

  • A professional website design
  • An outside web marketing agency
  • Content marketing and online PR
  • Social media advertising

If you’d like help with any of these key areas of focus, or would like help in creating a web marketing plan for your startup, contact us at Success Agency. I personally would be happy to talk with you about your startup and help create a plan for success.