Having been a part of three startup organizations myself, I can say with confidence that startups shouldn't spend a large portion of the marketing budget on SEO. Instead, a better strategy for enhancing your company's presence would be to maintain a strong focus on growing the brand's web presence organically, through links back to your site, mentions in industry-related articles, and building relationships with blog editors and journalists. All of this will help out with SEO success later on down the road; in fact, backlinks and press hits have become a prerequisite of sorts for being able to compete via SEO in competitive niches.
Don't get me wrong, SEO is a powerful tool, but if you aren't generating buzz around the Internet, getting the mentions and link-backs, then you're wasting your money. SEO isn't some magic formula that you can throw a lot of money at and expect instant results. SEO is just one part of a much larger plan.
Marketing dollars, especially early on, would be better spent on good old-fashioned networking and the development of intriguing, original content - shareable content. Development of this content is a service provided by some SEO firms in addition to executing the typical on-page tactics, but SEO should still be viewed as an investment with a longer-term payout, and most startups need sales revenue now.
Here are seven alternatives to spending your marketing resources on SEO:
Play Lois Lane (or Clark Kent). One of the easiest ways to get your company name floating around is by offering up assistance where it might be needed. Does an industry-related blog need content? Maybe you could offer to write a monthly column or report on something that's currently affecting your industry. Writing an article for publication is also a great excuse to reach out to people who you'd like to be in touch with.
A great story often uses quotes and real-life scenarios, so use the opportunity as an excuse to get in contact with potential customers, competitors, or other influencers that you'd like to make aware of your business presence. In return for your efforts, you can ask the publisher to please link back to your company in the area where they identify you as the author of the piece.
You'll also reap the benefits of any social media sharing that happens on behalf of the people you interviewed. People like to be featured and interviewed, so make the story good and they'll pass the content along for you. It's a win-win.
Retain good design. People love looking at, engaging with, and sharing good-looking things - photographs, videos, infographics, visuals - it doesn't matter. That's why finding a great graphic designer is so important. In my experience, it seems like a majority of business owners are hesitant on spending any significant portion of the marketing budget on good design. It doesn't make sense to me.
If you want people to stand up and pay attention, if you want them to talk about you and share your work, it must be attractive. That's just the way it works. So take the time to find the right person for your graphic design. You need someone who can create beautiful collateral for your website and other marketing efforts, so make sure she understands your goals and that you're confident in her creative ability.
Good design is also something that will likely lend itself to quality organic rankings when the time comes to pursue SEO, as the search engines have suggested that they're weighing web visitor "quality indicators" more than ever before in rankings calculations, and good design should improve those indicators.
Find an advocate. You know how it feels when a friend excitedly explains to you about a new product she bought or a recent experience she had? That's the exact same feeling you should spend money on. Hiring a public relations person who can recreate that feeling and drum up excitement when she's out talking about your startup is incredibly important.
When hiring for the role, I would focus on connecting with a person who feels like an advocate; someone who is so excited by your product or service that she can't help but talk about it when she meets new people. It's pretty simple, people feed off other people's excitement or lack of. Make sure you have an advocate, not just a PR person - there's a big difference.
Get face-to-face. Email and texting and social media - they're all great. No doubt. But you know what's even better? Face-to-face, real-life interactions with other people. Especially when you're trying to make an impression and build solid relationships with the people in your industry who can help you get your name out there. Take some time and get out from behind your computer to move around in the world.
So make it a point to attend industry mixers and networking events. It might be nerve-wracking at first, but from firsthand experience I can tell you that these events can be valuable tools for building up your name brand within your respected industry.
Stay top-of-mind. Once you've made the effort to 1) get out from behind your computer and meet people face-to-face, 2) provide content to relevant publishers, and 3) interview influencers in your industry, you'll want to tend to your investment. It's easy to send out short emails every now and again to the contacts you've made when you run across something you think they might be interested in.
Stay top-of-mind with your contacts by reaching out every so often with news, events, or funny anecdotes about the things you know they're interested in. It's a friendly and non-intrusive way to stay in touch and it's a great way to drop info about your company without seeming pushy. Stay top-of-mind by using a little personal touch in the next email you send out.
Be chatty. Follow the bloggers in your space and make an effort to comment on articles that you like or disagree with. No need to get excessive here, but being an active participant is a great way to get your name mixing with the people who matter in your business realm. It's also a more natural way to introduce your name and company to the person running the blog.
Leaving comments on posts and consequently receiving a reply from the article author or blog owner is a much warmer introduction than a, "Dear So-and-So, I found your contact info on your blog and I need a favor. Yada Yada." Bloggers will be much more inclined to help out someone who is a genuine fan of their work; someone who takes the time to participate in the space they've created online.
Give it away. Pay a graphic designer to do great work, spend time and effort interviewing people and writing articles, be generous with your time…do all of this. And then give it away. Offer your content to editors and bloggers. Share what you create. Upload your interesting infographics on infographic sharing sites like Visual.ly.
Being of service to people is one of the quickest ways to earn their trust. Most people are contacting them and looking for a favor. Be the one who reaches out to say, "How can I help?" They'll appreciate the offer and remember you when they need a quote for a story about something going on in your industry and when they're compiling "best of" lists.
Basically, just be an active participant in what's happening around you. Spend some time on public relations outreach. Build relationships with the writers and editors of the blogs, sites, and publications where you'd like to be mentioned. Let them know that you or another representative from your company would be happy to contribute to what they do, either through contributing editorial content, or providing quotes whenever an article regarding your industry pops up. See if they'd be interested in enhancing related articles with an infographic or other shareable pieces of content, like video, that your company could provide.
You'll get the link back to your site when they credit your company for the collateral, and you could also earn a mention in the article when the graphic is referenced. This is a way to very organically inject your company name into the industry space, as well as keep your company on the forefront of the editors' and writers' minds when future related stories come up.
These are just a few ways that you can start to build up your brand's web presence without relying solely on SEO efforts.
Aubrey is director of content for Salted Stone, an award-winning boutique digital agency that drives increased revenue for clients by producing extraordinary websites, digital collateral, and search marketing campaigns.
Aubrey specializes in helping businesses engage with their clients and respective audience. She has experience working in a broad range of industries, including technology, e-commerce, licensing, marketing, and publishing.