I could use some guidance from someone with marketing savvy. I’m a college senior graduating next month with my degree in political science. I’ve taken a handful of business classes throughout my time at college, but only one of them had to do with marketing.
I’m now in a bind because I accepted a job with a professional services startup, and they wanted me to begin working on projects at once. While I’m excited about jumping right in, I’m also nervous because I only have a single internship’s worth of relevant experience.
This past week, I was asked to put together a shortlist of possible SEO activities our team could try. I hate to admit it, but I don’t much about SEO, other than it’s somehow related to Google. My own direct experience involves traditional print media advertising, which is very different.
That’s why I need some input. Any advice related to SEO strategies for services startups would be much appreciated.
Despite what you might already assume, search engine optimization (SEO) really isn’t all that complicated to understand or implement. The keys to success are appropriate preparation and sound experimentation. You can’t expect to accomplish your business objectives without the right combination of tactical thinking and perseverance, especially when it comes to spearheading startup growth. Lucky for you, much has already been written about the subject. Your task, then, is to figure out which strategies make the most sense for your business.
Business Models: Services & Products
One immediate suggestion is to explore the differences between a product and a services business. Carlos Saba, the co-founder of The Happy Startup School, published an insightful Medium article explaining services versus product businesses. That’s an excellent place to begin your research. He candidly presents the pros and cons associated with each business model and even goes as far as describing what it takes to transition between the two models.
Take the time to reflect on how your business model might impact how you plan to market your branded services. For instance, as a services company, Carlos explains that you’ll have the advantage of low setup costs and catering to an existing market. That’s an important benefit, because it means you won’t have to do as much work as convincing future customers to try something unknown to them. Product businesses don’t have that luxury. Instead, they require larger capital investments upfront and, at some point, they must focus almost exclusively on optimization.
Prudence would demand that you also take relevant disadvantages into full consideration. According to Carlos, both product and services businesses have cons unique to them that must be negotiated with care. Delivering services is often labor intensive and scaling the business can be expensive, too. More importantly, your financial situation can have a disproportionate impact on your creativity. Launching products is another beast altogether. The demand is always unknown to begin with and it becomes more difficult to pivot once the product itself is established.
Something else to remember is that when it comes to delivering professional services, there’s always a possibility for some fraction of overlap. In other words, one of your biggest clients might be a product company launching something new. If that were the case, you’d likely encounter the cons associated with both models, simultaneously. That’s why it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of both models.
Your next step is investigating viable SEO strategies. Allie Decker at Foundr already put together a beginner’s guide to startup SEO. Her five do-it-yourself (DIY) tips are sure to be helpful:
- Know your target audience
- Research and apply keywords
- Turn up your content volume
- Socialize (i.e., use social media)
- Analyze and audit
Each category is important. Knowing your audience is self-explanatory. It doesn’t make sense to market your product or service to the wrong people. You always want your product or service most accessible to those that stand to benefit from its use. Keyword research is often misunderstood or underestimated by businesses. Clutch contributor, Kelly Shelton, wrote a thoughtful piece outlining four steps to identify target keywords. His recommendations are all intuitive and accessible. Pay close attention to his third step, which encourages startups to capture “lower-volume, long-tail keywords.” That’s the best way to expose your branded services to people with the highest intent.
Once you have an accurate target audience in mind and keywords to capture them, the next step is turning up your content volume. Forbes contributor, R.L. Adams, reinforced the importance of content development and articulated how Google prefers seeing quality of quantity. In other words, don’t publish anything irrelevant to your brand or customers, otherwise, you run the risk of inadvertently discouraging them. Thoughtful, compelling content that adds value to your existing and future customers should be your main focus.
Unfortunately, developing an effective content marketing strategy is no trivial endeavor. There’s no shortage of moving parts to orchestrate. Nevertheless, author Sheza Gary at StartupNation shared six tips for building a successful content marketing strategy, which could be a great place to begin brainstorming. Most of her suggestions are equally as valid as those proposed by R.L. Adams; however, the last two merit closer attention: (1) perform competitive analysis, and (2) utilize the right instruments. These two considerations align closely with Allie Decker’s fifth pointer–analyze and audit.
Never make ill-informed decisions when it comes to SEO strategy. Everything your business does should be data-driven. Don’t make decisions based on speculation and/or opinion. Carolanne Mangles at Smart Insights have done you the favor of composing a full compilation of essential digital marketing tools. Her list is relatively comprehensive but you shouldn’t feel overwhelmed because there’s often some considerable overlap across different tools. She’s also categorized each tool based on the goals they help you achieve (e.g., outreach, engagement, conversion, and social sharing). Tapping into these tools will enable your business to make well-informed decisions and then retroactively evaluate them. Rely heavily on that approach and you’ll be much better positioned to succeed.
You Aren’t Alone
The last thing to remember is that none of this has to be done alone. Forbes contributor, Deborah Sweeney, shared five tips to partnering with another business for the first time. She explains the various benefits associated with such a tactic right along with the risks. At the end of the day, cultivating strong partnerships with other businesses is an excellent way to add more value to your brand. The real challenge is figuring out which specific businesses you should approach for a possible partnership.
Take Benchon as an illustrative example. The startup is based in Brisbane, Australia and focused on pairing idle employees with short-term contract opportunities. In other words, it is a professional services startup much like yours. It’s easy to imagine the team preoccupied with developing their core offering. As a result, tapping into a talented Brisbane SEO company is the best way to ensure that the business doesn’t compromise its core offering while trying to market it. That means they can avoid having to become experts in a separate field altogether. The same would likely hold true for you.
Utilizing a business partner for digital marketing can also mean access to more granular data that might otherwise be available. For instance, your business partner could craft a customer survey to collect valuable data. You’d be surprised just how much you can learn from survey data, and something as simple as cross tabulation analysis. There are few greater advantages than access to original customer data and insights.
Adequate financing is the most common barrier to implementing these various strategies. Since the grand majority of startups are bootstrapping with limited funds, some will have to explore more unconventional methods of self-funding (e.g., hard money lenders in San Diego). Unconventional financing is often explored by those that cannot acquire venture capital, which is very competitive. However, the most fortunate startups are those that develop quid pro quo partnerships. In other words, there aren’t financial transactions; rather, both businesses create and share mutual value with and for one another. That’s the ideal scenario because you can then avoid the financing barrier altogether.
“SEO is not spam.” – Matt Cutts
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