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The four forgotten basics of startup web visibility

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Your idea? Genius.

Your site? Gorgeous. Your content? Engaging and informative. So where is everybody?

If you’re like most startups, to some extent, you’re bootstrapping, and your budget for marketing your business isn’t exactly … in existence. You pioneered your entire business, right? Can’t you bootstrap your marketing too.

Well, yes and no. Even if your content is so legendary and your product is so earth-shattering that they will market themselves, the idea that content can be strong enough to create an audience in a vacuum is false.

And for your marketing to be effective, you’ll have to remember that someone has to expend some combination of time, effort and expense to get it started. For some lucky souls, marketing will be as simple as some networking and handing out a few business cards.

For the 99% of us that live on the outskirts of reality, we know we have to put our backs into it, so to speak.

So you’ll set up your blog, generate some buzz, write for some top shelf publications and wait. Things may even go well for a while. But why does it seem to stop? Or worse yet, why are so few people showing up to support you?

Here are some basics about getting yourself visible on the web that aren’t widely written about any more, mostly because it’s assumed that everyone starting out knows these things.

Blogging is more than putting up blog posts

To truly get the best efforts out of blogging, you must be ready to embrace the entire blogosphere. That means

  1. writing about and linking to other bloggers,
  2. reading their posts and leaving comments,
  3. responding to comments people leave on your site,
  4. squelching the urge to moderate comments until your site is popular
  5. supporting other bloggers through promotion of their projects on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  6. put up a newsletter subscription box and periodically mention it

…you get the idea. The less you make the exercise all about you, the more you get people on your side, promoting your message. Craziest thing, but it really is true.

Say something epic. Everywhere.

We covered having great content a couple of sentences in. But it’s not just about the content itself, it’s about what your company “says”, how your product speaks to the marketplace, as well as how you express that consistently through the marketplace.

The reason why branding is such a big deal to iconic companies is that people from attachments to the brands they support. Have a look at Apple. Their fans are frevently, almost viciously not just supportive pf but protective of the brand.

If you want the techie audience, let your content and the way it is arranged appeal to techies. If you want an audience over a certain age that wants information without all the fancy dressings, set up your site in a way they’ll adore.

Have your whitepapers, presentations, videos, blog post, articles, and website reflect that. Give your company an epic identity that makes a statement, one your core audience reacts to, then infuse everything your company does with that persona.

Self promotion is a service, not a sin

All of us are reluctant to promote ourselves if it’s going to make us look like that one douche-y acquaintance who spams everyone about their brand new MLM company and how it’s going to change the world. No one has the heart to explain to the poor sap that he’s just spamming everyone and you’re hiding his updates from your Facebook stream (OMG – did you know you can do that now, without unfriending? Next article.).

And you don’t want to be that poor sap.

What you don’t realize is that promoting your company effective is all in the approach. You’ve got to get the used car salesman out of your head and replace it with the laid back infiltration of your favorite brand. Because you’re marketing yourself already, whether your know it or not.

Handing out business cards is marketing.

So is networking with people you hope can help you spread the word, as is advertising. What you need is a way to do it more effectively, at a price that is easy on your budget. And it’s simple really.

Educate, entertain and inform. Make the solution to your customer’s problems the star, not your product. Yes, the solution and your product are one and the same.

But.

When your content revolves around solving the small problems your customers have on the way to your solution, you become the trusted advisor, and the obvious choice. For example, let’s say you want to sell new houses to the increasing segment of the market that has chosen to remain single. Maybe you can write about how single people deal with home improvement projects. It’s more difficult to do on a single income, and where there is labor involved, one person may be overwhelmed on a job that is meant for two.

Maybe single people have questions about how much house they should get, or whether they can qualify for the financing for the home they want.

Write into the thought and conversation stream that already exists for these folks. They’re asking these questions in forums. They’re typing them into search engine. They’ve signed up to a Q and A site just to ask that one question.

Be there with the answer.

Be of service in order to promote yourself and people will love your for it – even demand more of it.

Think distribution

The number one area that startups especially are lacking in their marketing is a consistent distribution channel.

For example, a blog post is published. All the appropriate channels have been alerted. Maybe someone shares it once on Twitter or Facebook. And that’s it.

These are all fine steps, but this is not where content marketing stops. No one wants to go to a party someone else isn’t already attending. But what happens until the first guest shows up? How do you kick off the process of building a community around our blog that will share your post and tell others?

No, you don’t want to hound strangers, or even your close friends to retweet you and submit your articles to StumbleUpon.

But if you’ve been doing that for other people, who occasionally do the same for you, it might be smart to send out your tweet about your article when they’re on, after you’ve retweeted one of their posts and made some small talk.

Even if you have to set up a few other employees to automatically tweet company posts, it’s a start.

If you have a commenting system like Disqus or Livefyre, it may be wise to ping people you’ve mentioned in the blog post.

You could start a group of startups on Facebook and encourage members to promote each other’s content.

There are tools like Triberr that will even organize this effort for you, with settings that will allow you to either publish your most trust allies automatically to your stream, or read each and every post before it goes out.

Whether your style is simply to pay attention to people who are willing to help, and hope they’ll return the favor, or deliberately plan out a bit of support with a handful of other people, you need a distribution channel. Content that no one sees is just a wasted effort.

There are, of course, many other areas of web visibility that start ups miss. There’s everything from how to have a search strategy that actually appeals to your audience, to the timing and reasons for press releases.

But correcting these four things is enough to get most people started.

Tinu Abayomi-Paul is the CEO of Leveraged Promotion and a member of Network Solutions Social web Advisory Board. Her website promotion company specializes in reputation management, and engineering demand generation system for businesses, integrating search, expertise marketing and social media.

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52 Comments

52 Comments

  1. Jaime

    October 4, 2011 at 7:52 am

    ok, i've bookmarked it. but like everyone else who bookmarks, i probably will forget to go back. So, i found this great little tool for such an occasion — followup.cc , to email me a week from now to remind me to read it again, and again.

    good advice, thanks.

    • Tinu Abayomi-Paul

      October 4, 2011 at 1:44 pm

      Hey Jaime,

      Sounds like a neat tool. I'm glad someone finally pushed reminders and bookmarks together.

      • Jaime

        October 4, 2011 at 2:41 pm

        btw…i have no affiliation with that company. but it's an awesome tool for when you bookmarks and emails get out of hand.

    • Tinu Abayomi-Paul

      October 4, 2011 at 3:21 pm

      Affiliation or not, I needed the tool. 🙂 Thanks!

  2. Benn Rosales

    October 4, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    So so good. More than reminders, you've written this as a guide, nearly a step by step to presence built on a firm footing rather than sand as it might have been in the early days of social sharing. If you're just getting started, then I'm impressed.

    I would posit that it's difficult to maintain a sure footing. So many things must be done to remain fresh and relevant. A cause you may have once championed goes away or get resolved, then what next. The reinvention of your content within communities gets tough, or you feel a need to try new content verticals to recharge it. This is the hardest part – keeping that pulse or what's next once you get your community breathing in the first place.

    • Tinu Abayomi-Paul

      October 4, 2011 at 1:48 pm

      It's so difficult to maintain footing – On Your Own. That's why it's important to get your fans involved early, and keep them in the loop. That way, when the the day comes that you get flooded with attention or orders for all the marketing you've been doing, some of the people who are in the habit of keeping others informed about you can pick up the slack.

      So can search engine results. So can top level publications that re-post some of your work when you're in a crunch… that's the beauty of attempting to be systemic about your planning.

      Very good point, Benn.

  3. James Shaw

    October 5, 2011 at 9:21 am

    I learned "the answer" from a wise man once – whatever you do, never ever sto doing it!

    I know, it's hard starting a company. We all have those days when you wonder how it'll all work out.. The trick is to keep going. Blog, tweet, post, share, START CONVERSATIONS!

    A key for me was focusing on meeting people in real life.. I use all my social networking to meet real people.. And it makes a huge difference.

    • Tinu Abayomi-Paul

      October 17, 2011 at 9:01 pm

      That's especially important when you think about the definition of conversation. The two-way give and take has an impact, even when it isn't in real time. I've learn much more from talking to the people around me than I do from research.

  4. Las Vegas Appraisers

    October 5, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    From what I've seen that is the number one thing people overlook when trying to launch an online business. The website can look spectacular, content can be perfect, however, potential customers must be able to find the business. Without an effective online marketing strategy, the website will be useless.

    • Tinu Abayomi-Paul

      October 17, 2011 at 9:03 pm

      It's essential. There's a fallacy that "if you build it, they will come". Some will even say, if you just make great content, people will hear about it.

      How? Eventually you have to talk about the site, the product, the content, someone has to say something to somebody. It can go viral from there if you're lucky. It's like expecting people to be able to get to a party at your house without anyone knowing your address.

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Business Marketing

The rise of influencer marketing and its effect on digital marketing

(BUSINESS MARKETING) More businesses are planning to invest a larger part of their marketing budgets on more relatable, branded content and influencer marketing.

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Influencer speaking to camera for marketing segment.

The digital age has created more savvy consumers, and the barrage of advertising on top of the plenitude of content online can be a lot. Many consumers have learned to hide ads or they simply scroll past them to their content of choice. Most business owners know that digital marketing is a crucial part of any ad strategy, and branded content and influencer marketing continues to grow in the market, because consumers see that it’s different from traditional advertising.

Hardly anything stayed the same in 2020, and traditional advertising also has shifted. Advertiser Perceptions reported on the trend for 2021, based on a survey from late 2020.

“More than half of advertisers using paid branded content and influencers say doing so is more critical than it was a year ago. Throughout the second half of 2020, 32% increased spending on branded content and 25% spent more to back influencers. They’re now putting 20% of their digital budgets into the complementary practices, which is more than they put into any other digital channel (paid search is 14%, display 13%, paid social 12%, digital video 12%).”

The benefits of branded and influencer content are that you are speaking to the consumer where they already are, when you choose an influencer. The people who follow their accounts are more likely to trust that the influencer would only share something they like or use themselves. The best matches are when the influencer marketing fits nicely into the kind of content, the voice, and any specialties they already deal with.

The word “influencer” as well as the concept rubs some people the wrong way. Marketers see the value, though, as influencer marketing can be effective if done well, and the cost to hire them is often less than a traditional ad campaign. If I want to know about food in a city, I’ll follow the hashtags until I find a local food blogger or micro-influencer whose style I like. Then I’ll seek out those restaurants when I visit. Sure, some of the meals are comped, but the truth is that food bloggers and influencers like to share their food recommendations. I have been influenced this way more than once, and not only for food. I am not alone in this, either, which is why it’s an important part of a marketing strategy.

In influencer marketing, the content creator is then given free rein to create within their own style, voice, and persona. They need to connect with their audience in an authentic, familiar way without creating a dissonance for their followers between their public page(s) and the brand. The level of trust is fairly high with influencer marketing, and many influencers realize that promoting something crappy or something outside of their area of expertise or recognition hurts everyone involved.

The power of storytelling comes into play here, as with all good advertising. Branded content is specifically all about the story, often the story of the business’s philosophy or some lifestyle aspect that goes with the brand’s vibe–or is so off that it goes viral. Some branded campaigns join into or build off of conversations already happening in the wider world. The purpose is to have people engage with the brand, with the content, build awareness, encourage conversations, sharing, comments, all with the long term goal of fostering a positive image of the brand so that down the line, they will become consumers.

Think of 2004 Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, based on a study showing that around 2% of women saw themselves as beautiful. The widely studied, award-winning campaign featured women of all backgrounds and body types, without airbrushing and Photoshopping them into a narrow vision of “beauty.” While some people hated it, many loved it and applauded the brand for treading into traditionally uncharted waters. Among haters, fans, and people who weren’t sure what to think, the Dove Real Beauty branded content campaign generated conversations. The campaign also encouraged women to feel good about themselves and lift up other women. One could argue that the campaign you could argue that the Real Beauty campaign was a forerunner to the currently popular body positivity movement, which started gaining traction around 2012. Dove increased sales by at least $1.5 billion in the first ten years the branded content campaign ran.

The goal of branded content is to raise awareness of the brand, but the path from point A (creating the content) to point B (brand awareness, ultimately leading to better sales) is not a straight line. Brands are paying attention to grabbing attention, aka building brand awareness via more upper funnel marketing than lower funnel.

One thing that marketers are looking for now, however, is almost eliminating the funnel. With the mind-boggling increase in e-commerce since the beginning of the pandemic, clickable sales capability becomes important in any kind of marketing, including influencer and branded content. It pays to listen to customers, to find an influencer who meshes with your brand’s purpose, and to create thoughtful branded content that isn’t out of line with your core product or service.

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Business Marketing

Need design help? Ask a Designer offers free peer-review for better design

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Good design is more than just slapping some fonts and colors together. Ask a Designer promises free design advice on their new website.

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A white sign in an urban setting reading "In Design We Trust" with glowing yellow lights above.

With the necessity to create and maintain an online presence for our businesses nowadays, content creation is essential. One impact this proliferation of content has had on entrepreneurs, bloggers, and small businesses is that many non-designers have had to take a stab at design work. Sometimes this works out for the amateur designer, but often it could be better: More effective, accessible, and appealing. This is where Ask a Designer comes in.

Creating designs online can be fun, but your average Canva, Squarespace, or WordPress user, for example, has no more of a sense of design than the man on the moon. Design work encompasses so much more than just slapping some words on a stock photo and calling it a day. While there are truly incredible and helpful free or inexpensive DIY design and business tools out there, nothing beats the power of knowledge and experience.

Ask a Designer provides one more level of professional review and counsel before a business owner puts their DIY (or even paid) design work out there for the world to see—or worse, not see. As a writer, I have always valued editorial reviews, comments, and feedback on my writing. Second eyes, third eyes, and more almost always serve to improve the content. It makes business sense to get as much feedback as possible, even better to get expert feedback.

For example, an experienced web designer should have a good idea of how to incorporate and test for UX and UI purposes, thus making the user interaction more functional and pleasant. A skilled graphic designer knows what colors go together for aesthetic appeal, accessibility, and even the psychology behind why and how they do.

Take logos. Pick a color, image, and font you like, and go for it, right? I’m afraid not. There is a lot of data out there on the science and psychology of how our brains process logos. There are examples of logo “fails” out there, as well. Consider the uproar over AirBnB’s logo that many thought evoked genitalia. Or the raised eyebrows when Google changed their color scheme to one similar to Microsoft’s palate. Just search for “logo fails” online to get an idea of how a seemingly innocent logo can go horribly wrong. I haven’t linked them here, because they would need a trigger warning, as many of the worst examples can be interpreted as some sort of sexual innuendo or genitalia. Searchers, be warned.

It always makes good business sense to use professional designers when you have the option, just as it makes sense to use professional writers for copywriting and professional photographers for photography. After all, if you have the chance to get something right the first time, it saves you time and money to do so. Rebranding can be difficult and costly, although sometimes rebranding is necessary. Having a designer review your design (whether logo, WordPress, blog, or other) could possibly help you from missing the mark.

How does Ask a Designer work, and is it really free? It’s super easy—almost like designers had a hand in it! Know what I mean? First, you go to the website or app and enter your question. Next Ask a Designer will assign your question to the appropriate type of designer in their network. Within 48 hours, they’ll get back to you with feedback or an answer to your design question.

While Ask a Designer is available to anyone to use, the website suggests it is especially helpful for developers, teams, junior designers, and business and product owners. They suggest, “Think of us as peer-review in your pocket.” The team at Ask a Designer will provide feedback on specific projects such as websites, logos, and portfolios, as well as answer general questions.

Examples of questions on their website give a good idea of the scope of questions they’ll answer, and include the type of feedback they provide. Sample questions include:

  • “How do I choose colors for dark mode?”
  • “I’d love feedback on a logo for a restaurant.”
  • “I’m an industrial design student and I’d like to move into automotive design. What are some resources that can get me to where I need to be?”
  • “Please send me some feedback on [website link].”
  • “How can I use my brand fonts on my website?”
  • “I’m a full stack software engineer. Are there any resources you could suggest for me to level up my design or UX skills?”

Ask a Designer is new, and so they currently list 2 design experts, each with 20 or more years of experience in their fields. They promise to add more “desig-nerds” soon. It may sound too good to be true, but from what they state on their website, this expert design review service is free. Considering the other excellent tools out there with some free components out there for business, it is possible that this is true. Whether they will add a more in-depth paid version is yet to be seen. In any case, it’s worth trying out the app or website for your burning design questions and reviews.

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Business Marketing

6 tips to easily market your side hustle

(BUSINESS MARKETING) It can be hard to stand out from the crowd when you’re starting a new side hustle. Here are some easy ways to make your marketing efforts more effective.

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side hustle marketing

Side hustles have become the name of the game, and especially during these turbulent times, we have to get extra creative when it comes to making money. With so many of us making moves and so much noise, it can be hard to get the word out and stand out when sharing your side hustle.

Reuben Jackson of Big Think shared five ways that you can market your side hustle (we added a sixth tip for good measure), and comment with your thoughts and ideas on the subject:

  1. Referrals: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask!
    If you’re going to make a splash, you have to be willing to ask for favors. Reach out to your network and ask them to help spread the word on your new venture. This can be as simple as asking your friends to share a Facebook post with information that refers them to your page or website. Word of mouth is still important and incredibly effective.
  2. Start Where You Are
    Immediately running an expensive ad right out of the gate may not be the most effective use of your (likely) limited funds. Use the resources you do have to your advantage – especially if you’re just testing things out to see how the side hustle goes in the real world. You can do this by creating a simple, informational landing page for a small fee. Or, if you’re not looking to put any money into it right away, create an enticing email signature that explains what you do in a concise and eye-catching way. Check out these tools to create a kickin’ email signature.
  3. Gather Positive Reviews
    If you’ve performed a service or sold a product, ask your customers to write a review on the experience. Never underestimate how many potential customers read reviews before choosing where to spend their money, so this is an incredibly important asset. Once a service is completed or a product is sold, send a thank you note to your customer and kindly ask them to write a review. Be sure to provide them with links to easily drop a line on Yelp or your company’s Facebook page.
  4. Be Strategic With Social
    It’s common to think that you have to have a presence on all channels right away. Start smaller. Think about your demographic and do some research on which platforms reach that demographic most effectively. From there, put your time and energy into building a presence on one or two channels. Post consistently and engage with followers. After you’ve developed a solid following, you can then expand to other platforms.
  5. Give Paid Marketing A Shot
    Once you’ve made a dollar or two, try experimenting with some Facebook or Twitter ads. They’re relatively cheap to run and can attract people you may not have otherwise had a chance to reach out to. Again, the key is to start small and don’t get discouraged if these don’t have people knocking your door down; it may take trial and error to create the perfect ad for your hustle.
  6. Go Local
    Local newspapers and magazines are always looking for news on what local residents are doing. Send an email to your town/city’s journal or local Patch affiliate. Let them know what you’re up to, offer yourself for an interview, and give enticing information. The key is doing this in a way that your hustle is seen as beneficial to the public, and is not just an ad.

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