7 Ways Startups Kill the Growth of Their Online Presence
You can avoid sacrificing long-term growth for short-term results by focussing on these common mistakes
There are two kinds of growth: scalable and unscalable. Human services are unscalable. Software and online content, however, are highly scalable.
Most startups beg for growth but kill their most scalable growth channels. One example is ignoring the SEO part of their business or tech blog, costing them the traffic they desperately need.
In this article, we’ll address the seven most common mistakes startups make in maintaining their company blogs.
1. Publishing Self-Centric Content Instead of Solving Audience Issues
This is the worst and most frequent mistake of all. I found a piece of excellent advice from Karla Cook, a Senior Manager of the HubSpot Blog Team:
“Don’t just write about your products or services on your blog. That can immediately alienate anyone who isn’t already close to purchasing. Instead, invest the time in learning about what your target audience is interested in, and develop content that aligns these interests with what your brand can offer. For example, if you’re selling coffee makers, you might create a blog series that looks at different ways to improve your morning routine.”
People don’t care about who you are. They only care for themselves. Your audience will read your article if there’s something in it for them!
In the early days of digital marketing, it was common practice to talk about yourself in your blog. But today you can’t do that and simply hope somebody will care about your personal story.
To drive SEO traffic with your blog, you must have something of value for others. Compiling research, creating guides, showing best practices, and case studies are a great way to give value to your readers.
I often get depressed when I go on startup blogs and see that there’s nothing of value for me. What I suppose is that they have a lot of money — often they are venture-backed — and they spend it all on Google Ads.
What I love about Buffer and HubSpot is their willingness to do content marketing from day one. It shows me that they never had a short-term focus on their audiences. Maybe they could have changed to get to Product-Market Fit. But they have an audience, and it means a LOT because they can pivot around this audience to identify their other areas of need.
Startups can learn many things about their audience if they put their need to show their product/services only after what their audience needs.
2. Not Understanding Their Audience’s Problems
Without understanding your customer, you can’t succeed. It’s the same for entrepreneurs and writers alike. Writing your business blog will force you to do your research on issues and needs that your readers have. It can be about their industry, work, family, or whatever.
Unfortunately, some startups have the churn and burn mentality, spending all their money on ads to discover who will buy. Pay Per Click (PPC) is a trick at the beginning because it offers an illusion, and gives you an excuse not to go research and identify your audience.
But it’s just a trick, and they often have an insane and unsustainable Customer Aquisition Cost (CAC). They usually keep telling themselves: “We will do SEO and content marketing to lower our advertising cost eventually, don’t worry.”
Discovering your audience through your writing is way more valuable to your business with much less cost.
Having a customer/buyer persona is one way to capture a detailed image of your audience. However, using it is the most critical step. The persona wasn’t made to be forgotten, but to be used and updated when we discover something new through our interactions.
Above all, the discovery of your customer can uncover problems you’ve already solved for them. Sharing your content with your audience builds the trust you’ll need, but if you don’t even know the issues they regularly face, are you sure your product will help them?
3. No Content Marketing Strategy
Like Benjamin Franklin once said: By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
Yes, we all know that execution is the most important thing of all. But mindless execution is a sure-fire for failure.
When you want to apply content marketing to reap its benefits, you must first know what benefits you wish to have, no?
I regularly see startup marketers with no strategy for their content. They have a blog because everyone has it, but they don’t want to get behind it. That’s the motivation of many startups. They think: “I see other companies with blogs, that must be the standard, so let’s build one,” but they don’t understand the true value of the blog. They start talking about themselves, thinking everyone will come because they are the cool kids…
In the strategy, you must define :
- Who’s your audience?
- What do they need?
- What kind of content are you going to create?
- What are the keywords your audience use?
- Where does your audience meet online?
- What is the result you expect for your startup bottom-line?
- When must that result be delivered?
- What resources are available to reach the desired result?
These are the questions startups must answer to create their content marketing strategy. It’s a great starting point. They will know why they have a blog in the first place and focus on execution, knowing that what they are doing will produce the expected results.
SEO is about how your audience will interact with the search engines. What keywords will they use? What intent they have when using these keywords? You must incorporate SEO into your content marketing strategy.
4. Short-Term Focus Killing Medium-Term Benefits
Do you think your startup will be dead in one to two years?
If your answer is yes, well, why are you still doing it?
Sacrificing your medium-term growth for very short-term benefits is very dangerous. Starting with the presupposed idea that you will fail can mentally help you, for sure. But when you finally see that, three years later, you are still in business, you’ll start to regret all the medium/long term growth strategies that you neglected from the start. Business is always a marathon, not a sprint.
Building an audience in an industry can help you pivot because you’ve learned so MUCH! You usually won’t start from scratch. You still have your email list.
If you’ve created your list through researching about your customer and giving them what they need, you probably know better than anybody how to help them on issues they struggle with.
You can’t do that when you have a short-term focus!
You can’t PPC your way to success if you don’t have something sustainable first! We love to skip steps, but apart from a miracle, it often doesn’t work. I’ve worked in advertising; I learned how everything worked. I used to find anomalies, bugs, and why campaigns didn’t reach their goals and all… For this reason, I concluded that most ads are like playing at the casino: the house never loses. Ads are a Big Corp game, not a startup game, even if you are VC-funded.
Moreover, when you focus on ads, you are at the mercy of Google or Facebook when they raise their prices. Similarly, when the big brands are going to shift the majority of their ads budget to digital ads — this is why Google, Facebook, and Netflix are trying to kill TV channels (to make TV advertisers switch their budgets to the digital space )— many small businesses will no longer have the resources to fight for customers because everything will become very expensive.
Content marketing and SEO blogs are often called a long-term game because the REAL benefits come over time. When you can reach a place where searchers prefer your content over sometimes millions of others on search engines, you’ve won. But it can also be used in the short-term if you have the right promotion strategy without sacrificing the great medium/long term benefits.
5. Writing Very Poor SEO Content
Sometimes, startups write content, but…
Writing many 300 words pieces of content for your blog won’t do a thing for your blog success.
Promotional content is expected, but when every post is a promotion, do you think your audience will read it? Will search engines rank it in the first position?
If you teach, give value to your audience through your content. They will expect from you to create some “promotional” content explaining the benefits of your product/service. But when every blog post is an ad, your audience knows that what you want is to take and never give.
Gary Vaynerchuk, a famous entrepreneur, has a principle called Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. It’s straightforward: the jabs are the valuable content you give to your customers, and the right hook is when you ask.
“Putting out great content, sending baskets of fruit, whatever your jab is, it doesn’t entitle you to land the right hook. It just allows you to have the audacity to ask. You have to earn the right to ask people for a sale. In fact, you have to earn the right to ask people for anything. That’s just life. You can’t have the expectation that they will convert.”
The jabs are what will give you the medium and long-term success with your blog—and that’s why increasing organic traffic for your blog is so valuable.
Let’s do the math:
For the keyword “SEO content,” the Cost Per Click (CPC) is $9 today. If over time, I manage to get over 1000 visitors a month with this keyword, I’ve saved myself $9000 a month, and the price could be way more than $9000. Often an article is not ranking for a single keyword but multiple—add it all up, and there can be a very high cost to doing the same with PPC.
While it may be true that SEO content is obviously valuable, PPC is also great for short-term promotion, I won’t deny it. But today, many startups are only following PPC and are ignoring critical marketing strategies like content marketing—or at least doing it poorly.
6. Failing to Measure the Effectiveness of Their Blog Articles
Like we said earlier, a startup often doesn’t have a content strategy. But they also rarely look at the metrics.
Some content writers say: “I’m a writer, not a statistician.” Yes, for sure, but paying attention to some basic stats in Google Analytics can go a long way.
Every blog must be measured! But it’s even more crucial if the blog is linked to a business.
What is the purpose of all your content strategy and execution if your tech startup doesn’t get the benefits from it? If you don’t measure, you have no idea if it’s working or not. Is it accomplishing what you wanted, or not? Is the topic what your audience responded positively about? Where are they coming from? Are people who read your blog buying your product?
There are many questions analytics can give an answer to and dramatically increase your effectiveness when done right.
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” — Peter Drucker
Even if a startup blog is a medium to long-term game, it doesn’t mean it should not be measured. What is working for you?
- What are the keywords you get the most impressions from?
- What keywords have the highest Click Through Rate?
- What is the Conversion Rate Per Click?
- What keywords have the highest Conversion Rate?
Finally, all your work is to drive that SEO equity we all seek. To this end, getting proper analytics is key.
7. Ignoring Their Competitor’s SEO & Content Marketing Strategy
Your competitors are gaining traffic!
Understanding what they are doing is a great competitive advantage.
Today, data is everywhere, about any company you want to do research on. You also have many tools to track the traffic of your competition and where they are gaining it to help you improve yours. They often had the same issues you face marketing your product/service, and the same issues will have similar solutions.
Examine their backlinks. Tools like SimilarWeb, SEMrush, or Ahrefs can give you a lot of information.
- What posts generate most of their traffic?
- Is all their content long form, or is some of it short?
- How is the content structured and formatted?
- What keywords generate the most traffic for their website?
You are not an isolated island. Check what others do that works and try it! Maybe you’ll find what works for you—and what doesn’t. I’d love to hear about it in the comments.