Blogging for Startup Marketing: Is It a Good Use of Your Funds?
The world of startups can be described with interesting phrases like "aggressive churn", and that's never a good sign. Startups can show up, get funding, develop their service, and die before they ever make an impact. So what's the problem, and how can they solve it?
The biggest problem with a startup is not securing funding, developing a product, or contracting to manufacture. It's actually something completely overlooked by many startup founders: marketing.
Oh, don't get me wrong. Startups are constantly marketing. They do interviews in magazines, they send press releases to newspapers, they get coverage of their successful Kickstarter campaigns on blogs. The problem is, they don't leverage that into anything.
When someone visits a startup website, what do they see? More often than not, it's a landing page, maybe some big flashing animations or a video, a huge countdown timer to launch, that sort of thing. It's almost expected and is becoming an inside joke with most new startups.
There will probably be an opt-in form for visitors to sign up for a mailing list and get notices when the product launches, and there could be a basic, bare-bones news feed to keep visitors and backers updated on the status of the startup.
What there almost never is, though, is a blog. Real and useful content, designed to attract new visitors centered around your product.
Blogging for startups is not a new idea, and I'm not going to claim I'm some pioneer by telling you that you should do it. It's been around as a concept for decades, and there have been articles written about its benefits for just as long. I just feel that, in the modern-day press of information and advice, it's easy to lose sight of the biggest pro-tips you can get. People get so wrapped up in the intricacies of responding to comments on Kickstarter or on negotiating contracts with venture capitalist firms that they forget that something as major as blogging is something they should be doing.
So many people take it for granted that they forget to give the advice and startup entrepreneurs who haven't heard it often enough forget that they should be doing it.
There's also the matter of budget. A startup has a limited amount of funds to spend on everything, from developing a website to designing a product to marketing to shipping to everything else. The idea of paying for a blog becomes less and less appealing the more other demands you have for your money.
Here's the thing: you will never have enough money to do everything everyone thinks you should do. You have to determine what is best for your startup.
What Blogging Does For Your Startup
So what does blogging do? What are all these benefits that it brings to the table? Can it be the single greatest asset to your business?
I'm not going to just assume you know; I'm going to tell you each of the benefits, one by one.
1. Consistent and Long-Term Organic Traffic
Blogging drives organic traffic to your startup site. Getting media coverage is a good way to get a lot of people to have read your name once and not really retained much information. It's also a good way to get other journalists who want to cover the same topics to cover you as well. For driving new customers? It's not always that great.
Blogging with relevant niche content, of a high enough quality to rank well in Google, is damn near essential for drawing in new people. Blogging allows you to answer one crucial question your potential customers are asking: "why should I care?"
Blogging gathers an audience, and some of that audience will stick around. You don't have to force them from blog to mailing list if they're going to come back on their own.
Now, you don't need to be blogging every single day for this to work. It helps to have a larger backlog of content, but it's not entirely necessary. High-quality content published occasionally is better than mediocre content published constantly.
Blogging drives traffic to your social media. A huge amount of startup coverage, viral popularity, and communication with users comes from social media. The trouble is, social media is inherently limited. You don't get much reach on platforms like Facebook if you're not getting tons of shares, and you don't get tons of shares without a large audience. So, if you don't have an audience, you can't build an audience. The solution Facebook gives you is to give them money for promoted content, but that's just another financial drain. Oh, you should definitely be doing it, but it's not all you should be doing.
Blogging brings in people who might not otherwise have heard of your startup and allows you to forward them not just to other content, to mailing lists, or to landing pages, but to your social media as well. Getting those people to follow you gives you even more exposure, more engagement, and more chances to go viral on those social networks.
2. An Engaged Audience
Blogging boosts user engagement. You don't just want users to be visiting your site, you want them to be reading your content, you want them to be engaging with your brand. Whether they're engaging on your website or your social media, it's all good. Blogging gives more content for users to engage with.
Most important is the ability to have blog comments open on your posts. Users who read your content and have questions about your product or startup (in general) can simply ask in the comments section. As long as you pay attention and answer those comments, and answer them, you foster a sense of community and engagement that is hard to find anywhere else. Even social media is filtered through algorithms and top comments sorting, making it harder to get that community going. Plus, you have full control over moderating spam, low-effort or offensive comments, and nearly every other aspect of those comments.
3. Improved SEO
Blogging makes your startup's site rank better. If your startup's website is little more than a landing page and an explainer for your product, that might be flashy and snappy and cool, but it's pretty much worthless for marketing. People find what they want to find online through Google these days. If they can't find your site on Google, they aren't going to find your site.
We create blog content that converts - not just for ourselves, but for our clients, too.
We pick blog topics like hedge funds pick stocks. Then, we create articles that are 10x better to earn the top spot.
Content marketing has two ingredients - content and marketing. We've earned our black belts in both.
Sure, you'll rank for some primary keywords that all the media coverage is using to cover you, and you'll rank for your main brand name, but what about keywords in your industry at large? What about keywords relevant to the problem your product solves? The only way you can rank for these is to cover those topics in blog posts. Without a blog, your presence on Google becomes negligible at best.
4. Thought Leadership
Blogging shows off your knowledge. One of the biggest questions (beyond "why should I care?") that your potential customers will be asking is "who are you and why should I trust you?" We live in a world where Kickstarter results in more scams than successful products, where startups die before they see a retail launch, and where the average user is hesitant to buy anything through a site that isn't Amazon. That's a lot to overcome.
A blog isn't going to solve all of those issues, not entirely, but it can go a long way. The goal is to showcase that you know what you're talking about, you know what your target customers are dealing with, and you know how you can solve it. Showcasing that knowledge makes you more trustworthy.
Blogging can attract more investors. Do you want to talk about return on investment? What if running your blog could get you more capital to put towards your startup, just on its own? It's definitely possible.
One of the pages on your website should, of course, be a pitch package for potential investors. This package is what you give to anyone interested in supporting your startup, whether it's basically just a link to Kickstarter or whether it's a whole traditional document package.
On the sidebar of your blog, somewhere prominent, you can include a call to action for investors to check out that page. Then, even if you're spending money on your blog, you get that money back with the investors who see your blog and decide to invest based on what you've written. It's a lot more likely to happen than you think!
5. Brand Building
Blogging helps you transition from a new startup to an established brand. The goal here is not to be a startup forever, right? After you've started up, you need to continue. A blog helps make that transition smooth.
What is one thing most businesses have in common? They have blogs. What do all the major players in your industry have? Blogs. What can you do to make your brand more like theirs? Run a blog. You show up in searches, you get linked to by others in the industry, you build an audience and a reputation, and eventually, you're no longer just a startup, you're in business.
Blogging helps build your mailing list. Now, obviously, you can do this without blogging, but a blog helps you bring in more people from more different targeted searches and keyword queries. All of this helps you ferry more and more interested people to your opt-in forms, where they can become part of your newsletter and your other marketing channels.
Blogging allows you to solicit feedback. Nothing is quite as valuable to a startup as engaged feedback from their customers. Beta users, or even just potential users who think about the potential problems and flaws with a product, can help you point out those flaws before you go into production. With this, you can think about new features to add, bugs to fix, issues to address before they become issues, and all the rest. Since such a big problem with modern startups is going with the cheapest options and getting janky, low-quality products, having feedback and the willingness to publicly improve will go a long way.
How to Run a Startup Blog Successfully
Have I convinced you? Great! Let's get started.
Running a blog for a startup is a little different from traditional business blogging. It requires more agility, a direct connection between the people running the blog and the people running the startup, and a lot more of a sales push.
First up, you need to determine what you're going to blog about. Here are a bunch of potential topics you can use, and keep in mind these can be reused for multiple blog posts depending on how narrow you make them.
- Personal lessons. What have you as an entrepreneur learned throughout this process? What challenges have you been encountering and how have you solved them? These kinds of personalized anecdotes are great link fodder.
- Market predictions. Where is your startup going, where is your industry going, where is the market as a whole going? Making predictions, with rationalization, puts you in a thought leadership position. If you're right, people respect you more. If you're wrong, you do a retrospective analysis of your mistakes and figure out what went wrong. Either way, it's great.
- Industry insights. You're trying to be an authority on your industry, because that's how you get people to trust you. So, write about your industry.
- Product updates. A news section of your blog dedicated to updates on the product development process is great. It's also a great channel for getting the feedback I mentioned above.
- Customer concerns. Whether they're concerns with your product, concerns with the industry at large, or just talking about the problems your product is intended to solve, this is a near-endless well of topics.
Topic ideation comes next. You have general ideas; now narrow them down to specifics. Think about specific questions, specific concerns, specific topics, and research them. Look at what other content is already out there covering that topic, and figure out how to out-do that content, or do it with your own unique spin.
Keyword research is important here. I'm not generally a huge fan of keyword research, but it's undeniably helpful to guide content creation, so it's worth doing. Use some of that startup funding to buy access to a good keyword research tool and spend some time learning to use it.
For each topic, figure out what kind of content does it justice.
- Lists. Top lists (and lists in general) are highly engaging. They're easy to read, easy to consume, and they attract comments from people pointing out other items that can go on the lists.
- Tutorials. Usage guides for your product are great, even if they're theoretical because your product isn't actually developed yet.
- Ultimate guides. Trying to become The Best Resource for a given subject is a tall order, but if you can pull it off, it's a very good position to be in.
- Interviews. Part of being a successful startup is networking, and you can leverage that network to pull in experts for interviews. Use your connections!
Deciding what you're going to write about is almost as important as writing itself, if not more important. Which brings us to...
Writing Your Content
Once you have a robust list of topics, you can start writing. Don't start publishing immediately, though! You want to have a decent backlog of content that's not time-sensitive that you can use to post to fill gaps that would otherwise be left empty when you have a busy week.
As far as blog posts themselves go, I recommend a word count of at minimum 1,500 words, with 2,000 being closer to ideal. Focus on the quality and density of information. Make sure to use plenty of formatting, lists, subheadings, and images to break it up and keep it easy to skim.
Hiring a blog manager to do some or all of this for you, or hiring a writer to handle the actual content production while you handle the rest, can be a great use of funds as well. You simply have to figure out how much of a budget you have.
From there, it's just a matter of learning, developing your blog on an ongoing basis, and keeping at it. Startup culture is all about fast hits, fast development, fast results, and blogging goes against that. It's slow, but it snowballs, and that's what you need to take you beyond the initial churn and into doing business.