Let us explain why growth hacking using SEO is a startup’s secret marketing weapon.
Growth hacking has exploded on the scene with the abundance of startups looking to accelerate growth in the early stages of business. Growth hacking largely refers to increasing a company’s user base. This is particularly important when you have a world of copycats looking to build upon others’ business ideas with hopes of becoming a silent killer.
The stress is real, especially at this stage in your startup when it’s heads down and full speed ahead.
Growth hacking doesn’t solely involve traditional marketing, but it combines that with technical knowledge and inventiveness that has the power to grow your user base.
Keeping this in mind, it’s important to assess what you most importantly need to start working on today to get to where you want to be at a future point in time. Super obvious? You bet. Yet many startups allocate an excessive amount of time and energy to certain marketing channels that are indeed important, yet can operate more effectively after a more fundamental “channel” is covered: SEO.
Search engine optimization, also known as SEO, is so fundamental to growth hacking that it’s mind-blowing how many startups don’t nurture it from the beginning.
SEO done right will increase your website’s organic traffic, comprised of those who are looking for your service/product, or who don’t even know they’re looking for it yet.
This is free traffic that doesn’t blow through your startup’s funding, and it grows over time.
Let us paint a picture for you. Startup A & Startup B are competitors. Startup A develops its website—unoptimized—because the pressure is on and brand awareness needed to begin yesterday. Next step: they take to social media. After all, every successful business has a large presence on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at the minimum, right?
They begin to pay for Facebook ads, and it’s undoubtedly helping them gain more followers and even see some leads coming through—it’s very exciting to see interest from a large community! And better yet, they appear to be the popular kid on Facebook compared to Startup B.
Since it’s working and providing gratification, they keep this game up.
Let’s talk about Startup B. Startup B develops its website and establishes social media accounts. While they realize social media is important, they don’t make it their life line. They realize Google is even more important. After all, Google is essentially the house for Startup B’s website. They know that if they want their business to survive and thrive, they need to respect the house rules.
Instead of getting wrapped up in the social media popularity contest and instant gratification of a few leads, they focus on what they need to pay special attention to now to get to where they want to be later—SEO.
After all, they understand that putting time into SEO is like depositing money into a 401K or IRA account. Although it’s not sexy and exciting, the earlier they begin, the bigger the payout over time. It’s slow and steady, but fairly self-sustaining for growth with a bit of maintenance and effort.
Startup B takes care of their on-site SEO and ticks all the boxes upfront.
They did their keyword research, implemented quality meta data, optimized the copy on each page following best practices and tended to the more technical aspects of SEO such as page speed, mobile friendliness and crawlability.
Now that they’ve taken care of that, they can let that sit for Google to crawl and index. They get working on a blog content strategy so that they can contribute meaningful content on an ongoing basis while indexing their pages for long tail keywords their target audience is searching for.
Once that becomes engrained in their a routine, they begin offsite SEO and link-building.
Startup A ended up establishing a decent Facebook following, and even ended up with some great leads initially—most of which were paid for.
However, their user base growth reached a plateau. Their investors began asking about the plateau and questioning why they can’t keep up the growth. Did they tap out their market?
They are tasked with finding ways to grow sustainably without blowing through what remained of their funding.
Strapped for cash and falling from a high, they look to other channels. They decide to place emphasis on SEO. Once they dig in, they discover their SEO is actually a mess. Their pages aren’t returning in the SERP’s for search queries, their backlog of published blog posts are not ranking, and overall, their domain authority is awful compared to their competitors—including the silent killer, Startup B.
They’re better off late to SEO than never, but Startup A would have had a nice head start if they focused on SEO earlier. Creating a sustainable path for lead generation early on could have saved them some of their funding.
Startup B gained more free organic traffic than they had expected. What did this traffic do? Well, many of them created accounts and converted as customers—but not all of them.
What did the rest do? They used the site to familiarize themselves with Startup B, consumed blog content, and were captured into Startup B’s email list. Oh, and a large portion of them even began following Startup B on social media through the social icon buttons on their website.
What if we told you that SEO is fundamental to making other marketing channels work most effectively? Paid channels are fantastic for growth, but they shouldn’t operate in silos or be the main focus upfront.
Here’s why focusing on growth hacking using SEO is a precursor to effective marketing:
While social media can be effective at introducing new people to your brand, it is even better for re-engaging those who already visited your site but didn’t take further action. Retargeting on social media (and elsewhere) allows you to put your brand back in front of that prospective customer who dropped off your site.
In an age of attention deficit, retargeting unconverted site visitors is crucial. But to retarget, you need the traffic first. SEO is your friend here.
Anyone who tells you content isn’t vital to SEO is crazy. This means that if you’re doing it right, your SEO strategy will already largely include publishing original content on your website’s blog.
What does this have to do with paid channels?
Let’s address Facebook. Original content is vital to your presence on Facebook. What is worth sharing that isn’t original and highly relevant to your audience?
Sharing 3rd party media is actually great, but you need to consider what you’re looking to get out of Facebook. Unless your business model is to post affiliate links to your Facebook page for a payout, we’re assuming the ultimate end goal is to drive awareness and conversions for your own brand.
This means original, relevant and engaging content that links to your site should be included in your mix of posts. However, only 20% of your overall posts on a given social platform should include a sales-related call-to-action. But aside from your photos and videos, what original content will you have available to share if you don’t have a blog?
Suddenly you begin to see how your blog—originally an SEO initiative—can also benefit you on social.
When it comes to startup growth hacking, allocate significant time and effort to SEO in the early stages. SEO is fundamental to maximizing success on other channels.
MSC has been acquired by branding and marketing agency, Phenomenon.
When I started this journey a little over 5 years ago, the plan was to build a smarter, data-driven growth marketing agency that used a startup mentality to scale high growth businesses. Over that period of time, our model was proven by not only MSC’s growth, but also the growth of our clients. Since launching MSC, we’ve helped our clients raise over 100MM in venture capital, have been the growth team for 5 acquisitions, and have helped scale dozens of well-established companies by utilizing digital strategies to help them stay ahead of the market.
Now we’re partnering with Phenomenon to accomplish a bigger vision–one we believe can be best achieved by joining forces. Combining the brand strategy capabilities of Phenomenon with the data-driven growth strategies of MSC, we’re excited to now provide current (and new) clients access to all the cutting edge services needed to scale their business holistically.
Nothing changes for us at MSC, except our name and expanded capabilities. We’ll still be in Detroit and committed to being a part of the city and community. We’ll continue to offer the same high-end growth strategies for current and future clients, and will stay committed to working on the most exciting projects and companies we encounter.
I’d personally like to thank all of the employees that have worked at MSC over the past 5+ years; all of the companies that supported and trusted us with their brands; advisors, mentors, friends, family, our wonderful Detroit community for the support.