In the early days of a start-up, with a solid proof of concept and perhaps with initial angel investment or on the cusp of Series A funding, you’re likely to be wearing a great many hats.
You’re trying to manage a large number of business functions to move your idea forward and grow your empire.
One of these hats requires that you attract further investment, either from existing backers or new ones.
I’ve seen a few investment pitches, and many follow the same format — a hockey stick growth chart, viable exit and investment opportunity points, and lots of projected growth and ROI.
While this business plan and marketing strategy is great in the earlier rounds, it’s important that you’re also looking forward. Specifically, to when you can start to not only report on but show growth in:
- Business/product revenue.
- User statistics (Churn, CAC, LTV, DAU, MAU, etc.).
- Product/service success (Gartner, Forrester, G2, etc.).
For the most part, SEO can be seen as a secondary or tertiary channel to engage with as it can take some time to build a sustainable presence and funnel.
Other channels, such as PPC, offer a more immediate route to attaining marketing qualified leads (MQLs).
However, thinking about SEO and your organic search strategy at this early stage can help you not only build a long-term acquisition funnel but also help increase brand visibility in established markets.
In working with start-ups through to their IPOs, I’ve learned a few important things early funding phase start-ups need to do while in these early growth stages to give them the versatility to implement change.
SEO’s Prominence in the Go-to-Market Strategy
In addition to your business plans and marketing strategies, a lot of investors (at all stages) want to see your go-to-market (GTM) strategy.
Typically, a GTM strategy is a set of value propositions derived from understanding your product/service offerings, which mediums they are communicated by, and who the customer base is.
This may be included in your marketing strategy, but investors like to see a product-specific plan for creating a market presence, product awareness, and communicating your value proposition.
When developing the marketing strategy for any channel, we’ll build personas and begin to build user journeys. This has a strong crossover with keyword research and intent analysis.
Instead of replicating the same activities over and over again, incorporating your SEO team (or vendor) early in the GTM strategy process will:
- Help create a long-lasting, effective SEO strategy.
- Demonstrate to investors that your strategy isn’t about short-term ROI on funding received.
- Show that you’re planning to create a sustainable market opportunity by optimizing for and creating user journeys based on your value propositions.
Over time, this type of SEO strategy can be developed and optimized further by creating feedback loops with the sales and customer support teams to better understand where they may be gaps in product/service messaging versus customer expectations.
By reducing this friction point, you can reduce customer churn and improve customer lifetime value.
Framing Product & Solution Messaging
Understanding how to frame products, solutions, and features is key to this go-to-market strategy.
A lot of SaaS companies make the mistake of confusing a list of product features as solutions when, to a prospect, they’re just a list of bullet points.
If your product has a number of features that cross over with other multi-feature and specialist products, it’s highly unlikely that much of your audience will want and/or need all the product’s functions.
This messaging strategy will also influence your site architecture.
It can be tempting to create one webpage framing the product as a product, a second framing the product as a solution, and then multiple other pages framing individual aspects of it.
However, these pages can be combined, with the right messaging and content.
That way, you’re not presenting a prospect with several pages explaining the same product/service in different ways. It might make sense from a linear keyword targeting perspective, but multiple pages are confusing as a product message.
Demonstrating how this will be done over time as your product portfolio expands is important to investors — especially where the brand and product share the same name.
Turning High Traffic Informational Content Into MQL-Driving Traffic
When you look at SEO as a siloed function, we miss out on opportunities — especially when it comes to content.
In a silo, we may treat content as commercial or informational. We may be blinkered to real-world events and supposedly irrelevant factors.
In recent months, the COVID pandemic has forced a great deal of change for individuals and businesses alike. This has introduced new challenges and rapid business transformation.
This is where informational content can be positioned as an MQL driver without being overly commercial or changing the intent of the content.
Asana is a great example of this in practice. With more teams working remotely, they’ve moved their product messaging from being a project management system to a remote teamwork enablement solution.
To do this, they’ve almost stopped talking about Asana as a brand and a product. Instead, Asana has positioned themselves as an authoritative voice on remote working, remote team management, and goal setting.
These are all challenges and new skills resonate with users who’ve seen their businesses and job upended over the last 12 months.
While this content isn’t directly commercial, it builds trust. It positions the platform in the background on webinars and in guides without becoming a sales communication.
By connecting with their shared interests and addressing the pain points of your target customer base and creating simple email-gated resources such as webinars and guides, you’ve cultivated a list of luke-warm prospects.
And by understanding the content they’ve registered for, your sales team then understands which features of the product to talk about instead of going in cold.
SEO isn’t a tactic reserved or channel reserved for established businesses. In fact, it is a critical component of any early-stage start-up’s marketing strategy.