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Top 10 Tips For Marketing a Startup or Web Product

These ideas will help you get past the noise and make sure the message about your product or company can be seen or heard.


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Every day, the cost of creating software and web products is decreasing. That means that the barrier to entry is decreasing and every day, more and more people are able to participate in Web business. That creates a situation where everyone is trying to advertise their product, and there is just an unbelievable amount of noise out there. This article will give ideas to help you get past the noise and make sure the message about your product or company can be seen or heard.

1) Learn to Talk about Your Product

[login] Attention spans are constantly decreasing and the amount of stimuli out there is constantly increasing. For that reason, before embarking on any promotional campaign, the promoters need to be absolutely clear about what their product is, whom it helps, and from what angle it will be presented to the outside world. That will help create a message about the product or start up that will quickly garner interest and attention after only a few uttered phrases and decrease babble which is a turn off. Only when the messaging is clear, concise and precise, can a promotional campaign begin.



2) Forget "Viral" Unless You Can Hire an Agency

There is a big myth out there that I want to get out of the way. I often hear people say "our product will go viral" without too much of an idea of what it takes for something to go viral and how low the chances of going viral are, or the distinction of being viral, having viral features, and being well-suited for becoming viral.

Everything on the Web is potentially viral because someone can just paste your url anywhere if the content of the url is good, helpful, or relevant. Sure, you want to make it easier for people to share, but people will share as long as there is a point to share the content. Also, to make things actually go viral usually requires a huge marketing push, thousands of dollars, and a marketing consulting agency which hopefully specializes in making content go viral. So many of the "viral" videos and stories out there are the work of large teams and coordinated efforts which go on behind the scenes. Small projects have truly little chance to simply go viral.

3) Don't Annoy Your Friends

Another common pitfall comes from being naturally excited about your project, and think that random friends will be excited about it as well. A common mistake is to tell all your friends on Facebook or Twitter, and of course your mom, about your project. Yes, they are the easiest audience to reach, but they are also probably the wrong audience. They may click on the links you provide once or twice, but most likely they are not your product's actual audience, and you do not want to annoy your friends with too many of your business endeavors.

Additionally, promoting anything via social media is difficult and a full-time job. The lifespan of a tweet is extremely short, and the click-through rate on a posted link is in the mid-single-digits on average. If you tweet or promote via Facebook too much, you become spam and run the risk of annoying your friends. So tell your friends about your projects, perhaps ask those who are interested for advice, but do not over-sell or over-promote to them.

4) SEO is Best Long-Term and Most Sustainable

Instead out seeking out people who may or may not be your target audience, and who may even begin to harbor negative feelings towards you or your brand because you used your communication channel with them to advertise to them, a great way to find potential high quality customers is to have them find you whenever they are looking for something that resembles your product. That would be the equivalent of having a water or ice cream stand during hot weather, in a place where there are many people walking by. If you are the vendor, it is a good place to be. You can charge a premium, your ice cream does not even have to be the best quality (not that I recommend having a poor quality product) and you have an endless supply of customers who are thrilled to find you there. All that happens without you having to wave a flag saying you are selling things.

The online world equivalent of that situation is search engine optimization (SEO). Keyword targeting is an extremely effective way attracting the right type of customer. It is also a great long-term approach. Unfortunately, the drawback is that you are at the mercy of search engines. Not only do they take a long time to properly crawl and index your pages, you have to put in a lot of work to get your page into the top 10 results of a search engine query, which is quite a competitive thing to do. An incorrectly done SEO campaign can cost you up to 6 months of misused time.

5) SEM Gives Fast Results, Unfortunately Costs Money

The alternative marketing approach to SEO is SEM. Nearly everything in SEM is the mirror-opposite of SEO. While SEO focuses on helping users find your site through the search engines, SEM simply means you are going to pay someone to send you visitors from their site. So unfortunately, SEM is by definition not free. The upside of SEM is that you get your answers much faster. If you spend money targeting certain type of traffic just to realize it does not convert into actually becoming paying customers, it may be worth the money to find that out early rather than spending 6+ months to find out the same fact after optimizing your site for the keywords which would drive the same type of traffic.

6) Number One Best Marketing Tool is A Great Product

No matter whether your traffic comes from SEO or from SEM, if your site is not good, users won't stay, buy, come back, link to you, or recommend it to friends. Having a good product that actually improves peoples' lives, is probably the most viral aspect of the product there can or should be. The product itself should be so remarkable that it makes people want to pass it on and recommend it to their friends. Additionally, if a product is good, when you advertise, quite often your advertisement will not be seen as advertisement, but as high quality content, possibly even better than the actual content on that page.

7) Join Communities

Once your product actually helps people in some way, logically enough, you want to meet and interact with those people. Most likely they are already participating in some online communities, forums, or groups. In the modern unwritten rules of Web communities, the best practice is to join those communities and actually become a helpful and contributing member without overselling your product. The product sales and community support will come over time, simply from being a great contributing member of that community over a long period of time.

8) Make Nice With the Media

One great way to market your product is to let someone else who is good at it do it for free. Every project has a back story, turmoil and ups and downs. Think about how to become not just a product, but a great story. Reporters and bloggers like nothing more than a great, original angle at a story. Even before you need to approach someone to write about you, identify some bloggers or reporters you may target and always be commenting on their blogs and articles so that they would begin to recognize you. When you are ready to approach them to basically ask them to cover your project and give you great and free PR, they need something extra in order to publish a story about you or the many other people who approach them.

So be a good, interesting, and familiar story so they don't have to think too hard, and they have a reason for writing about you. Publishers are currently under a lot of pressure to produce a lot of content, and a ready-made story makes it that much easier for them to cover your project.

9) Become a Link Magnet

Becoming a link magnet is important and is a pseudo-science of sorts. Since people can only come to a site via links, by typing a name directly, or by fining the site through search, getting people to link to a site is a huge piece of the puzzle. There are different ways to get people to link to a site. To simplify, probably the best approach is to have such quality pages that authority sites in your space will link to you. Additionally, if you can pull it off, set up a situation where people benefit from linking to you. An example of that is how YouTube allows people to simply embed a little bit of code, and host the video on their side. That creates at least one link going from the site that plays the video to the YouTube site. That gives YouTube two great benefits: 1) Lots of links going to the YouTube site which is good for SEO and 2) sometimes drives human traffic right to the YouTube site.

10) Bad PR

This is a really fun, controversial, and risky way to get the word out about your product or startup. It is definitely not for every brand and people should choose this approach very carefully. But when it works, it is beautiful. Gossip, controversy, disputes and bad news travel very fast (finally something is easy to make go viral) and many people leverage that to get attention. Many people have in fact made careers as marketers by picking fights with someone who has more publicity than them. If the person with more publicity or notoriety engages in the conflict, people will discuss it, media will (hopefully) write about it, and people will overhear about this new upstart that is making noise.


   
Alex Genadinik is the founder of San Francisco Hiking Community and a Startup Consultancy. Please say hello and continue the conversation on this topic on Twitter @genadinik
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