Effective digital marketing for start ups


Date: 20 March 2024

A team work on a digital marketing strategy

In 2023, the UK maintained its position as the 3rd most valuable start up ecosystem in the world. Although the UK is home to a wealth of entrepreneurial ambition and energy, most founders fail to get their start up venture off the ground.

Upwards of 50% of UK start ups fail within their first three years of beginning operations. In Venture Capital circles, this early period where a start up is operational but has yet to achieve positive cashflow is known as the Death Valley curve.


Graphic illustrating the Death Valley curve

The Death Valley curve is a brutal reminder that having a great idea for a product or service isn't enough. Consistent customer acquisition leading to positive cashflow relies on effective digital marketing.

Escaping the Death Valley curve

In the interest of successfully navigating the Death Valley curve, we give you three essential digital marketing tips for start ups.

1. Identify your ideal customer

We're starting with a market research exercise that's integral to the success of your digital marketing. Unfortunately, the process of identifying the ideal customer is often overlooked by eager start up founders.

The beauty of digital marketing is in the way it enables companies, regardless of their available resources, to target a specific audience. The most effective digital marketing takes a focused approach based on data-driven decision-making.

Building an understanding of your ideal customer works best when it's based on genuine customer data. Transaction and purchase history obviously come in handy here as do insights garnered from analytics tools.

Get creative and harness the power of exchange by offering something of value, and you'll come to realise there are plenty of creative ways to build an understanding of existing and prospective customers. Try using sign-up forms for newsletters or other content offerings, mine customer data from social media, and use the tracking tools within your CRM software .

Clearly defining your ideal customer will supercharge your digital marketing efforts.

2. Design a functional website

A website is your primary digital asset. Start ups often see their website as the place where they tell their story and build the credibility of the brand. Whilst this is important, your website is so much more than a multimedia presentation.

Functional websites serve multiple purposes within a wider digital marketing strategy. As well as the ability to gather analytical data on visitors, a well-thought-out website serves as the foundation of your SEO strategy. Furthermore, you can add powerful ecommerce functionality.

We're all intuitively aware of the factors that make a functional website from the user's perspective - a mix of good copywriting and media; fast page load times; easily navigable; fully responsive on all devices.

But, what does a functional website look like in a start up context?

Thought must go into tackling the key issue that start ups face: prospective customers who aren't yet ready to buy. A functional website for start ups should therefore be designed in a way to capture leads. There will be visitors who aren't yet ready to buy, the trick is making sure you don't lose them forever.

'Calls to Action' and lead capture techniques such as free content offerings and product demos that encourage users to provide their email addresses are essential.

When you're coming up with CTAs for your website, remember that prospective customers are unlikely to provide their contact details for 'free'. They will ask themselves: "What's in it for me?"

3. Implement effective SEO

Search Engine Optimisation is a digital marketing process that aims to drive organic traffic to your website. When implemented effectively, SEO means your content ranks higher in the search engine results pages (SERP).

Before we jump in, it's important to note that the benefits of SEO (increased website traffic, improved brand awareness and lead generation) are realised over the medium to long term. Optimising your website's content for search is an ongoing process, but it pays to stick with it. The benefits of improving your SEO compound over time.

Start ups looking to implement effective SEO should have a firm grasp of the following fundamentals; keyword research, on-page, technical, and off-page SEO/outreach.

Keyword research

At its core, SEO is about creating content that is relevant to your prospective customers' search queries. But you can't optimise your website content without knowing what your prospective customers are searching for.

You can use keyword research to determine two things:

  1. What keywords people are searching for;
  2. The number of people searching for these keywords.

Based on your research you can choose your target keywords and begin creating optimised content. For more, see this introduction to keyword research, which includes a discussion on popular keyword research tools.

On-page SEO

On-page SEO involves optimising your web pages with user experience in mind. The websites that visitors spend more time on, and often return to for more, tend to rank higher in the SERPs.

Remember the point above about the benefits of SEO compounding over time? On-page SEO is a prime example of this compounding effect. The more you optimise your website the more likely it is to offer a better UX > Good UX means visitors spend more time on your site > More time on site is an indication of highly engaged users > Highly engaged users are more likely to become leads.

Everything visible to users on your website can be optimised via on-page SEO. It's not just about the keywords that you use on your web pages, it's where you place them and how you go about structuring the content to help users navigate your site.

Technical SEO

Where on-page SEO is about optimising for the user, technical SEO is about optimising for search engines. If your website's pages aren't visible to search engines, they can be indexed and served in response to users' search queries.

Whilst technical SEO is about ensuring that the search engines can index the pages that make up your website, you can also think of it as a form of damage limitation. Regular website audits check for errors like missing code, broken links, and slow page load speeds. Other common issues include duplicate URLs or old pages targeting ineffectual keywords that are no longer relevant to your audience.

Regular check-ups reduce the chance of your website being penalised and falling in the rankings, especially after algorithmic updates from Google.

Off-page SEO & outreach

Off-page SEO is concerned with your wider online presence. The aim here is to build a quality backlinks profile. Search engines view backlinks (links to your web pages from other websites) as a sign of trustworthiness and authority. Your backlink profile contributes to a crucial ranking factor known as 'domain rating'.

A high-quality backlink profile is one that is growing and includes backlinks from other websites that have a high domain rating. It's desirable to have backlinks from websites that are in the same industry or a closely related industry. Backlinks can be earned in a number of ways: by creating damn good content or via outreach.

An effective outreach campaign involves identifying suitable websites and publishing platforms (relevant to your industry and with a positive domain rating); reaching out to discuss how you can be featured and the particulars of the link and the content creation process itself. Keep in mind that, as your online presence grows, there will be occasions when you might need to remove or disavow unwanted backlinks.

As with other aspects of SEO, building up your backlink profile takes time. Start ups can greatly enhance their outreach campaigns by partnering with experienced SEO experts who can assist with content creation or connecting with suitable publishing platforms.

Taking flight

Just as most start ups get going without a series of outside investments, effective digital marketing doesn't necessarily rely on a big marketing budget. Instead, most start ups get off the ground by maintaining a tight focus on a well-defined target audience.

Whilst SEO is a great option for start ups looking for ways to maximise their ROI, some businesses may be more suited to other digital marketing strategies. Paid advertising and social media marketing can also prove to be effective strategies for startups.

Whatever strategies you decide to follow, implement them systematically. Wherever you have doubts, seek out digital marketing experts who can offer a bespoke service.

Copyright 2024. Sponsored post made possible by WebHummel, specialists in SEO that offers a range of bespoke digital marketing services. Follow @Web_Hummel to learn how you can 'bee found online'.

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