I’ve always enjoyed working with entrepreneurs on go-to-market strategies, perhaps because I’ve been in that position myself in the past. Although startups are typically higher-risk clients with smaller budgets for agencies, it’s easier to make a huge impact with early-stage companies via marketing. I’ve also found start-ups tend to listen and respect marketing partners, likely because they know less about marketing and already have too many hats to wear to have time to get in the way.

Most startups are looking to make the biggest possible impact within the confines of a restricted marketing budget. Digital marketing is highly measurable and more affordable than traditional media channels. Within digital, search is the most common channel to pursue for a successful launch. Organic search engine optimization (SEO) provides a low cost for targeted reach. Paid search (pay-per-click or PPC) advertising can quickly and effectively connect prospective customers with a new business. In this post, we will examine key factors to consider when deciding how to approach organic and paid search as key components of a go-to-market strategy for startups.

SEO Consideration Factors
Organic search is the single most cost-effective channel for building awareness and generating leads, since you don’t pay for each website visitor. SEO is ideal for cost-conscious startups that have more resources than cash, as organic search success is based primarily on the ability to create compelling content over time. While SEO can be considered highly technical (especially when it comes to optimizing site code), it is still fundamentally focused on creating and optimizing compelling content that generates inbound links and mentions of your brand and website to further increase your visibility in relevant search results. While SEO is a front-loaded marketing strategy, the benefits last as long as the life of the website, which his typically 3–5 years. The downside to SEO is that it takes time. In order to build trust with the search engines, websites need a history and a consistent velocity of fresh content and links. New company websites in emerging industries can take weeks or months to rank initially (vs. hours or days for new content on a trusted site).

PPC Consideration Factors
Paid search, on the other hand, is ideal for relatively well-funded startups that are flush with cash and have a more aggressive sales trajectory. PPC campaigns can be turned on within 24 hours and can generate significant returns, depending on media budget, audience, message and offer. While large-scale PPC programs can be exceedingly complex and require dedicated teams to manage for optimal returns, a basic campaign can be set up quickly by a relative novice and generate instant feedback/results. In fact, a modest media budget (starting at $500) is highly recommended for testing keywords before optimizing for organic search, let alone honing overall corporate messaging. Despite a cost-per-click model of buying website visitors, PPC is still one of the most cost-effective forms of generating high volumes of qualified leads over time, as you have the ability to modify campaigns in real-time for optimal performance. The downside to PPC is that there’s no long-term equity in the ads, as once the budget is depleted or campaigns are turned off, there is no trace of the brand’s presence in search results, unlike SEO.

Mixing it Up
While the ideal traffic mix/investment for a mature business is 80 percent organic and 20 percent paid search, many startups are typically inverse: front-loading paid search budgets until trust is built with search engines and organic rankings begin to drive significant traffic. Regardless of your funding and resources, consider a combination of organic and paid search for your company launch (and beyond). Feel free to check out the blog, articles, cheat sheets and white papers in Anvil’s Resources section for more information.

Kent Lewis
Kent Lewis is a co-founder and the first President of SEMpdx, a professional trade organization based in Portland, Oregon that provides educational opportunities for local businesses and individuals interested in a career in search engine marketing. To pay the bills, he plays the role of President of Anvil Media, Inc., where he is responsible for managing operations, marketing and business development to achieve the company's mission: to build Anvil into the one of the most respected search engine marketing agencies in the world. In 2001, Lewis created pdxMindShare to build businesses and careers through networking and weekly emails featuring jobs and industry events. He is also an adjunct professor at Portland State University.
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