Congratulations on launching your startup business. The only problem is, no one knows about it. So how do you get the word out online, without having to spend thousands of dollars on advertising or PR, or buying Facebook or Twitter followers?
Dozens of small business owners and social media, SEO and marketing experts share their nine top tips for how new businesses can get noticed online, without having to spend a lot of money.
1. Establish profiles on the major social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest). Before launching any social campaigns, take time to figure out which social media site or sites your target customers frequent. Then set up pages or profiles on those sites -- and post content regularly, at least once a week. To centrally manage your social media posting, consider using a service such as Hootsuite.
[ Related: 8 Ways to Use LinkedIn Groups to Boost Your Business ]
2. Create fresh, shareable content. "Business blogs are the most cost effective way to boost your organic traffic," says Lisa Chu, owner, Black N Bianco Children's Formal Wear. "Google loves original and valuable content. By [creating] informative articles, not only will Google reward your site, but people will organically start sharing your blog posts. [Just] remember: Write for your target audience not for Google."
"Create interesting videos [and graphics with your target audience in mind] and share them across all of your social media profiles," suggests Hannah Diamond, marketing coordinator, UrbanGirl Office Supply. "Offer something fresh and unique [that speaks] to your company," without it coming across as an ad.
Finally, "make it easy for your followers to share your content," says Melissa Johnson, content editor for Affilorama, an affiliate marketing training portal. "Make sure that people can follow you on Facebook or Twitter [or Pinterest] directly from your site [by including hot-linked buttons to your social media pages], and add buttons so that they can share your content and products on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, StumbleUpon, [Reddit] and other networks." The easier it is to share content, the more people will share it.
3. Ask friends, family members and employees to get the word out -- and reward referrals. Even if you don't have many (or any) followers on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram, chances are some of your friends or family members or your employees do. Ask them to follow you/your new business on social media sites and spread the word. Better yet, reward people for sharing links to your site or products by offering them referral discounts, say 10 percent off their first or next purchase, or a freebie.
4. Offer influencers/bloggers free product(s) in exchange for mentions and/or reviews. "When you first start your business, it can be difficult to direct traffic to your site," notes Chu. "A simple way to start a buzz around your product and website is to send out free samples to influential bloggers. Most bloggers will be happy to take your free sample and review it on their blog," she says. "Once the review goes up, there will be a link directly to your site. That link will give you a nice SEO boost on search engines" and will drive traffic to your site.
"If a company has not yet been in business long enough to grow a substantial customer base, they can gain visibility online by conducting a product sampling campaign, [where you offer] consumers free products in return for accurate, unbiased, and insightful reviews (which can include text, photos, and videos)," says Matt Krebsbach, director, Global Public & Analyst Relations, Bazaarvoice, a platform for consumer ratings and reviews.
"A product sampling campaign helps generate accelerated word of mouth and increased sales for a product launch," Krebsbach says. Moreover, "each sample can result in a review that influences tens, hundreds or thousands of prospective customers for each free product. And Bazaarvoice's research shows that, depending on the product category, increases in both the number of reviews and the average rating for a product can increase orders 10 to 50 percent."
5. Co-market with an established business/brand. "Pair with an on-brand company that already has a loyal following to offer something unique and sharable," suggests Zoë Scharf, cofounder & creative director, greetabl. "When greetabl wanted to increase awareness, they paired with Strange Donuts, a popular donut shop, to celebrate National Donut Day," she explains.
"Greetabl, a greeting box that folds your message into a shippable present, made donut-themed cards. Strange Donuts made 1,000 donut holes. They offered a one-day-only sale where customers created a custom message printed on a greetabl that was paired with a donut and shipped to the recipient," she continues. The result: "They sold out and expanded brand awareness nationwide."
6. Use paid search (Google AdWords). "This refers to paid search marketing, like Google AdWords," says Mike Sprouse, president & CEO, The Sprouse Group, which provides marketing and SEO services. "This can be a very effective way for new businesses to test online marketing by driving to their website from Google. I recommend starting with a small budget, like $5 or $10 a day, and testing a variety of ad groups and creatives of at least three variations," he suggests. "Marketers should also utilize either the CPC (cost per click) or CPA options for their campaigns."
"A great way to test keywords is to do small PPC ad buys, and see which keyword sets get clicked more," adds Daniel Honigman, a marketer with G2 Crowd , which reviews business software.
7. Follow and engage industry influencers on Twitter. "Build a Twitter following by favoriting and retweeting key people in your industry," suggest Amir Tarighat, founder & CEO, Superdense, a Web design and development firm. "Use Twitter's advanced search to find people located within a specific area related to your market and engage with them. You can also create Twitter lists of people in the markets you are trying to reach. Many times they'll engage with you or follow you back."
"Participating in the occasional industry-related Twitter chat is another great way to get noticed," adds Honigman.
8. Create a Facebook ad. "Facebook's ad platform allows you to get very specific with the target audience," says Terry Lin, founder, #BALLER Leather, which sells fine Italian leather wallets and leather goods. How much you spend is up to you. As Facebook notes, "You can choose between a daily or a lifetime budget, as well as a cost per thousand impressions bid or cost per click bid. [You] only pay for the clicks or impressions you receive, up to the amount you set for your budget."
One strategy Lin recommends is "running ads on your competitor's Facebook page, [as well as] targeting [pages] your customers read, like magazines, shows or celebrities in [your] niche."
9. Sign up as a source on Help a Reporter Out (HARO). "Another great way to drive traffic is using HARO," says Shmuli Rosenberg, CEO of fwd/NYC, a boutique digital agency specializing in startups. HARO is a publicity service that links reporters with sources. The service sends out three newsletters a day with listings of various media opportunities. You can sign up for the free, basic service or pay between $19 and $149 per month for one of their subscription packages, which allow you to create different profiles and filters and get text alerts about new media opportunities.