Online marketing to-do list for a new company

I used to work in tech support. I helped people set up their websites and fill them with content.

Often clients would come to me for months pretty much every day for some little tweaks on their sites. They would give me access to servers and admin panels so I saw exactly how their new online business was doing.

More often than not, they weren’t doing that well. They launched websites, wrote some content from the top of their heads and shared it on their personal social media accounts.

Understandably, this approach to marketing didn’t work. I visited websites of the memorable clients a few months after the last chat with support and often by that time they were already abandoned.

Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of businesses launching their online presences and trying to put together a working marketing workflow. And each time I see how overwhelmed people are when they start thinking of all the things they need to do marketing-wise to get their business on the radar of the potential consumer.

No surprise, since there’s really a ton of things to do, no matter how small your business is at the start.

At the same time, I’m certain, that a business owner who doesn’t have money to hire a marketing person straight away, can do most or all of the things I list in this post on their own. Because no one knows you and your business better than you do. So you just need a proper checklist to follow.

That’s why I’ve decided to put together a list of the most important things you’ll need to learn and do in order to start promoting your business online. And to begin with, here are the things you should have before you get into strictly marketing tasks.

Pre-launch

  1. A domain name that’s catchy and short, but isn’t associated with any other business yet. If you don’t have that, you can use Rand Fishkin’s advice.
  2. A website that runs on an easy-to-use engine (WordPress) and a reliable hosting (research best option for your country, but watch out for sponsored articles).
  3. A well-designed (or a very simple) website and design attributes like a logo, color scheme, and branding elements for promo materials.
  4. Competitor research: what they’re doing, which channels work for them, which don’t.
  5. Properly set up Google Analytics and Google Webmasters Tools.

Once you have these things done, you might think that you’re ready to share the first version of your homepage with the world. But you’re not. At this point, you just have the very basic and technical foundation.  Next come the research and the creative work.

Content generation (one-time and ongoing)

There’s no arguing that content you put on your website should be genuine rather than openly promotional. Each text and page should serve some specific goal and answer a need of your visitors. And here are the content-related tasks you’ll need to take care of before and after the launch:

  • Keyword research:

Before you write and publish content on your website, I strongly recommend using a tool like Ahrefs or SemRush to find the specific keywords you will be trying to rank for. Here’s a keyword research guide by my former boss, Tim Soulo, on how to do that within Ahrefs.

The rule of thumb is creating content that covers larger topics in more details. This way you tend to rank for more long-tail keywords that you might not even know about. This strategy replaced keyword stuffing and concentrating each page on a single specific keyword.

  • Copywriting for your website

Writing about yourself is hard. Luckily, many of the topics and pages you’ll need to cover will be dictated by what your competitors are doing and by keyword research.

While generating content, keep in mind that each of the pages on your site should bring value to your readers, not just copy the competition or please the search engines.

creating Static and dynamic pages

First, take care of the core pages like Home, Products/Services, About us, Our team, Contact us. The most important ones here are Homepage (don’t call it that on your site) and Products/Services landings as they most probably will be the most highly converting ones.

It’s also important to show that your website is alive and frequently updated. For that, you should have a decent blog. But don’t put pressure on yourself thinking that you have to write sophisticated posts that need to immediately get thousands of shares. That just won’t happen. Instead, just write about what you know in the style that feels natural.

You can create in-depth how-to content for your product or describe how your services help your customers, share success and failure stories, write about news, updates, etc. But keep keyword research in mind. So when you find a keyword with high traffic potential and low competition, devote some time to writing a detailed article on the topic.

Well-written, optimized copy on the website backed by some link building is a surefire recipe to start ranking.

Which brings me to…

SEO activities

Other than doing keyword research prior to and while creating content, there’s plenty of SEO activities to take care of. There’s pretty much no limit to how much time and resources you can pour into SEO. But if you’re running a one-man operation, you only have so much time.

Not to drop the ball in any other marketing spheres, you’ll probably need to concentrate on the basic SEO best practices like:

  • If you already have a website, perform an SEO audit, to see what you have and how you can improve.
  • Cover topics you write about in much detail.
  • Write descriptive meta titles and meta descriptions for improved click-through rates from search.
  • Spend some time on common sense on-page optimization. Things like meaningful anchor texts, informative headings and logical structure through HTML tags haven’t hurt anyone.
  • Make sure that the pages are properly interlinked and easy to find from Home.
  • Before launching, ask your friends to test your website’s usability. The things that you find obvious due to close work on the website are often confusing to new users. And user behavior now influences rankings as well.
  • As you go, keep an eye on the basic technical SEO aspects. In a nutshell, your website should work smoothly on all the devices, search engine robots should be able to index all the important pages, and content on these pages shouldn’t be duplicated. Of course, there’s more to it, so by all means, do read on about it. But keep technical SEO within limits that make sense for you in terms of time investment.

Link building

An SEO aspect worth concentrating on separately is link building.

For as long as SEO exists, specialists are arguing over how much links influence rankings. And even though Google and other search engines are becoming creepily smart in analyzing and understanding content, links still tend to appear among the most influential factors.

Link building for a website owner means very few activities:

  • Publishing original content that people would want to link to.
  • Finding relevant websites/influencers in your niche and getting an organic link to your content from them.

If we’re talking about white-hat techniques (so not buying links) the most effective strategies would be to:

  • Look for posts that mention competitors or your niche. Find an email of the admin/author and try to get linked to from existing content.
  • Write guest posts for websites relevant to your niche. But don’t pitch press releases about your product. Just get in touch and suggest several topics you could write about. And really write a decent text. Most adequate website owners won’t say no to getting quality content for free.
  • Get on the radar of influencers in your niche and tell them what you do.  If you have a product, consider giving it to them to check out and see its quality. If you’re offering a service, you can do something small for them if you feel that it might be worth it. Engage with them on social media and comment on their posts. This way, when they write about something related to your niche, they’ll think of you and give you a shoutout.

Social media presence

Business owners are too busy to spend time on social media. But it’s still important to keep an active SM presence. One of the easiest ways to go is setting up social media automation with a tool like HootSuite or Buffer.

In a nutshell, you spend several hours once every 1-2 weeks and schedule all the posts that will be published during this time from your accounts. You can still log in to check user engagement and talk to commenters, but you’re freed from the obligation to spend time on publishing something every day.

Starting a business, you probably already know in which social media the majority of your users is hanging out, so concentrate on it. Syndicate content from it to all the other ones.

In order to increase reach and gain momentum, you might want to boost your top posts through ads but always start small. As a  rule, native ad platforms on social media are very user-friendly, so there shouldn’t be any problems there. We’ll go a bit deeper into ads later in the guide.

As to types of content to publish on social media, I’d recommend considering the following:

  1. Sharing news relevant to your niche, which you personally found interesting. Even better if you can add some insightful comments.
  2. Links to your blog posts with custom excerpts.
  3. Links to landings of your products/services with custom descriptions and CTAs for each SM.
  4. Commenting/replying to threads/posts in niche communities.
  5. Other formats that your competitors successfully exploit.

One more thing.

In addition to conventional social media like Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin, I recommend looking into promoting your business on platforms like Quora and Reddit. These two will work best for international businesses and English-speaking markets. So if you’re targeting other languages, look for forums and online discussion boards in your language to repurpose your content there.

Email marketing

In case you run a small business and there are few email subscriptions coming your way, you probably feel okay without some fancy automation. But it’s better to set up a communication tool like MailChimp on early stages to save yourself trouble when you grow. Here’s a guide from MailChimp team on starting out with email marketing.

They go into a ton of details, but in the beginning, you’ll need to:

  • Set up a custom automatic greeting email for new subscribers.
  • Possibly create an email chain that sends people 5-10 onboarding emails about you and your product/service (probably not more often than once a week.)
  • If you have enough content and updates, consider starting a newsletter once you feel the number of subscribers is worth the effort.

Paid advertisement

Now, I’m more fond of organic growth and content marketing, so I wouldn’t feel right giving you advice on the things I don’t do well myself. But for many businesses paid promotion through channels like AdWords is a life-saver. And even with content marketing – it can do miracles (if done right).

So I asked a friend of mine, Alex Panchuk, PPC specialist at Reply to share his insights into getting started with pay-per-click.

Take it away, Alex:

The world of PPC is quite catchy these days. There are a lot of platforms and each has its own unique targeting options. They change rapidly, and it needs a bit of practice to understand some things, which can be challenging for a beginner. But fear not, there are ways to learn and not waste everything to the last penny doing so. Just follow these simple and straightforward tips:

  • Before launching paid adverts, make sure you’ve set up tags for Analytics & other platforms correctly. Without tracking, you won’t be able to tell whether your clicks are worth something or not. I recommend using Google Tag Manager. With the help of this tool, you’ll be able to install any tracking code without breaking the source code of your website.
  • Link your Adwords account with Analytics. You may wonder why you need Analytics if you can set up conversions in the Adwords interface. Data is my answer. You won’t be able to tell why there are no conversions in Adwords (if there are none) without such data as Bounce Rate or Pages per Session from Analytics. Moreover, it will gain you insights about your audience, like their countries, age, gender, devices, etc.
  • Create remarketing audiences either in Adwords (Bing, Facebook,…) or Analytics. I prefer the last one. It’s more precise and allows to import created audiences in Adwords. Why should you bother with this? Well, after you try Adwords for some time, you might wanna try remarketing as well. But when you decide, you will have already created audiences that are ready to target.
  • Choose keyword match type very carefully (especially if it is broad or broad match modifier you thinking of) & think of negative keywords that are irrelevant for your business. It might save you a few hundred dollars, if not thousands.
  • Create as many ad extensions as are relevant for you. The more extensions you have, the more visible and complete will be your ad.

There are other advertising platforms that might be useful for you: Bing Ads, Facebook, Linkedin, etc. There’s no common opinion which one you should use.  It’s hard to tell which one will be more profitable and cost-effective for you. This choice is yours to make and depends on your business. But here are trusted resources to make that choice easier:

  1. Adwords:
  2. Bing:
  3. Facebook:
  4. Linkedin:

Checklist of all the things you’ll need to do marketing-wise in a new business

Whew!

We’ve covered quite a few topics today. In future, I’ll be digging into them separately to help anyone in need with more specific questions.

This post’s goal was to provide a business owner with a list of the most important things they’ll need to do in terms of marketing to stay sane and get results.

Here’s a short recap:

  • Competitor research
  • Design for your website and promo materials
  • Set up Google Analytics and Search Console
  • Keyword research
  • Keyword-based copywriting for static pages
  • On-page optimization
  • Blog launch
  • Blog post writing
  • Link building activities
  • Influencer research
  • Social media launch
  • Social media activities
  • Influencer marketing
  • Blog content generation
  • Tracking rankings
  • Email marketing
  • Quora and Reddit engagement
  • Ad campaigns
  • Keep it going and gradually remove the activities that don’t work for you, do more of those that do work and try out new things when you have a chance.

Minimalistic list of tools you’ll need to do all of the above:

  • Ahrefs/SemRush
  • Hunter IO/FindThat.email
  • BuzzSumo (optional)
  • BuzzStream (optional)
  • Google Analytics
  • Search Console
  • Google Tag Manager
  • Yoast
  • Canva
  • Photoshop(optional)
  • HootSuite(or alternative)
  • Intercom (or alternative)
  • TBD.

Final thoughts

I don’t think I’m in a position to teach anyone marketing. I’m very much still learning myself. But I did see one too many businesses who suffer from not understanding what they need to do in terms of marketing and where to begin.

So I decided to do what I can to help them.

Even though kickstarting marketing for your business is hard, many people have already done it and achieved great results. You just need to learn and adjust fast, test new things and try to keep your cool.

As is, I feel like this post would have helped many of the business owners I’ve encountered in the past. But I’ll be updating it as new things come to mind. Let me know if you think there are any crucial elements I’ve missed and if we agree, I’ll be sure to add them 🙂

How to approach online marketing best practices

1.

Ever since the 1990s finding and buying stuff online wasn’t dictated by the quality of products and content. Rather the decisions were influenced by marketing techniques that some people used better than the others.

Internet used to be a really bad place. Everyone lied and no one brought value to their users/readers/customers.

The demand was huge and supply was little so producers and content makers didn’t have to put in much effort to get clients.

Obviously, the industry made a huge leap since then.

But marketers and developers aren’t the ones to thank.

It’s the competition that drives improvements. Marketers who fight each other and content platforms that fight for users accidentally made those users smarter.

Search engines have to compete and improve algorithms, marketers have to compete to trick the algorithms, marketing software companies have to compete to help marketers lie better.

2.

Over the last couple of years, marketing niche got very saturated with newcomers.

Like yours truly.

The rule of thumb is that in order to get clients, you need to become an “authority”.

And for that, you need to publish guest posts, build your personal brand and in general, do what you can to stay in the news feeds and on SERPs.

But as I was saying, the new influencers don’t know anything about anything. Most of them have just read Moz’s beginners guide to SEO and a couple of posts on Ahrefs’ and Brian Dean’s blogs.

These accomplishments make them feel like they have to start writing about what they learned straight away.

Because of this if you look at the part of the web devoted to marketing, it consists of the same advice told over and over by thousands of people.

And that’s probably fine.

The problem is that while the majority of marketers repeat what someone else said, they actually never applied it in practice.

And I’ve faced that myself.

3.

When you’re entrusted with the first commercial project where you get to call the shots, you freeze.

It’s easy to start thinking that marketing is as easy as we’re led to believe online. That there is a ready-made plan you can just implement and live happily ever after.

Pretty much any online marketing resource and all the self-proclaimed gurus who produce content die to tell you 3-5-10 simple steps you’ll need to take to rank high/convert users/engage audiences.

What they don’t tell you is that the more generic their advice and the easier it is to implement, the higher the chances that everyone in your niche is already doing it.

So to outperform rivals you need to either do more of the same things everyone does, do them more creatively or do something original.

And there’s no recipe for that. You just need to come up with this stuff yourself.

4.

But there are still dark areas of marketing where you don’t need creativity and you really need to follow a set of simple steps. In these areas of marketing, you sell scammy/dangerous/useless/cheap products to uneducated audiences.

For example:

I’m an agency. I get a client who works with forex or binary options. Reasonably, they want to show their ads to people who don’t know that forex is a scam.

We agree with them that I, the agency, will bring them paying clients.

And for each person my ads bring them, I get theoretical $10.

The minimum amount the client will make on each paying user I bring them is a theoretical $100.  So even if out of 10 registered users only 5 become paying customers, the client is happy.

To get customers this cheaply ($10), I’ll get in touch with special networks or with shitty news/sports/gaming/celebrity gossip websites directly.

The worse the media, the lower content quality the better.

Bad content with a ton of traffic means that I’ve found the perfect target audience for my client’s scammy product.

So I get those websites to place my ads for super low prices. And they will be happy to sell me millions of impressions or clicks because they know that their audience will easily buy my product. And they also know that no self-respecting company or product will ever advertise with them.

All that’s left to me is to write clickbait titles and find stock images for the ads.

It’s always something like “You won’t believe how much money company_name made her” with an image of Julia Roberts.

Or “Oprah lost 50 pounds on this diet” and an image with Oprah’s head badly photoshopped on a slim and young body.

And everyone’s happy. As long as no party in this equation has a soul.

This kind of marketing always works on the people it targets. But as technology advances, fewer people fall for such dumb techniques.

5.

If we’re not talking about this kind of marketing – and I hope we’re not – there’s no single set of best practices and steps you can take to achieve stellar ROI and boost your sales.

You will need to put in work and research.

You will need to try multiple things and fail in most.

You will need to hate yourself for not thinking of the right thing at once.

That’s all okay, I guess.

Best practices are a good thing. Right now they indicate that overall quality of content rises and users get smarter when choosing products.

But best practices don’t cut it anymore. If they ever did. They are just a very low starting point.

No matter what business, no matter how saturated the industry, you need to put in work and you need to find the way to stand out.

Because if online marketing was as easy as following this season’s best practices, everyone would have the same equally effective brand.

But that’s not the case. Only those who stand out and do original work, make it.

The rise of a bullshit marketer

The online marketing niche is crawling with new “influencers”.  They don’t have much relevant experience. But they are all very active on social media and write at least several guest posts a month, they take parts in roundups and are very open about their opinions.

I totally get why they do it – the more presence they have online, the easier it is to convert new clients. And I’m not judging. But I do feel very sorry for those clients.

The problem is that for this kind of marketers it’s easier to get clients through quantity of content, not quality. So they got into a loop of Infinite Content (Arcade Fire reference). They need to create more content to stay relevant and that’s why it is and will be so basic and unoriginal.

Don’t know about you, but as an online marketer, I’m constantly bombarded with content about marketing.  On social media, via email, on websites I follow, etc.

I can judge this content based on some practical experience I have. And I can tell you one thing – be very careful with online marketing advice you read or listen to.  Because most of it is written without any evidence, research, and experience.

What’s worse, usually it’s not written to solve a need or to answer your question. They say that that’s their sole goal, but it’s not. This content is written to trick you into thinking you need some particular marketing software or services of the author or their company.

The amount of marketing content published every day could be hundreds of times smaller and no one in the world would bat an eye. There are literally thousands of posts on the same topics that bring nothing new to the table.

In my opinion, the online marketers who really know what they are doing and could share some valuable insights usually remain silent. Because, honestly, there’s nothing noble in sharing your tips and tricks with the “community”.

And the pros who find time and motivation to share, do it rarely because they have better things to do.

So the majority of marketing content isn’t written by professionals. And the majority of so-called “marketing influencers” are just people who either write obvious things or rewrite what someone smart wrote before them.

But how do these people get all those shares and links to their websites, you might ask.

That’s a valid question, thanks!

All of those shares and links are:

  • from other bullshit marketers who share and link to stuff just for the sake of networking;
  • from regular people who believed these influencers are real;
  • from a new batch of marketers who also still believe in influencers.

Developers, QAs, engineers, devops or HR specialists – they don’t have this compulsive urge to write, record videos and create infographics. If someday they feel like they have something to contribute to their field, they will put together a research or a post and publish it somewhere.

And it will be good because it will be dictated by an honest will to help and say something new.

But that isn’t the case for us, the egocentric marketers. Since many of us exist in this constant need to process and create information, it becomes a habit.

And since we work with other marketers, we start to think similarly and feel like each of us should have a platform to share our thoughts (oh so few).

Additionally, when you see that someone a lot dumber than you gets praise in your field, you get jealous and want to put yourself on the map too.

In reality, you can count the people who add value to the conversation about online marketing on one hand. Yet almost every marketer feels like they need to have their say.

We call it creating a personal brand. You get a website, you get more followers in social media, you start selling stuff.

I even fell for that motivation myself a while back. But the things I write about don’t really make up for a good personal brand, so I’m clean.

Nevertheless, there are good websites that try to bring value to this market. But they too get caught up in the never-ending stream of updates and recurring topics.

There are a lot of smart people in the field, but the niche works like this for a while now and there’s no changing it in the foreseeable future.

Anyhow.

I can rant about it for a really long time.

What I wanted to say is that when it comes to marketing content, you can’t blindly trust the first link Google spits at you. Use your critical thinking.

But then again, that advice is true for pretty much any situation.

Should you pursue a career in marketing

Anywhere you go, you hear about startups and tech companies. And even though the vast majority of them doesn’t make any real product and solves problems that don’t exist, they still get a ton of praise.

These days, everyone is a co-founder, vice president or head of something in a no-name tech company. And if you don’t know how it works, from outside it might look like all these people are achieving something and make the world a better place.

Well, they don’t.

But still, due to extensive media coverage and PR campaigns, most of us got this notion that working in tech is cool. That IT is somehow better than a job in a brick-and-mortar business.

Well, it isn’t.

It’s just apples and oranges. But that’s not my point now. My point is the following.

When a young person after school or uni is inevitably tempted to try and get a job in IT, there are very few options:

  • coder
  • qa
  • manager
  • hr
  • devops
  • support
  • marketer

And if you’re not particularly technical, enjoy creativity and don’t want to go against your nature, the choice really narrows down.

So a lot of people who’re into liberal arts, consider becoming marketers.

Entry level positions are easy to get. And it’s one of those jobs that may even seem fun and fancy at first. And that’s a good thing. The more talented people become marketers the better. And if some less talented or suited for the job will come along, soon they’ll leave.

 

Do I recommend becoming an online marketer?

Not unless you just love to read and write.

There will be fewer meetings than in other IT jobs, there will be more creative freedom and choices. There will be a ton of information processing and thinking.

You won’t be making slogans whole day long. You won’t generally sit around a room in bean bags discussing creative approaches.

You will be analyzing and researching. You will need to master a ton of software and perfectly you’ll need to know some basic coding.

Most importantly, you’ll need to learn to talk passionately about products or services even if you hate and despise them.

That’s just the way it is.

You can’t sell stuff if you can’t convince yourself first that it’s the best on the market.

The thing is that most probably the product you’ll work with won’t be the best on the market. But the client can’t know about that. That’s why a lot of the times you’ll feel like you’re lying and pretending. Because you will be doing exactly that – lying and pretending.

But if you manage to grow fast and strong enough within the organization you’ll get a chance to influence the end product. So that you didn’t have to lie and pretend that much about it.

The important thing about an online marketer’s job is that you will need to know your product or service really good. Better than most in the company. And not only your product or service but also all of your competitors’.

Also, you need to be extra careful when choosing who you work for.

Cause see, no one associates a coder or a tester with the company they work for. But if you’re the guy promoting a business – people will feel like you’re the one responsible for PR fuckups of the CEO, bad product, bad customer service, etc.

And they will be partly correct. Since it was you who convinced them that you’re not selling crap.

I might be a tad too dramatic. But you will feel all these things. A little more or a little less. Depending on the kind of person you are.

Summing up

Marketing isn’t the way you see it in movies. But it is fun. If the company is right. And if you’re right for the job.

So what to do when you want to apply for an entry-level marketing position?

I strongly advise to google around and read about the company you plan to work for. As much as you can. But don’t fall for the cliche stuff like “corporate culture”, “innovative next-gen product”, “family-like atmosphere”. Read real reviews from real employees and clients.

Then read about the position you’re applying for. What these people do, what are the pros and cons. You can even get in touch with me if you really want to 🙂

But in general, try to read a lot of theory on that job first. Chances are, the actual work will be nothing like what it’s supposed to be. But still.

Other than that, if you’re still at the beginning of your career – why not try yourself in marketing.

Honestly, it’s not for everyone. But even if you don’t become the next Ogilvy, it might open some new windows of opportunity for you.