This is the third post in our Marketing Essentials blog series. Last week we talked about product marketing and how a product can gain traction in the market. This week we’re focusing on lead generation, showing how a team can drive more traffic to their website. Joe Lambe also contributed to this post.
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In the past I’ve always struggled to get users using little web apps I’ve made. However, very recently I built a little Facebook + Google Maps mashup, and thanks to Twitter, my personal blog, and Facebook, this little app has seen a surprisingly large amount of usage. I felt like a kid in a candy store seeing all my friends show up in the database: finally one of my little websites has seen some usage! Apart from being excited to see my work used by my friends, I’ve realized that driving traffic isn’t a black art–it’s lead generation, a fairly repeatable practice. Lead generation, put simply, is the practice of acquiring new customers, partners or users that use your site or service. This post will walk you through several strategies for driving more visitors to your website. I expect most of you think lead generation costs money, but we’ll see generating leads doesn’t necessarily cost money.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search Engine Optimization, SEO for short, is the practice of optimizing your website to perform well in organic web search, or, put differently, optimizing your website for keywords or phrases that your prospective customers could be using in search engines. I agree as much as anyone else that SEO certainly can have a negative “business” connotation, but SEO is super important, especially for teams that don’t want to spend money on marketing. Nearly half of our website visitors find us organically through search engines, coming from keywords such as “enterprise wiki,” “JIRA,” and “continuous integration.” A lot of our organic search engine traffic comes from branded keywords such as “Atlassian” and “Confluence,” but still the amount of non-branded organic search traffic we see is very high. SEO is, at least in our experience, the most cost-effective form of lead generation, which is why all startups and small engineering teams should make SEO an important marketing practice. SEOmoz has a fantastic beginners guide to SEO, which is comprehensive and actionable. Give the beginners guide a read and prioritize a set of actions your team has time to perform. In general we recommend the following:

  1. Choose keywords you believe your customers are using to find your products. Google has a nice keyword generator that might help
  2. Optimize your existing content (website, blogs) to use said keywords, in particular focus on:
    1. <title>, <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, the url
    2. Inbound link anchor text, especially on blogs, described in more detail below
  3. Use a tool such as Google Analytics or Raven to measure the performance of your keywords and track your SEO progress over time

SEO can work on the middle and top of the customer funnel, driving evaluations and sign ups when users land on pages with clear calls to action, and creating awareness when users hit a landing page that is informational. Search engine users are actively searching, so when they visit your website they already have a desired destination. The landing pages that search engine visitors land on need to be efficient at moving these users along to the next step of the customer acquisition process, which was covered in last week’s product marketing post.

Social Media

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I know what you’re thinking, “Oh man, here comes another social scientist dude, after just introducing SEO!” Run with me for a little; social media is super important as well. Put simply, social media is the practice of participating in the social web, sharing information on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and anything else social. With my little Facebook/Google Maps mashup I’ve learned first hand how impacting social media can be. Many of us use a service or purchase a product according to what our friends and community are doing. For example, whenever I consider switching mobile phones I always consult with as many friends as I can. We each get comfort in knowing we’re committing ourselves to a product or service that our friends have already explored, and social media facilitates this feeling of confidence and connection to friends.

First, make your content shareable on social media services. Consider encouraging your customers to tweet or like when they complete an action such as evaluate, review, or download. For example, Amazon’s Kindle has a feature where users can tweet highlights they’ve made in a book, creating more broad Kindle awareness and driving friends to purchase the book with said highlights. Second, setup social media accounts on Twitter, a blog, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and start sharing news, case studies, customer success stories, and anything else relevant and actionable for your customers. And finally, devise a plan to engage the social web, responding to Tweets and blog posts, and seeking out a conversation in your market that will ultimately drive more awareness to your company.

Use blogging as an opportunity to improve your SEO, by linking to product or signup pages with the keywords that matter to you. You’ll notice in our blog posts that we don’t link the keyword “JIRA” to our JIRA product page. Instead we link “issue tracker” or “bug tracker,” which further informs search engines of the keywords associated with a particular page.

In general social media grows the top of your funnel, driving brand and product awareness and less targeted visits to your website. However, with engagement, social media can also bring users into the middle of your funnel. For example, many of us tweet asking for product or service recommendations. Often savvy social media experts will find these tweets and refer the user to their website, bringing them to a product or service tour page with a very clear call to action.

For-purchase Social Marketing

For-purchase social marketing is the purchasing of ads on social websites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Generally these types of advertisements are cheaper and better for creating awareness and growing the top of your funnel. Social marketing ads can be very targeted and relevant, yet because the user isn’t actively searching for something, social ads will grow brand and product awareness. However, social marketing can still be very targeted, given the information users share on their profile, resume, news feed, etc.

Social media advertising also drives users to your social media accounts, furthering the discussion and creating more engagement within your community. Most social media ad campaigns drive clicks to Facebook pages or Twitter accounts instead of product or service tours. For example, clicking on a promoted Twitter trend brings you to a search or profile page on Twitter.

We’ve seen good results with Facebook advertisements, where we target software engineers and product managers to inform them of our products. The Facebook price, especially compared to paid search–described below–is very fair and a great investment given the success we’ve seen. However, social marketing does cost money, so if you go this route get started with a low-dollar campaign. More on getting started with for-purchase advertising below.

For-purchase Search Engine Marketing

For-purchase search engine marketing lets an advertiser purchase keywords whereby searches for said keywords show as sponsored results at the top and right of a search results page. The most popular search engine marketing product is Google AdWords, but Bing, Yahoo!, and other search engines provide good, similar services as well. In general search engine marketing works on the middle and bottom of your funnel. A search engine user is looking for something; their visit to your website already comes with an intention, which tends to make search engine marketing more expensive than social marketing.

We’ve seen the most success with Google AdWords, but we’ve also had good results with Yahoo!.

Try, Measure, Tweak, Repeat

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I realize that perhaps many of you were hoping for more concrete advice for social and search engine marketing. I’ve intentionally not recommended specific advertising spends because each company’s advertising success is unique. Lead generation is all about trying something, measuring, tweaking, and repeating. Try campaigns with different ad providers, measure success, and spend your money where your ads perform best. We’re constantly changing our marketing spend based on performance. However, startups and small teams don’t have the bandwidth to stay on top of these campaigns. Start with small-dollar campaigns and measure their success when you have time. Use your measurements and research for the next campaign you run.

For the Frugal and Resourceful

For the resourceful and frugal startups/engineering teams out there, we recommend focusing on SEO and social media. Both SEO and social media are free, and both can drive substantial traffic to your website, both towards the middle and top of your funnel. However, often for-purchase lead generation such as social marketing and search engine marketing can make huge impacts as well. We recommend establishing a good SEO and social media presence before considering for-purchase alternatives. But when you decide to try a for-purchase lead generation service, be sure to start with a small-dollar campaign and set yourself up to measure its effectiveness.

Your Five Hours of Marketing This Week

Now for this week’s five hours of marketing:

  • Measure your funnel: find out where you can improve your funnel with lead generation. Once you have an idea, take the advice above and attack relevant bullets below
  • SEO: do keyword research and choose relevant keywords. Rethink/improve your website and blog content given your keyword research
  • Create a blog and twitter account: post with relevant, useful, actionable information, and feed SEO with keyword’ed link anchor text. Engage with the community as much as you have time for
  • Social website: rethink your website by making your content more easily sharable. Same thing goes with your blogs
  • Consider an ad campaign: start small and set yourself up to measure success

Photo credit: Big Picture

Update: take a look at the conclusion post to get comprehensive marketing advice for startups and small teams.

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