Startup

Crack the Branding Code: How to Build Your Message and Value Proposition Right the First Time

Just over a decade ago, vintage clothing empress Nasty Gal was sitting pretty as a top notch startup with over $65 million in venture capital funding.

Ten years later, a filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection would send the brand into a tailspin that won’t be righted anytime soon — even if the company manages to stay afloat.

The reason?

Well, there were many, actually, but one key driver boils down to brand disruption. Namely, when newly named CEO Sheree Waterson introduced higher-priced brands to boost margins, but ended up diminishing its customer base and extinguishing sales.

As a startup, you should realize your brand represents the most valuable asset your company will ever own. Your brand provides the foundation for your entire reputation. And for startups who have yet to establish many successes in their industry, a little reputation can go a long way in putting you in the green.

Yet many startups neglect to see the value in building a solid branding vehicle from the very beginning. Rather, business leaders believe that branding evolves as a natural progression of the company and only exists to provide marketing departments with direction and content.

And both of these notions prime you for failure before you ever launch.

Branding Mistakes Startups Are Most Likely to Make

Startups typically don’t have massive capital to invest in much beyond the bare necessities, but all too often branding is overlooked as one of those much-needed components.

And those startups who do invest in a solid brand in the beginning don’t always understand the importance or requirements of maintaining the brand after early successes.

Whether you commit the former or the latter, each presents a serious branding crime that could ultimately lead to other common startup branding mistakes:

Ignoring the employee role in building your brand

When you can’t splurge on a publicist or outside marketing agency, your employees will sometimes pull double duty as your company evangelists. But first, they need to know how to spread your message, what the message should say, and to whom to deliver it. 


Creating a modge-podge conglomerate of communications

Whether you have one or five or fifty channels in your company, each one should reflect the same company image regardless of the department’s role.

Following a me-too strategy that mimics your competition

If two companies provide the exact same service to the exact same people at the exact same price, one of them is not needed. And typically it will be the one who hasn’t invested in a strong branding strategy.

Failing to provide memorable experiences

How do you plan to become your customer’s first choice if you can’t establish top-of-mind awareness? Branding goes beyond logo recognition. You should take advantage of every touchpoint to create a memorable experience that your prospects won’t soon forget.

In a stark contrast to the hundreds of brands that have outlived the past century or longer, one comparison shows that of the Fortune 500 companies in 1955, only 12% remain on the list in 2014. Which proves you can’t expect your brand to autopilot your company into repeat success; rather, your brand should continue to represent your company consistently, intentionally, and unceasingly.

Considering how many brands of the past century continue to prosper despite numerous recessions, the Great Depression, and other market instability, you’d think cultivating a strong brand would be an obvious must for startups vying for longevity. Yet branding remains somewhat of a mystery in how it’s supposed to look and function that it represents one of the most underutilized assets of companies new and old.

What does good branding look like?

To peel away some of the vagueness shrouding the concept, let’s first take a closer look at what branding is not:

  • Your company name
  • A well-designed logo
  • A slogan or tagline
  • The products or services you sell
  • Social media presence
  • Advertisements and marketing campaigns

Truthfully, all of these things can contribute to your brand strategy in some capacity. But branding at its core lies in how you connect with your target audience and the resulting perceptions from your customer’s experience.

It’s far easier to recognize good branding practices than putting those actions into practice for your own brand. Generally speaking, good branding always includes the following:

A target audience

The strongest brands remain strong because they know who their best customers are. Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, they limit their mass appeal and focus only on what they do best. 

A commitment from your team

A thoughtful brand depends on participation and cooperation from your employees. It’s important to hire only those who present a cultural fit that can help propel your brand goals. Hiring for cultural fit? 

A well-defined lexicon and content palette

Visuals are worth a thousand words, but the lingo you use still matters. Establishing a brand voice, color scheme, and visual elements can help direct other aspects of your branding strategy, such as advertisements, marketing, social media, and customer support. Here are 50 meticulous style guides from Canva that every startup should see before launching.

A backstory

Every brand has a story, but first you must define the best way to present yours. Well-crafted stories serve three key purposes: they position you as leaders in your industry; they fuel the conversation about your company; and most importantly, they connect with customers on a personal level to “humanize” your brand.


With the growing online competition for visibility, it’s imperative to remind customers what makes you the better choice. This is your chance to define your competitive advantages and let people know what they can get from you that they can’t get anywhere else.

If you look at companies like Ritual, Harry’s razors, and charity: water​ (a non-profit), you’ll see each of the above branding cues featured prominently on their website and throughout their communications.

Wrap Up

Being a startup, you’re in a prime position to avoid the two major branding mistakes that could have potentially salvaged many companies: Not investing in brand building from the start, and failing to maintain the brand after it’s been well established.

Branding can be a tricky process, given the time, effort, and resources it takes to fuel your strategy. But it’s also too valuable to forgo, and too reputation-sensitive not to get the formula right the first time.

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Conference Season Has Started! Here's How You Waste It

Building a company from scratch is is an adventure like no other.

Many wanna-preneurs get attracted to lifestyle of a startup founder, only to find out that it is very different to that of a rockstar. Hundred hour work weeks of building something from nothing. Never-ending search for the best product market fit.

Countless investor meetings with plenty of negative outcomes. The startup journey is hard, very hard. Meeting those who can help to make it easier is even harder. Being accepted to startup accelerators like Y Combinator or Techstars is harder than getting accepted to Harvard or Stanford. 

The Startup Product

Once a startup has a product that is presentable, many founders decide to hit the road. They go hunting. For customers, for investors, for new team members. They go on Product Hunt, others create a crowd funding campaign. 

The obvious place to start for most are industry conferences. Like most of you I attended a bunch of conferences. First as attendee, later as moderator or as a speaker. Now I better understand why many founders find it so hard to build a successful company.

They make it unnecessarily hard for themselves. If you want to be like them, here’s what you should do. 

Who has time to practice pitch? You can always improvise!

You know your startup well, there is no need to prepare. You are busy enough as is. No one knows your company better than you. You can scramble a few sentences about your company on the spot, can’t you? Besides, every person is different and needs to hear different aspects of your pitch.

So why prepare? Every conversation is different and you should be spontaneous, right? There is no need to waste time preparing a pitch. Nobody can explain better what your company does.

TIP 1:

Challenge yourself to create your perfect pitch.

Think long and hard. Rehearse it. First alone in front of a mirror, later present your pitch to friends or colleagues. Watch their reactions and focus on elements that get their attention. Leave out boring parts. Write down what’s not clear and keep simplifying the pitch until people get it immediately. Distill it to the shortest possible form. 

Select the cheapest, ideally a free conference.

The conference industry offers a wide variety of choice. There are conferences for everyone. Massive conferences like the Web Summit in Lisbon, Viva Conference in Paris or smaller conferences organized usually by media outlets like TechCrunch, Wired or WSJ. Most of these are paid conferences.

But why pay for expensive tickets, when there are trade shows or sponsored industry events? Those are usually free. They are build to attract big audiences so you can meet way more people. Sponsors cover the cost of such events, so you get free coffee and food. 

TIP 2:

If you want to attend a free conference, don’t expect high quality crowd like you would at paid conferences.

Free means anyone can attend. And you probably don’t want to meet everyone, or just anyone. You want to meet people who can help you get your business to the next level.

You want to meet great potential partners or mentors. Focusing on attending a fewer quality conferences where you can meet great potential business partners gets you farther and cost you less time. ​

Look for alternative ways to attend

Every conference does more or less the same thing. They invite a bunch of speakers, ask sponsors to showcase their products and when it finishes in the evenings they have business networking parties. It is usually full or corporate managers anyway.

Conference tickets are not cheap and you need to add other significant costs like flight, hotel and food. It pays to look for alternative ways to attend. Most conferences offer free live-streaming anyway. Or you can watch your favorite keynote speaker on YouTube for free.

When it comes to conference networking, there are alternatives to that too. Simply find out, who will attend a conference and approach that person. You don’t need to go to a conference for that.

TIP 3:

Conferences exist for a reason. 

Yes, you can watch your favorite speaker on YouTube, but you won’t meet him there in person. You can at a conference. Yes, you can approach people via email or phone.

But meeting them at a conference, when they are approachable and ready to listen is a special moment. It can last, if you prepare and follow-up. But most importantly, you can meet a lot of people you are keen to meet in a short amount of time. 

 

Ignore networking basics. Who cares about names?

We all know how hard it is to remember names.

Nobody can remember names of dozens of people you meet at a conference. Why bother? It is generally accepted that you will forget name of the person you just met five seconds after they told you their name. It is not a big deal. Just focus on the conversation and just to be safe, ask for their business card. 

TIP 4: 

Remember people’s names. It only takes a few seconds! 

When you meet somebody new and they will say their name, stop! In your mind. Take a second and think of a person with the same name. It can be someone you know or someone who is a celebrity.

Now imagine the person you just met standing next to the person you know that has the same name. Take a mental picture of both of them together. Chances are you will remember their name for a very long time. 

There is another cute trick you can use to remember names. After they tell you their name, mention it in your conversation several times. You can start right in your first sentence after they introduce themselves: “Hi Brenda. It’s very nice to meet you, Brenda.”

According to research, as long as it seems natural, mentioning people’s names makes them feel more comfortable. It will not only enable you to remember their names, but people will enjoy talking to you more.​

Related: Check out my tips for business networking basics

Keep conversations short, meet as many people as possible

When you come to a conference, make the most of it.

Meet as many people as you can. Give away your business cards, catalogues and promotional leaflets. Time is of essence. There is no need to go into deep conversations. The more people you meet the better. They don’t need to remember you as long as they have your business card and catalogue. They can send you an email later.

TIP 5:

Make your conversations memorable.

They don’t necessarily need to be long. Make it a conversation, not a presentation. Most conversations are interesting, but only one way. The other party often finds it boring. People often hear, but don’t really listen.

If you pay attention, you should be able to say if the other party enjoys the conversation. If they do, their eyes are lit up, they lean forward, look at you (don’t look around) and seem very engaged. if that is not your case, remind yourself to make it more engaging. 

Make it interesting by asking interesting question/s. Think about the topics that you’re interested in and prepare 2-3  interesting questions. Then memorize them. If a conversation is getting boring, pull out one of those questions from your hat. It works wonders.

Example? I meet a lot of CEOs of fast growing tech companies. This question works every time: “What is your biggest challenge right now?”

In Summary

There are many ways to waste the conference season. They most reliable method is to avoid them. You will save yourself valuable time and money. And you will be protected from business opportunities. Who needs those, right?

FINAL TIP:

Choose carefully which conference to attend.

There are many. Not every one is for you. If you are an entrepreneur looking to build your company and take it to the next level, I recommend attending one of our conferences.

We put our hearts and souls into them. But you can just as well attend other great conferences like TechCrunch Disrupt, Web Summit or Slush. They are all worth attending.

But of course, ours are a tiny bit more special. Don’t take my word for it, ask someone who already attended.

Good luck discovering new business opportunities. You deserve them.

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7 Ways to Keep Your Burn Rate Low

I often get asked what a “good” burn rate is. Unfortunately the answer, like most questions that relate to raising venture capital, is “it depends.”

Upfront Capital

Some startups need a lot of upfront capital in order to scale quickly and get a competitive edge in the market. Most of these companies have a real estate, hardware, or fintech component, which often requires huge capital expenditures in order to reach a point (at a fast enough pace) where incumbents view the company as a threat.

Software Startups

Others, mainly software startups, can get by with much less capital for a much longer time period since the main expense incurred is usually overhead (e.g., staff salaries) or marketing (applicable to many B2C companies).

For early stage startups, I have seen burn rates as low as around $10,000 per month (mainly outside the U.S. where engineering talent is much cheaper or when the founding team is either taking no salaries or significantly reduced ones) and as high as around $100,000 per month.

Either way, one rule of thumb I would suggest following: be scrappy and try to keep your expenses as low as possible for as long as possible. This allows your company to remain nimble, delay future rounds of financing (which generally means less equity dilution for the founding team), and have the resources for unexpected events, such as the need to pivot, hire a new team member, or launch a new product.

Founders I have worked with in the past have used the seven tactics below to keep their burn rates low:

  1. Interns for development sprints: if possible, try to have big development sprints during the summer so that your team can hire interns to help out.

  2. Clothing: purchase a suit, wear it once, and then return it later (try not to do this too often).

  3. Office furniture/supplies: purchase used furniture and supplies on Craig’s List from startups that are either moving to new office space or going out of business.

  4. Choose programs wisely: choose to participate in a program that offers free server credits (this is an often overlooked expense that can add up quickly as your startup scales).

  5. Competitions: apply for competitions as a way to get free money – there are enough out there now that you can probably win at least one.

  6. Avoid buying things whenever possible: rent desks at a co-working space (which allows you to move out quickly if needed), ask potential investors to meet you at your office (which they should offer to do anyway if they’re in the due diligence phase of investment), and don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for favors, such as sleeping on their couch or letting them drive you to the airport to save money.

  7. Avoid the pressure: don’t feel like you have to raise money immediately after graduating from an accelerator or another program.

Following this advice can have a transformational effect on your startup.

For example, PlayPosit, a company in one of the early LearnLaunch accelerator classes, received $18,000 in funding when it joined the program, yet still had money in the bank when it graduated six months later. The company was able to keep its burn rate to around $8,000 per month for two co-founders living in Boston (not a cheap city), despite initially earning only around $5,000 per month in revenue.

Take the time to evaluate what your company is spending its capital on, and find creative ways to reduce burn while still achieving the milestones required to reach the next round of funding.  

One Rule of Thumb

One rule of thumb I would suggest following is this: as a startup, you should be scrappy and try to keep your expenses as low as possible for as long as possible. This allows your company to remain nimble, delay future rounds of financing (which generally means less equity dilution for the founding team), and have the resources for unexpected events, such as the need to pivot, hire a new team member, or launch a new product.

The reality is that burn rate is just one metric used to assess the viability of a startup, and rarely the most important one.

Unless your company is an outlier in terms of spending too little or too much. If you’re able to justify to your team, advisory board, and potential investors that the amount you’re spending is necessary for your company’s continued growth and success, you can then turn your attention to more pressing issues.​

Foundation and read more articles on the Village Capital Medium page.

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For Startups, Automation is a Key Ingredient to Success

Startups don’t generally flop from terrible ideas. In most cases, it’s due to a lack of planning, resources, or execution.

This is because startups usually lack the capabilities, in terms of human and financial capital, that other larger companies have. The answer, as thousands of other startups have discovered over the past few years, is automation.

Automation: Your Helping Hand

As the founder of a startup, you know just how difficult it can be to scale. You have a great idea, and perhaps even a few customers, but you just can’t seem to get things to the next level. It’s like the old saying that goes, “It takes money to make money.” In order to become a bigger business, you need access to big business resources. The problem is that you lack the money, people, etc. to obtain them.

This is where automation enters the picture. Automation technology lets you do more with less by allowing you to streamline certain tasks and continue scaling without requiring additional resources. Specifically, automation affords your startup the following benefits:

  • Saves time. The first benefit most people think about is the time savings. When you’re able to automate processes that you’ve otherwise been performing by hand, you suddenly have the ability to use your time and energy elsewhere. Theoretically, you should be able to double your output in some areas.
  • Centralizes communication. “When information is scattered across multiple systems or isn’t up to date, it’s difficult to find the correct information you need,” ConnectWise explains. For example, when a client calls and needs information on a specific project, they experience poor customer service when they have to wait for 15 or 20 minutes to get answers. “Automation streamlines the communications between different departments.” So, in this case, the client would be served in a much more efficient manner.
  • Establishes standard processes. With automation technology, standardization across the board is a much more realistic goal. You’re removing people from the equation, which prevents most inconsistencies from occurring. As a result, you don’t have to deal with as many errors and issues that startups typically have to work through in the beginning stages of growth.
  • Provides enhanced visibility. Another major benefit is multi-departmental visibility. As ConnectWise explains, “Automation tools increase visibility into your business’s operations by centralizing data in a way that makes it easy to figure out holistically how your company performs, in addition to the performance of each individual team member. You can even isolate the performance of one department.”
  • Better utilization of human capital. You’ll often hear people complain about how they believe automation technology does nothing more than lay people off and keep them out of jobs. Not true. What automation actually does is allow companies to better utilize human capital and give employees more engaging responsibilities. Instead of getting stuck doing mindless, repetitive tasks over and over again, your employees can do things that get them excited to come to work every morning.
  • Superior data and insights.  Finally, automation technology gives your startup access to superior data and insights that don’t always exist when you’re doing something manually. As a result, you’re able to better understand efficiencies, recognize areas of improvement, and get to know your customers more.

If you aren’t investing in automation, you’re missing out on a lot more than convenience. You’re missing out on a chance to push your business forward and improve your bottom line. While it will require some effort on your part to get started, this isn’t something you can afford to overlook.

Primary Areas Where Your Startup Can Leverage Automation

There’s clearly value in utilizing automation technology in your startup. However, most entrepreneurs don’t know where to start. Where does it make the most sense to integrate automation? Where do you get the most bang for your buck, so to speak? In most cases, these are the four primary areas to evaluate.

  1. Marketing

Let’s begin with the area that offers the most potential for budding startups: marketing. Marketing automation, or marketing personalization as JumpLead likes to call it, is the process of streamlining marketing activities without compromising on warmth.

In the past, marketing automation was something only big businesses with ample resources could use. But things have changed. Technology has become more affordable and startups are actually using automation to level the playing field.

Your startup needs marketing automation if you’re experiencing rapid growth and no longer have the time to manually reach out to every lead; you need to simplify complex marketing processes – or you need to create a marketing and sales process that’s more measurable.

As JumpLead explains, marketing automation involves two integral parts. The first is a contact activity trigger and the second is a marketing action. When the trigger is activated, the marketing automation is then automatically executed. An example of this would be a website visitor filling out a subscription form and opting into your email list. Once the user clicks the opt-in button (trigger), a welcome email (marketing action) is automatically sent to their inbox.

There are probably hundreds of different ways marketing automation can be used in your startup. Familiarize yourself with these opportunities and look for ways to ease the burdens you face on a regular basis.

  1. Human Resources

If you think about it, your startup’s HR department heavily relies on documents, forms, and processes. It’s impossible to have a functioning HR department without them. But the problem is that these require substantial preparation and involvement. Thankfully, automation can help in this area. 

When it comes to importing documents, filling out forms and applications, and reviewing job applications and resumes, HR automation tools can do the heavy lifting for you. They’ll deal with all of the things you don’t want to handle – all without compromising quality or accuracy.

Then, there’s the added benefit of security. “When automating human resources you can choose to back up your data to online servers, ensuring that in a fire or computer failure you won’t lose years of important information,” explains Unicorn HRO, a leader in the industry. “And you’ll also get security for your company, since human resources errors can lead to tax issues, legal troubles, and unnecessary expenses.”

  1. Supply Chain Logistics

Trying to manage your supply chain can feel like a full-time job. You’re having to change orders and processes from month to month, which removes some of the consistency that typically accompanies predictability.

By integrating some sort of supply chain automation into your business, you can perform better demand and inventory forecasting, increase operational and labor efficiency, streamline the delivery of goods through things like automated order entry, and respond faster to customer and supply chain partner requests.

  1. Competitive Analysis

What few startups realize is that automation technology will also allow you to conduct better competitive analyses, so that you can understand the marketplace and what’s going on. Considering how important it is for young companies to be hyperaware of their surroundings, automating your competitive analysis responsibilities is a huge bonus.

One thing savvy businesses do is implement automated price comparisons. “Automated price comparisons are a great way to benchmark against your competitors and incorporate business intelligence into your pricing strategy,” entrepreneur Angelica Valentine explains, using ecommerce as an example. “Online retail doesn’t exist in a vacuum and treating your online space and competitors as though they aren’t there is an easy way to lose customers.”

With automated price comparison tools like WisePricer, startups can understand the competition’s pricing strategies and create their own strategies that deliver greater value to the customer. It’s not a foolproof method for success, but it’s far better than manually checking prices, which can eat up valuable hours of the day.

Put Automation to Work for You

“Regardless of whether it’s as basic as pre-scheduling a couple of social media messages, or as intricate as constructing an email marketing funnel – automation is setting down deep roots and everybody is doing it,” entrepreneur Gaurav Sangwani says. While you certainly don’t want to do something just because everyone else is, it’s usually a pretty good sign that something is worth a second look.

The term “automation technology” is quite broad. It can be used to refer to any number of tools or platforms. But, in the most basic sense, automation technology is about making life easier on you and your startup. It streamlines mundane tasks, consolidates resources, and gives you the ability to focus your time, energy, and money on high-returning tasks that allow you to scale in an efficient manner.

If you’ve yet to invest in automation technology, now’s the time. Start slow and take things step by step. As you become familiar with one tool, consider adding another. Before you know it, you’ll have an automated network of systems that gives you hands-free control over your business.

From there, you’ll discover that the proverbial sky is the limit.

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Why you Should be Using AI in Your Marketing Game Plan

After waiting for decades for its arrival, the age of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is finally here. AI refers to software systems that have the sophistication and capacity to carry out human tasks, but with increased speed and efficiency.

These systems have the power to process information and customer-driven data with immediacy and, subsequently, evolve each data piece into an actionable insight.

Is AI actually a complication?

It might sound like the addition of AI is complicating marketers’ jobs, but when carried out correctly, AI has the opposite effect. Marketers today are running and optimizing more campaigns across more platforms than ever before.

Marketing teams must be able to effectively monitor campaign performance and make strategic updates on the fly. With the breadth of information that each campaign demands, and the breadth of customer data that each campaign pulls in, it is almost impossible to expect marketing teams to keep up with the speed and sheer size alone.

Here are a few ways AI is changing the game for marketers.

Be proactive

Marketing teams no longer have to wait for potential patrons to fund them online. Thank’s to AI, marketers have the opportunity to pinpoint and connect with customers based on their interests, preferences, and behaviors across digital and social platforms.

Many marketing teams use this capability as a means of offering recommendations to individuals who have demonstrated similar product or service interests.

AI also enhances the sophistication of ad targeting based on audience characteristics and past behaviors. The beauty of running targeting programs using AI is that they are less likely to stagnate. AI technology is always learning more about the humans who interact with their platforms.

With every new search, the technology develops a deeper awareness and understanding of how to connect with the right audiences. Snapchat is one platform that leverages machine-based learning to target engagement based ads.

Be relevant

As AI is developed to always learn and evolve, programs that rely on AI technology have a better chance of staying ahead of the curve of the fickle and ever-changing behaviors on

social media platforms. By now, every brand should be curating their identity through social profiles and content – a but a strong identity may not be enough for your organization to prove that it is (and always will be) relevant.

While some organizations simply track social conversations through hashtag use (which leaves out a large number of social conversations) AI platforms are able to take sentiment into consideration. So even if a social media user did not use the standard hashtag in a post, the AI bots would still be able to detect it presences.

Essentially, AI allows marketers to employ faster and more accurate campaigns than the human brain could handle, all while continuously learning and streamlining. AI support gives marketers the time and freedom to step away from helicopter monitoring and data crunching, and devote more time to high-level strategy.

AI delivers the data and science that marketers desperately need to either fix a campaign that is underperforming or deploy a new campaign at the drop of a hat.

AI represents the next generation of increasingly faster, more 1:1 marketing initiatives and offers. The companies that fail to implement AI will likely be the companies that fall behind.

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Get Your Medium Stories to Rank on The Front Page of Google

I first turned to Medium because of it’s sleek design and access to its vast network of readers.

Medium’s Network of Readers

That network of readers continues to grow. In December 2016, Medium reported that it has 60 million monthly unique visitors, which was a 140% increase from the year before. That’s more than a few million more readers than I have on my own website, so the benefit of publishing on Medium is clear.

When I first started publishing on Medium, almost three years ago, most of my stories barely broke 100 views. Since then, I’ve published 81 stories, gained 6,600 followers and at one point I’ve had over 20,000 views per month.

Google Search 

While I’ve certainly reaped the benefits of Medium’s network of readers, I had not considered the potential for an additional benefit: attracting readers from search engines like Google.

Source: semrush.com

Analyzing Medium

When I analyzed Medium.com, I was enthused to see that it’s pages were ranking for over 2.5 million keywords. According to Semrush.com, Medium receives approximately 2 million visitors from search per month.

Here’s a selection of Medium stories that are ranking in the top 10 on Google for a keyword, with a search volume of over 5,000 per month.

Source: semrush.com

Volume — And A Little More Volume

I reached out to the authors of these stories — and I would like to thank them for letting me get a glimpse into their stats, and what volume in readership has come from search.

Ethan Seigal’s story, “The Physics of the Warped Wall: The science behind defeating one of Ninja Warrior’s toughest legendary obstacles!” ranks #1 on Google for “warped wall,” a term that’s searched 9,900 times per month.

This story, alone, has been viewed 43,000 times.

28,158 of those readers found the story through Google. That number is greater than the number of readers that found the story from Medium or social media.  

Facts

“Even today, three-ish years after I published the story, it gets about 1,000 view per month,” Ethan told me.

Min Park’s story, “How to Wake up at 5AM and Build Your Startup,” ranks on top of search engine results pages (SERPs) for several variations of the term “wake me up at 5 a.m.,” which Semrush reports is searched 8,100 times per month. According to the screenshot of Min’s stats dashboard that he shared with me, his story has been viewed 119,000 times.

Keyword Search Volume

The chart and examples above (along with an additional example below) show that Medium stories are ranking for keywords with very high monthly search volume. As a marketer, this caught my eye because, generally speaking, the more search volume a keyword has, the more competition there will be to rank for that keyword.

So, I have been asking myself two questions.

1. “Why are these stories on Medium outranking the competition that didn’t publish in this same space?”

2. And, “How can marketers leverage Medium to acquire more customers from search engines?”

In this article, I’ll cover the basics of SEO and then give you the strategies and tactics you need to know how to replicate the success of these stories.

Domain Authority vs Page Authority

Google conquered the search engine market by developing an algorithm that provided higher quality and more relevant search results than competing search engines. The value that Google provides to searchers is why 1.17 billion people use it each month to find information, products, and services.

So what makes Google’s algorithm so special? How does it determine what pages to display in it’s results pages?

Google has publicly reported that backlinks, the number of web pages that are linking to a given page or domain, has been and will continue to be a significant criterion for selecting the results they display to searchers. Google’s algorithm evaluates both the backlinks pointing to a specific page and the backlinks pointing to the domain that the page is published on.

Based on these ranking factors, Moz, a marketing technology company, developed a scoring system to help marketers predict how a page, such as an article, will rank in SERPs.

Here’s how Moz describes it:

“Domain Authority (DA) is a score developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERP). Domain Authority scores range from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank.

Whereas Domain Authority measures the predictive ranking strength of entire domains or subdomains, Page Authority measures the strength of individual pages.”

Medium.com has a Domain Authority of 92, which is a lot higher than most companies’ websites. Medium’s domain authority is so high in part because there are so many writers publishing articles and building links to them.

Example

Here’s an example of one of the Medium stories in the chart I included at the beginning of this article that illustrates the power of Medium’s high Domain Authority.

If you search “slow carb diet,” a term that’s searched about 8,100 times per month, you will find a Medium story at the top of the search engine page results.

The story was written by Kip, a seed stage tech startup. The company’s website has a domain authority of 6, so, if they had published the article on their own website, it would not have ranked as highly, all else being equal.  

Source: Ahrefs

In fact, Ahrefs shows that Kip’s story has fewer referring domains than the #2 and #3 ranked pages (Wikipedia and Tim Ferris’ blog), yet still ranks higher due to the Domain Authority of Medium.

Kip’s decision to publish the article on Medium seems to be paying off as it’s now been viewed 469,000 times.

Here’s how you can replicate the success of Kip, Min and Ethan.

1. Keyword Research: Determine What Your Customers Are Searching For.

Even if you publish on a website with high Domain Authority (like Medium) and build links to your page, if your article is not on a topic that people are searching for, people won’t see it in their search results. So, if your goal, is to gain readers from Google, see what people are searching for, and determine if you can conceivably outrank the existing competition before creating the article.

I primarily look for three criteria when selecting keywords. The first criteria is volume. As you can imagine, all else being equal, the higher the search volume, the better the keyword. However, generally speaking, the higher the search volume, the greater the competition.

That’s why the second criteria I consider is competition. When analyzing competition, I consider these three things:

  • The quality of the content and how well it is on-page optimized.

  • The quality and quantity of backlinks of the competing pages (Page Authority).

  • The quality and quantity of backlinks of the domain that the pages are published on (Domain Authority).

The third and final criteria that I consider is relevance.

Look for terms that are relevant to your customers and the benefits that your product or service provides. Just because people are searching “cupcakes” 30,000 times per month and the competition for the term is weak, doesn’t mean using the word “cupcakes” will deliver results to your business.

If you’re in the business of social media marketing, you won’t benefit from bringing people to your website who are looking for cupcakes.

2. On-page SEO: Help Google Understand What Your Content is About.

After a user types a word or phrase into Google, it’s Google’s job to provide the most valuable and most relevant results. Once you’ve selected a keyword that has sufficient search volume, low competition and is relevant to your business, you have to help Google understand what your story is about.

If your target keyword is “social media strategy,” but Google thinks your story is about cupcakes, it’s probably not going to display your story when someone searches “social media strategy.”

Google’s algorithm evaluates a number of “on-page” factors to determine what a page is about. These on-page ranking factors include the following:

  • Title

  • Subheadings

  • Meta description

  • URL

  • The content of the article

  • Image tags

Medium provides writers with the ability to include a target keyword in each of these locations — except for image tags.

Kip’s story that ranks for “slow-carb diet” has this exact phrase in the title, a subheading and in the content itself. As you’re writing about a given topic, it’s natural that you will include the word in your article. There’s little to no benefit to forcing the keywords if it hinders the reader’s experience.

3. Link Building: Help Google Understand The Quality of Your Story.

While the Domain Authority you publish on is certainly indicative of how highly your article will rank, Page Authority is also important to keep in mind. As discussed above, Kip’s article about the slow carb diet has 52 referring domains. 

Here are my three best tips for building links:

  • Write amazing content that people will want to link to.

  • Guest blog for high domain authority sites in your industry.

  • Reach out to other bloggers who may want to cite your article within their articles.

How Can SEO on Medium Fit Into Your Marketing Strategy?

Medium’s high Domain Authority gives you an advantage over publishing on your own domain, which means you can target slightly higher volume and higher competition keywords.

However, all else being equal, I’d rather have a visitor on my website than on my Medium story. That being said, I’d rather have someone read my content on Medium than not read my content at all.

So, if there’s a keyword that’s important to your business that’s currently out of reach, consider publishing it on Medium. Contextually link to your website from your Medium story to bring a portion of your readers back to your website.

Here are three more important considerations to make before publishing your content on Medium.

  • Depending on the competition for a given keyword, you may still need to build links to your story in order to rank on the front page of Google. If Page Authority becomes a more important ranking indicator as compared to Domain Authority, publishing on Medium will be a less effective strategy.

  • Medium has “platform risk.” Medium’s CEO, Evan Williams, announced in January 2017 that the company was cutting a third of its staff and testing new business models. If Medium were to disappear, the effort spent building links will have been wasted.   

  • Medium enables you to acquire readers from within its platform (not just from search engines). Some topics have extremely high engagement on Medium, which provides an attractive incentive to publish and build a following there. ​

Bottom line: If your goal is to generate organic search traffic, and you’ve identified a high volume search term that’s relevant to your business, but the competition is currently too strong for you to rank for it on your own domain, consider publishing the article on Medium.

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4 Things Startups Should Look For When Considering A CMO

A comprehensive and competent C-suite (a top corporate or senior executive), is vital to the survival and growth of any business. This much is apparent, but how should we go about choosing the best CMO for the position? What qualities should we seek and scrutinize, and how judicious must we be during this selection process to guarantee that our company will have a suitable cornerstone or pillar in management?

What Qualities Are Most Desirable

  There is a temporal dimension to determining which qualities are most desirable in a CMO. The timing of when your startup begins its search for a CMO will matter, as hiring a CMO during the early stages or inception of a company will emphasize different qualities than hiring a CMO during a growth phase.

For instance, a focus on testing and optimization, finding a product and market fit, or generating initial demand might be the primary tasks expected of CMO in the early stages. Building strong demand funnels and formulating a customer lifecycle scheme might be more important during the growth stage.         

Keeping the developmental nature of the CMO position in mind with relation to a startup’s expansion and growth, let’s walk through a number of the key qualities of a CMO that are most conducive to the success of a startup.

Conductive to the Success of Your CMO

1. An Intuitive Grasp on Effective Communication and the Complementarity of People.

To be a Chief Marketing Officer necessarily means that an individual must be able to market things while also being able to capture how the big picture goals intersect with the finer workings of the company. High importance is held in not missing the forest through the trees, so to speak.

It’s a no brainer that the CMO should be incredibly comfortable and fluid in terms of his or her navigation and interactions with different individuals or networks of individuals.

The CMO Needs to Both See — And Create

The idea of being able to both see and create the big picture being crucial to the selection of CMO’s is most apparent at the intersection of the roles of the CMO and the CIO (Chief Information Officer) mentioned in this article.

The increasing pertinence of an information economy begins to reveal itself through the fact that “CIOs find themselves in charge of company-wide budgetary decisions, handling work that was once housing within marketing departments under a CMO…” (Sanjena Sathian). Clearly, this sort of intersection and interchangeability of roles highlights the role of handling and processing information as a CMO.

Able to Connect the Dots

The CMO has to be able to connect the dots using their knowledge of which people are the most appropriate for which roles, along with how to best motivate those hires.

Consider the designer behind Microsoft’s Cortana and her personality, Jonathan Foster. The ability to discern and place individuals like Foster in unconventional or unexpected roles that nevertheless allow them to manifest their talent are key traits of an effective CMO.

2. A Keen Grounding in Quantitative Analytical Methods, Knowledge in Engendering Growth, and Understanding of ROI

These qualities compose the technical backbone of the ideal CMO. While a CMO needs to be familiar and savvy with the “human” aspect of a company, they also must be very sharp on a number of objective, mathematical standards if they are to reliably produce results that allow your startup to grow.

Being able to understand and account for ROI (Return on Investment) is one of the most basic and most important traits for a CMO. Without this skill, how will your CMO be able to quantify the success of their methods? The ability to quantify returns on advertising spending will hasten the collection of the appropriate performance marketing talent and aid in startup growth.

3. Diversity in Skill

 If successful, your startup will be experiencing a wide degree of advancements and change over time. Therefore, a CMO must possess a diverse skillset – competence in email marketing, public relations, traffic acquisition, SEO, social media, and mathematics – in order to adapt to the changing circumstances and needs of the startup that occur with growth.

Diversity in a CMO’s skills does not only interface with the degree of their adaptability, but also reflects on their ability to select the appropriate individuals for a role in the startup.

For instance, if your CMO intimately understands SEO and social media, they will be able to make more accurate judgments regarding which individuals are best qualified for those roles in your company. They will understand the “how-to” of raising the efficiency and results of new hires.

Competence in people skills coupled with any hard skill – even art – allows an astonishing amount of innovative management and hiring possibilities.

4. Adaptability

 As we mentioned before in previous points, technological and analytical competence are the elements of a strong foundation for the modern CMO. In addition to having an existing diversity in their skill base, CMOs of today must also constantly amend and add to their knowledge and abilities in order to remain competitive.

When looking for a CMO, you must consider the long-term implications of that hire; will that person still be reliably producing results in five years, or ten years? The evolving field of marketing means that new techniques and methods regarding the analysis and incorporation of big data into company strategy will be perpetually relevant, and it is the responsibility of the CMO to be able to adapt to these new marketing technologies and data analysis methods.

In summary, when hiring or screening for potential CMOs to aid in the creation or growth developments of your startup, you must look for an individual with a notable breadth in a number of marketing techniques, a sharp and committed attitude toward keeping up with learning up-to-date analytical methods, and a considerable intuition regarding interpersonal relationships to guide the hiring decisions.

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9 Steps to Take When Your App Goes Live

Launching an app is a big moment for your brand. You’ve worked for months, maybe even years, to polish your app to perfection, and once it goes live, there’s no going back. The hardest and longest part of your work may be behind you, but the next phase of effort is only beginning.

How you choose to launch, support, and grow your app once it’s live will have a drastic impact on your long-term profitability, and it all starts with the actions you take as soon as that app goes live.

Immediate Steps to Take

Make sure you take these steps at a minimum:

1. Optimize for app stores.

First, start optimizing your app for app store searches if you haven’t already. User searches are one of the best ways to get found by unfamiliar and new users, so you’ll want to be as high in the rankings as possible.

According to App Radar, there are several factors used to determine an app’s ranking in both Apple and Google app stores. Some of these shared ranking factors include the keywords and keyword phrases that are included in the title of the app and its meta information, the types of engagements and number of downloads that those apps attract, the number and quality of the reviews they attract, and social signals that inform the app’s popularity.

It’s hard to gather good reviews and ratings this early, but you can at least optimize your app name and description with keywords that are relevant to your app’s purpose (and popular among your key demographics).

2. Run live tests.

Hopefully, you’ve already run a number of tests to make sure your app was running properly; otherwise, you wouldn’t have pulled the trigger to go live. However, it’s still a good idea to share the experience that your users will have, and go through the motions that they’ll be going through.

Sign up like a regular user (yourself) and download the app to your device, and make sure everything’s working properly. Last-minute hiccups aren’t common after a series of sufficient tests, but they’re devastating enough that you should check for them just in case.

3. Make an announcement.

As Hubspot explains, press releases aren’t a “magic bullet” in marketing that will instantly make you more successful, but they will help you build some early buzz and attract some strong backlinks in the process.

Before your app goes live, you should have a formal press release strategy in place—maybe even a draft of what you plan to submit to publishers.

From there, you can use a formal distribution site like PR Newswire, or submit your release to different major publishers yourself.

4. Get social.

Social media announcements should go hand in hand with your press release. If you aren’t already on social media, now is the time to claim your profiles. And if you are, you need to start marketing the heck out of your app.

Let your users know that everything is ready for them, and if you want an extra boost, consider giving them a signup bonus, such as a discount or bonus content for their early support.

5. Thank your early users.

Your first users will be pivotal to the success of your app. If they bail, or if they have negative impressions of your app, you might never generate the momentum you need to reach the top of the charts.

But if they stick around and have a favorable impression of you, they could be the momentum that takes your app to the next level of popularity. Go out of your way to thank them—personally, if you can, and give them incentives to keep coming back.

6. Gather reviews and ratings.

Your early reviews and ratings will be the most important ones you ultimately gather. They’ll be the foundation for your app’s early rankings, and they’ll form the first impressions of your second wave of users.

Make sure you have a feature in your app to encourage ratings, and remain active on social media to keep your brand top-of-mind for anyone who procrastinates rating you.

7. Learn from the early feedback.

Take the time to read your earliest reviews as they start to trickle in, and gauge users’ opinions of your app. Have they noticed any bugs? If so, you’ll need to fix them as soon as possible. Are they unimpressed overall?

You may need to recruit some UI/UX talent to investigate what could be going wrong. On the other hand, if reviews are strong, you can take them and use them to create your next marketing push.

8. Advertise.

Speaking of marketing and advertising, you may want to invest in some early advertising for your app, such as pay-per-click (PPC) ads through Google, content marketing, or social media ads.

This practice is only sustainable in the long-term for some niches and profitability models, but early in your app’s existence, it’s a valuable tool to get those all-too-important early ratings and reviews.

9. Prepare for the next updates.

Most app developers end up pushing at least one new update every month, with some going as often as once a week. This is common practice to fix bugs, improve security, and keep up with other updates.

The minute your app goes live, you should be prepared with the next round of updates, with a strategic vision for major updates your app will undergo in the future.

The Ongoing Effort

Never be fooled into thinking that your job developing or supporting your app is done. Technology evolves at an astounding rate, and user preferences evolve with them, so you’ll need to stay on your toes if you want your app to keep making money.

Always be looking down the road at the next update, and keep investing in your app with marketing and advertising efforts. The more information you gather, and the more willing you are to adapt to new circumstances, the more likely you’ll be to succeed.

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5 Moves You May Not Have Considered for Your Tech Startup

Startups are known for the speed at which they convert an idea into a viable product. That is the exciting part. This bigger picture tends to eclipse the part where founders have to deal with day-to-day operational issues. But this part matters, too.

With so much ground to cover between conceiving an idea and launching your product into the market, you might have only considered these five things in passing, or not at all:

Working with a developer using the hybrid model

If you aren’t a developer, you’ll need to find someone else to help you turn your idea into a product. But should you hire or outsource this talent? Having in-house developers has its advantages, chief of which is working with the same member or team during iteration.

However, it can deplete your funds more quickly.

The hybrid model lets you hire developers on contract from an outsourcing agent or partner. You can manage the developers directly, pay them for the period agreed on, and choose not to renew the contract if the first version of the product fails. This model allows you to avoid obligations you aren’t ready to meet, including a monthly salary and employee benefits.

Finding unlikely co-founders in your support group

In other words, delay finding a co-founder. That is if you’re down to searching for interesting candidates on Google Search. If this is the case, then you might not have the right kind of relationship yet. Doing it alone seems to go against conventional wisdom in building startups. But it’s the same wisdom that says you and your partner should invest equally in the project. 

At this point, you are better off with your existing support group. Some startup founders stress the importance of having a spouse, partner, or best friend who can provide you with emotional support during hard times. Chances are you can rely on the feedback from someone close, too. You’d want someone who won’t mince words when your test product isn’t living up to its promise.

Protecting the source code

It is likely that licensees will attempt to request access to the source code and other materials critical to maintaining the software. Without the raw code, they have no guarantee that they can still use or profit from your product should you go out of business. On your end, keeping it secret is about protecting your intellectual property. It can be damaging to your business to let it fall into the wrong hands.

It is best to set up a source code escrow to mitigate risk on either end. In this case, a neutral third party holds the escrow materials and releases them to the licensee if and when a mutually-agreed-upon event occurs. As the vendor, you will gain the confidence of your licensees without losing control over your product.

Offer software as a service

Software vendors are not exempt from the effects of human nature. There exist elements that take others’ digital property without permission. They are freeloaders in a world of hustlers. It’s good to be aware of the threats.

Purchase-and-download product packages are more prone to piracy. These days, most startups feel more secure when they offer software as a service. Through the subscription model, they provide clients packages each with a range of features from simple to advanced. Clients need to enter their credit card credentials to complete a transaction, so the chances of theft are slim to none.

Having insurance for your business

Investing in insurance is a prudent move for anyone who’s starting a business for several reasons. There are several reasons and types of insurance to consider. You may take on a “key person” insurance for employees whose skill sets are very important to your startup. You may also choose to get protected from a potential liability claim. The insurance is useful in situations such as when a client files a suit against you because your product did not perform according to your intentions. (Yes, this has happened.)

 Conclusion

The things pointed out here are supposed to help you avoid mistakes that might cost you not only your money but also your startup. So choose well.

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3 Tips for Putting Together Your First Content Strategy

The true value of content marketing cannot be underestimated. Thanks to today’s interactive business climate, it is quickly turning into the most powerful asset in the entire marketing mix.

Your Most Powerful Marketing

Studies have found that nearly 80 percent of consumers prefer learning about a company through custom content – as opposed to traditional advertising.

It has become such as powerful avenue of brand messaging that 91 percent of B2B and 96 percent of B2C companies use it in their promotional tactics.

These numbers prove one thing: developing a content strategy is a MUST.

For those who are new to the game, starting from scratch is far from an easy task. You are essentially crafting the way in which the world will view your business in relation to the big picture. Here are three vital tips to consider.

Define Your Persona

First of all, content marketing is NOT about flooding your audience with cliché sales pitches and in-your-face promotions. It is quite the opposite. Consumers are exposed to copious amounts of advertisements every day – in one way or another. In turn, most have become relatively numb to it. Your content strategy is an opportunity to stand out in the crowded marketplace and provide a level of value people can’t get anywhere else.

That being said, your messaging needs to be relatable in order to gain traction and attention. The first step of the planning stage should be to develop a brand persona that speaks to like- minded customers.

Imagine your business was an actual human being. Map out their personality traits.

  1. What’s their demographic?
  2. What do they look like?
  3. How do they sound?
  4. What are their biggest grievances?
  5. What is the most important thing to them?
  6. What does an average day in their life consist of?
  7. What do they stand for?

By the end of this, you should have a clear picture in your mind down to the smallest detail.

Think of how brands like Harley Davidson market their content. They have developed a powerful freebird persona with rebellious values related to freedom, nonconformity, and ruggedness.

As a result, the material does more than just speak to the target audience.

It creates a way of life.

Take your time here. Your brand persona is what gives your content life and relatability. This is perhaps the most important part of the entire process.

Stress Authenticity

Once you’ve nailed down your persona and actually start producing content, everything must be authentic and original above all else. While it’s OK to use other work to inspire your strategy, there needs to be enough separation to ensure you’ve creating something uniquely your own. The same rules apply to when you were in school: no plagiarism, no cheating, no breaches of the common good. The last thing you want is to be known as a rip off of another brand.

Additionally, writing about the same topics as other businesses makes it more difficult to stand out. The more content there is addressing a certain issue, the less likely a user will find yours.

It seems like for every business these days, there are hundreds – if not thousands – of others working towards the same goals. With this in mind, your level of authenticity works parallel with your brand persona to distance you from everyone else.

Start by diving into the current state of your industry. Buzzsumo can show you what types of content are trending:

Look for the common threads in successful pieces. Then, find ways to improve it while adding your own twist and personality.

Find Your Best Channels

Unfortunately, creating top-notch branded content is only half the battle. You can have the most interesting material that has ever graced the internet. But, if it is not being promoted properly, no one will see it or even know it exists.

Look at it from all angles. Where would be the most optimal channels for distribution be?

Obviously, your website will be the first place. But what about social media? Will you do any guest posting?

If you plan to guest blog as means of exposure, you must be careful of the sites you plan on using. When it comes to readership, number of visitors is NOT the only metric for judging a platform.

Consider the niche. For instance, if you are writing blog content aimed to help businesses with their SEO, you would want to post on industry-specific sites like Search Engine Watch or MOZ – as opposed to general sites like BuzzFeed or Gawker.

Even though they have tons of traffic, the chances you’ll convert their readers are significantly lower than on the targeted sites. Keep in mind, It’s more beneficial to post on a website with a lower number of interested readers, than on a site with a huge number general readers.

In terms of social media, it’s essentially a marketing sin nowadays not to participate. With over 2.5 billion users worldwide (and counting), it’s one of best ways to promote content.

Calvin Klein has done a fantastic job of using social media as an extension of their content strategy. In fact, their Instagram account and the #MyCalvins hashtag campaign has morphed into one of their most successful distribution outlets.

At first, it might be difficult to realize your best channels.

Consider the essence of your messaging. Which platforms are most likely to resonate with your audience? Use analytics to justify your choice of channel, such as social media, SEO or paid search. SEMrush’s Content Template tool will analyze your competitors’ data on organic search and tell you the best keywords to use, the ideal content length, where to get backlinks from, and help you choose the platforms to target.

Content marketing is a constant challenge to put yourself in front of the right eyes. Your success depends heavily on which channels you use.

In Conclusion

It’s safe to say content marketing is not going anywhere any time soon. The arrival of virtual reality and increased use of AI is poised to bring a whole new dimension to business promotion as a whole.

One of the most important things to keep in mind throughout your entire strategy is you should be aiming to educate, not sell. The purpose is to provide unique value, build trust, and showcase expertise in the field.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes on your first run. Finding the groove will more than likely require a good deal of trial and error. Good luck!

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