Traction, the buzzword of the 21st century…
Everybody’s talking about traction…entrepreneurs, startup founders, CEOs, bloggers and even birds in the trees but only a very few know what it is and how to truly leverage and make most of it.
Despite my entrepreneurial DNA and the fact that I’ve founded several businesses since the turn of the century, I come from a traditional business background and school of conventional marketing. Inbound marketing, content marketing, growth hacking and traction in the context used today were all foreign to me until 2014.
What happened in 2014 has changed my life beyond belief and my perception of marketing has change forever, so much so that today I’m a firm believer that conventional marketing is becoming the thing of the past as it’s slowly fading away into oblivion. Marketers go – or at least they should – to where the target audience attention is.
If you go downtown of any bigger city, subway or a bus station and look around, you’ll quickly realize that everybody – at least a great majority of people – are buried in their mobile phones, tables etc. devouring information ‘served’ on applications that live in their mobile devices e.g. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Snap, blogs etc. and that’s where their attention is.
Why then put up an ad on a billboard which no one even notices anymore? Why pay top dollar and have a hard time quantifying the ROI of such an ‘investment’ when you can achieve far greater results via inbound or content marketing at a fraction of a cost and be able to quantify your ROI?
Let’s go back to traction and its definition so that we’re all aligned going forward…TRACTION in the simplest terms means GROWTH.
Genius, isn’t it?
Of course not but that doesn’t make it any less popular of a term, just like another grossly overused term which more often than not is being used by utterly unqualified people and in a completely wrong context…
Yes, I’m talking about ‘disruption’. They talk about it as though businesses, innovation, mind-boggling discoveries and inventions didn’t exist before 21st century…like no industry has ever been disrupted until Google, Facebook and Amazon came along…give me f@%ing break!
Aren’t you just sick of it or is it just me? I know I am and can’t stand it anymore so you won’t hear me mention disruption again…perhaps never.
Why has traction then become so widely spread term, so much so that it’s being studied by business savvy executives and implemented by businesses worldwide?
My guess is because the business world we live and work in today has become so fiercely competitive, extremely noisy and overwhelming for consumers and businesses alike.
The overwhelming influx of information screaming for our attention is growing exponentially, while people’s attention span has become shorter than that of a gold-fish.
As a result of this chain of interconnected events, businesses of today must not only offer the best quality of services or products but have a truly creative and innovative marketing strategies to remain relevant in the marketplace, let alone succeed…success requires much more than that.
This is where the traction comes in…
Traction channels are essentially vehicles which you as an entrepreneur or a startup founder have at your disposal to use in order to get the traction and ultimately grow your business. As you could imagine, there are dozens of such vehicles but being mindful of your time, I’ll talk about those I believe to be the most effective and have explored extensively….
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Did you ever wonder where does all the internet traffic come from?
According to a study by Forrester from 2006, 93% of internet traffic comes from the search engines. Now that’s a staggering percentage of traffic that you as an entrepreneur or a startup founder who hopes to attract prospects and grow her business simply can’t afford to miss out on…you just can’t.
This is where the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) comes in. But what exactly is the SEO and how do you go about implementing it into your business and making the most of it?
SEO is the process of thoughtfully optimizing the online content with intention that the search engines e.g. Google, Yahoo, Bing etc. make sense of it and display it to their users in the form of a relevant search results.
Your SEO goal is to get high search engine ranking, ideally the top of the page 1 for your search keywords. My wife often jokes about the importance of the SEO and having page 1 ranking…she says, “you can hide a ‘corpse’ on page 2 of the Google search results” and she’s almost right because most of the search engine users never get to page 2.
Of course, getting to page 1 of the search engine results is much easier said than done, given all the noise and overwhelming influx of content that’s being uploaded to the internet which screams very loud for the attention of the search engines. Nonetheless, there are ways and logical approach to getting to page 1 of the search engine results.
Hint: As you plan your SEO strategy focus on Google search engine above all others because Google receives more than 74% of all search engine traffic on monthly basis, according to netmarketshare.com
So what can you do to rank on top of page 1 of the Google search engine results?
- On-Page SEO (Content quality, relevance and frequency)
You may have heard or read by now that ‘content is king’ which in most cases is true. Content, if it’s truly of a high quality and relevance, more often than not attracts truckload of readers and drives a ton of traffic.
Therefore, content plays a big part in your on-page optimization. Knowing your target audience along with their needs, wants, desires and pains intimately, will help you build a truly compelling content of a high quality and relevance.
When it comes to content, you must not forget the frequency as it plays a big part too. It’s been proven that high quality, relevant content if published more frequently drives more traffic than equally good and relevant content which is published less frequently.
Depending on your business niche and target audience type, you’ll have to figure out the best frequency to share your content e.g. daily, weekly, monthly etc.
Of course, daily is often unrealistic if you want to produce a high-quality content which gets a lot of coverage, shares and mentions. Nonetheless, with time you’ll get a hang of it and know exactly what works for you and your target audience.
If you wish to get fully immersed into the world of the SEO and take your knowledge to the whole new level, I recommend you start with ‘The Beginners Guide to SEO’ written by Rand Fishkin, the SEO guru and one of the major authorities in the world of SEO.
- HTML (Title tags, Meta description, Heading & Subheading H1, H2, H3)
HTML title tags, meta description and headings of a website are intended to be used to help both, search engines to interpret the content of a website or a page and website owners to draw more traffic as a result of a search query entered into a search engine e.g. Google.
Title tags are 50-60 characters hyperlink webpage titles which appear on the Google search engine results page (SERP) for any given search. Because of their visibility and usability, having a concise and relevant title tags is of imperative importance.
Title tags are very important because they not only let the search engines know what your website or a page is all about but also the users who search for relevant terms. It also has a use in social media sharing as it’s displayed when the URL is shared, again notifying readers of the page content.
Meta descriptions are concise 50-300 characters page summaries shown on the Google SERP right below the hyperlink text.
Although not directly related to the page ranking, meta description contributes tremendously in click through rate if its content is relevant and compelling. You can think of it as a free marketing space you must capitalize on.
Headings & Subheadings are anchors on a page which are intended to guide the reader through the text and make it more readable and friendly. Headings are marked as H1, H2, H3 etc. with H1 being the main header or the page title which is why it should only be used once per page. Make your headings stand out and draw readers in.
The other headings or subheadings H2, H3 etc. can be used throughout the page in descending order e.g. H2, H3, H4 etc. Jointly, headings and subheadings contribute to the overall reader’s experience, accessibility, click-through rate, time on page etc. so don’t forget to use them to your advantage.
- GUI and User-Friendliness
Imagine you’ve done everything right and have prospects beat a path to your ‘door’ (blog, website, portal) but once they land on it, they ‘bounce’ almost immediately because of the poorly designed graphical user interface (GUI) and lack of user friendliness.
To avoid this from happening and not to jeopardize all the traffic you’ve been able to generate to your main site, make sure your GUI is immaculately designed, with right keywords, graphics, photos etc. all of which make visitors want to stick around and consume your content.
Since you mustn’t gamble on this, perhaps the best thing to do is hire a pro to help you get it right and keep tweaking as you go along. One design isn’t going to do it forever, so you’ll have to improvise and adapt to your client’s needs, wants and desires as you go along.
- Mobile Friendliness
As the mobile devices global penetration continues to increase at a rapid rate, to win in the game of business you’ll have to win in the game of mobility or at least be as good as your competitors. You can’t afford not to participate or bring your B game, for only the A game will do.
So, with this in mind, make sure you optimize your website, blog, portal etc. for mobile devices and do it well. The user experience has got to be flawless. While WordPress and possibly few other tools built for purpose have built-in capability to optimize for mobile, often times you’ll have to hire professional web and mobile developers to help you do this…so do it and do it right.
- Keywords Richness
Depending on your industry, market and target audience, you’ll want to rank for certain keywords e.g. investment banking, business valuation, professional freelancer etc. which are compelling and of high interest to your niche i.e., something your target audience actively look for on the internet.
With that in mind, you’ll have to make the best use of your keywords and ‘sprinkle’ them throughout your main site e.g. blog, portal, website. This doesn’t mean you should ‘stuff’ your keywords in a meaningless manner so that you have more of them…no, you’ll simply use them when appropriate and in moderation.
Strategically ‘sprinkling’ your keywords throughout your main site or a blog post will help you get discovered by search engines when users search for it. Do a thorough research to find out what your target audience search for and what questions they enter into Google search so that you can provide the most relevant answers throughout your content.
Don’t underestimate the importance of clever usage of keywords you’re trying to rank for throughout your content, as it can provide considerable value to your site ranking.
- Off-Page SEO
Off-page SEO or off-site SEO is strategically planned and executed activity outside of your main site which aims to positively affect its ranking in the Google SERP.
The key objective of the off-page SEO is to increase trustworthiness, relevance, reputation and authority of a page or a website. All of this considerably improves the ranking of a page or a website.
To accomplish this, you’ll have to do quite a bit of work but only after you’ve planned it well. In essence, you’ll want to obtain as many quality backlinks to your main site from highly reputable websites, blogs and portals in your industry and wider.
For example, if you’re in the information technology industry, providing a robust and cost-effective back-office or a CRM solution for startups and small businesses, you’ll want to build as many backlinks from the relevant and reputable websites e.g. Entrepreneur, Inc., TechCrunch, Business Insider etc. as possible.
Building quality backlinks will do two things for you 1) drive relevant audience to your site in thousands if not tens of thousands and 2) provide the credibility stamp to Google search engine, given that high domain authority and page authority websites ‘vouch’ for your main site.
Google and other search engines interpret backlinks from websites with high domain authority and page authority as a vote of confidence and give a ‘link receiving’ website or a page higher SERP ranking.
But how to build backlinks and get such kind of exposure when you’re just starting out or aren’t really than much of an authority in your industry?
Building links to your website isn’t easy, far from it…it’s also very time-consuming and often times you’ll simply have to be worthy of it before you get them…no matter what.
Sure, when you’re just starting out and nobody really knows you…your Alexa rank isn’t even showing because you’re so ‘small’ in the BIG and noisy world of internet and search engines, you can try my ‘Backlink Foundation’ strategy for newbies which works but isn’t free.
- Define the Backlink Foundation tiers like so….
- Tier III – comprises of low rank, up and coming bloggers as well as relevant but low rank portals in your industry. (Alexa ranking =>3 million)
- Tier II – comprises of semi-pro bloggers who already have a considerable traffic to their blogs and guest blog actively on semi-popular blogs. (Alexa ranking 750K-3 million)
- Tier I – comprises of professional bloggers who also blog on blogs and portals with established domain and page authorities in your industry hence, receive huge traffic. (Alexa ranking <=750K)
- Set the budget for each tier
- Tier III – $100-$150 will buy you a link or two embedded in a relevant blog post on a tier III blog or a portal. Clearly, you’ll have to do quite a bit of research and due diligence before outreaching via email and securing those links but it’s what you ought to do.
- Tier II – $200-$500 will do the job for the most part after you’ve done a fair bit of legwork.
- Tier I – $500> Clearly, this tier is the most competitive and the higher on Alexa ranking your ‘prospects’ are the more difficult and more expensive it will get. In many cases no money will buy you a link simply because some websites or blogs are way too reputable to be linking to anonymous websites which you’ll be at the very beginning.
- Go to work but stay relevant and within the White Hat SEO
You don’t have to be a genius to know that social media is too huge to be ignored. Only between the three major social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – without considering all the others – there are billions of active users, typing and sharing away content, worldwide.
On the back of their popularity, scale and staggering user base, social media platforms have become very powerful. Today, people turn to likes of Facebook and Twitter for the latest world news…LinkedIn has become the jobs heaven and a professional business network. Everybody is on social media, if not on most then at least on some of the platforms.
Your duty as a startup founder or entrepreneur is to know who your target audience are and where they go for information…is it Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Snap? You can do this via buyer personas.
Armed with such knowledge, you then need to turn to the most relevant platform(s) and leverage it to your advantage. Each platform offers you ability to grow your prospects base and build followers via paid ads fairly quickly or organically via groups, company pages etc. which truth be told is time consuming…and due to not so fair algorithms that some of the platforms have deployed recently, not nearly as efficient as it should be.
Let’s have a quick look at the most popular ones…
Reportedly with over a billion active users, Facebook is the largest social media platform. It’s hard to imagine there are people who use internet today that haven’t heard of or registered on Facebook.
Such huge member base makes Facebook one of the most widely used social media platform for marketing, be it organically via company pages and groups or paid ads which can be very effective, if done the right way, of course.
Let’s assume that Facebook is of interest to you based on the nature of your business e.g. most of your target audience use Facebook actively. The first thing you need to do is set up a Facebook page for your business.
Make your Facebook page very descriptive of what your business is all about and what you can offer to your clients. Try to replicate the key content and selling points from your main website and don’t forget to include your URL (website link) to link back to it.
Next, just so that your page doesn’t remain a ghost town for long, invite all of your friends and ask them to invite theirs. Don’t expect a huge response though, if your friends are anything like my, you’ll get 10%-20% of your friends to like your page.
Don’t beat yourself up, your friends are most likely not your target audience anyway, nor will they really care about your business, so just let it slide.
Once you have some followers, it’s time you start sharing high quality and relevant content…this is simply to ‘seed’ your newly created page. Ideally, the content you share should be your own from your company blog or in the case you don’t have it yet, turn to the relevant blogs and share their content instead.
The objective here is not to share the content for the sake of sharing but rather to filter out the noise and provide only the most valuable and actionable content your followers can consume when on your page and put to work immediately. So think value above all else.
With some followers in place and few dozens of valuable content posts, you should do two things in parallel; 1) build your Facebook page followers and 2) raise awareness of your main website via paid Facebook ads.
Don’t worry, you won’t have to break the bank. Facebook is the most affordable of all social media platforms for paid ads…at least, that was my experience.
For example, $10 per day can buy you hundreds of new Facebook page followers in a week, depending on your target countries and demographics. Likewise, $10 in Facebook paid ads or a boosted post can generate quite a bit of traffic to your main website. If you’ve done everything right from the previous SEO On-Page optimization section, you might even get a few sign ups. Not too shabby…
I recommend you play a bit with Facebook paid ads and audience targeting options available e.g. by country, city, interests, demographics etc. and you’ll figure out fairly quickly just how powerful and flexible Facebook paid advertising really is.
One thing I do hold very much against Facebook is algorithms they’ve deployed sometimes in 2016 which prevent nearly 97% of your Facebook page followers to see your posts organically.
So if you have 10K followers whom you’d like to convert to clients by sending them to your main website to either sign up or make a purchase, only a small number 100-300 in very rare cases will see the content you share. on your Facebook page. The reason, Facebook want you to spend more money…greedy.
You might ask, why then do I need to build a following? And that’s a great question…and the answer is you don’t have to but in today’s time and age, Facebook, Twitter etc. followers make up for ‘social currency’ and count for something. So, whether you want to build the followers you can’t really leverage without spending a few dollars is totally up to you to decide for yourself.
250 million strong, LinkedIn provides wealth of information and possibilities for startup founders and entrepreneurs who cater to businesses (B2B) rather than consumers (B2C).
Similar to Facebook, you can either promote your business organically via company page you set up and grow your followers or paid ads. While ad types and details may vary between Facebook and LinkedIn, the two platforms are very similar in what they offer, apart from the fact that LinkedIn is more expensive.
To contrast the two, $10 on Facebook paid ad will buy you tens of followers and generate a several leads, while on LinkedIn you’ll get only 5 clicks – visitors – since LinkedIn charges $2 per click or more, depending on your target audience e.g. countries, verticals, interests, etc.
With close to 320 million registered users, Twitter is yet another social media platform you can’t afford to ignore. Twitter is one of those platforms that you might truly hate at first and won’t understand it – especially if you live outside of the United States – but if you give it enough time and get to know it better, you’ll grow to love it and use feverishly.
Unlike Facebook and LinkedIn, I’d say that majority of Twitter users come from the United State, so if your target audience is someplace else, then Twitter might not be your best bet. Otherwise, Twitter can help you over time build a quite a reputation and become an influencer in your industry.
Of course, this is easier said than done because in my experience, Twitter is among the most difficult social media platforms to grow followers, unless of course you fall victim to fake followers which you can buy…I don’t recommend you ever do this though.
Slow and steady wins the race.
So, like other platforms, set up your profile and make sure it represents you and or your company. Thereafter, start sharing valuable content, preferably yours but if you don’t have any then share relevant and actionable content from other portals, blogs etc. which your target audience will appreciate and consume readily.
The recipe for growing followers and generating leads to your main website via social platforms are more or less the same across all of them…quality, value, patience, persistence, interaction, consistency and repeat.
While I’ve covered only three social media platforms, there are dozens of them including Instagram, Pinterest, Snap Inc. etc. which you can use to your advantage. The choice of social media platform that best suits you is completely dependent on the nature of your business and target audience.
For example, if you’re in business of architecture and interior design, it makes a whole lot more sense for your to set up an Instagram account and leverage it than say a Twitter. Likewise, if you’re in business of content creation or inbound marketing, your best bet would be to go with Twitter and LinkedIn.
The ultimate decision of where to invest your marketing the time sits with you.
Content Marketing and Inbound Marketing
Content marketing is something I’m personally very excited about and believe is one of the best – if not the best – traction channel for any business, particularly an online business.
Content marketing refers to the ‘marketing’ process or activity of creating highly valuable, relevant and actionable content in the forms of blogs, pod casts, videos etc. which is aimed at educating your target audience and helping them choose your product or a service, come purchase time.
Unlike conventional marketing which is almost too suffocating and very salesy where marketing messages are being pushed to the target audience, content marketing is way more subtle and effective in its pull approach.
Content marketing when done the right way makes a target audience simply ‘stumble upon’ the content while going about their business and consume it.
For example, let’s assume you’re in business of outsourcing professional services e.g. accounting, blogging, graphic design, web development etc. to startups and small to mid size business.
Knowing your target and their needs, wants and desires intimately, you create a high quality, relevant and actionable content in the form of a blog post, pod cast and video which put out in the open with exceptional SEO techniques you’ve already learned in the previous section.
So with a genius strategy and super-duper clever ‘bait’ in place, you sit and wait for your prospective client to ‘bite’ on it…notice, how non-intrusive and subtle content marketing really is.
While you sit with a cup of hot coffee waiting, somewhere in the world a prospect of yours will enter the very keywords you’ve ranked for at the top of the Google SERP and bang, she will land on your high quality, relevant and actionable content which will more than answer her questions…it will awaken her curiosity.
Naturally, she won’t be able to resist but to click through the content and before you know it, she’s already ‘hooked’ on your service. Because she’s found what she wanted ‘without being’ sold to, she’ll go out and talk about it to all of her friends and business acquaintances who may be looking for the same product or a service. The magic of word of mouth kicks in and you get the avalanche of new prospects beating a path to your door.
Pretty sweet, isn’t it?
Before I close out this section, I’d like to draw your attention to interchangeable use of content marketing and inbound marketing so that doesn’t confuse you.
There’s a big dilemma amongst the marketers as to how different content marketing is from inbound marketing. You’ll even come across many articles trying to point out the differences between the two but you’ll soon realize that they are simply full of shit…there’s no difference between content marketing and inbound marketing…and yes, you can use them interchangeably.
Blogs and Blogging
Blogging, believe it or not is probably one of the most powerful marketing weapons you have in your arsenal and at your disposal. The thing is, entrepreneurs and startup founders mostly overlook blogging and its inherent value.
I once heard an entrepreneur I worked with say “ah blogging, that’s what bloggers do, I run REAL business”. BIG MISTAKE!
Don’t ever succumb to this thinking or believe you’re bigger or better than professional bloggers. The truth is, there are some professional bloggers out there who make millions of dollars from the comfort of their homes or while traveling the world as digital nomads, blogging about things they are passionate and knowledgeable about. Yes, and in the process, they make millions of dollars.
So don’t belittle anyone, least of all bloggers or think for a second that you could make it without blogging.
Here’s how you can make the most of your blog and blogging…
- Set up a blog
You want to make sure that your blog theme resonates with your target audience – whoever they may be – and that you are truly passionate and deeply knowledgeable about the subject matter so that eventually you could become authority or someone people trust, listen and come to for advice.
This should be one of your main objectives really. As an entrepreneur or a startup founder, if you become an authority in your domain, that will have a positive spillover effect onto your startup.
P.S. Make sure you host your blog under your main domain like so ‘maindomain.com/blog/ NOT blog.maindomain.com here’s why
- Value, value, value….and some more value
What good is your blog if you don’t provide a TRUE VALUE to your target audience. When I say true value, I mean actionable – no bullshit – ‘meaty’ content your target audience can readily consume and put to use to better themselves and or their businesses. So don’t just write for the sake of writing but provide true value.
Another thing to keep in mind is the length of your blog posts. Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines have developed advanced algorithms which look for quality and relevance in every search.
In other words, every search returns the most relevant results or content of the greatest value…this value could be perceived e.g. readers spend time on it or share it often but nonetheless, it’s what the search engines look for.
The SEO pundits have proven that lengthy blog posts perform better and rank much higher than shorter ones. Therefore, you should strive to produce valuable blog posts in length of 1500-2500 words on a consistent basis. Consistency of your blog posts is another factor search engines take into a consideration when ranking it so be consistent e.g. daily, weekly, every other Monday etc.
- Blog links (Internal/External)
As you do all the things right and attract your target audience in thousands if not tens of thousands to consume all the goodies you’ve prepared for them on your blog, you ought to be able to convert them into clients e.g. buy your product or a service, become a paying client
To do this, you’ll have to direct them to your main site/page via the internal links which you’ll neatly embed in your blog posts when and where appropriate. After all, your blog is focused on providing value to your target audience while your your products and services are designed to fulfill their needs, wants and desires.
Another thing you ought to be paying attention to is the external links which could either be outbound or inbound. These links are also known as the ‘backlinks’ and as I mentioned earlier, they have a very special place in the SEO world.
Because search engines ‘believe’ that if highly reputable domains (URLs) with high domain authority and page authority link to your domain, then you must be doing something right and have intrinsic value to give your readers. Again, I talked about this at length in SEO section earlier in this post.
Another thing that happens if you have backlinks from a major sites which host tens if not hundreds of thousand visitors/readers per month, is that your traffic will inevitably increase exponentially. All of which will help you attract more of your target audience.
- Guest Blogging
Another great thing to do is provide value to other bloggers in your niche by writing for their blogs as a guest blogger. While not a norm, to get the most out of the guest blogging, you should try to provide value and leave your mark on blogs, portals and websites with high domain and page authority.
This will help you get more exposure in your niche, solidify your authority and generate additional backlinks to your main business domain.
At first, getting guest blogging spots on top ranking blogs, sites and websites in your niche might be challenging but as you grow your business and your authority through your blog, you’ll start receiving invitations from many blogs to write for them. You’ll even get a fair bit of podcast interview invitations which will help you get even more exposure.
Wrapping it all up.
As a startup founder or an entrepreneur who’s taken the leap of faith and is just starting out, you too should become obsessed with traction and master it, quickly.
Traction isn’t only the buzzword of 21st century but rather the necessity for any one business which aims to survive and ultimately prosper in today’s global and fiercely competitive marketplace.
To cut through all the clutter and get your message to your target audience with intention to drive them to your business and compel them to buy your product or a service, you’ll have the be the true master of traction. The rest is totally up to you.
What’s your favorite traction channel and why? Get in touch via Twitter.