Imagine that you've just completed version 1 of your product and you're preparing for launch. You’ve greased the wheels with a few bloggers, targeted some keywords with SEO, created a bit of linkbait, and scheduled the press release to launch in the morning. At this point, your co-founder turns to you and says: “What are we going to do with the $300 we have stashed away for advertising?” Consider this your lucky day. The goal of this article is to provide you with the core of what you need to know about cheap startup advertising as quickly as possible, so you can start spending that ad budget wisely. Let's get started.
Two Key Advertising Strategies
The half-life of advertising
traffic is zero. This means that the moment you stop shelling out cash, the traffic stops. The problem is that with typical conversion rates of 1-2% you're paying for 98 or 99 out of every 100 people to walk away and never come back to your site. To combat this inherent wastefulness of advertising
, I have two key strategies I recommend no matter which method of advertising
Seriously consider offering something in exchange for a visitor's email address. It can be a free trial, a free report, or maybe even a free book is gaining the means and permission to contact that customer again will increase your conversion rate over time in most cases. There is great power in an email list.
as a testing tool rather than a long-term stream of customers. Very few startups can withstand the cash outlay required to turn advertising
into a marketing activity with positive ROI. Even if you figure it out, advertising
is a volatile marketing medium. Prices increase rapidly in online advertising as new competition crops up or prospects grow bored of your ad and your click-through rate drops. When this happens, all of the time you invested in optimizing your ad campaign is *poof*...gone. So instead of relying on ad traffic as an ongoing stream, use it for what it's best at: the ability to generate a slew of visitors very quickly, and to be turned off just as quickly. This kind of traffic source makes it great for split testing and user behavior testing using tools like Clicktale and Crazyegg. It also gives you insight into how certain traffic converts for you. With properly tracked conversions and an ad on Facebook, you can determine that men from 35-45 convert at a rate of 15% lower than women of the same age. This is valuable information, especially early in your marketing effort when you're still trying to figure out the ideal market for your application. Often this is not the largest market; it's the one to whom you can market for the lowest cost. As another example, with AdWords you can learn in a hurry which keywords convert for you, and which don't. This is insanely valuable as you invest the time and money on the long-haul of search engine optimization. Knowing the keywords that really convert for your business, as opposed to the ones that you think will convert, can save you piles of cash and many months of SEO effort.
"First Five" Advertising Options
With the above strategies in mind, let's look at the first five advertising
options you should consider.
As a startup, there are hundreds of general advertising options available and thousands of more niche opportunities. Depending on the niche you're catering to you should be able to find a forum, blog, magazine, or website in which to spend some ad dollars. The tighter the niche the better. Remember that niche sites tend to be cheaper to advertise on and drive more targeted traffic, which makes a huge difference in your conversion rate. (And if you're not targeting a niche because you want your audience to be the "whole world," you're going to need a lot more than $300 in your ad budget). In general, if you are marketing to a niche you will know the sites to target. If you don't it's time to pound the pavement and find out what they are. By "pound the pavement" I mean search on Google and contact people in the niche to find out where they hang out online. Two reputable niche ad networks I've worked within the past are:
Text or image
- Ad Components (for text ads)
25-character deadline, 2 lines of body copy @ 35 characters each, 35-character display URL
Automated, with manual review if you trip a filter.
Text with required image
110x80 image, 25 character headline, 135 characters of body copy.
Manual (sometimes slow)
Just your URL
Text with optional image
70x70 image, title, URL
Manual (two-day lead time)
To conclude, I want to reiterate what I said early in this article: unless you have deep pockets think of advertising not as a long-term traffic strategy, but as a testing tool to improve your website and find out more about your ideal visitor. Few bootstrapped startups can withstand the cash outlay required to turn advertising
into a marketing activity with a positive ROI, but that shouldn't keep you from testing the waters to find out for yourself. I look forward to hearing about your advertising
experience and recommendations in the comments.