In previous articles, we learned why early stage SEO needs to be a consideration for startups, as well as SEO strategies to help you get competitive early on in the SERPs.
Now let’s look at another important early stage in a startup’s business life cycle – developing your go-to-market strategy and initial product launch.
As Sean Ellis said, scaling growth before product / market adaptation is the fastest way to kill your startup.
There are many risks involved in your early days and when planning your first product launch. You are under pressure to meet deadlines from various stakeholders and hit milestones that can be linked to investments.
Without a robust go-to-market strategy, blind investments in growth can do more harm than good.
What you are looking for is the Product-Market-Fit, ie your product / solution effectively fulfills a certain market segment. This adjustment is critical to short and long term growth as well as short and long term monthly recurring revenue generation (MRR).
Development of a go-to-market strategy
There’s no shortage of blog posts on developing a viable GTM strategy, but the most successful ones I’ve seen include all of the elements of:
- Customer interaction and interview-like interactions, with leading and open ended questions to identify specific use cases and timing your solution.
- A form of A / B testing with a group of potential users to validate the product and identify application problems (for borderline cases or compatibility with other systems used by the target market).
- A feedback method from the two groups above to determine exactly how your potential audience sees your product, what value it has to them, and how willing they are to pay for that value.
You can get more information from these three activities:
- Your pricing strategy.
- Your core market message.
- An understanding of who your competitors are.
- An idea of how your audience will use your product and in conjunction with what other products.
More importantly, this process helps you do something that is critical to your success but may be hated by other stakeholders within the company – it helps you downsize your original audience and market so you know who to contact first.
Address a closer target group with SEO
Depending on your niche, trying to do SEO for a narrower audience can sometimes leave third-party keyword research tools behind.
This is especially true in emerging technology markets as search volume will be lower or phrases may not even be captured by tools due to low / no PPC spend and advertising data.
This is where your GTM strategy (and common sense) can help you develop a targeted SEO strategy for your target audience segment.
It can help guide your SEO strategy from keyword targeting to content development and user journeys that create value propositions.
It helps users better predict their experience with your product / service.
1. SEO helps you understand your real competitors
Everyone who sells products online is competing, at least in theory, with Amazon and eBay.
In reality, however, few companies really compete with them.
Anyone who owns a SaaS product has few competitors, but they will most likely overlap with other SaaS products as well. This is something that you need to consider in your marketing as your potential customers will consider them as options when comparing them.
A good example of this recognition can be found on the Gitlab homepage. There, the various product features are broken down and categorized so that visitors can quickly make comparisons with other larger tool suites and niche options:
This approach also helps refute an assumption I often hear about some product markets in SaaS, namely, “People who want our product would not care about Brand X.”
In reality, we control very few variables in the customer’s decision-making process, so we cannot say at all.
2. Focus on keyword research
As mentioned earlier, if you are approaching a new segment of the market or approaching problems from a different angle, the market may not be mature in terms of “search” and there may be little data available.
This means that you will have to look for other sources to identify keywords. But more importantly, this will force you to look for the message your audience is looking for about the problems they are facing.
You need to refocus on the solutions your product offers to determine what problems your audience is looking for, and then where they will be looking.
For most tech / SaaS products, places like Quora and StackOverflow are good starting points. This is especially true if your audience is more systems, infrastructure, and tech focused.
If your audience is a more generalized marketer, then places like Facebook groups, Slack communities, Reddit, and even product-specific forums are good places to start gathering data.
However, it is important to remember not to enter these open forums and communities with a sales-first message. They’ll likely harm your brand before you’ve even got it out on the market.
3. Experience forecasts inform about conversion & retention
Many marketing strategies focus heavily on initial user acquisition, and I’m not saying this is a bad thing.
But when launching a new product or service that you hope to build your business – and future products and services based on it – you also need to consider retention strategies.
Loyalty is often condemned to post-conversion activities and elements like customer service.
However, once this has happened, rights retention begins during the investigation, consideration and conversion phase.
I call that experience prognosis. Essentially, there are a number of variables in the customer buying process that we don’t control. In addition, all customers are subject to a range of personal experiences, their own expectations and assessments of “good”, as well as a number of other apparently irrelevant factors.
Our messaging needs to emphasize that the product / service can meet the needs of the user. And this must be done in such a way that the user can best assess how closely the service delivery is meeting their expectations.
If this predicted experience is met (or precisely achieved), the user will be happy and likely convert their trial to subscription or renew their subscription with you.
Get granularity with an SEO-informed go-to-market strategy
SEO gives you the insight to develop your most successful go-to-market strategy.
In the long run, it will support the longevity of your product and the brand as a whole.
Screenshot by the author, July 2021