Wednesday Apr 4, 2012 by Ravi Mehta - VP of Product, Viximo
This is the second part in a three part series about how to launch your startup on a shoestring budget. In the first post, we looked at back office and operational tools that enable you to launch and run a business without spending a lot of money. Today, we're going to look at tools that help you acquire traffic and drive conversions. And in the final article, we'll look at tools that help you establish profitable, long-term relationships with your customers.
With all the focus on inbound marketing, SEO, and PPC optimization, it's easy to forget that a good old fashioned press release should be a key part of your launch marketing. Prior to Slidevana's launch press release, the term "slidevana" had less than 500 results in Google Search. Just a day after the press release, that number grew to over 10,000 results and the launch got picked up in several important trade publications. PRWeb has the best combination of wide coverage with reasonable pricing. Pricing starts at $89 for a basic press release and they often run a $50 off coupon for the first press release.
AdWords is an amazing tool for entrepreneurs. In a few minutes and with a an initial budget entirely yours to control, you can access some of the most qualified traffic in the world. AdWords is a great way to test your product idea and your landing pages before doing a broader promotional campaign, and with the right metrics, it can become an indispensable channel for building your business. That said, be cautious about growing too dependent on AdWords. Ad costs can change on a dime and Google is capricious about their ad review process.
If you need to do any display advertising, you're going to need catchy banners (preferably animated). BannerSnack is an extremely well designed web-based tool that makes it easy to create sharp looking banner ads as animated .GIF files or .SWF files. With BannerSnack, you'll be able to create eye-catching animated ads without knowing any Flash. You can embed ads for free if you include a BannerSnack watermark. To embed or download an unmarked ad, it costs about $8 per download or $14 per month for unlimited downloads.
BannerSnack's "blank slate" approach to ad design provides great results, but it also makes ad creation more time consuming since each ad size needs to be created from scratch. Display Ad Builder is a tool provided by Google that takes a more template-oriented approach. The tool's array of templates make it easy to create ads in all major ad sizes, and the tool is nicely integrated into Google AdWords. Unfortunately, the template designs are dated—nearly every one made me want to shop for car insurance or refinance my house.
The Google AdWords interface is dizzying in its complexity, especially for display ads. BuySellAds has turned the display ad space on its head by providing a clean, transparent shopping experience that draws more from great e-commerce sites than from the complicated dashboards you'll typically find. On the downside, BuySellAds sells ads based on impressions or fixed-length placements, rather than by click, so you'll need to keep a close eye on performance and should experiment cautiously.
I'm a data junkie, so I spent a lot of time shopping around for a great analytics package. Don't make that same mistake. Instead, spend the time to learn Google Analytics inside and out and read this book by Avinash Kaushik. Google Analytics is free, very powerful, easy to install, and well integrated into AdWords. It'll give you a great foundation and you can always upgrade if you outgrow its capabilities.
If you run an online business, and you aren't doing any conversion testing, then you are leaving money on the table. User testing tools used to be complex and expensive. As with analytics, Google has brought website testing to the masses with Google Website Optimizer. The tool makes it easy to run both A/B tests and multivariate tests, features superb integration with Google's other tools, and is available entirely for free.
In the final part of this series, we'll look at payment processing and customer relationship tools that help you increase customer engagement and monetization.
What other tools do you use?
Ravi Mehta is VP of Product at Viximo, a Cambridge-based company that provides solutions for social and mobile game developers looking to expand their distribution, and is the creator of Slidevana, a presentation toolkit that enables presenters to build better presentations in less time. You can follow Ravi on Twitter (@ravi_mehta).