A year and a bit ago I attended BarCamp in Edinburgh. At the time I put together a short presentation (which I ended up not presenting due to personal time constraints) but a year on I thought I'd share my thoughts on how to market a product/service on a tight budget and with as little effort as possible.
When it comes to setting up and promoting a new site the key is working Search Engine Optimisation principles into your site from the start.
- URL choice: with most startups the URL is an essential part of the name choice. For SEO I recommend doing a bit of Googling - don't choose a name that about a million other companies share with you (if you can possibly help it). Hosting sites will tell you if domain names are available in bulk (so don't spend ages going to a URL then changing the TLD (end bit) from .com to .co.uk to .org etc). Some of the domain name generators can be surprisingly good. Try to find something that sums up your product and is memorable.
- Once you've bought your domain it's time to put something up there. This is the point where lots of new sites often fail - do not put up a page saying coming soon or site under development. Instead you should put some real content - even if it's just your initial sketch or an extract of a bit of code. You should start telling people about your product right from the start - there won't be any hype if people don't have anything to talk about! Google take a while to index sites so putting some keyword/brand name rich content up early on will help cement your site's position in search engines.
- Even if you only have a small amount of content and haven't got much time or money you can still upload a free blogging platform with a basic template. People will happily look at your content even if it's on a plain/boring looking site if you've got something interesting to say/show.
- Don't forget the basics - you really want people to be able to contact you. A contact form isn't hard to put together but it's surprising how many sites don't even have an email address on them!
- Word of mouth is a key part in promoting a new enterprise but it doesn't have to be hard work (especially not if you've got something interesting on your hands). If you're already on a social network then start by letting your friends and colleagues know about what you're up to and move on from that and drop a polite email to sites that you think might be interested in featuring you: check out Technorati's list of popular blogs if you need some help finding blogs in your desired market. If you put effort into slides, publicity, interviews or content make sure you blog about it and if another site is nice enough to write about you then link to their article and give some thanks for their love!
If you have any other comments about SEO on a budget or marketing a startup I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.