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Think Like A Startup: Five Ways To Boost Your SEO Strategy

A new startup is born every day.

In garages, dorm rooms, and basements all around the world, people are bringing their business ideas to life. But this surge of entrepreneurial energy isn’t limited to actual startups. Big brands like Coca-Cola and Red Bull are adopting lean and agile methods to mimic the flexibility and rapid innovation of Silicon Valley’s hottest up-and-comers.

While it may not be practical to adjust every aspect of your company to be more like a startup, adjusting your SEO strategy at the enterprise level to mirror a startup’s methods can help you stay ahead of the game.

Here are a few SEO tips ripped right from the entrepreneur playbook:

1. Remove Bureaucracy

When you have to submit a request and go through multiple layers of approval to make even the smallest change, it squelches productivity. SEO is no different.

Your SEO team should constantly be adding and altering keywords and phrases. If every change has to be approved by the legal team and the board of directors, it destroys efficiency.

Cut the red tape, and place your trust in your SEO team. Make sure they can easily access web files, CSS, and other privileged information.

2. Stop Keyword Stuffing

SEO operates in a pyramid structure, where main terms are targeted on the home page, ancillary terms are placed on secondary pages, and so forth.

For example, if you have 1,500 terms you want to target about smoke detectors, your home page will target “smoke detectors,” and your internal pages will target long-tail keywords.

However, big companies often try to bypass this process by placing all their keywords on the home page. This method can produce quick results, but Google will ultimately penalize them for bad SEO practices. This year, we saw quite a few big brands — including eBay — tumble down search results for trying to game the system.

Cramming in low-quality links with too many anchor texts will yield feeble SEO results. Instead, hire a qualified PR professional to get you on reputable sites like CNN. The organic, healthy links will filter in naturally and boost your SEO without keyword stuffing.

3. Be Relentless About Creating a Great User Experience

Ultimately, startups succeed due to their commitment to producing the best possible user experience. Big brands can harness this mentality simply by striving to build a better site than their competitors. By producing superior content and increasing your website’s load speed, you nurture a positive brand image.

The Internet marketing blog ShoeMoneyonce described this idea as the “screw Google” mentality, which suggests that you manage your website as if Google doesn’t exist. This will keep you focused solely on building a great website that customers will return to again and again.

4. Embrace Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have a larger impact on SEO than you think, and startups know this. The most successful ones know that creating a community around branded content begins a cycle that ultimately elevates a site’s SEO.

When you create attention-grabbing posts and your followers click through, Google notices your site’s traffic spike, and you boost brand awareness.

It may not be a traditional SEO move, but it’s a great one for your site.

5. Don’t Take Shortcuts

Every entrepreneur knows there’s no substitute for hard work and dedication, and that includes a sound SEO strategy.

Back in 2007, SEO “specialists” advised their clients to set SEO bait, which tricked viewers into organically linking to a site. On Myspace, users often took quizzes that produced results in easy-to-copy banner ads. When they embedded them on their Myspace profile, it artificially inflated that site’s visibility. Google eventually caught on, and sites were penalized.

There aren’t any shortcuts to good SEO. It all comes down to great content, an engaged audience, and a solid SEO team that gets your customers the information they’re looking for every time.

While the Internet landscape is constantly evolving, SEO has remained a valuable marketing tool for businesses of all sizes. If there’s one method your company can steal from startups, it’s this: Get to work.

 

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Don’t Make These 10 Startup Mistakes

Starting a business is difficult. Launching a startup is even more challenging. Aside from facing the challenge of attempting to build a company from the ground up, many entrepreneurs have little prior experience in the business world. Even when they have an incredibly awesome idea, complex problems arise, such as managing the young enterprise, handling finances and hiring employees on a budget.

Due to a lack of experience, many startups endure the misfortune of failure — if they launch at all. Be sure to not add to their tales of disaster. Here are 10 startup mistakes to avoid at all cost:

1. Going it alone. How many startups that have met with success have only one founder? Larry Ellison’s Oracle is an exception.

Indeed establishing a company is hard work and it often takes more than a single individual to launch a business. There are highs and lows, not to mention some tasks that few can undertake alone. Crushing blows and setbacks sometimes make it hard to continue on without another person’s encouragement. Then there’s a need to market the plan and build the product or service. Money has to be raised to launch the startup.

In most situations, it’s an incredibly daunting to tackle all this alone. A little help from friends and professional colleagues can help in launching the startup.

2. Skimping on the business plan. Having a solid business plan plays a vital role in determining future success. A business plan, after all, serves to guide the startup in the right direction by answering the following questions:

What is the purpose of the company? Who are the potential customers? What are the mission and values?What’s the direction desired for the company? Who are the company’s competitors and what are they doing? How can the company measure success?

In other words, a sound business plan determines every aspect of the startup. And whenever the company is stuck or a new venture is to be launched, refer to the business plan.

There’s no need to go creating a business plan in as formal a manner as someone would in business school. But having a business plan is recommended since it will help determine the company’s direction over the long term.

3. Not handling money correctly. When it comes to startups, having money is very much a big deal and it needs proper handling.

One of the biggest mistakes is spending too much, which may occur when a business owner or founder becomes overly eager and hires a ton of people. At first, the entrepreneur may believe all the new employees are needed. But this will just mean burning through the startup’s finances faster. To avoid this, hire those only those truly needed and take staffing up step by step.

A founder may be tempted to blow through a lot of cash pretty quickly, spending on unnecessary expenses. Instead of these funds going to good use, they’re just wasted.

If a venture capital firm just handed the company a big, fat check, it may be expecting a big fat result very soon. No more fooling around. It’s time to get to work.

And what if the business suddenly has to undertake a costly change and insufficient funds have been set aside? What happens if the original plan must be scratched in favor of a backup plan? What if an investor backs out or a client doesn’t pay? What if a vital element for the business costs too much? Is there money to handle such scenarios?

Without proper management and use of its finances, a new business may never set sail. Be sure that someone good with numbers can help out with this.

4. Not being able to pivot. Every entrepreneur will say that nothing ever goes as planned. But being able to pivot is part of the game. At one time Nokia had a paper mill and made rubber boots. Today, it’s a telecommunications company.

Odeo once existed as a podcasting platform. But when Apple launched its podcasting platform, Odeo had to pivot. Today Odeo is that social media outlet known as Twitter.

To become a successful business owner, keep a backup plan for every worse-case scenario but also be flexible and able to pivot if the original proposal isn’t going to work.

5. Thinking too small. If an entrepreneur thinks too much outside the box (meaning targeting a very tiny niche market), success may be elusive. Investor Paul Graham, the founder of startup incubator Y Combinator, explained in “The 18 Mistakes That Kill Startups” that many entrepreneurs believe it’s safer to target a smaller crowd so the competition isn’t as fierce. But “if you make anything good, you’re going to have competitors, so you may as well face that,” Graham said. “You can only avoid competition by avoiding good ideas.”

6. Choosing the wrong location. Siting a business has always been important. Setting up shop in the right location is key, considering the cost and the geoposition of potential customers and the industry as a whole.

For example, Rowland H. Macy originally started a store in Massachusetts, but it didn’t pan out. So, he learned from the mistakes and relocated his business to Sixth Avenue in New York City. The enterprise was successful and resulted in the retail giant known as Macy’s.

And consider the fact that many successful tech companies tend to emerge from tech hubs like Silicon Valley, Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Boston.

But there’s another reason why location matters: venture capitalists. Graham observed how most venture capitalists fund startups that are located about an hour’s drive away. This may be because investors learn of  startups through someone else in their network. So to receive funds, site the startup close to where the money is.

7. Ignoring a hunch. There’s nothing quite like the instincts of an entrepreneur. It’s probably the reason many get far with their startups. So don’t ignore that hunch. Use it to advantage.

But make sure that that entertaining a hunch is balanced with engaging in number crunching, viewing key performance indicators and developing business strategies based on research.

8. Launching at an inopportune time. When launching a startup, timing is everything. While certain circumstances lie outside of control (like the economy or natural disasters), launching at the right time can be arranged. Never mind the exhaustive scientific approach. Just make sure the company doesn’t launch too early or wait too long.

Launching too soon might put the entire enterprise at risk. Consider the following: Is this a product or service that people really want? Is it ready to be marketed? After all, there’s nothing worse than rushing a startup to market out of a desire to beat the competition or start making revenue. Be sure that the startup is ready to go before making it public.

On the flip side, don’t wait too long. Otherwise there’s the chance all the money will be exhausted or that a competitor will be first to market a product. Make sure that everything is ready to roll but don’t procrastinate. Establish deadlines and meet them.

9. Getting the hiring process wrong. Be sure that hiring doesn’t start too quickly. That will drain the entreprise financially. But the part o the hiring process that’s constantly tweaked is the attempt to recruit the right people.

So many startups have folded because the people hired were just not right for the company, perhaps a friend who lacked skilled for the work role. Or someone didn’t fit in with the team because of a personality mismatch. Be sure to have qualified people working at the startup.

And ensure that everything is documented. No one wants an ex-employee to sue because a huge chunk of the company was promised in exchange for services, an agreement that was only sealed with a handshake.

10. Too much outside influence. Whether it’s advice or criticism, feedback from an outside source sometimes is a great assist. Would Facebook have taken off if Sean Parker had not suggested to Mark Zuckerberg that he move to California and change his project’s name from Thefacebook to just Facebook?

Of course too much feedback can be detrimental. Along a company’s journey, many will say what’s best for it. If everyone’s advice is followed, the business would no longer bear a resemblance to the original idea. Being pulled in too many different directions just isn’t good for a business.

Even though Zuckerberg took Parker’s advice, he still kept a vision of what he wanted Facebook to be. He didn’t take every piece of advice offered. He just used the suggestions that he knew would work for his company.

 
 

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Ancient Yoga Has Lessons for Modern Entrepreneurs

Startups and yoga are two cultural phenomena that have become mainstream over the past decade. There’s a 20 percent chance you’ve tried a startup, a 40 percent chance you’ve tried yoga and a 100 percent chance you know someone who’s tried one or the other. To pursue either one well, you must focus on your center and build your flexibility. That creates a paradox in the startup world. Two startup imperatives, focus on the core business while remaining flexible, seem to be in conflict.

The Paradox. Radically focused on your startup’s core mission? You might pursue the wrong target market or feature set for too long. You might hurt yourself by not pivoting quickly enough. Maintaining your startup’s flexibility? You may explore too many potential growth avenues and not push hard enough on the single product-market fit that will enable your startup to succeed.

Startup literature is filled with firms that either never gained traction, or did so and then flamed out, because they were either too core-focused or too flexible. Unpacking the nature of yoga can help us resolve this startup paradox.

The term “yoga” derives from the Sanskrit word for “yoke.” Just as two oxen yoked together can pull a heavy load, yoga joins together mind and body to achieve a goal. In yoga, disciplined mental effort increases your body’s capabilities, leading to greater health, longevity and sense of fulfillment.

Yoga teaches that physical and mental centeredness, i.e. core focus, is the starting point. By paying close attention to breathing, the central activity of your body, you begin unlocking greater capabilities in your muscles and connective tissues. Yoga starts at your center and, from there, builds strength and flexibility.

The Discipline of Flexibility. The same principle applies both to successful yoga practitioners and to successful startups: Focus on the core enables flexibility. To Rob Bernshteyn, CEO of successful late-stage startup Coupa, your core means not just your line of business, but also “the set of core values that keeps your culture intact. If a startup were to define “agility” as a core value, it could evolve its line of business without losing focus on customer success.”

Agility-as-core-value aligns with the principles of the Lean Startup movement, which teaches that startups succeed by learning as much as they can from customers over the shortest iterative cycles at the lowest possible cost. Just as one can perfect a balanced yoga pose over a series of trials and errors (gravity often wins), so too a startup can take a disciplined approach to experimenting and learning, building flexibility in the process.

The Startup in Your Mind’s Eye.  Yoga and startups both harness the power of vision. In yoga, a meditative state is often used to induce a vision. The student is encouraged to picture something in his or her ‘mind’s eye’. Startups are frequently tied to a vision, typically that of the founder. John Foley, founder and CEO of innovative indoor cycling startup Peloton, believes a founder’s higher consciousness comes from accepting that a startup’s reality, at least initially, may fall short of his or her vision.

“Compared to where a founder sees his or her business ultimately going, it’s almost always a disappointment to launch the version 1.0 product,” Foley said. Yoga teaches the student to pursue an intention without becoming discouraged at the gulf between vision and present reality. That is a critical skill for entrepreneurs facing significant resource and capital constraints.

With important parallels between startups and yoga, it seems the insight for entrepreneurs is that there is no paradox after all. You can stay centered without sacrificing flexibility, however doing so requires discipline and placing your vision in proper perspective. If customer learning is a startup’s oxygen, then achieving traction represents a startup’s mastery of poses, each one guided by intention and achieved through disciplined practice, leading to business health, longevity, and the team’s sense of fulfillment.

 
 

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4 Great Tips for Winning the Early-Stage Venture Game

A challenge for today’s entrepreneur is figuring out what he or she does well — and finding those who can help with areas of weakness.

During a startup’s difficult early stages key team members must work together effectively. If they’re always fighting  over scarce resources to strengthen their respective departments, they’ll be distracted from the larger task of collaborating to build the venture.

These days the best talent comes from all over the world. But managing people from different cultures takes a special type of manager — one capable of unlocking their full potential.

A San Mateo, Calif.-based computer-security analytics startup is handling these challenges with aplomb. Exabeam, which raised $10 million in Series A funding in June, aims to mine “the potential of existing logs to fundamentally change the way cyber attacks are detected” and simplify security processes, according to its literature.

In a frank interview last week with Exabeam CEO Nir Polak, I learned the steps he’s taken over the past 14 months to build Exabeam’s team (now numbering 16). He came to the role after more than a decade of leadership experience at Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Imperva, a publicly traded Internet-security firm (whose Tel Aviv offices I visited in March and a year earlier).

Imperva was co-founded by CEO Shlomo Kramer, one of Israel’s most successful entrepreneurs. Kramer co-founded two other publicly traded computer-security companies, Check Point Software Technologies and Palo Alto Networks, and last summer sold another one, Trusteer, to IBM for nearly $1 billion.

When Polak wanted to leave Imperva, Kramer saw an opportunity for intalling a talented and tested executive in charge of another firm (Exabeam) that could further burnish Kramer’s reputation and net worth. He invested $3 million in Exabeam’s seed round.

In describing his work at Exabeam, Polak offered four great tips appropriate for any early-stage entrepreneur:

1. Recognize strengths and weaknesses.

Polak received a great education in his own strengths and weaknesses from his Imperva stint. After joining Imperva in 2003 as an engineer, he ran product management and market strategy in Israel. Following Imperva’s 2011 IPO, Polak moved to the States to run the company’s corporate strategy department.

Fundamentally a product engineer at his core, Polak has strived in his hiring to compensate for his own areas of weaknesses, he told me.

“When I started Exabeam in 2013, I asked myself, ‘What am I good at? What am I not good at?'” Polak explains. “I need a creative product person.”

An entrepreneur should always closely examine personal strengths before launching a company — and continue to do so. The executive should also determine other skills that will be essential for the new venture and hire talented people accordingly.

2. Build a team able to offset a chief’s weaknesses.

Polak brought on seasoned executives to do the important jobs that he considered beyond his ken. From Imperva, he hired Sylvain Gil to be vice president of products. Upon the recommendation of Kramer, he chose Domingo Mihovilovic, an executive at data-analytics company Sumo Logic, to be chief technology officer.

While Polak views himself as skilled in strategy and selling, he hired technology talent to fill out his team and did so by tapping into his trusted Imperva network.

3. Put key team members in the same office.

It’s certainly in vogue to say that the world is flat, thanks to global telecommunications and the Internet. But when a company’s key team members reside in different time zones, this is stressful and saps their productivity.

“When I was trying to operate customer service and product management at Imperva, it was very difficult to have some of my team [on] the West Coast of the U.S. while the rest was in Israel,” Polak says. “Managing that was so difficult that I decided that Exabeam should be all U.S. from the start.”

Grouping key staff members together can encourage open communication and boost productivity since people don’t have to lose sleep to communicate with staffers in another time zone.

4. Figure out how to manage people of different cultures.

Managing a team of people from different countries is a distinct skill that perhaps few entrepreneurs possess.

This seems to be one of Polak’s skills. “Israelis are very passionate and direct,” he says. “We have many team members from other cultures. Sylvain is French and Domingo is from Chile. We also have key people from Vietnam, Korea, Syria, China, Sweden and the U.S. I am trying to manage the team to encourage the Israeli passion but to also respect the differences among these cultures.”

Polak highlights a point that’s relevant to all entrepreneurs: Startups should hire the most talented people in the world but it’s a mistake to conclude that the best way to manage them is to apply what works best in a manager’s home country.

 
 

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20 Social Media Tips To Rule In 2014

Are you looking for ways to optimize your social media strategy in 2014 and beyond. Then, here we go.

In this article, we are going to discuss 20 ways to optimize your social media strategy.

1. Choose the right platform

  • As the technology grows, the social media platforms are also growing. There are hundreds of social media platforms. There are many options beyond Facebook, Google, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube.
  • Take some time to see which platforms are best for your business and start exploring/engaging.
  • It doesn’t require any full-time employee to manage. You can spend few minutes and brand.

2. Use analytics

  • Similar to the hundreds of social media platforms, there are also hundreds of tools to analyze your social media campaign success and failures.
  • Most important thing is, they are free. Make use of them. Also, few provides a third-party analysis.
  • Don’t just collect reports; try to read them, translate them, analyze them and turn them into action.

3. Post timely

  • Do a research and know the best time to post about your industry and its demographics.
  • For many businesses, this is Monday through Friday at around 10am and 4pm. However, this will vary depending on who you’re targeting.

4. Build a relationship

  • Social media is a tool for engagement and a platform to reach your target audience, virtually. It’s a two-way street. So, don’t just preach at your audience, but try to engage them.
  • Make it interactive, get them involved and always promptly reply to outreach.

5. Use images

  • Graphics plays a major role and stays long in mind. People are becoming more attracted to images such as infographics or easily digestible videos.
  • Make use of colors, but don’t overdo it.
  • If you make a video, don’t forget to make it professional and high quality.

6. Make social media special

  • Offer truly desirable things like discounts and giveaways solely to people who follow you on social media. They should be getting something out of being your fan or liking your page.

7. Only bite off as much as you can chew

  • Quality plays the role and not quantity. There’s no point in joining every site that pops up; just pick the apt one.
  • Choose your best social media matches and give them the attention they deserve.

8. Don’t treat it like a personal site 

  • Just because you have 1,000 Facebook friends on your personal site and they always like your inspirational posts doesn’t mean you’ll succeed as a business poster. These are two entirely different arenas, so respect the difference.

9. Hire a social media manager 

  • In an ideal world, you’ll make room in the budget to hire an experienced social media manager full-time.
  • They can work magic and in a fraction of the time anyone else can. It’s a real job (and deserves a real salary).

10. Know when to call it quits

  • If you’re just not performing well on a particular site no matter who’s to blame, know when to end it.
  • Just like any other bad relationship, nobody is benefiting from dragging it out. Fix it or quit it, but make a choice.

11. Build business alliances

  • Figure out other businesses that complement yours but aren’t direct competitors and show them some love on social media. You’re all in this together, and you never know when you could use an ally.

12. Don’t entertain the trolls

  • Once your social media following gets big enough, you’ll have a few trolls and baiters. Handle them professionally, and know when to publicly respond, when to let it go, and when to delete their comments. Each action has a time and place.

13. Don’t sync your phone 

  • If you’re still the one overseeing social media for the business, it can easily turn into a 24/7 project. Don’t let it. Don’t sync your business social media sites to your phone, unless it’s a business-only phone that’s turned off at a certain hour. Taking work home with you is never healthy.

14. Don’t use it as a sales platform

  • It’s pretty obvious why a business is on social media: To improve sales, whether directly or through building customer relationships (which will hopefully lead to more sales).
  • However, this isn’t a direct sales platform so don’t treat it that way. Instead, foster relationships and provide information or entertainment for free.

15. Flesh out your profile

  • Fill out every possible corner of your profile, whether it’s the brief requirements of Google+ or the massive ones of MySpace. This is where your business’ personality is developed and it’s important for brand reputation and management.

16. Build social media into your business plan

  • Whether you’re a startup or a solid corporation, you should still have a business plan in place for growth. Implement social media into it and set goals for different time periods. This is how you’ll see if social media is worth it for you.

17. Make fans want to see your posts

  • This seemingly simple advice is the toughest. What would you want to see as a fan or friend? Find “sticky” posts that have viral potential and people want to share.

18. Make it easy to share

  • Along with number 17, make it as easy to share your posts as possible.
  • Link them to a landing page on your website, another social media site (Facebook and YouTube play together nicely) or your blog.
  • If it’s easy for someone to just click and share, they’re more likely to do so.

19. Strike a personal/professional balance

  • You don’t want to get too personal, but you don’t want to seem stiffly professional either.
  • This is a precarious balance to strike, but when done well, makes fans think they “know you” in the right way.
  • Don’t let emotions get the best of you and save that for your personal site.

20. Grammar matters 

  • Check, double check, and have someone else check each and every things you put on social media.
  • An embarrassing typo can cause a world of hurt and is easily avoidable.

 
 

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