These categories are referred to as the 3 P’s in QUICKSPROUT’S DIFINITIVE GUIDE TO GROWTH HACKING. Do yourself a favor and read the entire guide here. It is loaded with tons of valuable information, but here are the 3 P’s from their guide.
- Pull – Instead of finding customers and visitors online, drawing them to you through various means is called the Pull tactic.
- Push – Finding customers online and pushing them towards your website, product or service is referred to as the Push tactic.
- Product – The Product tactic uses your product or service to attract more customers.
It goes without saying, that all three categories implemented into your Digital Marketing Strategy work best together. Much like any sport, you won’t win the game without using all your gear, now would you? The same applies with Growth Hacking tactics. You need to apply all three categories. Cheer up though. You won’t need to use all the methods detailed under each category.
(all content and images provided by Neil Patel and Bronson Taylor)
THE PULL TACTIC!
- BLOGGING OR GUEST BLOGGING
One of the tried and true ways of getting traffic to your product is through blogging or guest blogging. Blog posts are suited perfectly to send you traffic for a number of reasons.
- Blog posts are keyword rich, and are easily indexed by Google, which aides an overall SEO strategy.
- Blog posts have a compounding effect. The more you write, the more total chances you’ll have of pulling people towards your product over time.
- Blogs are usually based around specific niches, so if you are guest blogging then you can tap into large swaths of your market with a single post.
- Blogs are usually disseminated through RSS readers, so there is an inbuilt mechanism to deliver your thoughts to others.
- Blog posts are great at educating people, and people that are informed about your product are more likely to move through your funnel.
- Blog posts can position you as a thought leader, and people would rather use a product that has been created by an expert rather than a nobody.
- Blog owners are always looking for new guests post, which makes this low hanging fruit in many cases.
Blogging is a no brainer. The only decision you have to make is whether to start your own blog or guest blog for others. The main reason to guest blog is that you don’t have to create the audience. You only have to create the post. Trust me, it’s easier to create a post than to gather the people together that are willing to read it. However, the main benefit to starting your own blog is your ability to have full control. If you build your own audience you have more flexibility over the content. You might choose to get more aggressive in the future with sending traffic to your product from the blog, but if someone else owns all your content then you don’t have this possibility. Neither answer is wrong as long as you choose for strategic reasons. Remember, you can always do both. Maybe you start by guest blogging but then transition to your own blog.
Whichever route you choose you must not make your blog posts an extended pitch for your product. You’re gently pulling people in, not begging them to visit your site. If you get too overt about your intentions it will turn people away. With a little creativity you can easily get click throughs without making your post feel like an ad. Always start a new post with a bio that links to your product (no one will begrudge you this), and try to link to your product once within the post, but only when it’s relevant to what you’re saying.
Also, the blog posts that get read and shared are the ones that tap into something emotional, trendy, educational, enjoyable, or surprising (amongst others). Take note of the kinds of posts that get your attention, and then reverse engineer them to inform your own writing.
Buffer, which has been growing at an incredible rate, used guest blogging as an engine of growth. Their founder, Leo, even wrote a blog post about how he used guest blogging at http://leostartsup.com/2011/06/how-i-used-guest-blogging-for-my-startup
PODCASTING OR GUEST PODCASTING
Podcasting is another great pull tactic because audio has inherent inbound qualities. When you hear someone speak then you are given a window into their mind that is different, and sometimes even better, than reading their thoughts. Like blogs, podcasts have inbuilt distribution mechanisms (podcast listening apps), but there are differences between blogging and podcasting when viewed through the lens of getting traffic:
- Podcasts are not easily indexed by search engines.
- It’s easy to click a link in a blog post, but it’s hard to visit a site that is mentioned in a podcast.
- Podcasts are fewer in number, and tend to have smaller audiences.
It is highly unlikely that a podcast will be a viable channel for traffic, unless you think very creatively about it. Here are some twists that you could try:
- Whatever you do, go niche. You probably don’t have the production experience or the budget to compete with general interests podcasts. Instead, select a very narrow niche, and dominate it.
- Don’t start a podcast with a goal of doing an episode every week. Rather, set a goal of 10 episodes total and make it more like an educational course on a certain topic that your market would love to learn. With beautiful album art and a great audio intro, people will find you in the podcast directories and get curious. Never promise more episodes, and tell them upfront in the first episode what your intention is.
- Go on a few podcasts as a guest, and then use those episodes as a part of a drip email campaign in order to inform your email list about your product further, via audio, to increase conversions. Note: the same thing can be done with blog posts also.
Of course, it is possible to go the traditional route by creating a podcast that publishes new episodes every week, but there is something you must know. Podcasts require a lot of time to do well, and low quality offerings will not gain enough traffic to matter. Therefore, get creative and think like a growth hacker, not like a podcaster. Use their medium, but not their methods.
Tweak! was a podcast about running a web agency and they only produced 9 episodes, but they were more like a class and less like a show.
EBOOKS, GUIDES, AND WHITEPAPERS
Part of creating an effective pull strategy is to use the unique makeup of your team to inform which tactics you try. Some people love the idea of doing little things on a very regular basis (like blogging, or maybe podcasting). Others would rather invest large chunks of energy at spread out intervals, and produce things that are a bit more monumental. This is a valid tactic, and large written documents have a number of advantages in terms of getting traffic:
- Ebooks, guides, and whitepapers have a certain draw to them. It’s somewhat easy to ignore a new blog post, but when there is a new hefty document on a niche subject you care about, it’s hard to ignore.
- Ebooks, guides, and whitepapers have a high perceived value, and you can ask for an email address in exchange for downloading them. It feels like a fair trade, and it helps you build an email list that you will eventually work through your funnel.
- Ebook, guides, and whitepapers spread through social media very effectively when they are executed well.
- As an author (even a self-published one) you are a thought leader of sorts, and people will want to use the product you’ve created.
- Ebook, guides, and whitepapers can be written to specifically educate people about your product. Informed visitors are more likely to become members and users.
MailChimp has a number of guides at http://mailchimp.com/resources which they publish for all the reasons listed above.
Infographics can entice people to your product because they simultaneously display expertise and aesthetic taste. Visualizations are powerful tools, and they are spread using social media extremely easily. Adam Breckler, of Visual.ly, provides the following advice when creating an infographic:
SELECT A GOOD TOPIC
Pick something that is clever, exciting, noteworthy, or that stands out for some other reason. Just don’t be boring or irrelevant.
FIND THE RIGHT DATA
People sometimes assume that they have to create the data themselves, but often a simple Google search will uncover data sets that have already been compiled.
ANALYZE THE DATA
Look at the data that you have with journalistic integrity. Don’t bend the data to suit your needs.
BUILD THE NARRATIVE
Brainstorm what story the data should tell. You need to transform the numbers into a coherent narrative, and not just present them as a collection of facts.
COME UP WITH A DESIGN CONCEPT
Now it’s time to consider ways to tell your narrative visually.
POLISH AND REFINE THE DESIGN
Put on the finishing touches and make sure everything is as high quality as it needs to be to gain the public’s attention.
DISTRIBUTE THE INFOGRAPHIC
You can distribute it using your own audience (email list, social media, etc.), or you can use services like Visual.ly which is a marketplace for browsing inforgraphics.
Everlane produced a couple of controversial infographics that created a firestorm online. Their infographics showed the typical markups that department stores charge for t-shirts. Since Everlane sells similar quality shirts at lower prices it’s easy to see how this infographic brought them the right kind of visitors.
The offline world has seminars, but the online world has webinars. These are very successful channels at bringing in new visitors for a few reasons:
- Webinars are usually live, so people are forced to put them in their schedule, and view it as an event. A YouTube video can be watched anytime, but people must “attend” a webinar. When something is in their calendar they tend to take it seriously, and they take the information shared during the webinar seriously.
- Webinars usually have limited seats, and this faux scarcity makes people feel like the content is exclusive and important. If you are important in someone’s mind then they are likely to move through your funnel more efficiently.
- Webinars allow for interaction, and if someone gets to interact with you then they will have a connection to you and your product that will carry over into activity on your product.
- Webinars educate people, and the more you give away in terms of educational value the more visitors will reciprocate in different ways.
- A webinar can end with a special promotion of some kind for your product and this can drive traffic to your product.
- A webinar can be done in conjunction with another company so that you can benefit from their audience learning about your product for maybe the first time.
Unbounce hosts something called “unwebinars.” Above is one they did with Joanna Wiebe in order to benefit from her expertise and her audience.
Conferences may feel like a very non-growth-hacker way to get traffic, but that’s just because you’re not thinking of it creatively enough. A conference presentation may pull in a few more visitors to your product, but not many, and the amount of preparation required is very high. However, a conference presentation creates a number of by-products which can be used to pull in visitors more effectively.
If you’re presenting at a conference then you probably have a slide deck. This deck can be uploaded to slideshare.com and now you have a left over piece of collateral that can easily be shared, and it will bring people into you product for the foreseeable future. Sildeshare.com is a social network in it’s own right, and you would do well to invest in it.
Many conferences will record your presentation, and this will allow you to put it on your company blog, upload it to YouTube, place it in email signatures, or use it during a drip email campaign.
Besides the by-products of a presentation, here are some other things to keep in mind:
Why did Steve Jobs do presentations? Because they’re are powerful. If you have the gift of gab, and can command an audience, then sometimes a few moments on stage can create a number of traffic sources for your product. Remember, growth hackers are right-brained and left-brained. Sometimes the ROI is fuzzy, but that doesn’t mean it is non-existent.
Rand Fishkin, the CEO of Moz, has over 60 slideshares, and they have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, creating countless new visitors for his product at Moz.com.
In a sense, all the tactics we’ve covered so far are incredible from an SEO point of view. As you create content of various kinds (blogs, podcasts, ebooks, whitepapers, guides, infographics, webinars, slide decks, video/audio presentations) then the search engines are going to realize that you are an authority on your topic of choice, and you’ll rank high for certain keywords. However, there are really two kinds of SEO strategies. I call them content and code.
By virtue of creating content, even if you don’t know how SEO works, you will be optimizing for it. Just keep producing and you’ll be using SEO to your advantage even if you don’t know what an algorithm is.
There are also things you can do at the code level which enable a solid SEO strategy. Are your links seo optimized with keywords? Are H1 tags properly labeled. Do you use Schema.org tags for specific kinds of content? Do you have an up-to-date site map?
If you can use both content and code to your advantage then this is obviously the best case scenario. However, even if you can’t do both, you should do at least one or the other. Search engines are still the primary way we navigate the internet, and to ignore this simple truth is very unwise. SEO is important, and for many businesses it’s the primary way they gain traffic at the top of their funnel.
Udemy is experimenting with creating transcripts of their courses, just for the sake of SEO. Considering that their courses usually cost money then SEO must be important for them to give away some of the content for free in the form of text.
One of the ways to gain traffic at the top of your funnel is through social media (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc.). There are actually so many spammy ways to do this that first I feel the need to tell you what not to do.
- Don’t follow and unfollow people on a social network just to get their attention if you don’t intend to actually have some kind of relationship with them.
- Don’t buy followers of any kind. They aren’t your market. They can’t amplify your message. They are a waste of money.
- Don’t bother people. Ask yourself what kind of pings you would like to receive if you were in their shoes.
Here are some tips to help you bring in traffic to the top of your funnel using social media:
- Engage with people who might actually use your product. Know your demographic.
- Provide value at every chance. Answer questions. Give advice. Help them in some way. Don’t just take, but also be a giver.
- Become a hub of interesting content, whether you produce it or not. If you gain a reputation as a great curator of content then people will pay attention to your posts and tweets simply because of your track record (even though you actually didn’t produce anything yourself).
- Social media is a marathon, not a sprint. Social media usually will not give you massive traffic instantly. In fact, you should actually underestimate what follower counts and like counts represent. Even if someone with 100k followers retweets you it probably won’t give you much new traffic unless your demographics are perfectly aligned (but even then I’d be skeptical).
- Social media is as much about customer support as anything else. Surprisingly, this can be a tool for new traffic. As people watch your stellar customer support happening in public then they will be more apt to try your product themselves.
- Use social media to amplify all the content you created in tactics 1-8. Social media works great in conjunction with other tactics.
- Like everything, creativity can open up new possibilities. Skittles once made their entire homepage a Twitter feed of a search for the word Skittles. They received countless mentions of Skittles on Twitter that day, and the internet collectively paid attention to their ingenious ploy.
Here is the Skittles homepage showing every mention of the word Skittles. This is very brave and very creative.
Contests are an awesome way to drive new traffic to your product. A lot of people are actually unaware of how well contests work. Ever heard of AppSumo? Want to know how they grew an email list to over 700k emails? They started with contests. Ever heard of AirBNB? Want to know what they started doing this week to drive new traffic to their product? They started promoting a contest. Contests are good for small companies and big companies alike, so here are a few of things to remember as you create a contest:
- Give away prizes that are meaningful to your audience. Every contest shouldn’t include a free iPad. Give them something that represents you. As an example, if you are AirBNB then give away free housing (which they are). This is important because if you are capturing their email address as a part of the giveaway then you don’t want a junk list that doesn’t represent your demographic. Just giving away iPads will give you an unqualified list, and you will have difficulty moving them through your funnel.
- Giveaway experiences, not just goods and services. What do you think someone will remember more, an iPad or a trip to some awesome destination to see their favorite band? They might cost about the same, but the impact could be drastically different. As an example, if you work for Uber, then giveaway a ride with some celebrity in an Uber cab. Now that’s an experience.
- Have prizes for at least first, second, and third place. People want to feel like they have a chance of winning, and if you only have a grand prize then they might not play along.
- Give them more entries to win the contest based on how much they give you in exchange. For an email address they get one entry. If they share a friend’s email address with you they get two more entries. For a retweet they might get three more entries. You get the point. Help them increase their chances of winning the more they grow your list and promote your product.
- Run the contest long enough to gain some traction. Consider running it for a month. Anything less and you might not get enough entries to make the ROI work.
- Make a big deal when you announce the winner and use this occasion as another event that generates noise online, and potentially traffic.
AppSumo is still running contests to this day. They found something that worked so why should they stop? Also, notice how experiential their prize is.
One of the channels for gaining new visitors which has arisen in the past few years is marketplaces. The Apple App Store is a marketplace. The Google Play Store is a marketplace. There are actually two kinds of app marketplaces, and they are different.
B2C APP MARKETPLACES
If your company made an app for a consumer then you’ll probably be in a B2C app store like the Apple App Store. Here are some things to keep in mind if you are trying to get new users through this method:
- Reviews matter immensely. Do whatever is necessary to not get bad reviews in the first place, and try to get people to change their reviews after they’ve left a bad one.
- Screenshots are a window into your app so make them perfect. If you don’t visually entice people you can’t pull them in.
- Think about your app’s name carefully. Will it be easy to search for and easy to find.
- You cannot rely on the marketplaces alone for new traffic. There are simply too many apps now and you are a needle in a haystack. You must use the other tactics in this book also.
B2B APP MARKETPLACES
If your product can be used for businesses then you might consider this relatively new kind of marketplace. Companies like Salesforce or Mailchimp now have their own marketplace for apps that integrate with their product. Here are some helpful tips concerning B2B app marketplaces.
- These marketplaces are less crowded so they are easier to stand out in.
- B2B marketplaces are apt to promote your product on their blog, in an email blast, or other ways, if you just ask them.
- Sometimes B2B marketplaces will even pay you to build an integration with their product. Shopify recently had a fund that they used for this very purpose.
- As with consumer marketplaces, reviews and screenshots matter, so don’t skimp on these.
- You can include a “coming soon” in your description on these marketplaces which will list upcoming products that you will also integrate with. This is a great way to be found more easily on the B2B search engine since you will have a number of products listed in your description as keywords (this was one of the tactics that Wishery used, and they were eventually purchased).
The AppExchange is Salesforce’s B2B app marketplace.
In the aftermath of Groupon’s rise (and slow demise) there have been a number of deal sites created in their wake. For many niches there is a deal site which has a substantial email list and is willing to promote your product. The arrangement with these companies is usually pretty straight forward. You provide a discount to their audience, and in exchange they provide you with distribution. This is a quick way to get traffic, and given how easy it is to set up this kind of relationship it’s worth trying. Another unexpected side benefit of these deal sites is the number of people who will purchase your product at full price even though they came from the deal site. The internet is a strange place and this will happen more than you would guess.
Mighty Deals is a niche deal site that serves designers. It would be worth it to see if you can find a deal site for your niche.
LOPA (LEVERAGE OTHER PEOPLE’S AUDIENCE)
Although this is built into many of the tactics already covered I still wanted to talk about LOPA explicitly. Basically, building an audience is incredibly hard. So if you can find any way to leverage someone else’s audience then you will be taking advantage of a traffic shortcut. Guest blogging is a form of LOPA. Guest podcasting is a form of LOPA. Even marketplaces are a form of LOPA. Here are some other ways that you can take advantage of LOPA:
- Create a giveaway for a specific blog that has your demographic as their audience.
- Reach out to group leaders on Meetup.com that run communities that could use your product, and ask them if they’d tell their group about you.
- Offer free accounts to thought leaders in your industry and if they have a great experience they will share it with their audience.
- There are literally too many possibilities of LOPA to even begin listing them all. If you are creative enough you will always have new opportunities for LOPA.
It may not seem like growth hacking at first glance, but ads are definitely a place to hack the distribution of your product. Sure, if you just purchase ads without a strategy, void of creativity, doing nothing to gain an edge, and ignore the process of multivariate testing, then you will be like everyone else (and it probably wouldn’t be considered growth hacking). But that’s not what we’re going to do. Here are some things you must keep in mind as you approach this push tactic:
UNDERSTAND YOUR AD PLATFORM OPTIONS
There are many different ways to purchase ads. Most people assume that there is just Facebook, Google, and Twitter, but there are so many more. You can also purchase ads on LinkedIn, which would make a lot of sense if you’re selling to corporate customers. There are niche ad networks such as Carbon (carbonads.net) or The Deck (decknetwork.net), both of which will allow you to target specific verticals. There is BuySellAds (buysellads.com) which allows you to purchase website banner ads, tweets, newsletter sponsorships, RSS includes, and even spots on mobile apps. There is a relatively new ad network that just focuses solely on email sponsorships called LaunchBit (launchbit.com). There is even a solution called Trada (trada.com) that will crowdsource the purchasing of your paid advertising and only take a cut if they exceed your goals. If you want to focus exclusively on mobile users then you can advertise using Tapjoy (tapjoy.com).
Here is a screenshot of Carbon, a niche ad platform.
Here is a screenshot of BuySellAds, one of the generic ad platforms.
This doesn’t even include the platforms that focus on retargeting. Retargeting gives you the ability to track users to your site and show your ads only to those people as they browse around the internet. Now, even your ads can be pre-qualified. If this sounds magical it’s because it is magical. In this space alone you have a number of platforms like AdRoll (adroll.com), Perfect Audience (perfectaudience.com), and Retargeter (retargeter.com).
Here is a screenshot of AdRoll, which was named the #1 advertising company by Inc. Magazine.
There has been an explosion of ad networks over the last few years. Some would argue we have too many ways to purchase ads. This can be a good thing if you are willing to investigate the options to find the ones that meet your needs.
LEARN THE TECHNICAL
DETAILS OF YOUR CHOSEN PLATFORM
Once you’ve found an ad platform that meets your specific needs then it will be imperative that you learn the technical details of their offering. The difference between making money or losing money could easily be the difference between knowing the technicalities or not. The most complicated and advanced platform is probably Google AdWords, and it could easily take months to truly master their product, but most of the other options can be learned in a weekend with a high degree of proficiency.
BUYING ADS IS A BUSINESS MODEL COMPETITION
It’s always hard to know how much you should spend for a single click, or for a set of impressions, but the answer is actually a factor of your business model. If you are targeting the same audience as another company, but your business model is more efficient and your LTV is higher, then you can afford to pay more for the traffic without going upside down. The best thing you can do to win customers using ads is to have a great business model. It’s almost an unfair advantage because no amount of tips or tricks can overcome this one stronghold. If you can pay twice as much to acquire a customer then you have a very defensible strategy.
CONSIDER THE VARIOUS PERSONAS OF YOUR CUSTOMER
Your customers can probably be reached using various platforms. For instance, they are more than likely on Facebook and LinkedIn. You must then decide which persona they are utilizing when they want a product like yours. When someone is on Facebook they are thinking about friends and family. They are looking at photos of other people’s experiences. When people are on LinkedIn they are thinking about climbing the corporate ladder and how networking with others can help them reach their goals. If your product is for project management in agile environments then I wouldn’t choose Facebook, even though technically you could reach your demographic there. Yes, they would see your ad, but their mindset would be incorrect because you are introducing yourself to them in the wrong place. Always think about the persona your customers exhibit while using your particular product before choosing an ad platform.
CIRCUMVENT THE AD NETWORKS WHEN POSSIBLE
This tactic may not scale easily, but it is still well worth mentioning. You could go to BuySellAds (or other places) and buy banner ads on a particular blog that your audience reads. However, if you cut out the middleman (BuySellAds) and go directly to the owner of the blog then you can get cheaper rates for two reasons. First, BuySellAds is making a cut of every transaction, so if you go direct that is money that you can recoup without the blog owner losing anything. Second, you are able to negotiate. Very rarely is the lowest price and the advertised price the same thing. You can ask for a lower rate and often close a deal relatively simply.
IF YOU ARE PAYING PER CLICK THEN QUALIFY EVERY CLICK
There are two ways to buy ads. First you can purchase them on a CPM basis, which means you pay for set number of impressions and it doesn’t matter how many clicks they get. Second, you can pay per click and this means that it doesn’t matter how many times your ad appears, you only pay when your ad is clicked. If you are paying per click then you don’t want people to click your ad unless they are seriously interested, because it costs you money every time they do. Luckily, there are things you can do to qualify clicks using the ad itself. Consider putting the price of your product in the copy so that people don’t click unless they are interested in spending money. Also, don’t use emotion to pull them in unless that same emotion will cause them to buy from you. Don’t put a picture of cute cat on your ad, just to get cat lovers to click on it, if your product doesn’t have something to do with cats.
TEST VARIATIONS OF YOUR AD
One of the most fundamental lessons of ads is that you have no idea what your audience will respond to. You have to test multiple versions of the copy, multiple versions of the imagery, and then multiple combinations of the copy and imagery together. The numbers will tell you the truth about which ads you should be running, but your intuition or gut is probably not accurate.
One of the easiest, and free, ways to drive traffic to your site is through cross promotions with other companies. If you find a company who is already serving your target demographic, and you wouldn’t be considered a threat to them, then there are plenty of ways that you could coordinate to promote each other. Here are some ideas to help you brainstorm possibilities:
SWAP FACEBOOK POSTS
Each company writes a post on their Facebook page about the other company.
DEDICATED EMAIL SWAP
Each company send out an entire email about the other company.
AD SPACE SWAP
Each company allows the other company to place a banner ad on their website or blog.
PRE-ROLL VIDEO SWAP
Each company gives away video ad space to the other company.
Each company promotes a giveaway from the other company on their blog.
Another way to push people toward your site is by hiring affiliates. This is an arrangement where you pay someone every time they reach a certain goal for you, like getting a visitor to your site, or activating a member. An affiliate might use many of the tactics in this book, but you are paying them to do it instead of worrying about it yourself. Here are a few things to know if you are going to use this tactic:
THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT THE INCENTIVES
If you give an affiliate $100 for every new signup, but there is no clause that says the new signup has to stick around for a certain number of months, then you could find yourself in a situation with misaligned incentives. The affiliate would be rewarded for getting you low quality customers that cancel quickly because it doesn’t affect their profit either way. Create a system where the affiliate only benefits if you benefit.
DON’T ROLL YOUR OWN AFFILIATE SOLUTION
There are a number of products that will allow you to easily get up and running on the technical side of creating an affiliate system, and on the acquisition side of finding affiliates to promote your product. There are products like Commission Junction (cj.com) that will connect you with affiliates, and products like DirectTrack (directtrack.com) or Omnistar (osiaffiliate.com) that actually track affiliate payouts.
Here is a screenshot of Commission Junction, a juggernaut in the affiliate space.
VET EVERY NEW AFFILIATE EARLY ON
When someone becomes an affiliate for you then they are representing your business to some extent. The tactics they use, the language they employ, and their general style, is a reflection on you. They may not be an employee, but they will be the front of your brand for the people they reach. Choose your affiliates very carefully.
I’m going to be honest, this is a hard one to categorize as a growth hacking tactic, but it is a way to get traffic at the top of the funnel so I would be remiss to completely ignore it. Direct sales teams do not work for every kind of product, but in some cases it is a worthwhile tactic. AppStack (appstack.com), a startup that creates mobile websites in conjunction with mobile ads for local businesses, was able to grow revenues to over 50k a month in a relatively short amount of time, and their primary strategy was direct telephone sales. I use them as an example because it’s hard to imagine a startup using this method, but some of them do, and it actually can work.
Here is a screenshot of AppStack, a startup that gained initial traction through direct sales.
THE PRODUCT TACTIC!
We now live in a world where many people have already compiled their social networks in various places. We have a group of friends on Facebook. We follow people on Twitter. We are connected to business relationships on LinkedIn. We have a list of email addresses in Gmail. We have the phone numbers of friends and family in our mobile phones. The first product tactic that we’ll discuss for getting visitors hinges on our ability to use pre-existing, pre-defined, networks of relationships to our advantage.
If you are building a mobile app then you are basically a few clicks away from permission to message their entire phone book about your app. We don’t usually think of a phone book as a social network, but it might be our most intimate network of relationships. Umano, a new service that provides the ability to listen to popular online articles, utilizes this tactic. They prompt you to share with friends after using their service a couple of times, or you can do so from the settings menu (below). Notice how they preselect everyone for you, and you have to either manually deselect people or “unselect all.” This is a common practice for many of the network invitation tactics. It is also worth noting that you can call or text with access to a phone number, so this gives you a few options on how to message people once you’ve gained permission. There might also be email addresses associated with a phone number that you can also access.
Another network which people have already developed, that we can use to our advantage, is their email contacts. This was much more popular a few years ago, but variations of it are still possible. LinkedIn allowed you to import your email addresses, which they would subsequently message, and this jump started their initial traffic.
Besides phone books and email contacts, the third kind of network that we can leverage is social contacts. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and more, are all networks where we’ve created a social graph. We have existing relationships which can be invited to a new product. It’s difficult to target every social network because people probably won’t give you access to all of them, but one can be enough. Focus also helps you make technical decisions about your own product. If you know that you are going to use Facebook as the primary social network for inviting new users into your product then this might cause you to use Facebook Connect as your product login. This means that it will be fewer clicks on the end user, and less friction, when you ask them to invite their Facebook friends later. Below is the example from the Facebook developer documentation of what a friend invitation screen looks like.
Social sharing, as defined here, is not about explicitly inviting people into your product via their established connections or friends. This tactic is more about allowing anyone to talk about your product on their social network for whoever may be reading it. For instance, instead of asking someone to invite their Facebook friends to use your product, you instead allow them to easily post something to their Facebook feed about your product. If they have a public profile then this can be seen by anyone, not only their friends. The most prevalent example of this is seen in popular blogs. The Next Web (seen below) prominently displays the ability to share each and every post with your social connections in various places.
Most social networks have code snippets that you can copy and paste into your product to make this kind of social sharing extremely easy. There are also solutions that combine all the popular social sharing options into a single interface. Flare, by Filament (shown below), is a simple, lightweight solution for social sharing that is coming out soon.
Although it may not be obvious at first, another thing to keep in mind when implementing a social sharing strategy is to consider where your traffic naturally comes from. If you get most of your inbound traffic from Twitter, but you only allow people to share your product on Facebook then you are missing an easy opportunity. Make sure that people can share your product in the places that are most likely to bring you back more inbound visitors. This will have a compounding effect.
The next step, beyond social sharing, is to actually integrate your product with an existing social network at the API level. Instead of just asking them to share, you can actually bake sharing into the experience and make it happen in the background without forcing the user to give you permission each time. A great example of this is Spotify. It’s no secret that Spotify heavily used Facebook to grow their product, and they did so through an API integration. Once you login to Spotify using Facebook Connect and give Spotify the needed access, then your activity on their service is automatically published to your Facebook feed, and it’s also published inside of the Spotify app to anyone that you are connected with on Facebook. Below is a screenshot of the Spotify app, notifying me of new users who are also connected to me on Facebook, and another screenshot showing notifications within Facebook itself of my friend’s listening habits. These are done completely in the background, which creates frictionless sharing that can only really happen through an API integration.
Another example of this tactic is the Nike+ API integration with Path and Facebook. Everytime I go for a run and track it using the Nike+ app on my phone, then the data about my run is pushed to Path and Facebook, so that my friends can see my activity. Friends can even cheer me on from within Path or Facebook which will trigger an applause sound as I run. This is borderline genius. Below you can see my Nike+ app asking me to share on Path, and on the right you can see the results being published to my Path friends. Again, this it totally seamless. Once I set it up initially it does this automatically.
API integrations, despite their incredible upside, are not 100% stable. As certain products become extremely popular, and gain momentum on existing social network, then it is not entirely uncommon for exposure to be throttled. Facebook, for instance, has the incentive to give you access to their platform. This keeps them in a dominant position if many developers use them. However, Facebook does not have incentive to give you the complete social graph of their billion users. If you start to have too much success with an API integration then you can’t count on the rules staying the same for you.
On a similar note, API integrations are great as a way to growth hack your product, but the more you intertwine your product with a 3rd party service, the more at risk you are. Twitter is a great example of this. Many companies were built on the Twitter API, but then Twitter changed the number of API calls allowed. This left many Twitter clients without a backup plan. Use APIs to grow your product, but be wary that the API doesn’t become your product.
One of the first examples of product growth hacking actually used the backlink tactic. When Hotmail first came out they did something that was simple, but which would drastically change their trajectory. They included a link at the bottom of emails that were sent using their service that said “Get your free email at Hotmail.” A viral loop was born.
This tactic is still being used to this day. A modern example is found in services that allow you to embed a popup on your website for various reasons. Notice the backlinks in the screenshots below. Widgets of any kind are good candidates for backlinks.
Certain products lend themselves easily to creating incentives for users to bring new people into the product. The classic example of this is Dropbox. They have a number of incentives that they offer users for various actions that they can take. This tactic works especially well if you have something which is of low cost to you, but of high value to users. In Dropbox’s case, they use storage space like a currency because the exchange rate is in their favor. Storage is not that expensive, but getting new users is very valuable to them. The user is in the opposite situation. Storage space is valuable to them, and their contacts don’t seem that valuable. This makes for a perfect storm.
It’s worth cautioning that many startups, in an attempt to imitate Dropbox, have been frustrated with their inability to pull off the incentive tactic. Their product might not have much intrinsically to offer their users as incentives. Also, notice that Dropbox goes beyond just giving away storage for friend invitations, but they also give away storage for actions that will help you understand their product. Educated users churn less.
As much as technology within the product can spread the product, there is something that can be even more effective, organic word of mouth. Organic word of mouth is when someone shares your product, online or offline, in ways that you didn’t orchestrate. They are compelled to tell people whether you incentivized them or not. Organic communication can’t be measured, and it can’t be controlled, but it can be a force that propels your product forward. You can’t make someone share your product organically with their coworkers or friends and family, but you can do certain things to make it more probable.
- Simple products spread organically
- Beautiful products spread organically
- Pain relieving products spread organically
- Products that make people look cool spread organically
- Emotional products spread organically
- Fun products spread organically
- Unique products spread organically
- Surprising products spread organically
You can’t be all these things, but you must be one of these things, or you probably don’t have a chance of spreading organically.
CONCLUDING THOUGHTS ON GETTING TRAFFIC
Now that we’ve talked about all three ways of getting visitors into the top of the growth hacker funnel (pull, push, product), here are some final thoughts to keep in mind:
GETTING TRAFFIC IS A RECIPE,
NOT A SINGLE INGREDIENT
Imagine that you start to bake a cake, but you decide that you are going to include only one ingredient and leave out all the others. It would be a cake of pure sugar, or pure butter, or pure flour, and it wouldn’t taste that great. Getting traffic is similar. Most products you will have multiple ingredients that come together to create a traffic recipe. It might be a mixture of 2 pull tactics, 3 push tactics, and 1 product tactic. It might be 0 pull tactics, 1 push tactic, and 4 product tactics. It would be nice if there was a silver bullet for every product, and once you found that one ingredient you could ignore everything else, but that’s not the way it usually works in reality.
GETTING TRAFFIC IS A RECIPE THAT IS ALWAYS CHANGING
As you begin to learn how you can get traffic to your product you may be tempted to settle in and stop trying new things. You may assume that what is working today will always work. This is not wise. The recipe that is working for you today will probably change and morph over time. It may not be different tomorrow, but it will definitely be different in 6 months. Growth hackers who master getting traffic are never too comfortable.
DON’T JUST COPY THE TRAFFIC RECIPES OF OTHER STARTUPS
It’s so tempting to just do what everyone else is doing, but your startup is unique. It has unique personnel, unique advantages, unique disadvantages, unique customers, and it should have a unique game plan for getting traffic. Copying other startups is nearsighted. Learn to create your own recipe for growth. It will taste better that way.
Be sure to read the entire guide as it will help activate, and retain customers, and give you helpful tools, all provided by Neil Patel and Bronson Taylor