So you’re a startup or a small company. You’ve made it through tough early stages of establishing yourself as a company, but you’re not through the woods yet. Maybe far from it. On the contrary, you’ve reached the point in your company’s life where you need people to find out about you. You’ve proven (at least to yourself) that your product is a solution, a solution that people will be willing to pay for. The only problem is getting your brilliant solution to the masses.
Actually there is another problem. Seeing as you are a young company, your budget isn’t nearly as limitless as you would like it to be. So you’re in a bit of a jam. Traditional marketing would have you test and analyze to figure out what method (Facebook ads, etc) would result in the lowest cost of acquisition per user. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With growth hacking, you can increase your company’s growth without spending a dime (or at least not nearly as much as you normally would).
Although growth hacking is a buzzword that’s been around Silicon Valley for a fair amount of time, it’s still a fairly new concept that many people do not understand. Because of this, I’m going to start off this conversation by quickly clarifying what I mean by growth hacking.
A growth hacker is an individual (sometimes with programming skills, sometimes not), whose sole focus is achieving growth for the company, through whatever means possible—sometimes non-traditional ways. This individual seeks to defy the laws of traditional marketing, and ultimately acquire new users for the best price–free. Hence the name “growth hacker.” Now that we’ve defined what our little friend does, let’s examine some of the methods that he typically uses to achieve his goals.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. This means that your company produces content which is ranked highly by Google’s search algorithm. This content usually comes in the form of blog posts, infographics, etc. Content is then ranked by Google by the keywords you list. The Google Adwords Keyword tool is a great help when it comes to determining which keywords are optimal. It’s best to look for a high number of monthly searches combined with low competition. This means users commonly look for that key word or key phrase and the competition from other high quality content is fairly low. Content that is ranked highly by the search algorithm will appear on the first page, or within the first couple of search pages, greatly enhancing the chances that Google users find your blog, read your content, and consequently reach your website, where the work, time, and attention to detail you poured into constructing your website should go a long way towards making the sale (more on this in a later point).
This strategy does not encourage you to pump out hundreds of blog posts in hopes of flooding the Internet and increasing your SEO. In fact, this will achieve the opposite effect, as readers will learn to associate your blog and therefore your company with low quality. Another good way to achieve higher exposure and SEO is by reaching out to respected bloggers and asking them for guest blogging opportunities. A good method of going about this is by emailing them and politely requesting a guest blogging opportunity, along with samples of your work. As long as you produce good posts, this should be no problem. Who can turn down free content?
2) Site Construction
Your website is the virtual face of your company, and what customers will mentally associate your brand with. A high quality website associates your business with attention to detail and beauty, reliability, and a high level of competence. Of course this is common knowledge, and not a growth hack.
A real growth hack would be a minute detail that is normally ignored that actually contributes enormously to increased sales. A real growth hack would be something like paying attention to the colors used on a website to determine the elicited emotional response on a viewer and ensuring that page loading speed remains under 2 seconds. Regarding the psychological effects of colors, Buffer did an excellent in depth analysis of Why Facebook is Blue. Keeping the load time of your site’s pages under two seconds results in a dramatic increase in conversion rate from site visitors to customers, as demonstrated on Kissmetrics here.
3) Product Integration
By product integration I mean piggy-backing off of the traffic of more established companies in order to make your service more easily discoverable. Some famous examples are AirBnB and Craigslist, Zynga and Facebook, and Paypal and Ebay.
The articles themselves will describe each case study in further detail, but to summarize, the companies that were just starting out (AirBnb, Zynga, and Paypal) all managed to find clever ways to incorporate their service into the service of the already established company. That way anytime a Craigslist, Facebook, or Ebay user went online, they would also stumble upon and use AirBnb, Zynga, and Paypal. As a word of caution, growth hackers looking to exploit this technique should adopt a mindset of trying to craft a mutually beneficial relationship, or else risking becoming a corporate leech. Done correctly however, product integration can result in massive user growth with minimal cost.
4) Viral Loops
If achieved properly, this is by far the most effective growth hack. A viral loop is when a company achieves a viral coefficient of at least 1. What that means is that for each user that stumbles upon the product, they share it with at least one other person. A viral coefficient of less than one would eventually result in no growth, as the sharing would decrease until growth stagnated. However, any viral coefficient of one or more is an incredible thing, as that means your company will see your user base proliferate with absolutely no spending.
This is known as a viral loop. Some companies that have ridden the viral loop to widespread use are Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, to name a few. Unfortunately this kind of growth hack is very difficult to achieve, otherwise everybody would have a billion dollar company. However, there are actions you can take to make your service as viral loop compatible as possible. Then who knows what can happen?
Here’s what you can do. Make the entry to your service as frictionless as possible. By this I mean make it as easy as humanly possible to sign up for whatever it is you’re offering. Reduce the number of information boxes a user has to fill out in order to make an account. Get creative. Then, once they’ve tried out your amazing product, they’ve obviously going to want to share it with all of their friends right? Make this as easy as possible too by displaying share buttons around your site. Better yet, throw in some rewards for sharing like free features, t-shirts/swag, or a % discount. They were already going to share it, and now they get prizes too? Wow your company is awesome. A good referral program can go a long way towards boosting your user base.
5) Retention Techniques
Say you’ve reached the point where you’re starting to see a steady influx of new users. However, your growth isn’t skyrocketing as you’d expected. This may be because you’ve got a leaky bucket. If you’re trying to fill your bucket with water (users for your service), and you discover that your bucket has a little hole in the bottom, the answer is not to increase the rate at which you accumulate water in your bucket. This will definitely give you the mirage that the problem is fixed, but headaches could be avoided by patching up the hole in your bucket.
User retention may not seem like a growth hack to many, but an important key to steady rapid growth is retention. After all, what’s the user in acquiring new users if they’re just going to leave after a short amount of time? Think about it this way: everybody loves flings, but the true gem of life is marriage. (Not indicative at all of my views on marriage, used only for analogous purposes).
Retention ties right into trying to fashion a viral loop for your company. The easier you make it for users to start using your service, and the easier the experience itself is, the more likely that A) that user will continue to use your service, and B) that user will want their friends, family, and pets to use your service. The techniques involved with retention are slightly different from those involved with trying to achieve a viral loop.
One main focus for those working on retention would be to implement an unbeatable new user experience. We’ve all had those experiences, where we find a service that seems so useful, but when we start using it, it is just so incredibly hard to figure out that it’s not worth our time. Don’t let your company experience that pitfall. Take examples like Twitter and Quora. These services include step-by-step tutorials on how to use the service, and strong recommend that you “follow” topics/people so that their service adds value into your life from the moment that you start using it. Put yourself in the shoes of your users. What would get you to stay?
Meetup is an easy way to meet people in the interest groups you’re looking for. Find meetups where your customers may be and GO! This is an easy way to tell them about your product and learn from their feedback quick and easy, in-person!
Klout is a platform that tells you who is influential in what industry. How can this be useful for you? Go find influential people in your industry through Klout and REACH OUT TO THEM. Give them a free version of your product so they can advocate for you through their huge network if they like it. Little work that can pay off huge.
Reach out to your local press. They’re always looking for stories anyway, and you have a great one. Send emails to writers kindly asking them if they’d write an article about you. But always have a story angle that audiences would want to read. Don’t start on the way top/most popular blog. Establish legitimacy with the smaller/local ones first and then build yourself from there!
What do you think of these growth hack techniques? Is there one that you feel is important that I’ve left out? Share some creative ways that you’ve increased your companies user base. I’d love to discuss in the comments below!