To most people “growth hacking” is a relatively recent and mostly unknown term. The concept, however, has been put into practice for years by some of the top production managers and internet marketers in Silicon Valley. Here, we’ll examine growth hacking in greater detail; focusing on the best strategies, sites and tools commonly used by growth hackers, how to measure results, as well as top resources.
What is Growth Hacking?
While growth hacking as a concept is not exactly new, it wasn’t officially given a name until 2010, when Sean Ellis coined the phrase. Ellis, already known as a “go-to” guy in Silicon Valley for helping companies grow their user base, defined a growth hacker as “a person whose truth north is growth.” A growth hacker is not just another term for a marketer; while their goals are based in marketing, they are driven by product instincts. Crucial to the product marketing team, these professionals usually also possess the coding and other technical skills to directly implement their ideas.
Unlike classic marketing methods, growth hackers look for quick and often unconventional wins and adopt practices from everything from behavioral processes to cross marketing synergy to gamification — growth hackers set about finding the right message to reach users and pull them in.
In short, growth hacking is a strategy used by start-ups (usually) to reach a large audience as quickly as possible. It is generally looked at as a way to hack your marketing so you can accomplish goals faster.
In some cases, it has a negative connotation. I will get into that more later on. It is also important to note that many of the same things done in traditional marketing such as SEO, PR and social media can fall into a growth hacking plan. The main idea, is that growth hacking is a way to get to an online goal quicker.
A YouTube Example Growth Hack for an Agency
So let me give you one example to start. Imagine that a digital agency wants to get new YouTube advertising clients. This would be an example of a growth hack. Now this is simply an example.
- Create a script that crawls YouTube, looks for videos on a specific keyword.
- Script saves information about videos on channels that have less than 100 views and the associated channel website.
- Crawl each of the websites to find contact information, or pull contact information from WhoIs, and then send an email to all the channel owners letting them know you can drastically increase their YouTube views.
- If someone clicks on the link in the email, it takes then to a special offer page.
- That page offers 1,000 free YouTube video views for every person they refer to the agency and 500 YouTube views for each new customer.
This would be an example of a hack the agency could do to acquire more clients.
I am not saying I endorse this, just saying this is an example.
Basic Example Growth Hacking Strategies
Here are a few examples and strategies on growth hacking.
Start a Referral Program
Yes, we all know about referral programs. But yes, this could be a growth hack and the strategy can fall into the growth hacking bucket.
Many online startup companies are setting up referral programs as a quick way to help grow their businesses. It’s a highly successful early strategy that has been used by companies both big and small. Some examples of successful, on-going online referral programs include:
- Dollar Shave Club – a California-based company that delivers personal grooming products by mail – offers a $5 coupon to all referrers
- PetFlow – a New York-based company that delivers pet food by mail – offers $10 store credit for every referrer AND $10 off for the friend who was referred
- NatureBox – a subscription-based healthy snack food delivery service – offers $10 store credit for referrers and $10 off for the referred friend as well
- Sol Republic – an Oregon-based headphone manufacturer – offers 15% off the customer’s next purchase for referrals as well as 15% off for the referred
Referral programs aren’t just employed by small-to-mid-level companies, either; many big online businesses have had great success with them as well. Two of the most famous, and wildly successful, examples of referral programs helping to quickly grow large customer bases are Groupon and Dropbox.
Groupon, being a massive, global-scale coupon web site already has the ability for its customers to share and refer hardcoded into its business model. Groupon realized this very early on, and capitalized on it by encouraging customers to share the deals they encountered on the company’s web site in a variety of ways, including:
- Spreading the word on deals that require a set number of people to sign up
- Sharing their deals on social media as soon as the purchase is made
- Daily emails for group deals
- Getting $10 in “Groupon Bucks” for referring a friend
Dropbox was similarly able to use growth hacking techniques to boost their business exponentially in a short amount of time. When the company first launched, they tried the paid ad route that most businesses had stuck by before, and found that the cost of acquiring new customers far outweighed their long term value.
So they chose to look elsewhere for ways to grow quickly, and came up with a wholly unique idea for a referral program of their own: 500MB of free storage space in Dropbox for both the referrer and the referred. It certainly worked – I mean, who wouldn’t want extra FREE online storage space? – and today, Dropbox is one of the most successful subscription-based cloud storage companies operating.
Make it “By Invitation Only”
Most people love the idea of exclusive, “members only” clubs that you need an invitation to join. They feel often times prestigious; giving you a sense of being a part of something special. To be included in one of these exclusive cliques is to is almost like confirmation that you’ve been accepted among your peers. That might sound a little over the top, but it’s hard to argue with the popularity of exclusive invitations – especially as a growth hacking strategy!
Social networks are the most obvious example of this technique at work. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and many others all have almost completely barren home pages that feature quick and simple sign up forms to encourage new users to create accounts; almost as if to say, “Hey, you wanna see all those cool pages all your friends are always talking about? Gotta sign up with us first!”
The strategy works, as each of those sites boast membership numbers in the millions. Facebook is perhaps the most famous example: The site started as an online directory connecting college students, whose invitation aspect came from the requirement of a college .edu email address to join.
Other popular social network sites at the time, including Friendster and MySpace, were open to all to join, but Facebook being “for college students only” not only helped lend them an air of exclusivity, it also helped grow their business rapidly as they moved from college to college, before finally opening their gates to all.
Pinterest is another great example of an Invitation Only strategy paying off handsomely. The site initially used the same low-key sign up form layout approach as other social networks, but with one major difference: Users were encouraged to sign up with their email addresses and were then placed on a waiting list to receive an exclusive invitation to join the site.
Of course, whether there was an actual waiting list to join the site or not is up for debate, but it’s also beside the point; the strategy worked and Pinterest is still going strong.
Otherwise known as “sponsorship deals” IRL, platform hacking is a strategy used by partnering up with another successful company or platform in order to quickly grow your own. YouTube is a pretty famous example of platform hacking put into practice.
When the site was first starting up in 2005, it partnered with the social media juggernaut of the day, MySpace, by agreeing to embed videos on the site without having to pay YouTube costs for hosting. In exchange, YouTube plastered their logo on the embedded videos, along with links back to watch the same content on their site. With this deal in place, YouTube saw a major increase in brand recognition, and soon skyrocketed in popularity.
And it’s not just major companies employing platform hacking tactics to gain more followers quickly – even individual entrepreneurs and “social media stars” are getting in on the action. Many YouTube and Instagram personalities – people who have set up accounts exclusively to promote their personal brand, be it as movie and music industry analysts, amateur food critics, video game streamers, or make-up artist tutorials – happily take on cross promotion deals with major companies when it suits their audience.
Give Away Free Stuff
I mean, who doesn’t love free stuff? People everywhere are up for just about anything if there’s no cost involved, which makes giving something away to new customers perhaps the easiest and quickest way to build up your base. Two of the best examples of companies putting this technique into practice are actually two different email services, Hotmail and Gmail.
When Hotmail launched its web-based email service way back in 1996, it quickly built up a robust customer base in its first month – 20,000 users, to be precise. Rather than adopt a traditional advertising strategy from there though, Hotmail tapped into those customers and added an enticing tagline to the end of each of outgoing their emails: “Get Your Free Email with Hotmail.” As a result, within six months of launching, Hotmail’s base skyrocketed to one million users.
Similarly, when Google unrolled its own premium email service, appropriately dubbed Gmail, in 2004 (which was also by invitation only, at least initially), it enticed new users to queue up for a spot in line by offering an unprecedented 1GB of storage space to new users – 500 times what Hotmail was offering in space at the time.
More Growth Hacking Strategies
These are just a few effective growth hacking strategies that many companies, both big and small, have employed in their unending quests for the most new users in the shortest amount of time.
Of course, deciding on the best course of action for growth hacking your own business can be a bit tricky at first; after all, there are so many possible strategies to try that it can be a bit overwhelming if you don’t know some of the best tools and resources for growth hackers.
Now, not all growth hacking strategies are 100% ethical. There is some grey area. I do not personally condone any of these, but here are a few other things that growth hackers do.
- Pay for positive reviews from top sites, but they do not tell the consumer
- Pay people on social media sites to endorse their product, without disclosing the endorsement
- Pay every day people each time they recommend a product
- Pay people each time someone clicks on a link that they ask them to share, without disclosing the ad
- Scrape email addresses from the Internet and blast offers to them or add them to social media distribution
- Swap email lists with other businesses, not in the same space, and send offers to them
- Putting fake ads on Craiglist, or other websites, to attract people to your website
- Use a tool like Mechanical Turk to get fake app store votes
- Ask questions or make comments on message boards that seem real, but are really just done to get a product noticed
- Create a web crawling to scrape email addresses or addresses to use for marketing
- Create aliases and leave comments about products around the web
The list goes on. In many cases, growth hacking can have a negative connotation. Many of the ones I have listed in the bullets above are examples of the more black-hat growth hacks.
In addition, it should be noted that many of these ” whitehat growth hacks” are the same as what people previously referred to as viral online marketing or interactive campaigns. For example, we often run quizzes on Facebook that attract thousands of people. When people enter the quiz we get their email address. This would be an example of an ethical growth hack to grow email distribution, as we make each of these people opt-in.
Growth Hacking Tools
Now that we have successfully defined the concept of growth hacking your start-up business and identified some of the top strategies used by growth hackers in the past, let’s take a look at some of the tools used to overcome any online marketing challenges budding businesses might face as they start out.
Here, we will briefly examine many of the most popular growth hacking tools on the market, broken up into specific categories for your business.
Before You Launch Your Web Site
Before you even think about pouring your time and money into building a fully featured web site, you will likely want to test out some of the ideas you have for your product, and the best way to do that is with the help of sites like Unbounce and QuickMVP. Both of these sites are a great way to quickly build and validate landing and/or launch pages for your site.
Once your landing page is live, the next step you will want to take is to see how many people might be interested in stopping by to check out what you are offering. The best way to do that quickly would be to drive a little traffic to the page and test it. You can use Google Adwords, Facbook Ads or another form of traffic to make sure you have proof of concept.
Bringing Traffic to Your Site
Okay, so you have validated your product or concept and are ready to start welcoming new visitors to your new site. But how to do that? Luckily, there are a ton of options here for helping you find your customer base and reach out to them, including:
Colibri.IO. This is a great option for finding out where your active customer base is engaged online, so you can smoothly add yourself into the mix and start engaging with them directly. As an added bonus, the site also integrates with Google Analytics.
Nimble. Nimble works by helping you aggregate your contact and email lists, along with any other activities or follow-ups you may have, so that you can more easily manage all of your social networks from one site. It also lets you know when people mention you in a post, so you can easily engage in the conversation as soon you’re notified.
MixRank. Need help finding new customers? MixRank has you covered! The site works to help you find new customers through profitable sales leads and traffic sources that come straight from its vast advertising database.
Pay with a Tweet. Everyone still loves to tweet to their heart’s content, so why not incentivize your customers to spread the word about your product by offering them access once they’ve posted about you on Twitter? You can also post to other social media sites as well, including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.
Click to Tweet. This site works similarly to Pay with a Tweet, with one major difference: You write the messages you want shared yourself. From there it’s a simple matter of generating a custom link, and sharing it with your followers.
Now, there are so many methods for generating traffic. In this section, I just wanted to list a few you have no heard of. If you are looking for more traffic generating strategies, I can help with that. Tweet to me ( @johnelincoln ) or leave a comment here.
Keeping Traffic on your Site
Now that you have successfully managed to bring customers to your site, your next step is to get them to convert. Here are a few tools that can help.
- Bounce Exchange. Having trouble retaining visitors on your site? Bounce Exchange can help you get them to stick around by offering to convert them before they leave; capturing their information as they are about to click that little red X.
- OptinMonster. If you’re running a WordPress-powered site, you might want to take a look at this plug-in, which some subscribers claim has boosted their email subscriber base by over 400% in only a few weeks. The service also provides A/B testing, along with analytics.
- Hello Bar. This is a great, easy-to-use tool that allows you to quickly create a CTA button and a horizontal bar to place it in, right at the top of your site. You can customize your CTA to either drive traffic, collect email information, or direct traffic to your social media channels.
Side note, here wee see the Hello Bar landing page. They have a growth hack in place. See how they ask you to log in with Google? That is because, when you log in they get access to your Google contacts. This turns one small conversion into multiple conversions.
- Scroll Triggered Box. Similar to Hello Bar, this is a simple tool that creates a custom pop up for your page that appears once visitors scroll down to the bottom of the page, asking if they are ready to sign up.
- SessionCam. Ever wanted to watch how your visitors are clicking through your site? SessionCam is a great tool that allows you to do just that – watch recorded sessions of visitors making their way through your site, so that you can easily identify where you might be losing them and what you can do to increase your conversion.
How to Measure Growth Hacking Results
Now that we’ve covered growth hacking strategies and tools, it’s time to look at exactly how one measures the results of their growth hacking endeavors.
Growth hackers are most concerned with determining exactly where and why customers choose to leave your site. Zeroing in on that key area and optimizing it can pay off greatly for your site in the long run, leading to improvements in your conversion rate. But how do you go about finding the problem(s) in the first place?
The Growth Hacking Funnel
The best way to start looking for your trouble areas is with what many growth hackers call funnel analytics. A funnel analysis is used to accurately show you where users are dropping off in your acquisition process, on your web site, when they convert and when you lose them during retention. It’s a series of consecutive steps that is designed to help you turn visitors of your site into full blown customers.
- Get Visitors
- Activate Members
- Retain Users
Each step in this process should have it’s own KPIs and specific strategies associated with it. For example.
Phase 1 (3 months)
- Get Visitors (4,000 visitors a month)
- Activate Members (900 members)
- Retain Users (50% of members are active on a weekly basis)
Resources for Growth Hackers
Let’s take a quick look at some of the top resources available for those interested in learning more about growing their platform as quickly as possible.
Might as well start with the obvious example. Founded by Sean Ellis, the man who coined the term “growth hacking,” growthhackers.com is a great resource learning more useful growth hacking techniques and features the biggest online community for sharing and discussing new ideas.
This is Sean Ellis’ blog, and features a wealth of topics on optimization, acquiring customers, and marketing tools. Definitely worth adding to your RSS feed.
Are you more the “show, don’t tell” type? Prefer to watch video tutorials to reading long, drawn out explanations? Growth Hacker TV has you covered, with over 100 videos dedicated to helping you get the most from your growth hacking experience.
Have questions or comments about Growth Hacking? Feel free to comment below or Tweet to me on Twitter @johnelincoln