Ever heard of growth hacking? This method of fueling new user growth is only a few years old, but it has already influenced a vast amount of online marketing and web development. If you want to customize your strategy for high growth in short order, read on.
The Start of Growth Hacking
Let’s take a quick trip back to 2010, when advisor and disruptive business expert Sean Ellis created the phrase “growth hacking.” Ellis’ specialty was swiftly increasing the user base of new online companies, then moving on. When setting up succession plans, Ellis coined the term to describe exactly the kind of process that could guarantee growth in the future as well.
The growth hacker is, at heart, a hybrid specialist. They understand both the technical aspects of creating a website—coding in particular—as well as marketing strategies and brand building. The end goal is always to quickly increase the number of customers or visitors in as healthy a way as possible. Growth hacking uses quantitative results as a primary tool, putting numbers to the fuzzier parts of branding and finding the shortest path to results.
The Benefits of Growth Hacking
“Wait a minute,” you may be saying, “Growth hacking just sounds like common SEO tools and analytics we use these days. Doesn’t it offer anything new?” Growth hacking certainly helped grow the current understanding of SEO and marketing analytics into what it is today, and that hybrid of coding, content, and brand campaign is now more common than ever thanks to growth hackers.
However, the true value of growth hacking comes in the way it forces new thinking onto businesses stuck in a rut. Here are several important types of new thinking that the growth hacking movement encourages:
- Start-up Online Companies Need the Numbers: There’s an early phase of growth that most online companies experience when they desperately need a strong customer base and brand vision. This is often the time when growth hacking proves most necessary—when startups are looking for their key growth phase and where rapid jumps in sales will put them on the map…without breaking their smaller budgets. Growth hackers prove their value in times like these.
- New Channels Come with New Rules: Growth hacking helps businesses look at online channels the right way, allowing them to understand the new rules that such channels play by…and what opportunities they present. Online, products and brands are more complex creatures that can tap into social energy, cloud technology, and more, all at the same time. An example is the product offering made by Dropbox (where Sean Ellis also worked for a time) that promised free cloud storage for those who invited their friends to Dropbox—essentially, a product that grew with online sharing. A more common example would be a contest for the best product photos, which also allows contestants’ friends to vote and share the photos. Brands, in other words, can sell themselves. The goal of growth hacking is finding out how.
- The Internet Has “Hacking Points”—and They’re Always Shifting: The popular example of this is the case study of AirBnB in its early growth phase. The company famously (or perhaps infamously) used Craigslist to advertise its services. It did this by integrating Craigslist posting with its profile services. Fill in the details of your extra bedroom on AirBnB’s site, and you had the option to automatically post the information on Craigslist as well. It wasn’t a service that Craigslist offered – AirBnB has to use some serious coding skills to build a tool that would correctly autofill and post a Craigslist ad with the information users provided. This spread AirBnB links on a popular site filled with people searching for precisely the services the company provided. It was a resounding success.
The point here is that the Internet has these hacking points (a cynic might call them weak points or vulnerabilities, but they are more like opportunities) available for those who can find them. And these points shift—by now Craigslist has rearranged its own code to help prevent further AirBnB-like integration from other companies. This is a common scenario: Channels wax and wane in popularity, new services attract brief but useful attention, and media or memes rise and fall in the eye of the consumer.
Wondering when your best hacking points are no longer useful? Andrew Chen has a theory called The Law of Shitty Clickthroughs, which states that eventually all marketing strategies devolve into poor results. In other words, your oldest campaigns may be your worst: Start with those.
Identify Potential Growth Hackers in Your Organization
As Quicksprout relates in its growth hacking guide, the number one myth about the role is that you have to be a programmer to become a growth hacker. This isn’t true: Growth hackers can start as marketers or programmers. The key is being able to understand both sides at the same time. This is a rare skill, so it’s smart to start by locating the people who have a talent with both web development and branding. If your business is small you may not be sure you have the magic combination. That’s okay: Focus instead on creating a team with the right mix of skills, then work on smooth communication.
Pick Up More Analytics
Analytics are typically at the heart of growth hacking opportunities. Considering adding or augmenting your analytic tools to focus more on growth hacking and increasing those customer base numbers. Remember, analytics should also serve at the behest of great marketing ideas, so don’t lose sight of creativity.
The web is chock full of analytic tools and services to pick from, but it’s best to start with something simple. For example, upgrade your Google Analytics with the popular KISSmetrics service to take a closer look at your data. If you use Google Analytics, check out this blog post and get your website upgraded to Universal Google Analytics.
Locate those Hacking Opportunities
Find online “hacking points” that relate directly to your company. How can you tie your product or website automatically into channels like YouTube or Twitter? What twist can you make on your content that would encourage readers to share it instead of just reading it? From revolutionary new takes on payment options to new local SEO tags, don’t be afraid to search for these weak spots. Brainstorm and refine to locate the perfect opportunities…and ask your coders about ideas you may not have considered!
Brainstorming can be hard. If you want a list of ideas to start with, check out the tactics that The Next Web suggests, such as select use of paid acquisition, or new sales teams. These are good jumping-off points into the search for a specific hacking point. You may also want to visit Growthhackers.com for other idea lists. Check out this interesting Quora Discussion on How Did Udemy Get 5,000 Courses Online So Quickly?
Growth Hacking for SEO
What most mainstream SEO websites and articles talk about is very different from what start-ups do for their Search Engine Optimization. In addition, most SEO companies focus on rankings & Google Analytics traffic reports, not user growth and revenue. Start-ups that use SEO effectively build scalable infrastructure that applies to tens of thousands or millions of pages and the use brand aligned influencers to promote their message. Successful growth hacking SEO often involves swinging for the fences as it relates to web development, content development, and online promotions. It really helps if the concept is cool and is an innovative take in a growing niche.
Get Feedback from Your Customers
Find out what customers think of your attempts. Look at what they find annoying, what they find attractive, and what needs to change. You don’t want your work to look like spam, but you also don’t want to spend too long in the design phase.
Want to learn more? Join the Linked In Growth Hacking group!