In 1996, an email company named Hotmail launched with a small group of users. By the end of 1997, that company had 12 million users. How did they grow so dramatically in just year and a half? Well, they looked at their initial numbers and saw that approximately 80 percent of new users came by referral from current users. To make the most of referrals, Hotmail created their iconic email postscript: “PS. I love you. Get your free email at Hotmail.”
That single line, added at the end of every email sent through Hotmail, drove millions of new users in an ever-widening ripple effect. Hotmail successfully created one of the first documented growth hacks.
Growth hacking is the combination of product design, marketing, and data with the overall goal of driving customer growth. Initially popular among fast-growing startups, the principles of growth hacking have since spread to the wider business world. With a focus on understanding the customer and designing the right product, successful growth hacking drives growth in both the short- and long-term.
So how can you apply a growth hack like Hotmail’s to build your own business? Let’s explore nine innovative and data-driven growth hacks that you can adapt to your own situation.
1. The Webinar Hack
When you’re trying to find potential customers, you don’t just want to reach a massive number of people. In fact, you might not need to reach very many people at all. You just need to find the right people. Unbounce uses a variety of content marketing technique to reach customers. They write a popular blog, produce quality ebooks, and even offer a free email course. But when they started focusing on webinars those quickly became their number one acquisition strategy.
Because webinars offer an urgent incentive (“join before it fills up!”), you can drive significant interest. Once in the webinar, you get the opportunity to provide high-value teaching, which improves the perception of your company. And at the end of the webinar you get a few minutes to explain your product.
2. The Giveaway Hack
AppSumo, a daily deals website focused on digital goods, has been extremely successful at running giveaways to increase their email subscription list. In just 10 months, by 147,973 new subscribers. Since each subscriber resulted in an average of $0.83 gross revenue, that’s a pretty significant marketing campaign. So how did they do it? Simple: They ran a steady stream of targeted giveaways. They gave away Evernote subscriptions, in-person courses, and even MacBook Airs (the MacBooks performed worst!). Some giveaways drove a few subscribers and some drove thousands, but giveaway by giveaway the email list (and bank account) grew steadily.
If you choose the right product and audience, the money you spend on promoting your giveaway should start a chain reaction as current participants share your giveaway with their friends.
3. The Guest Post Hack
When Charlie Hoehn wanted to drive sales for his first published book, he turned to guest posting to reach potential readers. During the first month after publication, Charlie published nearly 20 guest posts and also made guest appearances on a couple of podcasts. The result? He reached nearly a quarter of a million people and sold 2,000 copies. His self-published book landed on the top of its Amazon category. Guest posts are powerful tool that can drive highly targeted visitors to your website.
So how can you do the same thing for your site? Find popular blogs with audiences that match your target customer profile and reach out to the blog author with your proposed guest post. Ultimately, find a blog that is interested in publishing your guest post.
4. The Two-Sided Incentive Hack
Since 2009, the car service Uber has raised millions of dollars and is currently valued at $18 billion. It’s now available all over the world and the company is even planning to break into the lucrative mainland China market in the near future. How have they achieved this kind of growth? While many growth tactics factor into their speedy ascent, word of mouth (a.k.a., the viral factor) has driven their growth “substantially”.
To spur word of mouth even further, Uber uses a two-sided referral program. All current customers are automatically enrolled and given their own referral codes. When they give those codes to their friends, both the referrers and the customers they refer get a nice credit to their Uber account. This gives the new customer a chance to try the service for little or no cost, and it gives the referring customer a friendly “thanks” for sharing.
If done right, two-sided incentives can drive significant word of mouth, increasing the impact of all your other marketing endeavors.
5. Exit Popup Hack
WPBeginner, a free resource site for WordPress beginners, grew their email subscription list by using an exit popup display. In less than 10 minutes, WPBeginner increased their email subscribers by 600 percent. Prior to the change, they gained 70 to 80 new subscribers each day, and after the change they gained 445 to 470 every day. How did they drive such a significant improvement? Using a simple popover with exit intent tracking. When a visitor arrives at their website, WPBeginner starts tracking their mouse movements. If the visitor’s mouse starts moving to close the window, a non-intrusive popover invites the visitor to subscribe for more articles.
By giving the visitor time to read before offering the upsell (i.e., the subscribe box), exit popups reach potential users at a time when intent is high, thus boosting conversions. Additionally, these popovers are non-intrusive, so the user can easily close the tab without any of the annoyances of a traditional popup.
Popovers always drive significant email signups since they’re more noticeable, but popovers with exit intent take it to the next level.
6. Retargeting Hack
Nitro, a commercial software development company, runs their business with a freemium business model and they receive a lot of trial users who never convert to a paid plan. To combat this conversion issue, they experimented quite successfully with retargeting ads. Using IP addresses, retargeting ads show specifically to people who joined Nitro’s trial but haven’t yet converted to a paid plan. After launching these retargeting ads, Nitro has seen an 18 percent increase in online sales. Even better, they’ve seen a 3.9 times return-on-investment (ROI), which means that for every dollar spent on retargeting ads, Nitro has made $3.90. The technical side of retargeting ads based on IP addresses sounds super complicated, but happily setting up your own retargeting campaign is actually relatively easy.
Like any other advertising platform, retargeting experts can help with all sorts of detailed optimization, but you can still achieve amazing results in just a couple hours of setup. If you do no other paid advertising, retargeting ads are the first place you should consider spending your money.
7. Drip Campaign Onboarding Hack
Too many marketers think their work ends once a customer signs up. On the contrary, joining your product is just the first step—acquisition. Now you need to help them activate by helping your users form a habit. This process of onboarding can be dramatically improved with an automated drip campaign. Based on your knowledge of common questions, you can design a drip campaign that sends a series of “power user” tips. Optimally, your onboarding campaign will answer common user questions and help users for habits around your product.
How effective are onboarding drip campaigns? Editing software Draft used this onboarding hack to improve the conversion from freemium to paid. With just one automated message, they boosted revenue by 200 percent.
8. Invite-Only Hack
SpringSled is the “world’s easiest project management tool”. Well, at least that’s what they will be. Right now, they’ve just got a landing page… and 150,000 beta users. How did SpringSled drive 150,000 beta users in four weeks? Long before their product was finished, SpringSled opened their registration for beta users. Each early access signup to SpringSled gets the opportunity to land 12 months of free project management by getting five friends to join the beta version. After briefly driving some traffic by getting on ProductHunt and BetaList, the customers started pouring in through viral spreading. The “12 months of free project management” prize has worked quite effectively, and 99.8 percent of those first 150,000 signups came from referrals.
While many of the early invite users you drive will probably be low-quality leads, getting this level of interest before you even launch will definitely give you a solid base of initial customers from which to build.
9. The Live Survey Hack
Every customer is different. They have different problems, different experiences, and different interests. They all come to your product for their own unique reasons. And yet, the traditional landing page gives each of them the same static page. A/B testing lets you improve this page to help the most people possible, but everyone sees the same static page. What if you could give different information for different customers? Using a live survey tool, you actually can do just that!
GoodBlogs wanted to increase the number of writers for one of its sites, The Flaming Vegan. To do this, they created a Qualaroo survey that asks new visitors if they’re vegetarian or vegan. If you answer “yes”, they ask if you’re interested in writing for the website. (If you answer “no”, they offer a discount on a blender.) By implementing that live survey, GoodBlogs has increased new writer registrations by fully 300 percent.
Each customer is different so giving them custom offers based on their interests will help you dramatically improve conversion rates.
The #1 Thing To Remember
All these hacks are powerful and can help you improve conversions, but growth hacking is actually much simpler. Tactics help, but the best products win by making customers happy. If you can make your users happy, you will see sustainable growth.