Published On: Sat, Jun 28th, 2014

A Blueprint for Growth Hacking Success

Growth Hacking BlueprintThe term “growth hacker” has been part of Silicon Valley lexicon since 2010, when Sean Ellis first used it to describe a new breed of start-up employee; someone whose skillset is at the intersection of marketing, coding and product development. Ellis’ description is that of  “a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinised by its potential impact on scalable growth.”

Andrew Chen then introduced the term to a wider audience in a blog post titled, “Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing” – and since then it has been more widely adopted as both start-ups and established companies seek explosive growth. In short, growth hacking is about finding tactics and best practices that enables your user base to increase.

If you think about apps, social networks or SaaS products, they all need to achieve a critical mass of signs-ups, consistent usage and retention before they can think about turning a profit. The key goals should be to focus on user acquisition and reducing friction to becoming a user.

AirBnB, Dropbox, Facebook, Quora and Twitter are regularly cited as examples of start-ups that employed low cost, agile and innovative techniques to hack growth. These disruptive companies have made it to the 4th stage of the start-up lifecycle to thrive and turn into billion dollar valued companies. For reference the four stages are:

  1. Acquisition – people sign-up
  2. Activation – people use your product
  3. Retention – people consistently use your product
  4. Monetization – once you have a critical mass of users, your product is then ready to generate revenue e.g. advertising, sponsored content, access to user base.

Before I get down to the nuts and bolts of growth hacking, there’s a few things I want to clarify. In this post i’ll be mentioning tips for stages one and two of the start-up lifecycle. The examples i’ve used are based on the assumption your business is looking for sign ups and usage, rather than retention or paying customers.

Secondly, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to growth hacking, but the best approach, as always is to measure and test everything. Start off small and find out what works – and what doesn’t. Fail quickly. Discover what activity yields the greatest user base growth and stops attrition – this is the activity you should focus your limited time and money on.

Thirdly, this post assumes that you have the basics in place, such as a responsive website with strong SEO functionality, Google Analytics, KPIs that you want to track, landing pages and call-to-action buttons. These are the cornerstones of any successful web business.

Growth hacking can be applied to any digital goal that involves persuading people to click, purchase, sign up, or read. Here are my tactics for growth hacking success:

Acquisition stage

Social media advertising
Social advertising on platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter is an effective way to increase brand awareness and engage highly targeted audiences. You are in full control of budget and set your spend, so that you can monitor and optimise the effectiveness of each platform.

Google AdWords
I’m a massive fan of Google AdWords and it can be used to generate awareness, traffic and sales. For products which may disrupt an entire industry and have low brand awareness, they can still work, but you’ll need a carefully planned strategy around your brand, non-brand and competitor keywords. Experiment to begin with and see how many visitors convert into users. Once you’re equipped with this information you can work out how much you can afford to buy users in via AdWords.

Google Display Network
This is the largest global network, so if you’re looking for reach and to grow your user base, it is well worth investing in the display network. It offers a range of ad formats across devices that can help you scale quickly and often at low cost in comparison to Google AdWords which is more focussed towards the end of the marketing funnel.

Search engine visibility needs to be a consideration right from the start. To ensure your company continues to grow, your website will need to have great content and adhere to best practice for the technical on-page factors.On-page SEO encompasses page title, meta description, URL, H1 headline, ALT text and markup. You should also think about the keywords you want to rank for and begin using these on your blog, landing pages and social media.

Setting up retargeting adverts is a great way to keep track of people who visit your site, but don’t convert into sign-ups or users. A study by AdRoll found that just 2% of website visitors convert, so retargeting is a great way to keep marketing to the other 98% and make sure your efforts have greater longevity.

Activation stage

(Smart) email
I’m not just talking about blasting emails to a database. You can now do some amazingly sophisticated things with email. Beautiful design, first-class segmentation and detailed analytics are commonplace thanks to tools like MailChimp, but to get the most from email you need automation. This means creating business rules that automatically send emails based on user behaviour.

Imagine you have a website and your goal is to have people sign up, create a profile and add connections. Here are the three basic scenarios where smart email could help your business.

  1. Person signs-up – they should receive a welcome email with a link to a demo and suggested steps to improve their profile.
  2. Person signs-up and completes their profile – they should receive an email with tips on adding connections and suggested people to connect with.
  3. Person signs-up and creates their profile, but is inactive –  they should receive a highlights email trying to tempt them back.

It can get a lot more complex, but sending out automated emails that are personalised, with useful content and the correct cadence is a fantastic way to grow your business.

A/B Testing
Set up A/B testing for all your landing pages (take a look at Unbounce), call-to-action buttons and email campaigns. Then look at your website, blog and social media activity to see what works. Test and test again. Equipped with these insights you can begin to optimise your growth hacking efforts so more web visits convert. You can either create A/B tests yourself or use a tool like Optimizely for your website, while most email services provide some level of testing, and it’s easy to set-up in Google AdWords.

This is more of a concept than a specific action, but there are many things you can do to ensure the onboarding process is enjoyable for visitors and that they go from becoming users to advocates. Check out this post on Growth Devil for a full list – it contains tips to ensure that visitors are communicated to effectively around your product’s value, usage and privacy.

Web development
This tip will depend on what your business does, but one of the most high profile web development hacking companies is Twitter. It simplified its sign-up page, added Top People to Follow and automated email notifications to drive engagement and retention. Understand what the most active users do and look for patterns. Then look to create experiences for new and existing users that encourage them to fall into those same patterns.

In my previous role I was part of a team which considered itself a group of growth hackers in all but name, and our lean projects focussed on reducing friction between web visitors getting an insurance quote. We overcame this challenge by creating a simple data capture form that doubled up a quick quote engine. This innovation resulted in both increased leads and sales.

Creative development
Growth hacking is a combination of techie skills and creativity, so it would be wrong not to include some creative hacks. Facebook famously generated billions of impressions and attracted millions of sign ups by creating badges and profile widgets for people to post on their websites and blogs. Think about what ideas your business can test to drive sign-ups. If it works, think how it can scale, otherwise pivot away and try a new approach.

Implementing a referrals programme is a great way to generate more sign-ups. One of the best examples is Dropbox. They give users more space if they invite a friend that signs-up (they don’t have to be a paying customer). This way Dropbox get a brand new user and an existing user who is more ingrained with their product, all at no extra cost.

Final thoughts

If you’re looking for rapid and cost effective growth, remember to focus on the activities that yield the biggest rewards for the smallest outlay. It’s not about about chasing every single person out there, it’s about focussing on the right people.

Want to learn more about growth hacking? Why note come to Growth Hack Talks on 24 September 2015 at The Marker Hotel Dublin? This growth hackers conference in Dublin features 12 world class growth marketing experts.

About the Author

- Marketing Manager with a passion for inbound at HubSpot, Founder of Growth Hack Talks, Blogger at and Chief Quaffer at .

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  1. […] Ben Cotton shares his tips for growth hacking success. (#growthhacking A Blueprint for Growth Hacking Success…: Growth Hacking Blueprint The term “growth hacker” has…  […]

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