Growth hacking is a process of rapid experimentation, which in a way has to be “scientific” by keeping in mind that is used by startups to grow, quickly. Thus, the “scientific” here is not meant in the academic sense. Growth hacking is expected to unlock growth, quickly and with an often limited budget.
Growth hacking could be readily applied to anything. However, it finds its playground in digital marketing, as it is quite inexpensive and easy to track and analyze a massive amount of data. Also, in digital marketing, it is possible to experiment fast and with low costs and reversible failures.
For instance, if you put up a landing page, which has already a substantial amount of traffic, you want to A/B test it. Thus, you create two versions of that page and send traffic to both and see what converts best. However, it is important to remind that things like A/B testing are tools that the growth hacker uses.
In short, growth hacking is about the process and mindset that the process requires. The tools, tactics, and strategies come later. Just like the scientific process, it has to be testable and repeatable. Unlike the scientific method, it has to be fast!
- Why growth hacking is critical for your online business
- What is Growth Hacking? (and what is not!)
- The Growth Hacking Mindset
- From Personal to Incremental: Two Approaches to Learning
- The Power of Yet: The Growth Mindset
- It Got to Be Data-Driven: The Feynman Approach
- The growth hacking methodology
- T-shaped: To be a growth marketer multidisciplinarity is the rule of thumb
- Growth Hacking is about the whole funnel
- The Top 20 Tools for the growth hacker
- Growth channels to grow your business, quickly
- Top growth channels used by marketers
- Some interesting data about top online marketers
- The importance of direct traffic to assess your branding strategy
- Guest blogging
- Social media
- Community building
- Get off-line
- Spark curiosity
- Why organic traffic means a sustainable business
- An integrated SEO strategy that brings together social media and content marketing
- Gain referral traffic to diversify your acquisition channels
- Key takeaway
Why growth hacking is critical for your online business
January 2015 Sean and his team at GrowthHackers.com were experiencing a stagnating growth. Although they grew at about 90,000 unique monthly visitors in a year, they were mainly growing on the back of Twitter. Time to change strategy. They decided to implement a High Tempo Testing Program. That is how growth picked up and accelerated,
Growth Hacking is one of the most exciting subjects today. Not only in the marketing arena but in any other conceivable area. I’m not trying to emphasize when I tell you that growth hacking can make you become the next President of France. If you don’t believe me probably you didn’t notice that hacking growth has become the secret weapon of one of the screwiest politician alive, the new elected France’s President Macron, which used Growth Hacking to win the election (Growth Hacker Raffaele Gaito passed me this news).
What is Growth Hacking? (and what is not!)
As the story went in 2007, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia couldn’t afford the rent on their San Francisco apartment that is why they decided to transform their loft in a lodging space. Yet instead of relying on Craiglist, they built their site, which they called Airbed & Breakfast and hacked Craigslist to drive users back to their website,
Long story short that is how they grew from a loft to a company worth $30billion, which we all know by the name of Airbnb. Yet that is only part of the story. Airbnb didn’t grow in a multi-billion business from a day to the next with a single magic trick. Instead, they had to undertake several experiments before seeing their listings grow.
Experimentation is a critical ingredient of growth hacking. For it to work, you have to experiment through a rigorous process that mixes rapid and cross-functional testing. That is what Sean Ellis called growth hacking.
In short, growth hacking overturned the traditional founders’ myth. In which, one brilliant individual has a genial idea that makes the company go from a garage to a palace. Therefore, it isn’t anymore about a person but the team. It isn’t anymore about one genial idea but a process generating ideas. There’s no such thing as a growth hacker, but only a growth hacking team driven by the same mindset.
The Growth Hacking Mindset
The first step in hacking growth is to acquire a growth mindset. There is no tool, skill or strategy you can use, master or implement if you don’t develop the right mindset first. That mindset starts with the way you learn.
From Personal to Incremental: Two Approaches to Learning
The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity.
By Josh Waitzkin from The Art of Learning
In a world that becomes increasingly competitive the most essential skill to master is “The Art of Learning.” In his homonymous book, chess player, martial arts competitor and author Josh Waitzkin explain the two modes of learning: entity vs. incremental theories of learning.
The entity theory treats intelligence as fixed and stable. The incremental theory of intelligence makes of it as something malleable, fluid and changeable. In other words, if you believe in the former, you will identify yourself with the activity/experiment you’re undertaking. Therefore each failure will be unbearable and a demonstration of your lack of intelligence and skills. Instead, with the latter approach, you will stop identifying with the learning process and start to see each failure as an opportunity to learn something new.
In short, to develop a successful growth hacking mindset, you must remove your ego from the learning process and use an incremental learning approach. That is how you develop a growth mindset.
The Power of Yet: The Growth Mindset
Mindset change is not about picking up a few pointers here and there. It’s about seeing things in a new way. When people…change to a growth mindset, they change from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework. Their commitment is to growth, and growth take plenty of time, effort, and mutual support.
by Carol S. Dweck from
If the growth mindset is not about you; it is about the process. How can you make sure to change the way you learn, while also making sure your team is on the same page? Use the power of yet:
praise the process and make sure your team knows the process is what matters
reward effort, strategy, and process not individual intelligence
learn and teach to push outside the comfort-zone so that failure becomes a normal aspect of the growth process
Once acquired the incremental learning method and the growth mindset, there’s a third non-trivial aspect of growth hacking, the scientific mindset.
It Got to Be Data-Driven: The Feynman Approach
It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong.
by Richard Feynman
If you want to build a growth hacking team, you got to have a scientific mindset. The method to follow is pretty simple. Identify a problem, do some research, form a hypothesis, do an experiment, analyze your data, and draw conclusions.
It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is if it doesn’t match the data then it is wrong! In short, every decision has to be data-driven and based on the actions of the users rather than on the beliefs of the founders.
The growth hacking methodology
Sean Ellis shows us the process critical to the growth hacking experimentation:
The process is simple yet powerful. From data analysis to testing and back to that analysis, the loop of growth must be followed consistently.
T-shaped: To be a growth marketer multidisciplinarity is the rule of thumb
As Davis Jones, author of the Udemy Bestselling course Growth Hacking Masterclass in Digital Marketing multidisciplinarity is the norm. SEO, email marketing, social media, copywriting and online advertising are the necessary skills to acquire to thrive in the digital marketing world. However, what’s critical is to become a T-shaped person.
In other words, you need to develop an in-depth competence in a single skill (for instance, SEO or content marketing) and competence in multiple disciplines that give a high-level understanding on how to grow a business, quickly.
Growth Hacking is about the whole funnel
Growth hacking isn’t anymore about MRR or acquisition, but it involves the entire funnel. From awareness to purchase the funnel accelerates at the speed of light,
The AARRR funnel has the following stages:
The way you look at the funnel though highly depends on the kind of business you operate. For instance, if a business provides software that has a trial period. When a user activated the trial, you didn’t get the revenue yet. You will need to retain the user after the trial period to finally earn a revenue. Also, when a customer starts referring to your service, that is when you are at the end of the funnel.
It is important to notice that the funnel is only an abstraction which doesn’t exist in the real world. Often people take non-linear paths. However, the funnel is a decent tool to identify and focus on a set of activities and metrics to grow a narrow area of the business.
The Top 20 Tools for the growth hacker
Now that you got the right mindset it is time to start using some tools. GrowHack.com drafted an incredible spreadsheet about all the tools used by the greatest growth hackers for each funnel stage, which you can get from here.
Below I analyzed the data and extracted a list of the top 20 software used by top growth hackers independently from the funnel stage,
You can find a more comprehensive analysis done by GrowHack.com on the SaaS marketing stack per funnel stage.
Growth channels to grow your business, quickly
- Targeting Blogs
- Unconventional PR
- Search Engine Marketing
- Social and Display Ads
- Offline Ads
- Search Engine Optimization
- Content Marketing
- Email Marketing
- Viral Marketing
- Engineering as Marketing
- Business Development
- Affiliate Programs
- Existing Platforms
- Trade Shows
- Offline Events
- Speaking Engagements
- Community Building
Let’s analyze some of those channels and look at how some top marketers are using them to gain visibility.
Top growth channels used by marketers
A blog is one of the most important places that any company can use to nurture its brand. From awareness to sales a blog is crucial for any businesses or start-ups to acquire customers, maintain relationships with current ones and enhance sales.
In fact, many companies still believe a blog is only a way to improve brand awareness. However, 81% of shoppers conduct online research before making big purchases.
Today one of the most significant challenges for any company is to generate enough leads to sustain its revenue growth.
I want to show you some practical examples of how you can use some of those channels to grow your business.
I will use my direct experience but also look at how famous marketers like Neil Patel, Jeff Bullas, Tim Ferris, Pat Flynn, Larry Kim and some more use them.
Some of the data I will use will come from Similar Web. Before we dive into it, a little disclaimer.
The tool is relatively accurate. In other words, you won’t get the exact number, but you should look at it more as a range.
and for instance:
- Avg. of Metric/Actual Traffic: 406.37%
- % of Data within 70-130% of Actual Traffic: 22.00%
- Spearman’s Correlation w/ Actual Traffic: 0.827
- Standard Error: 0.0504
- Data coverage: 87.41%
As you can see “% of Data within 70-130% of Actual Traffic: 22.00%.”
It means that Similar Web was accurate on almost one-fourth of the sites analyzed. Yet that accuracy swings between 70–130% of actual traffic.
Therefore, let’s say Similar Web says traffic of a site is 100K monthly. Consider that more as a range (from 70–130K monthly visitors) rather than an actual number.
In short, take the data as a reference rather than an absolute number. However, that range will allow us to understand the underlying strategy that each of those marketers is using to speed up growth.
Some interesting data about top online marketers
Everywhere you go, you can find a list of the top something in any discipline. In reality, those lists mean all and nothing. For this analysis, I used a metric to discern between top marketers: traffic.
However, whether a marketer is top or not can be classified in dozens of other ways. You will forgive me if I picked traffic as a metric, but that seemed to be a decent heuristic to determine the influence of someone online.
Considering also that as a blogger I want traffic to reach more people. Of course, traffic itself isn’t valuable because you want it to be qualified.
In short, if you reach millions of people but only a tiny fraction is interested in what you write, then your effort is wasted.
Therefore, another metric I took into account is organic traffic. In short, at least 30% of the traffic of those websites come from search engines.
Having clarified those aspects. Let’s jump into the list of the top five marketers/websites I dissected for this article/report:
If we look at those websites total visits they have all an impressive reach:
You may expect that websites with this kind of reach have low engagement metrics. However, the data below shows a different story:
Also, each of those marketers uses several sources to grow their traffic, therefore generate more leads and sales.
The main acquisition channels are direct traffic, organic search, referrals, and social media.
Let’s have a better glance:
What topics are they ranking for?
By looking at this data, you can see how the most critical acquisition channels for most of the top marketers are direct, organic, social media and referrals.
Let’s dive into each of those channels and how to grow them up!
The importance of direct traffic to assess your branding strategy
Direct traffic is critical. First though, let’s define it. Direct traffic comprises sources that are accessing directly to your website for several reasons.
As specified on Moz there might be several reasons for getting direct traffic. Some of those are the following:
1. Manual address entry and bookmarks
2. HTTPS > HTTP
3. Missing or broken tracking code
4. Improper redirection
5. Non-web documents
6. “Dark social.”
While part of some direct traffic might be due to technical reason and the inability to track all the referral traffic that gets to your site.
Direct traffic is critical as it points out that your investments in branding are paying off. In fact, people are looking actively for your website, and this means that they might spend more time on it.
This isn’t just a theory but can be backed up by some data that Moz has gathered:
As you can see above, direct traffic seems to point out that users that come through it are more loyal compared to all other traffic sources.
How do you grow your direct traffic? You need to invest a bit in increasing your brand awareness. For instance, below some ideas:
When writing a guest post on another site link back to your site through the branded keyword. For example, when I blog on another site, if it makes sense I’ll link back to my blog by using the branded keyword “FourWeekMBA” that links back to my homepage.
By using this strategy, I’ve noticed some volume picking up lately:
This, of course, is still a minimal amount of search volume, yet not bad as a first start. You can do the same thing with interviews.
When getting interviewed by other blogs also have them link back to your site with the branded keyword, like above.
When people recognize your brand on social media, there are more chances they’ll search for it on Google. If this becomes consistent, also your branded keyword will grow in importance, and you’ll get more direct traffic over time
If people learn about your brand, then they will actively search for it or access it directly with no need of a search engine or social media as intermediary. The more people have your brand on top of their minds, the more your online business will be solid.
Meeting with people at events is another great opportunity to grow your brand. Thus, if there are key events on your industry, you need to be there!
You can also be more creative with your online marketing. For instance, I remember a story Neil Patel tells often. When he was trying to grow his brand “Neil Patel” he had a bunch of models go around the city with a billboard that said “Neil Patel” When people so that they started to search for “who’s Neil Patel?” That hack helped him create some traction
How do you know you’re on the right path in growing your brand, thus your direct traffic? First, of course, you can monitor the growth of direct traffic over time.
Second, and most important, you’ll notice if you’ve been successful in your branding effort if your branded keyword gains some momentum.
What is a branded keyword? This is the keyword that includes the name of your brand. Take the keyword “Neil Patel.”
This is the name of a person, but also the name of a website and a brand. Neil Patel has been implementing several strategies to grow his brand. No surprise that direct traffic is one of the primary sources for his site:
As you can see the branded keyword “Neil Patel” has a monthly search volume of 49,500 searches! That didn’t happen overnight, but it took years of hard and smart work.
Why organic traffic means a sustainable business
Organic traffic is what you get from Google and other leading search engines which is not paid. In short, you’re producing quality content that Google ranks because relevant to an audience that is searching an answer for specific keywords.
Building organic traffic might be the holy grail to grow an online business.
However, it isn’t easy at all. I’ve been struggling for almost three years to build up a consistent stream of organic traffic that would allow me to monetize my blog. I’m still working on that.
The truth is that organic traffic takes time and the proper strategy. Ahrefs.com suggests 7 strategies summarized below:
1. Choose the right words to target in your SEO campaigns to increase traffic quality
2. Make a good use of your competitors’ keywords
3. Answer the questions of your potential customers
4. Go long-tail and forget keyword stuffing
5. Revise your old content and update it
6. Get some paid social media promotion
7. Don’t blindly follow every advice about website traffic you can find online
Beside those strategies that are pretty useful, I also suggest the following:
8. Use structured data to allow Google to better understand your web pages
9. Target lower volume and less competitive keywords that solve a specific issue for your users (in a way this connects with point 3 & 4)
Organic traffic boils down to providing useful content for your target audience, so that they’ll share it with others. When you consistently do that, your organic traffic will increase each month.
Neil Patel also suggests some interesting strategies in this blog post; I’m going to summarize the ones that I find most relevant:
- Syndicate Infographics on Community-Based Networks
- Tactical Competitive Auditing
- Optimize for Long-Tail Keyword Variations
- Resource Page Organic Outreach
- Build Awareness of Your Site Through Public Speaking
For many either social media experts and for some SEO “experts” those are two separate channels. In reality, they’re not. In fact, what matters is bringing qualified traffic to your blog.
When this happens Google measures the user engagement and experience to understand the relevance of your content. Thus, decide whether to rank it higher or not.
That is why social media is critical for SEO. If you bring qualified traffic back to your blog that is almost the equivalent of a proper SEO strategy, that will over time grow your organic traffic.
No surprise, the top digital marketers we analyzed so far, also use social media as the main distribution channel for their online business.
As you can see Facebook has the winning hand. Followed by Twitter, and YouTube. Some top marketers, like Tim Ferris and Pat Flynn (fourhourworkweek and smartpassiveincome), use mainly Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Others, like Neil Patel, are quite transversal and can get an audience from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn. It is interesting to see also how Pocket seems to play a critical role!
Can you double your traffic from social media? According to blog.kissmetrics.com you can and these are the strategies you can use:
- Develop a Sharing Schedule
- Never Share the Same Message Twice
- Optimize Your Content for Each Network
- Monitor Your Results
Let’s give a look at the last, yet extremely important content distribution strategy: referral traffic
Gain referral traffic to diversify your acquisition channels
Referral traffic is what you get from other websites that are either linking out to your websites or from some social media platforms like Quora, Growthhackers.com or Zest.is and so on.
As you can see neilpatel.com is the one that performs the best:
Once again Neil Patel suggests a few practical strategies:
- Guest blog on industry blogs
- Leverage local partner sites
- Strategically comment on blogs
- Create ego-bait content
- Get active on social media networks
But where is he getting most of the referral traffic? According to SimilarWeb those are the five top communities/referrers that are bringing traffic to Neil Patel’s website:
If this isn’t enough here’s a nice infographic with some great tips:
Also, to improve overnight you referral traffic, this is a list of 500 places where to syndicate your content.
Also, to growth hack your blog I also have four community for you that can help you out! Keep in mind though; you can leverage on those communities if you produce relevant and quality content.
If not, you’ll not see any improvement:
Many digital marketers operate like content distribution strategies as something that works separately from each other. In short, they lack a holistic view of it.
Instead, content distribution is as much about SEO as it is about social media and other acquisition channels. Even off-line marketing is relevant for SEO.
In fact, when people meet you at an event and look for your brand online, that is data that Google is recording.
When that data becomes consistent your brand name starts to gain some traction, and that is also how Google will send organic traffic to your site.
The same applies to social media. When you gain relevant traffic to your blog. That is a way for Google to understand through user engagement whether that web page is relevant or not for specific keywords.
Those are simplifications. However, this is to remind you that content distribution is about keeping a holistic view of your content strategy.
In fact, what matters at the end is how much, qualified traffic, you can get to grow your business and get a consistent ROI.
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Websites to read