Startup Marketing Lessons Learned Part 3: Scaling Up To Massive Traffic

I recently had the pleasure of assisting over 150 Hacker News members with marketing their startups. I was surprised to learn that I was giving the same advice over and over again. I’m collecting the most specific, actionable and useful marketing advice for startups in a 3 part series. This is part 3. If you haven’t already, read part 1 and part 2, as this post builds on the advice given in preceding posts.I know what you’re going through, fellow startup founder. You’ve already gotten pretty far with your startup. You’ve already launched, and maybe even developed what you think is a solid, scalable business model. You’ve set up tracking and analytics, optimized your landing pages and customer acquisition funnels, tried some PR, and maybe even set up and AdWords campaign.You’re getting a few signups a day, mainly through word of mouth, but not even close to the amount you’re expecting. AdWords is expensive, your CTR is abnormally low, and you’re not getting very many clicks anyway on your $20/day budget.What you need now is traction, but you’re not sure just how to get traction, for it is fleeting and capricious and lost more easily than gained.But don’t worry, I can help. This post is all about quickly getting traction, customers, and profits. More specifically, it’s about leveraging the vast amounts of traffic available out there into rapid, sustainable growth for your startup.So, after you how do you make the leap from piddling along at a few signups a day to consistent, rapid growth?

Test Lots of Traffic Sources

Any successful business uses multiple customer acquisition channels, constantly adapting to shifting trends in the market . Gabriel Weinberg calls them traction verticals, and he has a pretty good list. But you can go much deeper than that list.Are you advertising on AdWords search?With a little excel skill(or some commonly available tools) it would take almost no effort to export a campaign from AdWords and convert it to AdCenter, which covers Yahoo and Bing. Do that, and you suddenly have as much as 50% more search traffic, probably at much lower cost.And, following my last post, don’t neglect media buys on industry blogs. They’re cheaper and easier than you think, and they can do wonders if you’re trying to reach small, high targeted niche audiences- like customers for your B2B software.

Go Beyond Search and Banners

What about PPV(popup ads) networks like Trafficvance and MediaTraffic? You just enter a list of URLs and keywords, and whenever a member of these networks visits one of your targets, your ad comes up.You pay between $10-$15 per 1000 visits. If, for example, you’re trying to promote an iPhone app, popping up an ad for your app over reviews of competitors’ apps is a very cost-effective and underutilized way to get targeted, engaged prospects.I know you think popup ads are so 90s and don’t work, but the success of these ad networks speaks to the contrary. For certain segments of the population(IE users) they can be effective and unobtrusive without damaging your brand. If toolbar traffic is good enough for Ask.com and Zwinky, it’s good enough for your entertainment/gaming startup too.

Leverage Your SEO Efforts

If you’re already getting conversions from SEO, but you’re struggling to get to the #1 position for every single one of your keywords, you can use what you’ve learned from SEO to get a lot more traffic. Running paid ad campaigns is all about testing; you’re essentially paying to collect data about what works and what doesn’t.[pullshow]You’ve collected that data for free(or cheap) from SEO. Use it. [pullthis]Take your top converting keywords from SEO, and put them into a new paid search campaign.[/pullthis] You already know these keywords convert, so it shouldn’t hurt to start paying for them. Even if you’re #1 for a keyword, like your product name, consider bidding on it in PPC anyway. Rand Fishkin says 12% of clicks go to paid results. If your only search strategy is SEO, you’re leaving that traffic on the table.How about keywords your competitors are optimizing for? If you see them moving up in the SERPS for a certain keyword, get the jump on them with a paid search campaign targeting it.

Learn Customer Demographics, Reach Out To Them In Social Ads

The biggest thing you can do to rapidly scale your business is to stop thinking in terms of keywords and develop an in-depth understanding of who your ideal customers really are. Start thinking not just about demographics, but also psychographics. What are their interests? Where do they work or go to school? The more detailed the better.Then take those specific keywords and create highly relevant ad campaigns targeting them on Facebook Ads. You can now target the entire social graph with incredible precision on Facebook- every like, group membership, interest, and so on. Use this data.If you create an ad campaign on Facebook targeting everyone ages 18-30, unless you have an incredibly compelling ad….You.Will.Fail. If you take the time to think creatively about who your customers really are, and microtarget their interests, you will get virtually limitless, highly relevant traffic for pennies a click.Keyword targeting on Facebook is the best kept secret in social advertising.Very few people use this strategy in their social ads, and the ones that do are making absurd amounts of money with very little competition.Did you know that you can target people who have “liked” a specific website? Wow! Imagine the possibilities now that you can show your ads only to people who not only visit but actively engage with specific domains, brands, etc.If you use MailChimp to manage your email lists, they offer a cool free feature where they will link the email addresses in your list to Facebook profiles(courtesy of Rapleaf). Browse through some of your customers’ profiles. Do they share a common interest? Belong to a certain demographic? Try targeting those on Facebook Ads and see how they convert.


I didn’t hit even 20% of what I wanted to cover in this post, and it’s already too long. I’ll flesh out the details and specific tactics for scaling traffic in subsequent posts.For now, remember this: Learn everything you can about your customers, find out where they go online, and target those sites from every angle possible.

  • Michael Plater II

    I just wanted to thank you for these posts, they are refreshingly frank and useful.

  • Anthony

    Even with micro targeting on FB – i.e. sub 1000 people – the suggested bids I see are a long way from "pennies a click", more like 80c! Any tips?

  • Ilya Lichtenstein

    Suggested bids on FB mean nothing, feel free to ignore them. Your CPC will drop dramatically if you can maintain a good CTR.1. Start out bidding relatively high(but way lower than suggested bids, like 0.40 0r 0.50.2. Optimize and microtarget until you consistently maintain CTR above 0.1%3. Drop bids until you stop getting impressions.If your targeting and ads are solid, you’ll be getting cheap clicks in no time.

  • Deshaad

    Great blog man….Im wondering though, how are you targeting people who like a certain site?Under "connections" im only able to target people that like facebook fan pages that im admin of, or the friends of those people…. Not people that have targeted external sites or even fan pages im not an admin of.Thanks!

  • Ilya Lichtenstein

    Don’t target it in "Connections", target it as an interest as you would any other interest.

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