The Top Three Examples of Internet Growth Hacking

Last week, I attended the Growth Hackers Conference in San Francisco. The Keynote speaker, Keith Rabois of Khosla Ventures, gave an interesting presentation about Growth vs. Growth Hacking, providing three incredible examples of growth hacking. Here’s my version summarizing his awesome presentation.

Growth and growth hacking should not be confused with one another, as they are not the same thing, nor can they be focused on at the same time within a company. They are two very separate stages in a startup, and one cannot occur without the other. Growth, is sort of like the pre-requisite to growth hacking. You can’t focus on growth hacking without having an initial phase of growth to start. And once you’ve reached a certain stage of growth, growth hacking is a strategy that grows your business exponentially without as much investment in time or money.

I’ll show you three famous examples of growth hacking and explain what Keith meant by having growth before you can focus on growth hacking.

1. LinkedIn started as a community for professional networking. They were able to grow their users from 2 million to 200 million within a few years due to this awesome growth hacking tactic: allow users to create public profiles so the search engines index their profiles and show up organically in search results. Prior to LinkedIn, it was very rare that you could find yourself within the top 5 search results, unless you were famous or written about frequently.

In order for this simple SEO concept to work successfully, LinkedIn had to grow their users from 0 to 2 million members first, which means they had to undergo some extent of growth before they could enter the growth hacking phase. Once their growth phase was to a substantial size, they could start indexing these 2 million profiles into the organic search results. By entering a search for an average working-class individual, LinkedIn URLs are now showing up as the first search result on the page (as seen below with my profile).

2. Youtube, now the second largest search engine after Google (which also owns YouTube), started out as a platform that allowed users to share their videos. So how did YouTube take advantage of growth hacking? Like LinkedIn, they had to go through a period of growth first. By reaching a certain amount of initial users with their first few thousands of users and videos, they could start focusing on growth hacking. Here’s what set YouTube apart from the rest.

The growth hacking success of YouTube was their ability to implement the nifty and easy-to-use “Embed” this video script. By making it relatively easy and painless for users to upload their videos and embed the entire video player onto any other website contributed to what it is today, having over 1 billion unique visitors each month and 72 hours of video uploaded every minute.

3. PayPal has a slightly different story, but an equally awesome growth hacking success. eBay, the leading auction site for online seller to consumer sales, allowed sellers to include their preferred forms of payment in their listings. Over time, more and more listings were accepting “PayPal,” but this wasn’t an option that was available in eBay, so sellers would write PayPal in several spots on their listings, sometimes totaling in over 10 locations on the listing.

As PayPal noticed their growth among eBay sellers, they worked out a deal with eBay to include the PayPal logo on the listings that accepted PayPal. The logo sat side by side the other preferred forms of payment, like Visa and MasterCard logos. This growth hacking idea was successful because eBay was already well-established, so PayPal was driving growth from the success of another company’s success. As more and more sellers only accepted payment via PayPal, this forced consumers and buyers to create PayPal accounts, hence the start of growth hacking. Since then, eBay acquired PayPal for $1.5 Billion and is now the only logo that is shown on eBay listings in the payment methods section. Not too shabby in my opinion!

All in all, I really enjoyed the Growth Hackers Conference and am looking forward to the next one. It’s a great conference for start-ups and marketing professionals who are seeking insights for growing their business and learning real examples of how leading companies grew their businesses. I’ll release some other blog posts later this year with other really interesting presentations related back to growth hacking. Thanks Keith Rabois for sharing these three awesome examples of growth hacking! Have you had a great growth hacking idea you’ve tried in the past that you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments section below.

What Are Dynamic Search Ads?

Last week, Google announced that Dynamic Search Ads would be generally available to advertisers within AdWords.  This feature has been around for about a year now, but it was only available in a limited beta.  So, if you’re like me and were not included in this beta, you’re probably wondering: “What are Dynamic Search Ads (DSAs)?”  Well, look no further; you’ve come to the right place!  With AdWords having multiple support pages on this topic, I’ve condensed their DSA description to summarize what you need to know about DSAs, how to set them up, and how this could help you.


What You Need To Know about DSAs:

  • Say Goodbye to Keywords: With DSAs, your ad will show based on the content of your website
  • Say Hello to SEO: Google’s organic search index of your site will determine what search queries your DSAs get impressions for. So basically, this means whatever keywords you currently rank for through SEO will determine your ad impressions, but you have to pay for these clicks and impressions.
  • Dynamic Ad Copy: The headline is the only dynamic piece of the ad copy, and it’s generated based on the search term.  The rest of the ad is based on a template that you create.
  • Targeting Groups of Landing Pages: Since you’re not targeting keywords, you can set-up your targeting to your entire website, or specific pages or categories of your site.


Not Everything’s Changing:

  • Keyword-based campaigns can run simultaneously. DSAs will not show when there’s an exact match to one of your keywords.  However, the DSA could be shown instead of the other ad if it’s a broad or phrase match.
  • Ranking & cost per click is calculated in the same fashion using your Quality Score and bids
  • Reporting on search queries, ad copy and landing pages that were used to generate your DSA, as well as the same cost per click, click-through rate, impression & conversion rate data will be available.
  • Ability to add negative keywords or ad extensions.


How To Set Them Up:

1.  Within AdWords, click on the Campaigns tab and click the +New campaign drop down menu & select “Search Network Only.”

2.  On the Campaign Settings page, select “Dynamic Search Ads.”


3.  You can then proceed to creating your ad groups.  In the “Create an ad” section, make sure to click Dynamic search ad.  You can add tracking to your URLs as well.

If you leave the “Auto targets” sectioned as checked to “All pages” this will target all pages that are indexed for your website, including subdomains.


4.  If you don’t want to target every page within this ad group, you can target by categories, URLs, page title, or page content.  To do this, select the Add a group of webpages button from the “Add dynamic ad target” section of the Auto targets tab and choose which targeting method you prefer.  Here are a few tips:

  • Categories: Google sets themes around your website content, so in order to target categories accurately, you should choose from the pick list of AdWords categories’ rather than entering your own.
  • URLs: You can target pages with URLs containing certain strings that you specify so your parameters do not have to be exact URLs, but rather any URL that contains, for example, “/support”.
  • Page title or Page content:  Select these targeting types if you want to designate specific keywords that are in the Page title or the Page content of your landing pages.  If your keyword is cameras, your ad target will appear as “PAGE_TITLE contains cameras” or “PAGE_CONTENT contains cameras”.


How This Could Help You:

  • Save Time on Paid Search by Continually Investing in SEO: If you’re already optimizing your site for organic rank, instead of building out an elaborate keyword strategy and paid search program to match up with all of your landing pages, you can turn on DSAs to take care of your targeting.  Just don’t forget to check back regularly and add negative keywords to eliminate the irrelevant impressions and clicks that could be hurting your campaign.
  • Increase Relevancy & Quality Score: With Google dynamically generating the headline based on the query, this increases your chances of the headline exactly matching the keyword.  When this happens, the headline is bolded, bringing more prominence to its appearance, and hopefully generating more clicks (for an increase in Quality Score).
  • Drive Incremental Traffic: With keyword-targeted campaigns, you can uncover keyword opportunities by looking at what clicks you received from your search query report, but you’ll never know all the search terms you received impressions for. With DSAs, you can promote your website to more potential customers than you can reach with a keyword-targeted campaign.


Alright, this wraps it up! I hope this gives you a stealthy answer to your burning AdWords question: What are Dynamic Search Ads?  As an added disclosure, Google recommends DSAs for sites that have multiple products or services, any products or services that change frequently, or product or services that are seasonal.  On the flip side, small websites with less than 300 landing pages, daily deal sites, comparison shopping sites, affiliate sites, or customizable products and gift websites should refrain from DSAs as they wouldn’t necessarily help your ad program.


Thanks for reading! For more AdWords insights, follow me on Twitter or add me to your G+ circles.


Beckertime Increases Daily Traffic by 8%


Founded in 1998 by father-son watch enthusiasts, Beckertime is one of the largest providers of pre-owned luxury brand watches generating over $1 million in monthly sales revenue.  In 2011, the online retailer turned to KOMI Marketing to manage its digital marketing efforts.


As Beckertime and KOMI Marketing sought to expand its online presence, they faced a bottleneck when trying to build high quality links.  The process of researching and finding relevant high-traffic websites for link building was taking a significant amount of time, preventing them from engaging in other search engine optimization (SEO) strategies like content generation and social media.


In order to improve the link building research process, Beckertime and KOMI Marketing leveraged MixRank’s intelligent search engine to find quality traffic sources in seconds.  Using MixRank, KOMI Marketing instantly uncovered over 50 websites relevant to Beckertime and started building links at a constant pace.


With MixRank’s easy-to-find data, KOMI Marketing and Beckertime saved 90% of the time on its research for link building, freeing them up to focus on other SEO strategies and marketing campaigns.  Additionally, by building links on these websites, Beckertime and KOMI Marketing have seen a steady 8% increase in unique visitors every day.


“MixRank’s traffic sources for related ads are really awesome for link building. Without PPC, I’ve seen a significant boost in unique visitors every day from these backlinks.”


— Joseph Chambers, CEO of KOMI Marketing


Founded as a search engine marketing agency in 2009, KOMI Marketing has since grown into an online marketing company that provides SEO, web development, and social media services.  In addition to working with Beckertime, KOMI Marketing builds and manages integrated online marketing programs for clients in a variety of verticals, including apparel, jewelry, and furniture.  KOMI Marketing has standardized with MixRank as its primary search engine for link building research.


How to Use Google+ for Marketing – Part 2

With Google being the premier internet search engine across virtually all demographics it stands to reason that Google+ and its new +1 buttons will have a large impact on search engine optimization (SEO).  However, Google has not hinted at this.  They have announced that +1’s influence search results for Google+ users, but the standard SEO strategies remain the same – for now.  How to Use Google+ for Marketing – Part 2 will cover how you can use Google+ to enhance your SEO.


+1 content: If anyone in your target market has a Gmail account, I can assure you that investing time in +1’ing your webpages will be well worth it.  Why? Because +1’ed content conditions search results for Google users.  Anyone who has added you into their circles will see your +1’ed webpage if it is related to their query.  It may most likely be on the first page of their search results as well.  Take a look in the example below.


When logged into Gmail:


When logged out of Gmail:


Notice the difference between these search results when I search for “marketing” on Google.  There are search results on the of first page for the term “marketing” indicating who shared the link. This creates a rapid way to appear on the top page of Google’s search results.  However, just keep in mind that this tactic only works when a) users have added you into their circles and b) users are logged into Gmail. Because there are stipulations that affect this strategy, make sure to continue to participate in the standard SEO strategies.


Benefits of +1’d Content: Once you’ve +1’ed your pages and the +1’ed link shows up on related search results for those who have added you in their circles, the link will probably have a higher click-through rate (CTR).  If the content was valuable or interesting to readers, it will more likely induce retweets and shares.  Studies have shown a positive correlation between the number of retweets and shares a link receives and its search ranking.  Therefore, as your link gains popularity on Twitter and Facebook, your organic search rank goes up for improved SEO.


Remember that Google is the industry’s largest search giant.  Just because they haven’t factored +1’s into the SEO ranking system now doesn’t mean they won’t use the data in the future.  Google can change how SEO is ranked tomorrow and everyone would need to conform.  So it probably doesn’t hurt to have your Google+ account just in case radical change pops up in the future.  In the meantime, work on building out your fan base and continuously +1’ing new content as it’s released. Acquiring a fan base is an on-going challenge with any social media platform, making Google+ no different. Refer back to my first Google+ post to learn how to gain followers on Google+.


Thanks for reading! Add me to your circles on Google+ or follow me on Twitter to learn more about online marketing.


How Solved the Chicken and Egg Problem and Grew to 1 Million Pageviews a Month with No SEO

I dispense a lot of marketing advice on this blog. Most of it is backed up by data, or my own experience, or the conventional wisdom accumulated by thousands of marketers. But it’s important to remember that, in marketing, there are no hard and fast rules or surefire strategies for success. Here’s an example of a project that eschewed conventional wisdom, broke all of the rules, and managed to generate explosive, viral growth through somewhat more unconventional channels.On the surface, ThatHigh is a site that should have never gotten any traction. The primary paradigm of the site is derivative of FMyLife and not particularly unique. It falls into an incredibly competitive and increasingly fragmented humor site for college kids niche. It’s aimed at a fickle, disloyal, and shall we say…forgetful audience. And, worst of all, it faced the chicken-and-egg problem that plagues most user generated content sites- it needs content to attract users, but it needs users to generate that content.


Given how stacked the odds were against it, the meteoric growth of ThatHigh to over 1 million pageviews a month is all the more impressive. I recently spoke to the founder of ThatHigh to learn exactly how he was able to bring in significant traffic without doing SEO or spending lots of money on advertising. In his own words:

Getting the Idea for ThatHigh

While I don’t consider myself to be a stoner, I have always thought that the web lacked a place for smokers of all types (casual or frequent) to discuss ideas and share hilarious or amusing thoughts. These places exist but they lack the brand and business-drive that often makes such sites successful. Most of them aren’t well known. When a friend suggested I make a site like this and call it “That High” (very much a ripoff of FML), I thought the idea was too good to pass up. So I registered the domain name, and built the site with two other people over the course of one night. It was started as an experiment, more than anything.

It seems that more than a few successful sites began as a half-formed idea built during a frenzied hackathon. If you think something might have a chance of succeeding and you can get at least something out quickly…just throw it up and see what happens.

Struggling to Retain Traffic

The first thing I tried was submitting the site to reddit, digg, and a few other private forums. This went very poorly because the site didn’t have much content. I figured putting a few stories up would be enough, but it wasn’t. Most of the feedback was very good, but the site didn’t retain any traffic because of the lack of content.

The vast majority of users are consumers of content, not producers. If you don’t offer some value to a casual surfer immediately…They.Will.Bounce.

Seeding The Site With Content

So I made a bunch of fake accounts, mined the web, and posted as much as I could find to the site under different accounts. Then I went into the database and manually created a ton of votes for each of the stories, to make it look like there was as much activity as I could. I even posted some fake conversations in the comment sections.

This is exactly how reddit got initial traction too. The fact is that if you’re building a content site, you need to think about getting content first, before getting users. There are two ways to do this. You can bring in high-value content producers users want to see for your site(FunnyorDie, Huffington Post, etc) or seed the site with content other users can engage with(by writing it yourself, hiring forum posters, getting interns to write blog posts, etc).

Identifying and Reaching the Target Audience

I have no idea where I got the idea, but I decided that College Humor would share much of my target audience, so I found the “submit link” section of their website and submitted About a week later, they accepted our submission (it’s all moderated) and we got a TINY little link in their sidebar for a few days. They had changed the text to “This is your FML. This is your FML on drugs.” That first day, our site got something like 20k visits. This was an absolutely enormous spike and I had certainly never run a website with that much traffic. The traffic from CH eventually trailed off (after just a few days). At that point, we had a definite userbase. Users were registering, submitting, and voting. I no longer had to fake activity, which was awesome.

The CollegeHumor traffic spike may seem like sheer luck, but it’s anything but. It’s actually the result of identifying the most highly targeted and relevant audience for the site, finding the specific microtargeted segment of that audience most likely to convert into regular visitors and engage with the site (people who frequent humor sites, for example) and identifying the places they gather online.

Growing Without SEO

I’ve done almost zero SEO. I don’t know enough about it to spend lots of time in that area. I changed the title tags to match each page’s content, I submitted a site map to Google Webmaster Tools, and I added the relevant meta tags. I think my site’s pagerank is something like 2 / 10, so not that great. But it turns out, for a site like this, that doesn’t matter. At least not yet. I fully admit this is an area where I might see some increased traffic and revenue if I spend some time on it, but there are only so many hours in the day. My search traffic basically consists of users searching for “that high” or the standard variants.

SEO is not the only way to get traffic for free. Instead of pandering to the caprice of search engines, your time could be better spent with on-site optimization for retention and engagement, working on increasing the amount of pageviews per user, time on site, and so on. The reason ThatHigh can grow without SEO is that it’s a naturally, pardon the pun, sticky site. The constant flow of new content in short, easy to digest bits means that some users will come back multiple times to check what’s new on the site. Also, note how the site is carefully engineered to minimize friction whenever possible. Voting and submitting are incredibly easy to do, and don’t even require registration. Minimizing the amount of mental energy required to interact with a site is key to keeping users engaged and coming back to create content.

Testing Paid Traffic Sources

I’ve tried advertising with AdWords, Project Wonderful, StumbleUpon, Facebook, Reddit, and a few others. By far the most effective is StumbleUpon. I put $5-$10 many months ago, and when the initial stumbles gained a good rating from the users, the site just exploded on SU. This was many months ago, and I still see a significant amount of traffic from SU daily. I think I got lucky and struck a chord with some of SU’s users, and maintaining a high rating on the site ensures that it gets stumbled more often. Win! Reddit ads are probably the next best thing. I tend to stay away from CPC advertising because it doesn’t give me a good return on the money. Reddit allows you to target to specific subreddits (if you like), and I’ve been experimenting with this again very recently to find a good strategy there.

It’s incredibly hard to justify paid advertising to promote a content site that isn’t selling anything. You’re essentially trying to pay for the ads through simple traffic arbitrage, a strategy that has not been very effective for quite a few years. The common theme of the traffi
c sources that did work for ThatHigh, and probably work for other content sites, is that paid traffic is used only for the initial push- the first few stumbles, a little bit of awareness on reddit. After that, the traffic starts coming in organically and takes off without further action from the advertiser. Consistently paying for stumbles is a foolish endeavor- but buying a few stumbles to get initial momentum can be tremendously powerful.

Hustling and Doing Whatever it Takes to Get Traffic

The hardest part, I think, was getting the initial traffic. Online ads were good, but I also spammed the hell out of my college campus (months ago). Most people want to build a site like this and then stop, wait for users, and get rich. It doesn’t work that way. Every 2 days or so, I’d go to my school’s quad and chalk every vertical surface I could find. Then I’d do the same thing in town. I even went to one of the dorm’s and used dry-erase marker on the mirrors and windows on each floor and in each bathroom. This was pretty tedious, but it worked very well. Within days the site’s traffic had doubled. This is the kind of thing that most people won’t do.

Sometimes, driving traffic simply demands ingenuity, creativity, and hustle. Be more creative than your competitors, work harder than them, and test faster than them. Go where your competitors dare not because they are too complacent, too conventional, too risk-averse. There are literally thousands of diverse traffic sources out there…go explore them!

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 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.