Growth Hacking: 5 Fundamentals To Get You Started

by James Walker on Jan 10, 2014

growth hackerThe new trend in the world of startups is something called “growth hacking.”

The “hacking” term has been liberally applied to things like life hacking or sandwich hacking (seriously), but growth hacking actually looks at what causes businesses to grow. Growth hackers aim to find that sweet spot and sell businesses on the idea that they can grow their brand quickly.

A typical day for a growth hacker starts with a thorough analysis of a site’s traffic. He might look at which browsers a user visits from, whether a sizeable chunk comes from mobile, and how those users respond to content. Do they stay onsite or click to other pages?

They also look at failed interactions too.

You might have goal funnels set up that track when a user drops out of a transaction, but growth hackers study every nuance of user behavior. When a user drops out of an article, or stops a video from playing, growth hackers want to know when and how they decided to do that.

All this data help them establish a model for user behavior. This model helps growth hackers test their theories and find ways to expand on their ideas.

Growth hacking can be very successful as a mindset, and you can put its theories to work for your business too. The below tips will get you started.

1. Make the Product Viral

The classic example of product viral marketing is Hotmail. The more email that was sent to outside inboxes, the more users flocked to Hotmail. The tag line?

“Hotmail: Free, trusted and rich email service. Get it now.”

hotmail signature ad

That was back in 1996, before Microsoft purchased Hotmail for $400 million. They actually used the technique up until 2010.

Another example comes from pharmaceutical giant Merck published a pharmaceutical manuscript that became an industry authority. The Merck Index is an encyclopedia of chemicals and drug compounds used by pharmacists, chemists and engineers.

The Merck Index

Source: Wikipedia

The resource was so useful, its use spread virally amongst the very customer Merck benefited from knowing the company more, pharmacists. It was an early example of strong content marketing.

Merck owned the property until 2013, when it was finally acquired by the “Royal Society of Chemistry.”

Today this practice often takes the form of tutorial content. Auto shops may post tutorial content on simple fixes and maintenance checks. Marketing executives brand themselves as experts through aggressive content marketing campaigns, and businesses engage in brand journalism with press releases and guest blogs.

2. Reach Your Influencers

Guy Kawasaki was one of Apple’s biggest enthusiasts back in 1984 when the company was releasing the Mac. He learned how to identify and influence Apple’s biggest user groups and turn them into evangelists of the product.

guy kawasaki apple evangelist

Source: tech.mit.edu

He leveraged the power of Apple’s software and turned that momentum into more sales.

Today, that process is made easier with services like Twitter search and Klout. Searching for your brand and tapping into that conversation helps you identify a smaller audience to cater to. Let them do most of the talking for you, but figure out how to get your product or user experience in their hands.

3. Reward Your Members

Dropbox rewards its members sharing habits with more space. Every time a user invites someone to use Dropbox he gains a half gig’s worth of space, which he can accumulate overtime with each user he successfully subscribes.

dropbox referrals

This counters traditional affiliate programs that attract marketing types, and turns your customers into marketers.

Look for ways to reward members with the products they already use. Zippo stands by its promise to repair any of its products without charging the customer, including for postage. The company will refund any money the customer spends on a repair. Money-back guarantees like that reward the customer for his loyalty.

Restaurants can offer free meals or appetizers for frequent guests, tracking their check-ins using services like OpenTable. Look for ways to encourage the customer to keep coming back.

4. Test Changes to Improve

Google famously tested its logo colors until it found the proper shade of blue, a tradition that continues today with its decision to use a flatter logo design for printed materials.

new google logo testing

Source: Google

That attention to detail might seem banal, but the company swears by its analytical data and makes much of its decisions based on user feedback.

Facebook practices something similar, but chooses to roll its newest features out to journalists and evangelists first to evaluate feedback. They even sometimes use the smaller country of New Zealand to test new features.

Facebook uses those use cases to determine how the product is being used, and routinely hosts in-house hackathons to improve upon its products based on that user feedback.

Marketers can echo these techniques by using Google’s Experiments feature in Analytics to test Web pages for conversion rates. The test splits traffic between two landing pages, allowing for a proper AB test. Just be sure that  you follow proper A/B testing protocol:

  1. Change your headline, some of the body content, or your call to action. Not all of those things.
  2. Measure everything you can with Analytics, and review your reporting.
  3. Set goals. You will never know if you are improving when you have no benchmark set

5. Build Engaging Content

AirBnBs “Living Local” interviews the renters and the owners of property to showcase deals users can find. One interview for a “Beer, Bed and Breakfast” in San Francisco walks through an apartment where the owners play cards at a table and have a great time showing off the trendy house.

The interviewer walks through all the bedrooms, pointing out that your room comes equipped with a cocktail arcade game set and a 60s record player.

airbnb living local

It’s a nice picture, and some videos have upwards of 17,000 views to prove the effectiveness of the campaign. Not every video works, some have as low as 800 hits.

If possible, it’s always best to let customers tell their story. Use photos and talk about the best user experiences you have on your blog. If you own a bar, offer tips to help people order their drinks faster. If you own a clothing retailer, try to offer tips on customer sizing so you can cut down on returns.

Think about the customer’s intention for visiting your site, then build your content based on that.

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Lead image source: Shutterstock.com computer hacker

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Post Author

James is the Development Community Manager at Injekt, an open platform for third party app developers.  An avid designer and coder since he was 12, James writes and curates topics on both basic web development and advanced languages with...

  • AmyLizK

    This is both dense and practical with tips from novice to expert. Thanks, James!

  • http://geekfree.net/ Aaron

    Thanks James. Just read Growth hacking from Ryan Holioday and now reading The Lean Entrepreneur. Sharing this article now! –Aaron

  • http://raymondduke.com/ Ray

    I like how you use the old example of marketing. Anything that is considered “growth hacking” can be attributed to traditional methods of marketing. For anyone that wants to be a better “growth hacker”, study direct response!

  • http://www.118group.com/ Dale Shadbegian

    Love the Zippo example!