The controversial title of Growth Hacker is making its rounds in the startup community, but is still misunderstood by many, even with the thorough explanations by accomplished marketers like Sean Ellis, Andrew Chen, and Gagan Biyani. As Gagan Biyani stated, Growth Hackers are marketers first, only with a unique set of startup product challenges that force them to prioritize and strategize differently than traditional marketers.
But all marketing - Growth Hacking included - begins with a focus on “The Marketing Mix,” also known as “The 4 P’s of Marketing.” The concept was first introduced in 1960 by Michigan State marketing professor E. Jerome McCarthy, and advocates for a focus on “putting the right Product in the right Place, at the right Price, and (with Promotion) at the right time.”
These same guidelines are considered best practices for a reason - they speak to the marketers’ understanding of the customer. Knowing that you have the right customer (targeting, segmenting) with the right intent (need, timing) is crucial, and generally leads to high-performing marketing campaigns with product/customer fit, targeted value proposition, and targeted distribution.
Where a growth hacker differs from a traditional marketer is the focus on “The 5th P” - a systematic recurring Process that leads strategy and budget allocation. This process involves analyzing data, running experiments, discovering new opportunities, and most importantly - learning quickly and acting. To be clear, the creativity that is associated with a marketer never leaves growth hackers...instead, that creativity is guided by the data analysis and experiment learnings.
1. Track Data...But Make It Functional
There is no such thing as a data-driven process without data. And we can all agree that there’s nothing worse than a pile of data with no analysis behind it. What matters more than having large amounts of information is being able to harness that data into real business value.
Google Analytics is by far the best starting point for data analysis, because there is no other tool available that is so robust and still free-of-charge. The moment you install your Google Analytics tracking code, you gain access to powerful data related to your website visitors and your website performance itself. Understanding your website’s Audience and Traffic Sources is vital to understanding your customers (What are their demographics? Where are they coming from? How frequently? What devices/browsers do they use?). And tools such as Visitor Flow or Content Drilldown show you invaluable data related to a particular page’s performance (bounce rate, time spent on page, on-page conversions) or your website’s funnel performance (How many make it through the funnel? How many drop off?). But the real magic happens in Google Analytics when you customize Goals and Custom Reports.
You can set up your goals easily based on URLs - an example would be the URL after you complete registration (http://example.com/registration-complete) as a completed “Registered User” goal. With your goals set up, you can see the true efficiency of campaigns and funnels as they relate to your KPIs - registrations, purchases, and other product actions.
Note: When your website or product doesn’t conveniently have URL-based goal destinations, you will have to add “events” into your code that represent action triggers (“when action A happens, trigger my goal event A”). This unfortunately requires a bit of coding work, but is relatively simple to get done.
The amount of metadata being tracked by Google Analytics is mind-boggling, and this can be both a gift and a curse for marketers. Given the amount of available data, the best use of the data is to create customized reports that include the exact data needed to have quick-but-valuable learnings.
If you can navigate through the many parts of custom reports (metrics, dimension view, filters) then you will have a field day with this tool. However, if you are overwhelmed by setting up custom reports there is actually an online community of marketers who share Google Analytics custom reports. You can find tons of valuable reports in communities like CustomReportSharing, or do a quick Google search for “Google Analytics Custom Reports”.
2. Distribute Everything, Everywhere
We’ve heard the saying a million times - "If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?". If people don’t know your product or website exists, then you will obviously have a hard time getting users and customers...so for all intents and purposes, it may as well not exist.
Part of the growth hacker’s job description is to “drive traffic”, and that process includes both an initial setup (consider these “static”, infrastructure-type efforts) and recurring efforts to distribute content. When potential customers are looking for products, they run web searches for terms around that product. It is the growth hacker’s role to know what those search terms are, and how to interject the brand into that search however possible.
Meet people where they are
News flash - when people look for something, they search on Google. In 2012, there were over 5 Billion Google searches a day. Ranking well here is vital to any website’s success, and there are ways to give your website as much opportunity for high search rankings as possible.
SEO: Start here. Understand what you’re dealing with by doing keyword research. Take “Brand A” for example, a clothing company based in New York City. A quick Google Trends search shows that “clothing nyc” is far-and-away more searched than other similar term variations, such as “jeans nyc” or “clothes nyc”.
The example is simple, but the point stands that you need to use the appropriate terms for your website. You then place those keywords in your page Titles, Descriptions, and H1 tags in every logical location (without being “spammy”). The 2nd, and most important, part is to be sure your website is communicating properly with the Googlebot web crawler. You can do this by creating your own robots.txt and sitemap.xml files and uploading them (to the root directory and Google Webmaster Tools, respectively).
Directories: When people look for businesses on Google, results are filled with that business' main site, social media profiles, and other sites the business is mentioned on. Those "mentions" generally come in the form of business directories and press-curated lists. These are great not only for customer discovery, but also provide strong linkbacks to your site, thereby helping your site's overall SEO. Grab a list of directories and get your website or product on each one, now!
By Any Means: Looking at our earlier example search of "Brand A" clothing company, you will find a few interesting lists and directories such as Yelp’s Men’s Clothing page, Yelp’s “Cheap Clothing Stores in New York, NY,” NYC.com’s “Best Clothing Boutiques in NYC,” Complex’s “10 Best Vintage Clothing Shops in NYC,” and an AskMen article on “New York Clothing Stores.”
You’ll notice that the first 2 Yelp directories are user-oriented (voting, comments), while the remaining 3 are curated lists, which would require PR outreach to get listed. A growth hacker would look to get Brand A involved in all 5 lists, and that effort would include user outreach to encourage Yelp reviews (high stars, with the terms “cheap” and “clothing” in them), and would also do PR outreach to NYC.com, Complex, and AskMen to see about getting Brand A involved in these articles or future ones.
Spread The Message
In 2013, marketers on average are spending 33% of their budget on content marketing. Why, you ask? Because the best way to have continued traffic to your website is to have constant content coming from your brand...usually manifested via blog posts and press releases. The better the content piece, the more likely it will get opened, read, and shared. But why spend so much time compiling a valuable blog post, presentation deck, or video if you don't plan on sharing it as much as possible?
Because of the likelihood that valuable content will not only drive traffic, but drive new visitors, content distribution is at the forefront of a growth hacker's responsibilities. Every piece of content should be syndicated through social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest) and social bookmarking sites (Reddit, HackerNews, StumbleUpon, Delicious, Digg, Diigo, Squidoo).
If you're feeling really ambitious, take that blog post and make it into a press release format. Then distribute that around all the free press release websites. Now, take that blog post and save it as a file (PDF?), then post it on all the doc-sharing sites.
Advertise, But Wisely
Spending money on online advertising is ideal for small businesses and startups, because you can control your spending and target your exact potential customers. The most important platforms to focus your advertising money are Google AdWords and Facebook Ads.
Paid advertising campaigns can be a time-consuming hassle, which is why many large companies dedicate a staff member, if not a team, to focus on ads management. However, smaller teams of course do not have that luxury - so that means a growth hacker must be very calculated with his/her efforts.
If you're really green to online advertising, click here for help on Google AdWords, and here for help on Facebook Ads.
Partner Up Wherever Possible
We know that the best referrals come from other people (see in this article, 'How To Make Your Customers Into Marketers'), so you could imagine the power in having another brand mention...or even advocate for...your brand.
Research your personal and professional network for people and brands that would benefit from affiliating with your brand. Target those as opportunities for partnerships, then separate those partnerships into different types of opportunities.
Basic partnerships can be as simple as a blog link trade or a mutual e-mail newsletter mention. Other larger partnerships usually involve some sort of technology integration, such as using an API. Those are very lucrative, but usually take longer to develop and implement.
3. Test, Learn, Make Changes
We've covered (a) tracking the data, and (b) filling the funnel, but how do you make "the machine" more efficient? The mentality of testing is key to growth hacking, and is what allows the best growth hackers to move quickly and find new opportunities.
The two primary areas to test quickly and easily are on-screen and through advertising.
Conversion Optimization On-Screen
An A/B Testing tool like Optimizely is a must-have for growth hackers, because you can quickly deploy many variations of a screen with no coding necessary. You can easily test simple changes - I tend to start with (a) color, (b) copy, (c) placement. Changing the color and shape of a button, for example, can yield tremendous results.
Test Multiple Variations of Ads
As mentioned earlier, the best platforms to spend your time are Google AdWords and Facebook Ads. Test in both platforms to learn what works, and to learn about your customers at the same time. In Google AdWords, focus on keyword phrases and copy iterations (headline / text). When you find certain phrases that work, implement those phrases throughout your marketing copy.
In Facebook Ads, focus on finding the right customer types and interests, as well as images & copy. In Facebook, the images you use are a huge factor in determining success or failure of an ad, but they can also help guide you into the mindset of your target customers.
Now that you understand the 3 basic parts of the Growth Hacker's process (data, distribution, testing), you can see that the term is more representative of a mentality than a job description. Digital marketers who are data-driven, constantly test, and are focus on grabbing distribution by any means necessary...they are growth professionals.