Old marketing hacks for new startup founders that are free

By Shaun Symm, November 12, 2015
Computer screen showing Google Analytics charts

Drive traffic to your startup website

If you follow startup blogs or read the blogs of the best startup marketers (see my essential reading list of online marketing blogs) you might know some of these growth hacks.

If not, or you are a new founder here are some old (they’ve been around for a few years) tactics to get traffic to your website for free. Like all things, these methods tend to work best when you have a good product that solves a real problem.

  1. Quora
    This is a Q & A site. You can create a profile, ask questions, upvote existing answers and answer questions. If you’re an authority on a specific subject matter (i.e.: you’re an expert in the problem that your startup solves) you can answer questions and post links to your site or blog. Keep in mind the idea here is not to be spammy or to look like you are advertising. You need to offer real advice and position yourself as an expert. If you do people will click on the link you place in your answers.
  2. Hacker News
    This is a community site for interesting links. While the word ‘hacker’ is used HN states that the links you post don’t necessarily have to be about hacking but they must be interesting. Keep your target audience in mind though. People on Hacker News are generally from a tech background. They are early adopters but aren’t fooled by rubbish. Great links rise to the top as users can comment and upvote links. Links that get lots of comments and upvotes make it to the home page. Get there are you are bound to see a decent amount of traffic.
  3. Hacker News "Show HN”
    This is another section within HN. This is for products, or tools, that people can play with and provide feedback on. You simply add “Show HN” to the front of your post to place it in this section. Don’t do this unless there is something worthwhile for people to play with. Be prepared for constructive criticism and if you are getting comments be sure to join the conversation.
  4. Betalist
    This website shows upcoming startups that are pre-beta or are in private beta. i.e. they haven’t launched yet. You can post your startup, if you have a landing page, on to Betalist for review. If approved, your website will be featured for free. This site now gets a fair amount of traffic and a large number of submission from other startups so they’re very selective on the startups they feature. If you don’t want to risk missing out they offer a paid service to guarantee a quick listing. Even if you do pay, it’s a good way to get your ‘coming soon’ landing page in front of thousands of eyeballs at a low cost to help bulk up your pre-release email sign up list. Other similar services include Betapage and Killer Startups.
  5. Submit.co
    This one falls under good old PR. PR is free if you are doing it yourself, but requires time and effort. If you can afford to pay a PR agency all the better. If you are doing it on your own here is a very thorough list of tech news sites and other platforms you can post your new product too. In fact some of the ideas listed in this post can be found on this list too.
  6. Twitter
    Good old fashioned Twitter (follow Launch Lab). Simply start by finding and following people who are in your target audience. Start a conversation with them and try to interact with them. Don’t be a stalker though and don’t spam people. They’ll quickly unfollow you. If you want to add some automation try products like Socedo. It will help you find your target audience based on keywords you select. You can then follow these people and setup automated likes to like their tweets if the tweets contain certain keywords you've pre-selected. If after the automated ‘like' they follow you back Socedo will send them a direct message, which you can write promoting your startup. Remember to keep it relevant. If you send a spammy direct message to someone they’re likely to unfollow you. Keep your DM short, keep it helpful and ensure you have a link to your new website.
  7. Blog Comments
    This is similar to Quora. Again you don’t want your comments to look like adverts. They must be helpful to the readers or offer a different viewpoint on the subject. If you find a blog post that discusses the problem your startup solves, or it discusses the product of one of your competitors then write a comment and add a link to your website. Tread carefully. You’ve been warned.
  8. Guest Posting on Blogs
    Writing posts for other blogs is a great way to position yourself as an expert but also to get your message out. Find popular blogs that target the same audience that your startup targets and reach out to them with possible angles on posts you want to write for them. If you really are an expert, or just have an interesting perspective, and your post is targeted at their audience there is a good chance of getting published.
  9. Blog on Medium
    Medium is similar to Twitter but without the 140 character limit. It’s a great place to post content. To be honest, I haven’t really embraced Medium from a writing perspective yet but others have. Mitchell Harper, an Australian who co-founded BigCommerce, recently used Medium in the build up to the launch of his new startup PeopleSpark. He wrote some really interesting posts over a period of months and always added links to the new products landing page in everything he wrote. His metrics on Medium show that his posts have been viewed, and shared, by thousands. The key to his success is that he wrote posts that were not only very good reads but gave great insights and were helpful to his target audience. He was fairly prolific too which doesn't hurt.
  10. LinkedIn Groups
    Join a group where your target audience resides and then join the conversation. Like many of the ideas here you need to be smart about this. Make sure that if you are adding your URL to a comment in the group it doesn’t look like advertising. Most group admins will delete posts and comments that appear to be pure advertising. Make sure you are offering value and helping others out.
  11. Facebook Groups
    Similar to LinkedIn Groups. Find groups on Facebook where your target audience resides. Once you find a group take a look at the recency and frequency of posts in the group as well as the number of likes and comments on each post. If the group looks active, is large enough and is your target audience then be sure to join.
  12. Personal Emails
    The type of email I’m talking about here isn’t your usual email marketing in that you aren’t building lists of pre-sign ups or emailing existing customers (you need to do all of that though!) and you aren’t buying email marketing lists. If you’ve built a B2C product then email your friends, family and business acquaintances both old and new. Tell them about the product, ask them to try it and ask them to share it with their network. The same applies to B2B products but you need to be a bit smarter here. Don’t email your great uncle who is a retired jockey telling him about your startup that makes working with APIs easy for front-end developers. Remember, that you can also add to your email list by downloading email addresses from LinkedIn of all of the people you are linked with. This is a once off opportunity so craft your email carefully and send it at a time that you feel will most benefit your product (your launch day could be a good time).
  13. ProductHunt
    This is a place for the latest and greatest web and mobile applications followed by early adopters. Similar to Hacker News, products only make it to the home page if they are upvoted by the community. There is a big asterisk on this one though in that you can’t actually submit your own product. Plus, in order to submit a product you have to be invited by a current member. Product Hunt can drive lots of traffic to your products website so it’s worth investing some time on it. My suggestion is to go to the Meetup page on the PH site and find a meetup in your city. Go along and make an introduction. That’s a great way to get started, and noticed.
  14. Get your logo listed on other sites
    There are many ways to do this and the best way to explain is by way of an example. For Launch Lab we made a donation to the Django core project, which gave our logo a prominent place on their website together with a backlink (ok, so this wasn't free but was a worthwhile donation to make for Django developers). We also use a product called Deis who list their users on their home page. We reached out to them to list our logo as we love their product and use it every day.
  15. Sub Reddits on Reddit
    If you are launching post to the Launchpages subreddit and the Startups subreddit. Depending on your target audience you’ll probably be able to find other relevant Subreddits to post and comment in (for example the Shamelessplug subreddit).
  16. Join the conversation wherever it is happening
    This sounds really obvious and it is. In fact it is the over arching theme to this post. Your target market are having a conversation somewhere online. There are loads of other platforms and opportunities I haven’t mentioned here. Find out where your potential customers are having the conversation and get involved.
  17. Email Signatures
    Use your email signature to advertise your product or to advertise blog posts you’ve written. You aren’t going to get massive amounts of traffic out of this but it is free. If you really want to put your product front and centre in every business email you send then look at using products like Rocketseed. You can also look at products like Wisestamp for better email signatures.
  18. Slideshare
    Create a slide deck about a subject you are an authority on (hopefully the same field as your startup) and share it on SlideShare. This is a very popular growth hack that can help position you as an expert but also drive traffic to your website. In fact this slide deck on growth hacking has over 380,000 views. Wow!

The final word: Track everything with analytics tools and UTM parameters

This list is simply the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of other ways to hack growth for your startup. If you've come across any really clever ideas please let me know in the comments.

Finally, remember that whatever you do, whether you use paid or free marketing channels, be sure to track it so that you know what works. Analytics tools like Google Analytics are free. You can also check out products like Mixpanel, which offers a very good free tier. Also check out UTM parameters to tag links that you place on other websites so that you can track exactly where your traffic is coming from.

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