Search online and you will see articles about growth hacking everywhere. The only problem is many times growth hacking seems an abstract concept that only big companies can use.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Any company or website can use growth hacking to grow. Do you know why?
Because growth hacking is a mindset, not just a bunch of tactics used to improve your conversion rate.
If you are wondering what this mindset is all about and how to use it, fear not.
Since 93% of B2B marketers and 86% of B2C marketers use content marketing as their main acquisition channel, in this post, you will learn how the growth hacking mindset works and how to use it for your content marketing strategy.
Think like a growth hacker
Let’s start by taking this out of the picture: growth hacking isn’t “something” you do, rather it’s a mindset and a process you implement to a set of tactics to achieve a specific goal. Therefore, if you want to be a growth hacker, you need to think like one.
What is growth hacking all about? I could give you all sorts of explanations and definitions, but the fact is growth hacking is all about getting results.
Instead of wasting your time thinking things through and looking at the “right way” of doing things like any conventional marketer would do, you “hack” your way through until you get the results you want.
Growth hackers, however, aren’t disorganized when it comes to “hacking” their way through results. Growth hackers think like scientists:
- They start by creating a hypothesis around a tactic and goal.
- They design a test around that hypothesis.
- They run the test.
- They get the results.
- If the test fails, they learn and try again with a different set of hypothesis.
- If it works, they keep the winning version.
Whatever the result, every time a growth hacker tests a hypothesis he or she learns something that gets them closer to reality.
The key of a growth hacker mindset, the one that separates them from a “regular” marketer, is they use inductive reasoning. Let me explain.
Most marketers use deductive reasoning when testing a marketing tactic. That is:
- They come up with a theory of how things work, which can be based on “marketing rules”, facts, or technical definitions.
- They create a hypothesis around those ideas.
- They run the test and learn based on the results.
That thinking process isn’t bad per se, it’s just inefficient when you are a small startup and you need to get results fast. If you pick the wrong hypothesis, you may lose a lot of time implementing a tactic and trying to grow a channel that has no potential.
As a growth hacker, you don’t have the privilege of time or resources. You need to deliver results fast. That’s why you need to use inductive reasoning. That means when you want to test a new tactic, you would:
- Make observations on what pieces of content people share and link to.
- Find patterns within those successful pieces of content (e.g. “the articles that got the most shares have lots of screenshots”).
- Tie a probability of success to those patterns (e.g. “using screenshots in our articles have a higher likelihood of getting shares”).
- Create a theory behind those patterns (e.g. “our users like articles with screenshots”).
- Create a test to see if those patterns provide the results you observed before.
Before moving on, let me say this process isn’t as scientific as the ones real scientists use in the biotech industry and the like. Rather, it’s a highly simplified version of this thought process that you need to use.
Instead of wasting your time to find theories to back your ideas, you flip the coin and focus on what works and how you can replicate those results.
As you can see, this methodology is much leaner and iterative than the theory-based one most marketers use. You make observations, test hypothesis, and find new insights that give you an edge over your competitors.
To sum up, as a content marketing growth hacker, your job will be to:
- Find successful campaigns from your own company or your competitors.
- Find patterns of success within those campaigns that have a high likelihood of causing that success.
- Come up with a different set of hypothesis based on the patterns previously found.
- Create tests around these hypothesis to validate or refute them.
- Get results, which will help you learn what works and what doesn’t.
If growth hackers focus on results, then how do you use this same mindset for your content marketing campaigns? According to a Content Marketing Institute study, only 42% of B2B marketers say they’re effective at content marketing. This means there’s a big gap between what content marketers want and what they achieve.
That may have to do with the fact most B2B content marketers use 13 tactics to achieve their results. That dilutes their efforts in a way that makes content marketing fall short of its potential.
Brian Balfour, former VP of Growth at Hubspot, referred to this problem when he wrote:
A lot of teams take a shotgun approach to growth by trying a little bit of everything, but never a lot of one thing. It is harder to focus than it is to try everything. As a result they end up just scratching the surface rather than digging a layer deeper to find what really works. There are two things to remember. One, most successful companies get the majority of their scale from a single channel. Two, there are only a few ways to scale.
In other words, you should focus on making content marketing work. In order to do that, you need to have a clear idea on how content marketing can help you grow. Otherwise, you may fall in the 58% of content marketers that say they aren’t effective at doing it.
In the simplest terms, content marketing can help you fulfill three goals:
- Attract traffic.
- Generate leads.
- Nurture those leads into customers.
All the content you create within your strategy must be focused on achieving those goals. As the Metallica song goes, nothing else matters.
How do you attract traffic these days? By creating content that’s share-worthy and link-worthy.
How do you generate leads? By giving people something they want badly enough so they are willing to give you their email address. With the absurd amount of content out there, that’s something that gets harder each day that goes by.
How do you nurture leads into becoming customers? By creating a full-funnel content strategy that gives them the information they need when they need it the most.
But how do you create content that’s shared and link-worthy? How do you find what people want? And how do you find what content people need at each stage of their buying process?
In the next section of this post, I will show you three hacks you can implement today to achieve two of the three goals for your content marketing strategy.
Hack #1: How to get more traffic with reverse engineering
Your content marketing strategy can be focused on many types of traffic, including referral, social, or email. But according to Andrew Chen, one of the few that can be scaled is organic traffic. If your website has enough domain authority, you can expect to get thousands, if not millions, of visitors per month thanks to the traffic brought by search engines.
In order to get organic traffic, both your website and your content need to be optimized for search engines, especially Google, which in the United States has a market share of 63.8%.
As a former SEO consultant, optimizing a website is as simple as doing two things right:
- Optimize your most important pages for one main keyword with moderate to high traffic levels.
- Attract inbound links to your most important pages and to your homepage.
SEO doesn’t get any harder than that. How you can optimize your pages and get inbound links is the big question.
The first part of that equation, the on-site optimization, deserves a separate article. That’s why I will focus on the second one: inbound links.
Inbound links still are one of the most important factors of Google’s ranking algorithm. You need to attract as many high-quality links to your pages through the use of link building tactics to rank them for your given keywords.
There are many link building techniques you can use. The best one, however, is creating great content. Yes, I know “great content” can be a thrilling set of words these days. After all, 76% of B2B marketers blog. Yet, as you may already know, most of them don’t get any results. That’s why you need to create content that makes people want to link to it and share it.
To create high-quality content, you could use the typical deductive reasoning most marketers use, which consists of:
- Coming up with an idea.
- Create it.
- Promote it hoping people will care.
As a growth hacker, you can do better. Instead of spraying and praying, you can deduce that the content that’s likely to perform best is the one that has already performed well before.
In other words, if a piece of content got a lot of shares and inbound links, it means people find that article (and the topic it covers) interesting. If you recreated that article, you could easily get the same results the original one got. You could also change the content type and create an infographic, ebook, video, or podcast based on the topic idea of the successful article you found.
In order to find the content that has performed well in your industry, you need to reverse engineer your competitors. To do that, you need to define some features of what makes a piece of content successful. There are many attributes you can select, from a number of comments to social shares to inbound links. The last two, however, are the most important ones.
In 2015, Shareaholic found that social media is the largest driver of all referral traffic. As of December 2014, 31.24% of all referral traffic came from social media. That means your social shares can help you bring more referral traffic to your site.
What’s more, according to BuzzSumo, longer content can help get the most shares, with 3000-10000 word pieces getting the most average shares (8859 total average shares).
On the other hand, inbound links are one of the largest drivers of organic traffic. A joint-study made by Brian Dean and Eric Van Buskirk found that “the number of domains linking to a page correlated with rankings more than any other factor”.
The best tools that can help you reverse engineer your competitors are BuzzSumo and Ahrefs. The former is a competitor intelligence tool that will help you find what articles got the most shares on five different social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, and Google Plus. The latter is an SEO tool that can help you find keywords, analyze your competitor’s backlinks, among other things.
Let’s say you work for a non-profit that focuses on providing shelter to stray dogs and cats in the United States. Your goal is to bring awareness to your cause. In order to achieve that goal, you would need to create share and link-worthy content that drives traffic to your site.
The first thing you would need to do is head to BuzzSumo and input some keywords related to your organization’s cause. In this case, I used the keyword “animal shelter”:
The top articles shared related to that topic were about the emotional news: cops adopting stray dogs, an animal shelter that celebrates having adopted all their animals, and so on. They are all histories that are surprising, sweet, and most importantly, emotional.
There may be a pattern of success here: people like reading stories that provide good news and bring a smile to their faces. People want emotional stories.
This may not mean emotional stories will necessary give you more traffic, but at the least, there may be a correlation between both variables. This is a good enough pattern for you to come up with a hypothesis and a test.
You could repeat that process with keywords like “stray dogs”, “abandoned cats”, and other related ones to make sure you see the same pattern. I would recommend you to analyze at least 10 articles in your industry and see what people like sharing. From there, keep looking for patterns and define what specific attributes could be driving those shares.
After you are done with BuzzSumo, repeat the same process with Ahrefs. Instead of using keywords, like the ones you used in BuzzSumo, you want to take the articles you analyzed and see how many backlinks each one got. Since a link requires a larger investment than a share, we can assume that an article that gets many inbound links is highly valuable in its industry.
First, go to Ahrefs and put one of the most shared links in the search box:
Then you will see the list of results, with the total number of backlinks, the number of domains pointing to the page, how much organic traffic that page gets, and much more.
There’s no right or wrong set of results you are looking for. Rather, you are looking to get a feel for the article and compare that with the other results.
In this case, the article got over 350 backlinks, which is a high amount of links for a page like that. This means the article is popular in its industry. You would need to repeat that for the other 5-10 results for the keyword “animal shelter” and the other related keywords to see if the other ones are better or worse. Then, based on what you find, you can decide which articles are the most successful both share and link-wise.
Once you are done with the social and links analysis, you will have a good idea of:
- What topics people like in your industry.
- What attributes those articles had that made people want to share and link to them.
- What attributes your articles need to have to, at the least, match the quality of those articles.
You can’t just recreate what worked before and hope that will work again, however. You need to bring value to the table. Once you find a topic idea that has worked in the past, you will make it better and promote it to the same people that shared the original one. That way, you are guaranteed an audience who will likely want to hear from you and will link to your piece of content.
If an article used a happy emotional story, like the examples shown before, you know you will have to feature stories in your articles. But you could also add some statistics to back your idea better, so the contrast between the happy story and the reality impact your readers even more. You could also show pictures of the subjects being featured in the story.
Peep Laja, the conversion expert and founder of ConversionXL, got 100k visitors in his first year thanks to finding a gap, using research-backed data, and optimizing for shares and links. In other words, he followed a similar number of steps as the one I’ve just shown you and he got those incredible results.
In his own words:
The secret of success is doing something that others are not willing to do for a long, long time.
Once you have finished developing your article, you will need to grab the list of people that shared and linked to the other articles and reach out to them.
In the case of a share, you can send that person a direct message or email. I prefer the latter, which despite being more time-consuming, can be more effective and personal.
Reaching out to people who shared an article, however, can be hit-or-miss. Many people share articles automatically, without even reading them, so the likelihood of them remembering the article you refer to, and the fact they even care makes this outreach a bit less effective.
Outreaching to people who linked to a similar article, on the other hand, can be much better. Not to mention the fact that finding a blog’s manager email is much easier than the previous case. In most cases, you will find the email right on the site itself, on the Contact page.
In the case that you can’t find the manager’s email, you will have to do the following. Grab the site’s URL and paste it in Hunter.io.
Before doing anything else, you have to have the blog’s manager name at hand. If you don’t know it, take the time to find it. In most cases, it won’t take you more than 5 minutes checking the About Us and Contact pages. Once you have it, add it in the search box that says “Find Someone..”.
In this case, the confidence level is not large enough, so go to Email Checker, and add that email into the search box.
Now we have the email, we need to send an email letting the blog manager know about the new article. The following email template can help you do that:
I just stumbled upon your post at SITE and it caught my attention the fact you linked to this amazing guide on TOPIC.
I recently wrote a more in-depth article on the same topic you might find interesting.
Here’s the link: LINK.
Would love to know your opinion on that article. And if you’ll find it useful, please consider linking to it from that post of yours, or perhaps mentioning it in your future writing.
This process can take some time to execute in its entirety, but if done properly, can help you land high-quality inbound links for your content. And this will help you increase your organic traffic.
Hack #2: How to get more social shares
Despite not driving as much traffic as organic search, having a social presence can help you bring consistent traffic that complements the organic one.
But how do you get more social traffic? Having a social sharing plugin installed and a well-functioning Facebook and Twitter presence is a good start, but it won’t be enough. That is too deductive. “People share content if they are given the chance”. Nice theory. But will that alone make people share your content? Not really.
People don’t share content because it’s easy to do so. If that was true, you could put random “Like” buttons around your content and people would share your content. There’s a different reason why people share anything, and it’s not related to any plugin.
Jonah Berger, author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, explains there are six psychological attributes behind viral content:
- Social currency: Sharable information that makes us look good holds social currency.
- Triggers: By Berger’s definition, a “trigger” is something that is easy to remember about a product or idea, helping to ensure it stays top of mind.
- Emotion: If a piece of content touches one of our core emotions, like sadness or mercy, we share.
- Public: If something is public, it can be shared.
- Practical Value: People share what’s useful and relevant.
- Stories: People are inherent storytellers, and all great brands also learn to tell stories. Information travels under the guise of idle chatter.
There’s no denying that if you want to get more social shares for your content, it needs to have as many of these six attributes as possible. The more it has, the more likely it will become “viral”.
However, this article isn’t about theory. Remember, this article is about doing what works. There are two main ways you can make your content more viral-worthy.
Have you ever read an article and found a small box that featured a quote from that article and a link that said: “Click to Tweet”? That’s exactly what you need to use.
The “Click to Tweet” is a simple plugin you can add to your content which can help you increase the social currency of the reader, give them a trigger for them to share while helping them make it public and giving practical value to their friends, all at the same time. Also, you make it easier for them to share right in the article itself.
The key to a successful “Click to Tweet” isn’t just adding a random or promotional quote, like “This article is awesome! Check it out: URL” What social currency would the reader get if he or she shared that? Rather, what you need to do is add a soundbite, something memorable, short, and a bit mysterious that will help you give as much value as possible while making people want to know more.
For example, a good “Click to Tweet” for this article would be one that said: “Marketers think deductively, growth hackers think inductively”. It gives a lot of value while being a bit mysterious, which will make the reader’s followers want to click to read more.
There are a number of WordPress plugins you can use to add a “Click to Tweet” to your content, my favorite being the one developed by CoSchedule.
The second hack to get more social shares is even simpler than the previous one. It’s so simple that I will go ahead and tell you right away: when creating content, use images. I’m not talking about stock photos. I’m not talking about random photos of nature either. I’m talking about custom-made graphics and images that give your content more context, more relevancy, and a more pleasurable reading experience.
Why images? you may be wondering. To start, 37% of marketers said visual marketing was the most important form of content for their business. Not only that, but images can help your readers remember your content better while getting more retweets and likes. In other words, it’s a win-win for both parties.
The easiest kind of image you should use is screenshots. They give a lot of context and help visualize what you explain. Some other custom images you could create for your content are:
- Quotes from the article
- Summary of an idea or concept
- Graphical representation of an idea
Make sure to get a designer to help you create these images, and in the case you can’t or don’t have one, use a tool like Canva.
Hack #3: How to get leads with high-conversion lead magnets
Throughout this article, you have learned about how to attract traffic with SEO and social media. Content marketing isn’t just about traffic, however. As you learned at the beginning of this article, content marketing can also help you attract leads and convert them into customers.
The question then becomes, how do you convert your visitors into leads? There are many ways you can convince a lead to become a customer, but there’s only one effective way to convert a visitor into a lead: lead magnets.
Lead magnets are pieces of content that you offer to your visitors in exchange for their emails. Once you do that, you can begin to “nurture” them until they become customers. Some examples of lead magnets are:
DebtHelper, a non-profit credit counseling company, offers a “Free Budget Spreadsheet” to their readers. This is perfect for their audience, as they are in need of help regarding their expenditures. Giving something relevant and useful to them is likely to make them convert at a higher rate.
The way most content marketers approach lead magnets is, as usual, deductive:
- They define what people like.
- They create the lead magnet.
- They offer it hoping to get them to convert.
If you are lucky or smart, like the people of DebtHelper, you may convert a decent amount of visitors into leads. But you can’t do business hoping to succeed. As a growth hacker, you only play to win.
The way a growth hacker creates a lead magnet is by repeating the same process as in the first hack: you reverse engineer what’s already working. In other words, you find something that people already like, you create a lead magnet, you offer it. Simple, powerful, and effective.
There are two ways you can find high-performance ideas for your lead magnets:
- You can analyze what has worked on your own site and then you create a lead magnet based on what you find.
- You can analyze what has worked for your competitors and then you create a lead magnet based on what you find.
The first way to find lead magnet ideas is the most effective, as you are giving your visitors what they already like. This will also make the content creation process much easier for you because you will need to expand on what you have already developed before. That’s a big time and money-saver.
To get started, go to your Google Analytics account. Once you are in there, go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages.
In there, take a look at all the articles that got the most traffic and lowest bounce rate. You can even see which ones have the highest page value if that’s something you already track. The most popular articles, based on the metrics previously mentioned, are the ones you should consider expanding to create a lead magnet.
The second way mentioned, similar to the one explained in hack #1, will repeat the same process as before. You will have to go to BuzzSumo, add your competitors’ URLs, and analyze their most shared articles. Then you will repeat the process with Ahrefs and see which pieces of content got the most inbound links. From there, you need to analyze and see what topics are the most popular. Take notes, look for patterns, and start creating your lead magnet.
Just like it happened with the images, you should get a professional designer to help you out with your lead magnet creation. The other option is to use Beacon, a tool that can help you create resource pages, checklists, ebooks, and more.
If you have been a marketer all your life, this article may seem a bit odd and counterintuitive. You’ve been thinking deductively all your life, focusing on theory and certainty.
This article showed you there’s another way of thinking about marketing. It’s a way that focuses on reality and uncertainty. You focus on what works. You focus on what your visitors and customers tell you. You double-down on what succeeds and discard the rest.
That’s how growth hackers think. That’s how they act.
Now it’s your turn to take the leap and start thinking like a growth hacker. Even if you still want to respect the theory behind your actions, this new way of thinking will help you grow faster.