My number one marketing approach by far has been to tailor the site to the HN audience.
I do this primarily by asking questions that people on HN always like to see answered (how much money are you making? how did you come up with the idea? what tech did you use? what are your best marketing channels? etc). Lots of similar sites don't ask any of these questions, especially not the revenue one.
I tend to share the most interesting interviews with the HN audience every couple weeks or so, and they usually do pretty well!
Love ur website btw. Thanks a lot!
I started with 0 subscribers and pageviews, but was at the top of HN for something like 30 hours (Thu morning to Fri afternoon), then only a couple days later I hit #1 on Product Hunt. That weekend alone got me to something like 200k pageviews and 800 subscribers. After that, I just added as many interviews as I could every week, and started sending out weekly newsletters.
Eventually other people started submitting it in response to questions online in forums like HN, where people would ask things like, "What's the Best Productivity Tool You've Found" or, "What Secret Thing Do You Wish Everyone Knew About." Started getting more spikes in users, then a regular base of users, then paying customers, then enterprise customers! Pretty cool organic spread.
It's definitely a side project, but making some money on it which is awesome.
Tried Google AdWords, total waste of (free up to coupon amount) money. Maybe one new user with $250 spent.
So I would say: Build a good product and maybe if people will like it enough you will get some organic growth.
edit to say: I'm still 1000% just doing this as a fun aide project that I built to serve a need I specifically had, but am happy to answer specific questions about what I stumbled through and did to kind of get off the ground enough to pay monthly costs and make a little profit.
When it comes to the former, getting HN front-paged, a Techcrunch write-up, PH, etc tends to lead to a spike in traffic and eye balls, but very rarely do you get your true base of customers from these things. (But hey, they don't hurt!)
In the latter category you'll hear things like SEO, content marketing etc. Those are all important and must-haves, but these days it's also table stakes since it's what everyone is doing as well. When it comes to getting differentiators that can take you from $1k to $2k or $2k to $4k you need a distribution channel -- preferably a partner or a distribution platform where you can narrowly focus on a small audience. Yes, this means you'll need to reach out and talk to people with similar audiences and folks who are willing to help. For those of us who prefer talking to computers (coding) more than talking to humans (eww emails and phone calls) this can be unnatural but is also extremely important.
I'm personally happy to chat with any part-timers looking to grow their projects or even become full-time entrepreneurs. Just hit me up via my profile here on HN.
My personal experience: I've started two businesses as side projects that went on to be full-time ventures. Ronin (https://www.roninapp.com) was started in 2008 (eventually went full-time, acquired, and then spun out). Later on Reamaze (https://www.reamaze.com) was actually a side project on a side project, but is now at full time with a small team and growing very nicely.
The reddit posts all repeat "completely free (note: free does not mean "freemium", it means totally fucking free)".
I don't really have any idea what I'm doing, but I don't really know how to run a mail server either but I seem to be doing okay with https://cock.li/ (this is where most of my customers are from)
It's currently at about $2K total revenue, and once this transfer of IP space finishes I can properly scale to about $1.8K MRR.
I think you know exactly what you're doing :p
Why the max of 46 btw?
I dropped a database on accident yesterday because I assumed that replication was broken (it wasn't). If someone has managed to root my servers I hope they clean stuff up a bit.
>And is there any profit to be made at your current size for your revenue?
Cock.li operates not-for-profit, making it a break-even operation that operates financially separate from cockbox.
Cockbox took about $2-3K of investment to get going on rented IP space, total to date I have invested about $9K on server hardware to support up to 180 "slots" (sold GB of memory aka $10MRR) and IP space to support a bit more than that (1x/24 aka 255 IPv4 addresses and a /48 IPv6).
Considering ongoing expenses are hardware replacements and colocation costs, profit margins are very high.
Keep it up, good luck!
The effectiveness of ads has unfortunately dropped over the years, but in the first 20 months or so built a roster of 10,000 customers or so who have stayed very loyal and allowed us to expand to products with much higher volume.
- Starting in a niche, then expanding into really competitive markets worked we'll for us
- Try every that's cheap to try. In advertisement, you want to spend a few dozen $ on everyone who's willing to take them, then invest heavily when ROI is positive. There are many people who just do google and maybe Facebook. But while that's 90% of their market, you sometimes get lucky and find a niche that gets you as much revenue as the two combined.
I also ran across a Reddit post where someone created a Twitter bot which favorited and retwitted posts with certain tags to attract potential customers for a product the OP was marketing. Those who ended up checking out his Twitter page found a note which said that followers would get a deal if signed up. The OP mentioned he got his first 20+ paid customers this way. Not sure how effective this is but thought I'd share.
I'm actually interested in using the Twitter bot you mentioned too...
1. Hacker News has provided exposure but not a lot of direct business. Sometimes people find us on other channels but recognize us from HN. I would say, don't worry too much if you never front page here.
2. Working on SEO consistently over the years has been our most valuable source of high quality traffic.
3. Work with influencers in your industry. When a popular AWS blogger wrote about Cronitor and was tweeted by their AWS community lead Jeff Barr we added 8 subscribers that day that are still with us.
4. Re-marketing to sign-ups that didn't convert. Every month our product noticeably gets better in some way, and those early sign-ups to our free plan that didn't subscribe have been an invaluable source of later conversion.
One thing I'll say, if you're talking about a SaaS app and not something on the battlefield of big-time consumer SEO (which I also have some experience with as an engineer), it starts with crafting your website copy to address both prospective users and Googlebot. Iterate on it and continue improving. The text on your page matters.
Here are a few technical tips:
1. Many engineers do things like add ajax endpoints to robots.txt. Don't do this. Google can read many dynamic pages but not if you block them from loading the ajax requests.
2. That, and other issues, are uncovered by using the google webmaster tools. They will rank issues that are affecting your crawl.
3. In my experience, server rendered content still out-performs client rendered content. Server-render if SEO is a priority.
4. Duplicate content causes SEO problems and can be subtle. You can have an SRP like /catalog/results that can also be accessed when using your next-page/prev-page links as /catalog/results/1. That is a duplicate page.
Generally, though, I don't feel qualified to give much SEO advice without my own survivorship bias. Also, I would like to be doing so much better than we are, and continue to work for it.
Or if you want to answer in another way, how many hours a week/month/year does that SEO work take, before one sees the results you are talking about?
edit. you expanded your answer while I was typing. it seems you are mostly talking about on page and technical SEO, which doesn't sound like it takes that much time.
Take something like a website widget that you build with useful and free content people can add to their Wordpress or whatever. Seems like the kind of SEO strategy a software developer can get behind. Then, a year later, turns out somebody used it for some "content" on 200,000 generated wordpress pages as part of their own scheme. Now you're penalized for this with a manual action from Google.
I guess my point is: to go this route means investing real time editing, curating and disavowing. I find it more profitable to focus energy on improving the product while Google and our users both notice.
My questions are - What made you chose Medium as a domain (and would you chose it again?) and do you get a reasonable amount of traffic, with an appreciable conversion rate through Medium?
While it's not bringing in tens of thousands of bucks, it's brought in enough to make it worthwhile (in part through affiliate links—my strategy is to link to the weirdest things on Amazon I can find, with the assumption people will eventually go back to buy something else).
I've also tried to find ways to minimize costs on my end, including switching email providers so that the financial impact of sending thousands of emails every month is small.
The biggest thing for getting incoming links was to release a free related app under the same domain name. I built Private Eye (https://radiosilenceapp.com/private-eye) and didn't charge anything for it. A lot more people are willing to blog/share/tweet about a free app.
The second thing was to simply cold email reporters and bloggers. I used to think getting featured in the big sites required some kind of magic. Then I started writing emails to individual writers, and the hit rate has been astounding.
Surprisingly, the best thing that I did to get it some traction was having a few influential people in the design/craft community post it to pinterest. A couple years ago, a single pin generated dozens of orders.
Other than that, some SEO fu has always helped. It used to be on page 1 for "Instagram christmas cards" and I'd get lots of traffic from that (currently on page 2). So, some SEO basics (good titles, good headings, a blog/news section) always helps.
The ProductHunt post was augmented by the fact the product (https://uimovement.com) was clearly for a certain community (designers), so it was picked up and shared on other publications/social media accounts within the community.
From the PH post, it was picked up and shared on DesignerNews, r/web_design, Webdesignernews, Codrops, Smashing Mag, etc. The other sources brought in way more traffic than PH in the end.
For more long-term, but slower growth, automating social media has been helpful too, but that can only work for content-heavy products.
I think its pretty well known/established (despite what PH has said) that getting exposure on PH requires intervention from an insider.
There are a few frequent posters that are fairly open to requests if you dig around.
Also 400+ points on HN brought 10x more visitors than being #5 on PH.
If your product isn't content related (a SAAS for example), a curated newsletter targeted towards your niche could be easy to maintain using a tool like https://www.getrevue.co/ and is a way to keep potential customers in the loop until they're ready.
But before and even after that, emails to game review sites were universally ignored (with Rock Paper Shotgun as the one exception). Even the Ars Technica guy who proclaimed it as his "latest obsession" wouldn't reply to an email.
I understand these people are inundated with emails, but I was still a little surprised.
Example: I wrote a lot of journalists that published articles about education-software if they want to review our app, no responses. The mails were personal, not templates. Did I wrote to the wrong persons or were my mails not good or do they not care? Or something completely different?
Then I looked up blogs, sponsored posts but our traffic did not change so much. Did I write to the wrong blogs? Are the users not the target group? How to measure and learn?
I'm not so good with social media like facebook or twitter, I don't care enough and I don't want to share too much personal details, but now I try to work on social media marketing. Maybe that's what our app needs, again how can I measure success and how can improve if it does not work from the beginning? For me that is a black box...
We built it for our own use, as we are developers and because we frequented forums where other PHP developers hung out we were able to grow it slowly and steadily. We have been very consistent, making an income (without too much work) for all of these years.
The key is to be authentic. We built something that we needed, but also in a world that we knew something about. In doing this, we were automatically passionate and that shines through.
It's now basically running itself and I don't do much with it because I recently quit my job and made this into a company and I don't see the API being a big part of the business.
We are a small (3 person small) A.I. startup so paid advertisement isn't the most viable option. What worked for us was creating small trivia apps(thedonaldtest.com & whatthefis.ml) to drive sign ups for our Beta release. The apps got featured on PH, generating 200+ conversions on our main website along with some press coverage (Side note: last week an Israeli newspaper wrote about us causing a spike in web traffic)
Here is my experience with different marketing channels:
1. Facebook Ads: Not much success on a small budget. Yesterday I ended an ad campaign for our early release prematurely because the CPC reached $2.2. I have to do more experiments with the ad creative and target audience before I can say for sure whether ads are effective or not.
2. Content Creation. Bleh. Good for SEO, yes, but with so much crap out there its really hard to make your voice heard. I did some experimentation with making the content more interactive (caspy.com/will-apps-like-prisma-replace-human-artists/) but still didnt get much love.
3. Contacting Journalist: After reaching out to 70+ journalist over email and twitter and not getting a single positive response, I am a bit cynical towards that strategy.
BTW, I strongly believe that optimization works. All you need to do is test different approaches and see what sticks.
... followed a week later by this one:
got us a ton of traffic and kept us going until we got accepted to SXSW and won our category, getting us picked up by mainstream tech blogs and such, leading to this:
I sort of stepped away from blogging after that, which from a marketing standpoint was probably a mistake. It's been harder to get coverage for my more recent products.
It was actually posted on PH once before, but that time it wasn't featured. Almost one year later, I built an API, several extensions, increased the amount of content, and integrated it with DDG. Eventually I decided it was worth giving the PH people a shout to see if it would get reposted (they let you repost if your product makes substantial progress). It successfully got featured that time.
All-in-all, I'm fan of "slow sell" via an email newsletter and FB's been great for getting people onto my list.
Then I got busy at work and haven't spent as much time marketing it.
Cater to the audience and engage with the founders and it has a steady flow of increasing subscribers.
I just make sure my newsletter has good content consistently for my readers.
To answer your question, for us listening to customer feedback and releasing new versions periodically worked best so far.
Submitted to the usual channels (HN, PH, Reddit) and saw a spike in traffic. But what really worked was not charging anything for 3 months - people are much more keen to tweet/blog about something if it's free. They're also a lot more forgiving if they run into a bug (of which I used to have many!).
I should find out what happened to that project.
1) According to Instagram's guideline for developers, your app can't have words like "insta" or "gram" in it, how did you pass this if you are using an actual application in Instagram?
2) As far as I can see from the API documentation there is no way of posting your pictures to Instagram directly via API. Does your application send push notifications when time comes and give ability to create a post in Instagram by one click in the app or do you ask for username / password and login to the app and do what needs to be done?
1-I'm not using instagram's API, those limitations do not apply to Statimgram.
2-Idem before. We save (encrypted) username and password. We don't send "reminders" like hootsuite or other solutions, we post directly into IG.
Here's a small (this is 5 months old, the new UI looks much better!) demo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGwV6lBi8Us
Using this to sort out your own problem would probably fine as they will not notice it, but selling this as paid service might cause some trouble for you with Instagram Legal and also at the same time if you keep using same IP Instagram will probably block your APi after some time when they sense the usage.
Just a friendly notice for the things you might face in near feature :)
Edit: because reverse engineering their api is also against their guidelines. Just because you don't use their official api, doesn't mean you don't have to adhere to their rules.
We're steadily growing just by being there every day. I try to write about my experience across all social channels + medium, seek partnerships with other like-minded businesses, find biz devs who will engage their network, go to meetups of product/project managers and seek partnerships with other sites in our domain.
The primary marketing channel is offering a free account that requires attribution on their site (e.g. "Thumbnails powered by BitPixels). The attribution links drive several new users per day and some eventually convert to premium accounts.
Early on, my first customers actually came from Twitter, which I still find surprising, but it worked. I simply did the "copy followers" technique of copying people who follow similar Twitters, and since they're probably interested in the topic of feedback, they would follow me back or check out the site.
Reddit ads also got a few orders, and are pretty cheap and interesting to try out.
Also I built out http://feedbacktools.org as a way to promote my own project and learn about a ton of other similar tools. It's basically just a small curated directory of every tool I could find that was related to feedback, but of course mine is at the top.
Also, a referral plan helps. I give customers a code that they can share with their friends for $10 off their first order, and anyone who refers a new customer gets a $10 credit.
basic SEO seems to be what works. I should work on more "inbound marketing" content but have a few technical features to add before doing another SEO push.
also answering related questions on stack overflow helped me in the initial MVP phase.
When I first launched I had two email lists I used. The first was an email list I had laying around from an older game I had created many years prior. The second email list I stumbled upon for an old game with some similar mechanics to the game I was creating. I composed two sets of emails and sent them out to the lists. For the list of my old players I re-introduced myself and told them about the game. For the second list I started the email off with a sentence that said something along the lines of "this is a one time email, I will not email you again unsolicited. You are receiving this email because you may be interested in a game I've just created...". Those two emails got me my first 200 players.
After that I found some gaming forums and asked the mods if it would be ok if I posted a message about Pit of War and they were cool about it and said go ahead. That style of marketing grew the player base again. I had a friend who was the mod for a high traffic web master forum and he made a post in their "off topic" section that helped get some more traction.
He also knew a handful of folks with a good number of Twitter followers and asked them if they'd make a tweet about Pit of War and they were kind of enough to do that for free to help me out.
I tried Facebook ads a number of years ago and they weren't very effective, however, I'm told they are much better now. I may try them again in the near future. I then turned to cpmstar which is an ad network dedicated to games. This proved to be very good with the CPA (Cost per Action - which in my case is someone clicking on the ad and then signing up for the game) being much lower than the LTV for a player gained through this channel so I focused on that for awhile. CPA prices have gone up a lot since I started and there are many more games out there competing for the same eyeballs so this channel has started to wane but is still acceptable.
DEVIANTART & FACEBOOK
Using DeviantArt and Facebook I would upload some of the art from the game which would get shares and more eyeballs which helped increase exposure and player count.
WORD OF MOUTH
I asked my friends and family to try the game out and if they liked it to please share it with people they think might like it as well.
Hard to pick a best because each channel contributed. Having said that, the initial email lists and paid advertising via cpmstar were crucial for the success of the game I believe.
I have heard that facebook also adopted a similar strategy in the very beginning. I have no doubt that it works.
That's how it used to work. It still does.
"I told people it was the best mousetrap" sounds like your contribution to the discussion, and it sounds like there's more to the story here. Care to share any details or lessons?
Sadly shinier mousetrap sells better than the best mousetrap.
Best case scenario with your approach you get something like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grado_Labs
Grado beats Beats no contest but which company sold for $3B?
I admire Grado's approach (met founder Joseph Grado in late 90s) but theirs was the best case scenario.
Worst case scenario you pick any industry and it is littered with rusting hulks of amazingly built mousetraps which did not get enough traction to sustain business.
It fails for so many that there is a term "better mousetrap fallacy".