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Ask HN: As a dev, how have you built up your online marketing skills?
43 points by dhruvkar 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 24 comments
Generating traffic, funneling traffic, converting traffic.

How have you gotten better at this? What do you recommend other developers do to successfully grow their projects?




I launched a web app in 2017 as a solo entrepreneur. I have been focusing the last 6 months on marketing. Here are a few things I did to get started:

1. Commit to spending at least 50% of your time on marketing. For every hour of coding, do an hour of marketing.

2. I used the book Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth to build a marketing plan.

3. The first exercise of the book was to focus on the outcome you want (for example, I want 1000 paid subscribers by end of 2018) and then figure out how big of a funnel you need to build. That helps you be realistic about what types of marketing to do.

4. I took a Udemy class on digital marketing -- It was about 20 hours of material that was on sale for $12. I found about 1/3 of it useful.

5. I am focused on marketing ideas that are repeatable and scalable. I do a lot of work up front to setup a marketing idea, but then I can keep it going with minimal new work. For example, to do blogger outreach, I first built and tested a drip campaign in Mailchimp. Then I harvested the first 50 blogger emails myself and determined my campaign would work. After that, I outsourced the blogger email collection. Now, the free lancer collects the contact info and loads it into my drip campaign.


This is a helpful list, thanks.

I've read traction as well, and am currently using the Bullseye Framework [0] with some success.

At the end of it, it still feels a lot like "throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks".

Personally, I don't have a lot of clarity around how to repeatable test and measure.

0: https://medium.com/@yegg/the-bullseye-framework-for-getting-...


Traction is brilliant.

Also Hacking Growth by Sean Ellis (formerly Dropbox) is worth reading.

And checkout this course >> https://justinjackson.ca/marketingforproductpeople/


Can I ask how you are doing on your goal? I started reading through traction and found it more actionable/useful compared to a lot of marketing books I've read.


Learn Analytics. Take the free courses and earn Google Analytics Individual Qualification. Instrument your site and learn how your funnel behaves, how different programs you have in place contribute and so on.

You must know your existing numbers before you can improve them.

Next, look into things which drive traffic (AdWords, Paid Search) or can recapture traffic (Remarketing). You should also consider a Tag Manager, such as Google Tag Manager, or Tealium.

If your traffic is high enough, you could learn how to run valid AB tests, but if your just starting out, chances are you do not have enough traffic to do this effectively.

In addition to the above, learn the vocab. Analytics, especially in a marketing context, can be very dense, and you'll need to understand the terms to get the most from other more marketing focused resources (books / forums, etc).


All useful, thanks. Two questions:

1. What does tag manager do that simple analytics can't?

2. What is the lowest traffic amount needed to effectively A/B test?


A Tag Manager allows you to add easily add and remove things like Remarketing Tags, AdWords tags, etc - without you needing to manually alter every page of your site all the time. This allows you to easily integrate with 3rd party services without constant code changes.

Generally, you need something on the order of 1,000+ conversions in the test period to have enough traffic to generate a statistically significant result. There are a lot of articles about AB Testing and you should read up on it before deciding it's for you. In addition to the traffic, you need to be able to define a non-biased test, and be able to analyze it effectively.


Find a partner who is good at this.

Marketing/selling is not a learn-by-night thing. You need to be invested completely in it to get results.


I personally think it can be learned overnight. And a "non tech" marketer who understands the product does far better than an experienced marketer who doesn't know anything about it.

However, it is a full time job to improve in.

It's like code - many people can make a MVP, but trying to scale it needs dedication, and the great ones can do 10x the mediocre ones.


I agree that marketing cannot be learned overnight, but it can be learned. All the info you need is free or cheap online. The tools are readily available and cheap to use.

As developers, if we can learn how to market our software, we can unleash our internal value. Instead of creating value for others, we can build equity for ourselves.

Do you really think learning to market is going to be as hard as learning to code well?

What if it takes you 5 years to become a master marketer? But you are learning to market while growing your own business -- was the time well spent if your business is grossing $1M and netting $300k a year at the end of that 5 years.


I agree, but in the beginning, I've found that knowing the basics goes a long way.

I learned to program to build a product, and learning the basics of online marketing follows the same vein.


I'd just recommend hiring someone for this, whether you pay them in cash or equity. The same logic that to hiring testers.

Marketing is very time intensive work. Your time is probably better spent improving features. You should be understanding marketing principles, but the grunt work should be done by someone else.

Marketers are, in general, cheaper than programmers. That doesn't mean they are worth less, just that the supply is higher and less training is needed.

Even if it's more expensive, programming is also very mentally consuming work. You don't want to be spending 4 hours programming and 4 hours marketing. It's better to spend 8 hours on one or the other.

However, don't get freelancers unless you plan on engaging them long term. Like UX designers, a good marketer needs to understand the product and user inside and out.


Good advice. Where have you found good marketers that you can engage on a long term?

A few marketing companies I've talked to are either (1) we'll write a blog post for you every month for $100 or (2) pay us $60K a year and we'll take care of everything.

Neither of those sounds appealing. Working one-on-one with a competent marketer, however, sounds doable.


Ideally a cofounder. It's usually a win-win deal, pay them a little now but a lot when you have money later. And unlike tech, marketers usually immediately bring in income. If they believe in the product (as a marketer should), it would be a great deal for them.

If the product is mature and generating income, you might be able to work out something like a 5% deal or less, with minimal payment.

But if you don't know anyone, I'd still take all the blog posters I could find. We used that as our main marketing medium because of cost effectiveness and it worked out really well for us. You might end up partnering with a blogger too, like I did.


I still consider myself more of a developer than a marketer, though I've had a ton of success at marketing. To up my skills, I did a few things:

1.) I went back to University in my late twenties and completed a degree in marketing. I was already good at building shit and long stints in sales had shown me that if a qualified person came to me, I could convert them into a paying customer. Alas, I sucked at generating leads, so I went back to school, hoping that I'd learn.

In retrospect, the business degree was mostly useless, but I picked up some good lessons. The best lesson was about measuring and reporting success. The second best lesson was that the world's most respected marketers often release dud campaigns (to start with), measure everything, and correct their course.

As part of my business degree, I took electives in social and cognitive psychology and research methods/stats.

The business degree had some unintended benefits too. For one, on average I did between 10-15 presentations a semester. Over the course of the degree, I went from hating giving presentations to absolutely loving it. Also, oddly, I wrote way more useful code over the course of finishing my business degree than I did in a computer science program. And, I founded a company right out of my program, mostly because of encouragement, advice and (crucially) introductions from professors and especially mature students in my program.

2.) I internalized a lesson from University and made a habit of releasing dud campaigns, measuring them and learning how to correct my course. This is still my secret weapon and I'm successful at it because it uses many of the same skills I use writing code.

It's odd to me that so many people treat marketing more like a liberal art/creative process when it deserves to be treated more like a scientific process.

If you start with a hypothesis "ie - people with purple hair will like my product most", run experiments to validate/invalidate that hypothesis and meticulously record the results, you will learn some very interesting things about your product and customers. You'll also likely learn that your product needs a bunch of help to appeal to enough people to make a living. And, you'll often learn that your initial hypotheses about who your customers will be are often wrong. So, fuck it, release duds, measure everything and go from there.

Feel free to email me if you'd like some examples of this. I know some people think it's a little weird to treat marketing like this, but it not only made it fun, it helped me learn and develop myself into a good marketer.


In terms of learning, there is a great podcast I can recommend called "Everyone Hates Marketers"

The host has some really fantastic guests and advice.


thanks, definitely will check this out. heard the name, but never listened.


It’s something I struggle with because the advice and reading I do doesn’t seem to quite match up to reality. Also for a while I focused on outbound sales which has been comprehensively disastrous. Marketing to develop inbound is generally a lot better for online/Saas in my experience, focusing on getting adwords and content has helped a lot personally.


Find your niche. Preferably one in a rapid growth area.

Cryptocurrencies are a great example of this. If you visit sites such as ethereum.org. You will see they share a certain design aesthetic.

If you can provide a unique service. Private blockchain development and hosting, for example. You immediately have an "in" with which to begin the conversation.

Good luck!


Getting into a rapid growth area definitely gets you a leg up.

I'm in such area (ketogenic diet). However, that's not a magic bullet.

There's competition still for eyeballs. How to get some of those eyeballs on your product consistently is the question.


Oh lol I started a keto diet startup. It's quite self advertising but it's a niche. We had lots of actual professional marketers and couldn't squeeze anything more than organic marketing for it.


> couldn't squeeze anything more than organic marketing for it

Were you not able to get an ROI on paid ads?


Didn't fit our business model for a number of reasons - market was not urban, huge e-commerce competitors drove prices up too much, profit margin was paper thin, made worse after some new taxes and weakening currency. FB also doesn't target ethnicity, whereas our core product was recipes targeted towards a cultural group.

It was a good thing in the end though. We met someone who was spending huge money on marketing the same things as us, but were paying really high costs and had to really increase the prices to compensate. They acquired us, partly because of our really low, organic marketing costs.


/r/marketing is a fairly decent resource, this topic comes up often there.




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