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How to Acquire Users for Free (spencerfry.com)
84 points by sachitgupta on June 29, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 17 comments

I'll add another way to acquire users for free, but it takes a lot of work and isn't "free" in the traditional sense at first per se.

Buy ads. Start with a $100 AdWords coupon that is free and not hard to come by. Even $25-50 would be enough depending on your market.

Bid on cheap cheap long tail keywords (3-4 word phrases). You won't get a lot of traffic at first, but that's kind of the point. Get your campaign dialed in where you are making at least $2 per $1 you spend.

Use that money to grow your advertising profitably over time using the same method. Work your way up the ladder so to speak.

You can do this on AdWords, Facebook, Microsoft AdCenter, and probably on AdMob as well. It's not hard at all. It just takes an incredible amount of patience not to blow all your money in a week.

Remember, the goal is profit, not volume. Grow profitably and volume will come with time.

"Get your campaign dialed in where you are making at least $2 per $1 you spend." -- if you can do that, then you are in the perfect place to take a loan / favorable investment.

If you can reliably get $2 per $1 you spend, why bother with a loan or investment? You've already won the game.

If it takes you 50 years to turn $1 into $2, then you have not won. Put your money in a bank account instead.

If you can do it in a year, you've won. But if you start with $1 then after one year you have $2, then the next year you have $4, etc. It takes less time if you take a $1000 loan and turn that into $2000. Of course turning $1000 into $2000 is harder than $1 into $2, so take a loan as big as you can still double ;)

I'd assume it's because you've spent $100 and made $200 3-4 times successfully, and hence want to up the ante, spend $50k and make a $100k now..

Market conditions change, and many things could threaten your ability to turn $1 into $2 -- adwords prices changing, competitors, macro-economic effects, etc. Further, the more capital you have, the larger your bounty.

In card games or board games, you've created your "engine" -- that isn't victory, but it is a necessary step toward achieving victory.

I don't know how legitimate this is, but I used an interesting AdWords strategy to gather users. The normal strategy is to use a minimal bid in a certain area, and create an attractive ad that gets people to click. However, this costs money, as you pay based on a per-click basis.

What I wanted to do, was generate a lot of awareness. When people are aware of your product and see it advertised everywhere, it's more likely they'll check you out. If they happen to check you out after hearing from a friend, it won't even be an ad-referral, and it won't cost you a cent. How do you create awareness without using money?

I have no basis for saying this, and my only proof is a very successful campaign that I ran doing this. Since I've shut my project down, the trade secret isn't very useful anymore. I think there's an innate appeal for certain ads. A lot of ads make it blatantly obvious that they're there, but just doesn't make you want to click. Not because the product looks bad - but I just don't want to click some ads. I know a lot of friends also have this feeling, and a small study I conducted confirmed this.

My strategy was this: Bid minimal amounts after researching bids in certain areas, and create an ad that shoves its name, and possibly basic idea into an user's face. However, do not provide any incentive to click - at all. In fact, make it ugly, but not ugly enough to make your product or service seem bad. This is tricky, and takes some getting used to. The end result is a very LOW conversion rate (usually considered as a failure) - which is exactly what we want. I've gotten a bunch of repeat impressions onto users, without having to pay for them. If they happen to hear about it from a friend, they're now much more likely to check it out, because they're familiar with the name.

I've come up with a bunch of strategies like this, and I really wish I wrote them all down so I could share them. Maybe they're terrible... feel free to tell me it's a terrible idea. It may not work in all business areas, and I'd love to get some feedback.

Interesting but the problem with this, at least as far as AdWords is concerned, is that low CTR means low Quality Score means higher minimum bid required for the same positioning. So it is costing you more in the long run.

If you're doing a CPM bid on the content network then you're bidding on impressions anyway, in which case there really isn't a reason to disincentivize clicks.

I never actually ran into this problem. Interesting though - I'll definitely look into it. Thanks for the note

One thing they don't talk about if you're buying customers: the delay between paying for customers and getting paid by them can run you out of business even if your LTV exceeds your Customer Acquisition Costs. (Conversely, if you can get paid by your customers before you have to pay for them, you're golden.) Note that I mean actual cash in hand, not transactions - you have to include the inevitable delays from whatever payment system you're using. I wrote a bit about this a while back on my blog: http://www.karlo.org/2009/04/maximizing-your-online-business...

Tracking your source of traffic is definitely one of the more credible and consistent strategies from this article. Similar methods have been used successfully for measuring the effectiveness of online ads to determine where your viewers originate. Understanding the nature and location of discovery of your app is crucial.

My company's marketing manager spent quite a lot of time figuring out what we were paying adWords for. He quickly realised that most ads were displayed on eMule-related forums, and that most clicks we paid for were thrown-away money. Lesson learnt: track carefully where ads are displayed!

You can segment AdWords to only display on Google search results. And you should.

Yep, we realized it. The "Display Network" used to work fine, though. It went downhill in the recent years.

I think things were a lot better when AdWords was less expensive back in the day (say around 2003-2005).

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