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Ask HN: What is the best way to promote your new fancy web application?
113 points by nocivus on Oct 23, 2008 | hide | past | web | favorite | 25 comments
I was wondering, as a soon to be startup founder, what opinions do all the hackers out there ;) have on the best ways to promote a brand new web application. Thank you all.


Interesting contrarian viewpoint. I don't agree with it entirely (the truth always lies somewhere in the middle) but the important takeaway is that active promotion is expensive as hell (either time or money).

I'd say the most important thing is to BE WORTH TALKING ABOUT. If you're yet another project management app or bugtracker, this is challenging. Have a twist, have a story.

Next, try to find a viral loop (read more Andrew Chen if you think your app has potential here... Most don't).

Be an SEO genius. It's the gift that keeps on giving.

Learn about direct response marketing (best way is going to marketingexperiments.com and playing the adwords / landing page game). This only works if you have a product to sell, of course... Unless you want to play arbitrage games, which have gotten harder.

The trick is (after a very brief push for your spike of attention and accompanying SEO-juicing backlinks) to find a systemic way for business to come to YOU.

You could write a book on this. Heck, I probably should - I've done it a few times :)

A short list (but by no means anywhere near complete!):

- Find as many blogs in your niche as possible. Pitch them properly (a lot could be written on that point alone) DON'T JUST GO FOR THE BIG ONES! The smaller blogs are more likely to link to you if you're friendly to them and develop rapport.. I run blogs with over 10,000 subscribers and I love helping people who are FRIENDLY and GENUINE.

- Use your social network.. you've been building one up, right? Make sure all your Twitter and Facebook followers know about what you're doing. Lean on your Linked In contacts.

- Stumbleupon advertising (if appropriate, 5 cents a visitor). Adwords advertising (if appropriate).

- Find places where users of competing applications gather (forums, Google Groups, etc) and work your way into their attention zone.

- See if there's a sub-Reddit that's specifically for your niche. Find people to charm there, post ancillary links regarding your app, etc. Don't over-do it.

- Post it on HR (as someone said above)

- Find your way in to interviews, podcasts, etc. A lot of content providers are dying for more content - you might make a great interviewee. The media is less opaque than it seems.

- Go to events! Make sure you have an elevator pitch. Get excited. Wear schwag featuring your logo, etc, if you want to. Don't just focus on the big-wigs - get anyone who might find your service useful excited.

- Does your design rock? Get on to the "CSS design", and "Web design" show case type sites. There are hundreds of them around. Not amazing exposure, but the more links the better and any one of your visitors might turn in to a serious contact.

- Start your own blog for your company / startup. Make it really interesting. Be candid. Show off new features. Show off stuff you're working on. Show off your team or your technology. Build up your own tribe of followers. They will make all the difference when it comes to saving you on del.icio.us, Digg, Reddit, and so forth.

- Make sure you stay on top of your e-mail. Customers might test you with e-mails - responding quickly and completely can make the difference between sales and no sales - or life and death with a startup.

- Find ancillary reasons to get your service mentioned in blog posts and tutorials. For example, if your startup is an RSS mashup generator of some sort, you need to have tutorials out there that recommend your service. Get those tutorials and posts on to Reddit, Hacker News, Digg, etc.

- If people write about your site, write tutorials that mention you, etc, PROMOTE THAT CONTENT EVEN IF IT'S NOT YOURS! Get people reading stuff that's about you - not by you!

- Remember that bigger sites like TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb (if applicable to your sector) love exclusives. Don't bother mass pitching those - focus on one, whichever you can get best rapport with, and offer an exclusive. Your product needs to be AWESOME for this to work though.

- Follow a search.twitter.com search on terms related to your service (and even the name of your service) .. get in touch with people who might be interested, respond to all comments about your service.

- Write a bog standard press release and submit through the standard channels. This will not help much but at least your company name/service name will end up with a ton of results in Google - this can help you look bigger than you are. You /may/ even get some offline coverage if the press release is actually kinda good (but not too crazy). It's cheap to do this.

- Build ancillary "fun" services that tie into your main web app. Something fun, free, perhaps something that you can relate to sites people find interesting, such as Twitter. Let's say your main service is an online graphics editor. Perhaps you could create a separate site where people can create avatars for Twitter / Facebook from a small set of templates.. separate project but promoting the first.

- Hustle, hustle, hustle! Make sure you know as soon as someone blogs about your service. Follow Google Blog Searches, etc. Keep Googling. Get commenting on blogs (not in a spammy way - just get your name and service out there). If someone needs to do something your service offers, you need to be there!

I believe Jason Calacanis wrote an interesting piece on doing PR for a startup recently. Find that article and read it - I recall it was very good.


BTW, if anyone thinks I might be able to turn this into a good book, resource site, or similar, vote this up and I might give it a try! :)

Just thought I'd mention that I saw some guys wearing appjet T-shirts volunteering at a homeless shelter a few weeks ago.

I think you got the support you were looking for to write a book.

You've got a good list. You sound like you've got interesting things to say about every item. Come up with a practical example (preferably but not necessarily a real one) for each, and you've got a decent read on your hands.

Hustle, hustle, hustle! ;)

If you are planning on doing some form of book, why not a website instead? Hell, make it collaborative, and count me in. I work in PR relating to E-Business, explaining this stuff to people who (well, at least the vast majority) still think websites are pretty pictures with a 'contact us' page.

Thanks a million for the info. Really good stuff there :D

Here's the link to Jason Calacanis' article: http://www.alleyinsider.com/2008/8/jason-calacanis-on-how-to...

Sorry, what's HR?

My bad. I meant HN - as in here. :)

Promoting a website is the same as promoting any other product:

1) Identify your target market 2) Find a distribution channel 3) Pursue your target market

Many startups go the TechCrunch route, but unless your target market is Silicon Valley technologists it's probably not a smart move. Put another way, not all customers are created equal.

When I was first launching Appaholic (now Adonomics) I posted aggressively in the Facebook developer forums. Beyond that I pursued SEO.

Most startup people I know think a bit about (1), very little about (2), and jump right into (3). Be methodical and data-oriented, instead.

Steve Jobs emphasized the same 1-2-3 in that NeXT pitch that floated around HN and VentureHacks recently: http://venturehacks.com/articles/steve-jobs-pitch

At Stormpulse we created an embeddable version of our Stormpulse map and got it on The Palm Beach Post and a bunch of other news outlets that no one in Silicon Valley cares about before we ever made it to TC.

But those 'unknown to the world at large' news channels are where people go to find our content, so they were the right places to distribute. Target customers first, buzz second. In our experience, if your product is solid, eventually you'll get noticed by someone that really needs to write a tech story (that's what happened for us); and once you're in to the stream, other, larger press (TC, etc.) will tend to follow.

Amazon's Mechanical Turk can get you beta testers and first users for $.01-.05 a piece. It's generally cheaper than using ad sense.

People beta test websites for 5 cents?

I haven't used mTurk personally, but I know people who have, and I've looked a lot into their model.

Here's the deal: For a small amount of money (1 to 5 cents, or more if you like), you can pay people to take a specific action on your site, like posting a review, voting on 10 items, commenting to a post, etc.

I took a look at the mTurk site (https://www.mturk.com/mturk/findhits?match=false), and here are some things that you can earn money on:

- Look at 25 photos and click on the parts that are sidewalk ($0.02)

- Enter the title, name, and residence of a US Patent ($0.08)

- Write a 30-word comment to a blog post ($0.03)

- Find the longitude and latitude of a business, given its street address ($0.10)

- Write a one-paragraph abstract of an information technology article ($0.05)

I find it amazing that so many people are willing to do such drudgery-laden, time-intensive tasks, but evidently, when you toss a bunch of nickels into the air, lots of people jump.

I'm a big fan of Mechanical Turk after my last project: http://iamelgringo.blogspot.com/2008/09/mechanical-turk-now-...

Make it so good that everyone talks about it.

I just gave a presentation on this at Barcamp Atlanta. The slides are up on my blog if you're interested:


First post it on HN, if you can take the though review it shows how thick you skin is. If you pass the review, you’re ready to go show off to the rest of the world.

Well, yeah, I guess posting to as many places as possible is one way to go, but apart from HN, do you suggest any other extremely cool, heavily hyped, news sites, mailing lists, and the such? :)

Target target target. Before you build your app, you should identify a dozen or so forums, mailing lists, or blogs where people talk about products like yours and would like to hear about your new website. Pretend you're your customer and Google for the problem your product solves.

Then when you release, you're just letting people know that there's a better way to do things.

HN review will give you a good sense of how useful your “fancy” application is, this is paramount to whatever promotion you may want to take your product into. Good review on HN gives you a strong launch pad, I speak from experience. You may get meaningful coverage over the internet, better than what mass mailing, spam posting and any other free platform will do.

Other alternatives are places like techcrunch ; there you must be one in the circle or getting a funding scoop. Or at best they will write in an effort to bury you instead. :-)

Haha, I love your optimism ;)

Petercooper shared a great list here are some of my thoughts...

We failed to promote our last start up very well (Seekler.com), and our new start doesn't rely on eyeballs so we aren't really promoting it. That being said we did learn a few things. Some of these are probably specific to our type of site which was silly / interesting lists, other tips might be more generalizable.

* Focus more niche, whenever we specifically targeted and marketed based around a niche we were far more successful (batman comics vs. comics http://seekler.com/lists/Best+Batman+Graphic+Novels+(Comics) )

* Engage highly motivated users, we wanted to make a great horror movie list and we found a couple horror movie blogs, forums, and fans and got them involved in the process from the beginning and after they all thought it was good we promoted it.

* Time you promotion, some days are better than others to announce a link / site / news. Figure out what days are best for your kind of content. Then try to focus all of the announcements across various sites into one day. Single day focus always did much better for us than slowly stringing along a few links here and there. (likely because of the larger social news and voting effects)

* Get a good relationship with a couple bloggers that write about your topics. We had a few that we could email at any time and they were happy to add a link pointing out our new announcement or release.

* Blog and Twitter we have had a few blog articles drive as much traffic to the site as any marketing attempt. I have also been amazed at how many people will sign up to follow site announcements via twitter if you don't abuse it by posting all the time.

* One in awhile go for something edgy, some of our mainstream lists did well, but some of our weirder ones were easier to get links for.

* Share the wealth if you get some good traffic from other sites link back to people, you will find them more likely to mention something you do if you have been showing them some love.

* Spend a little time making sure you site is OK at SEO, just good enough that you aren't hurting yourself when you do get linked up for various topics.

Anyways just a couple tips off the top of my head, our attempts where never hugely successful but we had a handful of good traffic hear and there. Hope some of my thoughts help.

- Get bloggers/writers to discover your svc serendipitously or through a friend or social media contact

- Definitely small time bloggers need to focused on. You never know who reads what!

- Submit your company to conference/contests like TechCrunch40/50. Go even if not selected or semi-finalist!

- Once at these conferences make yourself standout in a sea of nobodies. Be different and get people talking

Apparently dropping your company name in this thread is a good way :)

- http://mattcrampton.com/flickr/

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