So you just built the next great web app, the launch day has finally come and …. silence. Crickets chirping. You anxiously check your Google Analytics stats and see that despite having the coolest new website ever, nobody seems to care. More precisely, nobody knows about it yet.
This is one of the toughest moments for entrepreneurs (especially engineering types) when you realize that building the whole thing was the easy part. Now it’s actually marketing the damn thing that is going to take a while.
Here are 5 ways I’ve used to launch a website and get the first users to my site.
1. Target Your Niche On StumbleUpon
Stumbleupon has a tech savvy base of people who are looking for cool websites just like yours. When they are bored, they check Stumbleupon to see what cool new stuff has just been launched.
What’s great is that you can target the exact group who might be interested in your site. For example, with BuyersVote.com I knew people into consumer info and possibly bargains would like the site, and I was able to target those groups.
Pros: Only $0.05 per visitor (way less than Adwords). Can target people with relevant interests. Can see a feedback report afterwards with what percent of people liked/disliked it.
Cons: Stumbleupon users are pretty click happy and are just trying to prevent boredom, so they tend to have a high bounce rate. But then again, aren’t most web users? This is a good test to see if your homepage is grabbing people’s attention.
2. Tell people your competition sucks
If you’re making a cheaper/better/faster alternative to an existing product, why not tell people that your competitor sucks? Use their name right in the headline. These ads tend to have a high click through rate, and your ideal early adopter is someone who is currently using the competition and is fed up.
Facebook ads work well for this, and their ad targeting is outstanding, but it can work elsewhere also like in Adwords or blog posts. You may recall I launched FeedmailPro.com because I was fed up with Aweber and thought they sucked.
Pros: Works best when going against an established competitor. Usually gets a high click through rate.
Cons: Sometimes you’ll run into problems using a trademark in your ad headline and Facebook or whoever will take it down. But if it happens no biggie, you just take it down or reword it. Better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
3. Try to rank for long tail keywords
Traffic from organic search results is free, and 98% of people don’t click the ads when doing a Google search - they use the organic search results. So obviously, ranking in search engines is great. The problem is it’s very difficult for a brand new website.
The solution? Target long tail keywords first - keywords which are more specific, have more words, are more obscure, etc. One good way to make a long tail keyword is to add a city name or regional keyword on the end.
For UniversityTutor.com this is exactly what I did. I had a couple dozen subjects (algebra, chemistry, Spanish, etc) and a bunch of cities (Austin, Boston, San Jose, etc) with tutors signed up. So I combined the subject and the city name (and added ‘tutor’ in the middle) to auto-generate a bunch of long tail keywords, such as “calculus tutor Austin, TX”. Then I auto-generated pages on the site that targeted those. Within a few weeks I was getting 500 visitors per day (for free) from organic search results.
Even a brand new site can rank for long tail keywords with just on-page SEO. If you can start getting traffic for long tail results, then you have early adopters who will eventually give you links, and you’ll eventually rank for more competitive keywords too (although this takes a while). Oh yeah, and don’t forget to create a sitemap after you do this so Google actually finds the new pages.
Pros: Free! Brings lots of traffic.
Cons: You need at least SOME good content on the pages for this to work. It can be user-generated if your users are submitting content (this is best), otherwise you’ll have to generate it yourself.
4. Seed your site using Mechanical Turk
Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is awesome, and some entrepreneurs are using this to seed content on their sites. Basically you create a simple task that can be completed by a human being (write a review, tag this image, vote this up or down, etc) and assign a very low dollar amount to it (say $0.05 or $0.10). Then you can publish these to Mechanical Turk and thousands of stay at home moms, bored librarians, and people all over the world will complete your task for a few cents and become early users of your website.
Sure, they are getting paid. But it can help to generate the initial content on a site, even for the SEO trick mentioned in #3 above. The task is completely open ended so some people also use it to get people’s feedback. You can make the task something like “try this out and tell me what you like about it and what was confusing about it” if you just want to do user testing.
I tried this on BuyersVote.com and the results were pretty good. The main thing you have to worry about is quality. You can approve or reject each result that someone completes, and Mechanical Turk lets you adjust some quality controls like their approval rate from past requests and what country they are in, English speaking etc. I’d say overall about 95% of the work completed was worth keeping, and about 5% needed cleaning up or deleting, which is decent.
Pros: It’s guarantees the person will actually participate in your site instead of just viewing it, unlike the other methods.
Cons: Keep an eye on quality and clean up any junk that gets posted. Start small (maybe 10 tasks) and see results before going to 100, 1000, etc. There is an art to making your task instructions clear for 100% of people.
5. Have a blog
I saved the best for last. Having a blog is both the most powerful and the most long term approach. It takes years of dedicated work to build up a good permission asset, but once you do it is worth it’s weight in gold.
37Signals launched Haystack.com in the blog post pictured above. Just three days later Haystack.com had thousands of registered users and was generating revenue in excess of $7,000 per month. Their marketing cost for this was zero. This was all possible because 37Signals has about 100,000 dedicated readers of their blog.
Joel Spolsky did the same thing when he launched StackOverflow.com with a blog post. In the last 6 months it has become the #1 programming website in the world because of the critical mass it achieved from his (and his co-founder’s) blog posts.
Bottom line: if you don’t have a blog, you should start today because it will almost certainly pay off down the road.
Pros: It’s free. These early adopters know you and actually care about the site (they aren’t being paid) which means they’ll probably tell their friends. This is the most powerful form of marketing you can do.
Cons: Takes a long time to build a following on a blog. You can’t start a blog just to promote stuff. It has to be a topic you actually care about and would write about even if nobody was reading it (because that’s exactly how it will feel for the first year or so).
There are a few other methods people use, like scraping competitors data off their site (not recommended from an ethical point of view although it can be effective in some cases) and of course you should definitely email it to your friends, your family, post it on your Facebook profile, etc (it’s surprising how many people don’t do this first and most obvious step - HotOrNot.com launched just by emailing a few friends and was receiving 2 million page page views per day just a few weeks later).
You might get lucky and have your site blow up without any serious marketing effort on your part, but in my experience (and from talking with other entrepreneurs) this is very very rare. It’s far more likely that, even if you have the coolest product in the world, you’ll have to spend just as much time marketing it as you did building it, if not more. Hopefully these tips help you out!
What techniques did I miss? Which have worked best for you? Please post your thoughts in the comments below.
Until next time, keep breaking free! Brian Armstrong