Case Study: 13 Pre-Launch Traffic Strategies for Startups (Part 1 of 3)

This article is a guest post by Dan Norris, founder of Informly.

Part 1 (of 3) – Introduction and Onsite Content
Experienced entrepreneurs will tell you that no traffic is free. Even if you aren’t paying money for something you are paying in time (which is worth something) and once you try to scale it, you will have to part with cash.

But sometimes they forget what it’s like when you get started. The reality for most bootstrapped web startups is that you have time – but you don’t have money. And even if you did, it’s often very hard to make paid traffic like Google AdWords work.

To get the momentum going we have to rely more often than not on a bunch of free strategies.

My web app, Informly is a simple live dashboard that reports on your business performance showing charts from a number of services (MailChimp, Analytics etc). I’ll be launching it in a few weeks and over the last few months I’ve been working on a bunch of traffic strategies designed to build interest, develop an audience and launch with a decent pre-launch mailing list.

Over the course of 3 articles I’ll present 13 free traffic strategies that I am using to drive traffic to my site pre-launch. I’ll also include specific information on visits, opt ins, conversion rates etc where possible and what worked and what didn’t.

In this part (part 1) I’ll be addressing onsite content which is by far the most important part of my traffic strategy.

Start with Google Analytics Custom Segments
One note before I get into the details: If you are going to follow a structured approach like this then it’s imperative that you use Google Analytics to track progress so you can learn over time which techniques are working.

Because a lot of these strategies don’t lend themselves to use trackable URLs you will need to set up custom segments to get usable high level data on the traffic and the conversions for each of these strategies.

If you aren’t familiar with custom Segments in Google check out my post Google Analytics Advanced Segments. Here are 2 charts from Informly which show my last 30 days worth of traffic from my top 10 traffic strategies.

Custom Segments Traffic

conversions

Traffic strategy 1. Onsite content

I live and breath onsite content and I believe it’s a huge opportunity for startups because it’s often ignored or at least misunderstood. Too often startups will focus 100% on the product and won’t be engaging with their potential audience enough prior to launch. Content is the easiest way to engage with new people online and it’s the backbone of my traffic strategy.

The main thing here is to work out who your audience is and create some useful content for them.

In my case the people who use my app are web savvy small business people and online marketers. These people use other SAAS platforms heavily and are eager to save time by having all of their stats in the one place. But importantly they are also looking for simpler ways of understanding complex data (particularly the small business crowd) and generally any information that will help them succeed online.

My onsite content strategy involves having an interview podcast (which I’ll address separately) a blog, a weekly 5 minute video and a weekly email.

Here are 6 tips that I can share on what to think about when formulating your own onsite content strategy.

1. Don’t just write about your niche
I’ve got news for you. What you are doing is probably boring. I know what I do is – Analytics and data is boring. If I was to constantly put content out about data I wouldn’t even want to read it myself!

When I spoke with Neil Patel from Kiss Metrics on my podcast he told me you don’t have to create content purely about your app’s particular use, just create content that is useful to the types of people using your app. If you check out the Kiss Metrics blog for example it’s not all content about metrics, it’s all sorts of useful content for tech savvy website owners.

kissmetrics_content

Caption: For inspiration on how to create epic onsite content, check out the KissMetrics blog they are the best of the best.

This makes it a lot more fun and allows you to indulge a bit in your broader interests. So I write articles on cloud computing, small business, web marketing, content marketing, SEO as well as business intelligence, analytics etc.

2. Create a lot of content
Even if you know nothing about SEO, the act of creating content alone can easily be enough to make Google your biggest referrer of traffic.

My site doesn’t rank for any big keywords, I’ve only been actively creating content on it for a few months after all. But traffic from Google (even when I exclude anyone searching for my brand keywords) is by far my biggest referrer (recall the charts above). I’ve created around 40 posts on my site in the last few months and I’m already getting traffic from around 130 keywords a month. In my last business I created over 200 posts over a few years and in a typical month I would get traffic for 700-800 keywords.

This is mostly a result of creating content and mentioning a lot of words. It’s long tail traffic and it’s free, long term traffic that comes when you create a large amount of text content. The downside is while it’s at the top of my list of traffic it’s towards the bottom when looking at the conversion rates. So I wouldn’t rely on this alone.

3. Create epic content
As I mentioned above, the long tail traffic is a big source of traffic but it converts poorly. In addition it doesn’t really assist with any of your other strategies. When you create epic content it will do a lot more including:

  • help build your social media following because people will be drawn to follow your advice.
  • help with your “reaching out” efforts (more on this in parts 2 and 3) by building a body of work respected by influential peers.
  • help build your authority over time to a point where people send you traffic via word of mouth, social media, forum mentions etc.

The content that works for me is longer, detailed posts about a specific topic. My post The simple guide to content driven SEO is an example which includes a lot of the things I like to do with my content such as:

  1. It’s long and detailed (2,000 words)
  2. It’s very specific. It addresses a specific topic and includes step by step instructions on how to undertake the necessary SEO tasks.
  3. It includes lots of images. I love specific step by step instructional stuff because it lends itself well to screenshots which can be created easily and for free. Another option is original illustrations or pictures which you might be able to leverage somewhere else like Pinterest.
  4. It attempts to simplify a complex problem. If you can take a complex topic that already has a lot of content written about it and simplify it for the audience, this is something that people love. I don’t try to become an expert in one particular area (Analytics, SEO etc) I try to distill the complex stuff that is out there into a specific, simple, actionable post and aim to become an expert in simplifying complex problems. My audience appreciates this and there is a good chance your audience will too.
  5. It uses my business / app as an example. This is critical and is something I’ll talk about in the guest posting section as well. You want to make sure the reader knows who you are and they have some desire to opt in to your content or your app / business when they finish the post. Remember a lot of traffic will come direct from Google and may be seeing your stuff for the first time. The easiest way to gain their interest while still writing a post with 100% value for the reader is to make the post about your business / website etc.

I’ve also started doing a weekly video which is being very well received. The more mediums you can employ the better. I am using text and images for blog posts, audio for podcasts (supported by transcriptions) and video (converted to audio as well).

4. Utilise a range of mediums
So far on my site I’ve done:

  • text articles
  • info graphics
  • weekly 5 minute videos, and
  • an audio podcast.

I find some people love the podcast, others respond well the blog posts and I’m getting a whole new audience through the videos. I’m such a huge fan of podcasts that I’ll address this separately in part 2.

A lot of people assume that creating great content is about writing blog posts. In reality a lot of people don’t want to read blog posts. I watch more videos and listen to more podcasts than I read articles. And mediums like audio and video lend themselves very well to building trust and authority – much more so than writing blog posts.

5. Build your social presence
Onsite content and social media go hand in hand. Social channels like Twitter / Facebook, forums etc will be the main channel for promoting your posts to a new audience so if you don’t plan on investing time on them then you won’t get much return for your content efforts.

I go into this in a bit more detail in the social media and forum sections individually in parts 2 and 3 of this series.

6. Ignore most SEO advice
Here is my growth in backlinks over the last few months:

backlinks

How have I achieved this growth? By doing zero back linking and ignoring pretty much every piece of SEO advice I come across. And the most recent Google Algo change – zero impact on my site.

SEO can be extremely complicated, particularly in the last few years. My last business relied on ranking for high authority keywords to bring me the vast majority of my new business. This is quite a risky situation to be in and it also requires that you know a hell of a lot about SEO (and I’m not talking about optimising H1 tags here).

I believe that long term a far better approach is to not worry about the specifics of SEO at all. Spend your time in more productive ways and focus on creating epic content and getting the word out about it.

*Note if you are a legit SEO guru then obviously ignore my advice here – this is written for the typical technical / product focused web startup founder. If you feel you can build an advantage through SEO then by all means go for it. But I’ve found a lot of people think they are SEO gurus but few really are.

Ignoring SEO advice means:

  • No longer spending time learning about the latest Google changes. One thing will never change with Google and that is if you put out exceptional content and do a good job sharing it, you will be rewarded.
  • Avoid elaborate on-page optimisation. Just do the basics and focus your attention elsewhere. Forget about keyword density, excessive internal linking, obsessing over optimised images etc. This stuff only has marginal benefit and the psychological overhead of having to be an expert in it is not worth it.
  • Don’t do any off-page SEO (link building). This stuff is now trickier and riskier than ever. Forget about it, I have.

Here is what I think is a much better long term strategy for the typical web startup.

  • Focus on what you are good at (in my case that is creating content on my topic of choice,  and building a great product).
  • Create exceptional content that is good enough for people to naturally link to. If this isn’t something you are good at then get others to create the content like Kiss Metrics often does.
  • Think long term. What will your site look like 2 years from now. Will it be ranking for 1 keyword with thousands of dodgy back links to your homepage waiting to be slapped by Google’s next algo change? Or will it be a well known resource in your field, filled with epic content that can effortlessly outrank your competitors for every new blog post you write (Make Grange, as James Schramko would say).
  • Follow basic on page SEO for your site as a whole. In WordPress this is normally as simple as making sure your theme is using the right tags in the right places, is coded with clean HTML / CSS, using a sensible permalink structure (just postname is fine) and you have something like YOAST SEO installed to help with the rest – If you don’t know what I’m talking about here then you do need to read up on basic SEO with WordPress, if you do then you know enough.
  • Make sure each post targets a specific keyword by searching for terms that you know you have a chance at ranking for. Forget about the big ticket keywords that you have no chance of ranking for in the short term. For me, I look for searches getting around 100 exact monthly searches and I don’t worry about looking at competition or how the front page of Google looks. Make sure your article name includes the exact keyword (which means your URL and title will to). You can tell YOAST what specific keyword you are targeting all via the post page in WordPress, aim to get the green light from YOAST and that’s enough.
  • Monitor where you are ranking for each new post you put out. My app Informly enables you to do this for free or you can use a dedicated rank tracking tool like SERP Fox. The main reason to do this is not to obsess over where you are ranking but to learn over time which keywords work well for you and which ones don’t so you can make more educated choices about what to target going forward.

All of the above is very easy to do, if you get in the habit of doing it for each post you write, it’s only going to add a few minutes to your process of creating content. You don’t need to really know anything about SEO to do it, you just need to learn over time what’s working and what’s not.

Some posts will hit and some will miss from an SEO point of view. But if they are all great posts, they will all help towards building the authority of your site over time and building back links and social media signals which will increase the rankings for all of your keywords long term.

7. Simplify your blog and optimise for conversions
Finally, I would try to avoid the temptation to fill your site with every latest and greatest widget. All I have on my blog is the opt in on the right (modelled loosely off the Kiss Metrics blog), my social networks and social sharing icons on the left. You want your readers to opt in, either to get more content or sign up for your app – most other widgets are distractions.

blog_screenshot

Parts 2 and 3

In parts 2 and 3 I will be going into more detail on 12 other traffic strategies such as podcasting, social media, forums and more.

Share your success with onsite content

With that in mind I’d love to hear from you. Let us know in the comments below whether you are using onsite content as a traffic strategy and how it’s working for you. I’ll see you in part 2.

dan
Dan Norris is the founder of Informly a free tool that gives web entrepreneurs a simple report on the performance of their business. The app talks to popular services like Analytics, PayPal, Xero, Mail Chimp etc and simplifies the information into a 1 page live report available via the web or mobile.

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18 comments ↓

#1 Ilya on 10.16.12 at 1:28 pm

Also http://2fb.me will share your initial launch tweets

#2 Case Study: 13 Pre-Launch Traffic Strategies for Startups (Part 1 of 3 … | Increase Web Traffic on 10.16.12 at 1:39 pm

[...] all sorts of useful content for tech savvy website owners. … See the original post here: Case Study: 13 Pre-Launch Traffic Strategies for Startups (Part 1 of 3 … ← Automotive Marketing Groups Help Car Dealerships Increase [...]

#3 dylan on 10.16.12 at 6:58 pm

Kickass post!

Dan Reply:

Hey Dylan, thanks mate.

#4 Pete on 10.17.12 at 12:25 am

I’ve been a web developer for the last 10+ years and I never really got into internet marketing up until the last 2 years – and when I did, I never felt like I had been graced by the presence of so many snake oil salesmen.

‘Turn key’ this, ‘Profit system’ that – coming from the near clinical world of software development – it just felt like another planet – and indeed another planet I didn’t feel comfortable on.

What is funny though is having been an observer for sometime in the SEO community – I keep seeing the same patterns – people not selling/doing things they believe in – just choosing to enter spaces where they believe money can be made (and usually a quick buck at that), people looking to ‘game’ Google and the other search engines – and then throwing their hands up in the air when Google changes their rules and wondering what they did wrong.

Reading articles like this reaffirm by views of building quality products that you believe in over the long term. Thanks!

Dan Reply:

Awesome Pete, I agree. Be careful how many $17 ebooks you buy, much better just creating quality stuff and thinking long term.

#5 Flippy on 10.17.12 at 1:28 am

Excellent article, everyone knows this is the path to success and traffic, it’s just not trivial and for a hacker/programmer, not as fun as building product!!! :)

Dan Reply:

Hey Flippy, thanks for the comment. I find both equally fun! Lucky me!

#6 Brian on 10.17.12 at 9:40 am

Excellent post. Thanks for all of the detail.

Dan Reply:

No worries Brian, thanks for the comment.

#7 Adrian on 10.19.12 at 10:04 am

Sweet, looking forward to the next two articles.

Dan Norris Reply:

Hi Adrian good stuff I hope you like the next one.

#8 Case Study: 13 Pre-Launch Traffic Strategies for Startups (Part 2 of 3) | Software by Rob on 10.23.12 at 11:03 am

[...] ← Case Study: 13 Pre-Launch Traffic Strategies for Startups (Part 1 of 3) [...]

#9 Ben on 10.26.12 at 7:20 pm

Love the article but am left wondering how it applies to bootstrapped startups. With only 10-15 hours per week there is not much time left for anything other than building the product.

Once complete, do you then implement this pre-launch strategy or just open the flood gates and let everyone in? I’d think the latter because there is little guarantee a pre launch campaign would generate more traffic/money than if you just openend it up right away.

Maybe I’m missing the point but it seems a prelaunch campaign is really more for businesses that have enough resources to parallelize the development and marketing.

Dan Norris Reply:

Hi Ben, thanks for the comment. I know everyone says product is everything but for new entrepreneurs product means very little. You won’t get noticed no matter how good the product is – you have to invest in marketing. Once you get noticed product is important but until then it doesn’t exist.

I would say if you have 10-15 hours a week then you will find it incredibly difficult to get anything off the ground either way. But if that is all the time you are prepared (or able) to commit to your project I would outsource the development and spend 100% of your time on marketing.

Ben Reply:

Hrmm, I see both your points and I thank for your replies. Still struggling with this tho because I left out an important detail.

My scenario:
Built a product and am 95% done. About to launch within a couple weeks. Do I now push off the release in an attempt to gather pre-launch momentum or just release and market after?

I know, I’ve gone about it ass backwards.

Rob Reply:

Have any potential customers used your app and told you that they would pay money for it? If not, then I would put off the launch until you find these people. You can pick an arbitrary number, but between 10 and 20 people committed to purchase seems to be a generally agreed upon range. You will likely have to talk to 2x that number of people to find those who will buy. More if your idea isn’t solving a problem people are willing to pay money to have solved.

If you are not able to find enough people after sufficient effort, then you have either built something no one wants, no one is willing to pay for, or that is too hard to market.

Good luck!

Rob Walling Reply:

>>Maybe I’m missing the point but it seems a prelaunch campaign is really more for businesses that have enough resources to parallelize the development and marketing.

ACK! No, this single mistake can be the death of your idea. Pre-launch marketing is one of the most critical things you should tackle both to prove your idea before you code it, and to build up a launch list so you have revenue from day 1.

I agree with Dan – if you don’t have time to code and market, then you need to stop and figure out how to find time or hire someone to do the code and focus on the marketing.