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

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

In this 3 part series I’m running through 13 pre-launch traffic strategies (actually it’s turned into 14) I am using for getting attention and building an audience and a list for my reporting app Informly.

In part 1, I went into detail about my onsite content strategy which forms the backbone for my traffic generation efforts.

In part 2, I went through 6 more strategies including forums, guest blogging, email newsletters, CSS galleries, partners and app comparison sites.

In this final installment I am going through my final 7 strategies.

8. App listing sites

There are a lot of sites that just list and / or review apps. When I launched my beta a few months ago I created a spreadsheet with a bunch of these sites, some general app sites and some mobile app sites and submitted to all of them. Because of the mobile explosion a lot are mobile only so it helps if you have a mobile version if your app (which I do).

The submission acceptance rates are generally pretty low and most will try to get some money out of you to guarantee inclusion. If budget permits you may decide to pay for some of them if they are particularly suitable (I didn’t). But you can get good long term traffic from these sites and you’ll often get picked up on other sites because they’ll see your listing on app sites.

My app was recently added to (14 visits converts at 7%) without my doing and it was reviewed on Appvita (41 visits converts at 4.88%). These are just a few examples, I’ve also had it added to other sites as a result of my submissions and the overall conversions are surprisingly excellent (61 visits at 6.5%).

I have a spreadsheet of 100 or so mobile app sites, if you are interested feel free to email me if you want it.

9. Startup sites

Similar to app sites there are also loads of sites just dedicated to listing startups. Again if you build a list of these and add yourself to them you’ll also find that others often pick you up naturally. The one I got the most traction from when I initially added my site was (over 200 visitors – back before I was measuring conversions).

I also heard recently on Rob’s podcast a mention for which looks great and I will be submitting there also.

Often the experience with these sites is that you will get a fair bit of traffic when it first goes up but it will drop off dramatically once it leaves the homepage. This obviously depends on the site, on larger sites your submission won’t stay on the homepage long.

When you launch you’ll also want to look at getting some press from sites like these and other startup related news outlets so you can consider these sites in your “reach out” activities as well (see later on in this post).

10. Twitter / Tweet Adder

This strategy has been my biggest surprise in generating traffic to my pre-launch site. The process is basically:

  • Follow a bunch of people on Twitter (you could start by following people who follow your competitors, or people who follow other services you integrate with for example).
  • When someone follows you, send them a message thanking them for following you and letting them know about your app.

I used Tweet Adder to automate this process which requires more or less a one off setup and it runs 24 / 7 on my second computer. This is a potentially risky strategy as Twitter doesn’t love this kind of automation, I also use my second Twitter account so I don’t end up following loads of people on my main Twitter account (which kind of kills the Twitter experience).

Over the last 3 months this strategy has sent me 33 conversions out of 364 visitors (9%) putting it into my top 5 referrers by volume and right up there with the highest converting traffic sources. For my time spent (around 20 minutes setup) it is by far the best in terms of return on my time.

11. Podcasting

A few months ago I started a podcast called Web Domination. There have been 18 episodes so far so all up probably around 80-90 hours work across a few months. It’s been a real eye opener to see how much you can get out of exploring a totally different medium. Here are some of the specific things I’ve gotten out of doing the podcast.

One thing I didn’t do when I started out was really have any kind of strategy for the podcast. As a result I didn’t mention the app in the show all the time and didn’t have any way to benefiting from them visiting my podcast site. I’ve recently changed this by moving the podcast site over to the main domain, adding a message at the start of the show and to all previous shows that mentions the app and I’ll also offer a specific deal to podcast listeners when I get closer to launch.

I was recently in an event in Bangkok where Dan Andrews presented to the whole room a sales pitch for Rob’s product HitTail. Dan’s point was that because he listens to Rob’s podcast each week, he knows everything about his product. While it’s sometimes difficult to measure the impact, podcasting can be extremely powerful.

There’s no telling how powerful the podcast will be long term in terms of my app but it could well be the most powerful strategy of all. Particularly if I get some assistance with the launch from some of these big players.

12. Weekly videos

I didn’t address video in my section on onsite content in part 1 because I was only just starting out with the idea of doing a weekly video at the time. So I’m adding video as a bonus strategy.

Since the first post went up I decided to take a different approach with the videos and they are starting to have a decent impact.

I started out doing a video series called 5 Minute Friday which was supposed to be a 5 minute video with some insights about marketing on the web. In episode 6 however I decided to do something a bit different and use a bit of humour. The episode was called ‘Overnight success – how to go viral’ you can watch it below.

This video was very well received – the chart below shows the impact of my 5 most recent posts and as you can see the How to go viral post is well ahead of the others (the Siri video is only a day old I suspect it will overtake the other blog posts shortly).

Video impact

As a result I decided to do videos in this style from that point forward. Because it’s so early I can’t really offer too much in terms of results or advice but I have had a few things happen that are notable:

  1. My viral video was shared on Facebook by 2 people I look up to with large audiences. It was also played in front of 60 people at a conference I attended.
  2. I’ve had some great comments via email and on the site. If you look at the screenshot above you can see there are 15 comments on the viral video (The D logo is the commenting system I use Disqus). This is significantly more than I would generally get on a podcast episode or blog post so the engagement is very high.
  3. I know there are people who have seen the videos who wouldn’t have seen any of my other content (I had a comment from Youtube guru Gideon Shalwick for example).
  4. They’ve also enabled me to show a different side of myself and I really think they have the potential to spread my brand to a totally new audience. So far I have had over 1,300 watches on youtube. Early days but I think this is a good start.
  5. In addition to youtube I’m extracting the audio (which takes a few seconds) and they audio version is syndicated to iTunes. I’m getting 500-600 audio file downloads per episode as well.

One thing I will be doing is installing Lead Player so I can convert better from the videos. At the moment the actual pages where I post the videos are very low in terms of conversions.

13. Social Media

I’m no social media guru and without paying for ads it’s not easy to build a following on social media. One thing that helps enormously is putting out a lot of your own original content. Again particularly with the podcast and the videos, these have resulted in a lot of new followers on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

My main strategy with social media at the moment for me is to use it to build relationships and also to share my content. I’ll discuss the relationship side in the next point on ‘Reaching out’. In terms of content I get a lot of traffic through social media and while it converts poorly (under 2%) I think it is probably one of my best sources of new audience members. This is a bit hard to measure but social media is one of the main ways that my content gets discussed by other people and in that sense it’s the main way for me to get in front of new people. Twitter and Facebook are both in my top 10 traffic sources.

Social media is as multiplier for your great content. If you are writing long, detailed useful articles or doing podcasts, or videos etc but have no presence on social media, they will be unlikely to get any attention. So if you are running with a heavy content strategy then social media is a must.

There are many more sophisticated things you can do with social media depending on your budget and available time and expertise. For me, the bare minimum is being active on Facebook (page, group and personal account), Twitter (personal and app account) and Google+, sharing my posts on each network and other useful posts and actively engaging with others, encouraging discussion, thanking for re-tweets etc.

I also use the post impact chart shown above to get a feel for what content is having the most impact on social media which points me in a direction for future content.

14. Reach out

My reach out strategy is a long and at times laborious set of tasks. When I launch in a few weeks time I want to get some attention and I want important people to know what I’m doing. If I do nothing now and just send a bunch of cold emails on launch then I’m not going to get noticed. So I’m taking a structured approach to it spending a bit of time each week on reaching out.

The specific steps are:

  • Building a Google doc of influential people in my space (these include some international and local press contacts, influential people in the startup / web app world and bloggers and sites relating to my main target audiences (bloggers, small business owners, internet marketers etc).
  • Spending a bit of time each week working through the list, finding their sites, their Twitter handle’s, their blogs, any communities they are part of etc.
  • Engaging with them in some way such as retweeting their posts, commenting on their blog, engaging with them in the communities they are part of (if they have their own this is by far the best way). I’ll write down everything I did in the spreadsheet and if I got anything back from the person (if you have a decent memory you probably don’t have to do this).
  • Help them out if at all possible, little things like pointing out broken links on their sites, leave them an iTunes review or if they ask for help with something – jump on it. A few months ago when I first started, Jason Calacanis put out a tweet asking for tips on free app review sites. I sent him my list and had a quick email exchange about my app. A few months later when I noticed he was looking for guests for an upcoming Ask Jason episode I volunteered and reminded him about the exchange last year. This lead me to being on episode 297 and getting me and my app in front of 100,000 people. Hopefully I’ll have more stories like this closer to launch.
  • After 4-5 weeks of doing this, I’ll choose whichever journalist seems to be the most relevant and offer them an exclusive for a story on the launch. Again it’s early days so time will tell but hopefully when it comes time to launch this strategy will allow me to get some press.

In addition to journalists I am building a list of bloggers who talk about similar topics that my audience is interested in and I will reach out to them the week before launch with a bit of information on the app. I am hoping this will result in me getting some mentions on blogs when I launch.

What is your number 1 traffic strategy?

One of the main points to take out of this is I’ve arrived at this list of 14 things by testing many many more and working out what works for me. It’s an ongoing process as I get more and more feedback from people and continue to monitor the data on what is working.

With the right setup you can learn a lot from doing different tests and then over time refining your approach to focus on the ones that work best for you. With that in mind I’d love to hear from you. Let us know in the comments below what your number 1 traffic strategy is.

I’d also be happy to answer any questions relating to this article below.

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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#1 raul on 11.06.12 at 11:12 am

Dan, this is a great list of things to do. Thanks A LOT!

#2 Josh Kohlbach on 11.06.12 at 7:33 pm

Hey Dan, been loving these posts and props to Rob for getting you on here.

One of the things I’ve used to great effect that hasn’t been mentioned here (I think) is getting people to review your product/service.

I launched a WordPress plugin in the past called ThirstyAffiliates and again with another one called Simple Page Tester (it didn’t do quite as well).

Both products still get sales today as a direct result of me reaching out asking for people to do reviews.

Now that those two are on autopilot I’m on to other bigger things but I’ll definitely be coming back here to look through these strategies when I’m keen to find traffic.

Thanks again mate and best of luck with the launch, we’ll all be watching closely.


Dan Reply:

Hey Josh, thanks man.

That sounds cool, what was your process? How did you find the people to review it? Were you offering an affiliate program? I don’t want to go down that route for my app but I can understand the appeal.

Thanks for the kind words.

#3 Caleb Page on 11.08.12 at 1:47 pm

I love the 5 minute video idea. I get into perfection mode about the background, but this is one simple way to share meaningful content. Please write more on your journey on this – I get wrapped up in how to best promote video, that I won’t ever get an idea that’s really compelling, etc. Your point motivated me to get going on video again.

Dan Reply:

Hey Caleb, good to hear mate, all the best.

#4 Episode 105 | How to Pick a Platform Partner | Startups For the Rest of Us on 11.13.12 at 7:04 am

[…] Pre-Launch Traffic Strategies for Startups: Part 3 […]

#5 Ben on 11.16.12 at 1:05 am

Love this and am implementing some of your strategies now, albeit post-launch. Do you have a template for reaching out to review sites and bloggers? I’ve been using something along the lines of the following but am not getting much traction:

Hi ,

Your readers, much like 80% of the population, suffer from gift-giving woes every Christmas season. The average mom spends 288 hours shopping for gifts every Holiday season. This is not acceptable.

Our solution,, is the first of its kind gift generator that leverages your friends’ Facebook profile, interests and likes.

Here’s how it works:

1. Login with Facebook.
2. Pick a friend.
3. Let our algorithm do all the work.

We thoroughly believe Christmas is to be enjoyed by being with friends and family and we want to make each and every one of your readers into gift giving Superheroes. You can help us by letting your readers know through Facebook, Twitter or by writing a review.

Let us know if you have any questions or need further material. We are here to help you and your readers.



You guys have mentioned previously that the hardest part is marketing. Living through that dream/nightmare now 🙂



Dan Norris Reply:

Hi Ben I’ve got a few thoughts on this. First thing is I’ll probably experiment with this but I don’t have a lot of confidence that it will work very well. People are very unlikely to respond to you if they don’t know you. I prefer to put content out, and reach out to influencers and get to know them then you’ll find they will talk about your stuff anyway. If you are going to do it I would make it way shorter. I didn’t even read all of that comment, people won’t read an email that long. I’d also be trying to offer some sort of incentive. When I do it I’ll be mentioning that I’m looking for blogs to advertise on and ask them to send me some info on that (which will be true). This makes it a bit more of a 2 ways street. But I guess try it and see what result you get.