Having a solid customer acquisition strategy is an essential component for any business. Without it, you’re going to seriously struggle to grow your business in any kind of meaningful way. That said, one of the most difficult parts of scaling any business is actually figuring out which channel is the most sustainable for bringing through new customers.
Justin Mares made a very good point in his book (co-authored with Gabriel Weinberg), Traction, in which he says, “Phase 1 [of gaining traction] is very product focused and involves pursuing initial traction while also building your initial product. This often means getting traction in ways that don’t scale.”
This often means getting traction in ways that don’t scale.
Finding the Right Acquisition Channel
1. Increase Engagement from Unopened Emails
Objective: Increase the number of people reading and engaging with the emails that you send to your subscriber list by specifically targeting those that have failed to open them.
How: 48 hours or so after sending an email to your subscribers, go into your email marketing software and find all of the subscribers that received the email but didn’t open it. Resend your email with a completely new email subject to just these people – this gives you a chance at increasing the number of opens of your campaign without looking like you’re spamming subscribers’ inboxes with the same email.
I tested this out recently with my email subscriber list and found it to yield an increase of 35.41% for the total number of opened emails, and an increase of 39.66% in click-through rate. That’s huge when you put it into absolute numbers.
Here’s the stats breakdown:
Original Email Open Rate: 22.9%
Original Email Click Rate: 5.9%
Unopened Segment Open Rate: 10.8%
Unopened Segment Click Rate: 3.1%
Total Open Rate: 31.01% (35.41% increase)
Total Click Rate: 8.24% (39.66% increase)
2. Update and Republish Old Content for a Ranking Boost
TAG: ORGANIC SEARCH
Objective: Generate more organic search traffic to existing content that lives on your blog through improved keyword rankings.
How: Within a lot of websites that publish content regularly on their blog, there are often a ton of posts that are sitting really deep in their website’s architecture. This is primarily due to time-based blog feeds – i.e., the older a blog post is, the lower down in the blog feed it will be, until it goes even further down into the various archived pages of the blog.
A perfect example of this was with the HubSpot blog. We produce over 250 blog posts every month and we have hundreds of blog feed pages. The blog posts published a few years ago will very quickly drift down into page 30, 40, 50, etc. of the blog, and consequently very deep in the overall architecture of the website.
In general, pages deeper in the architecture of a website will get a lower share of internal PageRank. Unless the page has a significant amount of backlinks from external webpages, it’s unlikely to rank very well in the search engines.
One quick solution here is to update the date of the blog post to the current day and republish it. This will fire it to the top of page 1 of your blog feed and give it a significant PageRank boost.
Not only that, but if you actually add some extra content to the blog post and update any old stats/references, then you can fully re-promote it (via social media, communities, email, etc.) and earn more backlinks from external websites.
I’ve used this tactic, and continue to do so, across pretty much every campaign I’ve ever worked on that revolves heavily around content production and have had great results. You can see an example of this with the 105% increase in organic search traffic that my colleague, Pam Vaughan, achieved from executing this very tactic.
3. Aligning Search Intent to Content Upgrades
TAG: CONTENT MARKETING
Objective: Increase the number of people downloading content upgrades when they’ve come through to content from organic search.
How: Identify the pages on your website that deliver the most organic search traffic, ideally top-of-the-funnel content like blog articles. You can do this within your analytics platform.
Once you’ve found the top performing content from organic search, use Google Search Console to find which keywords are being searched for most to discover and land on the content.
It’s easy to do this within Search Console – just filter down on each page using the built-in filter and then select to view the Queries for that URL. You’ll then get a list like in the above screenshot.
Now that you know what people are searching for to get to your content, you know what they actually want. This is important because you can now create a content upgrade, with the purpose of capturing contact information in return for access that relates directly to one of these keywords.
In the above screenshot I show a page that ranks really well for “tuna salad recipe”. A logical content upgrade would be a downloadable PDF tuna salad recipe card.
We scaled this specific test across around 80 different pages on the HubSpot blog and saw an average increase in conversion rate of over 200%.
4. Integrations with Other Products
TAG: BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
Objective: Acquire new customers by leveraging the existing user base of products that you integrate with, offering an improved user experience in the process.
How: To explain how this tactic can work well I’d like to showcase one of the masters of this: Zapier. For those of you that don’t know, Zapier is a platform that focuses completely around connecting apps together in order to create unique value from them. Zapier’s whole business revolves around leveraging integrations and it’s primarily how they’ve scaled the business to date.
I spoke with Wade Foster, CEO of Zapier, and he said the following:
“Doing dedicated integrations can be a good source of early growth if you target the right company. The trick is to build a great integration that fills a gap in another company’s product offering that they aren’t likely to fill. If possible get their buy-in on co-marketing efforts before hand. Then when you launch the integration make sure your new partner will email their user base and setup a landing page featuring your new integration.
Don’t expect any integration to make or break your company though. Most integrations get less than 1% penetration into a user base, so make sure to go in with expectations set when building an integration.
Of course, this works great for Zapier because we can do hundreds of integrations and the usage is meaningful when done across all of them. But don’t expect to have our network effects when you build your integration.”
The real takeaway here is where Wade talks about integrations that “[fill] a gap in another company’s product offering that they’re unlikely to fill.” An integration has to be mutually beneficial to each partner company while also adding more value for the customer than just simply using the two products independently.
Take Stripe’s integration with Shopify. This is an integration that I’ve personally taken advantage of and it has actually been a huge factor in selecting Shopify as a CMS. There have been many other examples of integrations similar to this that have had a big impact on product adoption – another good example is when PayPal directly integrated with eBay.
The hard part can often be to find the right integration partner. For an integration to be both appealing to the individual partners and also add value to customers, there shouldn’t be too much overlap in existing functionality. I’d start by figuring out features that your customers would find useful but in areas that you’re not going to actively pursue as a product development priority.
From here you can shortlist solution providers and evaluate who would add the most value from a customer acquisition point of view. Things to consider when evaluating potential integration partners are:
Their total customer base.
The likelihood that their customers would be interested in your product.
Their online reach (i.e., email list, social followers, etc.).
Ease of the integration.
5. Industry, Feature & Location Pages
TAG: ORGANIC SEARCH
Objective: Increase organic search traffic with high commercial intent by ranking for keywords related to specific industries and locations that you target, as well as those related to individual features of your product.
How: Organic traffic that comes to your website with high commercial intent, i.e., the visitor is actively looking to buy, is probably the most valuable traffic you can generate. That said, it’s often in much smaller numbers than that coming from more informational queries (e.g., “how to do…”).
Outside of capturing people searching specifically for your brand name, there are a few types of queries that will often work well to target, while not being too competitive to rank for. These are made up of the following:
Industry-specific queries. For example, “real estate CRM”.
Feature-specific queries. For example, “document signing software”.
Location-specific queries. For example, “used cars, Boston MA”.
Not all of these will be relevant to your business, but one of them probably will be. Let’s start with industry-specific queries:
This usually works better for B2B businesses and the goal is to build out a list of different industries that you sell to. Once you have this list, match them up against keywords directly related to your product and analyze total monthly search demand for each within Google Keyword Planner.
Once you have a list of potential keywords, you’ll need to prioritize them and then start building out webpages to target each one. Within these pages I’d recommend having the following:
Content that directly relates to the industry you’re targeting.
Testimonials/case studies from customers in the industry you’re targeting.
Imagery that prospects from the industry you’re targeting can relate to.
Use the keyword in the URL of the page as well as the title tag.
An example of this strategy being implemented well is with SalesForce. They’ve built out a ton of these pages that rank for keywords like, “CRM for nonprofits”, “financial CRM”, “healthcare CRM”, “insurance CRM” and “retail CRM”.
The thing that I like about what SalesForce have done is that they have a ton of information on each page that is relevant to each of the industries they’re targeting. They have tailored imagery for each industry, including testimonials from relevant companies. Here’s an example of their page targeting healthcare keywords:
The goal of having feature-specific pages is two-fold. The first part is all about ranking in the search engines for keywords related to specific features of your product/service. For example, let’s say your product is a fitness tracker, like FitBit or Jawbone. In this case you’d want to rank well for terms like, “fitness tracking”, “heart rate monitoring” and “step counter”. These are all features that relate to a solution that a potential customer is looking for.
The second goal of these pages is to provide a better user experience for visitors already on your website that will lead to an increase in online conversions.
Think of it this way, if you’re checking out a product online, would it increase or decrease the likelihood that you’re going to purchase it if you’re given detailed information about all of the features related to that product. It’s a no-brainer.
To test this out, follow these steps:
List out all of the individual features of your product.
For each feature, outline the problems it solves.
Do keyword research around both the features and problems.
Stack-rank the most relevant keywords by the highest monthly search volume.
Build individual pages for each of the core features, aligning them to the keywords you’ve researched.
Finally, there are location-specific pages. This works particularly well for businesses that operate or serve customers in numerous locations, especially if they’re a service-led business.
The core premise here is that you’d map out all of the locations that you’re targeting customers in and then build out landing pages for each.
An example of a company doing this really well is Zillow.
Zillow rank for a whole host of location-based keywords that net them millions or organic visitors every month. Take the above page as an example; it ranks #1 for “Austin real estate”, “homes for sale Austin TX”, “Austin homes for sale” and many more. A modest estimate of organic traffic going to this page alone is 24,000 monthly visits (according to Ahrefs).
If you’re planning on rolling out a bunch of location-specific pages, it’s really important that you consider the following:
Each page needs to have unique content on it that’s related to the location you’re trying to rank for.
There should be something inherently linkable about the page. Zillow does a good job here because they give real-time price updates for property in the area, so it actually adds value to visitors.
Think about the internal linking to these pages. Building out a hub page that links to each of the locations can be a good start.
Consider the conversion path for visitors to the page(s).
6. Acquire a Website and Migrate its Content
TAG: ORGANIC SEARCH
Objective: Rapidly increase organic search traffic, as well as traffic from a range of other channels, through the acquisition of a relevant website, and consequently their keyword rankings.
How: This is my #1 favorite tactic to roll out when I’m working on a project with a brand new domain. It’s seriously powerful for scaling up traffic growth in a short period of time. Not only that, but it can actually work out to be seriously cost-effective.
Before I go into an example of where I’ve done this previously, here’s the basic process involved:
Scope out websites that rank for a large number of long tail keywords relevant to your buyer persona.
From the list of websites, drill down on ones that could be potential acquisition targets.
Approach the owners of the websites to see if they’re interested in selling and get valuations.
Come to an agreement with one of them and acquire their web property(s).
Migrate over all of the content from their website into your existing domain and set up canonical tags to point to your version of the content.
Once all the content is migrated, set up 301 redirects to push the rest of the website’s content and backlinks to you.
You’ll now absorb all of the acquired domain’s traffic while getting an additional SEO boost across your existing content for the large influx of backlinks you’ve just added.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? That’s because it is.
The key here is picking the right website to acquire. I’m not going to lie to you, this part can be quite tough, but I assure you it’s worth the time investment.
In order to find the right acquisition target, you’ll want to get an idea for what your main buying criteria will be. This is usually made up of the following:
Current overall web traffic.
Current organic search traffic.
Number of pages on the website.
Number of backlinks/linking domains.
Specific keyword rankings (i.e., is the site ranking for a very valuable keyword to your business).
Relevancy of the content to your audience (there’s no point buying content that you can’t use).
How much revenue does the website generate?
Extended audience size (e.g., do they also have a large email subscriber list?).
Anyone that owns a website where organic search is an important channel will know that creating content and earning backlinks costs a lot of money. In a recent e-commerce side-project of mine, we were spending roughly $450 per blog post we created, which included custom imagery (important for our niche).
In the early stages of a campaign where you want to build out a ton of content, $450 per blog post can really start to add up – more importantly, it meant we had to spread content production over a longer period of time, and ultimately wait a longer time to see results.
We scoped out an acquisition target that had over 500 articles, all hyper-relevant to our audience, as well as around 3,000 backlinks from 550 different domains. At the price we negotiated for the sale it worked out as the following cost:
$31.70 per article.
$5.28 per backlink.
$28.28 per linking root domain.
That’s some huge savings. Not to mention the 60,000 monthly visits from organic search that we captured.
While there’s often a lump sum involved with this play, the benefit you see from economies of scale can be huge, and that’s not even factoring in the additional benefits you’ll see across your existing content – which is very significant.
Once we’d gone live with the migration, not only did we absorb the traffic from the acquired site, but we saw massive lifts in our core target keyword rankings that we were going after – on average they jumped two pages.
The above graph shows the uplift in organic traffic after just 40% of the content was migrated over (this is just with canonical tags, too!). Trust me when I say it’s very difficult to see this kind of growth in just a couple of months on a new domain.
For more details on the technical aspects of a migration like this, read this post I wrote back in 2015.
7. Pay to Email Someone Else’s Subscriber List
Objective: Generate highly targeted traffic to your content that has the potential to convert against your business goals.
How: There are a few ways you can go about this, and it largely depends on both how you want to work with the partner and how targeted you’d like the audience to be.
I always start with a campaign idea. Let’s say you’re promoting a free online course that you want to funnel into a paid product – getting this in front of a targeted list of subscribers could result in a ton of subscribers. For this example I’d ideally want to have either a dedicated email sent or a substantial mention within an email.
Depending on how prominently you’re mentioned in an email send will impact both pricing and availability. Some brands won’t actually offer a dedicated send but will instead allow you to have a mention within a section of the email. Both can work but you need to decide what would work better for your specific campaign and budget.
Next up is finding the right partner. You could use an advertising marketplace like BuySellAds where you simply search for partners based on a few criteria. I’ve done this in the past with varying results, to be honest.
My favorite approach is to get a list of hyper-relevant publications online and reach out to them (most will have a specific email address for advertising inquiries). Within the email I’ll ask the following:
How big is your email list?
What types of people are subscribes to your list?
What’s the typical open/click rates of campaigns you run?
What advertising options do you offer? (dedicated email, etc.)
How much do you charge?
From there I’ll get data back from a few different partners and decide on the best one. A little advice here if it’s your first time doing this – start out small to test the conversion rate. Once you have proved it works on a small scale then you can go about scaling it up.
8. Create Co-Branded Content and Share out the Leads
TAG: CONTENT MARKETING
Objective: Create a co-branded piece of content that is promoted by both brands to dramatically increase the overall reach of the content as well as leads generated.
How: The scale of success will largely depend on how well your product/service compliments offerings from other businesses. The idea here is that you’ll partner with another company that has a large reach amongst the audience that you’re targeting, but doesn’t directly compete with you.
A good example of this in the B2C world would be with Red Bull and GoPro. Their “Stratos” campaign, where they worked together to drop a man from the stratosphere, is probably one of the largest co-marketing efforts of all time.
On a smaller scale, and in the B2B world, Buffer and BuzzSumo collaborated to produce a study across 500 million Facebook posts. They turned this into a webinar and then shared out the leads that were generated. The beauty of this campaign was the obvious synergy between the two companies’ offerings, which is going to result in a much greater yield of leads that can be used by both companies.
Here’s the process that I use to start mapping out and executing a co-branded content campaign:
Make a list of companies that target a similar audience but have an offering that compliments yours.
Get in touch with them to find out their total reach (email list size, site traffic, etc.).
Work on a content idea together.
Create assets, including a landing page on each of your websites.
Share out leads.
9. Build an Inherently Viral Mechanism into your Product
TAG: VIRAL MARKETING
Objective: Acquire new users through a mechanism that enables existing users to bring them into your product without increasing your customer acquisition cost by any significant amount.
How: Virality is a term that gets banded around a LOT, and more often than not its meaning is largely misunderstood. The core benefit of having virality baked into your product is that you can scale up new user acquisition without increasing your customer acquisition costs (CAC).
There are very few channels where this is the case. Paid is the perfect example because for you to increase user acquisition from paid, you’ll also need to increase CAC (more money spent = more users).
What you’re aiming for with virality is for CAC to remain a constant while user acquisition increases. This is usually through an existing user being responsible for the acquisition of a new user.
One of the most famous success stories of virality within a product is with Dropbox. Dropbox built in a referral system that meant you’d receive an extra 500mb of storage once you’d referred a friend into Dropbox. Not only that, but the person you referred in also received an extra 500mb of free storage. The fact that both parties gained value from a referral dramatically increased the likelihood that existing users would invite in others.
Airbnb is another company that has a pretty good viral mechanism built into their product. They offer $100 in travel credit (to be spent on Airbnb) for every new Airbnb host that you invite and $35 in travel credit for every Airbnb traveler that you invite. The host that you invite also gets some Airbnb credit, which ensures that there is value for both parties.
Another really good example is with MailChimp. MailChimp allow you to use their email platform for free if you have less than 1,000 subscribers in your list. The other caveat is that you have to include a rewards bade at the end of your email. This means that anyone receiving your email will see a MailChimp signup link.
Not only does this help to acquire new users for MailChimp, but the user that refers in someone will receive reward points, helping them to discover new features and reducing their likelihood to churn.
Ultimately, virality is a hard thing to achieve. One of the things that you will want to do when you’re scoping out the possibility of building in some kind of viral mechanism into your product is what the viral potential is. This is usually worked out as a viral coefficient.
While it’s difficult to give a boilerplate “how-to” on adding virality to your product, here are some things you’ll want to think about:
What features of your product are most popular among your customer base?
Do you have any features that have usage caps that could be increased through a referral incentive?
By inviting others into your product, would your existing users benefit from any kind of network effect?
What can you use as incentives to existing users to bring in new users that will have a minimal impact on CAC?
These are just a few to begin with. You’re going to want to test out some different approaches with your existing customers, pull in the data and then make some decisions on the most effective tactics to explore in more detail.
10. Seed Engagement Metrics on Facebook Ads to Drive Down CPC
Objective: Reduce the amount that you’re paying per click across your paid Facebook ads while maintaining the same quality of visitors.
How: After running a whole host of different Facebook advertising campaigns over the past few years, one of the overwhelming factors that I’ve observed for increasing ad engagement has been social proof.
Ads with lots of engagement on them (e.g., likes, comments, reactions, shares, etc.) are typically clicked on a whole bunch more than those with either a small amount or none at all.
So, how do you get a bunch of engagement on your ads? Well, there are three different ways that you can explore:
Option 1: Run your ad only to your Facebook page fans initially and include a CTA within the copy to comment.
Option 2: Do the same as above except run it to your website visitors using a custom audience.
Option 3: Target ads to countries with super low CPC (e.g. Philippines, Brazil, etc.) to seed initial engagement.
If you’re using option 3, make sure you filter out any obvious spam. To be honest though, people rarely read the comments on an ad; it’s more about there being “X comments” on your ad than having nothing at all.
Once you’ve seeded initial engagement, which should all come at a much lower cost to you due to the finer targeting, tweak the copy of the ad and change up all of the targeting, and I guarantee that you’ll see a much higher CTR and lower CPC.
Here’s a useful resource that’s related to this around creating Dark Posts for your ads, which is basically a way to lock in and consolidate trust signals even during split testing.
11. Set up an Affiliate Program
Objective: Generate new customers through incentivized referrals.
How: There’s two ways to look at affiliate. The first would be your traditional affiliate program where you give an individual, maybe a blogger, a unique referral link and then every time someone signs up to your product from it, you pay them.
The other way could be driven more by business development partnerships. Let’s say you integrate your product with another company’s product. Then, every time someone signs up to your product as a direct result of the integration, you could give a payout to your integration partner.
The right path to take will largely depend on your product set-up and pricing model. That said, there’s not necessarily a cookie-cutter approach to building out a programme. The basic things to consider are:
The maximum payout you can give to affiliates to retain a profit.
How you’ll compensate affiliates (e.g., per click, per signup, per activation, etc.)
The system that you will use for tracking affiliate referrals.
Who would be interested in being an affiliate for your company.
Running a successful affiliate program can offer a ton more benefits than just your conversion goals. Ultimately, for affiliates to build revenue they have to talk about your business. This can have a really positive impact on a bunch of other acquisition channels outside of affiliate.
There’s a bunch of different affiliate software out there for you to roll out your own affiliate program, including Post Affiliate Pro, OmniStar and Ambassador. On the other hand, you can plug into pre-built platforms that will advertise your program to their network of affiliates. Some examples of these platforms include, ShareASale, ClickBank and CJ Affiliate.
Here’s an example of AdEspresso’s affiliate program details so that you can see an example of a SaaS business affiliate program in action.
I asked Patrick Hathaway from URL Profiler, who has a successful affiliate program, to share some advice. Here’s what he said:
“The best advice I can give to companies thinking about starting their own affiliate program is this: ‘think about how your affiliates, like you, think about your customers.’
You don’t just want every affiliate under the sun, you want affiliates who are likely to attract the right customers for the right reasons. If you don’t get this right, you could end up with a bunch of users who require a high support burden, are more likely to churn, and have a lower lifetime value.
As such, you need to identify potential affiliates in your space, and home in on the ones whose audience matches your target market, and whose message aligns with yours. Build out personas for these affiliates, think about how you are going to attract them, incentivize them, and retain them (where retention means: ‘promoting your product on a continuous basis’).
Similarly, you really need to manually vet your affiliates, and make sure applicants tick all the right boxes. One way to do this is to ask them to fill in questions during the sign-up process, such as ‘How do you plan to promote our product?’ If you don’t think the applicants are a good fit (e.g., they just have a coupon website), then don’t feel bad about rejecting them.
One you have the right affiliates on board, it is just a question of making sure that they have all the resources they need to do an awesome job of selling your product!”