Growth Hacking
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Intro

This handbook teaches you to attract customers to your website then get them to buy.

It is widely recommended within Silicon Valley — because it bothers to teach growth marketing to a professional level. It doesn't waste time with self-evident advice or marketing clichés. 

If you're skeptical of marketing advice, know that I am too. This handbook is unique in that I have four years of diverse data: I've run thousands of experiments to grow twenty different (and that's the key) startups for my growth agency

Read this intro page to understand which growth strategy will work best for your company.

Who should read this

This material applies to companies of every size and vertical.

I cover both introductory and advanced B2B and B2C tactics. Marketers of every skill level will encounter new material.

Unfortunately, this handbook is dry — because in-depth growth is technical. So I recommend bookmarking this and reading pages as they're relevant to your work.

If you're brainstorming startup ideas+

It's important you learn growth hacking before deciding which idea to work on.

It will save you years of going down the wrong path. You should start by assessing whether your idea is actually suited for profitable and scalable user acquisition. 

In this handbook, you'll learn which ad channels you can expect to succeed for your business, and how to increase customer purchase rates.

When you're done reading this, if you can’t foresee these strategies working for the startup idea you're considering, you should consider scrapping your idea.

If you're a manager+

It's critical that managers know what growth marketing entails so they can facilitate it.

Don't treat growth like a black box powered by your engineering and marketing departments. It's your most important business function.

This handbook helps you prioritize growth marketing projects based on their likely profitability and ease of implementation. Plus, it sheds light on a growth marketer's skill set so you can effectively assess hiring candidates.

(Many companies unknowingly hire “growth experts” who are brand marketers experienced only in creating brand voice and generating buzz. Unfortunately, brand marketers often lack knowledge of user acquisition and conversion optimization. This handbook will help you avoid unintentionally hiring them.)

Growth hacking definition

Growth hacking is simply data-driven revenue maximization.

Growth "hacking" is actually a silly term. (It also goes by performance marketing and growth marketing.) I use it because it helps this handbook rank higher in Google.

Practice what you preach.

In reality, growth is not a series of "hacks." It's a rigorous methodology consisting of experimenting, collecting data, and leveraging human psychology. All in pursuit of directly maximizing revenue — not raising brand awareness or generating buzz.

If you're new to growth marketing, you're welcome to listen to my interview.

Growth hacking versus traditional marketing+

Growth marketing (which is how I will now refer to the discipline) differs from traditionally undisciplined marketing in that growth marketing focuses on clearly measurable and directly profitable marketing initiatives.

For example, growth rarely concerns itself with billboards, radio ads, conferences, and other difficult to measure channels. (Try attributing a customer to the billboard they saw before signing up. Try doing it when you have multiple billboards in a city.)

Growth leverages the scale and immediacy of the Internet to start small and discover how to make customer acquisition measurable and therefore capable of being proven financially viable.

Growth hacking knowledge

Growth marketing accomplishes its objective by continually optimizing every step of the customer's journey.

This journey includes the ads they see, the website they later interact with, and the product they ultimately buy and engage with.

In other words, growth marketing involves three key disciplines:

Growth marketers must be familiar with all three disciplines. Or, at minimum, your team of growth marketers must collectively address these disciplines.

However, that knowledge alone is not enough to be successful. They must also possess a few unique skills.

Growth hacking skills

To competently span the three disciplines, a growth marketer must be:

Let’s elaborate on that last point. Resourceful entails being aggressively proactive:

This handbook will help establish the disciplines of creativity and resourcefulness.

When to hire brand marketers

Counterintuitively, "brand marketing" is typically ineffective at actually shaping your brand. Plus I've already mentioned it's not effective for growth marketing.

So, what is it good for? Keeping your message consistent and self-censored. 

But most companies don't need to exercise this restraint early on. Because long-term public perception is more so the result of having a product people love. Consumer love begets organic brand building via word-of-mouth, and word-of-mouth supersedes the messaging your company pushes through brand marketing.

So before you hire a brand marketer, hire another product manager to make your product more enjoyable to use. And by extension more beloved.

When you're a mature company, consider hiring a brand marketer to maintain the aesthetic and tonal consistency of your marketing. This will help you stay singular and differentiated if you're in a crowded market. 

But, before then, brand marketers typically slow growth marketing with arbitrary constraints. Consider how if brand marketing dictates that all marketing materials must have red backgrounds with white text, growth marketers won't feel empowered to experiment with different ad designs to uncover what the data says is the best aesthetic to encourage ad clicks that lead to purchases.

Who's Julian Shapiro?

I spend hundreds of hours researching interesting topics. Then I write concise yet in-depth handbooks for free.

I release them online because books are required to hit high page counts, which results in filler content that annoys readers.

There's more to it if you want to learn more about me.

The growth funnel

Before you dive into this handbook, I want you to develop an intuition for which growth tactics are likely to succeed for your company.

To do this, I must first introduce the growth funnel: the journey the customer takes while interacting with your advertising and your product. These are the steps:

Acquisition → Conversion → Engagement → Revenue → Referral

Growth marketers know how these steps interrelate. For example, to spend marketing dollars efficiently, steps later in the funnel should be optimized first. Consider how when Engagement performs better, every dollar spent on Acquisition goes further.

So let's introduce each step.

(It's fine if some steps don't apply to your product.)

I. Acquisition

An acquisition "channel" is a place you source potential customers from. For example, ads, content marketing, and sales are all acquisition channels.

Channels separate into two broad categories:

This handbook teaches the most popular paid channel: Ads

It also teaches two unpaid channels: Content Marketing and Sales. As I explain below, many companies find that only unpaid channels ever work for them.

II. Conversion

When visitors are intrigued by what you're offering (either on your website or in-person), some of them "convert" into registered users or paying customers.

"Conversion events" are the business-critical events along your product's growth funnel. For example, a website visitor may first convert into a registered user. Then, after using your app for a while, they might then convert into a paying customer.

This handbook teaches conversion through Landing Pages, A/B Testing, and Ads.

III. Engagement

So far, we've acquired users and converted them into registered users. But we also need them to engage with us if they're going to ultimately pay us.

So, when a visitor converts into a user, handhold them through your product experience so they become an educated user. Educated users are more likely to become engaged, repeat purchasers.

This handbook teaches engagement through User Onboarding.

IV. Revenue

Your revenue per customer can be maximized through reducing your costs, improving your conversion rates, optimizing your pricing, and up/cross-selling other products.

This is a fascinating topic, but unfortunately pricing and cross-selling are outside the scope of this handbook.

V. Referral

You need to make your product so good that customers do your selling for you. It's the most cost-effective way to scale your business in the long-term.

Thankfully, you don’t need to be a viral consumer app to accomplish this. Many B2B companies grow (albeit slowly) exclusively through word-of-mouth.

This handbook teaches referrals at the bottom of the User Onboarding page.

Tip — See the bottom of your screen for quick navigation links.

Growth funnel loops+

The growth funnel's linearity — for example, going from A to Z — doesn't need to constrain a user's journey toward conversion.

Their journey may in practice consist of repeatedly looping from A (advertising) to F (e.g. in-app engagement) before they reach Z, which is where paid conversion occurs.

For example, if a user fails to Engage with your app, you might send them an educational email paired with ads pointing to your content marketing. You can do this repeatedly until they're served the right content that propels them to the next step.

I call this the Retargeting Loop. (I'll talk more about retargeting later.)

Here's another loop: the Ecommerce Re-purchase Loop. In it, a user first goes from A to Z. Meaning, they bought your product. Afterward, you then email them a steep coupon to compel them to purchase yet again. 

In other words, you're getting them to repeat steps B to Z. (A is skipped because they already know who you are.)

If you can trigger this loop repeatedly, you have a sound business model. And if you repeat this loop on autopilot, you're said to have a subscription business.

The key takeaways are:

This handbook focuses on user acquisition and conversion, so strategies for re-engagement and subscriptions are not covered. But I want you to know they exist.

Succeeding at acquisition

This guide focuses on the first two steps of the funnel: Acquisition and Conversion.

So let's introduce the cold reality of acquisition.

Succeeding at paid channels

Most companies never get paid acquisition channels to work. If they did, more companies would be successful. 

Specifically, most companies are unable to profitably acquire paying users through ad networks such as Facebook Ads, Instagram Ads, and Google AdWords. 

If they do get one or more of these channels to work, it's a holy grail if paired with strong word-of-mouth: Paid channels let you scale big and fast while (unpaid) customer referrals reduce the average cost of customer acquisition.

Why is paid difficult to make work? Here's the criteria that determine success:

To succeed with ads, your product must cross a threshold for all three criteria:

You won't definitively know whether your product crosses these thresholds until you've spent a statistically significant amount of money on each ad channel. This is often around $1,000-$2,000 USD per channel.

(On the Ad Channels page, I'll walk you through each.)

If you fail to pass these three thresholds and ad channels are therefore not viable, you'll instead be relying on word-of-mouth, content marketing, PR, sales, and other unpaid channels that cost less per customer acquisition.

That's completely fine. Succeeding at paid acquisition isn't a necessity. It's just helpful because it lets you scale easily. And the only other easy channel to scale is virality. So if you can't make either work, you're in for a longer growth journey.

Succeeding at unpaid channels

Here's the success criteria for the four most effective unpaid channels:

Tip — Browse this handbook using the links at the bottom of your screen.

Don't just focus on paid acquisition

Even companies that do get ad channels to work don't often get them working at scale for more than a few months. 

Eventually, audiences may saturate and diminishing returns can kill profitability. So, you should plant seeds for other channels to succeed in the long-term:

We're ready to introduce the minimum viable growth plan everyone should pursue.

The minimum viable growth plan

  1. Build an amazing product that naturally encourages word-of-mouth. 
  2. Kickstart word-of-mouth with paid ad traffic. Even if it's temporarily unprofitable.
  3. Now, spend the majority of your marketing resources optimizing your growth funnel: At every step, A/B Test conversion on the traffic you're paying for.
  4. Once you have a profitable and streamlined funnel, it's time to scale. Aggressively test every potentially viable channel.

The right growth tactics for your company

With our growth plan in hand, we're missing one thing: What my experience running growth for 20+ companies suggests is the best tactic for your business model.

B2C businesses

If you sell to consumers:

Don't be overwhelmed by all those links. You can ignore them for now. This handbook will walk you through most of them over the coming pages.

B2B businesses

If you sell to businesses:

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Landing pages

Homepages that compel visitors to sign up.

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