Starting from Zero? A Customer Acquisition Playbook for New Websites

Every new ideas begins with a new domain name.

And with every new domain name, comes hundreds of problems.

Hosting, at this point, is the least of your worries.

Go ahead with some crappy shared one like Bluehost.

Because chances are you’re not going to get enough visits to even matter.

Here’s why, and how to fix it.

Why ‘Search’ Can’t Help You

Search engines haven’t really changed all that much over the past few years.

Sure, they use machine learning now. There was a Panda, a Penguin, and a Hummingbird.

Things have evolved. Been refined.

But they haven’t changed.

The principles are still the same.

They still use ‘spiders’ or bots, crawling and gathering data on millions of websites. Those pages are indexed; grouped into similar topics based on relevancy.

Higher rankings (i.e. greater visibility) still comes largely from the citations of others, increasing your popularity, authority, and overall trustworthiness of a site (including even qualitative factors).

The trouble, is that search engines have been designed – from the beginning – to reward websites that have been around the block (incorporating things like the domain age as a ranking factor).

Throw in the growing preference towards established brands and you got a problem.

New websites are anything but popular, authoritative, or trustworthy. In fact, you typically have to work twice as hard, because no one knows who you are (and they certainly don’t trust you – ready to hand over their credit card).

So while it’s tempting to wait around for the Google God’s to smile upon you, sending thousands of ‘free’ visits overnight, it ain’t likely.

But wait, because it’s about to get worse!

Advertising Probably Ain’t Gonna Happen, Either

One of the greatest misconceptions small or new ventures have that advertising is either (a) ineffective or (b) too expensive.

When done correctly, it’s neither.

Groupon successfully used it to fuel massive growth, acquiring 33 million subscribers in a single quarter. Bootstrapped AppSumo used it too.

But despite all this…

There’s an opportunity cost.

You need bodies. Equipment. Leases. Available money typically gets absorbed by the mind-numbing quantity of stuff needed to get a new venture off the ground.

Unless you’re Color (wow, how’s that for a dated reference?!), there’s probably not enough cash in the bank to throw around for advertising initially.

Hate to break it to you, but this now effectively rules out the two best methods for acquiring new customers.

That doesn’t leave us with very many other options.

So of those restricted possibilities, here are some of your best bets for a customer acquisition playbook for new sites.

Then Where Are Your Early Visits Going to Come From?

If you’ve looked at any analytics program in the past, you’ll notice that we’ve ruled out Search and Advertising. Only a few sources left.

Direct, or people typing in your URL, also isn’t likely initially because no one knows who you are.

So strike that one off your list too while you’re at it.

That leaves us with Referrals, Social and Email.

Awesome. Now we’re getting somewhere.

The DNS is pointed, WordPress blog up-and-running, and you’re ready to rattle off ~500 words about your latest and greatest.

Don’t.

Because nobody cares. That’s harsh. Unfortunately, also true.

Sure, you should get a landing page up. Create a blog. Prep. Cause you’re gonna need someplace to send people.

But then turn your attention outside. Because the biggest opportunities for early visits are going to come from proactively reaching out to other people.

Other communities, media properties, group’s, companies, bloggers, journalists.

In short, influencer marketing.

And while that phrase makes me cringe, using it in a blog post is guaranteed to shoot you to the top of Inbound.org (so alas, my hands are tied).

I’m also not referencing the half assed, trite, “Nice blog post!”-style of influencer marketing. Nor the incestuous, growth hackers talking about growth hacking to growth hackers, that’s also common these days.

But the good kind. That resembles old school marketing at it’s finest.

Specifically, here are five sources to tap today.

Source #1. Channel Partners

Perry Marshall’s 80/20 Sales and Marketing uses a visceral story to explain this first source: “Racking the Shotgun”.

The idea, which I’m no doubt about to butcher, is to go after the people most likely to respond.

Understanding distribution helps. In other words, where do people already go to buy stuff like yours?

Health conscious people buy organic food direct or at specialty food stores.

That’s why Liquid Aminos perform best on Amazon or Whole Foods, but probably not your neighborhood grocery market or (God forbid) Walmart.

If you want to find the people most likely to purchase your widget, go first to the places people are most likely to purchase something similar.

People learning how to code, are most likely going to freelance and send an invoice at a certain point in their life. Freshbooks working out a deal with Treehouse is a perfect example.

treehouse-student-perks

These can be official partnerships or revenue sharing agreements that can be tracked using specific codes or conversion points (like specific forms or landing pages).

Even simple, basic, old school cross promotions would work, such as running a joint-contest or sending email promotions to each other’s audience.

Source #2. Offline Events

Real people don’t read.

Normal people (i.e. your customers) don’t spend all day on Hacker News or Inbound.org.

So where do they get their news? Where do they find solutions to the big problems (like the ones you solve)?

Outside. IRL. At events.

Step 1. Go to them. (Shocking.)

Step 2. Volunteer/speak/help them.

Working events puts you in the middle of the action, and the people who matter, who can refer you and connect you with the best attendees. And volunteering effort, time or expertise is almost welcomed.

For example, there’s meetups happening all around you every single day.

sf-bayarea-machine-learning-meetup

Hakka Labs attends, records, and distributes the audio records of engineer related events making them a valuable asset to the community (and getting props in return).

hakka-video-of-talk

Source #3. PR Outreach

Everyone’s favorite PR advice is to just jump on HARO and… wait?

The problem with that approach, is that passiveness is a cancer in new ventures.

Instead, do some research to build your own media list. (After all, that’s what you’re paying for with most PR companies anyway.)

It’s easy. Here, I’ll show you.

Search Engine Journal was literally the first industry blog that popped in my head. I opened up a recent blog post and found the author.

Hi, Danny! 🙂

facebook-wants-to-kill-clickbait

The easiest way to ‘break the ice’ would be through social somewhere, where people are much more likely to actually respond (as opposed to cold email which makes you look like every other spammer imaginable).

For example, you could try LinkedIn to see if you have any connections who could recommend you. Now for some good old fashioned internet stalking… (c’mon – don’t act like you have no idea what your ex is up to now).

linkedin-common-connection

See. Literally the first try.

You can also save prospects in the LinkedIn Sales Navigator to get each and every single one of their updates in a specially tailored inbox that allows you to begin engaging with them on the daily until they recognize you.

I’d show you a picture, but I think I’ve already creeped Danny out enough for one day.

Source #4. Referrals from Your Early Visits (or Customers)

Some of the most successful companies on the face of the planet have used distribution hacks like referrals to skyrocket user growth (and revenue).

Dropbox, for example, went from 100,000 paying customers to over 4 million. In one year.

One of the Lean Startup’s “engines of growth” focused on sticky businesses, where you prevent people from churning and inspire true word-of-mouth so that growth “comes from the action of past customers”.

ReferralCandy is an excellent example, removing the technical requirements (and excuses) to implementing simple referral campaigns. They even integrate with Shopify!

referral-candy-referral-programsImage Source

The primary value proposition on Lob‘s website says, “Programmatically send physical mail at scale”. Um, yes please?! (Someone’s been reading their Copy Hackers.)

That means you can automatically kick off stuff to go out in the mail to new customers without doing, well much of anything after setting it up.

Giving your customers a reason to spread your Gospel doesn’t take a ton of effort. Just show you care and appreciate them.

Source #5. Become a Sought-After Expert

‘Thought leadership’ sounds like one of those business school myths perpetuated by narcissists.

But in reality, it makes everything easier.

Being your own brand gives channel partners a reason to work with you. It makes speaking at offline events (or working with online ones like Kissmetrics webinars) simple because they’re in constant need for industry practitioners who can share their expertise.

measure-influencer-roi-webinar

It gives you a ‘Halo Effect‘ when reaching out to the media or speaking with your own customers.

Best of all, becoming a thought leader also gives you an audience who’s willing to cite, recommend or share your expertise.

Which raises your online popularity, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. Which, if you remember, is the catalyst to finally getting scalable traffic from Organic Search.

Conclusion

The quicker you realize that new website visits aren’t coming from passive sources like Search or Advertising, and only from proactive ones like Referrals, the better.

It’s a tough pill to swallow at first, but it gives you a critical posture change that’s required to succeed in getting a new site off the ground.

Your initial prognosis is only as good as the people who can potentially refer you.

So as soon as possible, start focusing the bulk of your attention on helping others – whether as a resource, speaker, volunteer, rev-share partner, or whatever – the better your odds of success.

About the Author: Brad Smith is a founding partner at Codeless Interactive, a digital agency specializing in creating personalized customer experiences. Brad’s blog also features more marketing thoughts, opinions and the occasional insight.

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