Mari Luukkainen
Aug 8 · 20 min read

We’ve never had better ideas for products than we have today.

However, it’s never been harder for an innovative company to push through oversaturated markets and reach people who will care about their products.

This is why I’ve prepared a guide to the best SaaS growth hacking techniques to try in 2019.

Some of them will help you attract new users immediately, while others will help you operate and market in the long term.

Without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about hacking your way to growth in 2019:

SaaS Growth Hacking 101

Back in the day, you could’ve waited a few years to get your business ball rolling. Customers would steadily trickle in, allowing you to expand your marketing, sales and promotion budgets, and achieve a stable growth rate within the first few years.

Today, you either make it in the first year or you don’t.

With investors and team members dependent on the company’s success, contemporary SaaS companies don’t have the privilege of waiting for the customers to find the company themselves.

Additionally, competition has never been tougher.

For every new idea, there are at least five companies trying to implement it and sell it at a major scale.

While all of this may seem gloomy, it’s really not. Adversity only pushes modern founders and teams to be more creative.

And creativity is exactly what growth hacking is all about.

Companies with significant funding or investor backing can afford multi-million dollar budgets to blow on PPC campaigns, target audience education, and brand awareness.

Conversely, the majority of SaaS companies have to be wiser than that.

If you want to hack your SaaS company’s growth, you have to work smart. Not hard.

Growth hacking has always existed, but it was nowhere near as easy as it is today.

Our customers are hanging out on digital channels; it’s easy to step among them, learn what they need, and show them our products.

This is a significant advantage, and it’s why we no longer bemoan the size of our budgets.

Instead, we roll up our sleeves and use subversive tactics to communicate our offers, and entice our potential customers to convert.

In addition to growth hacking being low cost (or, at least, comparatively low cost when compared with mainstream advertising), it also:

  • Improves customer sentiment
  • Increases brand awareness
  • Increases conversion rates

A company that can communicate with customers in a way that no one has communicated with them before is a company that will succeed.

After all, 11% of the global population is using ad blockers.

Fortunately, there are plenty of examples we can learn from.

From big companies like AirBnB using other people’s networks to rise to prominence, to everyday tactics like participating in message board discussions, everyone’s hacking growth.

It’s time you do it, too.

It’s 2019. When are you going to try out new marketing tactics if not now?

How to Hack SaaS Growth in 2019

1. Automate Everything

The main prerequisite for growth hacking is working smarter. However, you can’t work smarter if you don’t have the time to.

Typically, the majority of your day will be spent on tedious, meaningless tasks. Publishing tweets, sending emails, transferring data from one tool to another. While these will help you operate your company successfully in the long run, they will also waste your time.

These tasks don’t need you. Your marketing needs you.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to automate every tool in your stack.

Depending on the number of tasks you’re completing and the tools you’re using, you can:

  • Integrate different tools so they automatically share relevant data
  • Use Zapier or IFTTT to create automated workflows

We’re big fans of using Zapier. It can help you make an automated workflow for pretty much anything, even if your tools don’t support integrations.

For example, you can automatically add a new lead to your CRM, and send your sales team an IM notification.

Published a new blog post? Set up a Zapier workflow that automatically posts the link to your company’s social media.

You can even use Zapier for more complicated workflows.

However, you need to have defined processes for automation to truly work.

If you’re only starting out and you’re winging it, automation isn’t going to help you much.

However, if you have processes, automation can be a great way to streamline them and only worry about getting leads into the process, and getting paying customers out of it.

2. Use Channels Your Competition Doesn’t

One part of growth hacking consists of working smarter, not harder. However, the other part consists of knowing what your competition is doing, and what they could be doing.

Often, big competitors don’t want to waste their time on communicating directly with their audience. Instead, they assemble focus groups, pay for ads, and call it a day.

One of the most successful growth hacking strategies in 2019 relies on reaching out to your prospects through Quora and Reddit.

They are massive sites where people discuss topics they’re interested in.

2.1 Reddit

On Reddit, communities are organized into subreddits such as: gaming, technology, knitting, email marketing, and so on.

There’s a community for every interest.

However, Reddit doesn’t condone self-promotion.

If you make an account and immediately start spamming target communities with posts about your products, you’re going to make them avoid your product like the plague.

Instead, treat Reddit communication as a long game:

  • Analyze consumer sentiment
  • Validate your product ideas
  • Provide feedback on other posts
  • Ask for feedback on your products
  • Review other products
  • Offer helpful advice
  • Establish a brand presence that will help you get evangelists for your product

A lot of marketers are actively afraid of Reddit so it doesn’t make it into your competitors’ marketing strategies.

The users don’t like advertising (even if they buy a lot of products). They’re hard to reach with direct promotion.

But they do like innovative things.

They like helping teams creating awesome products succeed. The majority of Reddit users are familiar with technology, and they can suss out a good product from a bad one.

The best way to start is by communicating with users in your target subreddits.

Don’t focus on promoting your products right away. Instead, participate. Scroll down the threads when you’re bored. Offer advice, and only mention your product when it’s natural to do so.

With time, you’ll be able to set up AMAs (Asking Me Anything threads in which users ask people and teams about their products) and other promotional campaigns.

Alternatively, you can also use Reddit to validate your content marketing strategy.

Search the threads for topics people care about, questions, and things they’d like to read. Then, create the content and reply to them.

Provide value and you’ll experience the Reddit virality effect.

Plus, Reddit threads are often #1 in search engine results pages so your reply will be there for the whole world to see — not just Reddit users.

2.2 Quora

Quora is essentially a Q&A site.

Every day, there are millions of questions being posted by people who want to learn more about a particular topic.

From questions on love life to questions on technology and helpful new tools, there’s a topic for everything. Your product is definitely going to fit into one of them.

Hack growth with Quora by answering questions.

However, don’t write short replies. Write well thought-out posts for highly popular questions being followed by thousands of your potential leads. Show some personality, link to helpful resources, and stand out in the crowd.

Don’t forget to write where you work (AKA namedrop your company).

Your SaaS name will be displayed by your name whenever you post a new answer, and you can even mention it in the replies when appropriate.

If you wrote blog posts that provide answers to questions posed on Quora, mention and link to them in your reply.

Finally, Quora — much like Reddit — ranks well for certain search queries.

Not only will Quora users see your answers, but so will millions of potential customers who simply Googled a relevant keyword.

2.3 Other communities

Don’t disregard Facebook, LinkedIn or Slack groups, either.

Facebook Groups are especially important because, after a recent algorithm change, Facebook has decided to prioritize posts in Groups over posts from Pages.

The majority of them have rules, although not every Group bans self-promotion. This means it’s totally fine to invite users to respond to feedback or try out your product. Especially if it comes with a free trial.

Finally, depending on your niche, there are probably specific sites and message boards where your target audience hangs out. Use them, especially if your competitors aren’t dominating them already.

Ultimately, if you get the approval of online community members, the credibility of your brand will improve, helping you get more referrals and customers in the long run.

3. Leverage Other People’s Networks

One of the most successful examples of growth hacking we’ve ever seen was AirBnB’s Craigslist stunt.

Knowing that they couldn’t compete with Craigslist directly, they decided to upload AirBnB listings to Craigslist and link to them. This way, they were able to make use of Craigslist’s traffic and established user base, and funnel it to their own site.

And therein lies the brilliance of using other people’s networks (OPN): this tactic will help you create your own networks, without the costs associated.

Craigslist took a decade to reach the traffic they’re getting today. AirBnB only took a few months.

While there may not be a Craigslist you can use in your industry, you still have plenty of options for leveraging OPN:

  • Co-marketing with similar companies
  • Being a guest on podcasts and YouTube channels
  • Guest blogging
  • Influencer marketing

When you don’t use OPN in a shady way (like AirBnB did), you’ll be getting a lot of credibility.

The key is having a shared audience.

While you shouldn’t co-market with direct competitors, you can co-market with companies whose target audience is similar to yours.

You can create marketing materials together. You can provide value to their audience when guest blogging or being interviewed on their podcasts.

Don’t just focus on talking about your company; talk about the problems your audience wants you to solve.

The main benefit of using OPN is that you’ll be receiving the closest thing possible to an introduction from a friend.

Just think about it; would you react better to a stranger chatting you up, or someone your friend introduced you to? Who would you be more likely to become friends with?

Marketing is a similar situation.

Get an introduction from someone your target audience already trusts and, by proxy, they’ll be more likely to trust you and take interest in your products.

It’s all about credibility.

3.1 Influencer and Thought Leader Outreach

Of course, there’s also the question of influencers. They’re figures with immense networks comprised of our target audience members.

Who wouldn’t want to use them?

However, influencers and thought leaders are hard to reach.

If you send them a pitch without ever talking to them, they’ll likely send it straight to the trash.

Instead, you should focus on building a relationship with the influencers in your niche.

If you use social media, you can build relationships with influencers by:

  • Following the influencers your target audience respects
  • Engaging with their content
  • Posing questions

Behave as you’d behave to people whose work you’re personally (not professionally) interested in. Be a good citizen of the interwebs and strike up a conversation with them.

This is a long-term strategy, as well.

You can’t expect to reply to their tweets two times and then go straight to pitching.

Wait for them to follow you back and show interest in the things your company is doing.

Then, when the opportunity strikes, get in touch with them to let them know you’re doing something big, and ask them for their opinion.

Never ask them to share or promote.

Instead, ask them to look something over and let you know what they think. Give feedback to their own projects. Approach it like you’re making a friend, not using them as a promotional channel.

With a little luck, you’ll be getting credibility and new users with an endorsement from your target influencers.

3.2 Organic PR

Organic PR or earned media can give you one of the biggest growth rate boost.

Let’s face it: people don’t trust ads or brands. They trust other consumers. They trust media outlets and influencers they care about.

They trust people who tell them the truth and objectively assess products and services.

This is why getting an organic mention from an important channel can do more for your business than any paid advertising campaign ever could.

However, sending press releases means very little in 2019. Journalists’ inboxes are overflowing with them.

Instead, earn press mentions by:

  • Making ProductHunt, Betalist and other startup listings
  • Connecting with key people in your industry at conferences and events
  • Creating relationships with journalists and media influencers on social media
  • Using HARO and SourceBottle

HARO (Help A Reporter Out) and SourceBottle are especially good for PR.

They’re used by journalists who are looking for sources on a variety of topics; from pet grooming to email marketing tools.

4. Be Quick on Your Feet

There’s one thing that you have and your big competitors don’t:

Flexibility.

You don’t have a huge team or set-in-stone marketing strategies you can’t switch around when an opportunity arises.

So when a new trend pops up in your niche, your competitors will need at least a day or two to adjust and use it to promote their products.

You can do it in a few hours.

4.1 Newsjacking 101

The method of using breaking news stories or viral trends to promote your products is called newsjacking.

Essentially, you’re “stealing” news to promote your company.

It’s completely legal, and not only that, but it’s also an amazing way to get visibility. Even if you don’t have a lot of traffic or followers.

For example, brands often use newsjacking on Twitter.

Whenever a hashtag starts trending, they find a way to put a unique spin on it and bring more visitors to their profiles. The more specific the hashtag is to your niche, the better.

You can find news to jack through:

  • Trending hashtags and topics on social media
  • Event calendars in your industry
  • Google Trends

The first option is a no-brainer. Simply pay attention to what’s popular on sites like Twitter and LinkedIn.

You can also research event calendars in your industry:

  • What major events related to the niche your product is in are happening in the future?
  • How popular will they be?
  • How can you cover them?

For example, whenever Facebook has one of their conferences, thousands of brands are quick to post their takes.

Finally, you can also use Google Trends to spot opportunities.

Not only will it show you what’s trending right now, but it’ll also show you the popularity of specific search terms over time.

And when you can understand how popular a particular query is going to be, you can adjust your marketing strategy accordingly.

You can even set up Google Alerts for topics related to your niche.

4.2 The Fastest Company Wins the Race

There are also cases in which you can be the first responder on the scene, so to say.

Let’s imagine a topic starts trending in your niche.

For example, you’re selling email software and there’s been a new development. According to recent research, guinea pigs are the best way to automate emails!

Now, a lot of people suddenly start searching for: “Guinea pigs email automation.”

And while your competitors are still trying to wrap their hands around the new development and what it will mean, you can start answering frequently asked questions about the new development.

In fact, you can create a comprehensive resource on the new topic and share it like wildfire.

Share it on Quora, share it on Reddit, get in touch with influencers on Twitter, and throw your resource from the rooftops.

You’ll be generating backlinks to your site like crazy, and people will be turning to you for information.

And because the topic is related to your product, you’ll be establishing credibility and raising brand awareness.

In most cases, content marketing is a long, arduous road. But when you can be the fastest to hit “post” and provide value, it can work wonders.

Then, repackage that comprehensive resource as dozens of social media posts. You can even create additional materials like infographics.

The more content you can post about a trending topic, the better — especially if you’re getting steady engagement rates.

Keep in mind that these are blue-moon opportunities. They happen rarely. But when they do happen, you need to use them.

5. Be Smart about Your Advertising

Companies advertise for a variety of purposes: brand awareness, LTV increase, user growth, retention… There’s a purpose behind every campaign.

However, when you decide to invest in paid advertising, you have to focus on growth. In advertising terms, this means getting the best results for the lowest price.

Typically, you can achieve this by advertising conversion-boosting offers like discounts, promotions and free trials.

The more specific you can be with your advertising, the better.

5.1 Google Ads

A Google Ads campaign that targets a generic keyword like “email marketing” isn’t going to be as successful as a long-tail keyword campaign that hones in on specific audiences’ needs such as: “email marketing for small business UK.”

Just like with SEO, you’ll get the best results from long-tail keywords (three words or more):

  • Users with purchase intent
  • Specific needs your product accommodates
  • Low competition and low costs

Every major advertising platform values the quality and relevance of an ad. When your ad is perfect for the audience you’re targeting, you’ll be paying for it less.

So when using Google Ads, make sure you fully utilize all the features that can make your ads more prominent:

  • Extensions
  • Structure snippets
  • Location

You can even try dynamic ads.

If you really want to get your hands dirty, bid on your competitors’ branded keywords.

For example, if you sell email marketing software, you could bid on “MailChimp” and “ConvertKit.”

Branded keywords are usually much cheaper than regular keywords, and they’re a great way of getting more visibility for your products.

You’ll typically be getting middle of the funnel customers who are aware of their needs, but they may not be ready to purchase just yet.

You can target them with buyer’s guides explaining how your product is a better fit than your competitors’.

5.2 Social Media Ads

While Facebook has powerful retargeting capabilities, it’s not exactly made for explosive growth on a budget.

In order for the ads to self-optimize, you’ll need to spend at least a few thousand dollars.

It’s much smarter to work with influencers or generate referrals through social media by collecting customer feedback and running contests and promotions.

5.3 A Note on LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a great platform for reaching B2B audiences.

We’re particularly satisfied with InMail Ads. They allow you to target your prospects with ads displayed as messages.

You can mix that with LinkedIn’s advanced search capabilities to make sure you’re only reaching the right people and companies, instead of scattering your budget across audiences that may not be all that interested.

Again, being specific pays.

If you can send a message that addresses the (seemingly) unique needs of that audience group, you can increase click-through and sales rates.

An even better option is offering the people you’re targeting free trials or discounts.

You’ll be giving them plenty of value to entice them into seriously considering your product and becoming a long-term customer.

Finally, don’t forget about the human touch.

If your prospect responds to the ad, make sure you follow up, introduce yourself, and start a conversation about their needs.

As an up-and-coming SaaS company, the most important asset you have is your attention to customers.

5.4 Guerrilla Advertising

Finally, don’t lose sight of local because of digital.

In 2011, DuckDuckGo — the search engine synonymous with privacy — publicly challenged Google with a billboard in San Francisco.

Source: Wired

While the billboard cost the DuckDuckGo founder around $7000 for four weeks, it was still a great move that helped them establish themselves as a browser focused on privacy.

The billboard is a great example of guerrilla marketing, a branch of marketing that uses surprising and unconventional tactics to promote products.

Even a direct mail campaign can be considered guerrilla in an increasingly digital landscape.

The more innovative your method of reaching out to your prospects is, the better results will you get.

Chargebee, a SaaS company, increased their growth rate by having a few team members dress up as “SaaSsy nuns” and hold out the 10 Commandments of SaaS at a conference. People constantly approached them, interested in the idea, and many of them turned into Chargebee customers.

6. Email Marketing Still Works for Hacking SaaS Growth

…but you have to be smart about it.

There are three main ways you can use email marketing to hack your growth:

  1. Nurture leads into customers
  2. Get referrals
  3. Increase LTV

6.1 Nurture Leads

If you have a particularly complicated product, email marketing is a great way to educate leads and swiftly turn them into customers.

Use automation to create email workflows.

After downloading your lead magnet, you can set up a drip campaign that will send your potential customers guides on using your product to improve their results. Case studies are always a good idea at this stage.

Make things as clear as possible to make sure that they sign up or buy your product ASAP.

6.2 Get Referrals

The second way to use email marketing is with referrals in mind.

Nothing works quite as well as word of mouth. People trust other people, and especially when they’re directly recommending a product that changed their lives.

However, customers can be a little reluctant to provide direct referrals.

This is where you can learn from Outlook (previously Hotmail).

When they first launched their service, Outlook added a line to the end of every email sent through the platform:

“PS: I love you. Get your free e-mail at Hotmail.”

Even if the customers didn’t want to go out of their way to recommend the email provider, the emails did it for them.

Soon enough, millions of people were using their service.

Another way of hacking growth is by following Dropbox’s example. For every friend they referred, customers would get extra storage space.

This is why we see so many tools adding a line like “Powered by XYZ” to their widgets.

It’s referral marketing, without the hassle.

Finally, you can also stimulate referrals by having a delightful customer service.

If you go out of your way to help your customers or send them gifts, they’ll be more likely to recommend you.

However, it’s always a better bet to hack growth and make your customers refer their friends and associates without actually referring them.

6.3 Increase LTV

Finally, email marketing can help you increase the lifetime value of your customers.

This particular method relies on strengthening your value proposition, and improving the customers’ perception of your product.

If they perceive it as more valuable, they’ll be more likely to take the plunge and sign up.

And after they’ve signed up for your basic offering, you can cross-sell them and/or up-sell them.

Once you’ve got their email address, you can provide them with enough valuable resources and information on how your product helps your customers succeed that it’ll be practically impossible for them not to consider it.

You can also reactivate users who have stopped using your product.

If you have a new update or a new feature, don’t be afraid to shoot them a quick email.

Finally, you can use email marketing to retain your users and stop them from churning.

From onboarding them properly to delighting them with resources catering to the way they use your product, email is a multi-layered tool that can help you win customers over completely.

And the best part is: email doesn’t depend on social media’s ever-changing algorithms, or your advertising budget.

Your mailing list belongs to you.

7. Optimize Your Website for Growth

The majority of growth hacking tactics involve outbound marketing.

However, if you want to get maximum ROI from them, you first have to prime your website and your product for success.

Your tactics may be good but if a lead is directed to a site that’s all over the place, they’re not going to convert. No matter how much they need your product.

Fortunately, there are a few ways of conversion-proofing your site.

7.1 Live Chat

Live chat is there for a reason, and that reason is to intercept lead intent and provide them with the information they need before they get a chance to bounce.

The majority of live chat providers have freemium options, so it won’t cost you a lot.

You can also set up a knowledge base and a FAQ section to make sure you’re not losing customers just because you need to get some sleep.

7.2 CTAs

There are a lot of pages on your site where you probably don’t have a single CTA. Think: privacy policy, email subscription confirmation, “About” pages, and so on.

That’s a waste of real estate, really.

Motivate your customers to sign up by creating page-appropriate CTAs, even if it’s just to direct them to an additional resource.

7.3 Unnecessary Fields

Your main goal is to obtain your leads’ email addresses. So don’t make it hard to sign up for your mailing list.

Remove all the unnecessary fields like “Occupation” or “Location.” Don’t be creepy.

You can always qualify them after they’ve joined your mailing list.

7.4 One Intent Only

Each (landing) page should be focused on one intent only.

For example, the Pricing page should help the visitors focus on buying your product. The “About” page should be focused on understanding the background of your SaaS.

Create each page on your website with clear intent in mind.

What do you want the customer to do on that page, and how does it figure into their buyer’s journey?

When you’ve answered those questions and optimized your pages, you’ll have unlocked the secret to optimizing your conversion rate.

7.5 Reliable Analytics

You need a tool that will help you track your leads across the funnel. Preferably, a tool that tracks their clickstream and integrates a heat map into the mix, as well.

A good analytics tool will tell you:

  • Where your high-converting lead groups come from
  • How visitors navigate your site
  • Which pages to optimize

The main thing you want to know is which traffic sources convert the best.

This way, you can focus on those channels, and avoid wasting time on those that don’t work.

However, you can’t know what works and what doesn’t if you don’t have a tool that tracks the entire funnel.

7.6 Social Proof and Testimonials

Finally, there’s nothing like social proof to drive growth. Use quotes, video testimonials, PR and client logos, even security badges. Everything that can help you gain credibility is fair game.

8. Can You Hack Growth with SEO?

Every marketer will tell you that search engine optimization (SEO for short) is a long game.

Now, that is both true and false.

It all depends on your approach:

  • If you target long-tail keywords, you’ll get results sooner
  • If you reach out to influencers and get backlinks, you’ll get results sooner
  • If you create relevant and personalized content
  • If you focus on localized content instead of global english

You guessed it.

You’ll get results sooner.

It all depends on your tactics.

One of the best ways to hack SaaS growth with SEO is with the so-called Skyscraper Technique. First coined by Brian Dean, this tactic relies on creating content better than your competitors to attract more backlinks.

Simply search for the keywords you want to target and then analyze the content ranking high for those results:

  • Identify gaps in the content
  • Check out the comments and pay attention to questions people are asking
  • Run a BuzzSumo analysis to see which influencers shared that content piece

When you’ve done that, you should create an extensive resource covering all the topics your competitors covered, and a little bit more. Fill those gaps.

Then, reach out to the influencers who’ve amplified that content, and offer them your more comprehensive piece.

The majority of respectable sites don’t like pointing their visitors to outdated content.

You’ll be able to get backlinks from reputable sites that will boost your Domain Authority quicker than if you were to build relationships with individual writers.

8.1 Linkless Mentions

Google also pays attention to the context your company is being talked about online.

If it notices your company is mentioned in a good light, it’s going to perceive you as reputable.

However, if you generate a lot of negative reviews, it may impair your rankings.

We obviously don’t want that, so here’s what you’ll do:

You’ll set up your social sharing buttons so that every time someone shares something from your blog, it comes with a source link.

For example, your customer could share an article on email marketing to their Twitter and it would look something like: “5 Ways to Automate Email with Guinea Pigs, shared via XYZ”

Yes, you could badger your customers for positive reviews, but that takes a lot of time.

Instead, hack it just like SaaS companies hack widgets.

You won’t say “Powered by XYZ,” but you’ll add a source, and that’s as good as saying: “Check out our company!”

Plus, it’s a positive hyperlinked mention.

8.2 Put Your (Black) Hat On

Black-hat SEO is a big no-no. However, there are still some practices you can apply that won’t break the rules.

For example, there are particular subreddits that you can actively promote your content in: r/tellthepeople and r/blogdiscovery. They’re crowded and you probably won’t get a lot of customers from them, but you will be getting a link to boost your page and domain authority.

The same goes for adding your site to various directories.

After all, to hack growth, sometimes you just have to toe the line.

icebreakervc

Our fund invests €50–350k in Nordic and Baltic companies at idea, angel and seed stages.

Mari Luukkainen

Written by

A startup growth hacking since 1998 writing about hockey sticks.

icebreakervc

Our fund invests €50–350k in Nordic and Baltic companies at idea, angel and seed stages.

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