9 SaaS growth hacks that we will never implement, and the 3 that we did
I’ve learned to love the sweet sound of screenshots being taken on my Macbook.
This is a little hack that I’ve discovered for tracking any interesting ideas I stumble upon online, or just to make sure that I don’t forget a discussion I had on Slack. Every once in a while, I sift through these screenshots for ideas that still seem relevant and exciting.
While my collection of cool growth hacking ideas has become quite impressive over the years, here’s a fun fact: we at Ahrefs never implemented the overwhelming majority of them.
Don’t get me wrong; I do like these hacks a lot. It’s just that we’re unlikely to try them ourselves — and I’ll explain why later on.
Let’s start with these 9 great hacks:
1. Double-sided referral hack
This one’s pretty famous. It was used by Dropbox to permanently increase their signups by 60 percent and was responsible for kickstarting their growth.
Here’s how it worked: anyone who signed up to Dropbox could refer a friend in exchange for more free storage space. Of course, users were eager to become referrers and hook their friends up.
Referees were offered a similar incentive. If they signed up using their friend’s referral link, they also received extra storage space.
A win-win situation in both cases.
Plus it’s easy to tweak to your own needs: you could grant a trial extension or a discount, so on and so forth.
Thinking about trying this trick out or yourself? This article by Andrus Purde is a good read on the importance of timing as a factor when designing your referral program.
2. “Powered by” hack
Intercom’s gotten pretty famous for this hack recently.
It’s rather self-explanatory: when you use Intercom’s free plan, your chatbox will include a mandatory “Powered by Intercom” message.
Which means that you and your brand are now effectively billboards for Intercom, of course. Smart, isn’t it?
Back in the day, Hotmail used an even stronger variation of this hack with their automatic email signature: “PS: I Love You. Get Your Free Email at Hotmail.” When people sent emails to their friends, their friends were seeing this message and signing up. (Here’s the full story — it’s really interesting.)
Here’s one more instantly recognizable execution of this hack: Apple’s “Sent from my iPhone” signoff. Don’t tell me you’ve never regretted not joining the “Apple cult” after someone sent you one of these!
Oh, and if these “signoffs” don’t work for your specific product, there’s another way to do it.
Let’s look at Workflowy — a software that basically allows you to make highly organized documents.
What Workflowy does is allow you to share public access to your documents.
Of course, once you send your link to your friends/colleagues/co-workers, they’ll want to sign up for Workflowy too when they see how awesome it is.
And I actually know this works!
So keep this in mind: when it comes down to it, the “powered by” hack is all about sharing public access to a great tool and letting people sign up on their own.
3. CCA hack (common conversion activities)
This is another pretty well-known concept for SaaS/startup communities.
The CCA hack entails identifying what makes users stay — and then pushing all newly registered users towards these activities.
The idea is to find, then trigger, specific behaviors that have already been proven to convert and keep customers. It’s a fantastic way to improve retention and reduce churn.
Here’s how Chargebee does it:
The other famous example I can quote is Twitter: they figured out that all they needed to do was get their users to follow 10 other people.
As you know, the rest is history.
Want some tips and tricks for the CCA hack? Here’s your further reading.
4. Gamification hack
Getting people to stick with your SaaS is kind of a chicken-and-egg situation.
On one hand, you need to educate users and help them to get better at using your product in order for them to get lots of value from it and want to stay.
On the other hand, if they aren’t getting enough initial value, they might not stick around for long enough to learn how to use your product.
Games entertain, fulfill and motivate your users: when humans get a reward for something, we’re hard-wired to want more.
Motivate your users to stick around and learn about your product by rewarding their efforts.
Duolingo is a great example of an app that has managed to gamify the entire learning process for its 200m subscribers worldwide.
And they’re far from alone — these other SaaS companies have managed to succeed with this hack as well.
5. “Nudge to annual” hack
The essence of this hack is identifying the perfect time to ask people to sign up for an annual plan — then asking them to.
Most businesses only ask potential customers to “go annual” during the signup process itself, which is an absolutely terrible time to ask since the person hasn’t even tested your software yet.
Instead of doing this, run some analysis and figure out the point at which your users are discovering the real value of your product.
That’s the best time to nudge them towards signing up for annual billing.
On that note, this is a great read on why you should offer annual billing and how to best do it.
6. “Put on hold” hack
People cancel their accounts every day.
But lots of them don’t actually want to pull the plug entirely — they just want to “opt out” for a few months while they settle other things going on for them.
Why not give your users this option, rather than force them to cancel their subscription? This makes it a ton easier for them to come back and “resume”, rather than have to sign up all over again.
Hulu in particular has a great subscription cancellation flow — read more here.
7. Piggybacking hack
Another tactic that Intercom is famous for: piggybacking, or riding on, your competitor’s brand awareness.
The strategy here is to target and rank for all the keywords your competitor “owns” and take advantage of the amount of exposure they have, whether it’s through SEO or PPC.
Plenty of SaaS companies do it these days: they bid for Adwords on their competitors’ names and create personalized landing pages explaining why their service is better than the competition’s.
Just look at these results for Help Scout:
That’s four competitors using this hack before you even get to the organic results!
8. Side project hack
The most famous example of the side project hack is Unsplash, which started out as a Tumblr blog and side project — but eventually raised $7.25 million and disrupted the photography industry.
To sum things up: build something on the side that provides value to people. This way, people who enjoy your side project will naturally be interested in your core business.
The trick is that this value must be related to your main business, or all the goodwill generated is less likely to transfer over.
It’ll be tough going, but it can actually be done.
9. Integration hack
You guessed it — this hack involves growing your customer base via integration with other, ideally bigger, companies. Here’s how you can do it.
Zapier is a unique example, since their entire business model is about integration with all sorts of software. Smaller SaaS companies like Referralcandy have also acquired lots of new users simply from enabling integration with Shopify.
Another interesting variation of this hack: acquisition.
The idea is to acquire a software with a large user base and migrate its user base over to your main product. (Interested in 2018’s top acquisitions in SaaS?)
Why didn’t we implement these hacks?
I just discussed 9 growth hacks that were incredibly successful for other SaaS companies. Plus, I sincerely believe that we’d be able to find a way to implement them to great success.
So why didn’t we test them out at Ahrefs?
Well…the primary reason is that we lack the resources to execute most of these tactics well. Since we’re a pretty tiny team and we want to stay small and lean, we don’t have the leeway to do large-scale experiments most of the time.
Imagine dragging precious development and design resources away from creating new features to gamify our software, or asking our already stretched-thin marketers to create multiple landing pages for testing via the “piggybacking” hack.
Probably not a good idea.
As a small team, we need to prioritize the things that have the highest ROI for us.
What supercharged our growth
So here’s what we did do instead.
These are the three “growth hacks” that we actually swear by, and which allowed our company to cross 40 million ARR with no funding (and less than 50 people in the entire team!)
1. Make a product that is actually useful
Having an amazing product is, by far and away, the most important thing.
Growth hacks may work, but when it comes down to it, they’re essentially “marketing gimmicks” that are built to manipulate people into staying as customers.
At Ahrefs, we’ve figured out that we get our best ROI by actually improving our core product.
This means listening to our customers, adding useful features or even removing those that our customers do not use.
2. Teach them how to use it
Like I mentioned earlier, if people don’t know how to use your product and get value from it, they won’t stick around.
Beyond that, we also have a private Facebook group to answer users’ questions and, of course, an amazing support team that can help 24/5.
3. Get found
SEO is our second most powerful customer acquisition channel by far (only beaten out by word of mouth.)
Whenever people do a Google search for anything related to SEO or something that Ahrefs can help them with, we try to be there — ranking at the top of the search results and collecting all that traffic.
This drives a lot of customers for us.
Note: not every startup can rely on SEO traffic since people need to be aware of an existing problem for SEO to work. If your startup solves a problem that people don’t know exists, you’ll need to rely on other methods to drive awareness.
Like word of mouth, for example. Which, of course, is undeniably driven by having a great product and a knowledgeable user base.
Anyway, there you have it!
We’d rather use our limited resources to double down on these three “core” tactics than spread our resources thin with a bunch of other growth hacks.
What about you?
Did you find these 9 growth hacks interesting?
Or would you choose to focus on the “fundamentals”, like us?
Share your thoughts below.
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