Congrats! You’ve done it. You’ve worked on your side project for countless nights and weekends, and it’s finally ready for exposure. The bad news? Here comes the hard part.
A wise man once told me that you should focus 20% of your effort on creating content, and 80% of your effort on promoting and marketing it. What?! I thought as soon as I build it, they will magically come.
Side project marketing is tough
If you’re a real startup, it’s much easier to get your first users. You most likely have money from investors to help spread the word. But if you’re bootstrapped your funds are limited (or non-existent). And if you’re a sidestrapper, it’s even tougher because you don’t have a lot of free time to spend on marketing.
Here are a couple methods I’ve used recently to get exposure for my newest side project, HostBenchmarker: SEO, and personal outreach. The good news? They won’t cost you a dime.
Optimizing your website for search engines is a huge topic, and I’m only going to detail a few aspects of it here. SEO is great because it has huge traffic potential and can require less maintenance than other free methods (well, on-page SEO). But SEO is tough because there’s so much competition and search engines are constantly refining their ranking algorithms.
Long tail host keywords
My original hope was to get a majority of HostBenchmarker’s traffic through SEO. There weren’t a lot of pages dedicated specifically to hosts and their performance measures, and I could fill that void. My first strategy was to focus on terms like “HostGator uptime” and “GoDaddy speed,” and I actually did well at ranking for those terms (usually on page 1-2).
The problem was after a couple months that strategy was not bringing in much traffic. People weren’t searching for those terms that often, and if they did they’d only be interested in the top couple results. Something needed to change. I opened up Google Keywords Tool and plugged in some of my targeted search terms (looking back, I should have done this months ago):
Ouch. 10 searches a month? No wonder people weren’t coming. I started plugging in some other search terms and BINGO! I realized people didn’t search for “web host uptime stats,” instead they searched for “reliable web hosting.” No one entered “web host speeds,” they queried for “fast web hosting.”
The numbers are drastically different, even though the intent of the visitor is the same. Both sets of search queries mean the same thing, but the way they are phrased makes a huge difference – 50x the difference!
I immediately changed all the titles and headings of my pages to match what I had discovered. As an example, here’s a before and after. You’ll notice I also put a result in the title to prove I had the data they’re looking for:
Attitude of visitors
I also considered the state of mind of the people I want to be targeting. People that are specifically looking for uptime stats about a specific host already know about the host and are probably just double checking that they’re okay. I don’t want those people because they’re not going to be clicking through to learn more about the host I’ve benchmarked. Those people don’t make me money (and I get paid through affiliate referrals).
The people I do want are the people that are looking to switch hosts. Who are they? They’re visitors blowing off steam about how their current host sucks, looking for alternatives. Check out how many people are searching for these terms:
And what’s great about these terms it the competition is low. Awesome. I immediately set up pages targeting those keywords.
The other method I have been using is personally reaching out to people that are in my target audience. This usually has high effectiveness if you do it right, but if not you could be viewed as a spammer. It’s also a bit of a time consuming, manual process, but aren’t we supposed to be spending lots of time on marketing right now anyway?
Just as I had identified in my SEO research, people who were upset with their current hosts searched for negative terms about them. Do they tweet about them as well? You bet! Doing a quick twitter search for “HostGator sucks” reveals lots of disgruntled customers.
Have you ever heard this quote before?
People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions and help them throw rocks at their enemies.
It’s a super powerful quote, and it made me wonder – will these disgruntled people be my friend if I confirm their suspicions and help them throw rocks at their enemies? It turns out, YES.
Here are some examples of the kinds of tweets I made. Surprisingly people have been very receptive to it:
Is this bad? Kinda. I feel a little dirty doing it. But I am simply proving objective stats confirming their beliefs, and the fact that many people are responding to (and even retweeting and favoriting) my posts is a good thing.
The same approach can be used via Reddit. There’s a webhosting subreddit where many times people comment on the performance of their host, or are looking for new hosts. I have the data they’re looking for, so why not lead them to my site?
Automating your outreach efforts
If you try this approach, you’ll realize that it’s very labor intensive. You don’t want to just copy/paste canned responses as that’s tacky and will likely get you marked as spam. And searching for these opportunities takes a long time – unless you use a super nifty tool called IFTTT.
It stands for “If this, then that,” and it does exactly what you think. You can choose channels for it to monitor (like twitter search), then it will perform an action (like notify you via email):
I set up a considerable list of search queries and let IFTTT do all the searching for me. I don’t want to list them here simply because I don’t want them indexed in this article, but you can imagine what they were. Every day I’d get about 10-20 emails of twitter and reddit conversations I could interject into.
Results so far
So, does my site have a million visitors yet? I wish. But I am seeing some positive early results. See how my rankings for some of the new keywords have improved?
And traffic is up quite a bit compared to normal:
I can see in my Google Analytics referral report that people are coming from both Google (SEO) and Twitter/Reddit (outreach), so both approaches seem to be working so far.
However, the important thing is have I increased my revenue by making any affiliate sales? Unfortunately I don’t see a change on this front yet. I just implemented these 1-2 weeks ago, so it could be that people are taking their time to switch hosts (or hosts are delayed in reporting) and I need to check back at the end of the month. But it could also be that this marketing it not working at all. I’ll let you know in my next profit report.
Think about your side project. Are there alternate ways of phrasing your focus keywords that more people are searching for? Think about your audience – are there any happy/mad/sad keywords that might target the attitude you’re looking for? Are there any manual search techniques you’re using that could be automated with a tool like IFTTT? Have you tried contacting people directly that may benefit from knowing about your side project?
Have you tried either of these methods before? Did they work? What have you found to be the best way to market your side project? Comment below!