As a startup marketer, what channels do you exploit in order to increase traffic to your site?
In my experience, most marketers focus on organic and paid search, as well as social media and email marketing … sound familiar?
If it does, that’s fine – these are all really important channels. Any marketer – startup or otherwise – should be including them in their strategy.
But they’re not the only channels that can be exploited to drive traffic. This is something a lot of marketers seem to forget.
In short: it pays to think outside the box.
Here are 10 underutilized traffic sources that are perfect for startup marketers.
If you know how to play the game, Reddit can drive tons of visitors to your site. That makes sense when you learn that in the last month there were nearly 8 billion unique page views on the site, and that subreddits (kind of like groups or forum boards) such as Data is Beautiful have more than 6 million readers.
Unfortunately, Reddit hates marketers. If they smell one, they will start digging – and if they’re right, you’re toast.
But don’t let that discourage you.
Sure, the Reddit/marketer vendetta might make your job a little more taxing. But it doesn’t make it impossible.
The trick is to use Reddit not as a marketer, but as a Redditor.
That means using the site as any other Redditor would. Share links that are in no way affiliated with your brand, and take the time to contribute comments to existing threads.
Just join in the conversation.
“If you were to start promoting your site on Reddit right now, you’d be likely to join the thousands of “Reddit Marketers” that get laughed off of the site. You see, the trick to Reddit marketing is, well, to not market.
You goal is to create a pattern of normal use. You want to be indistinguishable from any other Reddit user.
The easiest way to do that is to stop thinking like a marketer at all. Get involved in subreddits that genuinely interest you. That way your contributions will come naturally and no one would guess that you have an ulterior motive.
Once you start to know your way around the site, you can begin to get involved with subreddits that relate to your brand and the links you want to promote.
- Build both site-wide and subreddit-specific histories before you post any promotional content.
- Save only your very best content or links for Reddit.
- Don’t post links from your own domain too many times, or too often – this can flag spam filters.
Key takeaway: Drive traffic by sharing your best links on Reddit, but take steps to disguise your marketer status by first building your profile organically.
There are many ways marketers can exploit email as a traffic-generating tool.
Email marketing is the obvious one – as mentioned above, it’s one of the more commonly-used means of driving traffic. If you don’t currently run an email marketing campaign, I encourage you to start. It’s been shown time and again to be the best performing digital channel in terms of ROI.
I’ve also found email signatures and autoresponders to be effective means of leveraging email for traffic generation.
Email signatures are an excellent place to promote your digital activities. It’s natural, discreet, and once you’ve created the signature, entirely self-sufficient.
I tend to change mine pretty regularly, depending on the project (or projects) I’m working on at the time.
Here’s what it looks like right now:
And here’s an example of a previous signature:
Autoresponders – for those who don’t know – are emails that get fired off automatically in reply to anyone that emails you. Do you set your “out of office” message when you go on vacation? Then you’ve used an autoresponder.
Autoresponders are handy little tools for when we’re too busy or preoccupied to get back to people right away. They allow us to manage expectations by letting people know they should expect a delay in getting a response. This means we can get on with our work (or whatever else we’re doing) free of interruptions.
They’re also great for marketing, including driving traffic to your website.
I use them to do both.
I currently use an autoresponder that lets people know I’m heads-down focusing on ContentMarketer.io.
It serves both of the aforementioned purposes. It manages the expectations of anyone that emails me, and it drives traffic to ContentMarketer.io.
I also use an autoresponder to reply to anyone that signs up to my newsletter. The focus of this is to drive visits to some of my best blog posts.
Key takeaway: Email marketing’s an obvious platform for traffic generation but you can leverage its power further by utilizing your signature and an autoresponder.
3. The Viral Loop Referral
As you’ve probably guessed from the name, a viral loop referral is a type of referral scheme.
A referral scheme with a very interesting twist.
It’s designed to trigger a type of pyramid effect.
What this means is that if a company begins with one customer, and that customer refers three new customers, then each of those refer three customers, the company soon has 13 customers. If the cycle continues, the company quickly has….a lot of customers.
Dropbox has to be the best-known example of a successful viral loop referral scheme.
“Dropbox is often cited as the canonical example of successful referral marketing.
Just as Shakespeare imitated his predecessors, Dropbox wasn’t actually being original with its referral program.
In case you’ve been living in the dark for the last nine years, Dropbox is a cloud storage provider. It’s an excellent service, with one small limitation: storage space.
When you first create a Dropbox account, you’re granted 2GB of space. If you want more, you have two options:
- Pay to upgrade your account
- Refer new users
Users that choose option two are granted an extra 500MB of space for each successful referral. They can keep referring people until they’ve secured themselves an extra 16GB of free space. After that, they have to pay.
That means that to get the full 16GB of free space, users have to refer 32 new users.
Now, imagine if each of those also referred 32 users…
That adds up to a lot of users.
They won’t, of course. That’s just not realistic. But if each Dropbox user refers just two people (bearing in mind that many will refer more) the viral loop referral scheme is going to start paying off.
And of course, it did. Supposedly Dropbox went from 100,000 users to 4 million in just 15 months.
Key takeaway: Maximize the impact of referrals with a scheme that rewards customers, not for a single referral, but each time they refer somebody new.
4. Facebook Comments
When you think about Facebook for marketing, you probably think about Facebook business pages and Facebook Ads.
That’s fine. Those are both great tools for businesses and I’d generally encourage their use.
But they aren’t the only ways you can capitalize on Facebook.
By commenting on posts created by other pages, you can drive significant traffic to your Facebook page, and in turn, your site.
The trick is to find pages relevant to your industry that see a lot of engagement, and to act fast. You need to be one of the first people to comment on a new story.
It’s also critical that your comment adds value.
Your goal is to get as many likes on your comment as possible. Get enough, and it will become a “top comment.”
When that happens, it will stick to the top of the post, where – if you’ve picked the right Facebook page – it could be viewed by thousands upon thousands of people.
Take this post on The New York Times (which, while we’re on the subject, is a pretty good place for most brands to post, on account of the wide range of topics covered):
The top post boasts 444 likes and has triggered its own dialogue, with 63 additional comments resulting from it.
Why? Because the comment adds value to the conversation. It also mirrors popular opinion, which in this context is pretty important. You’re looking to attract positive attention – not wind people up.
Of course, depending on the page and the specific post, a spot of light-hearted comic relief can net you similar results.
Take spoof “news” site The Onion. Their top comments are almost always jokes that play off of the content of the original post.
Key takeaway: Drive traffic by commenting on new posts on popular Facebook pages. Just remember to act fast – generally the “top comments” are some of the first to be posted.
Quora is, in its simplest form, a question-and-answer site. Users ask questions, and other users come along and provide answers.
It operates in a similar manner to Reddit in that you’ll get the most out of it if you take the time to act, and contribute, in the same way a genuine user would.
It’s also a similar timesuck: you have been warned.
Unlike Reddit, you have to sign up to the site before you can start viewing posts, which is a tad annoying. On the plus side, the Quora community isn’t quite as venomously anti-marketer as the community you’ll find on Reddit.
Contribute with a quality answer, and you shouldn’t be ripped to pieces if you also decide to include a link to additional relevant content of your own (“shouldn’t” being the operative word here – I can’t be held responsible if things pan out differently!).
Like most “community” based traffic sources, you’ll get the most out of Quora if you take the time to write detailed, interesting, and useful posts.
This is because when people like your post, they may well “upvote” it. They might also comment on it. If your post drives enough engagement, it will become “stuck” at or near the top of the thread in question.
That’s pretty awesome, but it gets better.
Unlike other traffic sources we’ve discussed on here – Facebook comments in particular – Quora threads, and your answers, tend to stick around.
If someone searches for a question that you’ve answered – a month, 6 months, even 2 years after you posted it – your answer may well pop up. Old threads can also resurface if they get new answers.
Take this post for instance. I found it on the front page of Quora, yet the second answer on the page is from 2012.
To get a feel for what a “great” answer on Quora tends to entail, just start exploring the site. There’s also an excellent (albeit outdated) Q&A here that details some of the most upvoted answers on the site.
Key takeaway: Use Quora in a similar manner to Reddit – mimic the habits of other users, and when a relevant topic comes along, drop in a link to your own site or content.
6. Guest Posts
When some people write a guest post, their goal is to obtain a link. For me, it’s about so much more.
I write guest posts first and foremost because they help me build my personal brand. I also write them because they’re a very effective means of driving free, relevant traffic to my sites.
But guest posting isn’t as simple as firing off pitches to countless sites in the hopes that one will stick. Will you get a few ‘yeses’ that way? Yeah, probably. But you’re not looking to write for any old site.
If you want traffic, you need standards. You need to write for sites that have a big audience. Huge, ideally. But that audience needs to be relevant, too.
It doesn’t matter if a site gets 1 million unique visitors a day – if none of those visitors fit into your target market, you’re not going to get results. Referral traffic will probably be minimal. Any traffic you do get won’t be relevant.
The same logic applies to highly-relevant sites with tiny audiences. You might fit right in, but if that site’s not getting any traffic, how can you expect it to send any to you?
Pick sites based on their readership – both its size and relation to your niche. Next, you need to win them over.
Some sites have guidelines for potential guest bloggers. You’ll probably fare best if you follow them.
Many of the best sites, however, don’t advertise the fact that they accept guest posts. That’s probably because as a general rule, they don’t. But few sites won’t make an exception for the right post from the right person.
So you have to ask.
Find the best person to contact. If it’s a personal blog, that’s going to be its owner. If it’s a big site with many sections, you’ll probably want to find the editor of the section you want to contribute to.
It can help to build bridges before you approach the topic of guest posting. Try commenting on your contact’s blog posts or approaching them on social media.
The biggest factor in your success here, however (in my experience, at least), is the topic you approach them with and whether or not you can demonstrate the skills to craft an awesome post.
Site owners and bloggers want original, interesting topics. Or at least an original perspective on a not-so-original topic. Relevance to what they cover is key, too.
They also want people who can write.
Don’t send the same post idea to each site. You need to demonstrate that this post is just for them. Take your time researching potential topics so you can show genuine interest in and knowledge of their area of expertise.
Don’t forget to provide links to examples of your writing, either.
And always, always proofread your emails. Carefully. Nothing will land you a firm “no” faster than a poorly-written outreach email.
Key takeaway: Guest posts can drive tons of traffic to your site, but only if the site you write for has a substantial audience and is relevant to your niche.
A giveaway can drive masses of traffic to your site, and quickly. It can also be a huge waste of money.
It all depends on the type of competition you run and the prize you give away.
If all you care about is traffic, give away an iPhone, a vacation, or cold, hard cash. You’ll get tons of traffic, I promise. So much traffic that your servers will probably crash and your site will go down.
But that would suck, right?
Sure it would.
But not as much as wasting all that money on a prize that drove a bucket-load of useless, server-breaking traffic.
If you want to run an effective competition, you need to be picky about the prize you give away. Choose something that only your potential target audience would be interested in.
This limits entries to people who might actually care about what you do.
You also need to be careful about the type of competition you run.
A great way to boost visibility of your competition is to run it with another site or publication. This means it gets promoted to their audience, which is great.
Unfortunately, that also means that entrants will be able to enter the competition directly on that site.
Goodbye potential traffic.
Thankfully, there’s a way around this: require entrants to answer a question that necessitates a visit to your site in order to answer.
Avoid asking simple questions like “When was our company founded?” You can bet that answer will find its way around the web. If that happens, few entrants will bother visiting your site.
Goodbye potential traffic, again.
Instead, ask a question – or even better – set a task that makes visiting and exploring your site unavoidable.
An Ecommerce company might ask entrants to create a “wishlist” of products they would buy if they had $500 to spend on the site.
If I did this, I might ask entrants to read a specific post and describe what they would do in response to something covered.
For example, I could ask them to read “Growth Isn’t Everything: 7 Lessons Learned from 5 Failed Companies,” pick one case study, and describe what they would have done differently.
The general gist is to avoid competition questions with multiple choice answers. You need to get entrants thinking for themselves, and you need to make your website their source of inspiration.
Key takeaway: Maximize the impact of competitions by choosing a prize that relates closely to your brand and what you do, and avoid making entry too easy. Set a task or question that forces entrants to visit and explore your site.
8. Automated Voicemails
An automated voicemail operates in a similar fashion to a cold email. The difference, of course, is that instead of sending an email, you’re leaving a message on the recipient’s phone.
The practice is, supposedly, most commonly used by medical debt collectors, student loan services, and financial institutions. But it has countless other applications, too.
You could use it to:
- Thank customers for their purchase
- Tell current customers about a new product they might be interested in
- Remind customers about an event or an appointment
- Follow up on a series of outreach emails
Whatever you use automated voicemails for, getting results from them involves leaving the right message in the right tone of voice. You want to sound genuine and friendly – not like a corporate robot, or worse – an actual robot.
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes: what would you respond to?
Remember what the goal of your voicemail is: to get the recipient to visit your website. This means it’s important to give your web address out clearly and give them a reason to go to it.
Key takeaway: Automated marketing strategies (including voicemail) can be very effective – as long as you don’t sound automated.
Videos can do so much more than help build your YouTube following. Executed correctly, you can use them to tempt people away from YouTube (or whatever video-sharing site you choose to use) and onto your site.
- Videos that answer common questions consumers ask about your industry can drive referral traffic if you encourage viewers to learn more by visiting your site.
- Detailed product reviews or demonstrations can drive conversions (on your website, naturally).
- Land an interview with someone authoritative in your industry, and not only can you get in front of their audience, but you’ll have a chance to convince that audience to find out more about you by visiting your site.
“If you provide a service or SaaS (software as a service), using video to describe a complicated process is the perfect way to clearly describe it to consumers. Consider using an animated video or a whiteboard setup for maximum effectiveness.” – Bubba Page, for Inc.
Of course, to maximize your referral traffic, you need to make it as easy as possible for viewers to visit your site.
You can (and probably should) read your web address out loud in the video and include a link to it in the description.
Better yet, you can include linked annotations from within the videos themselves.
Of course, YouTube isn’t the only service that can help you turn videos into web traffic. Vimeo, DailyMotion, and Metacafe are all viable alternatives. I personally had a lot of luck with live-streaming service Periscope.
Key takeaway: Video marketing rocks, but if you want it to drive traffic to your site, you need to make getting there easy, and enticing, for your viewers.
10. Real Life
Oddly enough, some of the most effective means of driving online traffic exist offline.
Take flyering. It’s a form of marketing that’s been around since long before the web came along, but it’s easily adapted for modern day marketing:
Just make your web address a feature of your flyers, and give people a reason to go online and visit it. Better yet, slap a unique code onto the end of that URL and you’ll be able to track how much traffic your flyers generate.
For me, though, the most effective way of driving web traffic in real life is simply by speaking to people.
Last year, I started speaking regularly at conferences. I always mention my site in my talks and include the URL in my slides. I also tend to wrap up by offering a freebie in exchange for an email address.
This generally results in 100-150 new addresses from great contacts (these are people I – hopefully – have made a genuine impact on, after all).
You can see the effect of this in Google Trends. Each time I speak at a conference, searches for my name increase.
Don’t forget about business cards, either. They’ve kind of fallen out of fashion in recent years, but they’re still crazy valuable. If you talk to someone and you hit it off (so to speak) a business card is a quick and easy way to make sure they remember you.
Key takeaway: Don’t be afraid to drive online traffic, offline. Get out there and start speaking to people – just make sure they remember you and know where to find you online (and why they should find you).
What other underutilized traffic sources are you currently exploiting? If it’s not mentioned above, it would be awesome if you’d take a moment to leave a comment about it below.