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So, you’re on the content marketing bandwagon. You want massive amounts of traffic to your site. You eat, sleep, and dream inbound traffic. Actually, you just might be a content marketing growth hacker, or what I like to call a content hacker.

What Is Growth Hacking Anyway?

Do you want growth on your blog? Are you willing to dig in deep and get your hands dirty while getting there? Do you have more time than money? You probably have a thing or two to learn from a growth hacker.

According to Wikipedia, growth hacking is “a marketing technique developed by technology startups which uses creativity, analytical thinking, and social metrics to sell products and gain exposure.” Said simply, growth hacking is a way to drive huge product (or blog, in our case) growth.

These aren’t your obvious marketing techniques, though. These are the little things that drive big results because in growth hacking, small ideas can bring massive growth. Instead of advertising, growth hackers use brainpower, creativity, engineering, and analytical data to hack their way to the results that they need.

PS: I love you
One of the classic examples of a growth hack was executed by Hotmail.com shortly after it launched in 1996. By simply adding the phrase “PS: I love you” with a link to their homepage to the bottom of every email, Hotmail was able to acquire 12 million users in just over a year. “PS: I love you” is easily one of the first, and most lucrative, “growth hacks” in history. (They were later purchased by Microsoft for $400 million).

A more recent example is seen in the file sharing service Dropbox. By simply sharing an affiliate-style link to their social networks, users can encourage their friends to sign up for the service. For each friend they refer, the original user gains an additional 250MB added to their account – for life. This has easily accounted for several hundred thousand new users for the Dropbox platform.

Two simple ideas that achieved huge results. That’s growth hacking.

True North = Growth
The term growth hacker was originally coined by marketer Sean Ellis. In his seminal blog post on the subject, Sean was quoted as saying that a growth hacker was a person whose true north is growth.

“Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth,” he said.


Aaron Ginn, the former growth hacker for Mitt Romney campaign in 2011 defines the three primary characteristics of a growth hacker as:

  1. Data. Growth hackers have a passion for tracking and moving a metric.
  2. Creativity. Growth hackers are also creative problem solvers.
  3. Curiosity.  Growth hackers have a fascination at why visitors choose to be users and engage, and why some products fall flat on their face.

In all reality, these characteristics aren’t far off from the standard issue content marketer. The two crowds have much more in common than you might think.

The Characteristics Of A Growth Hacker

1) Product/Market Fit
One of the things that you will hear a growth hacker talk about often is product/market fit. This is a simple term that means the product and the audience (or market) are in complete alignment. Once this has been achieved, a growth hacker can finally get to work and scale the product. Scaling before product/market fit makes no sense.

2) Thinks Growth
Growth hacking is about product growth. For a software company, this is about getting more users. Both the Hotmail and the Dropbox example demonstrate this principle well. The growth hacker trades an idea for attention, which ultimately results in growth. This is totally different from promotion or advertising. For the growth hacker, attention isn’t enough; there must be tangible growth.

3) Inexpensive
Growth hacking developed out of the modern tech startup, and if tech startups are known for one thing, it is being scrappy. Growth hacking isn’t something that you throw a bunch of money at. It is true guerrilla marketing at its finest. Startups these days neither have, nor need, the money it takes to run a national campaign. Growth hacking means that they probably never will.

4) Scale
For a growth hacker, the appropriate return on investment is a product that is able to scale. Essentially what this means is that they want to see the product they are pitching grow from a niche service, to a national (or global) phenomenon. Growth hacking isn’t about just a quick shot in the arm. It scales, it lasts, and is not ashamed to admit that it’s looking to be the next Facebook.

5) Data Driven
While it may sound a bit pie-in-the-sky, growth hacking is all about cold, hard, numbers. Every startup in the world has a sales funnel that they measure intrinsically. Each step of the funnel is measured, and each change is held up against its counterpart. Growth hackers live by data, because it all comes back to what is tangible. Growth hacking is about driving results. Data holds them to it.

6) Code Minded
Most of the time, growth hackers aren’t marketers. They are coders. For the modern-day software company the product is not only the product, but it is also the primary marketing channel. This makes the ability to write code super important. Growth hackers have to be able to get, or at least see, deeper than the immediate layers on the surface.

7) Manufactures Viral Growth
In many ways, growth hacking is about manufacturing viral growth as a marketing tactic rather than just hoping to get lucky. While virality is difficult to achieve, it is the end game. Both Hotmail and Dropbox were able to accomplish this viral traction. For Dropbox, this is particularly impressive because they don’t have an inherently viral or social product.

8) No Rules
Growth hackers make terrible VPs of Marketing. There are too many traditions and expected behaviors for a true growth hacker to feel comfortable in these roles. Many times, the organization will encourage a marketer to fall into some old ways of thinking, ways that are best emulated by traditional marketing methods and not the outside-the-box techniques of a real growth hacker.

growth hacking content marketing

The Characteristics Of A Content Hacker

Content Hacker = Growth-focused content marketer a.k.a. more scrappy than normal.

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It is one thing to write content, but it’s another thing to hack it. The hacker sees more than a 1,000 word blog post. They see an opportunity for viral sharing, or massive SEO potential. They also tend to see future content, such as ebooks, slide decks, and training courses. They are constantly looking to optimize and squeeze every last drop of value from the content they are creating.

1) Content/Audience Fit
For the content hacker, it might be easier to think about product/market fit in terms of content/audience fit. No matter what we are selling, or promoting as content, we need to make sure that it is in line with our audience. In many ways, we need to go a bit further and seek audience/product fit as well. The audience we are attracting to our content needs to be the right fit for our end product.

2) Thinks Growth
A content hacker has to be focused on growth. Growth in traffic, growth in the content base, and growth to the bottom line. A content hacker doesn’t settle for simply getting content out there–they want to see results. As content marketers, we need to be just as into the data as we are to our writing. They need to go hand-in-hand.

3) Opportunistic
A content hacker sees beyond the topic list on his editorial calendar. He sees opportunities to use his content to make connections, and grow his reach. This is about more than crafting words on a page – it is about finding opportunities and using them to his advantage. Guest blogging, in this way, is a beginner-level content hack.

4) Sustainable
Where a growth hacker sees scale, a content hacker see sustainability.The content hackers believes in content that lasts longer than the tweet that promotes it. Content hackers see their content as a blog post, an SEO land-grab, a reusable force for future content, and as a catalyst for new ideas. For the hacker, one post usually leads to three others.

5) Data Driven
Marketers have more data at their fingertips than ever before. The free gift of Google Analytics has been taken for granted by many, but not the content hacker. They see data as their primary tool for measuring their success. Too often, content marketing hails publishing as the goal, but not for content hackers. They only settle for growth, for moving the needle forward.

6) SEO Minded
The content hacker knows the inner workings on the web well enough to get under the hood and use their hands when necessary. They should be a part-time SEO, developer, writer, and marketer, all at the same time. Understanding how and why Google does what it does is just as important as understanding what your audience wants to hear. The content hacker knows that he serves both.

7) Crafts Viral Growth
The content hacker knows that virality can’t be predicted, but that doesn’t stop him from trying. Rather than simply settling for another blog post, the content hacker is willing to explore more option, constantly looking to find the next big idea that goes viral. Things like infographics, hot topics, and attention-grabbing headlines are just a way of life.

8) No Style Guides
Style guides and repetition have little value for the content hacker. Sure, they don’t want to look like an idiot, but at the end of the day the goal is to get traffic and gain attention. Grammar and style issues can be settled later. For now, that content hacker ships the content that their audience loves.

Content Marketers Are Now Content Hackers

I know what you’re saying–growth hacking isn’t made up of 100% new ideas. These are things that many good businesses and good content marketers have actually been doing for years. True, but growth hacking does provide a new framework for approaching our content. It is a way for content marketers  to think about what they are doing strategically, and with a little more hustle than normal. Think of it as an opportunity to do what we do, but better, and smarter than ever before.

Growth hacking is a mindset more than a toolset. – Dan Martell, founder of ClarityClick To Tweet

Content marketing is poised for an explosion of popularity in 2014. Google Trends show that it is already rising quickly. The more we invest right now into newer and better techniques, the more likely we are to stay ahead of the curve. As the art of content marketing gets more and more popular, those who want to get noticed will need to find newer and better ways of standing out.

growth hacking content marketing pie chart

A Recent Win In Content Hacking

Groove, a startup SaaS and eCommerce customer support tool recently launched a huge content hack that was totally centered on these principles.

Founder Alex Turnbull outlines in his post the dilemma that their early-stage company found themselves in. Their blog was boring. Sure, they were getting some traffic, but it was nothing revolutionary. It was nothing that a content hacker would be happy with.

Groove's approach to their blog is certainly a content hack.

Groove’s approach to their blog is certainly a content hack.

So, out with the old, and in with the new. Groove pulled down their old blog and took an entirely different approach. Rather than sharing the same old tired headlines, the opened their kimono and started telling their own story of a startup on the journey to $100k in monthly revenue. The result?

5,000+ new subscribers in just five weeks. #ContentHacking

Results like this speak for themselves. Content hacking isn’t the past or the future. It is more like a crown of achievement.

Find Your Inner Content Hacker

Content hackers are simply growth-focused content marketers that don’t always fall in line with the status-quo. They are smarter, leaner, and always aiming toward their true north–sharable content. So, what do you need to do to start being a content hacker? There are three simple things:

1. Experiment More
Vow to start trying something new. A new angle, a new approach for writing headlines, or longer-form copy. Maybe now is the time to start experimenting with audio or video? Your blog should always be a testing lab for at least one experiment. Don’t go another day without at least trying something new.

2. Think Like A Hacker
The hacker learns the rules not just to follow them, but to break them. We need to learn to think like a hacker, not a VP of marketing. We often forget to question the many unsaid rules of the game. Maybe now is time to stat breaking them strategically.

3. Get Your Hands Dirty
You need to get ready to dig a little deeper than ever before. Learn some coding basics. Get to know SEO. Or, start researching your own keywords. There are still huge opportunities for growth out there, but you have to be willing to get deep enough to find them.

In short, I would say that #ContentHackers are eating the world.

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[Infographic] The Characteristics Of A Content Hacker

Source: Smart Insights