plant growing

How to Create an Initial Growth Model for Your Company

plant growing

Running a startup? Then you know as well as we do that quick wins are instrumental to finding initial traction and getting the first lift that affirms to your team, your peers, and your investors that there’s a tangible future ahead. These quick wins are also important as you validate value props, hone in on your messaging, and think about audience development. 

So, in the early days, the game plan is simple: learn, adapt, and ultimately, confirm that your service or product is going to solve a real and persistent problem. For your first year or more, you’ll get scrappy and find short-term momentum with tactics until you’re able to implement a growth model that works. 

But—and here’s where it gets more complicated and necessitates more patience and expertise—once you find initial traction, you also need to find ways of operationalizing those early wins so they can become repeatable. That’s where a growth model for your company can be useful. Your growth model will help you transition from startup to scaleup. It’ll fuel your strategy throughout each stage of your company life cycle and act as a map that tells you and,  importantly, your investors and other stakeholders in your company where you’re headed in the long run. 

A solid model will also help you identify priorities to feed into your growth machine. From traffic to qualified leads to paying customers, you’ll be able to measure and optimize the full funnel to increase conversion rates and uncover pressure points that need extra attention. This will help you spend your time on things that will have an actual impact on your growth — and at the very least, eliminate things that don’t. 

Here’s an example of a growth model that I built for one of our clients at Tuff. I built it for an early stage, B2B business with a SaaS offering for small businesses. When they started working with us in early 2021, the only leads they had generated were from referrals. They had been in business for less than a year and needed to prove to their investors (and themselves) that they could generate new leads across a number of channels. So, they turned to a growth marketing agency like Tuff. 

growth model for startup

The first thing we did was our homework. We started putting hypotheses in place about the target audience and the stickiest value props. In the early stages, value props will change and evolve based on feedback from customers and users but it’s important to have a starting point. Here’s what these value props originally looked like for this business

Then, we formed the foundation of awareness — in other words, using our target audience, we selected our channel mix. Essentially, we asked: What channels will we use to generate traffic or leads that feed into our growth machine? From there, we outlined the list of tactics we would test out on each channel. 

  • Acquisition Channels = the way people hear about you for the first time.
  • Tactics = a test you run on a channel. 

When it comes to channel selection, we think about three things: 

  • How expensive is that channel based on historical metrics?
  • What role in the funnel does it play? Is it top of the funnel (cheap traffic, lower quality) or bottom of the funnel (more expensive, higher quality)?
  • Can we get our content in front of our target audience? Will we be able to target the people most likely to buy? 

For this account, we started with Google, Bing, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, SEO, and Partnerships. 

Finally, we then turned our attention to generating repeatable acquisition by focusing on conversion priorities. For this startup, this was things like: 

  • Adding pricing to the website 
  • Redoing the copy on the homepage based on the language most often used sales calls 
  • Adding in a page for each service
  • Improving the UX on the blog 
  • Testing out three different signup flows to see what had the highest conversion 

When a user lands on your website, product page, or app for the first time (or even the second or third), it’s critical to communicate value immediately and efficiently; there’s truly no better way to improve conversion.

By putting this growth model on paper and using it to fuel our strategy, it became extremely clear how to define the metrics that matter for the business, and work out how to measure them. Using Google Analytics and Freshsales (CRM), we can track all of these metrics, identify which ones need improvement, and outline how to focus our efforts: 

Metrics: 

  • Spend: how much we’re spending on paid channels 
  • Traffic: how much traffic (new and returning) we’re generating
  • Traffic by Source: where the traffic is coming from and how it impacts CVR 
  • CPC: what it’s costing us to get traffic
  • Leads: the number of leads we’re capturing  
  • CVR: the percentage of traffic that’s converting to leads  
  • Clients: the number of clients we’re closing (new business)  
  • CVR: the percentage of leads that are converting to paying customers
  • CAC: the total cost of acquiring a customer 

We started using this particular growth model as our roadmap earlier this year and have stayed committed to this path for the last 8 months. With this approach, it’s not an overnight success. It’s a slow burn. We didn’t see a massive spike in leads within the first few months and even after that, the growth only started to trickle in. 

Despite being impatient for results, we haven’t changed course and now, eight months later, we have a foundation in place for compounding results. Because we can measure across the entire funnel and have a clear understanding of the core metrics, we can prioritize our resources, hours, and time, and ultimately, spend it all on the right things. 

The good news (much to all of our relief): we’re now consistently generating profitable, high-quality conversions for this client and have a repeatable formula to improve upon each month. We don’t have to rely on PR hits or an onslaught of referrals to hit our targets because we are in control of the pipeline on our own channels. 

The truth is tough: founders are used to fighting tooth and nail for product/market fit and every single investor dollar. But even when a startup starts to grow, there’s an endless amount of work involved to establish your growth strategy and stick to it. It’s not for the faint of heart. But, it’s for this very reason that I established Tuff in the first place. With a team of marketers willing, able, and eager to build a repeatable, scalable model and execute to a T, you’re laying the foundation for success not just for tomorrow but for years to come. 

Zeroing In On Your Channel Mix: Channel Diversification Cheat Sheet

Zeroing in on your channel mix—in other words, how you make people aware of you or get traffic to your website—has always been a critical component of growth. It’s essentially the first half of the growth equation. 

Half one: make people aware of you.

Half two: implement tactics to get them to do something. 

So, put that way, if you can’t get in front of your target audience, you’re going to seriously struggle to grow your business in any meaningful way. 

That’s why finding the right combination of acquisition channels for your business is so critical. It’s also really hard. It’s also, also why so many companies are focused on diversifying their channel mix in order to find new pockets, outside of Facebook and Google, to scale their acquisition efforts. 

When it comes to determining what channels to test and what budget to allocate, it’s a balance. You can’t afford (and don’t want to) spread your resources across every single channel that exists. You’ll end up with sloppy execution and merky data. You also can’t afford to not test new channels. You’ll end up with all your eggs in one basket and run the risk of being beholden to a single channel and the big shifts that channel implements (looking at you iOS 14). 

So what do you do? 

As a growth marketing agency, we’re constantly looking for ways to solve this challenge for our partners. At any given time, almost 30% of the spend under management at Tuff is being allocated to what we would call “emerging growth channels.” In this post, we’re going to break down what we’ve learned and which channels are currently our favorites. 

What are acquisition channels?

If you jump into any Google Analytics account, you’ll find a mix of traffic coming from five core sources. These include: 

  1. Paid 
  2. Organic 
  3. Email 
  4. Direct 
  5. Referral 

A paid acquisition channel is a place where a potential customer finds out about your company—think LinkedIn, Google Search, Facebook, etc. They are diverse and plenty, with cost per clicks (CPCs) ranging from as low as $0.15 to as high as $30. Knowing your CPC is important. It’ll help you determine how much budget you actually need to test a new paid channel. 

When it comes to channel exploration, we like to get anywhere from 300-500 clicks per channel (or campaign) before reworking or determining results. For cheaper channels in specific industries, this could mean that $500 is enough to test a new channel but for others, you’ll want to have at least $5,000. 

What are the core acquisitions channels?

For the last 10+ years, the majority of paid spend has gone into the pocket of one of two core acquisition channels: 

  • Google (+Bing) 
  • Facebook/Instagram

In addition to being some of the most advanced advertising platforms, both Google and Facebook make sense for companies as acquisition channels because: 

  • They have huge audiences and advanced targeting options 
  • They are self-service platforms and make it easy for people to use 
  • They can be cost-effective 

That said, the majority of brands, at some point, will start to see diminishing returns on channels like Facebook and Google when they try to scale rapidly. Layer on the fact that the advertising landscape has (and will continue to) change. According to ProfitWell, customer acquisition costs have gone up by over 60% in the last 5 years, making channel diversification that much more important. 

What are the best emerging channels?

There are a number of emerging channels available for companies to leverage to find traction and scale outside of Facebook and Google. We’ve tested on all of the major channels and have some initial favorites so far in 2021: 

  • YouTube 
  • TikTok 
  • Snapchat 
  • Amazon 

YouTube

At Tuff, we’ve been running campaigns on YouTube for over three years. When we started on YouTube, at the most, 10% of our clients were experimenting on this channel. Today, almost 65% of our clients are running campaigns on this channel. 

YouTube is great because it’s a blend between Google and Facebook. With YouTube advertising, you can get extremely targeted and identify high-intent, niche keywords and audiences to segment. At the same time, it’s also extremely creative-forward and visual like Facebook. I like this combination because you get advanced targeting paired with video in a way you can’t on any other platform. 

When it comes to YouTube, we often use this as a top-of-the-funnel initiative. We use it to get as many quality eyeballs as possible on our videos and then implement tactics to move these users further down our funnel. That said, we also have clients that use YouTube extremely successfully as a last-click customer acquisition channel. 

Here are what the results can look like so you have context as you experiment or compare with existing campaigns. Take a look at a full spreadsheet from some of the YouTube campaigns in the Tuff MCC account. 

Here are some of the major YouTube tips: 

  • Consolidate your spend on geos: Chris, our YouTube expert, always talks about YouTube like a Billboards. With so much inventory available on YouTube, and attribution getting more difficult, if you consolidate your spend to specific geos it will be easier to see lift (or no lift) in revenue or conversions from YouTube. 
  • Leverage Retargeting: YouTube retargeting is significantly cheaper than other channels and you can retarget both site traffic and video views. 
  • Reduce CPC with Custom Intent: Build custom intent audiences using high CPC keywords instead of relying exclusively on search. Here’s a full blog post breaking down this exact strategy

We talk about YouTube a lot at Tuff and have a full playlist on the blog with YouTube campaign examples, data, and best practices. Check it out

TikTok

We get more inquiries and questions about TikTok from clients and prospects than any other channel combined. For the right audience, TikTok can be super cost-effective and drive a serious amount of traffic and revenue but it’s not for everyone. It also takes a slightly modified approach to get the right results. In other words, it’s far more finicky than on Facebook. Some of the things you’d do to set up your campaigns on Facebook and Instagram are completely different for TikTok. 

For successful results, here are some things to consider: 

  • Audience: For TikTok, based on what we’ve seen, you need to go broad with your audience. On other channels, like Facebook, it’s easy to get extremely granular and focus on an audience of 1M or fewer but on TikTok you need to expand. The algorithm is extremely sophisticated and the larger your audience, the better the results will be. For instance, the For You Page on TikTok knows exactly what type of content you’re interested in. The short story: trust that the algorithm will serve your ads to the users who would be interested in your ads.
  • Creative: You can’t even consider TikTok without video creative. Do you have really strong video assets and can you create new videos on a 3-4 week basis? If not, TikTok might not be for you. Layer on the fact that TikTok users have a super high BS-o-meter, and you’ll want to get super particular with what you publish. The good news: there’s tons of room to test and doing so doesn’t need to drain your bank account. We’re a performance-creative focused crew here at Tuff and have written a full blog post on this exact topic

If you want a deep dive on what to expect with TikTok, here’s a list of practical tips and recommendations for creating high-performing TikTok campaigns. 

Snapchat

The good news: if you’ve taken on the task of making creative for TikTok, you’re already most of the way towards firing up a Snapchat strategy as well. Unlike TikTok, Snapchat surprisingly has some amazingly sophisticated targeting options (which is not surprising when you find out they partner with Neilsen to make it happen). Ultimately, Snapchat is extremely dependent on native-looking and always-refreshing creative, but if you can crack that nut, you can quite possibly unlock a powerful acquisition channel. 

Amazon

When it comes to eCommerce growth, Amazon has been part of the conversation for a while now and for good reason. In 2020, Amazon advertising became the number three ad publisher in the United States, accounting for over $15.73 billion in ad revenue. It’s estimated that Amazon’s ad business is growing even more in 2021, with a projected ad revenue of over $20 billion (over 30% annual growth). 

While there are many pros and cons to selling on Amazon, having an effective Amazon advertising strategy is an essential part of a growth strategy for almost every single eCommerce brand. 

We get into a number of best practices and Amazon advertising tips in this post, but to highlight a few priorities: 

  • Split out branded and non-branded campaigns (just like you would do on Google!) 
  • Use automated targeting on Amazon ads to get better insights into your manual bid strategies 
  • Measure and correlate spikes in organic sales as you optimize you paid efforts 

It’s worth mentioning that there are other channels we are actively testing on that collectively make up about the same amount of spend as the channels above. These include: Reddit, Quora, Twitter, Spotify, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. It’s not to say that these channels aren’t the right ones for your business (if your target audience is actively there) but we haven’t seen as much scale on these platforms as we’d like. They can be great supporting channels but aren’t, at this point, going to be your hero channel. 

What about non-paid acquisition channels?

This post has focused primarily on diversifying your paid channel mix. And if you’re an early stage startup or in extreme scale mode, paid is where you are going to get the quickest result. But, I can’t stress enough the importance of organic acquisition. Being completely reliant on paid is something that you just can’t do. 

Unlike paid acquisition, organic traffic is going to bring you the best long-term, most compounding growth results if you have the right SEO strategy. It can take up to 12 months of work until you start seeing results but it’s arguably the best growth tactic you can implement for your business. Here’s an in-depth post on how we build a holistic SEO strategy to help businesses see more organic traction. 

My advice: Fill the gaps and find short-term momentum with paid acquisition until you are able to implement and see traction with organic acquisition. 

 

Trial By Fire: How to Start a Growth Marketing Agency

This August, we’re heading into our fifth year at Tuff. While I learn something new every day, there are four major takeaways I can confidently share about how to build a growth marketing agency

First, though, I’ll note that these days, I spend quite a bit of time communicating with these kinds of people:

  • Successful freelancers, wondering if it’s time to start an agency.
  • Agency owners, wondering how to grow.
  • Owners or solopreneurs ready to segue into an agency model.

After quite a few of 1:1 convos, I realized that I found myself recounting the four ways Tuff has achieved steady growth. So I thought it might be helpful to share it with a broader audience!

If you’re thinking about building an agency, are in the process of building an agency, or just want to know how all of this works, here’s what I’ve learned so far. 

4 Key Tips for Building an Agency

First, let me say this: every business is different. How you grow an agency will be different than how we get results and grow our agency. Even if alignment is strong, there will always be notable differences when it comes to approach, personalities, priorities, etc. 

That said, these are four concrete things I’ve learned growing this business that I’m sure can be adapted to any context.

Hire an Incredible Team

Agencies are service-based businesses, and there’s no level of infrastructure or product quality that has the ability to eclipse the value of the right people. People matter, and they aren’t always easy to find, so I’ve learned that hiring and people ops is just as important as generating new business. 

After a handful of wrong hires, we worked for months to put together a very streamlined and effective hiring process that includes:

  • Attracting the right people with employer branding 
  • Developing internal impact descriptions that map to our Career Framework 
  • Well-written job descriptions 
  • A three-step interview process with a mini (and always-rotating) hiring committee 
  • A tool to manage applications and steps in the interview process (Workable

It’s also important to identify which team members you currently have who are the right fit to manage or be involved in this process. Some people are inherently good talent-seekers who have a deep understanding of your clients and their goals as well as the vision of company and team culture. Figure out how to position your current team to build your future team.

Systemically, all of this represents an investment of time and money into culture and people ops. My first ever agency hire was a people ops strategist. Truth. I wish I could take more credit for this because it’s honestly the best thing that ever happened to Tuff but it was just dumb luck. My sister, Mary, has been in the people ops space for over 10 years and came on to Tuff in the beginning to help us lay our foundation. 

Some of our strategic investments in people ops include:

Having a team that is autonomous and collaborative is the only way to sustain growth in your agency. Creating a great place to work is our second highest priority (just after staying in business). 

Build a Repeatable Formula for Generating New Business

Hiring the right people and building a repeatable lead pipeline were both the two hardest things and the two most important things we did to build our business. It took us about 18 months to build a repeatable formula for new business; one that we control. 

We tested out a lot of tactics. 95% of them didn’t work. Once we eliminated the ones that failed, we really refined the ones that succeeded, and now we can count on the outcomes. That process was obviously not fast and it was definitely not easy, but if you want to grow an agency, there’s no substitute for this work.

Here’s what didn’t work: 

Outbound: Outbound sales didn’t work for us and here’s why. We had a lot of conversations (helpful conversations in which I learned a ton) but not a lot of action. With outbound, there’s a lot of: 

  • Sure, I might as well investigate just in case.
  • Please don’t email me again 
  • What does it cost? 
  • Actually, something came up, need to push our meeting a week.

Here’s what did work: 

Inbound: This was the harder route (less immediate and it took a tremendous amount of consistency and commitment) but one that has led to compounding growth. We worked tirelessly (and still do) to capture demand by ranking on page one for high-intent keywords like “growth marketing agency” “growth agency” “startup marketing agency” etc. We worked on our SEO and organic strategy for six months before seeing results. 

With inbound, the conversions started to be more like: 

  • I want to learn about your services and team 
  • Can we schedule a time this week to connect? 
  • We’re ready to chat and we think you could be the best fit. 

So, in the early days we filled the gaps and found short-term momentum with outbound until we were able to implement an inbound system that worked. 

Even though we now see results, we’re just scratching the surface of this. Undoubtedly, the process of generating new (and the right) business always has room for improvement.

I’ll say this: we haven’t created the biggest, most profitable agency in the world, but we have learned a ton that we know is critical to an agency’s success. And that’s the key: if you can be patient, willing to try new things, willing to learn from your mistakes, and willing to ditch what doesn’t work, you’ve got a shot to build something great. 

Going into it with an explorer mentality ensures that you don’t get tied too early to efforts that yield questionable results. Try more. Learn from it. Keep moving. 

Trim the Fat

In the last five years, one of my biggest challenges as an agency owner has been to make some hard calls, ie, to trim the fat. 

Here are the brass tacks:

  • When you get to a place where you can say no to new partnerships: say no.
  • If you are in partnerships that are no longer a good fit: get out.

When your business is growing, you’re going to outgrow clients. You need to be able to have those hard conversations, and you must be selective.

It can be hard as an owner when you have a client who wants to work with you and pay top dollar (especially when it took 18 months to generate your first handful of inbound leads), but you need to make these decisions in the real world, and with the long-term goal in mind. 

This may seem wild if you are still in the early days, but there will come a time when you will say no to multiple revenue opportunities and good ideas because it’s not the right fit for your team. This is a net positive move that preserves the health of your company, your people, and keeps you true to your mission and goals.

Adapt Quickly and Pivot Your Services When You Need To

We’ve all heard, “the riches are in the niches,” but even more than nicheing, successful agency owners listen to the market and let it inform their strategic planning. This is really applicable to where I was when Tuff first started. 

I didn’t have the truest understanding of what people needed from a growth marketing agency, I just knew that agencies get a really bad rap. It’s often because the experience feels opaque, needlessly expensive, and peppered with sneaky opportunities to upsell. I knew there had to be a better way to treat clients. But it took me a long time to understand from a servicing perspective where Tuff could be most valuable.

In the first few years with Tuff, I did more cold pitching, outbound prospecting, and sales calls than I have in my entire career. In fact, I had never done sales before. It was a huge learning opportunity. It’s also why I still do sales today even though our team is significantly bigger. Ultimately, there is NO replacement for testing your own messaging in the market. There’s probably a faster way to get there but the result was invaluable. 

We now know with absolute clarity who we are and what we can provide, which not only accelerates the sales process but makes us an effective partner for our clients.

Practical Steps to Creating a Marketing Agency

Those four high-level insights, I would say, are mission critical for growing an agency. As someone who has been in the thick of it, I know that other people’s stories are helpful. I’m willing to be super honest about what it took for me to get to this five-year mark. Here’s a little of what it cost me and some of what didn’t work (and what did), to get Tuff where it is today.

  • I freelanced for almost 8 months so I could afford to get a website up and running, as well as pay salaries for at least three employees for six months. I didn’t want it to be a “chicken and egg” situation, so I banked some capital to float the business launch. 
  • My first hire was a people ops consultant who helped build our career framework and compensation strategy, which is a unique move for an agency owner. This was sheer dumb luck. Most people look at this and think that a people ops consultant isn’t a revenue-generating employee, which is technically true in that they don’t have billable hours. However, the return on investment you get from hiring the right people is the most revenue generating investment you can make. It is a hard decision to make at the beginning, but one I would do over and over again.
  • Over the course of 18 months, we tried about 20 different things to generate a lead pipeline: only one of them worked at scale. For us, there’s a whole laundry list of what didn’t work, including: Outbound Sales, Cold Email, Events / Networking , Workshops, Speaking Opportunities, Partnership, and Sponsorships. To be clear: one of our failed attempts may very well be your money-maker. The point is that we tried a lot until we found a reliable source of lead gen.
  • I want a whole separate point for the timeline, because it is a major reality check for many agency owners looking to scale. If you consider that I first had to save money, then spent 18 months experimenting, Tuff took at least two years finding traction and scale. Now, we have a much steadier growth curve. There are myriad factors that can make this timeline shorter, including owner experience, credibility/name recognition, existing clout or networks, etc. For the rest of us, it just takes time.
  • In the beginning, I said yes to everything, because I learn by doing. We were staying alive and using this ever present “yes” to keep the lights on. That worked for us because it gave us hands-on experience. That said, once we started to grow, we had to unwind those habits. Now, we say “no” quite a bit and are selective about what we work on, but we grew into that. In other words, do what you have to do until you don’t have to do it anymore.

Building a Growth Marketing Agency

Growth marketing helps companies get to their goals faster. An agency that can facilitate it doesn’t succeed with half-formed ideas or untested strategies. If you have the ambition, commit to the process. Your journey won’t be the same as ours, but those four learnings from above probably feel very relatable. For more content like this, check out the rest of the Tuff blog. Whether you’ve been in business for five months — or five years like us (wahoo!) — I wish you all the success in the world.

Why (and How) We Spend $35,000 on Website CRO Each Year

 

We spend $35,000 a year on our website. That’s more than every other marketing tactic combined. 

For a big company that might not sound like much but for Tuff it’s a big deal. 

And as the owner of a growth marketing agency, it’s a tough call to make. Especially when I could reinvest that back into my team and the people responsible for our growth. Or use it to supercharge our reporting. Or build out a new service. 

So, with full intentionality, website conversion rate optimization (CRO) is something we prioritize because it’s the one tactic that has consistently grown our business. 

Disclaimer: we’re by no means claiming that we have the best or most highest-performing website on the block (or even that our process is perfect). But what we are saying is that we dedicate significant time and resources to continually improving our site because it works. Applying this process to incremental site improvements has shown us real, measurable results. And we hope this process can help you do the same!

How We’ve Grown Tuff (and our clients) By Focusing on Website CRO

When it comes to growth marketing, there are two types of tactics we’re focused on: acquisition (getting the right traffic) and conversion (getting that traffic to do something). 

Acquisition channels help you get traffic, which is great. Then what? 

Increasing traffic—especially when that traffic is composed of relevant audiences—is a huge part of your early growth goals and the strategies you put in place to achieve them. Once you’ve figured out the traffic equation, half the battle is over. But that does mean half the battle remains, and that comes down to conversion rate optimization, or CRO.

So when it comes to CRO, we focus in on two main things: 

  • Our website (currently at a 1.09% CVR) 
  • Our sales process 

More to the point:

  • Once someone gets to our website, what happens next?
  • How do you get site visitors to do something?

And also:

  • How do we do our best to answer prospects’ questions in the sales process?
  • How can we give them all the information they need to make an informed decision?

Our 5-Step Website CRO Process

While our website CRO process is now a well-oiled machine, it took us a few years of in-the-weeds hard work to hone and refine it. And, while it still requires a concerted effort to make notable impacts on our CRO month after month, it’s so incredibly important. 

Even if your website is significantly different from ours, or you exist in a totally different industry, this battle-tested process can help anyone improve their site whether you’ve got $35k a year to spend or not. 

  1. Figure out the most important metrics.
  2. Identify areas to optimize.
    • Revisit your competitors and value props 
    • Use conversations with your audience to get better 
    • Study Google Analytics – common paths and top pages 
  3. Make a list of monthly priorities. 
  4. Execute 
  5. Measure, rinse & repeat.

But before we dive deeper, a quick note about our approach. 

With website CRO, there are essentially two approaches to take: 

  1. Make bold changes that will drive more profit and you get fast, measurable results.
  2. Make small, continuous tweaks each month to keep your site strong and lead to incremental increases in conversions over time. 

Both have merit, but the second one is the one we at Tuff are passionate about. Small, ongoing adjustments, implemented fast, give you better CRO results. It’s the one we’re going to focus on for this post. 

Let’s dive in! 

1. Figure out the most important metrics

Before you start outlining updates for your website, make sure you’ve set clear goals you’d like to achieve – even if you don’t have much data to base them on.

For Tuff, we focus on the below metrics and study them monthly: 

  • Conversion rate (CVR): this can exist at numerous stages of the customer journey, but in this instance we’re talking traffic to conversion. Examples include: traffic to purchase (eComm), traffic to sign up (B2B, tech, SaaS), traffic to install (mobile app), etc.
  • Time on site: duration of site visits.
  • Bounce rate: how fast site visitors leave.
  • Entrance page/user journey: which pages get the most entrances? This helps you understand which pages are providing traffic (service pages, blog posts, etc.). You can find common paths and determine which pages to improve as a “first impression.”

CVR is such a key metric because it allows you to reduce costs by getting more out of the traffic that’s already coming to your website. By improving your conversion rate you can increase revenue per visitor and lower your overall customer acquisition costs. Ultimately, there’s a CVR threshold you’ve got to get to in order to be profitable. Part of the challenge is honing in on what exactly that is. 

website conversion rate from google analytics

But let’s start with the basics. Here’s how to measure the impact of increasing your CVR:

  • If a website has a conversion rate of 5% and receives 5000 visitors a month, then the website will generate 250 conversions per month. 
  • If you can improve the conversion rate to 7% by making regular improvements, you jump up to 350 conversions from the exact same amount of traffic. 

It can be hard to know what a “good” conversion rate is and honestly it depends on your stage, service, and revenue but to help, we put together a spreadsheet with the conversion rate for some of the businesses we work with to give you a starting point. 

Once you get familiar with this kind of data, it will help you interpret your own.

2. Identify areas to optimize

The next step is to get your team together and build your user acquisition channels list – write it down, type it out, drop it into Google Sheets, whatever you want to do. Don’t worry if it’s unorganized or sporadic, you can swing back in and restructure it later.

We generate ideas by going to a handful of different places for inspiration: 

  1. Revisit our competitors and value props 
  2. Use conversations with our audience to get better 
  3. Study Google Analytics — common paths and top pages 
    • Entrances!  

Revisit our competitors and value props

We start by pulling up our competitor websites and studying how they articulate their services with copy and design. These findings help us inform/bring detail to:

  • How we position our offering (copy) 
  • How we weave in our value props visually (design) 

Then, we revisit our value props (here’s our value proposition spreadsheet if you want to use it as an example). While our value props don’t change on a monthly basis (we update yearly), we do this because it reminds us of the unique ways we solve a partner’s “problem” and how to stay true to that. 

Use conversations with our audience to get better

This comes pretty easy to us because I manage our website and run our sales team. We get between 50-60 leads per month and have conversations with anywhere from 8-10 of those leads. During these calls, we ask a ton of questions and get asked a ton of questions. 

After each sales call, I write down the major questions and look for patterns. If the same group of questions continues to surface, we start to think about why and then look for ways to incorporate those learnings into the site so that our language reflects what our target audience is actually saying (vs what we think they are saying). 

If the team or person managing your website isn’t close to your sales team or in a position to talk regularly to your target audience, change that! 

Study Google Analytics — common paths and top pages

As a growth marketer, I’m in Google Analytics at least 10 times a day. Every time we get a notification that someone has submitted a form on our website, I jump into GA and take a look at two things: 

  • Where they came from (source) 
  • What they did

This helps me understand how traffic from different sources behaves as well as the most common paths to conversion. We have over 300 pages on our website and we can’t afford to optimize all of them so I use this information to decide what the priority pages should be. 

website entrances from google analytics

We also always look at the entrances (vs pages with the most sessions). This is really important for us because it helps us understand what pages people see for the first time. Is it a blog post? Is it a landing page? Is it our homepage? Again, with this information we can prioritize what people see first and how to guide them through different funnels and paths on the website.  

Using the above information—competitor research, value props, conversations with prospects and existing clients, and Google Analytics—we build a big list of optimization ideas and put those down on paper each month.  

3. Make a list of monthly priorities

So you have a big list, now what?

Even lean testing means an entirely new suite of copy, design, dev resources, and outputs, so it’s important to be intentional about how you and your team spend your time on your website.  

One way to manage your monthly optimization tests and increase the chances of success is to spend time upfront evaluating each proposed update—the idea is to test and get early access to good opportunities, but you can’t do everything.

So we take our list of ideas and ask: 

  • How likely is it to increase our conversion rate?
  • How easy is it to implement the test?
  • Will it have an impact on our site traffic? 

Once we’ve prioritized the 6-7 tasks (one big one and a handful of smaller optimizations) for the month, we add the tasks to our Website Trello Board. 

website optimization trello board

Then, we divide and conquer the work. Right now, we have someone responsible for each of the below roles: 

  • Strategy & Project Management: Responsible for identifying the areas to optimize, prioritizing to-dos, and keeping us on schedule 
  • Copy: Responsible for helping us write copy for the site that captures our value props and tone 
  • Design: Responsible for taking the copy and visualizing it (we use InVision to build wireframes and mocks) 
  • Development: Responsible for building out the mocks in staging and then pushing live

4. Execute

When it comes to website CRO, or any growth marketing tactic for that matter, even the best strategies can fall flat if you don’t see it through with solid execution. We take a very disciplined approach to website CRO and keep our entire team accountable to a schedule that helps us produce higher quality optimizations on a monthly basis. 

Here’s an example of a typical timeline looked like for last month’s website optimization: 

  • Identified June priorities by May 21 
  • Met with web team to review on May 24
  • Finalized copy by June 1 and added to Trello
  • Built wireframes for each optimization 
  • Held first staging period from June 7 – 11 
  • Mid-month check in
  • Held second staging period from June 21 – 25 
  • Identified July priorities by June 22 
  • Final review of June edits 

5. Rinse and repeat

We follow this process every month because we believe action produces momentum and you can speed things up by actively making updates (small and large) each month. It’s a lot of work (it’s more of a time commitment than a financial one) but right now, for us, it’s worth it. 

website wireframes

I also feel like we’re only really scratching the surface and as we grow we will look to iterate and expand on our website CRO process. Here are some of the new things I’m excited about implementing this year that we aren’t currently doing: 

  • Talking to people who came to the site but didn’t fill out a form 
  • Asking people (not people that work at Tuff) to review our competitor sites and give us feedback 
  • Building out wireframes and getting feedback from existing clients before pushing live 

I’d also love to hear what website CRO process your team has been using. What has worked well for you? 

Thanks for reading! I hope you picked up one or two new tips and tricks for your website CRO process. If you want to bounce some ideas or learn more about the process outlined above, let’s talk. 

A screen capture of the homepage of Sabio Coding Bootcamp

From Google Ads to Reddit: How We Tested 7 Different Acquisition Channels to Get Better Applicants for Sabio

A screen capture of the homepage of Sabio Coding Bootcamp

If you’re a founder, you face two major obstacles: 

  1. Finding traction: proving that there’s a sustainable hunger for your product or service.
  2. Scaling: taking your proven concept and bringing it to the masses.  

Together, these two obstacles are an impressive challenge. One we’ve built our business to help founders overcome. Over the past few years we’ve worked with all kinds of different businesses across a range of industries to help them figure this out. 

In this post, we share our experimentation process and the original channels we chose to help an early-stage company acquire new users online. 

The scenario: 

Liliana, CEO of Sabio, approached Tuff in November 2020 with one goal: 

“Can you help us acquire new students for our online coding bootcamp?” 

Sabio has strong product market fit, growing revenue, consistent enrollments, and regularly gets feedback from graduates to refine their course curriculum. For a company at this stage, we knew our biggest opportunity was to test a variety of different channels to see which would bring us the best students (high quality leads) at the most efficient cost. 

 

The entire Tuff Team is amazing, which is no surprise because their leadership is exceptional. Ellen has put together one of the most amazing firms out there, and we are so happy to be working with TUFF.“  – Liliana Monge, CEO, Sabio (Read all Reviews on Google)

 

How to Find the Best Acquisition Channels for Your Business

Acquisition channels are diverse and plenty. With so many options, how can you create a channel strategy that will really accomplish your goals?

The first thing you need to do is focus on your users, not your channels. Who are you trying to get in front of and who is your target audience? Once you have this down on paper, channel selection becomes significantly easier. 

In general, there are two types of targeting options — behavioral based and intent based. When it comes to behavioral targeting, think channels like Facebook and Instagram or TikTok. For these channels, you can get very specific with who you are targeting based on things like age, income, job titles, and interests. Clicks can be cheap and reach can be wide. 

On the flip side, you also have intent based targeting. This could be a channel like Bing, Google, or YouTube. Intent based targeting means you can target based on search terms or people who express some intent to purchase or learn more about a service you might offer. Clicks can be expensive and conversion rates can be extremely high. 

A screen capture of a Sabio alumni testimonial

Our target audience: Post-graduate students between the ages of 21-27 who are looking for a career change. 

Using the above, we looked at 30 different channels and ultimately decided on the below because we knew we’d be able to get in front of this group on each. We also had enough video creative to explore both YouTube and TikTok. 

  • Google 
  • Bing
  • Reddit 
  • Quora 
  • YouTube 
  • Facebook & Instagram
  • TikTok 

Budget and Goals 

We had two options on this account: 

  • Test all seven channels at once 
  • Test one channel at a time 

We decided to test all channels at once for three reasons: 

  1. We have a stacked team of experts. Among our full team of growth marketers we divided the work and put our best strategy and execution into each channel. A smaller team would run into trouble investing enough time and resources into all six channels without dividing resources and diluting focus.
  2. We had a healthy budget. Not every company can afford to actively use more than a handful of channels and, even so, it’s tough to figure out which ones are delivering the right customers. Because we had more than $25,000 a month to allocate to our paid efforts, we decided to test each channel, eliminate under performers, and scale up winners as we learned. 
  3. We had an existing library of strong creative assets. For some intent-based channels like Bing or Google where ads are text-based, you don’t need a big inventory of graphics and videos. But for channels like YouTube, TikTok, and Facebook, you definitely want a library of creative assets to test and optimize. For Sabio, we had at least 15 different videos to support our efforts and knew we were unlikely to see creative fatigue right away. 

TikTok 

TikTok is new and growing fast. Because Sabio had such strong video creative and an active organic audience on TikTok already, we carved out $4,000/month for this channel for initial testing. Here were the initial videos we tested: 

Video 1  |  Video 2   |  Video 3  |  Video 4  |  Video 5

TikTok brought us the most student applications for the lowest CPA. The volume was high but the quality of applicants was average. 

As we continued to optimize on TikTok, three things became extremely important: 

Dayparting 

When we first launched ads on TikTok, all of our daily budget was being spent before 2 p.m. Our hunch was that our audience was most active on TikTok in the evenings, and we were missing valuable impressions. 

We scheduled our ads to be served from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m., and our CPA dropped 34% because of this simple switch. 

Approvals

TikTok’s ad policies are strict, and getting ads approved was definitely a challenge for Sabio, a brand that really exists to help people advance their careers. Sabio’s strongest value props are around potential salary, their tuition program, and job opportunities post-bootcamp. We had to be really strategic with our copy and video to get around some of TikTok’s ad policies. 

Additionally, there are also strict guidelines for the landing page your TikTok ad drives to. Be sure to to study TikTok’s ad policies before launching campaigns to avoid potential disapprovals. 

Pre-Paid  

TikTok requires that advertisers pre pay a balance on their account, instead of retroactively billing the advertiser like other social channels. We quickly learned that it’s important to stay on top of the ad account balance making sure there were plenty of pre-paid funds. 

Every time your account runs out of balance, your campaigns reset and results tend to dip for a day or two as the algorithm re-optimizes. To maintain consistent results, we recommend adding the entire monthly budget to your account at a time instead of small increments.

Twitter 

A screen capture of a Twitter ad "what is the difference between HTML and CSS?"

While only about 5% of all Tuff clients explore Twitter as a paid acquisition channel, because of the handle and hashtag targeting capabilities, we knew we needed to test this out and see if we could find potential developers and engineers. Here’s what this setup looked like: 

  • Optimized the campaigns for traffic 
  • Daily Budget: $95
  • Audiences: 
    • Career Switch
    • Women in STEM
    • Coding Interests
    • Gaming Interests
  • CPC: $1.51 

We tested several ad creatives on Twitter to see what would perform the best and we found that video ads had a 58% lower CPC but yielded lower quality site traffic compared to images and graphics. We optimized our campaigns so that the majority of our Twitter spend went to the top performing image ads. 

While we had a few applicants come in during the first four weeks, we ultimately decided to kill this channel after six weeks of testing. The CPA was high, bounce rate high, and time on site was extremely low. We ditched it and reallocated the funds to Google and Bing.

Google Ads 

a screen capture of a Google Search Ad "Pay $0 until you get a job"

For almost any business that gets searched online, Google Ads is a no brainer. For this channel, Sabio was already running campaigns and our big focus as a team was to get into the account and clean it up so that we could more efficiently drive scale. Almost immediately, we were able to find some quick wins. 

We quickly noticed that over 75% of the conversions from Google Search campaigns in the previous three months had come from branded terms. Although branded search is a critical component to most brand’s search campaign structure, we knew that we needed to expand into non-branded campaigns to increase the volume of applications for Sabio. 

Our initial keyword research also uncovered significant opportunities to add highly-targeted, long tail keywords into our campaigns. With high volume projected on these long tail keywords, we were able to stick primarily to exact-match targeting while also removing previous non-branded broad match keywords that were wasting a significant portion of the search campaign budget. 

Over time, our keyword list has shrunk as we have gathered data, reviewed the search terms reports, and honed in on the exact terms we need to focus on as exact-match keywords.

A table showcasing cost, clicks, CPC, and more data for Sabio Google Ads performance

Overall, our strategy on Google has been simple but effective:

  • Avoid wasteful broad-match terms and general search queries by targeting long tail keywords
  • Break out campaigns by location-focused KWs vs. remote to match the structure of the search and the website 
  • Create and break out a branded search campaign to capture all Sabio searches optimized for impression share

Within three months, we’ve been able to decrease the CPA by 36% while almost doubling the total amount of leads just by finding ways to eliminate waste. 

Bing Ads 

We think about Bing ads in a very similar way to Google. The intent is high and the searchers are already looking for a solution similar to Sabio. 

The interesting thing about Bing is that it can be cheaper and less crowded. If we can get results on Google, we can almost guarantee that we’ll see the same results on Bing

For Sabio, not the case. Bing was expensive and low scale. We tested for three months and ended up reallocating the spend elsewhere for Q2 based on initial learnings. In comparison, here’s what the costs looked like across both channels for the final two months of testing: 

A chart showcasing how Google Ads was a stronger performer than Bing for Sabio

Although CPCs were slightly cheaper on Bing for the same keywords, the traffic quality was not nearly as strong as Google, resulting in Cost Per Application over 2x that of Google Search, and a conversion rate less than half.

With these results and sufficient testing spend already having been allocated to Bing, moving future funds over to other channels with lower conversion costs made sense. 

Reddit 

A screen capture of a Reddit ad "Score a $100k job, then pay tuition"

Reddit is a smart strategy for very select, specific, and niche companies. It’s not a channel for everyone. 

While we ended up killing Reddit after two months, we wanted to try this channel because we knew we could get ads (for a very low cost) in front of a specific audience and relevant subreddits. 

Our big focus on Reddit was to get our campaign structure right. To do this, we started by split testing two different objectives: Traffic and Brand Awareness/Reach. 

Like other social platforms, we wanted to test both campaign objectives to analyze how the metrics would truly shake out. For example, would the Traffic objective yield more clicks and lower CPCs as it is intended to? Or would our testing show that Brand Awareness was actually a better option for getting traffic from Reddit?

Interestingly, in our final month of testing, the Brand Awareness objective campaign outperformed the Traffic objective campaign in both of these top level metrics, yielding lower CPCs at about half the cost of the Traffic objective campaign, as well as a higher CTR. Without testing, we could very easily have assumed that the Traffic objective campaign would have been more effective at driving traffic, although the results tell a different story in this case.

A chart showcasing Reddit performance for Sabio

We also decided to target four different subreddits: r/earnprogramming, r/coding, r/codinghelp, r/codingbootcamp. Over time we dropped the low performers and added in new subreddits for testing. 

We also got specific with our creative. We didn’t want the ads to stand out on Reddit. We were constantly rotating in new creative ways depending on success from other channels. 

Ultimately, we killed the channel due to low performance but here’s a look at the data to get an idea on how this might compare to a more traditional channel like Facebook or Google: 

  • Spend: $1,707
  • Traffic: 1,839
  • CPC: $0.82
  • Applications: 10 
  • CPA: $170
  • CVR: 0.54% 

Facebook & Instagram

A screen capture of a Facebook ad for Sabio "Hesitant to invest in your future?" A screen capture of an Instagram ad for Sabio "Your six-figure career in tech begins now"

While we originally thought Facebook and Instagram ads would be an incredible channel for retargeting, it proved successful for both prospecting and retargeting, bringing us some our lowest CPAs. 

Similar to other channels, our success was dependent on our optimization strategy. When we took over the account, the majority of the campaigns were being optimized for traffic. Within the first week, after configuring conversion goals and events within Facebook, we started testing out campaigns optimized for conversions. For Sabio, this meant a user clicking on an ad and filling out a form on the website. The results were drastic. Not only did the conversion-optimized campaigns drive more leads but the traffic was significantly higher quality when we analyzed the performance of each ad creative in Google Analytics. 

Here’s how this works: 

Your optimization strategy plays a significant role in performance on Facebook and Instagram. Audiences on the channel are typically millions of users in size, and it’s the algorithm’s job to prioritize who out of that audience will see your ad. By choosing certain optimizations (like conversions for example), you’re essentially telling the algorithm to go out and find users most likely to take that action (like filling out a Sabio application).

But in order for that to work properly, the conversion event has to have enough data to help the algorithm prioritize users in your audience. For some brands, there just isn’t enough conversion data available on their Facebook pixel to optimize for lower funnel events, and it’s better to optimize for traffic instead. 

Facebook—along with TikTok—is now fueling two areas of our marketing funnel for Sabio. We’ve allocated spend to prospecting audiences on both channels to drive new traffic to the website as well as spend around 30% of the budget on retargeting campaigns to drive traffic back to the site to convert. These social channels sandwich our PPC campaigns on Google, YouTube, and Bing. 

YouTube Ads

A YouTube Ad for Sabio on mobile A YouTube ad for Sabio: "Learn to code."

Last but not least, YouTube ads. This is one of the fastest growing channels and a personal favorite at Tuff. 

For context, a few years ago (2019ish) maybe 10% of our clients were advertising on YouTube. Fast forward to today, almost every client we work with is actively running YouTube campaigns or has tested out the channel. 

YouTube is great for so many reasons but in particular it can supercharge results for brands that have solid video assets because of the targeting capabilities. YouTube is like a hybrid of Google Ads (intent-based targeting) and Facebook Ads (behavioral-based targeting). You can get extremely specific with who you serve your ads to based on their actual search history and you can also leverage high-converting visual creative assets to reach them. It’s the best of both worlds. 

For YouTube, we tested Video Action Campaigns and YouTube In-Stream Prospecting – the In-Stream tanked and we killed it quick. The Video Action campaigns were, and have continued to be, super effective. 

We tested multiple videos and quickly isolated top performers in order to lower cost and drive up quality. Here’s an example of a two-week creative test in which we sought to understand which video would resonate the most (and drive conversions): 

A chart showcasing how different video creative assets drive very different results on YouTube

After isolating creative and campaign type, we then shifted our focus to additional targeting optimizations. Within a few weeks, we were able to test targeting placements and channel placements, discovering that for this unique account, topics are significantly more effective than channels. Here’s a peek: 

  • Topics = $46.24 CPA
  • Channels = $281 CPA

After this, we layered on retargeting and have continue to optimize the follow areas to improve performance: 

  • Campaign Type 
  • Audience Targeting 
  • Creative 

What’s next? Strategy for Q2 

We started our partnership with Sabio at the end of 2020 and we’re actively building on our strategy for Q2. Our mission stays the same: Can we drive more applications on the Sabio website at an efficient cost? 

Based on our learnings from the last three months, here our some of the initial optimizations we plan to apply to our next round of campaigns as a team: 

  • Allocate at least 50-60% to the intent-based channels (they’re higher cost but higher quality)
  • Kill Reddit, Bing, and Twitter. Move forward with TikTok, Google Ads, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube
  • Continue to work on attribution so we can get an even better understanding of quality (vs quantity) 
  • Test two new channels: LinkedIn and Snapchat (stay tuned!) 

As we’ve outlined above, the first step is defining the user acquisition channels that will or have the biggest impact on growth, and working tirelessly to test and validate the combination that will have the biggest impact on your business. It can seem overwhelming at the start, but testing and optimization should become part of your growth DNA. What might seem like a steep learning curve will turn into a path with long-term payoff when you get it right.

 

Elle Ossello

Tuff Growth Marketer, Elle, on Finding a Balance of Creative and Analytical

Elle Ossello

 

Meet Elle, a Growth Marketer at Tuff. Elle partners with Tuff clients to build measurable, data-driven, bottomline growth. She is also an incredibly talented wordsmith, teaching us new words on the reg.

Below she shares about her journey to growth marketing rooted in creative, her connection to bikes, and the cookbook she’s currently dreaming about writing.

Can you tell me a bit about your 3-5 years before Tuff? What were you working on? 

All of the five preceding years before Tuff, I was working as a Copywriter and then Creative Director at a creative-first advertising agency. So, with all the projects that came in the door, we applied our creative lens first and then we were thinking about how to activate that creative. 

All of my coworkers were really great creatives and really big thinkers. And, we would often defer to outside experts to bring our strategies down to earth. So, with Tuff, that was a muscle that I was looking to flex more.

Why did you decide to join Tuff? What was it that made you say ‘yes’?

I was fortunate to have a peek behind the curtain. When I was working at my old agency we had the opportunity to freelance, which is something that is needed in the creative world. I was able to take on clients and run my own small business after hours. And, I was approached by Tuff to help out with paid ad copy. 

I was really impressed by how Tuff is organized, efficient, and has a very clear vision for what creative is going to do. When I saw that there was a job opening for Growth Marketer at Tuff, I knew there were some skills that would need tuning in my toolkit. But Ellen was very encouraging and helped me understand that the creative foundation that I would bring was something that Tuff could use. 

So, the main reason I came on to Tuff was Ellen’s support helping me visualize a path towards being successful in this role. And then the resources that I was granted to kick this skill building off at lightspeed. I clearly saw this path to building a skill set that is valuable in the market and can really help small businesses.

What have you been working on since you joined Tuff? 

Right now I am working with two clients; kind of two and a half as I co-pilot a client with Ellen that will eventually transition into a full-time client of mine. 

One of the clients I’m working with is Joyn. They’re an amazing company with a great vision that’s providing a subscription for a more inclusive way to get a workout in. We’re seeing some neat growth for them which is cool because they’re doing a lot internally to grow as well. 

I’m also working with Offline. They’re also a subscription-based service in Raleigh. On the 1st of every month, Offline sends an email to their subscribers to introduce them to 1-2 local restaurants along with a discount to go check them out. It’s been great helping them to better understand the user journey on their website.

What are you fired up about at work right now? 

Content Marketing and Organic Growth is where a lot of my eagerness to dive deeper is stemming from right now. We’re having this conversation the day after our new Content Marketing Manager has signed his offer letter so I’m really looking forward to working with him on these areas. And, helping our clients understand how their audience finds their websites and how to provide a smart answer at the right time, in the right place. 

Elle Ossello

What advice would you give to a founder who is also diving into learning more about growth marketing?

Often when somebody is first starting their business they obsess about logo and visual branding because they are so tangible. It is a concrete way to show up in the world. But, I’m putting together a presentation right now for a client to first answer the questions: what are you creating and who wants it? How can you bring those people to your business? 

Brand and creative only goes so far because you’re kind of throwing it into the world and hoping people are going to find it and connect. Growth marketing is a different exercise in showing up where people already exist. You’re not asking them to move towards your brand but giving them something while they’re in a space to receive it. 

In general, for founders, I think growth marketing can feel like something that just comes later when there is a budget for it. But it can teach you so much about where people are in the world right now and when they’re in need of what you have to offer. 

What do you like doing outside of work? 

I love bikes. Bikes are a vehicle for not only being out in the world and moving through it in a way that’s just so gratifying but there’s a connection component. I love pedaling with friends and letting the topics flow. I use bikes as a way to connect to myself in the world and my people. I’m lucky to live in a town that has back trails snaking through it. 

I also love gardening and home projects, you know, essential 30-year old things. I like learning how to use new tools and how to have a vision for a space and bring it to life. Stretching my brain in ways that are really tactile is gratifying as a person who sits in front of a computer. Cooking also scratches that itch for me. I love experimenting with recipes and have been compiling the beginnings of a cookbook aimed at helping people create beautiful dishes using what they grow themselves – that’s a bucket list item for me. 

And, of course, my dogs and husband are my favorite parts of life outside of work!

What is something about you that typically surprises people? 

My impression of myself is that I’m a super open book. I love to walk through my thinking so there is rarely a scenario where somebody asks me ‘well, how did you come to that conclusion?’ and I would be protective of that answer. I am always eagerly willing to share it.

What advice would you give to someone who is looking to make that transition from a more creative marketing to a more analytical role?

Something I could have done better in my time spent working in the creative world is really thinking about and empathizing with the immediate problems and motivations of a founder. A brand voice is a really nice thing to have and I’ve seen clients glow and get goosebumps when you get it right. It’s amazing. 

However, I think there’s a wrinkle between giving people great creative, and then understanding how to use it to grow their business. Turning that brand voice into value propositions, which can be picked off the paper and put onto a landing page, is something that’s really helpful. So, practice thinking about the immediate problems that founders are trying to solve and deliver creative in a way that can be put to work with minimal legwork.

Tuff’s Social Ads Strategist, Kristin, on A/B Testing Ads and Smoked Chicken Recipes

Meet Kristin, a Social Ads Strategist at Tuff. Kristin partners with Tuff clients and social media platforms to build measurable, data-driven, bottom line growth.  

Below she shares about her love for numbers, her first-place grade school science fair projects, and advice for people getting started with running ads on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and more. 

 

Can you tell me a bit about your 3-5 years before Tuff? What were you working on? 

My whole career has been at different advertising agencies. 

I started out at a small agency where I dove in as the first full-time hire. I loved it. That’s where I got my start in organic social media, making content calendars, scheduling posts and all that fun stuff. I learned SO much. We worked with a handful of really large clients who were spending upwards of  $85K a month on Facebook ads, so I was able to learn a ton really quickly through that experience. 

Much of my agency experience had revolved around organic social media marketing and creating content with consumption on social media in mind. But I found myself looking for freelance work and opportunities to help other teams run paid social ads. I’m a numbers and spreadsheets sort of gal, so this focus on content creation early on in my career really pushed me out of my comfort zone.

I learned so much about creating content, but ultimately I wanted to get back into a role focused on paid acquisition – like what I’m now doing at Tuff! I love working in a startup environment on a smaller team where you get to wear a ton of hats, learn daily from your peers, and do what it takes to get a project done. 

Why did you decide to join Tuff? What was it that made you say ‘yes’?

Many years down the road (if I could ever get the guts to do it!), I would love to own my own business. That’s a big dream of mine, so mentorship was a big factor when I decided to join Tuff. When I met Ellen in my first interview, I knew I’d be able to learn so much from her on how she’s grown her business.

I also want to grow my skill set in other digital marketing areas. I have a strong background in social, but I was hoping to find an opportunity to work closely alongside other marketing disciplines. At Tuff, I get to work closely with other channel specialists like Chris and Derek to learn more about what they are so great at. I’ve already picked up so many little nuggets, just from being in meetings with them. 

 

What have you been working on since you joined Tuff? 

I have been building a LOT of Facebook ads! I currently work with nine clients, so onboarding included learning about their businesses, learning the processes at Tuff, and then implementing social ad campaigns to help achieve their goals. 

Another big project that I tackled was building out a paid social training course! It’s about five hours long, and will help us teach future and current employees how we run social ads here at Tuff. 

What is it about paid social that gets you fired up? 

I really like A/B testing. 

I always have. When I was in elementary school, I would go all out for science fair projects. (I’m a little competitive… and by a little, I mean A LOT.)  For one science fair project, I made everyone I knew take a test to see which side of their body – right or left – was dominate. It was like 25 different exercises, and I meticulously recorded all of the data in a little notebook. I took home the blue first place ribbon that year. 

I like to treat paid social campaigns kinda like my elementary school science fair project (but without all the exercises). You can tell quickly what’s working and what’s not. I find testing audiences and creative to be super interesting – especially when what I assume won’t work is among the top performers. 

What has your experience been like working for a fully remote team?

I love it. I feel more in control of my workday when I work from home, and I love not having to commute to an office. My legging collection has increased tenfold, but who needs real pants anyways? 

What do you like doing outside of work? 

In the summers, we spend a ton of time at the lake on our boat! I have a one-year-old son, Liam, who keeps me busy. When I’m not chasing him, I’m usually throwing a frisbee to our two dogs. 

I also love to cook, bake, and entertain! With COVID and quarantining, we really haven’t gotten to entertain as much this year, but I’ve had a lot of time to try new recipes. One of our pandemic purchases has been an electric smoker, and I can make some mean smoked chicken wings. 

What is something about you that typically surprises people? 

I poke fun at people (lovingly) and pranks are my thing. I grew up in Tennessee and that’s just part of how my family has always expressed ourselves. That’s been one of the more interesting parts of working remotely – learning how to implement my communication style via Slack and through Zoom calls without a ton of body language. GIFs are emojis help me out though! 

What is your best advice for people looking to get into social ads? 

Read, read, read as much as you can! Social ads are constantly changing – from creative best practices and trends to tiny nuances in Facebook Ads Manager. A few of my favorite social ads gurus are John Loomer and Neil Patel – they’re both transparent with their data and constantly post content about the latest updates. 

When you work in social media, it’s easy to be glued to your phone. I know I constantly feel the need to keep up with all the latest trends. Recently, I read a stat that on average, Americans have 8 social networking apps downloaded on their phone and spend upwards of 3 hours a day on them. WHAT.

You have to find a happy medium so you stay up to date without burning out or missing time with your friends and family. I like to devote time each week for researching trends, and I have screen time limits set up on my phone. 

DSW banner

DSW: How to Run Marketing Experiments Quickly and Find Big Wins

Presentation at Denver Startup week.

With Tuff, I’ve been fortunate to work with a range of companies in completely different stages of their marketing maturity. 

Even with the diversity in stage and industry, one step is always the same: creating a clear growth marketing strategy.

A growth marketing strategy is a high-level list of what tactics we’re going to test first, based on what is most likely to succeed. It’s a document that keeps you focused and working day-to-day on the things that have the highest impact on your business. 

For Denver Startup Week, I shared the process we’ve shaped, iterated, and battle-tested over the last few years with 50 different companies. This process helps small businesses and startups prioritize high-impact growth campaigns to quickly drive R.O.I. and key learnings, then invest in additional campaigns to scale up what works. 

Whether you tuned in for the live session, watched the recording, or stumbled across this blog post, here are all the documents I discussed in the presentation: 

DSW Slides & Presentation Deck 

tuff growth marketing presentation

 

Tuff’s Growth Marketing Process Spreadsheet 

tuff growth marketing spreadsheet

 

Acquisition Channel Cheat Sheet 

channel acquisition spreadsheet

 

While you’re here, I’d also recommend checking out the rest of the Tuff blog, giving us a shout on Twitter, or subscribing to our Tuff YouTube channel

We’re also actively hiring at Tuff. Check out our open positions here – if you or anyone you know would be a good fit, let us know!

Have questions from the presentation? Shoot me a note on LinkedIn or drop an email to ellen@tuffgrowth.com.

 

Man typing on his computer.

15 LinkedIn Advertising Stats to Get You Started Today

Man typing on his computer.

Whether it’s Twitter, Youtube, Snapchat, or Facebook, each major social media outlet has its own audience, targeting, ad formats, and process.  

As a business owner or marketer, one of the most important choices you can make is identifying the right channel and tactic for your audience. Exposure in the world of paid acquisition does not come cheap, and you must make sure that your advertising reaches the right audience. For businesses that wish to target business professionals or promote B2B content, LinkedIn advertising stands as a preeminent choice. 

Why LinkedIn Advertising?

The venerable LinkedIn launched at the end of 2002, more than a year before Facebook. Since then, it has grown tremendously to become one of the leading social media platforms in the world. It has also carved out a unique niche for itself. While sites like Facebook and Twitter cater to any use whatsoever, LinkedIn remains dedicated to a professional network. As a result, it has a clearly defined user base that relies upon the site for important things like job searches and professional development. 

Despite these qualities, LinkedIn’s advertising opportunities often get overlooked. This can represent an egregious oversight on the part of a marketer, as LinkedIn advertising can prove massively successful for the right type of business. Its large membership aside, LinkedIn offers several benefits that clearly distinguish it from other channels.

Let’s take a look! 

The Benefits of Advertising on LinkedIn

Many people use social media almost exclusively to share their personal information. Whether it’s vacation photos, or your personal opinions on the future of democracy, sites like Facebook offer a forum where users broadcast a steady stream of personal data. LinkedIn offers a singular advantage in this regard. Though users on other platforms share insights into their personalities, daily lives, beliefs, habits, and preferences, they rarely reveal their work history or place of employment. In fact, many people actively keep their career and social media presence squarely separate.

With LinkedIn Ads, your company gets access to accurate data about a sizable professional audience. Among other things, LinkedIn shares info about location, work position, prior work experience, professional skills, and education. This sort of information is a goldmine for savvy marketers, as it allows them to identify specific demographics for the effective placement of ads and content. When you launch a LinkedIn advertising campaign, you can choose among targeting options that include:

  • Location
  • Job Title
  • Company Name
  • Industry
  • Degree
  • Professional Interests
  • And more

LinkedIn also allows for variability in content. LinkedIn’s ad options allow you to choose between the best type of media to engage your audience, whether it’s text, video, or images. LinkedIn advertising also offers a variety of formats, including email and carousel ads.

For proof of LinkedIn’s success as a marketing forum, you need simply look at the statistics. These 15 LinkedIn advertising stats not only showcase the potential of this social media mainstay, but also whether it represents the right choice for your investment.

Vast Exposure

LinkedIn’s membership is massive. The social networking giant has over 660 million users, about half of which access the site regularly. Of that number, 40 percent use LinkedIn on a daily basis. Many users visit the site multiple times a day for content, messaging, networking, job searches, profile management, and other purposes. In addition to its individual users, LinkedIn also has membership from 30 million companies. The vast size of this network means that ads on LinkedIn can reach a staggering 12 percent of the world’s entire population.

The Promise of Growth

Since 2003, LinkedIn has grown at an astronomical pace. The site started off well, and amassed 1.6 million members shortly after its launch. In 2011, when LinkedIn had 160 million members, it went public. This lured a massive influx of new sign-ups, and the LinkedIn user base nearly tripled. As for continued growth, consider this: for every second that you spend reading this sentence, LinkedIn has acquired more than two new members. That works out to nearly 173,000 new users each and every day, and 62 million additions every year. 

A Professional Audience

Of this user base, the 303 million who use LinkedIn regularly are active and engaged professionals. When you consider that a major purpose of LinkedIn is to connect business professionals for career development, it’s not surprising that the site’s users tend to be mature, accomplished adults. 

Danielle Hollembaek is a marketing professional for Minute Suites, which offers air travelers private retreats in terminals around the country. She has used LinkedIn Ads to great success in the growth of her business.

“We have really focused on growing our LinkedIn audience. Through the use of LinkedIn advertising, we expanded our reach almost 1,000 followers in less than 6 months,” says Hollembaek. “Frequent flyers, business travelers, and business professionals were our main targets. With an investment of $1,000, we saw almost 223,000 impressions and 950 clicks to our website.”

The Cream of the Crop

If you break down LinkedIn’s membership, you’ll see that most users are over the age of 35. The most common age falls between 46 and 55, a range that should capture the focus of almost any advertiser. This is the age when many people attain the pinnacle of their professional achievement. If you analyze the income of U.S. adults organized into 5-year age groups, people between 50 and 54 make more money than anyone else. What’s more, the average CEO of a Fortune 500 company is 58. In other words, if you want to aim your marketing at people who have some money to spend, LinkedIn advertising is the way to go.

The Go-Getters

While most LinkedIn users are older, that doesn’t mean millennials consider the site irrelevant. Users between the ages of 25 and 34 represent one of the most rapidly growing segments of LinkedIn’s membership. This is another excellent demographic for marketing, as young professionals have a lot of purchasing power and room to grow in their careers. As of 2020, millennials count for an astonishing 50 percent of the U.S. workforce. As the engine of our economy, this age group presents a gold mine of prospects readily accessible through LinkedIn advertising.

A Trusted Source

Advertising does much better when it appears in a respected forum. Among 91 percent of marketing executives, LinkedIn rules the roost as the most trusted source for quality content. Twitter, on the other hand, only gets approval from 29 percent of marketing executives, while Facebook inspires confidence among only 27 percent. 

Equal Opportunity Advertising

If you want to reach a general audience reflective of the actual population, LinkedIn once again presents a way. Many social media sites skew toward men or women. For example, Facebook has more female users than male, while most YouTube users are men. LinkedIn, on the other hand, is split right down the middle, with virtually identical numbers of male and female members.

Influence the Influencers

Advertising on LinkedIn reaches a very different audience than on other social media platforms. An incredible one-third of LinkedIn’s users have positions of authority and count as upper management in the place of their employment. In 2019, LinkedIn could count among its users 90 million influencers of senior-level position, 63 million decision makers, 17 million industry opinion leaders, 40 million mass affluent professionals, and 10 million C-level executives.

The Dominant Channel for Content Distribution

LinkedIn has proven so successful for B2B marketers, that nearly every professional in the fields employs it for content distribution. An incredible 97 percent of B2B marketers use LinkedIn as their main outlet channel. This number, calculated in 2018, represented a 3 percent increase from the previous year. The second-most popular platform for B2B content, Twitter, actually saw a 2 percent decline over that same period of time.

High Returns for B2B

Among B2B marketing professionals, 58 percent identify LinkedIn Ads as producing a high return on investment. Emarketer’s ROI stats show that, along with Facebook, LinkedIn represents the top choice among social media platforms for value derived from paid advertising. Twitter comes in at third in this regard. According to this research, YouTube, despite its massive number of users, is four times less effective than LinkedIn for B2B marketing.

The B2B Social Media Leader

Another B2B-related statistic concerns LinkenIn’s dominance among social media leads. LinkedIn not only has a high lead conversion rate, but also accounts for an incredible 80 percent of all B2B social media leads. Facebook, by comparison, generates a paltry 6.73 percent of B2B leads.

The Top Choice for Content Marketing

If you plan to create and distribute B2B-related content, LinkedIn advertising is an indispensable forum. The vast majority of professional B2B marketers, nearly 80 percent of them, identify LinkedIn as the most effective choice for content marketing across social media. This puts LinkedIn far ahead of its rivals Facebook and Twitter, which respectively see use from only 42 and 48 percent of B2B marketers.

Global Traction

While the United States represents LinkedIn’s biggest individual market, 70 percent of the network’s total users live elsewhere in the world. This type of global reach is indispensable in the world of ecommerce. In addition to its 167 million users who reside in the U.S., LinkedIn boasts 211 million European members and 179 million from Asia-Pacific. Available in 24 languages, LinkedIn advertising allows marketers to reach across borders into practically any market they want.

The Impact of InMail

Anyone who does email marketing knows that most people will simply ignore their message. LinkedIn’s InMail, however, has a remarkable open rate of nearly 52 percent. How does this compare to normal email campaigns? According to data from MailChimp, only 21.3 percent of email advertisements garner so much as a glance. InMail, on the other hand, connects more than half the time. This type of LinkedIn advertising can prove particularly effective among the busy decision-makers in companies and sectors you want to target.  

Carol Li is the growth marketer and co-founder of CocoFax, a secure and reliable online fax service. She has seen great success with the use of InMail.

“Sponsored InMail is highly personalized, due to the fact that you are sending a direct message to a LinkedIn user who is in your target audience,” says Li. “With LinkedIn, you can do this to reach high-quality audiences such as target influencers, decision-makers, and business executives.”

LinkedIn Advertising Will Only Get Better

As of 2019, the steady growth of LinkedIn, along with its proven ROI for advertising, led 42 percent of marketing professionals to increase their investment in the service. This showcases a great deal of confidence in LinkedIn advertising, along with faith that returns will continue to grow in pace with the network’s community of users.  

One final thing: money matters in advertising. You need your marketing investment to generate a measurable return, and every dollar spent ineffectually can represent untold amounts of lost revenue. 

 

Man walking into building.

LinkedIn Advertising in 2020: LinkedIn Ad Examples From Tuff Clients

Man walking into building.

LinkedIn advertising has been quickly gaining momentum as a critical tactic for our clients at Tuff —and for good reason.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter, and Google, with LinkedIn advertising, you can connect with granular, business-oriented audiences with targeted copy and creative. It’s no wonder advertising on LinkedIn expanded 36.5% to $1.58 billion in 2019. The LinkedIn ad stats are, to say the least, very impressive. 

At Tuff, we’ve known the value of a comprehensive LinkedIn ad strategy for the last couple of years. We ran our first LinkedIn advertising campaign back in March 2017 and are still actively running campaigns for clients today. 

Example of a LinkedIn ad.

This is the first campaign we ran (ever!) on LinkedIn. It looks a little out-dated now but back then it was CUTTING-EDGE stuff.

We’re also willing to bet that LinkedIn will continue to grow throughout 2020 and beyond, especially as LinkedIn advertising features continue to improve and advance to match the same level of sophistication as other paid acquisitions channels. 

That’s why we recommend LinkedIn display ads to a variety of our partners, B2B, SaaS, and eCommerce, especially those with valuable content, brand awareness goals, or leads to collect.  

In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the LinkedIn ad campaigns we have run so far in 2020 alongside our partners. 

Follower Growth for CITI Program

CITI Program offers research ethics and compliance training for organizations like Harvard University, as well as ad hoc courses for individuals. When an organization subscribes to CITI Program, the annual base fee starts at $4,500 and scales from there. 

Example of a LinkedIn ad

We’ve been working with their team since October 2019 — and our focus has been on running campaigns and testing new channels to drive traffic and get more organizations to subscribe on their website. Our core channel mix includes Bing, Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn. 

For LinkedIn, we’ve leveraged the Sponsored Content ad format with a focus on three core objectives: 

  • Generating leads by sending highly targeted traffic to a landing page 
  • Increasing qualified traffic to posts or pages
  • Boosting follower total

For CITI, our best results have come from our campaigns that focus on follower count, which to be honest, was surprising to our entire team. Out of all the paid channels, LinkedIn is the most expensive, which means if you’re going to put your ad dollars here you typically need solid ROI numbers and last-click attribution data that signals this channel is worth the high sticker price. 

Follower ad on LinkedIn

Optimizing campaigns for followers works well for CITI because the buying cycle is long, sometimes up to 6+ months. With very specific job titles and email list uploads, we can grow the brand’s followers on LinkedIn with highly-targeted leads. From there, the sales team at CITI can develop a relationship with these followers and slowly move them down the funnel.  

For these LinkedIn lead gen campaigns to be successful, we knew it was important to nail the targeting. We were able to serve ads to key employees of target institutions that were not yet CITI Program subscribers. For these campaigns, we tested three different types of targeting: 

  • Saved Audiences: Company,  job seniority, job title, Groups
  • Lookalike Audiences- build audiences that look like your current customers
  • Nudge people in the funnel; Email List – Institutional contacts not yet subscribed 

Audience targeting options on LinkedIn.

This isn’t a strategy that is applicable to everyone (we’re paying almost $5 per quality follower!) but for CITI, it’s been one of their best performing campaign types.  

Demos for ThalamusGME

ThalamusGME is a digital interviewing software specifically designed for application to graduate medical education (GME) training programs. 

We’ve been working with their team since March 2019 and our focus has been on running campaigns that drive more demo sign-ups on the websites. Our core channel mix includes Bing, Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn. 

Example of a LinkedIn ad.

For Thalamus, we’ve seen the most success with Sponsored Content campaigns with a “Book Demo” CTA – and similar to CITI Program, the keys to our success have been in the targeting. For Thalamus LinkedIn ads, unlike Facebook or Google, we can target Residency Coordinators and key Program Managers at specific hospitals, making this a key channel for us.

Example of LinkedIn Ads reporting.

With these particular campaigns, we’ve experimented with optimizing for demos as well as landing page views and the results are almost identical. This screengrab from the ad account is a 7 day period – the top campaign was optimized for demos and the bottom for landing page views. The landing page views campaign was slightly cheaper ($1.21 per visit vs $1.34) but the onsite metrics (time on site, pages viewed, bounce rate) were almost identical. As of now, we’re still experimenting with both optimization objectives. 

LinkedIn Lead Generation for Xendoo 

Xendoo is a small business bookkeeping and accounting service. We’ve been working with this team for over three years and testing campaigns on almost every single platform. 

For the last two years, we’ve intermittently run campaigns on LinkedIn with a variety of objectives. We promoted webinars, boosted posts for engagement, grew the follower count, and sent sponsored in-mail for more direct lead generation. 

Out of all our campaigns, one of the areas we’ve seen the best success is with Sponsored In-Mail. This can work well for B2B and SaaS if you’ve already seen success with cold email outreach or if you have a specific, well-defined list of prospects. 

LinkedIn lead gen ad example.

When it comes to Sponsored In-Mail it takes a few weeks to really find traction. We ran this particular campaign (see above) for 30 days. Here’s what the stats looked like: 

  • Spend:$500 
  • Clicks: 271
  • CPC: $1.85
  • CTR: 43.71%

The key to Sponsored In Mail, like cold email, is the message. We had tested a variety of different CTAs on the website (and in other ads) and knew that the ‘Free Consultation’ was the most popular. We honed in on Xendoo’s USP and really channeled their target audience to craft the right message, which is why the CTR was so high.  

We love experimenting on LinkedIn to get results for our clients and are excited to see the channel continue to grow. 

It’s important to note that with these three examples, the clients all have higher acceptable CACs (in the $250-500 range) with over $3k LTVs. When it comes to LinkedIn advertising, you need big budgets, higher LTV, and an acceptable CAC above $300. It’s expensive, tricky, and is an easy place to waste money, especially if you’re a bootstrapped startup. This isn’t where you want to invest a bunch of resources if you haven’t already tested on other channels. 

That said, with the right targeting and ad budgets, we’ve seen consistent results with LinkedIn.