There are core two parts to a growth strategy – acquisition channels and conversion rate optimization. We’ll dig into both.
So…how do you build a growth marketing strategy?
There are core two parts to a growth strategy – acquisition channels and conversion rate optimization. We’ll dig into both.
“If you’re early in your business, finding growth channels is about traction.”
When it comes to driving more traffic and revenue online with growth marketing, the big challenge is how to scale and which marketing channels will help you grow fastest. With limited time, money, and people, you can’t afford to waste it on strategies and tactics that are sub-optimal.
Instead, you need to work day-to-day on the things that have the highest impact on your revenue. But how do you do that? How do you build a smart testing strategy? How do you decide what channels are best for your business? What should your traffic mix really look like? These are questions that I get everyday working with early-stage startups and scales up.
So, in this section, we’re going to share details about all the major acquisition channels. Why?
Once you understand all the major acquisition channels, you can quickly pattern-match the ones that are a fit for your product.
To start, here’s what we’ll look at:
Let’s talk about each of these.
If you jump into any Google Analytics account (the Tuff team is currently connected to 30), you’ll find a mix of traffic coming from five core sources.
The five ways you’re going to get online traffic are:
The mix of traffic depends on your company stage. In the beginning, in order to get any traffic, you’ll likely rely on paid and email. Over time, not only will you get more traffic, but you’ll also start to see organic and referral traffic creep up as a core piece of the mix.
Here’s how we think about each of these traffic sources:
While emails, direct traffic and referrals are all going to have their place in the larger ecosystem of your traffic mix, paid traffic and organic traffic are the twin planets where most of your growth marketing occurs.
Let’s keep rolling through this and talk about paid channels, organic growth and how to evaluate everything.
Growth marketing is all about attracting and engaging more customers. And paid channels are one of the fastest ways you do it.
With a giant internal library of channels to pull from, and data to back up what works, you can start to quickly select the channels that will be best for your business.
In this section, I’m going to give you a host of paid customer acquisition channels, as well as data and audience information for each, in order to enable you to get a feel for which channels have the potential to deliver the most value.
Here’s a list of paid acquisition channels.
- Facebook and Instagram
- Apple Search
- Capterra, GetApp, Software Advice (third-party review sites)
- Job Boards
With all of these options, you could easily get choice paralysis. They may all seem mostly the same, but which you choose and how you use them should be a data-driven decision.
The aforementioned trial and error comes into play here. Let’s look at an illustration of how the Tuff team would assess a platform for effectiveness:
Facebook and Instagram:
$0.35 – $2.50
What types of products does it work for?
Mobile apps, particularly iPhone apps. eCommerce companies. B2B and B2C products.
Yes, you read that right, B2B products definitely work on Facebook and Instagram. People click on ads related to their job, even when they’re on Instagram.
Instagram (IG) is the best demographic-based targeting channel. This mantle recently belonged to Facebook, but people are engaging less with Facebook ads.
IG users convert the best after clicking ads. And IG clicks are competitively priced.
It’s an especially good fit for mobile apps and eCommerce goods. For many of our clients, Instagram is their only profitable channel.
Here are the metrics again, so you can plug and play your own data in:
“A content strategy is like growing an oak tree, not a tomato plant.”
Paid channels can deliver quick wins and scale. But real staying power and long-term revenue growth comes from a content strategy designed to drive (and keep) stronger, more engaged traffic over time.
Organic traffic is the highest quality traffic and will bring you the best results almost every time. The tricky part is that it takes a long time, is slow to build momentum, and requires a massive amount of process, strategy and resources to execute consistently.
Intimidated? Don’t be.
If you’re planning on being in business for longer than 6-months, you have to commit to organic growth.
At Tuff, we have a seven step process that we’ve applied to our business and countless others to help them do this. We’ve used this exact process to go from 100 to 3,000 organic visits in less than 12 months for our own business (google growth marketing agency and look who comes up in the #1 spot) as well as our clients.
Here’s what it looks like:
Outlines & Content Production
Let’s roadmap this out, so you can visualize yourself going through the process.
Knowing the right keywords will help you increase conversions, understand which trends are healthy, prioritize efforts and break into new markets.
Conducting keyword analysis on competitors is possible using a number of tools. Some of the most popular are SEMRush, Moz, Surfer SEO and Spyfu.
After a thoughtful keyword analysis, you should have plenty of ideas. Narrow your focus to the content topics that are most impactful for your business.
Most times, you will want to gauge success by the growth numbers you see within 60-90 days of publishing search-friendly content.
Hire a freelance writer, use a project management tool and schedule out your content pieces at least one month in advance. Even the most prolific teams will fall behind if you don’t have some extra hands to produce content.
Build out a list of topics that map back to the keywords you want to see movement on. Be sure the team has consensus about the relevance of these topics before you dive into content creation.
After 60-90 days, you should see measurable movement around your selected topics and keywords.
At Tuff, we see too many teams publishing content but failing to get any momentum or organic traffic. This usually comes down to two things:
- Topics: If you publish consistently but don’t have a strategy or a way to organize the content around very specific search behavior, you won’t see the results you’re after. You need to build a cluster strategy (based on keyword research) so your content isn’t ad-hoc but exhaustive on specific topics.
- Quality: You can’t pay $20 for an article and expect to get results. You can outsource writing or work with a freelancer (we work with dozens) but you have to focus on quality. We look for freelancer copywriters that have experience in the particular industry and pay $0.25 or more per work. We also provide outlines, do extensive research, and edit each post. You have to invest time, resources, and spend to get quality SEO content for a blog, landing page, or website.
“It can seem overwhelming at the start, but testing and optimization should become part of your growth DNA.”
Now that you have the big list, and understand the basic channels, you need a framework for selecting the right ones. When it comes to picking the right acquisition channels to focus on, we ask these questions to help clients prioritize channels with a “high propensity” to work for your business:
Conversion Rate Optimization
“Conversion rate optimization is everything you do to get someone who is already aware of you to actually buy.”
Acquisition channels help you get traffic, which is great. Then what?
Building traffic with a relevant audience is a huge part of your early growth strategies. 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.
- Once someone knows about your brand, how do you get them to buy something?
More to the point:
- Once someone gets to your website, what happens next?
- How do you get site visitors to do something?
There are some reliable steps you can take to understand and drive better conversion rates.
Two schools of thought exist in CRO:
- Bold changes give you more profit and you get fast, measurable results.
- Small, continuous tweaks each month keep your site strong and lead to more conversions.
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.
Growth across the full funnel
“From traffic to qualified leads to paying customers, we measure and optimize the full funnel to increase conversion rates.”
When it comes to CRO, you aren’t just analyzing decision points: you need to account for the full scope of user experience. To do that, it’s a good idea to revisit your funnel.
Earlier sections dealt with awareness and acquisition. This CRO conversation is about activation.
Investigation stage: what drives action?
Once you know the end goal, and what “conversion” means in your terms, you need to investigate. CRO is really about finding what works. To do that, you can do tasks like:
- Testing out landing pages
- Shortening forms
- Testing out calls to action (CTAs)
- Switching up your value propositions
- Calling people who clicked on your ad
This assessment can really be applied to any of your growth marketing tactics. To illustrate the process, I’ll focus on website CRO.
Of the many tasks related to growth marketing, CRO is one of the easiest. What you really have to do is follow a framework, and we’ve developed one that works.
Website optimization process
Here are the 5 steps:
- Figure out the most important metrics.
- Make a list of priorities – identify areas to optimize.
- Revisit your competitors and value props (see section 1)
- Use conversations with your audience to get better
- Study Google Analytics – common paths and top pages
- Create the content you’ll be testing.
- Measure, rinse & repeat.
Let’s look at each one close-up.
Figure out the most important metrics
These are the “where,” but the “what” for metrics for website CRO are:
- 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.”
There are two questions I get almost everyday from clients/prospects/everyone:
To get a grasp on what your numbers “should” be, compare yourself to sites with similar traffic. Once you get familiar with this kind of data, it will help you interpret your own.
“Remember: when it comes to CRO, CVR is the number you must know, because that is the number you’re trying to improve.”
Then, you prioritize.
Make a list of priorities
Once you know your key metrics, you can more easily identify the areas you want to optimize. You can generate ideas by doing a few different things:
- Revisit your competitors
- Revisit your value props
- Have conversations with people who visit your site
- Study Google Analytics
Identifying optimization opportunities focuses your growth marketing strategies in the right direction. I mentioned this when talking about investigation, and here are your three priorities and how they relate to optimization:
1. Revisit your competitors and value props—look at it through the lens of your prospect: how does your website stack up?
2. Use conversations with your audience—don’t be shy: talk to people.
Sales calls • emails • chats • Facebook groups • Slack communities
Talking to other people shifts your perspective. It can help you arrive at some objective conclusions about what is and isn’t working.
3. Study Google Analytics to understand: how are different traffic sources interacting with your website?
- What pages do people view first?
- What’s the comparison between paid and direct traffic?
- How do new and returning visitors use the site differently?
Use the behavior tab in Google Analytics
Set the time period – ideally, you look monthly. If you’re investing in content and SEO, the top pages will rotate.
Sort by entrances (to see how people got into the site for the first time). You can learn a lot this way.
Once you know which are your high-performing pages, you can focus on improvements to those pages specifically.
Create the content you’ll be testing
Based on your prioritized tasks, you start the work. These should already be categorized, based on assessment. You’ll work on:
- Copy changes
- Design updates
- New pages (design and copy)
Some project management skills come into play here. Beyond data and ideas, you need to consistently get through the punch list. There are a lot of different components required, which need to come together to improve CRV.
At Tuff, we use Trello. Using any project management system, you get get through execution if you establish a workflow like this:
Syncing shared calendars and a file sharing tool (Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive) will streamline your processes and ensure no one misses a beat.
Want to see ours? Check it out here.
Execution will vary a lot. Before you start experimenting with website updates, you want to be really clear about what you want to achieve. There are plenty of business objective reasons to update your website. In this context, you’re making changes to optimize for conversion.
It’s helpful to see it in living color. Many times, I hear from clients and teams, “we don’t know where to start. We don’t have ideas.”
If you’re serious about CRO, these examples can help you understand what strategic changes are. For example:
- Change how you advertise/publicize pricing
- Have a mapped customer journey reflected on the site format
- Add more pictures and bios
- Update hero copy
- Put more effort into defining the process of buying
- Use more samples
- Improve site speed (technical SEO)
Again, these specific items aren’t recommendations for you: they’re simply ideas to get your wheels turning. What you need to do to make your site more conversion-friendly is highly specific to the nature of your business.
Measure, rinse and repeat
Anytime you actually execute on changes, the million dollar question is:
Does it work?
The only way to know the answer is to measure results. Google Analytics is our go-to for this answer. If you are regularly measuring site and page performance (which you should have done when you were figuring out your most important metrics), you can compare post-changes performance against pre-changes performance. It may take some time. Depending on your site traffic, it can take a few weeks.
What you really want to know is:
- Is there a difference?
- Is it a good difference?
You may understand the need for additional edits, some course-correction, etc. Remember to chase the thread all the way to conversion.
Tips & Extras
As you get into this process, you’ll quickly uncover opportunities to make things better. There are some important things to consider as you implement CRO improvements on your site.
How do CRO costs fit into your overall budget?
In the same way acquisition channels are an investment, CRO is an investment. Most of our clients spend between $1,000-$3,000 a month on website CRO. That’s divided across multiple functions, but generally goes to design and development time. Most commonly, the same person doesn’t do design and dev, so you’ll probably pay multiple people for these tasks.
Businesses still control the strategy, but getting it done requires a time investment: 6-10 hours/month for non-developers.
The overall investment may be around $35,000 a year for CRO.
Are you on a solid content management system?
Believe it or not, this is not always a yes for businesses. Some companies got swept up in the custom site trend that started about five years ago. The problem is, you get stuck. You are trapped and tied to the developer who built it.
If you have the choice, go for a major CMS that gives you some editing ability. These include the following platforms:
Use a theme with an easy page builder, so you aren’t having to invest in coding everytime you want to publish a new landing page. Most platforms make it easy for you to drag and drop to build site elements.
“With website CRO, you want to make monthly improvements (not yearly improvements), so having a website you or your team can edit is critical.”
Do you have a plan and schedule?
Your success in website CRO may hinge on your ability to manage the project. You need to be disciplined and organized.
For example, here’s a list the Tuff team worked through for 8 accounts:
- Identify priorities
- Meet with the web team to review
- Finalize copy
- Wireframe with two staging periods
- Mid-month check-in
- Final review
This is a good illustration of typical tasks, in sequence.
The majority of website CRO tasks happen in a staging environment. That way, you don’t crash your site while you’re making changes!
Website CRO team
Whether you outsource CRO improvements or not, your thought leadership is key. Internally, you’ll at least weigh in on goals and priorities. At Tuff, our website CRO team structure and function has evolved significantly. In the early days, I wore all of the hats. This meant strategy, copy, design and project management all fell on me. I outsourced development but did the rest.
Now that Tuff has grown, we have discrete roles, which helps in terms of efficiency and also lets people get really good on their own turf. I have separate staff members who oversee each of the following:
- UX copywriting
Don’t forget quality assurance (QA)! Testing everything before it goes live is essential to not making avoidable mistakes.
Divvying up the responsibilities this way ensures that no one person is solely responsible for the lion’s share of the tasks. Because we rinse and repeat our process each month, adding a lot of content and improvements, it’s vital to have a reliable method. Even if you only do this once a quarter, or even less frequently, having clear-cut roles, responsibilities, tasks and timelines is mission critical to your success.
Unpopular opinion: tools are overrated when it comes to CRO for small or new websites. They’re fun and can have some limited usefulness, but most of them aren’t worth it. They can slow your site down. If you simply must have a tool, I suggest that you install it and then watch it for 2 weeks. After that time, record the top pages and review the reports.
You should be able to answer these five questions:
- Are people seeing important content?
- Are people clicking on key page elements?
- Are people confused?
- Are people getting distracted?
- Are people experiencing issues across devices?
The reason I’m not all-in on tools is because Google Analytics paints enough of a picture. These questions should be answerable using that platform alone.
Growth goals: Diverse Channels + Conversion Rate Optimization
Ultimately, diversifying acquisition channels, then optimizing conversions is the simplest way to achieve growth. Implementing the insights you gain, then creating repeatable processes for improvement, ensure that those first wins aren’t the end game.
“Email marketing boasts a 4200% ROI ($42 for every $1 spent).”
There are two primary components for CRO – website CRO and email CRO. For this section, we want to get into email strategy.
*Concept Tip: this convo centers around marketing emails, not transactional emails. Marketing emails are sent to groups of prospects or customers, and this is the email type you want to optimize conversion for.
Marketing emails can be deployed in three different ways. The terms may vary slightly depending on what you’re reading, but you’ll almost always come back to these three options:
Let’s go a little deeper with each of these opportunities to engage.
E-blasts are sent to your entire list with some regularity. At Tuff, we suggest that you send e-blasts once a week or once every other week. It’s important to leverage the data that you get from e-blasts, especially because they may be the first type of email you regularly send. You’ll gain insight into how engaged different segments of your audience are, and how to adapt your message accordingly.
“Once you add someone to your email list, maintaining regular communication with them is essential. Doing so “trains” your audience to look for updates and keeps your brand top of mind.”
To stay on top of this kind of marketing email, we suggest you map it out just like you would with blog or organic social content. Schedule the content you create and partner with a graphic designer to get a template you can plug and play. All of that planning will ensure you actually send the emails.
A drip campaign is activated when someone performs an action. These are typically sent when leads are at a high level of direct engagement, so you need to take this chance seriously.
Drip campaigns start with a trigger.
Step one: identify all possible triggers.
These may include:
- Placing an order
- Attending an event
- Signing up for a webinar
- Downloading a free resource, report or white paper
- Abandoning their shopping cart
- Having a customer service interaction
Don’t rule any interaction out. You’ll want to start testing how well people who performed these actions respond to your emails. Shopping cart abandon emails in particular can be hugely successful.
Don’t forget off-site triggers! If your business has offline ops, like a storefront, or makes phone calls, all of those interactions are triggers. Think outside the ‘net and remember to include all networking and touchpoints in these drip campaigns.
Step two: determine where leads fit in your funnel.
Every action is an opportunity but they aren’t all equal. A “contact us” form fill and a person you meet at an industry event may be at different points in your funnel. Categorize and prioritize leads you’re going to serve an email drip to.
Here’s an example:
Check It Out:
“E-blasts are 101. Drip campaigns are 201. With automated flows, you’re getting into 400 level classes.”
Automated flows require some sophistication, but are worth learning how to do well. When you invest the time and resources into setting up automated flows, it elevates your growth marketing efforts. Suddenly, your emails seem highly personal, which is key to conversion.
Drip campaigns are trigger based. This means that if someone signs up for a newsletter, they’ll get all four emails no matter what they do next.
In contrast, automated flows are behavior based. They dynamically change and provide content based on a user’s action. Users can drop out of one flow and into another if they display a desired behavior. These are up to your team to configure and can be anything from opening three emails in a row to buying something for the second time.
Priority number one: start with data.
Your success in optimizing email conversion rates may depend on how well you’ve set up and understand your user data. Segmentation, separate lists and understanding what to deliver to whom is essential to seeing success.
To know if you have the right data, or can find it, here are some questions to ask:
- What types of data do you collect? How do you collect data? Where is it stored?
- Are you set up to track user activity?
- What info do users provide when they sign up to get emails?
If you aren’t sure, you may need a team of pros to get in and uncover whether you’re ready for automated flows. You can always reach out to Tuff and we’ll weigh in.
Here’s an example of an automated email flow outline:
Are you a visual learner? Here’s an example of how the flow would look in an email system:
An element of all three types of marketing emails, segmentation is something that will turbo-charge your optimization rates. It uplevels your personableness and how well you relate to customers on an individual level. If you’re a big enough company, you can’t call your whole list and have a chat. But you can send emails that speak to their needs in their stage of life in a given moment.
Segmentation = personalization
Four key metrics enable you to segment your email list:
- Demographics: time zone, geographical location, gender, age, occupation, industry, etc.
- Type of customer: system-specific – new user, frequent user, free trial, subscriber, etc.
- Engagement: system-specific – interest levels, target openers, inactive users, etc.
- Recent activities: system-specific – site page views, purchases, engagement, etc.
Segmentation will evolve over time, and can be used not just in email marketing but across many growth marketing efforts. The bottom line is that you will appeal to people more effectively if your messaging conveys real understanding, empathy and connection.
Bonus: segmented audiences provide you with much clearer data.
As you journey toward optimized emails and effective email marketing campaigns, there is data to collect along the way.
KPIs for Emails
“Always let your data be your guide!”
In optimizing emails for conversion, there are some metrics to track. All of these will contribute to your success in closing deals from email marketing. Here’s the data you should regularly collect and analyze:
- Deliverability rate
Number of emails accepted by the recipient’s server.
Goal: reduce spam complaints and subscription cancellations.
How to do it: update email list and delete addresses that bounce or are invalid.
- Open rate
How many recipients open the email.
Goal: create the best subject lines that incentivize people to open the email.
How to do it: A/B test subject lines to learn what works best.
- Click through rate (CTR)
Percentage of people who take a desired action.
Goal: move people into your site or other conversion paths.
How to do it: segment your audience to provide custom content.
- Conversion rate (CVR)
How many recipients click through your site and convert.
How to do it: connect Google Analytics tracking or UTM codes.
How many people unsubscribe to your emails.
How to fix it: keep your email list clean and relevant. Don’t be spammy: send relevant content to segmented audiences.
All of this should be trackable with any email service provider you choose. Which brings us to a big tech decision.
How to Choose an Email Service Provider
You have a boat load of options here. Before you start signing up for sales calls with all of the major players: WAIT.
You need to know your strategy.
Setting your strategy will provide insight into what you actually need the ESP to do and provide. Most offer similar features, but there are four things you will need, and should prioritize. Plus, we’ve included some questions you should ask the ESP reps if you jump on a sales call or research through their site.
- Find out: Is there a range of designs? Are the layouts flexible? Is everything mobile-friendly? Also, do you get free image hosting?
- Find out: What does the dashboard look like? Does it include all of the metrics you need? Can you scale up or drill down?
- Find out: Can you establish workflows the way you want? How does scheduling work? Can you send automated messages (and how)?
- Note: almost every ESP will offer some kind of automation. This may be well worth getting a trial and testing out. Some are harder than others to set up, and you don’t want to get stuck with one that you find challenging to use.
- Find out: Is it a mobile-friendly, even mobile-first platform? Will all email templates and campaigns be optimized for mobile devices?
Head into sales calls knowing your priorities and asking the right questions. Once you have a shortlist, give your findings/trial accounts to the people on your team who will use them IRL. There’s nothing like a dry run to ensure you’re buying into the right system. Then, allow a lead time. It can take anywhere from two weeks to three months (you read that right) to set an ESP up properly.
This was a lot of dense information with a lot of sub-lists that may have you feeling like you should opt-out of emails altogether. Deep breath.
Remember this: emails work. People will buy from you and engage with your brand if you do email right. Optimization may be precision-work, but it’s work worth doing.
At a high level, here is the roadmap that sums up all we covered:
- Email has a very high ROI, but you need to make thoughtful, strategic investments.
- There are 3 types of marketing emails you will send:
- E-blasts, which go to everyone on your list and may be sent once a week or so.
- Drip campaigns, which are serialized, action-based and sent once every 1-2 weeks.
- Automated flows, which are the most complex type, behavior-based and ideal for leveraging segmentation.
- To decide on email content types and strategies, you need to define top of funnel, middle of funnel and bottom of funnel leads. Where a lead is in your funnel will determine what kind of email they should receive.
- It’s essential to define your email KPIs and track certain types of data, including deliverability rate, open rate, CTR, CVR and unsubscribes.
- Choosing the right email service provider is key, and it may take several weeks to set one up properly.
Need a free strategy sesh? High-converting emails are kind of our thing. Get in touch with Tuff for some one-on-one planning.
All of this is great information, and you may either feel ready to roll or a bit overwhelmed. Let’s look at two examples of how conversion rate optimization for emails works.
Two Case Studies: What CRO Email Success Looks Like
Here are two case studies of real life Tuff clients. Get a sneak peek into what we did and how it worked.
Case Study #1: Felt
Client: Felt Greeting and Birthday Cards
Situation: The full Tuff strategy included a mix of campaigns and channels, including social and search ads. Onboarding emails were a key component of this strategy.
- Daily installs of Felt are between 600 & 700 a day.
- Not everyone who downloads immediately sends a card.
- New users are put into an onboarding email flow.
Task: The Tuff team wanted to increase clicks and conversions for workflow emails.
Actions: They achieved this in three steps:
- Mapped existing flow and set benchmarks.
- Figured out the “aha” moment using data (in this case, the most gratifying customer moment happens when a recipient receives a card in the mail).
- Rewrote, redesigned and rebuilt each email to focus on the “aha” moment.
Result: Conversion rates increased by 50%.
See it online: Case Study – Felt
Case Study #2: Dumpling
Client: Dumpling Grocery Delivery App
Situation: Dumpling is up against major players, like Instacart. Their personalized approach is a strong differentiator, but they sought out Tuff to create a growth marketing strategy.
Task: The Tuff team wanted to drive app installs.
Actions: To turn new users into power users, the Tuff team looked at every action point and three segmented groups of customers. Then, we deployed a re engagement strategy centered around email. Here were the strategic actions:
- Used value props organized around moments in the customer journey to drive conversions.
- Used offers to drive conversions.
- A/B tested subject lines and monitored results.
Result: Conversion rates increased to 27%.
See it online: Case Study – Dumpling
Emails don’t have to be a side task to your central growth marketing tactics. In fact, when done right, email is where you’re going to see some of your biggest wins.