Growth Hacking explained in 12 simple steps


Do you consider growth hacking to be a fluffy concept and practice? Are you unsure how to crack the code on how to get started? Good news ahead. We have broken down the process in 12 effective steps that will help you kick off your growth (hacking) efforts.

If you’re an inhabitant in the startup world, chances are that you’ve encountered the term multiple times and are somewhat familiar with it. Are you from the corporate world, the chances are somewhat smaller, however, you may know it, and if you do, you will probably also know that growth hacking, in fact, can be used to unlock the growth of any stagnant company.

Whether or not you’re familiar with the term, let’s briefly sum it up, as it is crucial to understand what it entails before embarking on your 12-step growth hacking journey. In the last 5-6 years, growth hacking has become ‘the’ way to grow your business. The term was first used by Sean Ellis, a marketer who helped lead companies like KISSmetrics, Dropbox and Eventbrite to extremely rapid growth.

But what is it, exactly?

The answer is surprisingly simple, so don’t fall back over in your chair when you read on. In a nutshell, growth hacking means testing different marketing methods through rapid experimentation. You create a hypothesis, you test it, if it works, you double down on it until it stops yielding results.

When done correctly, this gives you an extremely high return on investment (ROI) and fast growth. The key, however, is figuring out a specific, consistent protocol for growth hacking and that is what you’re about to get below, so let’s get started.

1. Have a Product People Want

Your business is ultimately about delivering a product the market wants at a profit to yourself. Therefore, having a product that is in demand is critical and the first element you must attend to considering all of your marketing efforts. Straightforward, right?


At the end of the day, no marketing budget can sell a product people don’t want. Just ask Coca-Cola. In 1985, they found a Coke formula that consumers liked better than Pepsi and standard Coke in blind tests. This new formula would also save the company $50,000,000/year or over $110m in today’s money.

However, once Coca Cola replaced their old recipe with this new formula, they quickly discovered that the market actually didn’t want a new flavour. Rather, people just wanted the old Coke they knew and loved. The result was clear: the new Coke failed and in the end, Coca-Cola had to bring the old flavour back even though it was worse.

Lesson learned: make sure your product is wanted and not just good. Once you have a product that is in demand, you’re ready to move on to…

2. Defining Your General Business Goals

Like any other part of your operations, successful growth hacking starts with business goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Based.

Of course, your ultimate goal is to maximise growth and profits, but there are multiple ways to get there depending on where you are right now, and that is what you must define at this stage. For instance, if you have a startup, you may want to break even or reach a “critical mass” of users or website visitors.  On the other hand, if you have an established business or work for one that has exhausted its growth potential, you may need to reach a new target audience or reposition your product.

Once you have identified your broad goals, it’s time to…

3. Cut Your Business Goals into Realistic Growth Hacking Goals

Sounds like a difficult task? Don’t worry, it’s not. Let’s take an example to illustrate how this can be done. So, let’s say your business goal is to increase website traffic. This is a good goal, but for growth hacking purposes it’s too broad, as you will need one that is more concrete. Remember that growth hacking is based on rapid experimentation and specific results.

Therefore, what you need to do is to create small, actionable micro goals that define exactly what you’re going to do in a short period of time. For instance, if you want to increase website traffic, different micro goals could be to:

  • increase content output by 50%
  • send 2x more emails to our list
  • boost website visitor by 35% in the next six weeks

By breaking down your business target into micro goals like this will help you to make sure that you stay on track as well as make it easy for you to see what is working and what is not. While you’re defining what you’re going to do, remember to also…

4. Analyse Past Trends and Results

Facebook was preceded by MySpace, Apple by Altair, Google by Yahoo. Unless your product is completely unique, there is always someone who came before you. Surprise! However, don’t let this rock your boat. Instead, use it to your advantage and look at their operations and results as these insights will give you an idea of what works and what doesn’t.

These are some of the things you can look into: Are your competitors using paid traffic? Then you should try it, too. Are they creating lots of content? Consider doing the same. Is there something none of your competitors are doing? Try to understand why.

By looking at what others are doing, and conversely not doing, will save you a great deal of time, energy and resources on testing every little thing for yourself.

In addition to looking at what your competitors and predecessors are doing, you might also try to…

5. Identify Your Marketplace Strengths

Having a product that people want (step 1) is the foundation of every successful business. People will only pay you if your business is able to solve their needs, wants and pains. So, how can you make sure to accommodate your customers’ needs?

The best way to do that effectively is by understanding your strengths and assets in the marketplace.

If you have a massive email list, you should focus on discovering new ways to engage it on an ongoing basis or if your product has unique features that competitors don’t offer, consider emphasising these in your marketing efforts.

In short, play to your strengths by identifying the superior resources and skills you have in your business. Once you’ve done that…

6. Get the Tools You Need to Measure Results

It’s usually easy to tell if you’re achieving your general business goals. For instance, a 35% increase in traffic or a 50% increase in sales is hard to ignore. But how can you know whether or not you’re actually achieving your growth hacking goals? If you’re unsure about this point, define the variables that are necessary to track the results and ask yourself the questions:

  • Do you need to track incoming traffic by source?
  • Do you need to know how many people watch your videos all the way through?
  • Is it important to see how many people “bounce” from your website by leaving immediately?

Here it’s crucial to identify the data that you will be measuring your success by, so make sure to get the right software (Google Analytics, Heapanalytics, Mixpanel, …) to track it. Following from this, it’s time to…

7. Define Your Experiment

Hurray! Now you’ve finally reached the step where the actual growth hacking process begins. First element in defining your experiment is to write it down and the idea behind it. For instance, “We believe that publishing 10 blog posts each week will improve organic traffic by more than 15%”.

Perhaps you think it’s silly to write down something that seems so basic, but it’s the only way to make sure that you focus on one thing at a time without losing track of your various objectives.

Remember, growth hacking is about long-term learning, not immediate results. As such, constant split-testing is critical and should be an inherent element in any experiment.

That’s why defining exactly what you’re doing is crucial.

8. Define your Ideal Target Audience

Who is the target of your marketing efforts? Here, it may be tempting to say everyone, trying to reach the broad masses. However, targeting the whole market will result in you getting a mixed bag of prospects who don’t necessarily want your product, and that would be critical! Therefore, the smart thing to do is to target people who inherently want what you’re offering and will get the most out of it. This gives you the highest ROI, and it will also provide you with the opportunity to faster confirm or reject your hypothesis.

Let’s illustrate our point and use Apple as an example. Surprise or not, the company doesn’t and never has made computers for everyone. They have a smaller market  share (12.8%) than both Hewlett-Packard (27.1%) and Dell (24.5%). However, one Apple Mac gives as much as 7x the profits that an HP PC does. This is only possible because Apple has a clearly defined ideal target audience.

So, take the time to define your target audience and after that…

9. Prepare for Blast Off

Growth hacking is about rapid experimentation. This means that things can, and often do, go sideways. Your whole organisation has to know what is going on and be prepared for whatever happens.

As such, you need to schedule your growth hacking efforts. For example, don’t start experimenting with code of your website if you’ve got a large influx of traffic ahead. Always, always make sure that your experiments don’t interfere with anything important, and once you’ve prepared your team and scheduled a time, it’s finally time to…

10. Execute the Experiment

After having fuelled the engine (read: prepared and planned your experiment), it’s time to prepare for take off and press the start button. The growth hacking process can now finally begin.

If you have done everything we covered so far, this should the easy part. Your analytics are in place (Step 6), your hypothesis is clearly defined (Step 7) and you know who you’re trying to reach (Step 8).

Now, all there is left for you to do is to make the change you outlined in your hypothesis and see what happens. However, just don’t forget to…

11. Test Against The Control

Even with all the planning you have been doing so far, it’s almost impossible to keep track of each and every variable.

During the course of your experiment, you might think that traffic dropped or increased because you changed your landing page, when, in reality, more people are visiting your website for a completely different reason.

Therefore, to prevent any misunderstandings of your results, always keep a control group which receives marketing efforts consistent with what you’ve done in the past while you experiment with your test group.

This way, you’ll be able to see which results are random and which are a direct consequence of what you did. And once you do, you can begin…

12. Making Conclusions and Repeating the Process

Now that you’ve run your experiment, it’s time to look back at your hypothesis.

Was it correct?

Were there any unexpected results?

If you failed to get the results you predicted, what did you learn from the experience?

Even if your experiment didn’t go how you thought it would, don’t consider it a failure. Every experience gives you knowledge, and that, ultimately, is what growth hacking is really about.

Check also this slide deck that takes you through the 12 steps to effective growth hacking:

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