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How to Growth Hack Your Content Marketing

Growth hacking is the name of the game right now for startups, and why shouldn’t it be? It’s all about bringing in more traffic and putting more users at the top of the conversion funnel.

Many consider these goals to be the job of their content marketing, too. With each blog post or infographic, they hope to secure more visitors and more traction for whatever it is they are selling.

They want to see results. And both growth hacking and content marketing are about results.

What happens when we bring these two worlds together? It’s a little something called Content Hacking.

By the way, what is a growth hacker? Growth hacking was introduced by startup marketer Sean Ellis as a way to redefine the marketing role for startups and online brands. He believed that the more traditional “Vice President of Marketing” title had lost its luster for startups and that it no longer described the job accurately.

Now, startup marketing needs to think beyond traditional advertising methods and should include engineering, creative thinking, and MacGyver-like ingenuity.

The growth hacker’s job is to use human psychology and engineering to drive measurable results. For the content hacker, life isn’t much different. Content marketing works, but as it grows in popularity, we need to rethink our approach. We need to find ways to use our content for explosive growth.

There are several examples we can look to for inspiration with our own content hacking.

Some Real Life Examples of Growth Hacking

hotmail 1998 circa 1998 – A classic growth hack.

One of the earliest recorded growth hacks was accomplished by in the late 1990s. As a way to stimulate growth, the Hotmail team added the intriguing bit of text “PS I love you” at the bottom of every email they sent, with a link back to their homepage. In less than a year, this little piece of content was responsible (in part) for their massive growth of more than 12 million email accounts.

You may remember that Hotmail later was purchased by Microsoft for an estimated $400 million. Not a bad return for a little nugget of content marketing.

Tripl Parking Tickets

hacking content marketing parking violation

Y Combinator startup, Tripl, seized the opportunity to make an impression on more than 200 of the biggest names in tech by placing fake parking tickets on their cars while they were listening to a multitude of product pitches. The tickets read “Violation: You have illegally been subjected to make a big investment decision based on a 2 minute demo pitch.”

Tripl’s Peter Sullivan grabbed a photo of the stunt, which he quickly uploaded to Y Combinator’s Hacker News site. Within hours, the story held the top spot and helped guide his startup to 40,000 users in its first year.

KISSmetrics Infographics

KISSmetrics Infographics

KISSmetrics has long been known for its infographics, which serve as an excellent example of content hacking. Neil Patel recently shared on his Quick Sprout blog that, within two years, KISSmetrics was able to generate 2,512,596 visitors and 41,142 back links from 47 infographics.

This strategy helped take the KISSmetrics blog from 56,380 to 146,197 visits per month.

5 Easy Ways to Become a Content Hacker

#1 Write Awesome Headlines

Yeah, I know, this sounds like old news, but there is so much riding on headlines that I would be crazy not to bring it up at least one more time – the headline is everything.

If we screw it up, we lose our chance at ever achieving a real content hack. Spend some time looking through the previous KISSmetrics infographics. Each one was significantly aided by its headline. Without them, could they have achieved the same results?

The Sweet Science Of Virality knows a thing or two about headlines. In their slide deck The Sweet Science Of Virality, they emphasize the importance of the headline again and again. More importantly, they emphasize the value of writing more than one headline. For each post, Upworthy writes a minimum of 25 headlines. Then, they pick two and run a quick A/B test. When they have a clear winner (and usually there is one), they launch.

The full Upworthy presentation is excellent and definitely worth a look, a bookmark, and possibly even a print out. It’s that good.

#2 Make Your Content More Shareable

Once you’ve gone through the effort of writing a killer headline, you need to make sure it’s easy to share your headline and content with the world. And, there are more ways to do this than just the usual share buttons at the top and bottom of your site.

Click To Tweet

Adding simple Click to Tweet calls-to-action in your post is another great way to boost shares. Rather than waiting until the end of your post to passively prompt the user to share your content, “click to tweet” boxes add the call-to-action within the article. These tweetable opportunities can be added easily, using a super-simple Click To Tweet WordPress plugin, or they can be created manually using the service.

Click To Tweet

WP Socializer

WP Socializer is an excellent plugin for creating share buttons throughout your post. Adding the “floating share bar” that scrolls with the browser window keeps share buttons persistent and readily clickable.

#3 Contribute Guest Blogs

This is a classic content hack. It can be a grind, but it is worth it. Leo Widrich, one of the founders of Buffer, cites guest posting as one of the biggest drivers of their success. His startup wrote more than 60 guest posts over a few months that included a link back to their app. Leo says that they still can see the benefits of the effort even today. Search Engine Watch has a great interview with the founder, who explains how guest posting, in part, helped them go from 0 to 100,000 customers.

Guest Blogging

#4 Write Longer Copy

Neil Patel recently published a great post regarding search rankings and post length on his blog. In his research, he discovered an “average content length for a web page that ranks in the top 10 results for any keyword on Google has at least 2,000 words.”

word count content

The big takeaway here is that more content-rich sites get more traction in Google. There are many bloggers who love to tout the benefits of the 600 word blog post, but there may be a bigger payout for those who invest a bit more time and effort. Even more impressive is the correlation between the length of content and the number of links; they go hand-in-hand.

word count link backs

Check out the full post for more details and tips on this, but longer copy definitely should be on the radar for any true content hacker.

#5 Tell a Better Story

What type of story are you telling? Startup founder, Alex Turnbull, realized that, even though his blog was bringing in more than 1,000 visitors per day, it wasn’t telling much of a story. His entire team spent an afternoon coming up with a new plan. Eventually, they launched a new blog that documented their journey from 35K per month in revenue to more than 100K. Not a bad idea for a company whose primary clients are web-based startups.


The posts coming from the Groove team were detailed, focused, and continually told the story of Groove. In short, they were brilliant and brought them more than 5,000 email subscribers in just five weeks. We all have a story to tell. We just need to figure out how to frame it so that people actually will care about what we have to say. Groove found this, and you certainly can, too. For a great resource on this topic, I again refer you to the Upworthy Sweet Science Of Virality slide deck.

The Characteristics of a Content Hacker

Content marketing is on the rise, and it is becoming more important now than ever to get the most we can out of our content. This is where the content hacker comes in. Would you like to know what’s in the DNA of a content hacker? Here are a few of the characteristics…

  1. Looks for Fit – For the content hacker, it’s not product/market fit, it’s content/audience fit.
  2. Thinks Growth – A content hacker has to be focused on growth: growth in traffic, growth in the content base, and growth in the bottom line.
  3. Opportunistic – A content hacker sees opportunities to use his contacts to make connections and grow his reach.
  4. Seeks Sustainability – Where a growth hacker sees scale, a content hacker sees sustainability.
  5. Data Driven – Content hackers see data as their primary tool for measuring their success. They don’t settle for anything but growth that moves the needle forward.
  6. SEO Minded – A content hacker understands how and why Google does what it does, and knows how important it is.
  7. Searches for Virality – The content hacker constantly looks for the next big idea that will go viral. Hot topics and attention-grabbing headlines are just a way of life.
  8. Ignores Style Guides – Style guides and repetition have little value to the content hacker. Content hackers ship content that their audience loves.

About the Author: Garrett Moon is a founder and designer at Todaymade, maker of CoSchedule, a content marketing editorial calendar for WordPress. It makes blogging and sharing on social media easier than ever before. Follow him on Twitter or Google+. Pssst…Are you a content hacker? View our content hacker infographic.

  1. Great post Garrett! I think growth hacking should also incorporate some form of content amplification. Everyone creates content, and only a fraction goes viral, so sometimes it makes sense to use native ad platforms (Taboola, Facebook, LinkedIn, …) to get scale.

    Beyond surfacing content to a massive audience, these platforms also enable you to A/B test your headlines and form, and you can track ROI of your content, which is often a challenge.

    • Great point Ran. Tracking is a big deal and easily overlooked. Also, if you enjoyed this post you might also like the infographic on content hacking that we posted earlier this week

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Great article Garrett!

    One quick question. Shouldn’t growth hacking be highly scalable by definition? High quality content, on the other hand, is not.

    I’m personally not convinced GA and Content Marketing could team up.

    • I don’t necessarily agree with the premise that growth hacking is highly scalable. In fact, often times it doesn’t scale well at all. Look at Airbnb’s growth hack on Craig’s list. It worked for awhile, but not for long. Despite that, it is considered an epic growth hack – and rightly so.

      High quality content is also quite scalable on its own. Viral post after viral post is not realistic, but has proved the model for scalable content. I think a lot of the things that Neil Patel does on also prove content scalability and hacking.

      Good comment though, that is definitely where the discussion point happens. Check out this infographic and see if it helps define the idea for you.

  3. The headline for my comment is — How to Growth Hack Your Comments

    Of all the buzzwords, growth hacking is the worst. It is simply marketing. The definition of growth hacking really is “marketing that doesn’t suck and that aims at scaling without traditional channels.” But that doesn’t mean it is different than marketing. And the Groove example is actually brand marketing as they used a story structure to make their message spread. Write longer copy is growth hacking now? The headline of the article should have been, “Some well-known marketing best practices that get more clicks with growth hacking in the headline”

    • Yes, that would have been a viable alternative as far as headlines go. Probably fewer click though ;)

    • What James wrote.

      I’d like to add that the definition given in this article is pretty sound — “… startup marketing needs to think beyond traditional advertising methods and should include engineering, creative thinking, and MacGyver-like ingenuity. The growth hacker’s job is to use human psychology and engineering to drive measurable results.”

      In other words, growth hacking is using unconventional, new and often self-made solutions to the problem of growth.

      And since growth hacking is already used to increase everything from new customers and readers to retention of existing ones, is there really a need for the term, ‘content hacking’?

      Or this article?

      • Well, I don’t think we explicitly “need” the terms content hacking or growth hacking. They are both evolutionary phrases that are intended to communicate an idea/mentality.

        The real point here is that we need to think more about “hacking” our content rather than just executing the same-old formulas. Groove is such a good example. Everything about what they are doing is 100% content marketing and 100% growth hacking. It is smarter than just some blog post about “how to increase your Twitter followers.” I think it deservers a category of its own. Upworthy too. They’ve given us a lot to think about. Manufactured growth using content.

  4. It’s all about thinking outside the box, coming up with an idea that makes you a growth hacker.

  5. Yes, but my comment earlier has a basic point. The definition of growth hacking is being conflated as simply developing new, awesome marketing ideas and tactics that get a lot of customers. When has a client ever asked you for a “unoriginal, uncreative, and hopefully expensive customer acquisition strategy?”

    Good marketing is unique and approaches the challenge with an open eye, using what’s available.

    What’s the difference between the Hotmail example and the genius in the catalogue business who decided that once a customer orders one product in the mail, to slip an advertisement for another product?

    So I guess Robert Collier is the father of growth hacking?

    Or is Dominos two for one pizza tactic “pizza business hacking?”

    I accept that technology has changed marketing channels, but the point is still the same: get customers and do something different as people don’t respond to old techniques once they’ve seen it a thousand times.

  6. Awesome post, thanks for sharing these great tips. It is really hard to find the right mix of things that are really working. And again, that said thousands of times… content is king nowadays, so without a quality content you can use the best plugins etc. it won’t get you anywhere. But if use creativity and your advice I think it can show great results in long-term.

  7. Whoaaaa.. What an awesome pos.! I remember that Hotmail login page. It was the very in thing during that era!!I have never heard of growth hacking/ content hacking before but now I do. All of the points make so much sense but not easy to be executed.

    Good knowledge & great info sharing. Thank you!!

  8. I hate to say it but the “Content Hacks” you suggested are not examples of growth hacking, they are examples of techniques that are routinely used by modern marketers to maximize the success of their efforts.

    Marketing today isn’t what it used to be a few years ago because the world has evolved since then and marketing has evolved (and continues to evolve) with it.

    The terms “growth hacking”, “growth hackers” or even just “hacks” irk me to no end because they suggest that growth hackers are “genius marketing wizards” in a class by themselves and that growth hacking is a brand new job function. It’s not. It’s just what modern marketers are doing these days anyway as part of their job.

  9. Justin McGill Jan 19, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    Great suggestions – I had not heard of Markerly so will be checking that out!

  10. Didn’t know content writing was a great concept! Anyway, I like your approach and feel it can help newbies and established content generators to gain traction.

  11. Some good tips – the Hotmail example is a classic! Interesting to see Neil’s data on article length as well, as I recently discussed this point on the Moz blog and in our guide on startup marketing (

    Not sure i’d call of these ‘growth hacking’, though. A lot of the points are really just trends and tips for a more effective strategy.

  12. This post is chock full of value … any web entrepreneur who is serious about their craft needs to read this!

  13. Great post! The “PS I love you” thing about Hotmail was unknown to me…. though I read somewhere that they showed their ad at the end of every mail.

  14. Shilpi Agarwal Jan 24, 2014 at 9:14 am

    Content Hacking is a neat term!

  15. I found a cracked version of the Athena HTTP PHP Botnet:

  16. Sohail Qaisar Mar 22, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    Nice content marketing tips :)

  17. Sohail Qaisar Mar 22, 2014 at 7:29 pm

    I really liked the “Examples of Growth Hacking”, thanks for sharing :)

  18. Nilantha Madhushanka Apr 16, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    Really useful post about Growth Hacking. An interesting topic. Under this topic; Quora is one of best places to share our blog post. We can build a good traffic from Quora.

    Awesome post. Thanks

  19. That was an informative article for a new blogger. It will really keep the newbies focused. Thanks keep sharing more.

  20. Neil,

    Thanks for the tips.

    I experimented with Clicktotweet and saw 63% increase in readers tweeting from my blog. I improved on the hack by adding some additional CSS and placing anchor tags. Still all simple for a non-techie like me.



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