“Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Massive Growth”

Autors Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares

Traction is growth. It is a sign that your company is taking off. It is basically quantitative evidence of customer demand.

Traction and product development are equally important.

Startups get traction through nineteen different channels called traction channels: Targeting blogs, publicity, unconventional PR, SEM, SEO, social and display ads, offline ads, content marketing, email marketing, engineering as marketing, viral marketing, business development, sales, affiliate programs, existing platforms, trade shows, offline events, speaking engagements, community building.

Targeting blogs

Targeting blogs your potential customers read is one of the most effective ways to get your first wave of customers. However, this traction channel is difficult to scale due to the limited number of relevant high-traffic blogs.

How to find influential bloggers in your space:

  • Search Engines. Search for “top blogs for x”, “best x blogs”
  • YouTube and other video sharing sites like Vimeo or Dailymotion. Search for your product keywords. The videos are often associated with influencers who have blogs.
  • Delicious. Use keywords to find links that others have saved.
  • Twitter. Use Twitter search to find blogs.
  • Social Mention. Use it to determine sites most mentioned for your keywords.
  • Talk to people (ask your target audience what they are reading online)

List of 50 best blogs that accept guest posts
How I grew Mint.com from zero to 1 million users
The definitive guide to guest blogging
List of guest blogging sites (140+ best sites)


The first step is to undertand how Internet-driven media works. It is better to approach big media outlets obliquely. Instead of contacting them directly, find the blogs that they read and get story ideas from. It will be easier to get that smaller blog’s attention.

You can start by using Help A Reporter Out (HARO), where reporters request sources for articles they are working on. Assisting a reporter in this way will get you a mention in the piece and help establish your credibility.

You can also offer reporters commentary on stories related to your niche, and let them know that you are available as an industry source. You can also use Twitter to reach reporters online and stay in contact with them (establish a relationship).

Once you have a solid story:

  • Submit the story to link-sharing sites (like reddit, Hacker News) with larger audiences.
  • Share it on social networks to drive awareness, which you can further amplify with social ads.
  • Email it to influencers in your industry for comment.
  • Ping blogs in your space and tell them that you have a story that’s getting some buzz.

Getting press for your startup
Advanced guide to online publicity campaigns
The minimum every startup founder should know about getting press coverage
How to get press for your startup: The complete guide
How to get media coverage for your startup: A complete guide

Unconventional PR

There are two types of unconventional PR:

1) Publicity stunt. Anything that is engineered to get media coverage. It’s not scalable and successs is unpredictable.

Examples of successful publicity stunts:

Fab. They pivoted from a social network to a design and home decor site. They started by doing a Facebook ads campaign aimed at people blogging about design. Then, they asked users to invite friends and offered incentives to people who got the most to sign up. They got hundreds of thousands of users.

Dollar Shave Club launch video, staring CEO Michael Dublin, is the main source of the more than 12,000 customers it acquired within two days of launching. It also help them to rank third in Google for the term “shave”.

The Blair Witch Project” movie was publicized a year in advance with a website featuring faked police reports and staged interviews with townsfolks.The advanced publicity fueled a widespread public perception that the film was comprised of real footage. The budget to produce the movie was $60,000 and the box office earnings worldwide over $248 millions.

Grasshopper.com. They sent to 5,000 most influential business leaders, journalists and bloggers in the United States five chocolate-covered grasshoppers in a branded bag with a hangtag instructing the recipient to visit a landing page with an inspirational video. The stunt earned the video over 8,000 views per day.

Half.com. The company paid the city of Halfway, Ore. $100,000 to change its name to Half.com for one year.

2) Customer appreciation. Smaller and more scalable actions, such as contests, gifts, or sending handwritten notes to customers that increase goodwill and generate press coverage.

Examples of customer appreciation:

Zappos and Nordstrom commitment to excellence in customer service.
Squishable.com, fans can vote on which toys go into production next, and customers can even submit their own designs to be voted on.

25 Ways to thank your customers

Search Engine Marketing

Here it refers only to paid search. It can be used to get early customer data in a controlled manner. It informs  about things like conversion rate of your landing page, how well email captures are working, average cost per customer, lifetime value of a customer.

The basic SEM process consists on finding high-potential keywords, group them into ad groups, and then test different ad copy and landing pages within each ad group.

Use search engine ads to test product positioning and messaging. A test ad campaign can be as little as four ads. If you run an ad campaign that gets close to breakeven after a few weeks, then SEM could be a traction channel to focus on.

Areas to test: keywords, ad copy, demographic targeting, landing pages, and CPC bids.

The complete guide to PPC for startup marketing
Ultimate list of essential resources for PPC managers

Social and display ads

Large display advertising campaigns are often used for branding and awareness.

Social ads are used for branding and direct response. One application that is unique to social ads is to build an audience, engage with that audience over time, and eventually convert them into customers.

Display Ads

The largest display ad networks are Google Display Network, Advertising.com, Tribal Fusion, Conversant, and Adblade.

With display advertising you can segment your audience based on their demographic details. This way you can create ads that resonate with each segment of your targeted audience.
Another approach is to go directly to site owners and ask to place an ad on their site for a fixed price. Works well to reach the audience of a small site that’s not running ads.

Understand the types of ads that work in your industry. Types of display ads: Static, animated, interactive, video ads, expanding ads.

Display Network getting started guide

Social Ads

The goal of social ads is often awareness oriented, not conversion oriented. A purchase takes place further down the line. Social advertising works best when you build first an audience and then you move this audience toward a conversion.

An effective social ad strategy takes advantage of the fact that people visit social media sites for entertainment and interaction, not to see ads. Social media ads give companies the oppotunity to start a conversation about their products with members of their target audience. Intead of direct people to a sales page, direct them to a compelling piece of content.

Social sites to advertise on:
LinkedIn How to advertise on LinkedIn
Twitter Twitter advertising
Facebook Advertise on Facebook
StumbleUpon Ads on Stumbleupon
Foursquare Foursquare advertising
Tumblr  Tumblr for business
Reddit  Reddit advertising
Youtube How to advertise on Youtube
Pinterest  Ads on Pinterest
Others: BuzzFeed, Scribd, SlideShare,

Social ads 101 – Wordstream.com

Offline ads

Offline advertising includes: print advertising (magazines, newspapers, yellow pages, flyers, direct mail, and local directories), outdoor advertising (billboards, transit ads), radio and tv advertising.

Ask your target customers what magazines they read, radio stations they listen to get an idea of the best offline places to advertise.

When making an offline ad purchase, the most important factor is the demographics of each advertising medium. Ask for an audience prospectus (sometimes called an ad kit) from the company that is selling the ad inventory.

To get really cheap offline ads, look for remnant advertising (ad space that is not being used).

Offline ads are much harder to track as compared with online ads.

14 Ways to track offline marketing campaigns with branded links
4 Options for tracking offline marketing campaigns showing the method for Google Analytics


In SEO, there are two high-level strategies to choose from: fat head and long tail.

Fat head strategy consists on trying to rank for search terms that directly describe your company. The process:

1) Research terms people use to find products in your industry and see if the volume is enough to move the needle. You don’t want to spend resources ranking for a fat-head term that gets only two hundred searches per month.

2) Determine difficulty of ranking high for each term.

3) Narrow list of keywords to just a handful. You can use tools like Google Trends to see how the search for these terms has changed over the years or if these terms are being searched in the areas you are interested in.

You can also test the keyword with an adwords campaign. If the ads convert then SEO could work for your business.

4) When you have choosen your keywords, the next step is to optimize your website for these keywords.

Long tail strategy involes trying to rank for more specific terms with lower search volumes. The process:

1) Do keyword research looking for long-tail terms and see if the sum of several terms results in a meaningful volume.
If you already have a website with Analytics, see if you are getting traffic from long-tail terms.
If your website is new, check your competitors’ websites and see if they are getting traffic from long-tail terms. How to know this? Using site:www.competitorsdomain.com you can see if they have a lot of landing pages.
Check Alexa search rankings and look at the percentage of visitors your competitors are receiving from search.

2) Create long-tail landing pages.

The success of a long-tail strategy depends on your capacity to produce significant amounts of quality content.

You can also use content that naturally flows from your business. What data does your company collect or generate that other people may find useful?

Beginners guide to SEO
Advanced SEO Moz
Searchengineland SEO channel
Portent SEO blog
Backlinko blog

Content Marketing

One of the best things about this traction channel is how it positions you as a leader in your niche. This leads to opportunities to speak at major conferences, give press quotes to journalists, and influence industry direction. Also your content is more shared than others.

Have a strong company blog can positively impact at least eight other traction channels (SEO, publicity, email marketing, targeting blogs, community building, offline events, existing platforms, and business development).
If your content is not useful or entertaining, it will not spread.
One of the best methods of growing your audience is guest posting, especially in the early days when you have no audience.

The All-in-One content marketing playbook for startups
7 Lessons learned while content marketing for an early-stage startup
How to turn content marketing into the #1 revenue driver for your startup