How We Got 400 Free Beta Testers

Have you heard this startup narrative?

Come up with an idea, build it, launch to an audience that accepts you wholeheartedly, and watch the money roll in.

While that may happen to a select few, it’s a bit different for us mere mortals.

Before your product is ready for prime time, it needs to be tested by a pool of users who represent your target market.

These beta testers will let you know if you’re on the right track and help you spot bugs and useful features.

You learn more about your customers, your developers get a clear roadmap, and customers get to use an awesome product.

Everyone wins.

winning beta lessons

source

It used to be easy to get people to sign up for your app. Now – not so much. Markets are saturated.

In this post, I’ll share how we got our first four hundred beta testers which helped us learn invaluable lessons.

Blogging from (almost) day one

When we started KyLeads, it was just an ugly landing page:

first version of KyLeads landing page

We didn’t start blogging from day one because we wanted a beautiful blog that would appeal to our visitors. Because of that, we spent an inordinate amount of time designing and developing a custom WordPress theme.

It turned out alright, but we lost months going back and forth on design decisions and squashing bugs that came up.

It was worth it but we should’ve started blogging from the beginning even while the theme was being designed.

We would’ve been further along in terms of organic traffic and social footprint. You win some and lose some – right?

From that point on, we focused on creating in-depth posts that helped the people we would one day call our customers.

We focused on topics like this one about lead magnets, this one about headline formulas, and this one about website optimization.

Since it was a new domain and we didn’t have any backlinks, audience, or social footprint, I used my own mailing list and social accounts to promote our posts.

From there, we derived our first trickle of traffic and aggressively promoted our mailing list.

A few people would click through to our homepage and sign up to be notified of our beta launch. Once the mailing list started to grow, we were able to promote posts directly to them.

It was a self-reinforcing cycle that paid off. About 25% (100) of our beta users came from people who interacted with our blog content.

Guest posting for beta testers

While we were creating content for our blog, we also focused on getting the word out there through guest blog posts.

We found opportunities in three ways.

  • We followed influencers in our niche.

For example, we’d just type in Neil Patel or Pat Flynn and see what Google brought back.

The first few results will be their own websites and social media accounts. If you keep going, you’ll start seeing where they appeared on other websites.

This showed us opportunities we would’ve otherwise missed. We added every promising website to a spreadsheet and kept researching.

  • We used Ahrefs to backlink opportunities

If you’re not familiar with Ahrefs, it’s an SEO and competitive analysis tool. We’d type in the URL of websites that were in a similar space but weren’t competing with us directly.

This gave us a bunch of websites that were linking around in our niche and had a similar audience demographic.

We did this with about ten websites and added them to our spreadsheet.

  • Used guest blog compilation articles

Up until this point, we were looking at guest post opportunities that weren’t obvious. Most of them weren’t actively looking for guest post authors.

After we exhausted that route, we went the obvious path and typed in variations of “list of guest blogging websites niche” in Google. That brought back quite a few opportunities and filled out our spreadsheet.

We got down to the serious business of pitching these websites. Here’s the pitch we used:

Hey first name,

My name is (your name) from (your company/website). I was on your website reading (name of article) and like how (point or perspective you liked).

I’m reaching out to see if you’d be interested in a few guest post ideas I think your audience would find valuable.

Idea 1

Idea 2

and Idea 3

If you choose any of them, I’d use relevant imagery and reputable references to support the points I make. Here are links to some articles I’ve written in the past:

Link one

Link two

You can also find me on social media

Twitter handle

Other social handle.

I’m looking forward to hearing back from you.

Thank you,

Your name

This lets the editor/owner of the website know you’ve taken time to read their content so are familiar with their style. It also gives them a few ideas to choose from if they don’t like the first one.

You also show them where you’ve written before so they can see if they like your writing.

I was surprised because some of these websites would message us back and tell us we’d have to pay for the guest post slot. I’ve never paid for a guest post and I don’t plan on starting.

A few of them were cool and we landed guest post slots like this one on sales funnels.

Looking back, we should’ve spent more time on guest posting but there’s always the future right?

Roughly fifty users signed up for our beta test through guest blogging.

Quora

I’ve been active on Quora for a few years and have over five million views on the platform. I actually hang out there and have a lot of fun doing it so answering questions and linking back to KyLeads was a no-brainer.

The essence of a Quora strategy is as follows:

  • Set up a killer profile and cross-promote your digital assets (social and websites)
  • Follow writers and topics in your space (add a few just for fun as well)
  • Choose questions with a good follower to answer ratio (make sure they have at least 20 followers).
  • Create longer answers (300-1000) words and share it on your social profiles.
  • Add a footer with a call to action

Rinse and repeat. You can read a more in-depth guide to using Quora here.

I wrote on Quora almost every day for a few weeks and drove thousands of visitors back to KyLeads. A lot of them signed up for our mailing list.

When the dust settled, we had roughly 100 beta testers from this route.

Indie Hackers

Indie Hackers is an interesting community full of makers. It’s unique because you’re encouraged to share links to projects you’re working on.

If you post about your product on Reddit you’ll be downvoted into oblivion. On Indie Hackers, if you don’t share your product people will ask you to.

Over the course of the last year, I’ve been an active member. At first, I just wanted to share my experiences and learn from people who were building similar (and not so similar products).

Over time, I got a few followers, hundreds of upvotes, and connected with interesting people.

People would go to my profile and click through to my websites.

Apart from a product page on Indie Hackers, this the only place I mention KyLeads unless someone asks me a direct relevant question.

We get a few visitors every week from the forum.

They’re quick to share feedback and let you know if there are any bugs or strange design issues. We only got a few beta testers (about 20) from here but they’re super engaged one so it was definitely a win.

Beta Bound

Betabound is a curation website that connects interested beta testers with the people who need them. There’s not much difference between them and BetaList except there’s no paid option on betabound.

The website is created and maintained by Centercode – a company that provides different types of testing for high growth startups (read funded) and enterprise companies.

We submitted to betabound and got a reply in a few days and were on the homepage within a week.

Our performance on the website left a lot to be desired. It may be because their audience found no interest in our product.

In the end, we got 34 referral visits from betabound and a few turned into beta testers for KyLeads.

SaaS directories

There are tons of SaaS directories like G2 Crowd, SaasGenius, Capterra, GetApp and tons of other ones.

We weren’t keen on using the platforms because we had no budget to sign up for their PPC campaigns and no built-in reputation/reviews.

In the end, we added KyLeads to a few of the most popular ones like G2 Crowd and SaaSGenius. All of their approval processes are straightforward but that’s not what matters.

Once we were live on their websites, my team expected the traffic to start rolling in. I wasn’t convinced because I have a clear idea of how these platforms work.

You get out what you put in.

We didn’t put in much work so I didn’t expect to get much in the way of benefits.

I almost missed the referral traffic. The ones that came didn’t sign up. We got a grand total of one beta user from this route.

SlideShare

We were inspired to repurpose content on SlideShare after reading about the strategies drift used to get early traction and build an audience for their blog.

I’ve personally had some success with SlideShare and have been featured in their daily/weekly roundups so I was open to giving it a try.

We created two presentations which took way longer than they should have. We made one for my personal SlideShare account and another for a brand new account we set up for KyLeads.

The one on my personal account got just over 200 views.

slideshare post for beta testers

The one on our company account got 100 views.

Together, they sent fifty people back to KyLeads. Frankly, I was shocked it sent us that much referral traffic.

Beginners luck?

Anyways, of those fifty people, ten decided to sign up to be beta testers and pad out our numbers. Again, I was shocked at the level of engagement we were getting from SlideShare.

This is something we plan on revisiting in the future when we can dedicate enough energy to the design of the content.

We ran a giveaway

I’ve written about our experiences with our giveaway in great detail here.

Here’s the TL;DR version:

  • We reached out to companies we respected to partner with us to on our giveaway
  • We got a few on board and created a prize pool worth $100,000+
  • There were tons of impressions but our conversion rates were poor.
  • We capture just over one hundred and fifty email subscribers.
  • They were uber engaged with us after we ended the giveaway
  • 50+ decided to join our beta

This was the most responsive group of people we ran into. I think it had something to do with the sheer value we gave away as well as the discounts we created for them with our partners.

We didn’t ask so we’ll never know.

What we noticed during our beta was the people who joined through the giveaway needed extra support than people we encountered through other channels.

They were also vocal and gave us invaluable feedback about where and how we could improve the user experience.

We got active on HARO to get beta testers

I’ve been aware of Haro for years but never used it to its full potential. It’s not until I listened to an episode of The Side Hustle Nation with Pete Walter that I decided to revisit it.

I sent the episode to everyone and told them to sign up for Haro. Every single night, I’d sit down and scroll through the thrice daily emails.

I’d find at least one request I could answer every day.

To make sure everyone was following up, I’d ping them in the morning to send me requests and their response so I could help them out if it needed polishing.

We got quite a few placements through this route.

Though the direct referral traffic wasn’t much to talk about, it had a positive effect on our search traffic which started to increase during this period.

It’s not easy to analyze the traffic from these sources because not all them told us when our content went live (or if they accepted the pitch). We had to monitor Ahrefs and our analytics to spot them.

By hacking the data together, we found out 50+ people signed up for our beta from the referral traffic generated by Haro.

Conclusion

If you’ve read this far, I don’t need to tell you how important beta testers are to your eventual success. I’ve outlined the major strategies we used to get four hundred beta users.

Blogging – 100

Guest posting – 51

Quora – 103

Indie Hackers – 18

Betabound – 3

SaaS directories – 1

Slideshare – 10

Giveaway – 56

Haro – 53

Total – 395 (Don’t shoot me, I rounded up).

We tested a lot of channels and not all of them were successful. Use this article as a starting point in your efforts to craft a beta test that will help you maximize your learnings.

Some of what we used may work and some may not. If you find a winner then double down. What works during your beta will work when you launch.

It’s important to note that beta testers don’t automatically equal engaged users or success. Of the four hundred people that signed up, more than half dropped off throughout the process.

The remaining people weren’t as engaged as we would’ve liked. Only a handful love what we’re doing as much as we do.

It’s the nature of building a product.

Let us know your stories about how you got your beta testers in the comments and don’t forget to share.

Has a Flawed Startup Narrative Tricked You Into Chasing Mana From Heaven?

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about a business idea he had. It was a pretty solid idea with proven demand and he was in a good position to execute on it.

He has a relevant audience, the financial resources, and could get a team together quickly.

There were two things preventing him from pulling the trigger.

  1. He didn’t know any investors
  2. His idea wasn’t “unique enough”

*Facepalm*

The word unique is thrown around to the point where it doesn’t mean anything. Change out “unique” with the words “new, special, innovative, etc.” and you can see what I mean.

We’ve got a unique perspective on the problem.

We’ve got an innovative solution we’re working on.

We’ve got a new way of getting traction.

When you peel back the covers, you see unique is just a new coat of paint polished with a few buzzwords. Don’t get me started on buzzwords.

The thing is, you don’t have to be unique, or cutting edge, or innovative to build a successful business. In the current startup narrative, everyone is unique but no one is different.

Here’s what unique looks like.

Come up with an idea.

Do a semblance of validation.

Create a pitch deck.

Get initial funding.

If that part doesn’t work – build an MVP in 30 days.

Launch it on Hacker News and Product Hunt.

Get users that aren’t paying because it’s in beta or “monetization” hasn’t been figured out.

Create another pitch deck.

Get the funding that was denied the startup earlier.

Spend the money on a team that’s too big and marketing people that are clueless.

Develop a beast of an app.

Burn money until traction, the startup makes it to the next funding round, or the founders have to shutter the whole venture.

It doesn’t matter. It wasn’t their money anyway.

Repeat the process until they die of old age, put together an investment fund, or hit it big.

Unique takes precedence over being successful and profitable.

And that startup narrative really sucks.

Companies with no reason to exist have not only come to life but have been given millions of dollars. I know better than most that business can be a crapshoot.

Juicero, the $400 juice machine, closed its doors in 2017. The final nail in their coffin was when a Bloomberg piece showed their juice packets could be squeezed by hand.

Juicero’s entire business model went up in smoke. Some of the largest companies and investment groups had thrown over $100,000,000 at the young company.

Do you think none of them did their due diligence? Did they think the general public was too stupid to find out? Or was it simply a matter of greed?

Whatever the case, those are symptoms of a larger problem.

The real problem is how much dumb money is floating around. To compound that, groupthink is real. If it were just a bit harder to get funding for ideas then people would be forced to validate their business models, distribution channels, and products more thoroughly.

You know, they’d be required to do “the business of business.”

Inventing a new wheel

It may seem like funding is the enemy. It’s not. Investment dollars have made it possible for a lot of indispensable companies to get off the ground.

Smart investment spend brought us everything from Walmart to Quora. The way investment dollars are distributed is what’s broken.

The networks are insular. If you don’t know someone or can’t get an introduction then your business with real merit may be dead in the water. People who’ve failed multiple times have a better network, can send a few emails, and get introductions to another moneyed firm willing to fund the next possible unicorn.

Something seems off about that whole scenario to me. We need a better wheel.

I have a crazy idea

Build a business that doesn’t rely on investor funding. Put real skin in the game. Take the time to build it right the first time around instead of breaking shit because you’re moving too fast.

Forget about whether you’re unique. Worry about whether or not you can turn a profit on every item/unit you sell.

Before I continue, this approach may not work for every business. A social media platform, for example, needs a lot of users before they can attract advertisers or get acquired. They’ll need some stay afloat money.

Heavy manufacturing or technologies on the fringe (think artificial intelligence) also have huge sunk costs before they ever begin to yield fruits. They don’t count.

What about that social media scheduling app or the project management software? Are they going to make any real impact on the world?

Do they really need to be funded?

They should be able to prove their merit before funding becomes part of the equation.  Let’s strip away the pervasive idea that a startup is an idea, a website, and a few lines of proprietary code.

That’s a hobby.

Instead of building like this:

  1. Find an idea
  2. Create a pitch deck
  3. Meet investors
  4. Get funded
  5. Do things to look bigger
  6. Make decisions for the short term because growth at all costs is the goal
  7. Burn through the funding
  8. Avert going insane with the help of your dearest loved ones
  9. Close the company doors

Build like this:

  1. Find an idea
  2. Build it
  3. Get customers
  4. Become profitable
  5. Retain your sanity
  6. Make decisions for the long term because growth at all costs isn’t the goal
  7. Maybe find investors

It takes a longer and you put real skin in the game. Are those bad things?

Would you be a fool for going out to find your first ten customers by hand? Then doing the same thing for the next 100? Or should you build scalable systems from the very first day?

If you tried you’d soon find that you’re optimizing for an event that may never happen.

Would it be a bad thing if it took you a decade to build profitable million dollar business?

Or should you take all the funding you can find, go public, and lose billions every year?

We’re conducting an experiment at KyLeads. Our premise is simple. Build products people want, sell to those people, and grow the business on the back of profit.

I know – radical.

We employ a small group of passionate people. It’s not glamorous and we likely won’t be featured in Tech Crunch or Entrepreneur in the beginning – if at all.

The mana was temporary

For all intents in purposes, we’re a startup. Except for the fact that we’re not. A startup is a company that’s conceived and designed to grow fast.

The wheel we’re inventing is as old as humanity. When people were still foragers there was no one to lend them resources. They earned everything.

When we made the horrible decision to start farming, you only grew when you went out and worked for it. There was no one to give you free grain or money. Even in the Bible, Mana only lasted for forty years.

That’s just not how the real world works. Am I calling investment capital a fairy tale?

What do you think millions of dollars in exchange for ownership of an entity that exists only on paper is?

This is our truth.

What’s yours?

How To Host A Giveaway And Not Crush It – Our Experience


A few weeks ago, we were throwing around ideas about how we could build awareness and an email list for KyLeads ahead of our beta launch. We’ve been blogging and creating content on other platforms so that was bringing in a few visitors every day.

We needed something that was relatively cheap because we had no data about our core metrics like LTV, ARPU, MRR (well, we knew that, it was zero), value of a subscriber, trial to customer conversion rate, etc etc. The only thing we knew was we wanted something that would give us outlandish results – fast.

That means content marketing and website optimization were out. It could give us outlandish results – I can’t say it would be fast.

Advertising was out. We weren’t ready to spend a lot of money when we didn’t know our numbers.

Outreach for promotion wasn’t ideal because we didn’t have anything compelling to share at the time. After a bit of soul-searching, I stumbled on a few posts talking about how to host a giveaway.

After reading up a bit, I thought to myself – this can’t be that hard. Once I pitched it to the team and a few friends, everyone was on board.  We locked it in for the beginning of June and got to work.

Image of crush it gif

This post outlines what we did, what worked, what didn’t, and our key learnings.

How we settled on a prize for our giveaway.

If you look around the internet for information on how to choose the best prize for a giveaway, the advice is consistent. Don’t use an iPhone or any other general consumer good. The reasoning is you’ll get a lot of interest but those people won’t be right for your core offer.

We sell software that allows website owners to make popups and quizzes to generate more email subscribers and personalize their messages.

At the very least, the giveaway should appeal to people who own websites. The best case scenario would be bloggers, digital entrepreneurs, authors, etc who’re actively building their online presence. With the right prize, conversion rates can be as high as 85%.

That meant general prizes like tickets to x, phones, computers, etc were out of it.

We settled on a set of books related to business and marketing. In all, there were half a dozen books I’ve read personally and people have recommended to me. It was a good prize and it was cheap (less than $100).

We could’ve gone live like that but I thought we could do better. Why not give away some relevant software too? KyLeads may be unknown but there are a lot of software companies which would complement our offering.

The more I thought about it, the better it sounded. It took me all of 30 minutes to come up with the idea and adapt a quick template to reach out to folks with.

It took another 2 hours to compile a list of potential partners and get the email address of the decision makers. In all, I ended up with a list of 30 companies who I thought would be a good fit.

I personally reached out to everyone on my list. Within minutes of sending the first email, Ryan Kulp responded and agreed to a lifetime account.

image of reply from Ryan about partnering

I was stoked. That was much easier than I thought it’d be. Over the course of the next week, the replies started to trickle in.

Some people weren’t able to participate but they still replied and let me down easy. They were cool about the whole thing.

Susan from Buzzsumo even thanked me for following up with her. She said no in the end but her response was encouraging. Respect to people like Alex from Groove and Francois from Hunter who are polite even when they don’t have to be.

Side note: The worst thing that can happen in any of these situations is someone telling you no or ignoring your email. No one is going to hunt you down and f*ck up your life because you emailed them. Just go for it.

Once the dust settled, we had seven partners on board and a few more expressing interest. That’s a 20% success rate on a cold email. The reply rate was about 50%.

Gif of boom baby

Our partners included:

Inputkit.io

Tettra.co

fomo.com

Wpfusionplugin.com

Complice.co

Pixelme.me

Ninja Outreach

Big thanks to everyone who participated.

Our prize pool had swelled to over $100,000. Each company was giving away at least one lifetime account. The $100,000 is a conservative estimate.

Needless to say, with a prize pool like this, I was sure we were about to crush it.

Getting ready to host a giveaway

We knew creating the giveaway wasn’t enough. We had to promote it as far and wide as we could. After a bit of deliberation, we decided to attack as many avenues as possible.

That would be organic, ads, and other people’s networks. In preparation for that, I set up a Facebook ads campaign, created custom images, and compiled a list of possible influencers who’d help us spread the message.

Here are a few of the images we used:

image used to host giveaway

To find influencers, I searched for Podcasts related to marketing and entrepreneurship. A few at the top of the list were:

After settling on the podcasts, I ran through past guests and listened to shows that seemed relevant and took notes.

EOF podcast episode list

There were over 2,000 guests to choose from.

I’d then go to the guest website, find their email address, and save it in an excel file. In the end, I had about 80 names and email addresses from doing this.

The other strategy I used to find influencers was by typing “top marketing blogs” “top small business blogs” and “top anything else relevant blogs.”

I was looking for compilations of influencers that would find the giveaway interesting and possibly share it with their audience.

image of google search of best small business blog

This tactic yielded another 75 relevant contacts. In total, we had over two hundred contacts ready to email once we went live.

Apart from that, we set up a Facebook ads campaign. I’ll give you more details about that in the strategy section.

Setting up the giveaway for maximum results

We had a number of goals for the giveaway.

  • Build awareness about KyLeads by getting it in front of as many eyeballs as possible.
  • Get more email subscribers.
  • Grow our social media following on Facebook and Twitter.

We needed software that would allow us to accomplish those goals without having to do most of the work manually. We also wanted a piece of software that had virality built in.

We looked at Gleam, kingsumo, and Vyper.

We eventually went with Vyper. The setup process is pretty straightforward. I liked Vyper so much because they have a great landing page and a leaderboard to encourage additional actions. You can view a screenshot of the landing page here.

You can set it up with tons of custom actions that give participants extra entries and increase their chances of winning the grand prize. We took advantage of those features.

We decided to go with three prize tiers. If you enter the giveaway you get a prize, two winners based on points, and three random draw winners.

Anyone could win and everyone was guaranteed to get a prize.

image of entry page and custom actions

Comment on a blog post, share articles, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, share on social media platforms, etc. Once everything was set up on the technical side, we ran through the giveaway to make sure everything was working as expected.

The giveaway went live on May 28.

Strategies we used to promote the sweepstakes.

No matter how awesome you think your giveaway prize is, it won’t do anything if you don’t promote it far and wide. We did a lot of preparation leading up to the actual giveaway and now was the moment of truth.

We had fourteen days to go big or go home.

Harassed friends

The first thing I did was tap my own network to get the ball rolling. If the people who’re required to support you don’t then something is wrong. Luckily, I’ve got some cool peeps.

Since we already communicate on a regular basis, I didn’t stress myself about how to word the email I sent them. It was basically me telling them to share it on social and a rundown of what’s involved.

Adam from Blogging Wizard came through and tweeted it to thousands of followers:


Your network is only so large. At least, our network is relatively small so it didn’t take long to exhaust that avenue. We moved right into emailing our existing list.

Emailed our list

The very next step was to get my existing audience on board. This is an audience that’s separate from KyLeads but still relevant. The Friday before the giveaway went live, I sent out an email letting them know I had a surprise in store.

I didn’t let them know exactly what it was but I did make it clear that it was epic.

Image of the giveaway email I sent

On the following Monday, I revealed the details of the giveaway with a longer email. The goal was to let them know what was happening, how it was relevant to them, and get them to click to find out all the details.

This is how we got our very first sign ups for the giveaway.

Over the course of the giveaway, we sent out three more emails. One was to let them know it was halfway over and strategies to get more entries (or enter in the first place).

The second one was to let them know about the current leaderboard and keep the giveaway top of mind. The third email was to announce just a few hours left in the giveaway.

I thought about incentivizing the laggards on my email list, but when time rolled around for the final email, I decided against it.

Facebook ads

Facebook is a fickle beast. It showed us its true nature when we were preparing for this giveaway.

I’m an old hand when it comes to Facebook ads. Nothing is written in stone so I follow a simple strategy. Come up with your epic ad angle, get a few creatives, use small budgets, tweak until you have a winner, then scale until people get tired.

It’s straightforward. Until it’s not.

I made an ad campaign for the KyLeads giveaway and followed the normal steps I’d take.

I made three ad sets targeting different groups of people. I set a low daily budget of $15 for each ad set just to get a feel for what was working and what wasn’t.

Facebook ad sets

I won’t bore you with the details because that’s not the focus of this post. After I created the ad sets, I drilled down and created three different ads for each ad set. In the end, I had nine ads primed and ready to go.

Image of facebook ad for giveaway.

Side note: If you’re writing ads, test out long copy as well as short copy. I know there are schools of thought which champion short copy. I don’t know why. I’ve seen long copy perform better in head to head tests more often than not. The thing is, if someone reads all that copy and clicks through then you’re more likely to get a conversion.

I digress.

After everything was set up, I decided to go and pay my outstanding ad balance early so I wouldn’t have any issues during the contest. So, I click pay and boom, this is what I see.

Image of Facebook error

I was pissed. I wasn’t so annoyed with the time I spent or the fact that my account was blocked temporarily. It was because Facebook has the worst customer service I’ve ever seen. I would be lucky if they sorted this issue out in the same month let alone within the timeframe we were working with.

We tried to reach out to them but they didn’t reply with anything useful for the first week. The chunk of change I wanted to spend would’ve made no difference to their billions.

I had to move on – fast.

StumbleUpon ads

The next choice for us was StumbleUpon ads. I’ve used them in the past but I’m by no means an expert with the platform. When I landed on their ads login page, I saw this:

image of stumbleupon ads home screen

At this point, it felt like the world was conspiring against us and this contest. I had a fleeting moment of weakness where I thought about throwing in the towel. It passed.

I logged into my StumbleUpon ad account to see if I could salvage anything. It was a good day. I had a few bucks left from an old campaign. I tried to load some money into my account and they just refunded it instantly. After three times I gave up.

I set up a campaign and let it run. This ended up bringing in a few hundred hits.

Side note: StumbleUpon itself is also going through a transition. They’re moving to Mix.com at the end of this month (June 2018). It may be a good opportunity to be an early adopter for a platform that promises to have millions of users.

Twitter ads

I’ve advertised on Twitter once before. That was way back in 2016. The results I got then made me decide to write it off.

I was running out of options. Facebook was shot. Stumbleupon was shot. Pinterest was acting like a dick.

I turned back to Twitter and decided to give it another shot. For the most part, it was similar to other ad platforms. What I disliked was how to implement the tracking. Instead of putting it in the head tag, it goes in the body.

I couldn’t get it to work properly with the software I was using. In the end, I had to do some magic in Google analytics.

We created four Twitter ads and let them loose on the world.

Image of twitter ad examples

The absolute results weren’t bad.

Image of twitter ad results

Our targeting seemed to be off because even though we got thousands of clicks, they converted poorly. I switched up the targeting again and this time the cost per click shot up by 100x.

Needless to say, I turned that one off and turned Twitter off as well.

Side note: People at Twitter. It’s hard to find data on your platform.

Quora ads

When Quora rolled out ads, I requested access and didn’t hear back from them. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it and went on with my life.

It wasn’t until I saw ads from a company I knew was in the early stages and couldn’t afford $5,000+ a month that I got curious again.

During the contest, we decided to give it a shot. The interface is similar to Facebook in that it has campaigns, ad sets, and ads.

What I didn’t like was how limited the text space was and their punctuation rules. The kept disapproving my ads because their software didn’t like the way I constructed my sentences. I’m a fan of long copy which helps pre-qualify the people who click to my website. Over time, I’m sure their real customers – the advertisers – will change this.

What am I supposed to do with that?

The CPC seems a bit high in comparison to other platforms I’ve used. Usually, your CPC goes down when your CTR goes up. With one of the ads I sent live, the CTR was about 1.5% (decent) but the CPC was over $2. It was odd to me. I kept the ad running to see if it would balance itself out.

In the end, the CTR and the CPC dropped to .06% and $1.50 respectively.

Though it didn’t drive much traffic, I’ll revisit Quora ads at a later date and really dive in to see how to make it work for us.

At this point, we’d run through our paid advertising options and didn’t even consider Google because the Keywords we’d be bidding on were too expensive. We’d burned a few days and didn’t have the time or motivation to tweak a Display ad campaign.

That left us with a few options.

Email outreach

We knew we were going to do a lot of email outreach from the beginning. We just thought we’d have more engagement before starting the process.

Whatever.

We pulled out our list of hundreds of emails and got to work.

Our results weren’t too bad considering the context. These were cold emails we sent out to people in the hopes that they’d promote what we were offering with no visible kickback for them. Our conversion rate from this was ~ 15%.

Maybe they’re betting on our future and our ability to return the favor later. Not likely. Looking back, I think it was because the contest was epic and they were generous people.

A few people were really cool about it and shared on Twitter and even emailed us back. In a few instances it led to interesting conversations and possible opportunities in the future.

People like Sam Hurley and Nick Loper did us a solid.

Nick Loper Twet Sam Hurley Tweet

Tapping into existing traffic

We didn’t have a lot of traffic to KyLeads at the time so there wasn’t much traffic to tap into. That’s not to say I couldn’t tap into traffic from other websites I own.

I put a single page takeover on one of my websites announcing the giveaway.

Image of full page takeover

I tested two versions of the CTA and it seems people liked the phrasing “learn more” over “enter to win.”

It converted over 53% more visitors.

Through all these strategies, it was difficult to monitor the conversion rates via specific channels. I was busy slicing and dicing Google analytics data. After a while, I just monitored conversion rates in aggregate.

If KyLeads had more traffic, there were a number of things we could’ve done.

  1. Use a floating bar on all pages to increase awareness.
  2. Added a call to action in the sidebar to capture blog readers
  3. Add a site wide pop up to build more awareness.

Posted on social media

Of course we published the giveaway on all of our social channels. We added it to multiple group boards on Pinterest, used this tool to post in multiple LinkedIn groups, posted on Twitter multiple times, made a Facebook post about it, and hit the other major social networks.

It was surprising to me that the post was almost completely ignored on Reddit. Not even the troll who told me to get a life. It just got buried.

There are a lot of guides out there about how to use specific social media channels so I won’t get into that.

Things we could’ve done better.

We’re a small team by design. This is one of those times when more could’ve been better. Even if it was just a temporary increase in headcount by way of virtual assistants.

That’s neither here nor there. Looking back, there are specific things we could’ve done to improve the results of our giveaway.

Prepared for setbacks.

I didn’t think Facebook would kick us in the ass like it did. We spent a lot of time and budgeted considerable resources betting on it. When it fell through, we were left scrambling to find alternatives.

Though Twitter drove a lot of traffic, it didn’t convert well for us. At the same time, other avenues closed before we had a chance to explore them.

We could’ve cut down on the effect this had on us by preparing a few contingency plans. That may have looked like preparing ads on different networks ahead of time and testing interest through other avenues.

The best laid plans can and will go south. That’s what happened to us and we ended up being reactionary instead of proactive dealing with situations as they occurred.

I’m sure we could’ve had a different outcome if we’d been able to recollect ourselves midway and go in a different direction.

Lesson learned. Always be prepared for when your plans go wrong – they will.

Written a blog post

I debated writing a blog post because, as I’ve mentioned earlier, KyLeads doesn’t have much traffic. That being said, it wouldn’t have hurt us if we’d written the post and taken a unique angle.

It would’ve been another opportunity to promote the brand itself in addition to hosting a giveaway.

At the very least, it would’ve made for an interesting read. As it was, most of our efforts focused on the things we did offsite.

Going forward, we’re using our blog as much more than a way to contribute to customer success. Yes, posts about how to create compelling lead magnets are indispensable. They’re not the only thing we can produce.

The fact that I’m writing this post is evidence of that commitment. The old me would’ve kept quiet about it and gone on with my day. Now, I’m much more inclined to share.

Coordinated with partners better

The only thing we did to get our partners on board with promotion was to send them a few emails before, during, and after the giveaway. Now, don’t confuse this with not communicating with them.

We kept them up to date during every step of the process. What I mean is we didn’t push promotion on them. I felt like they were already doing us a solid so it should be our responsibility to get the word out.

With that line of thinking, I shared a few graphics we made for social media and encouraged them to share to their following. There were no other dedicated messages asking them to participate.

In hindsight, I could’ve chosen strategic opportunities to get them to involve their respective audiences.

  1. At the launch
  2. The midway point
  3. With just a few hours left.

Not everyone would’ve taken me up on it, but the ones who did could’ve made a big difference. Going forward, we’ll create collateral for all stakeholders when we’re cross promoting:

  1. Social sharing images
  2. Templates for posts to different social media networks.
  3. Email templates

It’s their choice whether or not they use it. People are more likely to participate if you make it easy for them to say less by reducing their cognitive load and risk.

Better Identified influencers

Another area where we fell short was communicating with the right influencers through outreach. We used a generic approach and the emails to top bloggers fell on deaf ears for the most part.

Not surprisingly, the emails to podcast guests that mentioned specific parts of their podcast episodes got the highest response. In some cases, that was just to tell us it wouldn’t be a good fit.

Think about that, not only did they open the email we sent, they read it, and felt compelled to reply to a complete stranger.

That shows the merit and power of a tailored email.

Going forward, we’re going to focus on the quality of our outreach as opposed to the size of our outreach pool. It’s obviously easier said than done but I think we’re equal to the task.

Breakdown of our giveaway stats

Finally, let’s look at the results we got from the giveaway.

Total impressions: 150,000 (win)

Facebook: 10,000

Twitter: 100,000 (paid and organic)

Quora: 25,000 (paid and organic – I’m an active member of the community)

Other (hacker news, Reddit, Stumbleupon, etc): 15,000

Click through rate: 3.0%

Total visitors – 4,500 unique visitors

Page views 5,000

Conversion rate (aggregate): 3.62%

Total new email subscribers: 163

Fake/invalid or catchall email addresses: 9 or 5% (average is roughly 15-20%)

Average email open rate during the giveaway 42%

email open rate image

New Facebook likes: 27

New Twitter followers: 8

Blog comments: 14

Virality score: 42

 

Virality score is a metric from Vyper.io that lets you know how well referrals are working in your contest. It’s from 1-100 and the higher the number the better.

As you can see from our stats. We got a lot of raw exposure but in the end, that exposure didn’t bring the result we’re looking for.

Conclusion

We did a lot of things right and we did a lot of things wrong during our giveaway. I’m happy about the learning experience and the connections we were able to build.

Do I wish we got 10,000 email subscribers? Of course.

Am I worried this is part of a larger trend? Not at all. You win some and you lose some.

I want to say thanks to all of our partners once again, you’re the real MVP (the teammate kind, not software 🙂 )  and for everyone who participated in the giveaway.

If there’s anything you think I left out let me know in the comments and don’t forget to share.

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