The key for digital startups these days (and perhaps always outside a couple brief moments in Silicon Valley) is to build traction. Think of traction in a four-wheeler- you move forward as the tires engage with more stable ground instead of churning through and building a hole. Traction on a website comes when you have more users who like your service or content and return than you have users who visit and leave.
Building traction is also known as hacking growth. Here are five great ways to hack growth:
1. Measure traction. Measure not only the number of visitors, but the number of registered visitors, the frequency of their visits, their usage, and resulting revenues. You can build traction without building revenues. Google Analytics, Alexa, Facebook, and other companies provide code and services to gather this data.
2. Measure revenues. You can have traction without revenues, but you can't have growth without them. There are many ways to monetize users- product sales, subscriptions, advertising, lead generation, affiliate commissions, personal appearances (yes, there are websites that serve just to build someone's brand so they can make more money in personal appearances)- and it's never too early to start measuring which monetization schemes are working and which aren't. Google Adsense, Facebook, Paypal, CJ.com allow financial reports based on revenue source.
3. A/B testing. Try different approaches- different layouts, language, and even prices and terms- to see which are most effective at getting customers to proceed. Google Adwords makes it very easy to create alternative offers and then determine which are most popular.
4. SEO optimization. Nothing can drive traffic like a first page ranking (and bear in mind that first page results get 96% of clicks) for a popular keyword. Subsequently, this is a very difficult task. On the other hand, it is easier than you may think to achieve a first page ranking for very targeted keywords. This requires both good content, with thorough planning to make sure the keyword is, in fact, key to the content, and content distribution so there are many linkbacks from websites that actually use the content. Wordpress has built-in SEO optimization capabilities.
5. Sharing. Personal recommendation is the leading initiator of consumer action, so building in features that make it not only easy but compelling to get customers to share and ask others to use the service will drive virality. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat... the list is long of companies that have experienced explosive growth this way.