Ethan Smith of Yummly tells how he increased his user base from 0 to 15 million users in 5 years, and how you can too.
User growth is important for any business, whether you are a brick and mortar business owner or working in the digital space. The bigger your audience is, the more opportunity you have to convert your audience into users on your platforms and customers to your brand. Recently, I visited the Global Mobile Internet Conference in San Francisco. While I was there, I had an opportunity to sit with and interview one of the speakers who spoke about user acquisition. Ethan Smith is a growth advisor for many tech startups and Vice President of Growth & Marketing at Yummly, a Silicon Valley-based company that is known as the #1 food discovery app. Since inception in 2009, Yummly was able to acquire 15 million users to their site and all their applications. Now they have a global user base with the majority of their users being located in The US, Canada, the UK and Australia. During our interview, Ethan shared the top 10 things that will increase your user base to the millions:
1. Old school tactics still work.
Back in 2010, when Ethan started marketing at Yummly, most new startups focused marketing on new channels like social media and adopting new mobile apps on iOS and Android. Instead, Yummly started as a website and focused on SEO. This was a huge success and allowed them to quickly move past their competitors.
2. Take advantage of the proper platforms.
Most companies focus their marketing on the largest channels like Google, Facebookand Pinterest, but many categories have niche players that provide huge growth opportunities. If you're a food platform like Simply Recipes, go to a platform like Yummly that reaches millions of users interested in cooking. If you're a clothing company like Urban Outfitters, go to a platform like Wanelo with millions of users who love shopping for clothes. Virality is a huge channel for social networks and messaging apps, but in categories like food, it's not. Utilize the best channels that represent your product on per category basis.
3. Don't focus on every channel.
By not focusing on every single channel, you are able to hone in and engage more effectively with your audience. Typically, only 1-2 social networks will drive the majority of traffic to your site. For Ethan, he thought Facebook and Instagram would be large traffic sources given people's obsession with taking pictures of their food, but after testing the market, he found this wasn't the case. Two networks that he didn't expect drove his traffic: Pinterest and Twitter.
4. Utilize smaller networks.
If you're in the shopping space, networks you may not have heard about could be more effective in driving business to your site, such as Wanelo and Polyvore. For Ethan, he found that many new users he generated were through building a community with food bloggers through co-promotion as opposed to large social networks like Pinterest.
5. Be discoverable.
Many have proclaimed over the years that "SEO is dead," but this couldn't be further from the truth. SEO remains one of the largest marketing channels. Track your key words, place them in your site's content, optimize your SEO with tools like Search Metrics and Majestic SEO, and make sure your content gets shared. But the ability to be discovered on web searches doesn't stop there.
6. Be an early adopter.
Digital marketing is seeing one of the biggest transformations in recent history. Heavily influenced by the massive growth of mobile devices, new technologies such as app indexing and deep linking are making it easy for users to discover mobile app content. Examples of this are Apple's new Spotlight Search and Google Now. By adopting these new technologies, your chances of ranking higher increase significantly. Sure, half the new platforms won't work, but the other half will. Becoming an early adopter and you will have a first mover advantage.
7. Acquire 'Taste Makers'.
On the internet, there are many people who are on the way to becoming influencers in their respective fields. Ethan likes to call these people 'Taste Makers'. While these Taste Makers are on the rise to one day become well known brands, many are under the radar. They produce content out of passion and they can be your biggest supporters by promoting you to their fans.. Ethan searches out for these underappreciated Taste Makers, helps them build their brand on Yummly, and in turn they promote Yummly to their users.. This creates a win-win relationship between both parties.
8. Have your users adopt all your platforms.
Ethan works with food. In his space, a users may want to search for a recipe on their laptop, but they will need to create a list to buy stuff on their phone. When it comes time to cooking, they will need to utilize their iPad in the kitchen. When a user starts with one platform, make sure they adopt your app across all devices, so they are able to enjoy an end to end food experience.
9. Become a platform.
New technologies like URX are making it easier for apps to integrate with each other and to hand users from one app to another. If a user finds a poutine recipe on Yummly, they can easily buy the ingredients on Instacart. If you see a music artist profiled in a newspaper, you can easily play that song on Spotify. If you find a restaurant in Google Maps, you can make a reservation on OpenTable.
Yummly has also built widgets that bloggers can use when they publish recipes. This allows Yummly to build their user base on top of the user base of others.
10. Virality is overrated.
Virality is one of the most buzzed about techniques, but few have actually successfully gone viral. Ethan says that virality usually doesn't work except in specific spaces such as for messaging apps or paid platforms. With most other apps, virality typically only works by using controversial tactics like spamming a user's phone contacts during the onboarding process. Instead, provide value added sharing. Ethan does this by allowing his users to share recipes with each other, but this is definitely not a huge source of users.
By focusing on a few marketing channels, doing them really well and building an amazing product to market, Ethan was able to take Yummly from 0 to 15 million users. He didn't use any secret tricks or gimmicks. Instead, he focused heavily on what worked and what we should all do: Provide value to our users.