Is growth hacking just another buzzword for marketing? Not really. Can it help you drive more customers to your business? Absolutely. Here are 11 DIY hacks you can do today.

As many Aussie businesses are still in their digital infancy, it may be enough of an explanation to say growth hacking [coined by US marketing guy Sean Ellis, the man behind the massive rise of Dropbox, in 2010] was born of a need for marketing without a budget. That’s something most businesses can relate to.

Do you have a lack of resources? Yep. No money? You bet. No time? Check. Want some sort of way to see if your efforts are working? Double check.

That’s all growth hacking is. It’s a smart, free or low cost, trackable way to attract (and retain) more customers that you can scale. It’s about doing more with less.

We’ve deliberately left the more tech-heavy elements of hacking to one side. Today is just about getting the basics right with your digital marketing.

Together with growth hacker Joshua Khoddami, who has turned around many small and large businesses and now co-founder of Neu.Capital, we’ve come up with 11 simple hacks. And they are all free (or low cost).

1. Get your online house in order

You are not going to get around it. Google is where Australians search with a market share of more than 90 percent, so get the basics right by going to Google My Business and filling in your profile (tasty images, legitimate reviews, compelling descriptions). This complements your website and ensures your business appears on Google Search, Maps and Google+. Have several shops? You can bulk upload your stuff. And it’s free.

It’s not only about your location, but your profile and how active you are, how engaged you are with your customers. The better, and more, the reviews, the higher the ranking you get.

“There’s no generational lag with the take-up of online. Search growth across all industries from pizzas to physios has increased 10-20 percent year-in, year-out. So unless you are on Google, you will be getting that 20 percent less each year, every year,” Joshua said.

2. Control your digital reputation

The aim is to fill up as much of the real estate on that first page of your search as you can which includes populating all major search directories such as True Local, Hotfrog, and Yellow Pages.

You must get as much control of the first page as possible. You don’t want any terrible ratings or scary reviews. Do an audit.

“Big companies, mid-range and SMEs spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a month to get people to Google them. So know what they are going to find,” he said.

“If you have negative reviews or find you have a low-star rating, you’ve lost them,” Joshua said.

“We worked with a major homewares retailer who was losing $150,000 a month. They had been operating nationally for 50 years and had more than 50 stores. One of the major issues was that people would Google the name and a review site, which would come up second in the search, carried more than 100 mostly negative reviews. That drove people away.

“Not only did they see the traffic to their website plummet but also walk-in traffic, all because of this negative experience by Googling their name.”

Joshua said in that particular case, a competitor had paid a US agency to provide the bad reviews and it took them three months and lot of money to track down the digital footprint, and turn the reputation around.

3. Get mobile friendly or lose sales

Last year, mobile overtook desktop as the preferred device for search for businesses in the US and it won’t be long until it does the same here, so is your business ready?

At the moment, most would say no. According the latest figures, more than 60 percent of Australia’s websites aren’t optimised for mobile devices.

So what does mobile friendly mean? Well, you shouldn’t be using software that is uncommon like Flash; the content is responsive to the smaller screen; you can still read the text without zooming; and the links aren’t squashed together.

Is it important? Yes, Google last year announced it will prioritise companies that have mobile-friendly websites, when people are searching on their smart phones or tablets. Find out if your site gets the thumbs up.

4. Social media is for sharing not selling

Businesses get a lot of traction by showing the good work they do in the community. This is when you should be using your social media channels such as Facebook. These are “sharing” platforms so photos and non-product related stories should be your focus.

For example, if you run a restaurant, you may be involved in a charity such as Oz Harvest.

“Create another website for that charity. Get some of the youngest members in the team to put together a fun social page and, if you keep it active, it will eventually fill up that next spot on your Google page [which fits in with tip #2],” he said.

“You have control of all these spots, so as long as you are giving good customer service and a good product, you have nothing to worry about.“

Learn more about how best to use social media here.

5. Grab your business name in Google AdWords (or your competitor will)

Bid for your business name as a keyword so that it appears at the top of Google when people look for you. You should get it cheaply as you’ll have the most relevant website for that search term so providing you with a high Quality Score and lowering the cost per click you’ll need to pay.

“A cheeky growth hack is bidding on your competitor’s name,” he said.

That real estate is up for grabs and the only stipulation is you can’t use their trademark in your ad copy. Just think, they have gone to the trouble of getting people to Google their business name only to have your company’s name appear at the top of the page above theirs. It’s a big tactic in the world of accountants.

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6. Increase traffic with Facebook ads and Google AdWords (and know the difference)

Paid traffic is very scalable so you need to trial these, but just get your head around the difference between the two before you do.

In simple terms, Google AdWords are used on pages where someone is actively looking for what you do or sell. For instance, if I’m looking for a particular model of lawnmower, your ad will be there at the top of the search page.

Facebook ads are targeting a demographic. You’ve identified the customer who might be interested in your product or services (age, gender, interests) and your ad will show up when they are on Facebook. Basically the potential reach for Facebook is much higher but the ads are not as targeted.

7. Partner with someone with more reach

This can take many forms. If you are an accountant, you may want to buddy up with a legal firm for referrals. If you are running a restaurant, a partnership could amount to joining one of the main delivery sites as shown in these four easy steps:

a. Join the delivery service such as menulog or deliveroo and they do the marketing for you.

b. Make sure you are in the top three in Google search. They are probably sitting on their couch, not on a desktop when looking for dinner.

c. Get your business on review sites like Yelp or Time Out. This will also be needed if the third rung on your Google page is reviews.

d. Promote social media word of mouth because people like to eat at places where friends have recommended.

8. Build single-message landing pages

These shouldn’t be confused with the pages on your website. Landing pages are far more direct, both in their language and what you want the person to do (the call to action). A good rule of thumb is that each of your products or services should have their own landing page. You may even go further and design a landing page for each type of customer (but that’s down the track).

Just remember, they are for selling … like a billboard. You have to grab attention quickly with a snappy headline, a unique selling proposition, and the benefits should be written large and upfront.

Imagery is vital in any ad and no more so than on landing pages. Think one idea, one photo, one call to action.

9. Win the local war

This is particularly true in retail as people are much more price sensitive than in hospitality. There is a crossover of those basics that work with hospitality in terms of making sure you are easily found on search engines. However, how you compete will vary.

While it’s never been easier or cheaper (around $30 per month) to set up an online shop with services such as Shopify and Big Commerce, it’s almost impossible to compete with branded goods on price because you don’t have the buying power of the big guys like clothing group ASOS. If you are not selling something that is totally unique, you need to win the local war by over providing — by the value add.

“There will always be a percentage of people who want to walk into a local store. Get all the basics right, so if someone searches ‘Adidas Leichhardt’ you’ll come up first. If you are selling running shoes, emphasise the fact that you’ll give more expert advice and that you can fit the best shoe. Give them the right service, and they’ll pay the extra $50 for it.”

10. Think discounts, not freebies

Everyone loves a bargain so why not use them to kick some goals. Just know it’s not always about getting them to buy your product or service.

It could be you want to get people to sign up for your newsletter, blog, or mailing list. It may be getting them to commit to a yearly plan rather than a monthly one like many hosting services or gyms do. It could be a discount for return business, or as part of a bundle (the staple of the mobile phone provider). Don’t think of it as a freebie, just a way to start a conversation with your customers or encourage their loyalty.

11. Be the industry expert

This doesn’t mean spruiking your business but sharing your knowledge, and the channels are many. How about writing a blog on your website or a podcast, submitting an article to the industry magazine, or speaking at a trade show or association event? It’s more labour-intensive but you could also monitor forums for questions in your area of expertise and provide answers.

“We had a plastic surgeon who put in the time to answer questions in these forums honestly and without bias. It wasn’t long before he was established as the authority in that field,” Joshua said.

“The same can be applied if you ran a multi-location dry cleaners. It could be as simple as advising on how to get out a stubborn stain. And if you notice the same question a lot you can then write a blog post about that and hopefully rank first and steal that traffic.”

12. (Bonus tip) Give your website a SEO health check

Not so much a hack but vital nonetheless. You’ve done all the hard work. You’ve written your blogs, added all the links, put in descriptions, keywords, even dutifully added yourself to those directories, and your site looks pretty good. Now you need a check-up. Not later, now. Find out your SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) score.

The good thing is that it’s not painful and there a plenty of SEO analysis tools available online for free (or at least for a free trial). Most spit out a result in less than a minute and report on areas such as SEO (good title, description, keywords); mobile friendliness; general useability; speed; how well are you using social media; presence on directory listings; and traffic. You’ll know pretty quickly what you need to improve.

Some of the better ones are WooRank, SEO Site Checkup, QuickSprout, and Google Analytics. If you would like to know about what SEO, there are many online guides including software business Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO.

Remember, growth hacking is a flexible term and not the sole domain of start-ups. If you can grab some growth, can test and scale it, and you’ve achieved it at little cost. You’ve done your first hack.

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