When you're just getting started building your own projects marketing seems like a daunting task, especially if your background is in development. You spend some time learning what you can about marketing but a lot of advice relies on utilising your "network".
That assumes you have a network.
If you're like me and few of your friends are interested in the products you build, that advice is completely useless.
Next, they'll suggest you reach out to your wider network and get their support in sharing your project. You'll read articles on "how I got 1000 signups for my product in two weeks" that fail to mention their 5000 followers on Twitter.
What I've learnt is that you have to look past these tips and focus on scalable and automated methods of growth when you're friendless. Is it harder? Definitely. Does it take a lot longer? 100%. Will you look on enviously as others with networks instantly launch to thousands of signups and acclaim? Absolutely.
But there is a bright side. Scalable methods are sustainable. They have long-term value while a large network can provide a false indicator of success. If your product is solving a real problem you'll get more rewards from focusing on sustainable methods of growth early on.
For every new project, I focus on creating small but steady streams of traffic and optimising how I capture that traffic for long-term growth.
The first step is setting up your product pages or landing page perfectly for SEO. This means meta tags, titles with keywords, sub-pages that target niche keywords, and so on. You can find specific tips on this everywhere and if you're building a directory site these tips might be even more helpful.
2. Submit to Aggregators
Next, you want to submit your project to aggregation sites to drive some traffic to your page. Product Hunt, Reddit, Hacker News, etc are all great for this. Submit to as many as you can and let the traffic flow in. Chances are without a network your project won't be number one on any of these sites but you're likely to get a decent bit of traffic and some initial users. Check out this comprehensive list here.
It's also a great way for getting backlinks that will compound the effect of the initial SEO work you did. I try to submit to as many startup directories and Product Hunt clones as I find and hope they use dofollow links. If you get a backlink great. If they don't but you get some traffic that's fine too. If you get nothing 🤷♀️, it was free anyway (you definitely shouldn't pay to be listed on the majority of those sites, it's not worth it).
3. Email signups
Whatever you're doing you should be collecting emails in some form. You want to be able to communicate with users of your product even if you don't require signup to use it. Create an account on Mailchimp or some other email service provider, embed a signup form on your page, and you're sure to get some signups.
As traffic trickles in from aggregators and SEO you'll begin to capture some emails. Once you do have a handful of signups you can start sharing regular updates with them. Chances are some of them will be drawn back to your product with each issue you send.
4. Reuse Content
If your product generates content you should find some way to share it on social media. Preferably in an automated way. Add relevant hashtags to each post and they can drive another bit of traffic to your product. With InboxReads I share every new submission to its' Twitter & Facebook accounts and that results in a steady stream of traffic.
Emails you send can also be reused for future traffic. When picking an email service provider I would find one that creates indexable blog posts from each email you send. This means each issue becomes a piece of content that links back to your main product.
5. Optimize & Repeat
Chances are you won't get everything right the first time. You might have misconfigured some meta tags or your social media work is just not getting any attention. It's important to be constantly analysing your results and testing new ideas to improve these steps. As you better understand your audience you'll be able to finetune this process to capture even more traffic.
These steps aren't likely to make you instantly rich or famous. You shouldn't expect a profile in TechCrunch or an influx of new followers. But they can give you a small but reliable and organic stream of traffic that lets you determine your product's viability. If it is viable then you would have invested time into sustainable and scalable marketing methods from the beginning.
And maybe you'll make some friends along the way.