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10 Ways to Take your Site from One to One Million Users by Kevin Rose  

At the Future of Web Apps conference Kevin Rose (Digg, Pownce, Wefollow) gave a cool presentation on the top 10 down and dirty ways you can grow your web app. He took the questions he's most often asked and turned it into a very informative talk.

This isn't the typical kind of scalability we cover on this site. There aren't any infrastructure and operations tips. But the reason we care about scalability is to support users and Kevin has a lot of good techniques to help your user base bloom.

Here's a summary of the 10 ways to grow your consumer web application:

1. Ego. Ask does this feature increase the users self-worth or stroke the ego? What emotional and visible awards will a user receive for contributing to your site? Are they gaining reputation, badges, show case what they've done in the community? Sites that have done it well:

Twitter.com followers. Followers turns every single celebrity as spokesperson for your service. Celebrities continually pimp your service in the hopes of getting more followers. It's an amazing self-reinforcing traffic generator. Why do followers work? Twitter communication is one way. It's simple. Followers don't have to be approved and there aren't complicated permission schemes about who can see what. It means something for people to increase their follower account. It becomes a contest to see who can have more. So even spam followers are valuable to users as it helps them win the game.

Digg.com leader boards. Leader Boards show the score for a user activity. In digg it was based on the number of articles submitted. Encourage people to have a competition and do work inside the digg ecosystem. Everyone wants to see their name in lights. 

Digg.com highlight users. Users who submitted stories where rewarded by having their name in a larger font and a friending icon put beside their story submission. Users liked this.

2. Simplicity. Simplicity is the key. A lot of people overbuild features. Don't over build features. Release something and see what users are going to do. Pick 2-3 on your site and do them extremely well. Focus on those 2-3 things. Always ask if there's anything you take out from a feature. Make it lighter and cleaner and easy to understand and use.

3. Build and Release. Stop thinking you understand your users. You think users will love this or that and you'll probably be wrong. So don't spend 6 months building features users may not love or will only use 20% of. Learn from what users actually do on your site. Avoid analysis paralysis, especially as you get larger. Decide, build, release, get feedback, iterate.

4. Hack the Press. There are techniques you can use that will get you more publicity.

Invite only system. Get press by creating an invite only system. Have a limited number of invites and seed them with bloggers.  Get the buzz going. Give each user a limited number of invites (4 or 5). It gets bloggers talking about your service. The main stream press calls and you say you are not ready. This amps the hype cycle. Make new features login-only, accessible only if you log in but make them visible and marked beta on the site. This increases the number of registered users.

Talk to junior bloggers. On Tech Crunch, for example, find the most junior blogger and pitch them. It's more likely you'll get covered.

Attend parties for events you can't afford.  You can go to the after parties for events you can't afford. Figure out who you want to talk to. Follow their twitter accounts and see where they are going. 

Have a demo in-hand. People won't understand your great vision without a demo. Bring an iPhone or laptop to show case the demo. Keep the demo short, 30-60 seconds. Say: Hey, I just need 30 seconds of your time, it's really cool, and here's why I think you'll like it. Slant it towards what they do or why they cover.

5. Connect with your community.

Start a podcast. A big driver in the early days of Digg. Influencers will listen and they are the heart of your ecosystem. 

Throw a launch party and yearly and quarterly events. Personally invite influencers and their friends. Just have a party at a bar. Throw them around conferences as people are already there. 

Engage and interact with your community.

Don't visually punish users. Often users don't understand bad behaviour yet as they think they are just playing they game your system sets up. Walk through the positive behaviours you want to reinforce on the site.

6. Advisors. Have a strong group of advisors. Think about which technical, marketing and other problems you'll have and seek out people to help you. Give them stock compensation. A strong advisory team helps with VCs.

7. Leverage your user base to spread the world. 

FarmVille. tells users when other players have helped them and asks the player to repay the favor. This gets players back into the system by using a social obligation hack. They also require having a certain number of friends before you expand your farm. They give away rare prizes.

Wefollow. Tweets hashtags when people follow someone else. This further publicizes the system. They also ask when a new user hits the system if they wanted to be added to the directory, telling the user that X hundred thousand of your closest friends have already added themselves. This is the number one way they get new users.

8. Provide value for third party sites. Wallstreet Journal, for example, puts FriendFeed, Twitter, etc links on every page because they think it adds value to their site. Is there some way you can provide value like that?

9. Analyze your traffic. Install Google analytics, See where people are entering from. Where they are going. Where they are exiting from and how you can improve those pages.

10. The entire picture. Step back and look at the entire picture. Look at users who are creating quality content. Quality content drives more traffic to your site. Traffic going out of your site encourages other sites to add buttons to your site which encourages more users and more traffic into your site. It's a circle of life. Look at how your whole eco system is doing.

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Reader Comments (19)

Wow, those are really simple, but quite helpful. Thanks!

October 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterzen

Great post! Many successful services started with invite-only mode (a la gmail).

October 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMohan Arun L

If i could get a thenth of that i would be happy..

October 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterfiona

Typo on #9, should be "See where people are entering from." as opposed to ""See where people are entering form."

October 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commentershotsk

I really can use all of these strategies. Awesome job!

October 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKendra Roberts

he left out: "have other people generate all the content for you"

i love digg, go to it daily, but not for any of the reasons he listed. in fact, what digg does outside of the links to other people's content actually quite annoys me (they started linking their SUMMARIES to the invidual posts, for ex, making it impossible to scroll down the page).

reader-submitted ANYTHING on the internet is the thing everyone wants. everything else is buttery soap created to employing people and passing buzz words. kevin rose is a pioneer b/c he recognized that (relatively) first. but that doesnt mean all the other junk is worth anything...imho

October 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJasck

Perfect post. I already printed it and posted to my wall. This has just become my 2010 Marketing plan!

October 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDanny Mack

Emm.. Simplicity... thats how Twitter gets more usable. Worth reading. Thanks Kev for nice list :)

October 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLove Tips

This is a pretty good article; it would be better if the grammar and a few typos were fixed.

However, this is a rehash of other Kevin Rose things I've seen elsewhere.

Oddly, no SEO and keyword talk here (thank god).

Without getting too corny, I'd love to see someone do a Six Sigma Design of Experiments or Multiple Regression to PROPERLY analyze traffic patterns and see organic traffic growth.


October 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersixsigmaz.com

hmm you know what, your right. I've been reading this and I'm sure that these methods do help increase traffic flow to your site. But what about other methods such as start spreading or given it to users you may know, etc... and then through target search engine submition.

October 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHalal

Hacking the press is one thing I found it very hard to do. Most of the time i see rubbish startups on trechcruch and when I send them my website I don't receive evena reply

October 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFaisal

These steps have helped tremendously even though I am in a small, non-technical area of the United States. This has helped spread the word and made my website grow abruptly. Thanks Kevin.

October 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJosh Packard

There were some interesting ideas in this article. Thanks.

October 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Cain

Thanks shotsk, it's helpful when people point out the errors so I can fix them.

October 9, 2009 | Registered CommenterTodd Hoff

In reality, Digg had a supremely unfair advantage over any other tech startup website. It was founded by Kevin Rose. It helps when you already have an existing user base that religiously follows you on your nationally syndicated TV show that has a large... large viewership.

These are all great tips and all, but this fact is the singular reason why Digg got so big, so fast. Now, it stands on its own merits.

October 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNoah

Would like to hear more about ideas to 'hack the press'...

October 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDerek Hildenbrand

Great Ideas I'll def use these methods.

October 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHalal

Thank you for these great tips. At first it might seem overwhelming but I guess you just have to start from the start and don't overthink it.

November 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterIndrek

These are some really good tips.

If you have just started your journey then the most important thing is to keeps things simple and publish your product as soon as you can. It's easy to take the approach of adding each and every feature that is possible for your application. But, it takes lot of thinking to come up with only the most important ones that 90% of your users are going to use.

May 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRahul

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