Vincent Dignan: An Underground Growth Hacker’s Tactics to Getting Free Traffic
The best growth hackers in the world aren’t necessarily going around teaching their skills. They’re usually just making tons of money for themselves. A few of them consult with other companies for thousands of dollars per month. That’s what Vincent Dignan was doing for years before he recently decided to reveal his secrets in a tell-all book entitled “Secret Sauce.”
The reason that Vincent has decided to stay underground and not reveal his secrets for so many years is because growth hacking channels die when too many people use them. How many users are now posting inspirational quotes on Instagram to try and “growth hack” that platform? How many people are using Auto-DM and Auto-Follow on Twitter? These hacks still work, but they’re no longer as effective since you see it all too commonly now.
That’s why to this day, he still doesn’t reveal his best tactics. In fact the people who do reveal their tactics end up making it harder for themselves because those tactics end up overused. The best growth hackers experiment relentlessly to get ahead of the curve, and then exploit the hacks ruthlessly before they’re found out.
But we got an exclusive with Vincent to talk about a few of the tactics that are still working now, and how he creatively uses Twitter and other channels to get free targeted traffic for his clients and his own projects.
You went from being broke and on welfare 4 years ago, now you’re giving growth hacking talks, how did you gain those skills in that time?
Yeah at the time, around 2012, I was homeless living with an ex-girlfriend. I didn’t have my own place and was living off her.
My ex told me I needed to go do something. So I decided to make an online magazine since I enjoyed writing and figured I wouldn’t make money blogging off Tumblr. Within 6 months the magazine had 350,000 visitors per month. Within a year it had a million. We raised about $250,000 and got into the Techstars accelerator program. Soon later after that I was giving talks.
Wow, amazing. But it sounds like you had no knowledge of the digital world before this. So how did you get up to 350,000 visitors so fast?
One of the things I believe is you should learn from one of the best. At the time I wanted to start an online magazine so I talked with a girl who worked for a successful magazine and got advice from her. She told me just get as much traffic as you can — the rest will fall into place.
So the first thing I did was call every University in the country and told them we were building the coolest magazine in the world and would you like to be apart of it. So in essence it was user generated content but we had editors to make the content look good. But the idea is to generate as many articles as possible.
Then our strategy was to hit up as many people as possible — send it through news sites, social communities like Reddit, send it to large publications, send it to people via social media. Our articles got picked up by places like the Huffington Post and other sites like that, which drove massive traffic.
We also growth hacked our way with Twitter and got tons of traffic that way (editor’s note, we’ll talk more about Twitter later on in the article).
Another thing we did was we used a widget called Zergnet that was essentially a traffic exchange. Every time we send them 1 visitor they send us 2 back. So that was extremely good.
You eventually made the transition from PlanetIvy to a growth hacking consultancy called Magnific, why?
We got a lot of offers from other companies to learn how we were doing what we were doing. All the stuff we learned growing our Twitter, growing our traffic, that’s stuff that companies wanted. The offers were too good to pass up. It made sense at that point to turn Planet Ivy into our own agency, Magnific.
Another main reason for the transition — when we started in 2012, it was easier to get advertising dollars from publishing. Even with a lot of traffic, an ad-supported website is getting harder to do, especially now with Facebook dominating online advertising. Now Facebook has such a monopoly on traffic that most publications just can’t compete with that kind of targeting and reach.
At the same time I still work on side projects just to keep myself interested while I’m helping clients grow their businesses. Secret Sauce, my book has been my biggest project this year. We wanted to create something for the people that can’t afford our services, which cost thousands of dollars. I also created a Facebook group called “traffic and copy,” which now has a few thousand people.
You have a book on Kickstarter that was recently funded successfully (to the tune of $80k+). What was your marketing process for getting sales off Kickstarter?
We first compiled a list of several different marketing channels then we arranged them from easiest to hardest.
The list looked something like this:
- Compile a list of people we know and let them know about the book — Linkedin contacts, Twitter, email contacts.
- Accelerators and coworking spaces that I’ve talked at, I asked them to send things out to their newsletter. These all have pretty good newsletters that are tech/startup focused.
- Hacker News – we couldn’t do this channel as well.
- Posts on Reddit did really well – self posts. (Editor’s note: Use Reddit converter to convert your blogs into self posts formatted for Reddit).
- Posting in Facebook groups.
- Interviewed on about 8 podcasts, get them to do interviews like this one.
- Reached out to some influencers to try and get referrals, although this didn’t help as much.
- Did talks throughout America during the launch.
- Our pre-existing mailing list.
- My partner Austin wrote a Medium article that got a lot of traffic.
Then send them to a queueing system, we used Queue At to do this. You got a free chapter of the book if you signed up. This queue system asked you to share the book’s landing page in exchange for moving up the queue. As you moved up the queue you could get free webinars, free consultancies, free blog posts about your company, etc. This was definitely the key to the whole thing since it gave us a lot of viral shares.
Then we launched and we made about $15,000 from the first day, and now over $80,000 from Kickstarter.
You’ve done a lot of growth hacking around Twitter. Can you share the basics about how you use Twitter for traffic?
First of all I signed up several different accounts. I recommend beginners to start with 4 accounts — you could do it like @company_name, @company_help, @company_usa, @company_country — something like that.
- Then make sure you’re tweeting a LOT. I tweet on all my accounts every 30 minutes. Twitter isn’t like Facebook. You need repetition to get your content out there.
- I have an intern Tweeting for me.
- I don’t use automation currently, but in the past I’ve used Audiense to automate the replies.
- I follow people with certain attributes. Currently this isn’t automated because my intern does it, although there are tools like Follow Liker that can do that for you.
- Find a conference going on in your niche and follow those people. They’re super active so they tend to follow back.
- Don’t follow more than 500 people a day & unfollow more than 400 people a day.
- Don’t send more than 250 tweets a day.
- I post and find interesting content.
How did you start getting a lot of speaking engagements? That’s sort of a growth hack in itself isn’t it?
Yeah I was randomly asked to talk at an accelerator and they were going to pay me for it. From there it was just by referral. Someone there wanted me to talk at another place, and then so on and so forth.
One other thing I did to get speaking engagements was just hit up the organizer to various startup meetups in my area (through Meetups.com), give them a deck I had on growth hacking, and do a cold email asking if I could speak.
You mention on your site that forums are where you learn real growth hacks. What forums do you go on?
BlackHatWorld.com. It’s black hat but they have a lot of amazing tactics on there.
The thing with blackhat, of course, is that the hacks don’t really last, but they’ll be doing stuff that gets them tons of traffic for a time, until Google finds out and destroys it. So you can’t make a real business out of it, but you can get some temporary wins from Blackhat.
However, the site itself has actually tons of really good advice that’s not Blackhat, so I recommend people checking it out.
Made several follow-ups to their audience
What’s a last growth hack you want to share with our audience?
The key really is knowing that there are tools out there for anything. A lot of stuff can be automated and a lot of knowledge and info can be scraped.
CharlieApp — Finds anyone’s info.
Audiense – Automated Twitter/Instagram mentions and scrape Twitter/Instagram for certain keywords.
Email Hunter – Find email addresses.
Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, there’s going to be a way for you to reach people without spending a lot of time or money.
Check out more of Vincent Dignan:
His book Secret Sauce on IndieGogo
Also published on Medium.