Should You Product Hunt-ify Your Startup Marketing? A Case For Both Sides

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“Hey Sean, we’re building a standalone app to push through Product Hunt and the other startup sites for more exposure – could you make sure the new website we built is well optimized for search traffic?”

I’ve heard this more times than you could imagine.

We consult a lot of startups, primarily SaaS startups with SEO and content marketing, and in the past couple of years I’ve noticed a major trend that can both be beneficial for startups, and devastatingly distracting – and it’s all been spurred on by the momentum of Product Hunt.

If you’re not familiar with Product Hunt and its copy-cats at this point, go get caught up – you certainly need the knowledge. The short version is that Product Hunt now acts like a lightning rod to launch new businesses from their first few customers into hundreds and thousands of initial users, followers, testers, or subscribers.

All good businesses have a core problem that they solve for their users, that’s what got them their very first customers to begin with, but some businesses lose track of that in the blind pursuit of fast-grabs in startup marketing.

Founders see the initial traction that sites like Product Hunt gave them and naively think that they must keep drinking from that well or they will surely lose relevance and be overtaken by their competition.

So how do they react?

Some people build micro-sites

They spring up small sites like HowMuchToMakeAnApp that solve a very niche problem in hopes of spurring on some kind of massive link upheaval that they can essentially forward by means of a link back over to their domain for some “huge gains” in regards to SEO.

In this specific case, the domain howmuchtomakeanapp.com has been up-voted on Product Hunt over 800 times

 

It has also been shared ~12,000 times on Facebook, has over 1800 links pointing to it from over 340 unique root domains, and has a Page Authority of 66 out of 100.

 

Now, this is very good. Most startups or businesses in general would kill for these kind of stats, and this is all pointing to a micro-site.

That being said, it’s a 60 domain authority site with a single link pointing over to Crew.co – which affects the site’s backlink authority less than a single link from The Huffington Post would.

Given, this has far more relevance than an article at HuffPost might, and the amount of referral traffic sent from this site might be more-so than an article on The Huffington Post would warrant, unless shared out to their 7 million Facebook and Twitter followers - which often happens.

This doesn’t make it a bad investment, it’s probably paid dividends for them but in the trade-off of time and focus spent on this app, and the added costs of creating this website, designing it, and marketing it, how much did they really add when an in-depth article on a popular publication might have warranted just as much progress?

Some people build widgets or large new features

They create little stand-alone apps like Refactor from the team at Codementor to try and add a utility to the toolkit of their mentors and customers.

This little tool was up-voted on Product Hunt over 200 times.

 

But it has a much, much worse backlink profile than that of the previous example.

Showing that it’s:

  • Not easy to be successful with micro-sites
  • Not always a guarantee of sparked community interest
  • Not always a pay-out larger than one would expect from detailed blog posts or tools embedded directly on your main site

Whether people use this tool or not, I’m not certain, but whether it was beneficial to Codementor’s bottom line is the real question. I’m guessing it wasn’t as much as they would have liked.

That being said, Codementor has also killed it on their other content by creating a huge database of quality information for customers and visitors directly on their core domain.

It would seem from an objective view that they should continue to focus on this kind of content, rather than building micro-sites to chase the submission site promotion strategy.

Some people build entirely new businesses

Businesses like Buffer have created entirely new businesses like their new Respond social support system, dedicating an entire team to the project as a “startup within a startup.”

Certainly there’s an opportunity there that they discovered naturally through building while keeping their eyes open, but it’s really too early to tell if it will actually pay off for them. The interesting thing here is that Buffer has always been well known for their support capabilities, actually writing in the past about how support is their own form of marketing.

They likely had already built out a system like this behind the scenes and were using it for their own support needs, and naturally just evolved that into a stand-alone business. That being said, this is clearly a synergistic approach to their core Buffer app.

The customers that come to Respond organically or from outside of Buffer’s core influence will likely come to know and use Buffer’s core social media app, and vise versa. It’s a great strategy, but it’s an interesting one for a young startup to take full-tilt aggression on.

It splits up their core focus, it will naturally influence the decisions made about how to grow Buffer’s core services moving forward, and will likely limit the speed at which Buffer can maneuver its main app in the market as new competitors come along – due to a lack of development resources as they don’t want to neglect Respond now that it’s out there.

It’s for these same reasons why 37signals (now Basecamp) rebranded entirely to Basecamp, sold off its extra SaaS tools like Highrise, and went full-fledged into re-creating their already well respected and well-established app for the new user ecosphere.

Some people launch a “New Version” where not much has really been updated

Fantastical is an app that I love and swear by, I even was an early beta tester for their new 2.2 version where they added some sweet new features to their repertoire. I was happy to see that they didn’t launch a huge “Version 2.2 Extravaganza” on Product Hunt, but I did get a good chuckle when I saw how many different submissions they do have on the site.

 

That’s three different submissions for basically the exact same product, just in different use-cases.

I get it, squeeze as much promotion as you can out of every vessel but when does that cross over to being almost spam?

The points I will give Fantastical on this, however, is that they didn’t create “micro-sites” for these pages. Fantastical made integrated landing pages that could rank on their own but benefit the entire site to launch these new versions of their app.

If I were to be pointing to a way to do this, I think this would be the most evident way to soak up every drop of equity you can from a borderline spammy strategy. All links to these pages are benefitting the larger domain, and actually have individual use-cases beyond the means of promotion on Product Hunt and its buddies.

These pages explain the use-cases and give tips for each individual platform, as well as link to the download pages for those specific platforms.

Well done, Flexibits. You sneaky little promotion devils.

Not bashing startup “submission sites” but there are other ways to stay relevant and add value

Add the contents of these micro-sites to your content calendar in the form of blog posts and indexable content that resides on your main domain

Learn to be more diligent about promotion of your content, as the solution isn’t always to use these sites as your “promotion tool” and feel that it’s the only way to really get syndicated links and views to your business

Try to contribute on social platforms that already have your targeted audience waiting for you, like Groups on Facebook, and LinkedIn, Communities on Google+, and other editorial publications that your customers would read.

There are businesses that swear by the startup submission site approach, and if it works well for you then so be it – but it’s not the only way. You should really be focused more on what your strengths are as a business and what path you should directly follow.

It is an option, and a powerful one at that. I don’t think, however, it needs to be the knee-jerk response, catch-all to traction around a new app.

Basecamp shows us a good way with the release of Basecamp3 and their re-vamped Signal v. Noise blog on Medium.

 

I know what you’re about to say, “but that’s not on their domain” – and you’re right, it’s not.

That being said, Signal v. Noise always had a life of its own, serving as a platform for mini-stories from the founders and team of 37signals (prior to rebranding to Basecamp) sometimes turning them into best selling novels like REMOTE and REWORK.

They’ve been publishing a ton of great articles that are socially focused in nature but emphasize the power of their new tools, with a perspective to back up their user-experience decisions.

There have been multiple things about Basecamp3 that I wasn’t completely certain of, until I was pointed to a blog post on Signal v. Noise about the very decisions behind that feature (some times directly from the founder, Jason Fried, himself).

 

My point with all of this is that you don’t always have to push new versions, widgets, apps, or even entirely new businesses just for the sake of exposure.

Sometimes you can simply explain your perspective, your outlook on the world, and the problems you’re solving. Create social conversations to inspire people to use your products by realizing your world-view and embrace it as their own.

If you’d rather just build new apps and push them to startup submission sites though, that’s fine, we even put together a list for you.

Do what is best for you, but be sure it is best for you before wasting your time – because wasted energy is the worst energy.

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.” – Bruce Lee