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There’s more to user acquisition than running ads

Maarten Van den Bossche
Growth Strategist

For most products to find their early traction, they need to rely on paid acquisition. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. You just need to make sure that this is an active choice and you’re well informed about the other ways to grow your user base. We have made a list of acquisition tactics you can use to grow your product.

Search Optimization

If there already is a market for your product then changes are that there’s also some search volume for it. With search volume I mean every search bar you can imagine. Every place on the internet where people are typing in a query in order to find a solution to their problem. Think of:

Website Search Engines

People are searching Google (and Bing, DuckDuckGo, …) every day for millions of phrases. You should uncover if there are searches being made that you can answer. Either by offering them content that helps them out or directly leading them to your product.

Google Trending searches visualized

Mobile App Stores

Just like search engines, the app stores (App Store / Google Play) has a search function that’s used heavily every day. These searches are even more intentful than the ones in search engines. People who use this search are looking for a product that can fulfill their needs.

Social Media & Communities

Increasingly people are gathering in certain niches and communities. Search for possibly interesting hashtags, Facebook groups, YouTube channels, Quora questions and look who’s asking what. If you can solve their questions, your awareness within these communities will be increasing steadily.

Be on the lookout for places where your product might come in handy because people are already looking for it. Have you thought about people who have been actively searching for ‘Competitor X alternatives’? Or have you been answering relevant questions on websites like Quora?

Providing a solution for questions that are already being asked is the quickest way to product-market fit. It will probably only work for solutions that are painkillers rather than vitamins.

Take away actions


Perform a Keyword Research for Search Engines. Analyze if there are searches being made that you can answer.                

App Store

Study App Store searches and categories. People who use this search are looking for a product that can fulfill their needs.                


Look for relevant hashtags, groups, channels, questions on your topic.                

Viral Loops

One of the key elements to viral growth is that your users are bringing in other new users. This can be done by including viral loops into your product. There are a lot of ways to do this and here are a few:


The biggest lever for growth with Hotmail was just one sentence. At the bottom of every e-mail there was:

“PS I love you. Get your free email at Hotmail.”

This line was clickable and led people to the signup page for a free Hotmail address. Although it was only send to a few people every time, the millions of e-mails sent lead to a massive growth of Hotmail accounts.

Incentivized Programs

You could also give something to people that are inviting others to your product. For example, Dropbox gave you 1GB of storage space. And even more, the person you’ve invited also got 500MB of storage space.

Dropbox friend invite incentivized program

By incentivizing them, by wowing them, by telling them that it works better when more people are involved.

Content Indexing

If your product works with user generated content, this will be an interesting acquisition strategy. If your product is a platform that gathers information generated by users (such as articles, locations, reviews…), having it indexed by search engines could be a very smart move.

  • Looking for a place to eat? Here’s a TripAdvisor, Foursquare listing.
  • Looking for someone? Here’s her LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook profile.
  • Looking for interior design inspiration? Here’s a Pinterest board.
  • Looking for answers to your question? Here’s the Quora, Reddit, Wikipedia, … topic.
  • Looking for a DIY tutorial? Here’s a YouTube video.

And there’s even more possibly viral loops around. It can certainly pay off to have an ideation session on this topic. For example, why do you think all those food delivery guys wear flashy uniforms?

Whichever viral loop you end up creating, it’s important to understand the formula that Sean Parker (cofounder of Napster and former president of Facebook) has used for Viralty:

Virality = Payload x Conversion Rate x Frequency

So what this means is that the success of your viral loop is determined by both (1) the amount of people see the invite or widget, (2) the amount of people that sign up from it on average and (3) the frequency people are confronted with it.

Take away actions


Research what a widget of your product could look like.                


Research how you can add a referral program to your product.

Context indexing                

Research how you could use context indexing.

So next time you’re planning a big paid acquisition campaign, think about the other possibilities you have to acquire more users in a more sustainable and efficient way.

If you need our help, let us know, we’ll be glad to help.

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