Getting early traction for your new startup can be tough.
Sometimes it feels like the only way is to attract any attention is by being internet famous. But to be internet famous you have to be successful. And to be successful you have to be internet famous. Seemingly the classic chicken and the egg problem.
However, there are a few ways to find your early customers and get early feedback that don't rely on internet fame and success.
Jumpstart Your Site
If you aren't internet famous then social strategies are going to be tough. You might get lucky with a viral post on reddit or hacker news, but there are better ways to slowly build traffic and a reputation than by playing the social media lottery.
So if we aren't going social what do we do?
Eye on the Long Tail
Start by building out a home page that targets several mid to long tail keywords that you suspect might relate to your target market. Google's Keyword tool is your friend here.
Build a network of landing pages that target various other long tail keywords in a subdirectory on your site. The goal is to target keywords that you can rank for quickly. These days they'll need to be really long tail, but the more landing pages you create the more traffic you'll get.
It's not insane to think you can reach 100 unique visitors a day in a months time using this strategy. We used this strategy with our integrations library and were able to rank on page one for several keywords within a week.
Build Some Links
If you're like us you likely have a stockpile of half maintained sites across the web. For all of your old sites - especially the ones with authority - link to your new site.
If you have a personal blog, write a post or two with specific links back to your landing pages. Make sure to use the long tail keywords as anchor text. That'll almost guarantee page one in the search engines for the keywords you are targeting.
Don't forget social profiles either. They may not have a ton of link juice, but updating all of your profiles to include a link to your new site can't hurt.
Install Live Chat
The end goal isn't to sell visitors on anything right now. In fact you may not even have anything to sell. The goal is to find and engage with them. Live chat will let you accomplish this. We're big fans of Olark but there are other tools like Snap Engage and Zopim that provide similar functionality.
Once you have some traffic and live chat installed you'll start getting questions from users. Use this opportunity to find out their problems, their needs, their backgrounds. Anything you can get will help you start testing your hypothesis and narrow the scope of your initial product.
Try to find a way to follow up. If someone seems like a particularly useful contact with a particularly strong need for a solution - ask for a Skype call. Being able to dig deeper into issues via a video chat can help you dig that much deeper into the problem/solution space.
Ask for Email Addresses
On every page of your site ask for an email address. If you don't ask for an email address most of your traffic will drive by and never think twice about you. If you can snag some of those drive bys email addresses you'll be able to follow up and ask more questions.
We even put links to surveys inside our confirmation emails and promise goodies for more information.
If you haven't figured it out yet, the goal is to connect with your site visitors at any and all costs.
Why landing pages and not blog posts?
Landing pages are inherently built for selling something. The visitors to those sites are thinking about buying something. Visitors to a blog post probably aren't.
How can I build a business on low traffic long tail keywords?
You might not be able to. The goal is to get quick traffic so you can start engaging with visitors. As the site grows you can start going after more traffic heavy keywords when you know the investment will pay off.
Can't I just cold call people?
Sure. I've heard of people making this work for their first customers. I prefer inbound traffic though since those users want to engage with me and I know I can get traffic this way. Whatever works best for you.
Hard to find early customers in social
Instead build a site with lots of landing pages targeting long tail keywords.
Use that traffic to start interacting with customers via live chat, email signups, surveys, skype, etc.
Scale when you have more information