What is meant by growth hacking?

Growth hacking or growth marketing as it known, is the use of resource-light and cost-effective digital marketing tactics to help grow and retain an active user base, sell products and gain exposure. Think of “hacking” in terms of life hacks – those little shortcuts that make your life easier – rather than bad bits of code that can ruin your computer and your life.

Growth hacking is often related with startups and small businesses, i.e. those organizations that do not have a huge amount of money to spare but need quick results. However, it is a scalable concept applicable to any online business looking to maintain and grow an active user base.

Difference between Growth Hacking & Traditional Marketing

Many people think growth hacking and marketing is one thing. While there are delicate but important differences.

A growth hack is similar to marketing in that its end goal is to gain customers or encourage more people to use a particular product or service. However, due to its origins within the startup community,

It relies heavily on tactics that do not involve spending huge budgets that large companies can access.

Growth hacking typically combines marketing, optimization, and developmental knowledge to pull off marketing automation on a small budget. For example, automated notification emails, simple signup forms, sign-up driven home pages, or simplify the onboarding process for new customers.


What is a growth hacker?

A person whose career is growth hacking is known as Growth Hacker. The term was first coined by Sean Ellis, founder and current CEO of GrowthHackers.com, who, among a wealth of other positions, was the head of growth at Dropbox.com.

Ellis wrote said about growth hacker:


“ًWe can say that growth hacker is a person who examines everything he does by its implicit impact on scalable growth. Effective growth hacker also needs to be disciplined to go through the growth hacking process of prioritizing and testing all valid ideas, and be more analytical to see which growth drivers have been tested to retain, and which to weed out. The faster this process can be repeated, the more likely it is to find scalable and repeatable ways to grow a business”.

From Ellis’ quote alone, it is possible to know the intrinsic link between growth hacking, A/B testing, and optimization. Data is at the heart of hacking’s growth, and hacks must be tested to determine what’s working and what isn’t.

Benefits of growth hacking

  • Demonstrable ROI by using data to inform every decision you make, and accurately tracking hack performance, you can easily see which growth hacking strategies work as you hoped, and which don’t. Persevere with those who show promises to gain customers, and ignore those who don’t.


  • Low Cost by its nature, growth hacking is designed to use whatever resources you have in as the most economical way as possible. This means using tactics like making sure that your landing pages take advantage of SEO best practices to rank highly in search engines for important keywords. Writing impactful content like case studies and then sharing it widely on major social media channels is also a great technique. Comprehensive and frequent A/B testing can also be powerful for quickly collecting user data. Although the testing process may be somewhat lengthy before that gold nugget is reached, growth hacking does not incur the traditional costs associated with it as other methods such as content marketing or advertising do.


  • Low Resources – Growth breakthroughs are often developed and implemented by one person in the product or engineering team, and do not require an entire marketing team to implement.

Criticisms of growth hacking

In recent years, the practice of growth hacking has been criticized by some for focusing on quick hacks and acronyms rather than developing an in-depth marketing strategy. Others have argued that growth hacking is just traditional marketing being given a fancy new name.

Because of these and other criticisms, some growth professionals have started calling themselves “growth marketers” in order to distance themselves from the negative connotations of the term “hacking”.

The term of “growth hacking” is a deceptive term, however, since growth teams and professionals frequently focus on deep understanding your website conversion funnel data, then seek to identify areas of friction and optimize each step to improve your overall conversion rate.

While there are huge shortcuts that are frequently discussed, many noted below, more often the growth is mostly about understanding users deeply and iterating how to make the seamless experience for them across all touch points.

Finally, a successful growth strategy requires the fit of the product market. Attempting to develop and improve a product that is relevant to the product market puts the cart before the horse.

Examples of growth hacking

Here are some examples of well-known growth hacks that have generated massive results for big tech companies successfully:

  • Hotmail “Get your free Hotmail email” with a link to the registration page automatically added to users’ signatures.
  • LinkedIn, One-click endorsements for existing connections.
  • YouTube, make it easy for people to share YouTube videos on their own sites as much as possible by providing embed codes.
  • Twitter, automated notification emails.
  • DropBox – Incentive “Refer a Friend” Tactic as a way to Get New Users.
  • Airbnb, by Posting all new listings on Craigslist for free.

Testing what works and ignoring what’s not is at the heart of these successful growth hacks. Only through a consistent process of assumptions, testing and optimization can the hacks that drive business growth be discovered.

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