Teardown of our Product Hunt Launch - All Hype and Drama
Launching on Product Hunt is a big deal. At least, everybody thinks so. Expectations are accordingly high, and launch anxiety can become an actual physical issue that can mess with your body and mind. Time to see if all that stress is really worth it or not.
In this post, I will break down our Product Hunt Launch of the ViSPR SEO WordPress plugin yesterday and will reveal all the details about how it went down, how to prepare, what to expect, and if you should even consider launching on Product Hunt or not.
I am going to evaluate the Product Hunt Launch based on these criteria:
- Hype Level – Super High
- Expectations – Through the Roof
- Preparation – Overwhelming
- Alignment – Mostly wrong (for B2B)
- Launch Day Activities – Sugar Rush to fight the Stress Level
- Benefits of the Launch – Not what you would expect
- Drawbacks and unexpected Side Effects of Launching on Product Hunt – Lessons Learned
- The hard facts: Numbers and results – Unexpected (to say the least)
- Mythbusters – The Product Hunt Marketing Strategy
- The Aftermath – Don´t Believe the Hype
- Conclusion – If only I could turn back time
Explicit Warning: This article is written with attitude. Intentional snarky hints and potshots included. Feeble minds shall not pass. But if you dare to glimpse the total score of this cinematic drama in technicolor, keep reading…
Let´s dive right in:
Hype Level - Super High
In case you didn´t know, Product Hunt is the lovechild of the SaaS industry. It´s where everyone must launch in order to be considered to be part of the cool kids. In this regard, it follows the perfect definition of a HYPE. But that also means the usual symptoms of superfans with a lot of big talk, often enough hot air for results, and everyone is doing it because, well… everyone is doing it.
Then there are all these stories about BIG launches and results, but as always, you need to read those with a grain of salt, as individual results vary in the extreme. Not everyone can make it into the Top 5 of the day, which is all that really matters. If you make it to the Top 5, you instantly become part of a transcendent “Inner Circle,” the cream of the crop, and get a knightly pad on the head. Boosting your ego is a big part of the show and an intended side effect. Why else enter such fierce competition? And fierce it is, as almost every day, more than 20 or even 30 new startups compete for their place in the spotlight. That glorious five minutes of fame.
Expectations - Through the Roof
My expectations were accordingly high, considering all the fuss and the fact that SimilarWeb Product Hunt has monthly web traffic from a Domain Authority 90 site with more than 5.7 million visitors and 100k+ backlinks.
“Some of that just has to hit the mark. “
So, the more you hear and read about it, the bigger and wilder it gets. Hundreds of new subscribers here, thousands of upvotes there. This got to be the real deal.
Soon enough, you are starting to sweat and read one successful launch story after the next. Totally ignoring the fact that you are missing 99% of the rest of the picture. While you are concentrating on collecting “evidence” and everything you need to know, it slips your attention that people are constantly trying to sell you tons of stuff to “help” with your Product Hunt Launch one way or another. Templates, Preview software, consulting courses, and yes:
“Going down this path leads us to the dark side, young Padawan.”
Preparation - Overwhelming
Needless to say, you are going crazy about this PH hype really fast and start collecting all the tools, templates, resources, lists, and whatever the f@#k you can find. Stockpiling it. Sifting through it. Trying to find the perfect “Hunter” (aka. An insider with a large following on PH that is famous for submitting other products to the site. You want that because all these juicy followers get a notification about it, which means eyeballs on your wedding cake), because s/he must be the missing piece to instant success. So you spend/waste MONTHS mapping out your secret masterplan…
Until it becomes too much, you never feel ready for it. Just that one more missing feature, this next pricing experiment, and this tiny tweak to your website until it FINALLY all comes together to unlock the maximum potential to onboard new users in MASSES. (Warning: Frothing at the mouth might occur).
Yeah. Right. About that…
Alignment - Mostly wrong (Hint: Not B2B)
Product Hunt is NOT for everyone. There you have it. I said it, but it is worth repeating: Product Hunt is NOT for everyone!
“But why is that? I have a SaaS business, and you claimed this is the SaaS lovechild, so what are you talking about right now?”
Sure, you do. But first, you might want to consider which type of people are naturally attracted to this site. I dare say there are at least two factions that are obvious: One group are tech savvy Startup founders who want to use it as an easy launchpad, a multiplier to hack the marketing system.
Then there are the diehard SaaS superfans that want to be the early bird first movers and love to discover new tech. Playing around with it, lapping on the idea, only to suddenly jump three steps ahead to the next cool new thing. They never linger long enough to make this a lasting relationship coined in monthly recurring revenue. It´s just a flash teaser of that wild fever dream of fame and fortune until it isn´t. Gone. Mostly forever, as interest vanes and quickly speeds away. Only once in a while, something really sticks. It stands out above all that noise of screaming founders trying to compete against these already super successful unicorns that somehow think this is the right playground for them as well. Easy pickings with all these nerds around.
They once were startups anyway and still have that sticker label glued to their necks. So mingling with the crowd, it is. Damn, pitty when you have to compete against giants while you already had to struggle for any attention against those other two direct competitors in your niche that unluckily launched with you on the same day (and coincidentally had the same hunter as you did! WOOOT?).
I even dare say the rest of these visitors only visit once because they have been invited to support the startups in the launch that same day. While these people (are the best, by the way, and a big HUG for all your support 🙂 and are here to support their peers, some of them have never even heard of Product Hunt and see this for the first time, might even be overwhelmed, as they actually have to register an account to be allowed to vote (how sneaky!) and might not ever come back again. But this exact referral traffic strategy sends 5.7 million monthly visitors on Product Hunt without PH doing anything about that. Like, at all!
With all due respect, and even though I might disagree with some of that behavior, this might be the single BEST marketing strategy I ever heard of. Learn from that, copy what you can, and implement it into your solution.
Coming back from evaluating these two more obvious user groups, there is another thing you must understand to find out if your product is a good fit for this launch. These people seek out the latest trends, new stuff that is extraordinary, revolutionary, against the establishments, and breaks all the rules. Heck, most might be looking for single-trick ponies for exotic purposes and having fun at the next party. No serious commitments. Certainly not a dedicated and focused Fortune 500 B2B decision-maker audience looking to find the least problematic match for their super-complicated code heritage/nightmare.
And there you go: The primary focus is on having fun to discover cool new stuff that is not necessarily solving the problems of the business world. This means the primary focus should be B2C entertainment apps and one-trick solutions for a defined problem.
But then, after you have gone through all this, in hindsight, the coin drops, and you might be able to become aware of WHO the actual target audience is here. And I dare say, judging after all this preparation and running the loopholes through the launch, I finally figured out that YOU (SaaS founders) are the ONLY target audience. Not your potential new users, not the SaaS superfans, not the investors that should have an easy picking from the daily cream of the crop and not the media outlets that should be eagerly waiting to jump on your success story.
The only real target audience here is YOU, the SaaS founders. Everything else is just an illusion in your head. And I will explain this a bit more later toward the end.
Launch Day Activities - Sugar Rush to fight the Stress Level
I didn´t eat that much all day and only remember some tart found its sugar-sweet way into my belly, but other than that, I was fully immersed in my own world. And good that LinkedIn resets its limits every week else I might have killed my profile. So what did I do?
I sent a newsletter (too late, as it took ages to go out to everyone) to our 600+ subscribers and asked them to help me. This was prepared in another email last week, so they knew there was something coming.
Posted in around 30+ Facebook groups about WordPress, Lifetime Deals, Marketing, and Startups. I knew from past experiences that when you hit 40 groups with posts quickly, FB will suspend your account for 14 days. This didn´t happen to me yesterday, but when it does, you can no longer answer your messages. And two weeks can be a really long time if people expect you to answer the questions about your posted content!
I made an initial opening post on my LinkedIn Profile to around 2500 followers. I boosted this post with Linkboost, then reposted it into several insanely huge groups, some with 2+ million users, 5 or 6 of them over 1 Million but all well over 500k. I guess this fun resulted in my account being suspended until the following Monday.
But now I think this was a waste anyway, as no group allows you to post something. You always need to wait for the approval of an admin. And guess what: They have up to 14 days to approve your post. Which, under the circumstances of a one-day launch window, is a stupid idea and definitely does not work. So you might not even want to consider this for your own launch and protect your LinkedIn account.
I finally started my Newsletter on Linkedin. I waited for exactly such an opportunity, as the mechanics are as follows: When you write a post, you get asked if this should be a newsletter. But when you start the newsletter for the first time, that post will go out to ALL your followers with a request to sign up (opt-in required!). The thing is, this will only happen ONCE! So the following newsletter will “only” go out as a regular post in your stream. The difference is that while your followers might still get it, a special invitation will not happen anymore, which makes the first one super important. Even though people can still sign up for the newsletter through all your following postings.
As I have a bit over 2500 followers on LinkedIn, this was nothing I wanted to blow. (I did but for another reason.) So I posted the newsletter, made it about the PH launch, and added the link to the PH listing to pull more people over to help support the launch. Why did I still blow it? I didn´t stop posting into the groups after that and got suspended quickly afterward. It might have been the combination of the regular post being boosted, the newsletter, and all the duplicate content in these other huge groups that did me in.
That is why I think the newsletter was stopped, as well as all other postings, so I blew the whole LinkedIn affair completely. Today I have 150 newsletter signups; out of 2500, I think that could-have-should-should-shave gone better. Also, the boosted post was stopped after only 99 comments, which is a fairly lame result for this service as it usually goes well over 200 and sometimes up to 300 comments.
I posted only once on Indiehackers and in just one SubReddit, as I do not really like the nasty backlash of overly hostile responses I get there in general.
I did not use Twitter, Hackernews, or TikTok as I have no audience there, so it would have been like yelling all alone in the woods.
And I noticed that two direct competitors launched their SEO tools on the same day. One of them even had the same hunter, which is just incredible. If I were a hunter, I would not post two startups on the same day, much less two competitors. But that was totally out of my control.
So basically, I send a newsletter to my own audience, then post on Facebook and Linkedin all day. In between, it felt a little lonesome, as I was prepared to jump in live chats and be super busy with user support all day, but there were only crickets in that regard.
Benefits of the Launch - Not what you would expect
So, in this chapter, I wanted to write about onboarding hundreds of new users and plenty of shiny digital coins to never care about the rent again.
BUT unluckily, that was not meant to be. Instead, I am looking forward to seeing the effect of this super juicy DA 90 dofollow backlink. I have my DA locked down (DA 24 and 780 Backlinks with Ahrefs versus DA 17 and 126 Backlinks with MOZ – note the big difference here?) and am waiting to see this rise on both accounts. As these are free tools, you can check for yourself at any time in the future. I guess most people don´t even think about that fat juicy backlink or their SEO strategy when signing up for the PH launch.
Future benefits will include ongoing discovery traffic to the PH listing as the launch lasts a week. Also, listings might appear as recommendations paired with similar listings, so there might be a small trickle of visitors coming from PH to my website over time, but nothing to write home about. And that´s actually mostly it. Nothing else to look forward to here.
Drawbacks and unexpected Side Effects of Launching on Product Hunt - Lesson Learned
Thou shall pay for upvotes!
At least, that was the very first message I received after the launch site went live. Nice intro to the game. It made one very clear from the start: Even if you don´t (and you shouldn´t), there will be others that most certainly will buy these “services”. And I didn´t get just one of these offers; I received several of them.
There is no nice way of sweet-talking this, so I spit it out plainly: This really means others will be cheating in your competition, and if you don´t, you are screwed. So much for aiming for the Top 5. This instantly made my day.
And I think I have proof that this is instead the norm than the exception: I had spotted two well-established giants that launched their addons one day before and ONLY made it to ranks six and seven, both with around 350 upvotes. Which, by the way, is super realistic when you have an already established audience.
As I did not want to judge too fast, I went on and scrolled through weeks worth of daily competitions to notice this repeating pattern: New and never heard of “ideas” (some of them I cannot even consider as real startups, because they look like a 24h no-code job, including simple Airtable or worse, Excel lists) making Top 5 or even number one with more than a thousand upvotes in one day. O.K. I get it, it accumulates over time, so the longer I went back, the more upvotes there could be…
Don´t get me wrong, so maybe it´s me, and I am too stupid for this game after 15 years in online marketing, but how should that be possible without cheating? When even big players with a huge following that launched with established hunters “only” get around 300-400 upvotes?
Now, I am not saying this is unrefutable evidence or bulletproof, and maybe I got it all wrong, and the situation is similar to the “Google Search Effect” when people only click on the first 2-3 results and refuse to scroll any further. But seeing this over and over again definitely smells like wet socks. On a scorching hot summer day. After 2 hours of Tennis.
This next one is extreme and should at least give you something to consider: Once you submit the link to your website, Product Hunt will FOREVER outrank you on Google in a direct search for your Startup name. This claim is based on their DA 90 website, with 100k+ dofollow backlinks. So be careful and consider this most unexpected side effect of a “simple” one-day launch on PH.
It´s the same for Amazon, by the way. And once you notice it and/or want to take your products off Amazon, you must realize that Amazon NEVER deletes a product. And why should they? Every page URL contributes to their SEO link tree. No wonder it is so huge and powerful that they outrank everyone. So what happens is that Amazon still shows your stuff, but as it is not available, it shows this visitor a handful of alternatives in the same product category instead. And you can bet these are all directly available for purchase.
The hard facts: Numbers and results - Unexpected (to say the least)
- Product Hunt Ranking: 16 of 52 (struggled up through the ranks from the starting position 27)
- Upvotes 119 (as I write this – it´s always possible to upvote. Even in the future)
- Messenger Live Chats 3 (1 unwelcome upvote sale offer and 2 old users)
- ViSPR.net Website Visitors 71
- Average Dwell Time on Website 0 min 38 sec (down 36%)
- Nerdy Badge on my Website 1
- Super juicy DA 90 dofollow backlink 1
- New Newsletter Subscribers on LinkedIn 150
- Suspended LinkedIn Account 1
But the following is the only metric that REALLY matters:
- Sales – Zero!
Puh. Really? After all this effort, no new users and no sales AT ALL? Well, I didn´t expect to get nothing in return from that launch! This is very disappointing!
Mythbusters - The Product Hunt Marketing Strategy
So how come the SaaS startup world is glamouring for the TOP 5 positions and spamming social media, crying for attention on this one launch day?
Easy enough to explain: You must have understood the genius mechanism behind the Product Hunt marketing strategy. And I don´t mean their strategy to help with your launch. No, I mean their own marketing strategy. As previously noted, your individual results will vary and might even be stellar compared to mine, but nevertheless, there is an overall pattern to be seen here that is just brilliant and that you might be able to copy for your own strategy or purpose.
Product Hunt relies on user-generated content – Your launch. And then puts you up on the spot by pitching you against a lot of competition for the Top 5 ranks. This works because the time, as well as the Top 5 spots, are both strictly limited. They raise the stakes by making the Top 5 spots even more desirable with an exclusive badge for your website that demonstrates your prestigious ranking for all the other cool kids to see and nod their heads in respect. All very dramatic, precisely as the hype demands.
So why is this a brilliant strategy? Product Hunt has found the single most important metric to ensure their own growth: User retention, but actually through the backdoor, well camouflaged in the form of referral traffic. By creating the illusion of a daily award that is (somehow) still super limited (because you can only launch once), they put the bets against you.
“Now, wait a minute! Why is that? Shouldn´t I get a spike of traffic to my website from all those loyal and engaged true superfans that check out all these new tools on a daily basis?”
Good question. Let me quickly answer that: I don´t think there are many loyal superfans. Because if that were the case, Product Hunt would work out of its own user base and would not need you to do everything in your power to help send them some traffic. Because that is what is truly going on here. They need you to tell all YOUR audience and user base to visit THEIR website to help support … well… YOU!?
O.K., hopefully, you understand why this is weird, right?
This means you need to put in all of your efforts on this day to rank as high as possible by collecting as many upvotes for your startup as possible. Again – everything in just this one day. And sure enough, as this is a competition, you will get some discovery traffic and upvotes from other startup users (and some superfans) too. But does that even matter? Google does not reflect that effort in a huge spike on our website. Heck, we got much more traffic by posting in a handful of Facebook groups!
So think about this: What would have happened if I had put in the same insane effort and sent all these people to MY website instead? And made them the same insane Pay What You Want offer?
The Aftermath - Don´t Believe the Hype!
Alright, so even if it sounds like it, this is not about Dr. Dre vs. Public Enemy 🙂
I came to realize that Product Hunt is a very highly-tuned marketing machine that primarily benefits Product Hunt itself. After you finally realize that YOU really are their target audience and should pay for added services (from whatever sources), all that magic and fairy dust is instantly gone.
Demanding a minimum investment of 1.000 USD for advertising in the daily launch lists from a bootstrapped startup is no joke. This is asking a struggling person (for why else should they need to get their help with launching their app) for serious money that most people will not even have (and should definitely not spend) in such a dire situation. And a 20 USD CPM is not a bargain. Even Google ads could have been cheaper and more effective as at least those are based on the specific search intent to your matching keywords.
Fun fact: I actually received an email from Product Hunt today, so one day after the launch, with the oh-so-kind offer to spend either 500 or 1000 USD on boosting my already screwed launch. But with the added warning that if I do this (CHEAP) alternative, then I cannot redirect people to my own website like with the regular ads, but they will ONLY be sent to my PH listing.
Sure, nice thing, I take that. Not. Thanks for nothing anyway. You greedy … gentlemen (Hi there, fellow Tarantino lovers 🙂
Conclusion - If only I could turn back time
No Cher references here anywhere. Read on already…
Today, one day after all this hustle, I am spending all day writing this post. And with overtime, actually. But for me, this is not a waste of time, as it will be used as a resource for my upcoming SuperApps.com platform, where I will tear down all popular marketing strategies and growth hacks to show up what actually works and what does not. The purpose is to work much like a launch accelerator for fellow SaaS founders to help with workflows and tools that actually work and boost your efforts instead of wasting your resources, especially in time and money.
But, if only I could turn back time, this launch is definitely something that I wouldn´t do again (in this way) as it mostly wasted my time. And not just these last two days, as I spent months preparing for and reading up on this voodoo magic trick that turned out to be nothing more than another money-making machine. But not for me, only for the team behind it. Nice job of finetuning it; I have to give you guys that from a professional understanding of your marketing strategy, this really is pure genius.
But again, Product Hunt definitely is not for everyone. If you are thinking about a launch, first ensure your audience is 100% aligned with the PH club’s interests. Can it work? Yes, absolutely, but not necessarily for everybody, and there certainly are no guarantees for anything at all.
Product Hunt has a genius user retention strategy mostly based on referral traffic and high SEO rankings (that come from all of your nice listings and backlinks). Better for THEM than for you!
Will I do it again for the next app, or even recommend this to anyone? Yes, absolutely, but without all that drama. Just get it listed from a popular hunter, sit back and relax and enjoy that easy juicy DA 90 dofollow backlink.