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How to create a viral startup beta landing page + 2 case studies

Time to read: 8 minutes

How come some startups get 100k (yes "k", as in "thousand") beta signups in 7 days, others get 2k and the majority… between 0 and 100?

Now, if you frequent Twitter about 2 times a year, don't hang out on reddit and email nobody but your 5 close friends, you're probably not going to get 100k emails in 7 days.

Because, let's face it, those who managed to do that had an online presence and connections. They had a network to leverage.

But they would never have been able to get so many emails, if they hadn't gone viral.

Would be nice if you could do that, eh?

You might not get 100k emails. You might get just 2k, but that's still a good start.

Part 1: The recipe for a viral landing page

Step 1: Promise value

To get your website visitors to act, you have to motivate them first. And the only way to motivate them is to tell them how you're going to make their lives better.

If you're thinking that anyone would want to stay on your landing page to learn how your software works, you're on the wrong track.

I don't mean to be rude. Just to warn you.

So, instead of "The most innovative way to X. Enter your email. [Sign up]", try this:

  • Use a headline that states the biggest specific and quantified benefit of using your software. e.g. for an online photo backup service, a quantified and specific headline could be this: "Save unlimited amount of high-res photos in the cloud for free" but not this: "Your photos. Everywhere." The latter headline would automatically make anyone say "Meh! I have Google, iCloud and Dropbox… Try again!" But the first headline would resonate with someone using Google for photo backup, because their free plan doesn't allow you to save unlimited amount of high-res photos.
  • Use a subheadline that clarifies the headline. Provide a bit more detail about how you're going to fulfill your promise in the subhead.

Sidenote: Bonus points for you, if you can make your promise actually unique–offer something your competetitors aren't offering or something they offer but aren't talking about.

To learn more about writing headlines, subheadlines and the basic structure of a landing page, take the free copywriting course here.

Step 2: Add an incentive

The goal of your landing page is to make people take action right now. They won't come back. You can't guarantee.

The easiest way to make them take action is to offer something in exchange.

This something is called an "incentive".

The incentive could be anything that your potential users want.

For example, you could give away free beta access or use a downloadable file as an incentive (a lead magnet).

And here's how this looks in real life:

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Step 3: Employ a viral loop

The viral loop is really simple:

You make people refer their friends (share a link) and give them in exchange something more than what you promised initially.

The friends refer their friends who refer their friends and… and it ends up spreading like virus:

So, a viral loop is comprised of these:

  1. An incentive. You give that at signup.
  2. An incentive upgrade. You ask people to refer their friends to get the upgrade.
  3. (Optional) Several tiers of incentive upgrades: If somebody refers 3 friends they get X, but if they refer 10 friends they get X+Y, etc.

Sidenote: Why do referrals work so well?

2 key reasons:

  • Trust. Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tactic because we trust the recommendations of our friends 1. Nobody wants to be the person that recommends crap.
  • Gamification. When you complete the goal (refer 3 friends), you get a reward. We, humans, have an inherent need to complete things. 2

Step 4: (Optional) Use persuasion devices

You can't guarantee your visitors will come back. So, you can't afford to let them leave without taking action.

The incentive is one way to make them act now, but these persuasion devices can amplify the effect of the incentive.

Exclusivity

The sense of being privileged, of being allowed to access the inner circle.

But adding exclusivity isn't just about saying "Enter your email. Get Free access"

Here's an example of a beta landing page that has nothing exclusive about it:

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Access isn't restricted. You can get it if you just enter your email.

And here's an example of a landing page that does create a sense of joining an exclusive club:

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Note the wording: You have to request access to free closed beta. You need an invitation.

Scarcity

What is in limited supply is usually in high demand.

Scarcity takes advantage of our FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out 3).

If we really want something but are wondering about buying it or signing up for it, the fact that it soon will be unavailable can push us over the edge.

Urgency

Good ol' urgency also flicks the brain's switch from "rational thinking" mode into "fear-of-missing-out" mode.

You're employing urgency when you say that something is available for a limited time.

It is SO powerful that it works every time, on, dare I say, everyone (me included, I admit).

To take advantage of urgency, you have to use a short period of time. Otherwise, your offer won't feel urgent. People won't feel pressed to act now.

How many supermarket promotions last 4 months?

Summary: Using exclusivity + urgency + scarcity

Exclusivity = Restricted access

Urgency = Limited time

Scarcity = Limited amount

If you were to use all 3 on your landing page, you'd say something like this:

300 people will be able to use the full premium features of AppX for free during our beta testing period. Sign up before MM/DD/YY to be one of them.

Part 2: Viral landing pages case studies

Let's take a look at a few real-life examples of viral landing pages that were successful.

How Happyfox Chat got 1000 beta signups in 2 weeks

HappyFox Chat is a new live chat solution for startups and ecommerce stores.

The viral loop

1.Incentive

They are offering free beta access for up to 10 agents.

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2.Incentive upgrade

They are promising that you can get access sooner by referring a few of your friends.

2-2-viral-lps-happyfoxchat.jpg

Truth be told, I would've liked to know how many friends I have to refer. Having an an exact goal would be more motivating.

Edit: They actually told me that I needed to refer 7 friends in the email I received later.

The traffic sources

A perfect viral page is worth nothing if nobody gets infected. :)

  • Twitter outreach. They started looking for people who had issues with other live chat solutions and offering a free trial of HappyFox Chat to them (or just starting a conversation). Thing is, if you can start a conversation, people will be interested to find out what you do. Simply posting your links here and there just doesn't work.
  • Sharing content on Twitter. The peeps at HappyFox Chat say that Buffer was very helpful for them as it suggests content to share based on your recent tweets. I can attest to that.
  • Getting published on BetaList. HappyFox Chat say that this worked very well for them.
  • Promoting to their existing customers. HappyFox actually own a helpdesk solution, as well. This means that they had the chance to cross-promote their live chat product to their existing customers.

The numbers

Sadly, I couldn't find a clear breakdown of HappyFox Chat's numbers.

They report that Betalist converted best for them at a whopping 35% rate.

How they built the viral loop

At first HappyFox Chat used KickOffLabs to build their viral loop, but they had some additional requirements that KickOffLabs didn't satisfy. So, they built their own referral engine and used customer.io to send emails based on behavior.

You can read the full story by director of marketing at HappyFox Mani Karthik here 4.

How Harry's got 100k email signups in a week

Harry's is a new shaving brand that focuses on delivering the highest quality blades together with an ergonomic handle.

The viral loop

1.Incentive

Their incentive here is exclusive access. The exclusive feel of their landing page is enforced by the key icon and the call to action name "Step Inside". You get that it has something to do with razor blades but you don't know what and your curiosity makes you want to "Step Inside". They created a sense of exclusivity. Well played. :)

Like they said:

We wanted our first customers to feel like they were getting insider access.

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2.Incentive upgrade

Since this is a physical product, they couldn't possibly give people "earlier access" because that wouldn't make a lot of sense. Instead, they offered additional products as gifts. These were their incentive upgrades. I really like the progress bar here.

2-4-harrys-viral-lps.png

Their comment:

The fundamental mechanic of our campaign was a game: complete the challenge of referring friends and earn prizes.

Awesome! Games are addictive.

The traffic sources

  • They emailed their friends. Since they were a team of 12 people, that was a good starting number of emails. You shouldn't be ashamed to do that yourself, if you know your friends will actually use your product.
  • They emailed friends who could email the CEOs of companies.
  • They tracked and responded to comments and @mentions.

Harry's leveraged their network in the best possible way.

The rest is the magic of the viral loop.

The numbers

  • 77% of the emails were collected via referral, meaning about 20K people referred about 65K friends. This means 1 person, on average, referred more than 3 friends.
  • More than 200 participants referred more than 50 of their friends. That's more than 1000 emails just from referrals (!)
  • In total they got over 100k emails.

How they built the viral loop

Harry's used their custom built website for their launch campaign.

You can download the code for free here 5.

The original post by Jeff from the Harry's team can be found the Four Hour Work Week Blog 6.

Tools to create your own viral loop

Tools that you can use to create a full-blown viral loop (landing page + thank you page + referral links + referral tracking)

And you can easily create incentives with this tool:

Takeaways

  1. Offer value first. To make people act, you have to grab their attention and motivate them. That's why you should spend a lot of time working on your headline + subheadline.
  2. They won't come back later. The goal of any landing page is to make people act right now. Nobody bookmarks landing pages. Nobody comes back. And even if they do, you'd want to design yours for the worst case scenario and that is: "They will never come back".
  3. Give to receive. The easiest way to make people take action right now is by giving them something in exchange–an incentive.
  4. Employ a viral loop. Offer an incentive. Then ask people to refer their friends in exchange for a bigger prize (incentive upgrade). Referrals are powerful because everyone trusts their friends.
  5. Use scarcity, urgency and exclusivity. Once you've got their attention, you can employ the persuasion devices to make them act now.

About the author Gergana Dimova

I use my non-magical persuasion methods to help small business owners, digital agencies, entrepreneurs and consultants get more leads and sales. You can learn more about working with me here.

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