I am a full-time web developer and in my spare time I work on a couple different projects. One of them being an ad driven website targeted at college students. iSearchNotes.com is the site and allows students to search and share notes among each other, as well as their profs.
When it comes to advertising I currently:
It seems however that growth is extremely slow (about 175% a semester), and I am looking for tips from others on how they would better market a product similar to this.
Another good strategy is see what other sites that you like--and have good results--have done and try to replicate that. I agree that combining offline with online marketing is more likely to yield results. Another good strategy is to get your existing users to become advocates for you; offer them goodies (like specials or t-shirts) for bringing in new users.
These are all ideas on the outreach/strategy side. The inbound side--the product side--is also important (as some respondants have already said). Make the product as good and useful as possible, and it will help you drive consumers into your maw. Part of that can certainly be surveying existing users; the other is probably to be a big user of your service yourself, and see what works and what doesn't. Also, if you don't do this already, provide an easy way for users to make suggestions and complain, and they will help you make your product constantly improve.
I agree with Brake. Getting the word out is the hardest part for any start-up. My advice would be to take the 1:many approach. For example, pitch a success story to a few college newspapers, with some real, tangible sources - ideally professors and students. Another supplemental tactic might be to build relationships with and gain the support of professors, academic offices, and/or student organizations, many of which have national newsletters. Perhaps offering them free advertising or another benefit to be their "featured" service provider. Just some ideas. Best of luck!
"iSearchNotes.com is a FREE service that allows college students to search and share class notes. Need I say more?" My answer to that would be yes, you need to say more. What is your customer value prop? I pick up a a flyer, I come to the site, I read that, and I leave. I love your idea, but you need something better. Have any of your members benefited from using your site? Testimonials are simple, but they can work wonders. "I missed the most important lecture of the semester, and would have failed my final, but thanks to iSearchnotes.com I found the notes I needed and aced it!" Okay, maybe a little over the top, but you get my point.
What are the analytics telling you? Is your problem generating traffic to your site, converting the traffic to your site to members, or both?
You mentioned you are marketing to local university's. It seems to me your market would be a whole lot bigger than that. Your market is not restricted by zip code. Think bigger.
Again, love the idea.
Shawn "not related to Mo" Flanagan, Twitter: @sflanno
Using advertising to drive traffic to a startup is hard - in general it is something that works for the person with the largest budget and startups are not it.
You should consider other mediums - such as reaching out to school papers about your site, blogging about your target audience, guest posting on your target audiences blogs, etc.
Also, try to focus on a very small niche first - for example students in 'xyz' city who are poly-sci majors. It will be easier to take advantage of network effects and then you can build to other niches.
The other side of marketing (other than promotion) is in the product definition. Talk to current users, say using a small survey, and find out both what they like most about the site and what would make them like the site even more. Yes, you are using uservoice and that definitely help in the latter - but you might want to also reach out to users who have not yet posted feedback and ask them to do so.
One more tip I have not seen suggested is to use college papers, college sites. Focus efforts on the staff of a paper, get to know someone who will help you get written up in the paper or even volunteer yourself.
Contact and get interviewed in college newspapers. Submit articles to college papers.
Try multiple marketing techniques.
If the paid marketing is slowly working, then keep them. But focus efforts on the ones that are working. (Link Twitter and Facebook together, so you can post to one and it will auto-post to the other).
But a college website, seems you do not need paid marketing.
I agree with a few tips here and added some more.
1) Get interviewed.
2) Post stories to college papers (there is even a college syndication paper out there, get your article in that and it can be available to 1000's of college papers)
3) Post on bulletin boards.
4) Attend events with booths (like conventions, conferences). If the booths are real cheap get one, or share with another small startup. If no booth, at lease put your flyer on the freebee table.
5) Post success stories to your twitter, facebook, blog. Hype them up.
6) Try a new tag line or realistic and exciting success stories. "I was having such a hard time in college until I discovered "iSearchNotes.com" now my life is so much easier. I get better grades. I get more dates. I even will be President of the United States someday!" Well, you get the idea.
7) You can also add Twitter to the sidebar like you did Facebook.
8) Speak at clubs. There are so many in colleges. Even post an ad or article to club newsletters.
BTW: I like your website software. Might not be as fancy as the one here. But the pricing model is much cheaper, more accessible for people to use.
You can run an AdWords campaign for dirt cheap, a few bucks a day and get some highly targeted traffic. If you are going to do that, prepare to spend quite a bit of time learning the AdWords platform, setup conversion tracking - in your case a registration would be a conversion.
I can see you have Google analytics tracking setup already, there is some great integration between Google Analytics and AdWords.