Adwords vs Twitter vs LinkedIn ads, a small experiment

I am running a course for people who want to create their own commercial software products. Promoting the course has been a challenge. How do you reach a programmer, sitting in his cubicle, dreaming about making a living from selling his own software? In particular, how do you reach ones who might pay to attend a weekend  course in the UK in March? Most of the attendees of the last course came via this blog. But I also want to try to reach people who have never heard of this blog. So I have been experimenting with paid ads via Twitter, LinkedIn and Adwords. Crucially, all 3 of them allow me to restrict my advertising to people in the UK. I thought the initial results were interesting, so I am sharing them here.

Adwords

Google Adwords allows you to show your ads alongside organic (non-paid) search results when people type relevant phrases. But it is hard to think of phrases my target audience (and only my target audience) might be searching on. Terms such as “software marketing” and “software sales” are too vague. In the end I came up with about 200 phrases, including  “sell my software”, “software startup”, “start a software company”, “name software product” and “sell software online”.

One of my Adwords ads (I tested several).

One of my Adwords ads.

But there just aren’t a lot of searches on these phrases. Bidding between £0.25 and £1 per click (depending on relevance) for UK searches over the last 47 days I have managed a meagre:

  • Impressions: 1.7k
  • Clicks: 20
  • CTR: 1.13%
  • CPC: £0.31

Looking at the Dimensions>Search terms report to see the phrases typed by the people who clicked, the clicks seem fairly well targeted. And my impression share is >25% for the majority of the adgroups, so I don’t think increasing my bids is going to make a big difference to the amount of traffic. Adwords just doesn’t work that well unless there are unambiguous phrases your potential customers are actively searching on. I haven’t tried display (content) ads, as these have never worked well for me in the past.

LinkedIn

I also tried running LinkedIn ads targeted at people who are based in the UK and list programming skills such as “Programming”, “SaaS”, “Subversion”, “Git”, and “C++”. The minimum bid per click is $2.00 (ouch), so I bid $2.05 per click.

linkedin-ad

One of my linkedIn ads.

The result over 12 days have been:

  • Impressions: 133k
  • Clicks: 54
  • CTR: 0.04%
  • CPC: $2.00
  • Leads: 2

That is a good number of impressions, but a horrible CTR. Looking at the breakdown of clicks by industry and job function in the reporting, the clicks seem fairly well targeted. A ‘lead’ is where someone expresses an interest and LinkedIn allows you to send them a message. But you don’t get their email address and it appears you can only message them through LinkedIn once.

Twitter

I paid to put a sponsored tweet in the timeline of Twitter users in the UK, based on who they follow. I picked the Twitter handles of 4 other people who blog about bootstrapping.  Note that Twitter claims they won’t show ads to all the followers of these Twitter handles, but to people who are interested in similar things to the people who follow those Twitter handles. That seems a rather hair-splitting distinction, but I guess it allows them to claim they aren’t exploiting the popularity of their customers directly. I bid a maximum of £0.75 per ‘engagement’ (click, retweet or follow). I didn’t include an image with the tweet as I couldn’t really think of anything relevant at the time (a classroom?). The text of the sponsored tweet was:

Sell your own software. Be your own boss! 2 day course, 22/23 March, Wiltshire, England. Full details at: http://successfulsoftware.net/software-business-training-course/

The result of this 1 sponsored tweet over 2 days has been:

  • Impressions: 5.8k
  • Clicks: 174
  • CTR: 3%
  • CPC: £0.29
  • Favorites: 7
  • Retweets: 2
  • Follows: 1

Given the small number of favorites, retweets and follows, it is hard to know how well targeted this was. I guess a 3% CTR implies it was fairly targeted. The fact that the CPC was a lot less than my maximum bid may be down to Twitter ads being a relatively new medium, without too much competition (yet).

The reports have left me confused. Twitter report 3,112 impressions and 106 clicks for followers of my own Twitter handle @successfulsw.

twitter-reportingBut:

  • I didn’t tick the Also target your followers check box, as it seems idiotic to be paying for tweeting to people that I can tweet to for free.
  • I don’t have 3k Twitter followers.
  • I direct messaged a few of my Twitter followers based in the UK and they said they hadn’t seen a sponsored tweet from me.

This was the response when I queried Twitter support:

Thanks for the information. We have investigated this issue and we can see that your handle is in your @handle section of your campaign, this is because implicit targeting was enabled (targeted followers with similar interest as your followers), that is why your handle is showing there. We have confirmed you have a nullcasted Tweet and this Tweet is not showing to your followers. We realize this may be confusing and we’ll work with our product team to improve how this looks on the user interface.

The reporting of the interests of the people that engaged doesn’t make sense either. It says that of the 5.8k impressions, 4.7k were to people interested in “Hip hop and rap” and 4.5k to people interested in “NFL football”. We don’t even play NFL football in the UK!

twitter reporting interestsThis was the response when I queried Twitter support:

I understand it’s confusing, and I’ll share this feedback with my team. What you’re seeing is a cumulative total of paid/earned/organic engagements. This total also considers secondary account signals eg a users prime interest is photography, and a secondary interest in baseball. I can assure you that you paid for primary interests only, and organic/earned and secondary engagements were not charged for.

I am still none the wiser about the “NFL football” result. It does make me wonder how accurate their ‘targeting by interest’ option is.

Conclusion

This is obviously only a very small experiment and it is hard to judge exactly what the quality of the traffic was like (I was sending traffic to a wordpress.com page and I am not able to measure detailed analytics, such as bounce rates or time on page). But I even these limited results are still illuminating.

I like Adwords, particularly the fact that it shows your ad to people at the point they are searching for a solution to their problem. It has worked pretty well for my table planner app over the last 9 years, despite bid price inflation. But Adwords is only effective when there are well defined phrases with reasonable search volumes you can target. That doesn’t seem to be the case for my course.

LinkedIn is a good way to target people according to their skills or job function. There are lots of different targeting options and the traffic volume was better than Adwords. But the clicks are very expensive. Given an industry standard 1% conversion rate I can afford to pay $2 per click to promote a £600 course. But forget it if you are selling less expensive products.

Twitter ads seem quite promising. There are lots of targeting options and you can get a lot of traffic quickly for a relatively low price per click [but see update, below]. I could have got a lot more clicks by targeting more Twitter handles and/or increasing my bid. But its not something you can leave running continuously like Adwords or LinkedIn. You have to keep sending new sponsored tweets. Also the reporting is confusing and of dubious veracity. Finally it feels slightly grubby to be targeting the followers of your peers and/or competitors so directly. But I think it shows promise. If you are going to try it, I recommend you do so soon. The law of shitty clickthroughs means that it is sure to be a lot less cost effective in a few years time.

**** Update ****

I noticed that the clickthroughs to the URL in my sponsored Twitter post was only about a third of the clicks reported by Twitter. When I asked Twitter about this they replied:

Twitter Ads measures engagements which we define as “clicks” within the Promoted Tweet Dashboard are defined as follows: clicks on the URL, hashtag, Tweet copy, avatar and username, or the expand button. It’s likely that the other analytics you are seeing are tracking link clicks.

So I am paying for someone to just click the Tweet copy (text)! The cost for a clickthough to my site is actually around 3 times the CPC reported by Twitter. That makes it around £1 per clickthrough, which is much less attractive.

Announcing a new date for my ‘Start your own software business’ course

AH111220CO-2000x1297I ran my first ‘Start your own software business’ course in November last year. It was a lot of work to write the course and organize the logistics. But I am very pleased with how it went. I have had a number of enquiries about the course since then, so I am announcing another date: 22/23 March 2014. As previously, the location will be Swindon, England. The course is limited to 10 people (first come, first served) and there is an ‘early bird’ discount if you book by  07-Feb-14. For more details (including comments by previous attendees) go to the training page.

How to build Qt 4.8.5 on Mac OS X 10.9

I prefer to build Qt from source. I have been trying to build Qt 4.8.5 on Mac OS X 10.9 (Mavericks). I managed in the end, but it took a few tweaks. Online information about how to do this was fragmentary, so I am documenting it here in case it is useful to someone else.

1. Webkit doesn’t build. I don’t need it so I disabled it using configure option:

-no-webkit

2. The corewlan plugin doesn’t build. I don’t need it (I think, I’ve never heard of it before) so I disabled it using this fix from stackoverflow.

3. The TIFF image format plugin doesn’t build. I don’t need it so I disabled it using configure option:

-no-libtiff

My final configure command was:

./configure -nomake demos -nomake examples -debug-and-release -no-multimedia -no-audio-backend -no-phonon -no-phonon-backend -no-gif -no-openssl -no-webkit -no-libtiff

There will be lots of warnings that Qt 4.8.5 isn’t compatible with Mac OS X 10.9. But you can ignore these (or comment out the warning in the appropriate Qt header file).

I have done some brief experiments and it seems to work ok. Hopefully there will be a Qt 4.8.6 that fixes these issues. Note that you also need to make some tweaks to your application code. See:

Fixing Qt 4 for Mac OS X 10.9

New shiny thing

nz20131170I’m working on a new product. I’ve done all the interesting creative work, such as designing the user interface and implementing the difficult algorithmic parts. Now I’m left with the boring stuff, the installer, website, documentation, licensing etc. The things that make it a proper commercial product. They aren’t optional.

Suddenly I am thinking of all sorts of other interesting ideas for products I would rather be working on. The temptation is strong. The new ideas seem so much more exciting than what I am working on now. But it is a mirage. These shiny new ideas would also require their fair share of drudge work to ship.

Continually abandoning work in progress for a new idea is also a form of cowardice. If I never ship, then I can’t fail. But I can’t succeed either. And I won’t learn anything useful from a string of half-finished products that never shipped. So I just have to push on through the tedious bit, knowing that things will get more interesting again once I ship. In my weaker moments I sit down and sketch out ideas for new products on big sheets of paper. Then I file them away and get back to work.

It isn’t easy to stay focussed week after week and put in the hard work to create a new product for uncertain rewards. It’s what separates the professionals from the amateurs. Professionals ship. Now excuse me, I have a product to finish.

There is never a perfect time to start your new software business

So you’ve got an idea for a software product. You think it could be a winner and you don’t want to work for someone else for the rest of your life. When is a good time to start your new venture?

Today.

Yesterday would have been better, but today is the next best thing.

You can always find an excuse to put it off. If you’ve got a well paid job – you don’t want to lose that income. If you’ve got a poorly paid job – you probably don’t have much savings. If you are young you don’t have that much experience. If you are older you probably have a lot more financial commitments.

In truth, there is never a perfect time. If you are waiting for some sort of auspicious planetary alignment before you start your business, you’ll never start it. Life is untidy, unpredictable and complex. I started my company while recovering from emergency eye surgery for a detached retina. That certainly wasn’t how I planned it.

You don’t have to take any big financial risks. It only cost me a couple of thousand pounds (and a lot of hard work) to launch Perfect Table Plan. I plan on launching my new product, Keyword Funnel, early in 2014 for a similar amount of money. There is no need to max out the credit card or risk your house. You just need a computer, some skills, determination and time. If you aren’t prepared to sacrifice a few hours of spare time every week, then you probably haven’t got the drive to succeed at creating a business.

So what are you waiting for?

A code pretty printer product idea

I use QtCreator for my C++ development IDE. It is very good. But it doesn’t always lay out my C++ code the way I want it to. In particular the refactoring operations mess up my white space. I want my code to look like:

void foo( int* x, int& y )

But it keeps changing it to:

void foo(int *x, int &y)

Grrrrrr.

So I am constantly battling with QtCreator to layout my code how I like it. There are plenty of C++ pretty printers around. I played with some of the leading ones using UniversalIndentGUI, but I couldn’t get any of them to layout my code quite how I wanted. Maybe they could have done it, but I got fed up with fiddling with the settings.

What I need is a code pretty printer that I can configure to layout my code exactly how I want without me having to tweak 100 settings.

Ideally I want a code pretty printer that I can train. So I just point it at a few files of my code that are laid out how I want and it works out all my preferences (where to put braces, how to indent case statements, where to put the * for a pointer declaration etc) and can then apply them to any other code. It wouldn’t need a GUI. Or perhaps just enough to select the training files and then preview the results on other files.

I have no idea if this is a viable product idea. But I would pay $100 for it, if it worked well. Perhaps bigger software companies would pay a lot more? Or maybe something like this already exists and I just don’t know about it?

Training course update

I ran my first ‘Start your own software business’ course over the weekend of 23/24 November. It was tiring but enjoyable and, overall, I am very happy with how it went. I think the balance of presentation, questions, exercises and discussions was about right. Thankfully everything went smoothly with the logistics of room, meals, accommodation etc.

Here is what some of the attendees had to say:

Pavol Rovensky“To run your own software business is an aspiration of every programming enthusiast and many professional programmers. Most of them fail without knowing “WHY?”. I’ve known Andy Brice for many years and have met him at several conferences and heard  a lot about his product and working habits. When the information about this course appeared it was the easiest decision in my professional career to sign up. The course itself is delivered with passion and ease, yet the information content is incredibly rich.  The course covers all aspects of Starting a software business and Andy continuously amends the presentation with elements of his own experience and available data from other people. None of the aspects of starting a software business is left uncovered. He definitively gives an answer to aspiring programmers “HOW?” to start and avoid the failure; or fail fast and learn quickly.”
Pavol Rovensky, www.hexner.co.uk

Kevin Horgan“Andy’s ability to imprint the wisdom he has gained through successfully starting and running his own software business is amazing. The course covered a lot of material very quickly and effectively with plenty of time to ask concrete questions, all of which Andy comfortably answered from his experience in the field. I feel I have a much better focus now on where I need to put my time and energy to build a successful software company. The course venue, facilities and overall organisation were also excellent, from booking through to ensuring we finished on time so I could catch my plane. I highly recommend this course if you plan to start your own software company.”
Kevin Horgan, www.balancedcode.com

Anthony Hay“I’m a programmer and I’ve been an employee in other people’s software businesses all my working life. For some time I’ve wanted to create my own product to sell but I’ve found it difficult to evaluate the various ideas I’ve had and get started. Andy’s course is broad and covers all aspects of starting a software business, but the parts covering the early stages of product development were especially useful to me. Andy is a great communicator and I highly recommend this course.”
Anthony Hay, howtowriteaprogram.blogspot.com

“I was lucky enough to find out about Andy’s course in time, and wasn’t sure if it would help me figure out how to work for myself as an independent software vendor — I have the answer now — and it would be an understatement to say it pointed me in the right direction. I now see the possibilities, and the course has given me important insights into how I might go about the transition from ‘working for the man’ to starting my own micro ISV. If you get the chance, do go on the course. It’s well worth it.”
Jason Spashett, jason.spashett.com

“If you’re starting a software business, give yourself a big unfair advantage and sign up for Andy Brice’s course. Andy has spent eight years investigating numerous cul-de-sacs, all so that you don’t have to. Whether you’re working with desktop or web, selling to consumer, enterprise or developer markets, there are pearls of wisdom in there for everyone. Benefit from the advice of someone who’s been there in the trenches – it’s possibly the best investment in your fledging business you can make.”
Justin Worrall

I would like to say a big thank you to the attendees of v1.0 the course. I shall be following their progress with interest.

I hope to run the course again in 2014. If you are interested in attending, please fill in the form on the training page.