Tag Archives: software

7 Reasons Software Developers Should Learn Marketing

1. Improved career prospects

The intersection of people with development skills and marketing skills is pretty small. Being in this intersection can only help your career prospects.

development marketing skillsAlso an in-depth understanding of software is very helpful when you are marketing software, compared to a marketer who doesn’t really understand software.

2. It’s not rocket science

The basics of marketing boil down to:

  • Find out what people want/need/will pay for.
  • Get people’s attention cost effectively.
  • Communicate what your product does.
  • Choose the right price.

None of these things are as simple as you might think, if you haven’t tried them. But its not rocket science to become competent at them. Hey, if the average marketing person can do it, how hard can it be? ;0)

3. Less reliance on marketing people

If you don’t have any marketing skills then you are completely reliant on your marketing people to do a good job at marketing the software you have poured your soul into. Are you comfortable with that? How do you even know if they’re doing a good job?

4. Number crunching

Developers tends to be well above average in their analytical and mathematical skills. Online marketing tools such as Analytics, AdWords and A/B testing generate vast amounts of data. Being good at crunching numbers is a big bonus for some aspects of marketing.

5. It’s interesting

When I started out as a professional developer some 30 ago, the thought of being involved in the sordid business of marketing would have appalled me. But, as I have got more and more involved in the marketing side of things, I have found it really rather interesting and creative. There is a lot to learn, including: pricing, positioning, customer development, segmentation, partnerships, email marketing, SEO, AdWords, social media and conversion optimization. I think of development as hacking computers and marketing as hacking humans.

6. Diminishing returns on development skills

The more time you spend as a developer, the better you are going to get at it. But you will run into diminishing returns. E.g. you won’t improve as much between your 9th and 10th year of programming as you did between your 1st and 2nd year. Learning a completely new skill avoids diminishing returns.

7. You’ll need it if you ever start your own software business

If you ever start your own software business you will quickly find that marketing skills are at least as important as development skills. So it’s a huge plus if you already have some marketing chops. Even if you have a VC sugar daddy who is going to give you enough money to hire marketing staff, you’ll still need some marketing skills to know who to hire.

If you are employed as a developer full time, I recommend you jump at any chance to get involved in marketing or go on a marketing course. I also run a training course for people wanting to start their own software business that includes a lot of material on marketing.

‘Start your own software business’ training course 2015

trainingI am planning to run my ‘Start your own software business’ training course again this year, probably in September. It is an intensive weekend course, at a hotel in my home town of Swindon (in the UK). It is aimed at people who want to start (or at an early stage of starting) a software company selling desktop or web software. It builds on my 10 years of experience running my own software company and consulting to other software companies. It’s the course I wish I had attended when I started my business.

I know a lot of courses are online now. But I think you get more from face-to-face training. More intensive. More interactive. Less distractions. Also you get to meet other people in the same boat. I have run the course twice before and the feedback was very positive. You find out more and read comments from previous attendees here.

Fill in the form on the training page if you are interested. I am happy to answer any questions in the comments, by email or on twitter.

The mystery of the Chinese downloads

A spider (probably not Chinese)It’s a good to idea to regularly look through the logs of your website. You’ll often find something interesting. In March 2013 I was looking through the web logs for my seating planner software and I noticed the number of downloads of the Windows version of my software had gone up by a factor of 5, compared to the previous month. Everything else stayed pretty much the same:

  • The number of visits to the download page hardly changed.
  • The number of completed Windows installs hardly changed.
  • The number of downloads of my Mac installer hardly changed.

Odd. On further investigation it turned out that a number of Chinese IP addresses were downloading my Windows installer again and again. My software is not localised into Chinese and I get very few sales from China. Also there were no installs from these IP addresses (my software puts up a ‘thank you for trying’ page when it is first run). It was a substantial increase in bandwidth, but not enough to be a serious denial of service attack. Very odd.

I am on an unlimited bandwidth hosting contract so I wasn’t paying for the extra bandwidth. But I was worried that the volume of requests would slow down my web site. So I put a .htaccess file in the downloads directory to block the worst offenders.

After a few months I got the bandwidth from China down from ~30GB per day to ~100MB per day. I have been playing this game of ‘whack a mole’ every since. Currently I have some 1700 Chinese IP addresses blocked.

downloads per month

PerfectTablePlan for Windows downloads per month 2013/2014

As an example I recently blocked IP 211.136.10.56, which was downloading PerfectTablePlan around 20 times per day, but never visiting a page on my website.

Here are the logs from one day (via Web Log Storming), picked at random before I blocked their IP:

logsAnd here is one of those records in more detail:

logWeb Log Storming classifies it as a ‘spider’.  whois.domaintools.com says the IP belongs to ‘China Mobile Communications Corporation’. The IP is not listed on projecthoneypot.org and I wasn’t able to find out any more from casual Googling.

To block the this IP I just added this line to my .htaccess file:

Deny from 211.136.10.56

But it is a bit of a nuisance to keep having to do this.

Other software companies are having similar issues. But I haven’t come across any compelling answers about why this is happening. Perhaps it is a way of masking some other nefarious activity? Does anyone have any idea what is going on?

Keyword Funnel is now FREE

Adwords Keyword FunnelI launched Keyword Funnel last year. It was only my second software product launch in 10 years. Keyword Funnel is a utility to help AdWords advertisers efficiently add hundreds or thousands keywords to their campaigns. It was based on some tools I wrote for running my own AdWords campaigns.

It was a commercial flop. I sold a few licences, but not many. Most telling was the lack of any engagement. There were very few emails from website visitors and not many people who visited the website downloaded the free trial. There wasn’t even much interaction from the people that did buy licences. This was very much in contrast to my PerfectTablePlan product, where there was much more engagement straight away.

I could have tried to pivot or push on through using some of the stuff I have learnt over the last 10 years, but it felt like kicking a dead horse up a hill. Better to focus my finite energy and resources on more fruitful areas. I also decided that I just didn’t like AdWords enough that I wanted to spend all day thinking about it (and that was before my recent falling out with Google). I didn’t want to take money from people for a product that had no real future and for which I had lost enthusiasm. So I pulled the plug within a few months of launch. But it seems a shame to waste the work that went into it, so I am re-releasing it as a free product in the hope that someone will find it useful and to increase my luck surface area. You’re welcome.

As far as I can determine, the reasons it failed are:

It didn’t solve a real problem for enough people. This is the reason most products fail. I like to run my AdWords campaigns with hundreds or thousands of ‘long tail’ keywords. I assumed that plenty of other people did to. And, if they didn’t, they would once they had a tool that made it practical to do so, especially in the face or ever increasing competition and bid prices. But not many other people seem interested in long tail campaigns. I should have researched this more.

The AdWords market seems to be sharply divided into amateurs (people running small campaigns for their own products) and professionals (people running multiple large campaigns for other people). The amateurs have a million other things to do and want to spend as little time as possible on AdWords. In fact most of them seem to set up a campaign and then completely ignore it (bad idea). The professionals are happy to spend hundreds of dollars per month on a tool, but they want it to do everything, including creating ads and setting bids. There doesn’t seem to be much of a market in between for low cost utilities, such as Keyword Funnel. I’m not sure how I could have found this out without trying to sell into this market.

I found it hard to get any traffic. I am not an ‘Internet famous’ authority on AdWords. I wrote to various AdWords bloggers offering them free licences. But most of them seemed to be associated with other AdWords tools and weren’t going to promote a competing tool. I also tried an AdWords campaign, but unsurprisingly the competition was very strong.  It was hard to get clicks at a price I could afford as competitors with more expensive products could afford to spend a lot more per click. Also conversion rates on the clicks I did get were poor.

The user interface wasn’t perhaps as intuitive as it could have been. I didn’t really think enough about workflow.

Failing is never fun, but I knew it was a very real risk when I started and I did learn some useful lessons.

Before I wrote any code, I tried to do some validation of the product by talking to friends and people at conferences who used AdWords, including some AdWords professionals. There seemed to be some interest and I managed to get 60 people signed up to the beta mailing list. But I found it hard to get people to understand my vision of the product. That should have been the first warning signal. But, being a developer at heart, I used that as an excuse to build a beta.

I did the validation back-to-front. I mostly pitched them my idea for Keyword Funnel and then tried to gauge their interest. That doesn’t really work very well. What I should have done was ask people what problems they were having with AdWords and then waited to see if any of them mentioned ‘adding lots of keywords’, ‘grouping keywords into ad groups’ etc.

As I released new beta versions of the product, the initial interest seemed to peter out. I probably should have killed it at this point. But I persuaded myself that, having come this far, I might was well release it (paying customers being the only true validation). This was more down the the ambiguous nature of the feedback than sunk cost fallacy.

I followed my own advice and cut some corners in the development, but not enough. The planned 2 months part-time, ended up being 6 months part-time. I wasted time on activities such as: having a logo designed, writing licensing code, writing detailed documentation and setting up payment processing. In retrospect I should have waited until I was sure there was a market for Keyword Funnel before I bothered with any of that. When I launched my new Hyper Plan product I released a public beta within 5 weeks of starting work on it (part-time). I offered it free for several months (it just died on a certain date). I only added licensing code and set up payment processing when I felt there was sufficient interest to justify the effort. Hyper Plan just has a 1 page quick-start guide and the logo was designed in 10 minutes by me (both still on the ‘to do’ list to improve soon).

It is hard to get noticed in a new market. I knew this already, but perhaps I had forgotten how much hard work it was in the early days of PerfectTablePlan. As I already have an audience of thousands of event planners with PerfectTablePlan, it is much easier to cross-sell them Hyper Plan than it would be to create that audience from scratch.

Having had one successful (in my terms) product, I was perhaps a bit arrogant and didn’t spend as much time researching the market as I should have done. But validating a software product is hard, especially when it’s a bit different to everything else out there (I’m not interested in copying existing products). I had no real idea how successful any of my products would be before I launched them. PerfectTablePlan was much more successful than I expected. Keyword Funnel much less successful than I expected.

While the opportunity cost of Keyword Funnel was quite high, in terms of cash, I only spent a couple of thousands dollars. This was mostly on the website design and I reused a lot of that for Hyper Plan.

You can download Keyword Funnel here. Despite its lack of commercial success, it does (I think) do some pretty cool things:

  • Cleans up lists of keywords which you can import from various sources (e.g. removes foreign characters, capitalization and duplicates).
  • It has a nice keyword multiplier (much better than the Google equivalent IHMO).
  • Removes an unwanted keyword from all phrases in a single click.
  • Allows you to analyze all the phrases a keyword appears in.
  • Groups keywords into related ad groups.
  • Produces output in a form you can read straight into AdWords via AdWords Editor.

It’s completely free, you don’t even have to give me your email address. Maybe I will find a way to make some money off it at some point in the future (NB/ I am not interested in taking on AdWords consulting work at present).

Thankfully my new Hyper Plan product is doing much better than Keyword Funnel did. I wrote a bit about my approach to launching Hyper Plan here. It is too early to tell if it well do as well as PerfectTablePlan, but I am very happy with how it is doing so far.

Google bans hyperlinks

Summary: My AdWords account was suspended after ten years of continuous advertising. I was told that hyperlinking from my domain to any another domain was a breach of Adwords policy. This is clearly ridiculous and not what their policy says. But I had to appeal higher up and it took 11 days to get my suspension overturned.

I have been advertising my PerfectTablePlan seating plan software continuously on Google AdWords since the 7th March 2005. Just shy of 10 years. Google emailed me on the 20th Feb. But it wasn’t a thank you for 10 years of loyal custom. It was to tell me they had suspended my account.

Hello,

We wanted to alert you that one of your sites violates our advertising policies. Therefore, we won’t be able to run any of your ads that link to that site, and any new ads pointing to that site will also be disapproved.

Here’s what you can do to fix your site and hopefully get your ad running again:

1. Make the necessary changes to your site that currently violates our policies:

Display URL: perfecttableplan.com

Policy violation: Software principles
Details & instructions: https://support.google.com/adwordspolicy/answer/50423?hl=en

2. Resubmit your site to us, following the instructions in the link above. If your site complies with our policies, we can approve it to start running again.

There was no detail about what I had done wrong. As far as I was aware, I complied with their policies. I had a look through the linked page, but it was about “Malicious or unwanted software”, “Low value content” etc. I couldn’t see anything that obviously applied to my website or software. My software is bona fide. I’ve been selling it for 10 years. It was used to help plan the seating at one of the official events for the Queen of England’s Diamond Jubilee, don’t you know!

I went to the AdWords support page to try and work out who I could talk to. A chat pop-up appeared. So I did an online chat with a Google AdWords employee. He told me that I needed to:

  1. Add a link to the uninstall instructions on my download page. I told him that my uninstall was completely standard for the platforms I support (Windows and Mac). But he insisted.
  2. Remove some links that were ‘redirections’ from my reviews page.
  3. Explain the value of what my software did. I pointed out that this is what the entire website is for. He backed off on that one.

Google doesn’t put uninstall instructions on the download pages of its own software (exhibit A). I was annoyed by the hypocrisy. Also their policy says you mustn’t:

[make] it difficult for users to disable or uninstall the software

It doesn’t say you need to include uninstall instructions. However I wrote a page of uninstall instructions and linked to it from the download page.

I looked at my reviews page. There were 16 links pointing to genuine reviews of my software on various blogs, download websites, magazine websites and Amazon. However some of the links pointed to pages that no longer existed and a few were redirected at the other end. All the redirections seemed completely harmless (for example one was just a redirection to the the same page, but http instead https). But I removed all the links except this one:

amazon_reviews_resized

This link just pointed to http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0017YOSE2/. No redirection at the other end.

I then emailed AdWords support on the 21st Feb to say that I had complied with their requests. I heard nothing for several days. I tweeted them on the 24th and they asked me to fill out an online contact form with my details. I did that on the 25th.

The next day I was woken around 8am by a phone call from AdWords support. I think it was the person I did an online chat with. The line wasn’t great, English obviously wasn’t his first language and I hadn’t had my morning coffee. So it wasn’t a great conversation. But, as far as I understood it, he told me that he couldn’t remove the suspension because I was ‘redirecting’ people from my review page to amazon.com. I tried to point out that it was just a hyperlink and it went exactly where it said it would. But he seemed to be saying that I wasn’t allowed to hyperlink to any external domain from my perfecttableplan.com domain. That is obviously ludicrous and I just about managed to stay civil. Surely I had misunderstood. Soon after I received this email:

Hi Andy,

As per the conversation we had over the phone. I would suggest you to remove the link from your website wherein it redirects me to a different website.
If I click on the link it is taking me to Amazon.com, which is a redirection from your website.

The policy says it has to be on the same website but I guess it is deviating a bit from it.
You can provide information about your products and services in the website but ensure those are not clickable.

Please see the link for policy forum for bridge page here.

Once the changes are done, please write back to me so that we can consult and get this done for you at the earliest.

Have a lovely day ahead.

I emailed back:

I have now removed the link to Amazon.com from this page, as directed:
http://www.perfecttableplan.com/html/reviews.html

> Please see the link for policy forum for bridge page here.

It says:

“Landing pages that are solely designed to send users elsewhere

# /Examples/: Bridge, doorway, gateway, or other intermediate pages”

The review page isn’t a landing page. It isn’t linked directly from any of any of my Google ads. To get to it the user has to:
1. click on the ad
2. click on ‘customers’ in the navigation bar
3. select ‘review’
4. click on the Amazon.com hyperlink (there is no automatic redirect)

Also I am only linking to that page so they can read independent reviews of my product. I don’t [want] them to buy it from Amazon!


Please re-review my site at your earliest convenience.

The reply by email was:

Andy,

I understand your point, but from your website the link is taking to Amazon.com. When I click on the link I am taken to this page.

You can write in as for further information please visit this link xyz.com/reviews.. [1]

The link should not be clickable. It is taking from your website to a new webpage.

Request you to change it so that we can review and get it enabled.

Awaiting your response.

Have a great day ahead.

I replied:

I was phoned by someone from Google this morning and have now removed that link.

Can you clarify the situation regarding links to other sites. Does the AdWords policy mean that no site advertising on Adwords can ever hyperlink to another site (surely not)? Assuming that isn’t the case, what hyperlinks are allowed and what hyperlinks are not allowed?

He replied:

Hi Andy,

Thanks for writing in, hope you are doing great.

With regards to your email I would like to confirm that any links that are taking a user to a new website is not allowed.
You can provide links, which are not clickable.

The user must not get redirected to a new website.

Hope this answers your query.

I have bolded the offending line for emphasis. There it is in black and white. No hyperlinks.

I replied:

So I can’t have a clickable hyperlink to *any* non http://www.perfecttableplan.com page from *any* http://www.perfecttableplan.com page without breaching AdWords policy? Is that correct? Please clarify.

He replied:

Hi Andy,

Thanks for writing in again.

With regards to your email I would like to confirm that any links which are taking a customer to a different website are not allowed.
If the link is taking the advertiser to any specific page of your website then it is alright but it should not redirect any other website.

Hope this helps.

Feel free to drop in your questions or queries. I will be glad to assist you on them.

Have a great day ahead.

There it is again. A world wide web without hyperlinks between domains? This is clearly absurd.

I approached AdWords expert Aaron Weiner from Software Promotions. He agreed that this was a complete misinterpretation of their policy and kindly offered to talk to his Google contacts in the US to see if they could help resolve it. On the 28th Feb he forwarded me this email from Google:

I have taken a look at the site and the previous interactions that your client has had with our team. I apologize that the communication has not been very clear for your client – I am going to take ownership of it from here and make sure that we get this site back up ASAP.

From what I can see now, the site appears to be compliant with our policies. I have contacted our policy team to have them review it right away. I have also asked them to clarify the issue with linking to third party reviews. Obviously we would not want an ad to direct to a different domain, but I do not see any problem with linking to reviews once the user has landed on your site. I am going to get some clarification on this to see if we are missing something,

Thank you for your patience and please let me know if you have any questions. I will be in touch soon.

On the 3rd March I got an email from Google:

Great news! We’ve re-reviewed your site and determined that the following site complies with our Advertising Policies

Followed by this email forwarded by Aaron:

Thank you for your patience while our policy team reviewed your website. They confirmed that the site is compliant with our policies and you will see that it is now re-enabled. I checked the ads this morning and I can see that they are serving.

I also confirmed with them that there is no policy against linking to third-party reviews on your website. You can add those links back to the reviews on your site.

I read through the chat that you had with ******* and I think that there may have just been some misunderstanding as to the specific problem with the site. I sincerely apologize for the confusion caused by that. I have reached out to ******* to clarify the policy with him.

It’s pretty shocking that a Google employee (or contractor) should have a such a poor grasp of the  policy they are enforcing. It shakes my faith in Google. Previously I thought that, even if they were a little bit evil, they were at least competent with it.

Also the entire situation was handled badly. They could have sent me an email clearly stating the policy violation and giving me a few days grace to fix it. Surely I deserve that much after 10 years as a paying customer?

My account was suspended for a total of 11 days and I wasted quite a lot of time and mental energy. For what? I removed a few hyperlinks from my reviews page and added a link to some uninstall instructions. How is that going to help anyone?

I talked to a number of other software authors and found that quite a few of them had also had their AdWords suspended for policy violations, such not having uninstall instructions. Oliver Grahl of PDF Annotator, who has also been suspended previously, commented:

“Every day, live your life as if it was your last day (getting traffic from Google). One bit in their databases can ruin a whole business and all the lives behind it. Pretty scary.”

I understand that Google is engaged in a continual battle with people trying to game the system to their advantage. But they need to be careful that legitimate businesses don’t end up as collateral damage. Training their staff adequately would be a good start.

Hyper Plan v1 launched

Hyper PlanI quietly launched Hyper Plan v1 yesterday. I thought I would write a bit about the approach I have taken, as it might be of interest to others planning product launches. It is also a good way for me to gather my thoughts for later reference.

Validation

I like the idea of validating a product without actually creating it first. I did that for my start your own software business training course, waiting until I had enough deposits before I actually sat down and wrote the course (all 460 slides of it + exercises). But I didn’t know how to do that with Hyper Plan. Validating software is harder.

No-one was telling me that they needed a better visual planning tool. It was just an idea for a piece of software that I wanted. I could see that a lot of people spend a lot of time sticking Post-It notes to walls. But I couldn’t see any other software quite like what I had in mind. And I had no idea if other people would buy the product I had in mind. So it is quite risky. It would be much less risky to make a variation on an existing successful product. But I just can’t get excited about that. Also I have a steady income from PerfectTablePlan, so I can afford to take some risks.

I talked to various people I knew about my idea. But it was difficult to get far without having some software to show them. Also I didn’t want to ask friends for money, so this limited the value of the feedback. I could have phoned up some businesses and told them “It’s like a planning board, but in software” and asked for some money. But I didn’t really see that getting me far either.

I could have started an AdWords campaign and put up a landing page. But it was hard to describe exactly what the product was going to be. Partly because it was different to anything else I had seen. But also I didn’t know myself! I had lots of ideas and design scribbles, but I didn’t really know what the end product was going to look like in detail without creating it first.

So I decided to build something quickly, iterate on feedback and see what happened when I asked for money (the only true validation). Even if it failed, at least I get to do some programming!

Beta

I started coding on 08-Sep-14. By mid October I had thrown up a website with the first beta version for Windows and Mac. I allowed people to download the beta in return for giving their email address. The beta put up a warning that it would expire on 17-Jan-15. This meant I didn’t initially have to write any trial/licensing code. I made it clear that the plan was to have a commercial version for sale before then. I emailed the list each time there was a new release and encouraged them to send feedback.

I put out a number of beta releases and got some very useful feedback. A lot of the feedback was from fellow mISVs giving me a hard time about the shortcomings of the early UI, but that was still very welcome. The first release was very rough and ready. But it improved significantly in terms of UI and features with each release. I put out 5 beta releases over October, November and December. The world didn’t beat a path to my door, but the feedback was encouraging enough that I kept going.

Building v1

Hyper Plan is written in C++ and Qt and compiles into Windows and Mac binaries. I have written about why I decided to develop it as a desktop tool elsewhere. It is around 20k lines of C++ code. About 100 lines of that code are platform specific, mostly to try to improve the look and feel on Mac OS X.

I also planned the marketing, wrote a quick start guide, created the website and built installers for Windows and Mac. Not bad for 18 weeks, part-time around various other commitments (mostly PerfectTablePlan and a little bit of consulting)! It helps that I was using technology and tools that I have used extensively before.

I have tried to follow my own advice and cut some corners:

  • I did the Hyper Plan logo myself. It isn’t great.
  • The website is fairly basic. I’m not a web designer.
  • I did the website video+voiceover myself. It isn’t great.
  • The software doesn’t have all the features I would like it to have.
  • The software UI could be more polished.
  • There is minimal documentation (just a quick start guide).

I can improve on all of these later. However the software seems very solid, with only 1 crash reported in third party testing (now fixed).

I would have liked to have got to v1 even quicker, but (inevitably) quite a few shortcomings in my original ideas had to be addressed during the beta to make it a useful product. Also, I couldn’t resist a bit of gold plating (animations with easing curves, oh yeah!).

Trial

I decided to go for a fully functional, time limited trial for Hyper Plan on the grounds that the more invested in it people become, the more likely they are to buy it (see this article for a discussion of the merits of different trial models). I didn’t want the standard 30 consecutive days trial, as I know many people install software, forget about it for 30+ days and then can’t continue with the trial. So I went with 7 days of non-consecutive use. I may A/B test longer trial lengths in future.

Pricing

I am a big fan of multiple price points. But I don’t yet know enough to segment the market for this product. So I decided to go with a single price point. I can always split the product into multiple price points later on (e.g. add a more expensive ‘professional edition’), as I did for PerfectTablePlan.

The product is positioned (in my mind at least) as a better alternative to sticking Post-It notes to the wall and a cheaper and simpler alternative to fully fledged project management tools. This rather limits what I can charge for it. I wasn’t sure whether to price the product at $30 (for an impulse buy) or $50 to try to send a signal that it is aimed more at serious users. So I split the difference and went for $40. Also that gives me some room to experiment with discounts. I may experiment with different prices in future.

Ecommerce

Avangate has been doing the payment processing for PerfectTablePlan for some years now and I have been generally very happy with their service. Also they protect me from the horrors of the new EU VAT legislation. So it was a no-brainer to use them as the payment processor for Hyper Plan. They set me up with a separate account/control panel for Hyper Plan.

Expenditure

I haven’t added it all up yet. But the total expenditure to date for Hyper Plan is a few hundred dollars. This was mostly third party testing by testlab2.com, the cost of the hyperplan.com domain (which I have been sitting on for a few years) and fees for sending out email newsletters. I already had icons, a hosting account and a web template from previous projects, so there was no additional cost there. Obviously the opportunity cost of my time is a lot more.

Marketing

Initially I plan to concentrate on:

  • cross-selling to my PerfectTablePlan customers
  • SEO (content + back links)
  • AdWords

Some of the keywords I would like to get traffic on have an estimated top of page 1 bid price of £23 in AdWords. Yikes. But I have a lot of experience with AdWords. Hopefully I can pick up some well targeted and much cheaper clicks with a long tail strategy (using the Keyword Funnel software I developed). Only time will tell.

I have quite a few other ideas that I can try. But I am still very much validating if this product has a market and, if so, what I have to do to get the elusive ‘product-market fit’.  I don’t plan to spend much effort and money on marketing until I have that better figured out.

Version 1 launch

292 people had given their email address to download the beta by yesterday. Most of the sign-ups came from mentions of Hyper Plan in my PerfectTablePlan newsletter, on this blog and on a couple of forums. I didn’t do any paid advertising and, as yet, there is very little organic traffic to the Hyper Plan website.

There was no big launch. No press release. No party. Not even a tweet. I just announced v1 to my mailing list of 292 people yesterday morning. I offered a discount to anyone who purchased a license in the next 7 days. I had absolutely no idea how many sales I would get.

I got 12 sales and a couple of enquiries about organizational licenses yesterday. That is better than I expected for day 1. So I am quietly encouraged that there may be a market for this product. But it is very early days yet. Thankfully I have PerfectTablePlan paying all the bills, so there is no pressure to hit any revenue targets.

Always Be Selling

Obviously I am not going to miss the chance to try to flog you a license, dear reader. Are you interested in visual planning software? Do you know someone that might be? Hyper Plan is very versatile. I have used it for planning Hyper Plan development and marketing, my daily TO DO list and tracking Xmas present purchases. It is also highly suitable for agile/Kanban/Scrum type planning. You can find out more here and download the free trial here.

If you buy a license by the end of 22-Jan-15 you can get 20% off (feel the marketing!). Use the coupon SSWBLOG in the shopping cart to get the discount.
discount

Feedback

If you have any comments on the product or website, I would be happy to hear them.

Remarketing – does it work?

remarketingIf you go to Amazon and browse watches, you will suddenly notice a preponderance of watch ads everywhere you go on the Internet. This is ‘remarketing’ (also known as ‘retargeting’ or, more colloquially, ‘cyber stalking’). Wikipedia defines it as:

a form of online targeted advertising by which online advertising is targeted to consumers based on their previous Internet actions, in situations where these actions did not result in a sale or conversion.

Given that:

a) It is hard work to get potential purchasers to visit your website

b) some 99% of visitors to a typical website leave without buying anything

It seems to make sense to spend some time and money reminding non-purchasers to come back to your website in the hope that they will eventually purchase.

The basic mechanics of remarketing are:

  1. Sign up with a remarketing publisher such as Google, Perfect Audience or Adroll.
  2. Upload some graphical ads.
  3. Bid to show these ads on other sites.
  4. Add a script on your site which cookies visitors for remarketing.
  5. When your visitor leaves your site and goes to another site in the remarketing publisher’s network, the remarketing cookie is read and an ad is shown (or not, depending on how much you and other advertisers are bidding per impression).
  6. Hopefully people will see your ad, click through and buy your product. Or they may just be reminded to continue the trial, without clicking the ad.

A number of people I have spoken to told me it was very cost-effective. But when I asked how they knew that these remarketing conversions wouldn’t have purchased anyway, I didn’t get a satisfactory answer. It seems straightforward enough to test this: run an A/B test, showing remarketing ads to 50% of your visitors and see what difference it makes to conversions. But an online search and some asking around turned up very little data. The one decent study I found quoted an 18% increase in conversions (yes please!), but was for an ‘e-commerce website’. So, dear reader, I have done the experiment using Perfect Audience for remarketing, Visual Website Optimizer for A/B testing and my table planner software as the subject. Here are my results:

visits sales conversion
rate
Control (No
remarketing )
10,539 162 1.54% (±0.15)
Remarketing 11,137 174 1.56% (±0.15)

So the remarketing showed an increase in sales of 1.6% over 21,676 visits and 336 sales. However it is noticeable that the 95 percentile error bars are rather large compared with the conversion rates. I am only 95% sure that the conversion rates are in the range 1.69% to 1.39% (control) and 1.71% to 1.41% (remarketing). Which means the change in conversion rate could be anything from +23% to -19% (but given normal distribution curves, most likely somewhere in the middle). According to Visual Website Optimizer, we can only be 56% sure that the increase in conversions is a real effect, and not just a statistical anomaly. The graph below shows the convergence of the conversion rates over time (blue is the control, orange is with remarketing).

remarketing experimentIt gets worse when you factor in the cost of the remarketing. I know the value of the sales and the cost of the ads over the period of the experiment. So I can work out that for every $1 I spent on remarketing I was getting around $0.95 back in extra sales. It isn’t looking like a winner for me, especially when you factor in the time taken to set-up and administer it.

Some points to note:

  • Remarketing resulted in 1.8% less installs than the control. This is probably just a statistical anomaly (67% chance of being statistically significant).
  • I choose Perfect Audience based on the recommendation of Rob Walling, who has experimented with Google, Adroll, remarketer.com and Perfect Audience. Unlike Google, Perfect Audience allows remarketing across a wide range of platforms and websites, including Facebook and Twitter. I found their system to be relatively flexible and easy to set-up. But being billed weekly is a bit tedious for my bookkeeper.
  • I showed my ads on Facebook and various websites. I didn’t show them on Twitter as my previous experiences with advertising on Twitter haven’t been great.
  • With remarketing you pay per impression, not per click. I set my CPM (cost per thousand impressions) relatively low. I ended up averaging $1.55 for web ads and $1.14 for Facebook ads.
  • Click through rates were miserable, averaging just 0.051% for both web and Facebook ads.
  • The average cost per click was $2.58. This is a lot more than I pay per click on Adwords.
  • I remarketed to people that arrived on my home page. I stopped targeting them after 30 days or after they had purchased.
  • I didn’t remarket to visitors from developing countries, as they very rarely buy my software. Had I remarketed to visitors from every country the remarketing conversion rate would probably have been slightly higher, but the ad costs would have been significantly higher.
  • I didn’t get any complaints from customers about being ‘stalked’.
  • I just knocked up some ad graphics myself (examples below). I got the idea for an attention-grabbing ugly ad here. It didn’t perform well though.

buy_image_ad_300x250

ugly handwriting 300x250 3I probably could probably improve the ROI on remarketing with some experimentation. E.g.:

  • Trying professionally designed ads.
  • Trying different bids.
  • Experimenting with only showing ads to people who have installed the trial vs only showing ads to people who haven’t installed the trial.

But it doesn’t really seem worth the opportunity cost given the results to date.

Of course, my experiment is just one data point. Remarketing might work better for you if you have a higher average lifetime value for a customer (many of my customers buy the $30 version of PerfectTablePlan for their wedding and never purchase from me again). If you have a B2B product with an average lifetime value in the hundreds or thousands of dollars, it is probably worth a try. You will have to run your own A/B test to find out. If you do, please let me know what the results are.