Promotion is an essential part of successful software – hearing about something is an essential first step to trying it. Without promotion your software is the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no-one to hear it. In this series of articles I am going to talk about some of the ways you can promote your software, and the pros and cons of each. I will also discuss how effective these various methods have been for my own £20/$35 seating planner software. Obviously this is only one data point and may not be very relevant if you are selling to a completely different market.
1. Search engine
I use ‘search engine’ in the singular deliberately, because Google is pretty much the only game in town at present. Some 80% of the search engine traffic to my site (not including paid ads) is from Google.
A constant stream of targeted prospects for free is (or should be) every marketer’s dream. All you need to do is get onto that first page of Google for your key search terms. Except that everyone else is trying to do the same and nobody really knows how Google ranks pages (except Google). SEO (search engine optimisation) is a whole separate topic. For now it suffices to say:
- Google seems to penalise new sites, so get that domain up and registered with Google ASAP
- the key to achieving a good ranking is to provide lots of relevant content
- ‘black hat’ techniques may get you penalised or even banned
- don’t believe anyone who guarantees they can get you onto the first page for a fee
Pros: Can provide large amounts of highly targeted traffic for free.
Cons: There are no guarantees on where you will end up ranked or how much traffic you will get and it can take quite a while to achieve reasonable volumes of traffic. Even if you are doing very nicely that could change next time Google change their algorithm.
Data point: PerfectTablePlan ranks pretty highly for most of the key search terms, but it is a highly focused application in quite a small niche. It took the best part of a year to start getting a reasonable amount of search engine traffic.
2. Pay per click ads
Pay per click ads are the stroke of genius that have made the founders of Google rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Again Google is nearly the only game in town, with Yahoo and Microsoft struggling to get any traction.
Pros: A very flexible and fast way to get targeted traffic. You can also get an incredible amount of feedback on what customers respond to. This is marketing gold-dust and can really help you with SEO and copywriting.
Cons: Google Adwords has quite a steep learning curve and requires constant tinkering to keep profitable. If you aren’t careful you can lose a lot of money quite quickly. Google also seems to be continually increasing minimum bid values in an attempt to squeeze more money out of advertisers. Click fraud looms large.
Data point: I tried Yahoo Overture (as it was called then) but I found the user interface painful and I lost money. Consequently I dropped Overture and concentrated my efforts on Google Adwords. Google Adwords was a very significant source of revenue in my first year, but the percentage has fallen as my unpaid search results have improved. Absolute numbers of conversion have also fallen somewhat as the market and Google force up the price of clicks. I don’t know how many hours I have spent fiddling with my Google Adwords campaign. A lot.
3. Banner ads
Banner ads are the large image ads, often animated and usually placed prominently at the tops of web pages. They are generally used to promote brands, rather than selling a particular product.
Pros: If placed on popular websites they can get seen by a lot of people. More eye catching than a text ad.
Cons: When is the last time you clicked on a banner ad? You usually have to pay even if no-one clicks your ad.
Data point: The closest I have got is running some image ads through Google Adwords. they were hardly ever clicked on and when they were the conversion rate was poor.
4. Download sites
Download sites are vast catalogues of (usually low price) software. These were an important resource for people looking for software in years gone by. However their usefulness has been gradually eroded by improved search engines and the fact that even the smallest software company can now afford their own website. The big names, such as Tucows, seem to be struggling to adapt to changing market forces.
Most download sites now accept a description of your software in PAD format. This is a blessing in that it allows you to fairly easily submit your software to lots of download sites. But it is a curse in that lots of sites have appeared using PAD file content in dubious ways to sell advertising.
If you place your PAD file in the ASP PAD database it will be picked up by many download sites. There are also services such as Robosoft that can submit your software to hundreds of download sites for you.
If your software fits into one of the standard categories and appeals to the sort of people who visit download sites (e.g. young male geeks), then download sites could be an important source of targeted traffic. Otherwise don’t expect too much. You can increase your exposure on these sites with various forms of paid promotions, such as pay per download.
It should be noted that there are a lot less Mac download sites than Windows ones, but they tend to be of a much higher quality. Some Mac developers seem to use the Mac download sites as their major form of promotion.
Pros: Free (unless you opt for various upgrade options) and all those links to your site are likely to improve your search engine ranking. As download sites tend to SEO on terms such as “crack” and “keygen” they can also make it very difficult for would-be pirates to find any real cracks that are out there.
Cons: Download sites make money selling advertising, not selling your software. There are a lot of very dodgy download sites out there.
Data point: Download sites don’t work very well for me as my software doesn’t fit into any of the standard categories. Also, most of the people who buy my software have never heard of tucows.com or download.com. But I usually submit a PAD file to the ASP database when I do a release as it only takes a few minutes. I have tried the download.com pay per download promotion and the tuwcows.com pay per click promotion – the results weren’t very impressive.