I 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.
I’m sorry to hear that Keyword Funnel did not sell. It is however a great tool that I would recommend at least trying.
For example, I regularly use it to assist with spotting negative keywords within search query performance reports.
Sometimes those reports can produce thousands of rows of data which can make it difficult to spot off target keywords. You really can’t run through each line of those reports because it would take days.
You also can’t just look for the search queries that have large numbers of impressions or clicks. Sometimes the queries that only receive 1 click and 1 impression are an even bigger problem. They might contain common words or phrases and that occur across multiple queries. Added up those 1 click 1 impression queries can cost big time.
With Keyword Funnel I can easily import and analyze all those search queries very quickly. Keyword Funnel shows me words or phrases that are used often within all those individual search queries. If I find any that are off target or any that don’t produce a good enough return, I can easily exclude them through negative keywords.
Likewise it’s also great for identifying new keyword themes that I should target.
Thank for posting your failure, it’s really interesting. On most blogs/interviews, we can often read something about success stories, but almost never about failures. Failures (with the reasons of the failure) are really interesting reading too!
As for your product (which I should try in a near future), why not make it open source? Maybe some users are interested in improving it. And maybe you can receive some money in the future is a company want that you improve it against some money.