Tag Archives: video

Making explainer videos for your software

If you want to find out how to do something, such as do a mail merge in Word or fix a leaky valve on a radiator, where do you look first? Probably Youtube. Videos are an excellent way to explain something. More bandwidth than text and more scaleable than a 1-to-1 demo.

I’ve done explainer videos for all 3 of my products. But I found it a real struggle. I would write a script and then try to read the script and do the screencast at the same time and do it all in one take. I would stutter and stumble and it would take multiple attempts. It took ages and results were passable at best. I got some better software to edit the stumbles out, so I didn’t have to do it in one go. But it still took me a fair few attempts and quite a bit of editing. It became one of my least favourite things to do and so I did less and less of it.

Recently, I came across these slides on video by Christian Genco. These and subsequent Twitter exchanges with Christian convinced me that I should stop being a perfectionist about video and just start cranking them out on the grounds that a ‘good enough’ video is better than no video at all (‘the perfect is the enemy of the good’) and I would get better at it over time. As Stalin supposedly said “Quantity has a quality all of it’s own”.

So I have ditched the scripts and the perfectionism and I’ve managed to create 13 short Easy Data Transform explainer videos in the last week or so. And I am getting faster at it and (hopefully) a bit more polished. I’m definitely not an expert on this (and probably never will be) but here are some tips I have picked up along the way:

  • Get some decent software. I use Camtasia on Windows and it seems pretty good.
  • Try to talk slower.
  • Try to sound upbeat (not easy if you are British and could voice double for Eeyore).
  • Try not to move the mouse and talk at the same time. This makes editing a lot easier. Some people like to do the audio and the visual separately, but that seems like too much hassle.
  • If you stumble, just take a deep breath, say it again and then edit the stumble out later.
  • Get a reasonable mic. I have a snowball mic on a cantilevered stand. I covered it with a thin cloth to try to reduce pops.
  • The occasional ‘um’ is fine.
  • Have a checklist of things to do for each video, so you don’t forget anything (such as disabling your phrase expander software or muting the phone).
My setup. Note the high tech use of rubber bands.

I’m lucky to have a very quiet office, so I don’t have much background noise to contend with.

Using Camtasia I can easily add intos and outros, edit out stumbles and add various effects, such a mouse position highlighting and movement smoothing. I just File>Save as the previous project so that I don’t have to re-add the intro and outro. Unsurprisingly, Camtasia have lots of explainer videos. I wish there was a way to automatically ‘ripple delete’ any sections where there is no audio and no mouse movement (if there is, I haven’t found it). Some people recommend descript.com. It looks interesting, but I haven’t tried it.

I did an A/B test of recordings with my Senheiser headset mic against my Snowball mic and the consensus was that the headset was ok but the the Snowball mic sound quality was better.

Some people prefer to use synthetic voices, instead of their own voice. While these synthetic voices have improved a lot, they never sound quite right to me. Also it must be time consuming to type out all the text. Or you can pay to have a professional voiceover done, but this is surprisingly expensive (around $100 per minute, last time I checked) and almost certainly more time consuming than doing it yourself.

Some people aren’t confident about speaking on videos because they are not native speakers of that language and have an accent. Personally accents don’t bother me at all. In fact I like hearing English spoken with a foreign accent, as long as I can understand it. Also I think there is an authenticity to hearing a creator talk about their product in their own voice.

I’m not a big fan of music on explainer videos, so I don’t add any.

I let Youtube generate automatic captions for people that want them (which could be people in busy offices and on trains and planes, as well as the hearing impaired). They aren’t perfect, but they are good enough.

My videos are aimed at least as much at finding new users as helping existing users. So I make sure I research keyword terms (mostly in Google Adwords) before I decide which videos to make and what to title them. Currently I am targetting very specific keyword searches, such as How to convert CSV to Markdown. Easy Data Transform can do a lot more than just format conversion, but from an SEO point of view it is better to target the phrases that people are actually searching for.

I upload the videos as 1080P (1920 x 1080 pixels) on to the Easy Data Transform Youtube channel and onto my screencast.com account (which I pay a yearly fee for). I then embed the screencast.com videos on relevant easydatatransform.com pages using IFRAME embed codes created by screencast.com. I don’t use the Youtube videos on my website, because I don’t want people to be distracted by Youtube ads and ‘you may also like’ recommendations. They might be showing a competitor! I don’t host the videos on the website itsself as I worry that might slow down the website. I also link to the videos in screencast.com from my help documentation, as appropriate.

Some people like to embed video of themselves in screencasts, in the hope of making it more engaging. But personally I want people to concentrate on my software, rather than being distracted by the horror of my face. And not having to comb my hair or look smart was part of what got me into running my own software business.

In the next few months I will be checking my analytics to see how many views these videos get and whether they increase the time on page and reduce the bounce rate.

If you can spare a few seconds to go to my Youtube page and ‘like’ a video ot two or subscribe, that would be a big help!

Note that some of the above doesn’t apply when you are creating a demo video for your home page, rather than an explainer video. Your main demo video should be slick and polished.

Promoting your software

This is a video of a “Promoting your software” talk I did at ESWC 2011. In it I discuss my experiences attempting to try every form of promotion known to man including: SEO, Google Adwords, magazine ads, affiliates, Facebook ads and hanging out in wedding forums using a female pseudonym. With real data! You can’t read the slide text in the video, but I have included the slides below.

A couple of people asked me afterwards whether anything I tried had worked. Yes! I wouldn’t have survived long as a microISV otherwise. But I didn’t really want to dwell on what had worked for me because it might not be relevant for different products with different price points in different markets. Also that isn’t the sort of information I want to give to my competitors.

Things were running a bit late due to problems with the projector, so I didn’t have time for the audience participation at the end. Projector problems are really not what you need when you are just about to do a talk to a room full of people! Many thanks to Alwin and Sytske of Collectorz for doing the video and to Dave and Aaron of Software Promotions for helping to sort out the unruly projector.

Marketing for microISVS

Below are the video and slides of the “Marketing for microISVS – embracing the ‘dark side’?” talk I gave at ESWC 2009 in Berlin. This is a high-speed ramble through a vast subject. In the 45 minutes available I do my best to dispel some of the myths software developers have about marketing and discuss some marketing concepts, including: branding; positioning; pricing; and segmentation. Taking in Harley Davidsons, tinned tomatoes, Coca Cola and food blenders on the way. The first couple of minutes, where I dispel the myth that good software sells itself without marketing, are missing from the video due to a dead camera battery. But you knew that anyway, so I don’t think this detracts much overall.


Slides (which might not make much sense without the video):

NB/ When I said 47Signals, I meant 37Signals (brand inflation?). Thanks to Tarek for the correction.

Links to some of the things mentioned in the talk:

A big thank you to Alwin and Sytske of collectorz.com for hot-footing it from Alwin’s talk to do the video (you can see Alwin’s excellent talk on web app pros and cons here). And also to David and Panagiota for all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes organizing ESWC.

If you found this talk useful you might also like 10 mistakes microISVS make.

Ten mistakes microISVs make

Here is a video of the “Ten mistakes microISVs make” talk I gave at the Software Industry Conference 2009 in Boston. Total duration: 27 minutes.

The slides aren’t terribly easy to read, due to the resizing and compression of the video. But you can also download the paper and slides:

A big thank you to Alwin and Sytske of collectorz.com for doing the video. You can read Alwin’s excellent software marketing blog at alwinhoogerdijk.com.

Feel free to embed this video, as long as you include a credit and a link back to this blog.

How many of these mistakes have you made? How many are you still making?

Radical new software business model

David Heinemeier Hansson of 37Signals espouses a radical new business model: create something people want, then charge them money to use it.

The secret to making money online (video, 32 minutes)

I think it is well worth watching, especially if you have been brainwashed into the prevailing VC-funded, Facebook-or-bust, flip-it-before-we-run-out-of-cash mentality. If you still aren’t convinced, read this post by Dennis Forbes.

Software audio and video resources

The Internet is a cornucopia of useful resources for software developers and marketers. As well as all the documentation, forums, blogs and wikis there are some great audio and video resources. Here are some of my favourites:

NerdTV – Robert Cringely interviews famous names from the software industry.

Shareware Radio – Mike Dullin interviews shareware authors and microISVs in his inimitable style.

The MicroISV show on channel 9 – Michael Lehman and Bob Walsh interview people of interest to microISVs.

.Net rocks and Hanselminutes – Carl Franklin and Scott Hanselman interview people of interest to .Net/Windows developers. Some of the programs are Microsoft-heavy Silverlight/Orcas/WPF alphabetti spaghetti yawn-athons, but others are of more general interest.

TED talks – The great and the good talk on a wide range of subjects, including technology.

These sites contain hours of great material. Long drives/walks/waits need never be boring again. Please add a comment if I have missed any good ones.