Archive for the ‘marketing’ category

Steph Grenier On Generating Traffic For Your Website

March 20, 2008

I think I mentioned that I don’t really like ebooks the last time I reviewed one.  Please incorporate that total hatred by reference here.  Nonetheless, I gave that ebook, which was written by a professional colleague, an unreservedly positive review, because I sincerely think it will help many of my readers sell software.

Now I’m in sort of a conundrum — I received a copy of another e-book to review.  I respect the author greatly.  The other author who I already gave a positive review to praised the e-book lavishly.  So what’s my problem?

Well, frankly, I can’t imagine the book being all that useful to you, with the exception of three pages that are absolutely dynamite.  (It very well might be useful to some folks who don’t read this blog.  Why write a review for them, though?)

The story in 60 seconds: Steph Grenier of LandLordMax  wrote an e-book on How To Generate Traffic To Your Website.  (I also contributed a chapter to a real on-dead-tree book that Steph is getting published later this year.  The project is unrelated.)  The e-book includes 136 pages, with quite a few full-page annoted screen captures of Google.  We’ll call it about 120 pages of content, in which he covers 11 chapters, from SEO to Blogging to AdWords.

If you do the math there, that is about 11 pages per subject.  Now, supposing you were trying to explain blogging in 11 pages or less to someone who had never heard of the concept before, what do you think you could write before running out of space?

Well, maybe a good introduction to blogging for someone who is never heard of it.

And that is, in a nutshell, what about 95% of the e-book is.  A good introduction to SEO, AdWords, or blogging, for someone who has never heard of the topic.  At all.  If you have done any significant reading on the topics, this e-book will not teach you much that you don’t know.

Example excerpt from the chapter on Blogging:

[One reason why to blog is that it] can personalize your business. Instead of being just another faceless website it can give your website a second personality. It can give it that personal touch that people like. A lot of sales are through emotions, and people like to connect with people they like and trust. If you’re honest and real on your blog, and not just writing what you think people want to hear, you’ll create a personal bond with your customers. This will create long term traffic.

That paragraph is true.  It is fairly well-written.  It just doesn’t teach you anything you don’t already know if you habitually read blogs.  If you have ever read a blog post about why to blog, which are legion, you know it already.  If you already have a blog, you know this in your bones.  This section is also representative of the depth this book goes into on almost all subjects.  If you’re a non-technical small business owner who reads email but isn’t quite hip on this whole Internet thing yet, you might well learn quite a bit from this chapter.  If you’re running an ISV, this is almost certainly going to be akin to having a computer programmer sit through a middle school Algebra I lecture (“OK, class, I’m going to introduce a deep concept — sometimes, instead of a number, you can do math using a letter!  We call this a variable.”)

Topic Selection

I’m somewhat interested in SEO and linkbait, as long time readers of this blog know.  I really can’t recommend the chapter on SEO that much — if you have read almost anything on the subject you already know everything written here, and the topic selection leaves much to be desired.  For example, it covers Keyword Density (a metric which is, frankly, useless because it leads to no actionable insights on how to write your pages) at multi-page length.  Meanwhile, it almost ignores methods of getting links.  (Which is a shame, because this would have been a great time to mention the next section.) 

Three Pages I Really Loved

Pages 52-54 are, far and away, the best part of the book.  It provides a case study (incredibly rare in this book — most of it is basic techniques unconnected with any real examples) of how Steph used a free calculator on his website to double his traffic.  If this had been written elsewhere in the book, the level of detail would have been something like:

Freebies do attract traffic. Unfortunately it’s not always good traffic, some people will only come for the freebies and leave, but many will also stay and re-visit your website in the future (and possibly tell others about it). If you’re a blogger, they may read your other blog posts, buy your services, etc. If you’re a company they may look through your website for other interesting pages, they may tell others about what they found, etc. Freebies have always been a great way to attract attention and traffic. The key is how well you can convert the traffic coming from the freebies.

(Actually, the chapter on Freebies does start out like that.  Nothing you didn’t know already.)  But when grounded in the case study, the chapter suddenly becomes much more useful.  It examines the calculator from multiple points of view — promoting the freebie (which I’d call linkbait, incidentally, and mention REPEATEDLY in the SEO chapter because I will *guarantee* you this did more good for Steph than all his metatags could ever hope for) with a press release, for example.  If the entire book was like these three pages I’d be telling everybody I knew to go out and buy it today, but sadly they are an anomaly.

A Trend I’m Not That Fond Of

One of the reasons I hate e-books is they have a distressing tendency to turn into MLM schemes, with folks writing e-books to promote e-books to…  you get the general idea.  So when I see affiliate links in an e-book, that generally sends my spidersense tingling.  It means that the reader is paying for the privilege of reading an advertisement.  Moreover, unlike say an advertisement in your favorite magazine, rather than being adjacent to the content and clearly marked as not influencing the editorial judgement, these these affiliate ads are built into the content.  Example:

Today what we’ll attempt to do is give you an overview of the most effective SEO techniques at your disposal. I can’t hope to cover everything SEO related, there’s too much material. Indeed, I’d recommend the SEO Bookby Aaron Wall as further reading. I bought his EBook about 2 years ago and I still continue to personally reference it as a great resource. And as new SEO techniques surface and others expire, Aaron continues to update his EBook.

I broke that link intentionally.  Now, SEOBook is a great resource, I’ll agree.  I joined Aaron Wall’s (the author’s) training program for $100 a month, and feel I have gotten enough out of it to justify my first month (ask me about the second in another month).  But if you had found the chapter on SEO a little lacking in the useful detail department, and clicked on that link to go from the beginners’ class to the intermediate one, you’d have caused Steph to pretty much double his money on selling the book to you. 

This troubles me — not because making money on the Internet is a bad thing or anything, but once you start down this road, it becomes difficult for the reader to differentiate between the advice that you’re giving because it is solid advice and the advice you are giving because it offers a solid commission.

Similarly, Bob’s review also uses affiliate links for both Steph’s book and the inline reference to SEOBook.  And we’re off to the Internet Marketing races.  Instead of focusing on selling products of value to customers, we start down the merry path of cannibalizing members of our community for revenue by selling them on the dream of being a successful uISV.  They, in turn, then get to make money by selling the same products to other folks dreaming of being successful uISVs.  Who get to sell the same products to others hoping to be uISVs.  Instead of being an involved community of software entrepeneurs, it would be a community of MLM hucksterism, which does not bring value to anyone and doesn’t generate any revenue from outside the pyramid.

This concern is why I don’t put affiliate links on my site.  Keep in mind that I have the utmost respect for both Steph and Bob, I just think this trend is not in the long-term best interests of this community.

Review In Ten Seconds

Steph Grangier: great guy, successful uISV.  This book: not so hot for most uISVs.  If you buy it: save time, read and implement pages 52 to 54.

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Google Features Bingo Card Creator

January 24, 2008

I’m sorry, this post was due a week ago but I have been a combination of sick and busy.

Regular readers of this blog might remember that, around September, I started using Conversion Optimizer on my Content Network campaign and had a lot of successwith it.  My success came to the attention of the project manager for marketing Conversion Optimizer, and after a bit of discussion we agreed to cooperate in the production of a case study.  Google published that case study fairly recently — it doesn’t include much that you didn’t already read in the above posts and the followup, but it might be interesting to see how their take on it is subtly different than my take on it.  You’ll note, for one thing, that they don’t mention that the prevailing view of the the Content Network is that it is a “hive of scum and villainy”.  I can’t imagine why.

I don’t have definitive knowledge as to why Google chose to select me for the case study.  I have theories, though.  The first was that I took an early lead in staking out the topic area when it was released, and it made excellent sense for Google to talk to someone who was already ranking high for their own product name.  It couldn’t have hurt that I was largely positive and transparently willing to share the exact statistics, which is great for someone who doesn’t want to waste their time going through 15 levels of corporate officers and ultimately failing to get the go-ahead to release the numbers.

I also think that authenticity mattered.  On an Internet which is chock-full of scam artists and folks wanting to make a fast buck at others’ expense, you can stand out pretty easily just by bucking the trend.  If you have 15 competitors and you’re the only one who is radically transparent about your business, then for many opportunities you have no competitors.  You’re sailing in a Blue Ocean, and you’re the only ship there is, from one side of the horizon to the other. 

I think uISVs should make use of this, not necessarily by being radically transparent, but by running businesses which stick out because they are meant to stick out.  The software can be cloned, the keyword lists duplicated, the advertising imitated, but no one has come up with a copy machine which can Xerox the soul of an organization that has one.  If your differentiating factor is a sense of humor, fanatical devotion to customer support, personal expertise in your domain, an emotional connection to your niche, or just the bare fact of being the little guy, that helps you stand out in a sea of mediocrity. 

OK, that is enough of the theorizing.  So, further thoughts on Conversion Optimizer: it still rocks.  I pay about 24 cents for trial downloads from the Content Network these days and, after someone corrected my mistaken impression that you couldn’t use it for search, my search campaign has had a solid three months below 30 cents (which was my gold-standard for execution back when I was hand optimizing).  This has also freed up well in excess of four hours a month, which I have been using to convalesce (boo!) and plot my next improvements to my website (yay!).  I really can’t recommend it enough.

Full disclosure: Google gave me a laptop bag as a thank-you gift for participating in this case study.  Some folks might think that compromises my objectivity.  I don’t think it compromises it nearly as much as helping me make a few thousand bucks, because that buys me an awful lot of laptop bags.  (Although those wouldn’t get me stopped at customs — “Oh, you work for Google!?  ARE YOU FEELING LUCKY?!  Sorry, sorry, I tried to make a joke.  Was it funny?”  Frankly, we need more good bad jokes to pass the time at airport security.)

Fantastic Article on SEO For Bloggers

November 28, 2007

This article on SEO for bloggers is just amazing.  I highly recommend anyone with a blog who doesn’t already consider them past the intermediate stage on SEO read it.  I recommend absolutely everyone read the followup on how the original article was designed and marketed as a stunningly effective piece of linkbait.  (Some might say that this makes the original article cynical.  I disagree — it was and is very useful to many people, and there is no reason you shouldn’t promote things which are useful to your audience for your mutual benefit.  Rails is another project which has proven that just because you’re professionally marketed and designed to go viral doesn’t mean you have to suck.)

If you’re interested in SEO for bloggers, the author of that piece and I will both be contributing chapters to Steph’s book on blogging.  You might find them of interest.  If Steph lets me I’ll post an early excerpt from my chapter as an early Christmas present to you all.

P.S. Speaking of Christmas, I know you want to play Christmas bingo with your family, right? 

Putting the Green in Evergreen

November 18, 2007

If you have a post which ranks very highly for a particular query of high value to you, you can use it to springboard additional products in conceptually related spaces. 

Most blogs which add value are eventually going to have a few evergreen posts.  An “evergreen” puts the lie to blogs being a medium which only covers breaking news and the controversies of the day — they keep producing value forever, typically by ranking highly for search terms of consequence.  However, as evergreens age you can find that, while they still provide value to your business, they tend to gradually fall in the search engine rankings and become less and less useful at achieving your business objectives.

You can get a lot of value out of a nice, aged evergreen post.  My best example of this is Free Bingo Cards, which ranks extraordinarily highly for, uh, [free bingo cards].  It is #2 on Yahoo and in the top 10 on Google, and gets about 2.5k hits a month.  Not shabby.  That is about 1/4 of the hits my Bingo Card Creator site gets, and I promote that relentlessly whereas the hits just roll on in for that post.  (This is largely thanks to several of my blogging buddies who, without me asking for it, linked it when it came out.  It collects links on an ongoing basis too from my users — in the Internet and in most economic activity, winners win.)

Left alone, Free Bingo Cards would gradually slip from 2.5k hits a month to 1.5k hits a month or so, and while that would still be a hundred dollars or so in marginal revenue there are higher and better uses.  For example, I recently launched Daily Bingo Cards and have been desperately seeking a method to get it a core group of early users to spread the word for me.  Hard to get visitors without ranking, hard to get ranking without links, hard to get links without visitors — it’s a vicious cycle. 

I learned around Halloween that if I edited Free Bingo Cards to include both topical information in addition to the material that has been on it forever, it would both be refreshed in the SERPs (extending shelf-life — new info must mean relevance, right?) and give me a stream of traffic to strategically redirect to my new project, to get it off of the ground.  I did this for Halloween and got several hundred visitors, including about five folks who most be as hardcore about bingo as any raider is about WoW, to judge by their usage patterns.  (Now if only more of them blogged about it, too.)  I’m doing it for Thanksgiving as well, and it has been working out well so far.

Here is a hint which I’ve learned through CrazyEgg’ing every page I have access to: the first link in any long bit of content gets the lion’s share of the clicks.  The search engines are biased towards content earlier on the page, too, but not nearly as much as searchers.  Thus, if you want to deck out an evergreen without worrying about losing its wonderful aroma, I’d suggest adding a simple paragraph at the top with a link in it.  Presto-changeo, you now have a steady stream of traffic for any related project you currently have on your plate.

Obviously, you will not want to use this to send traffic to an unrelated page.  Non-motivated traffic is worthless to you, and you’re not developing the sort of repeat users that you want for your site(s).

Developing Linkbait For a Non-Technical Audience

October 21, 2007

Meet The Linkerati 

The old computer science joke has it that there are 10 kinds of people in the world: those that understand binary, and those that don’t.  There are 10 kinds of people on the Internet, too: those that link, and those that don’t.  Those that link are called the Linkerati, and they have the power to make your business vast sums of money, if only you show them the way.  This post is a wee bit theoretical, a wee bit how-do, and a wee bit of a direct inducement to the Linkerati themselves.  Or, as my college friends would say, “Dude, its, like, meta.”  I promise that they were not under the influence when they said things like that, unless postmodern theory counts as an intoxicant (then again, it probably should).

The Linkerati (what a wonderful word — I believe it was coined in an amazing blog post at SEOMoz which you should read) is the fragment of the online community which disseminates ideas.  I’m a Linkerati — look at us, here I am telling you to go read an amazing blog post and, what’s more, because you trust me and you trust my judgement you’re probably inclined to go off and do it.  Linkerati use Digg, Reddit, and the other social services.  Linkerati own blogs.  At the shallower end of the pool, they IM their friends and email their colleagues links.  They are tremendously influential online, owing to the biggest Linkerati of them all: Google.  Offline, perhaps you would call them “opinion shapers” or “early adopters”.

Google orders its search pages based on a variety of factors, and between the meta tags and URL structure and inbound links they all boil down to this: trust.  Trust is the currency of the web and the currency of SEO.  Linkerati gain trust from their circles of Internet friends, from the one-on-one message in an AIM window to the blogger with a million RSS subscribers, and Google sees physical artifacts of trust (i.e. links) and attributes a bit of that stored trust to the guy on the other end of the link.  This results in you getting higher positioning in the search results for keywords of interest to you, and that translates pretty much directly into money in your pocket.

So what does this have to do with linkbait?

Linkbait is, simply, the act of putting something online to influence the Linkerati.  Typically the desired action is to get them to link to it, write about it, talk it up with their friends, etc.  People who are much smarter and more effective than I am have talked about doing linkbait for the Digg demographic to death.  You know who I’m talking about: 16-24 years old, male, plays World of Warcraft, owns an iPod, can’t tell you what Steve Ballmer’s title is but know he once threw a chair in a meeting, yadda yadda.  This article won’t talk about them because, frankly, they’re not too valuable to me. 

Linkbait For The Rest of Us

I sell simple software which makes bingo cards for elementary school teachers.  Teaching eight year olds to read is crashingly dull to the Digg demographic.  My target demographic is older, 90%+ female, highly well educated, and as a bit of a generalization not extraordinarily technically-minded.  There are Linkerati in my demographic, though.  The challenge is reaching them.

When I was just starting out, I created a few pages of free resources which I knew would appeal to teachers, in the hope that they would come across them and pass them around to folks they knew.  This worked well, but there were some stumbling blocks: because I was engaged in laboriously hand-crafting the free resources, I only ever produced about a dozen of them, and they could be consumed in a single browsing session.  Indeed, 60% of the visitors to my site flitted out within seconds after finding what they were looking for (such as Dolch sight word lists, for example), most never to return.  So one of the main goals of my linkbait project was to make it sticky — to have something which screams to the primordial teacher soul I want to come back here.  Most things which are good enough to come back to are worth recommending to your friends, after all.

Positioning:

Linkbait needs to quickly communicate its value both to the general user and to the Linkerati.  Both demographics consume Internet content at quite a clip and if you can’t grab them in the first thirty seconds you have probably lost them.  Accordingly, you want to have a positioning for your linkbait which informs everything you do: its more than a title, it is the core essence of what you are offering boiled down to a thought fragment.

Ideally, I would love teachers to come visit me daily.  Thus the positioning: Daily Bingo Cards.

Those are three simple words which quickly get across what I am offering: it’s bingo cards, and you want to come back tomorrow because there will be new ones tomorrow!  (Note that I just took 17 words to explain a concept covered in 3 words.  This is why I abandoned my childhood dreams of becoming a newspaper columnist.)

Build Something Remarkable: 

So you’ve got something which grabs the attention of your targeted Linkerati in the first thirty seconds.  Now you’ve got to get over the hump of getting them to burn a wee bit of their trust with their audience and link to you.  You  do that by providing them something of value which they can’t get elsewhere. 

Back when I was starting out, “something of value” was free bingo card activities and free word lists.  Those are indeed valuable to my niche.  However, they’re not very remarkable — the Internet is full of them, and if the selection at a particular site is limited to a half-dozen you can decide “Eh, not quite what I was looking for” in an instant.  What took “Eh” to “Yeah!” was the decision to take things to an industrial scale.  The idea hit me when I was coming home on the train: what if, instead of handcrafting each set of cards and each page myself, I could somehow create hundreds of cards, for hundreds of activities, of every type and description.  That is, after all, what Bingo Card Creator is all about: an infinite diversity of possible lessons (well, as long as the lesson includes a bingo game), made quick and easy. 

So I created a system to automate the production of web pages about the resources, and I hired a team of freelancers to help me write good word lists.  That let me scale from 15 word lists (what I was able to write myself in a year — obviously not fully devoted to this one aspect of my business) to 70 word lists at launch and a new word list, you guessed it, daily.  (I suppose I could have dribbled them out one at a time, in keeping with the name of the site.  However, why waste the first two months having a site with a handful of word lists when I can just scale straight to the point where the site is remarkable?  No need for foolish consistency when fudging the name a bit makes life better for everyone.) 

The general idea is to so overwhelm my visitor with abundance that they think “Wow, I can’t possibly take it all in right now, but I’m going to remember this place because its sure to come in handy later!” 

On Breadth over Depth:

Like I mentioned, there are hundreds of free bingo activities on the Internet.  Most are collected in ones and twos scattered across a variety of sites, from the extraordinarily influential to the smallest Mrs. Smith’s First Grade Class Home Page.  For some microniches, like Halloween Bingo Cards, the search rankings are quite competitive.  For others, like Astronomy Bingo Cards, they are not competitive at all.  You mark my words, I’ll be in the top 3 on Google for that phrase in a matter of days or weeks.  And I’ll stay there for, well, probably forever, happily picking up a wee little trickle of search engine traffic.  Multiply a wee little trickle by hundreds of parallel pages and it isn’t a trickle anymore.

That is, in my humble opinion, the secret which differentiates linkbait for non-technical audience from linkbait for the Digg crowd.  The Digg crowd has the attention span of an ADHD squirrel on illegal substances and has negative a billion interest in yesterday’s news, with the possible exception of classic Nintendo games. 

You can practically write a mathematical formula for the number of links a post on Digg gets you: 2D/ r  * L, where D is the number of Diggs received, r is the ratio of people visiting to people Digging (so 1/r has the effect of multiplying — incidentally, a ballpark figure is r=.01), and L is how linkable the site is (think a lot less than L=.0001, typically). 

Note the term that isn’t present: time.  Very few Digg posts are relevant 48 hours later.  However, people will play Halloween Bingo in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, etc etc.  That page will essentially never get old.  It will just continue quietly helping searchers out, collecting links, and making me money.  It is an evergreen of value.  If you have a non-technical audience, you are in the evergreen farming business.  Plant them, water them, and watch them grow.    

Of Snowflakes and Snowballs:

Earlier on my blog I talked about snowflake queries, the totally unique but still generalizable search engine queries that comprise the Long Tail of search.  There might only be one teacher in the world searching for “4th grade astronomy bingo” (and, if so, she downloaded Bingo Card Creator yesterday).  However, presenting her with an entire site full of things tangentially related to the thing which directly stimulates her interests might induce her to link to it, or otherwise recommend it.  That link to that one individual resource lifts all of the other pages on the site a wee little bit, and in turn as they rise in the rankings they will attract links themselves, and eventually the site is not a collection of a hundred snowflakes, it is a massive snowball speeding downhill.  It might never be in the top 5 for the competitive “bingo cards” search (I actually hope not — I would hate to out-compete myself!) but it will roll over and crush sites which are not trusted or particularly optimized on those Long Tail queries.  That attracts motivated potential prospects directly to my product.

Shouldn’t You Put This On Your Main Site? 

If the goal of linkbait is to get hundreds of inbound links, it would certainly make a lot of sense to put it on your main site.  I didn’t, this time, largely to have the freedom to play around with Daily Bingo Cards without worrying about jeaprodizing the business proper.  You see, it is possible to over-do on-page SEO, and I’m probably coming pretty close to the line.   Consider my Halloween bingo cards page:

  • Title is “Halloween Bingo Cards”
  • H1 tag is “Halloween Bingo Cards”
  • Halloween Bingo Cards is bolded
  • The word “Halloween” is on the page six times
  • The alt tag for the image mentions, yep, Halloween bingo cards
  • The URL for the image does, too
  • Did I mention the URL is http://www.dailybingocards.com/bingo-cards/holidays/halloween ?

Yeah, I might be pushing it just a wee bit.  Then again, the page really is about Halloween Bingo Cards, and hopefully Google’s algorithms will understand and appreciate that, rather than deciding “Oh, he is a spammer not contributing value, let us put him in the supplemental index”.  Links from real people are one way to get trusted enough to avoid that.

Should I step over and get all those results kicked out of the main index by Google, I really don’t want that to cost me $1,000 a month.  Six months from now, if the site takes off, I can always 301 redirect it to a subdomain of my main site.

Make It Linkable:

Help the Linkerati link to your site.  The very first barrier is making sure it can be linked to — putting linkbait behind a sign-on or on a page which requires a session ID means you fail, period.  The second barrier, and one which trips up a lot of people, is giving the page a good, accessible URL.

What does accessible mean?  Well, here is a wonderful article by Bob Walsh, who I’m only picking on because he is generally brilliant, is a professional colleague, and has mentioned a few times that he doesn’t get why this is a big deal:

http://www.47hats.com/?p=476

Now quick, without actually reading it, tell me what that article is about.  Kind of a tough task, right?  But that is exactly the kind of link you get when a non-technical person just copies and pastes the link into their blog or IM window, and it tells their audience nothing useful.  You don’t feel any need to go read it right now and miss out on this article, right? 

Now, without clicking on this link, tell me what it offers you:

http://www.dailybingocards.com/bingo-cards/people-and-careers/celebrities

Not a very hard task, is it?  Not only can you tell what is there (hey, bingo cards!  And about what?  Celebrities!  Celebrity Bingo Cards!), but Google and the other search engines give major weight to the words printed in the URL.  Better for your users, better for the Linkerati, better for the search engines — take the extra time to make pretty URLs, you will be happy you did.

As an added bonus, those URLs work exactly how the folder metaphor on the computer has taught people to think that they work: chop off celebrities and you get

http://www.dailybingocards.com/bingo-cards/people-and-careers/

which, like you would expect, gets you bingo cards about People and Careers.  Chop off people and careers, and you get bunches and bunches of Bingo Cards sorted into categories, letting you build your way back to an individual card.  How I did this is an interesting little implementation detail which I will cover in another article later.  (Since that little implementation detail is specific to Ruby on Rails, whose community is absolutely overflowing with Linkerati, I’ll put that article actually on the Daily Bingo Cards site and promote it directly within the community.  Win for them, they learn a good way to improve their own websites, win for me, I get free link juice.)

(Sidenote: If you run WordPress but your URLs look less than helpful, you can do something similar for yourself in thirty seconds: log into your control panel, click Options, click Permalinks, and select “Date and Name based” then hit confirm.  Presto-changeo, instant link readability.)

Grease the skids for repeat visitors:

I want people to bookmark my site and send it to the friends.  Adding “Bookmark this site!” and “Save to del.icio.us” buttons at appropriate places was very easy, and my copy actively encourages folks to come back tomorrow.  Did you know every save on del.icio.us is worth a (minor) inbound link?  I sure wouldn’t mind ending up on the popular bingo card page, and the barrier to getting there (precisely BECAUSE the delicious-using teacher population is tiny) is pretty low.  All I need to do is make a website, add in a dash of discrete text links, and let simmer for a few months.

Promotion:

If a tree falls in a forest but no one is around to hear it… I forget how the rest of that quote goes, but I am pretty sure it does not continue “then the Linkerati will blog about it”.  Just putting up a site about Daily Bingo Cards doesn’t mean anyone will actually visit it.  However, and here is the meta part of the blog post, I happen to have a decently well-read blog which has many blogging readers and many more transient searching visitors looking for things like Free Bingo Cards.  And if you want free bingo cards, well, you know where to get them!  That is enough to get my snowball rolling… but why do things by half measures.

  • Prepare a sitemap for Google and the other engines (they crawled me on the same day I submitted one, and I’m already in the index for at least the term Daily Bingo Cards (#1), with exactly ONE inbound link in the entire world prior to this post).
  • Talk to your existing customers.  I suppose I technically could mail the 400 people who bought Bingo Card Creator in the last year and say “Hey, I love you guys!  Here is a site full of free bingo cards which you can use with Bingo Card Creator.  Enjoy!”  However, I promised not to spam them and that is pushing it.  I came up with a compromise — when they get bugged to update their software to Bingo Card Creator 2.0 (which includes the daily bingo lists), the page the upgrade takes place on will mention the site and suggest they link to it.
  •   Use niche social sites — like Digg, for people who don’t find 37 Improbable Devices To Run Linux On to be very interesting.   For example, there is a site called qoolsqool.com which is, against allexpectations, actually populated by educators.  I’ll be typing up a brief entry there.  Then a Squidoo lens, yadda yadda you get the drill.
  • Blog it.  It helps if you have readers already, happily, I do.  The “secret” to that is basically linkbait writ small: produce things of value, repeat at regular intervals.

Ditch the ads:

An acquaintance of mine suggested I put AdSense ads on Daily Bingo Cards.  I can’t see how this could possibly be worthwhile: first, to have decently performing AdSense ads you have to either a) have a site which functions as a glorified search engine or b) break your site so that people want to leave it as quickly as possible.  This is not compatible with my overarching strategy, to get people to come back tomorrow!  Much of the Linkerati is also a wee bit anti-commerce (a feature they share with many teachers) and they don’t want to be “tricked” into linking to a billboard.

It is funny, though — the whole site is one gigantic advertisement for how Bingo Card Creator makes your life easier, and I plug it on essentially every page.  But it doesn’t look like what you expect an ad to look like, and the very act of consuming the marketing message is intensely valuable to my target customer!  That has to be the holy grail for marketing — people so want to be marketed to that they’ll come to you for that express purpose and tell their friends!

Finally, while I could extract CPMs in the $2 or so range by selling advertisements to competitorsof Bingo Card Creator (that is what I pay Google for my own advertisements, after all), if this page performs as well as my existing free resources page I’ll have an effective CPM of about $40.  $2 vs $40… not a hard call.  Plus, I expect the page to significantly outperform my free resources page.  If you’re a budding uISV wondering whether you can achieve big profits through advertising, you certainly can, but remember: every cent spent on advertising on the Internet comes out of a dollar that someone made through something that was not advertising.  You can have the cent or you can have the dollar — choose wisely.

Postscript:

I have been putting off this blog post for two weeks.  Every additional delay had a good reason: I was wretchedly ill, I was busy, I was swamped at work, I was entertaining a friend from out of town.  However, I’ve decided to go to back to my core foundational principle and say “You know, when all else fails, launch the sucker.” — it makes little sense for a marketing experiment to go into week four when the product I’m marketing was launched on schedule on day eight!  So consider the sucker launched. 

Now begins the battle of inches, where I test, iterate, and refine while the resource keeps helping people out. 

If you found this article valuable, feel free to tell folks about it.  If you want updates on whether all this theorizing actually amounts to anything, subscribe to the RSS feed because I’ll be giving regular updates on how the site performs (with real traffic numbers and the like — I’m very big on transparency, so if Google hits me with the banstick you’ll see the implosion in transparently painful detail!)  And if you know anybody looking for bingo cards for class, you know where to send them.

Programming Productivity Up By 10%… Yowza

June 7, 2007

Direct AccessI have tried expressing my love for Direct Access before.  Really, its hard to describe until you’ve tried it.  However, Andrea was smart enough to include an automatic logging feature in the newest version, which demonstrates exactly how much time it saves you.  (Memo to self: scrape user accounts for Kalzumeus, generate similar ROI-proving eyecandy, and put at the top of the Upgrade Your Account screen.  Its brilliantly simple salesmanship.)  For me, that number is scary.  Lets focus on yesterday, shall we.  Here is a shot of Direct Access on my home computer, which was on yesterday from 7 PM when I got home to 2 AM.  Of that, 3 solid hours was programming time, after doing battle with SVN fruitlessly for far, far too long. 

During programming time, I’m typically opening folders and programs left, right, and center.  Copy this to there, grab the backup of that, nuke those sources, where the heck was my Rails API reference, need to open Thunderbird to retrieve my SVN password, that sort of thing.  Apparently I do this more commonly than I had thought:

Direct Access Stats

I generally estimate 20 seconds to accomplish any random opening from staring at my IDE window.  For example, to get to the Rails API, that would generally be Start -> Internet Explorer  -> Google (my home page) -> Rails API -> I’m Feeling Lucky.  (Why type as opposed to using my bookmark?  Faster, less requirement for right hand, gets autocomplete.)  Given the need to take my hands off the keyboard and the lingering pain in my right hand, thats a good twenty seconds.

Well, thats a bit shorter, isn’t it. 

rrrTAB (used to be railsTAB, but I found myself typing it a lot) gets me a command shell opened to my Rails application directory.  sshTAB gets me a Putty window set to automatically log into the server I’m most frequently using.  All the power of the command line and autocompletion… from anywhere.  Bwahaha.  You can keep your OS X, vim, and bash, I’m puttering around in a deliciously iconoclastic Windows XP… at Unix sysop speeds.

I also love the autotext for hammering out boilerplate code… that turns out to be a heck of a lot less useful in Ruby than it was in Java, though, since a) I write less boilerplate and b) I’m not sufficiently well versed in the boilerplate to have prepared it as a macro yet.  In Java, on the other hand,  I know I will have to do intconvertTAB again, writing out a try-catch block to surround a very prosaic String to int conversion. 

try {

replaceMe = Integer.parseInt(cursorStartsHereAfterIHitTab);

} catch (NumberFormatException e) {

// Handle if string was passed by user, safe to ignore if string came internally.

}

The third time I type the same freaking snippet out it goes in Direct Access with a memorable abbreviation.   I have twenty of them for Java now, and a few for Rails, mostly for migrations and to act as quick references for syntax. 

You wouldn’t think shaving a few seconds here and a few seconds there would really matter that much, but the stats don’t lie.  A 165 minute programming session was a 180 minute session purely thanks to Direct Access.  Not bad.  I really wish they hadn’t forced me to uninstall my copy at work — “Well, Patrick, you see, we have a new security policy…”  Suit yourself, boss.  I get paid regardless of whether I’m being productive or not at the day job.  When I’m the boss, heck, time spent clicking is time spent not doing more important things.

If you don’t have something like this… get it.  Really.  Its a no brainer. 

As usual, product placements on this blog are 100% uncompensated.  I like it, I use it, it saves me time and money, I blog about it.  I do not solicit, accept, or envision folks giving me money for anything other than the products I sell.

Community-oriented Marketing — Forums, Usenet, Mailing Lists, etc

May 26, 2007

“So what did you think of the Season Finale of Heroes?””Dude no spoilers I haven’t seen it yet.”

“Oh, alright, highlight the following to see what I thought: *start highlight* The fight scene between Hiro and Sylar, which was supposed to be the highlight of the entire series, was over in less than two seconds.  He stabs him, the end.  What a let down! *end highlight*”

“Hi forum people!  Buy cheap Lost DVDs at spammerplanet.com for only $49.95 per season!  Free shipping!”

“Spam!”

“Spam!  Reported!”

“Where are the “#”#%ing mods?  I tell you, this forum has been going downhill since Tommy stopped running it.”

Recently, in the Business of Software forum, somebody made the observation that I have never posted to Usenet about Bingo Card Creator, and they reasoned from this that posting to Usenet about consumer software is unpopular.  (For those who may not know me: Bingo Card Creator is software which produces bingo cards for teachers.  I wrote and sell it as a small business.)  I’m both flattered and frightened that I’m supposedly representative of good marketing practices.  However, I think the conclusion should be a little broader than they one they drew: it is ineffective to directly market to a community which you are not a part of, be that a forum community, a mailing list, or a Usenet group, regardless of what you are selling.

What Community-Oriented Marketing Is

The key thing about Usenet or a PHPBB forum or your local school’s teacher mailing list is not the technology that is used to drive them.  The key thing is that they have a community, quite possibly a very tight knit one which has built up over years.  That community has its little social rituals, in-jokes, standards of acceptable behavior, shared history, friendships, rivalries, dramas, a whole tapestry of meaning for its members that you, the outsider, know nothing about.

If you attempt to sell something directly to the members of a community you are not a part of, you risk a great chance of falling afoul of community norms and an almost certain chance of wasting your time.  Many communities are quite opposed to the commercialization of what they perceive, correctly, as their shared social space.  Some have debates rage for years about whether its appropriate or not to put AdSense ads on a forum sidebar (sidenote to board admins: please don’t.  Regardless of whether its appropriate or not nobody will click them.  They’re coming for the community, not to be marketed to.  The only way to use AdSense on a forum is to put interstitial ads between posts and harvest misclicks.)  Some of them are filled with Slashdot-esque folks who are fundamentally opposed to people other than themselves making money for any reason.  Some are filled with folks who either do not have money or should not be spending it if they do have it.  If you’re not a member, you will not know the lay of the land, and you might step directly into one of the minefields.

Legitimate Ways To Market To A Community You Are Not A Member Of

Of course, there are a variety of approved ways to drop an advertisement in a community.  You could, for example, buy an AdSense ad there — see above, though, its tremendously unlikely to be effective.  Some communities have established Advertising boards — this should be a pretty big hint to you that they really would not appreciate an ad in their main forum.  Of course, traffic to their advertising board is a bare fraction of what it is to the main forum (if everyone wanted to see ads they’d be accepting of ads there!).  I spent about 2 hours when I started up Bingo Card Creator running around the Internet, finding ESL forums, looking to see if they had an advertising board, and dropping in a tasteful and honest ad for Bingo Card Creator if they did.

The Relative (In-)effectiveness Of Direct Marketing To A Community You Are Not a Member Of

The best performing ad out of those sends me a total of perhaps 10 visits a month, resulting in 2 trial downloads.  Think of that: one hour per trial download per month (TDPM — many marketing expenses are evergreen on the Internet, so its handy to watch how a one-time investment continues sending you traffic as opposed to watching the one-time spike of traffic immediately after posting).  By comparison, there are many, many better ways to deploy one hour of my scarce time.  One way would be to work at McDonalds, because a trial download is only worth about fifty cents to me.  But thats no fun.

Writing my Squidoo page took me 2 hours.  That was worth 5 TDPM.  Already thats doubly effective.

Writing a list of Dolch sight words for my website was “slightly” more effective.  It generates about 200 TDPM, partially from organic search and partially from folks who pass the link to their friends.  That page took, yep, about an hour to write and we’ll call it another hour work of linking from my blog over the last year.

Writing a single blog post about Free Bingo Cards took me about 15 minutes.  That generates about 150 TDPM.  (Note: I had quite a bit of help on that post thanks to an impromptu brigade of friends who decided to link to it.)

Oh, and in my portfolio of marketing efforts, there is one community link that sends me 20 TDPM.  It cost me 0 minutes to write, because I didn’t write it.  If I had written it, it wouldn’t have sent me a single hit.  The reason the link is so effective is because someone who was trusted in their community put their reputation on the line and said “Hey, check out this site, it will help you educate your children”.  It wasn’t an anonymous fly-by-night posting from some Internet entrepeneur (sadly, half of the world now thinks that is a euphemism for “spammer”), it was a recommendation given to the community by their childrens’ teacher. 

Trust Is Key

That is what community-oriented marketing comes down to: trust.  If you don’t have it, then building it up will take quite a bit of time, and you have much better options for marketing in terms of time spent per marginal exposure gained.  (See the above list for some ideas.)  If you are trusted somewhere, you might be able to effectively market there, based solely on your existing trust.

I personally haven’t used that method.  I am trusted, for example, in a community of ESL teachers close to where I live.  I know I could send out a email to the list and get 50 downloads of Bingo Card Creator in a day.  However, I’m trusted precisely because I have not been a self-promoter for the last three years, and I see no reason to throw that trust away now for a piddling amount of money.  On the other hand, I was a volunteer translator for a major Japanese ESL textbook, and they were kind enough to throw me a link from my biography (on the acknowledgements page) to Bingo Card Creator, which can’t possibly hurt.  That is marketing, but it is marketing which enhances my trust in the community rather than detracting from it. 

I strongly suggest that you do the same — don’t aggressively push your product at anybody who knows you and could possibly use it.  That makes you into the Internet equivalent of the Mary Kay lady, somebody who aggressively tries to promote her business to all of her soon-to-be-former friends to the exclusion of anything approaching a real, honest relationship with them.  Instead, continue going about interacting with your communities just like you do right now, and the marketing will more or less fall into your lap.

Finally, continue providing an excellent product and service to customers.  Customers are the first, last, and best marketing team you will ever have.  They are already trusted in more communities than you can even conceive of, and when they plug your product for you their words will be trusted and their consciences will be unburdened, because they are doing it to help their friends rather than to help themselves.  Its a win-win situation for everyone involved.

And, yes, I was severely disappointed with the last episode of Heroes.  Grr.  They’d better improve for next season.