Tuesday, 6 May 2008
From talking with other people who owned websites and who had tried to do e-commerce, I knew it would take lots of work, possibly over many months, to rank well in search engine results. I was told to think about using Pay Per Click (PPC) to get going and that GoogleAds was the only service worth using. I signed up at www.google.co.uk/adwords, wrote my first ad, started getting visitors within an hour and made sales on my first day.
It all seemed so easy - let GoogleAds do the work and sit back waiting for Paypal to tell me people had made a purchase. As the days passed though, the number of visitors clicking through to my site dropped and sales were harder to come by. As I should have expected, nothing in life is ever too easy and I should have done research upfront to optimise my Adwords campaign.
As the days rolled on, I had to up the amounts I was prepared to pay for each click in order to keep getting visitors. I was still making a profit but not much. After a couple of weeks of further research I decided I needed to rethink my whole campaign. I found these tips to be the most useful in improving my conversion rate of clicks to sales:
1. When choosing the keywords for which your ad is to appear, make sure that they are absolutely relevant to your site. I got good click through rates (CTR) for “invoice templates” but at the time my invoicing software package didn’t include multiple templates.
2. Run multiple ads simultaneously. Try different ads to see which work best. Don’t use the same keywords in multiple ads – Google will only show 1 or the other ad and not both.
3. Avoid the word free. I got good CTR for phrases including the word free – like “free invoice software”. In hindsight this was probably a bad choice since those clicks probably weren’t from people wanting to make a purchase of any kind in the first place.
4. You can’t include many words in a single ad. Try selling different benefits in different ads to see which attracts most customers.
5. Write the ads in an attention-grabbing way, don’t just list features. For example – use Special Offer, Time Limited Offer.
6. Sell benefits as well as features – Save Time, No Special Knowledge, Easy to Use.
7. Try ads with and without the price – which works best?
8. Use Google’s free Adwords optimisation service. Look at their suggestions and see if they’ve spotted something your own ads and keywords haven’t covered.
9. Above all, monitor the performance of ads, keep tweaking and try different ads to see which works best. Give an ad a few days to see how it performs before changing it.
10. Use the knowledge you gain while monitoring your ads to optimise the content of the pages on your site and improve your performance in organic search results. Which keywords work best? Do you have pages that clearly focus on those keywords? Can you build backlinks that reinforce the keywords?
When used properly, Google Adwords is a very useful selling tool. Don’t expect to set up a single ad and keep making money however. When you use Google Adwords you are competing in a bidding war. Your competitors will be optimising their campaigns even if you aren’t. Ongoing monitoring and updating of ads is essential to continued success.
Monday, 5 May 2008
From my point of view, the problem with choosing a product-specific domain name is that it could reduce my options in the future. At the moment I sell one software product but within the next 6 months will be launching 2 more. If I were to have a separate domain selling each product I don’t think I’d have the time or energy to do the link-building. It’s pretty time-consuming doing link-building for one site less alone 2 or 3. On the other hand if I’d chosen a product-specific domain name to begin with, selling different products on the one, original site might not look right.
I used to think the domain name was very important but if you read around, it turns out that URLs are considered more important (and the domain is a specific case of a URL). With a good linking strategy within your site, inner pages can benefit from links to the homepage, e.g. several of my inner pages have a PR only 1 less than the homepage even though they have no links from external sites. These inner pages are often landing pages in searches. So as I sell different products and services I can create pages within my site, like:
and so on.
All in all, I’m pretty happing with my choice of domain name and will continue to build links to one site and, for the time being, mostly to one page – my homepage.
For some competitive search terms I’m on page 1 on http://www.google.co.uk/ but for the same terms in the US I’m below #500. I can also see that my competitor’s .co.uk sites are in the same position. In fact one site, which always ranks #1 for my main search terms comes in a few places lower than me in the US.
So the question is, what can I do to improve my search results? From the research I’ve done so far on the internet and by asking around, it’s been recommended I do 2 things:
1. Host my sites on a US-based server with a .com domain name.
2. Build US-based backlinks to my site.
I’m not sure I understand the first point. If I post a duplicate of my site on a US-based server won’t this be seen as duplicate content? Doesn’t Google penalise for duplicate content?
On the second point, what’s a US-based backlink? Does this mean I need backlinks from .com sites hosted on US-based servers. I can be polite when asking for a backlink but this seems like a tall order.
Need to think this one through ….
Sunday, 4 May 2008
In some ways making a website look good is of secondary importance: everyone's idea of what looks good is different and nowadays people are used to a reading a range of websites with varying degrees of artistic accomplishment or graphical design standard. What matters most is getting found in the first place and then having content that holds the visitor's interest.
A good web designer will perform both activities – making a good-looking site and making sure the site is well-optimised.
Most website designers will show you their portfolio of websites when you ask them to quote for your website. Good website designers should offer an SEO service too. Ask for examples of how well their client’s sites perform in searches.
If a designer doesn’t offer an SEO service, think twice about using their services – SEO isn’t something that can easily be performed after a website has been written and the pages are online. Ideally, a website needs to be constructed from the beginning with SEO in mind. The choice of URLs, domain names and linking strategy between pages all affect the site’s optimisation and should be planned before the website is written.
The amount of optimisation that can be performed depends on how much time and effort is put in. On-page optimisation (getting the page’s text and internal links to other pages on the same site) can be performed relatively quickly, but off-site optimisation will be an on ongoing task. Off-site optimisation mainly involves getting links from other sites. This can be a very time-consuming activity.
If good ranking in SERPs (search engine result pages) is essential to the success of your site, and you can afford to do so, hire an SEO expert. If you hire someone to do SEO work make sure they explain their techniques to you – at some point you may want to perform your own SEO. In particular, make sure your hired SEO only uses white-hat SEO techniques and will not use so-called black-hat SEO techniques that could result in Google giving your website a penalty or even banning your site in the future.
If you are looking for expert SEO advice and information, I would recommend the services of Four Square Innovations. They helped me with my website and set me on the road to ranking on page 1 of Google for my major search terms.
Shareware sites will allow you to advertise your software for free. For each title, you will be able to post a short description and the shareware site will provide a link to your installable package.
The majority of shareware sites are based in the US and are used by US customers. If your software is targeted solely for the UK, you may find that you are wasting download bandwidth from your site – since people in the US will download your package but will soon find that it isn’t appropriate for them. This happened to me with one of my software titles – I had to upgrade my hosting package to cater for the extra downloads.
One of the best freeware/ shareware sites in the UK is SoftTester. SoftTester has been established for a number of years and receives up to several thousand visitors a day.
SoftTester goes a couple of steps beyond the usual shareware site in that it tries to build communities amongst software developers, encouraging reviewing and testing of each others software.
SoftTester accepts the submissions using the standard shareware PAD file and from personal experience I can say that the site owner is very friendly and helpful to new authors.
This is the main Invoices & Payments screen from SliQ Invoicing and Quoting 1.4. The screen has been modified to incorporate the extra payments info.
The template setup tab. On this tab you can choose different templates for your invoices, quotes, credit notes and so on. 9 templates are supported with a range of different colour schemes. 1.4 also allows custom templates to be created for different users.
This tab allows you to enter your business details, select or specify a currency and enter the tax name and standard information like payment options.
All in all the new release is looking good and stable. Decided to make some last-minute cosmetic changes. Now all I need to do is update the help file before letting the beta testers loose.
I had a couple of potential customers asking about features. One needs a different invoice format. He loves the software but needs a different invoice template. It's reassuring that he liked the software enough to ask for an update rather than move on to try out someone else's package. Luckily the next version will include multiple invoice templates so I can give the customer what he wants. I emailed him PDFs from SliQ 1.4 and he OKed one of them as being suitable. Should get a sale with any luck.
Saturday, 3 May 2008
I don't find testing very interesting. These days I find it hard to concentrate for more than 20 minutes and the temptation to tweak and improve is fairly irresistible.
If I'm lucky I'll get about 6 clear hours today to concentrate on testing. If we can clear the testing soon we should be able to release for beta test within the next fortnight.
My biggest distraction is the internet. I'd get along better if BT cut me off.
Friday, 2 May 2008
Before you begin your new life running a business, consider the following questions. If you can answer the questions honestly, you should be in a good position to start up a business.
Are you starting a new business or running away from something?
Don’t expect running a business to solve too many issues for you. Starting your own business may not turn out to be a route to a magically fulfilling life.
For example, did you decide to set up a business while on holiday? Many people think about changing their lives while on holiday, especially when faced with returning home and getting back into their normal work routine. Be sure that you are considering starting a business for the right reasons. Television shows many programmes about people who sold up and moved to a new life running their own business. To me, unless these people have already retired from work, they often seem to regret the move.
Be honest about the amount of effort involved
If you work in a company and things go badly or run late, you can always fall back on your colleagues or your boss to help. When you run your own business you will have to rely on yourself. This may mean working late at night and at weekends. If you work from home you may find it difficult to switch out of work mode if your office is just across the hallway. In the early days, while getting the business up and running, you may be working long hours and seeing little profit. Are you the kind of person who has the discipline and self-motivation to carry on?
Will you make a living from your business?
Most people will need to make a living from their business. Have you written a business plan and worked out exactly how much profit your chosen business will realistically make? Don’t start your assessment by thinking how much money you need to earn each month to pay the bills. If you do this you may end up “adjusting” profit figures to meet your needs.
Be honest about the likely profits. Do research. Get someone independent, in a similar business if possible, to talk through the likely costs and income. Work out your likely profit or losses in the months after you start your business. How long will it take you to make a living? How will you afford to live before the business is making a living wage?
Will you over commit yourself or your family?
When you start your own business it is likely you will end up working more hours than you did working for someone else. At the end of the day, the only person you can rely on to get the job done is you.
Consider the effect this will have on your partner or children. If you have very young children, will they understand why you can’t spend as much time with them? Will your partner understand?
Will you expect your partner, husband or wife, to help out when things get tough? Is this fair? Will they end up feeling pressured even when they have their own work commitments? Be honest with each other and discuss the possibilities before starting your business.
How many roles will you play?
If you work for a company, it’s likely – even though you may not think so – that you do only one job. When you work for yourself you will probably need to do many jobs. If you are setting up a one man business think: Who will do the marketing and advertising? Who will fulfil customer orders, e.g. by packing and posting goods? Who will deal with customer queries and complaints? All these roles require different skills. If you don’t have any experience in these areas, get training or advice and be prepared to learn quickly on the job.
I hope you find this list useful. The list isn’t meant to put you off starting your own business. Rather it is meant to help you make sure you are being honest with yourself about your expectations and the possible pitfalls in working for yourself. If you plan up front, running your own business can be a rewarding and satisfactory venture.
If you are a small software business it is unlikely you will have a large budget to spend employing market research consultants. So how do you find new features for your products and, just as importantly, work out which features to add first?
The simple answer is that your greatest resource in product management is your existing customers. Listen to your customer feedback and record their comments. By evaluating the feedback from your customers you will be able to:-
- Develop new features for your products
- Think up possibilities for new products
- Potentially charge more for updated, improved versions of existing products.
- Customers who buy your products and you never or rarely hear from again.
- Customers who contact you and tell you either what they’d like to see added to the product or what they see as the weaknesses.
This second type of customer can appear demanding – they may appear to expect you to make the changes they want as soon as possible. In some cases they may make you lose confidence in your products. However, if their feedback is handled correctly, their input can help drive your products forward. Here are a number of tips for handling customer feedback.
Record the comments
Whenever a customer contacts you, make a record of the contact and any comments and feedback you were given. Keep a record of:-
- The customer’s contact details
- The date of contact
- The comments as the user said them – not your interpretation of the comments. Resist the temptation to be dismissive of the comments until you’ve had time to think about them.
- The specific product version the customer was commenting on.
- Any response you gave to the customer, particularly if you promised to deliver something to them.
Explore the Root Causes of the comments
When a customer contacts you their thought process will often have gone past their original problem and have arrived at what they see as a solution. The problem they talk to you about will then be that there solution isn’t present – “the problem is that you need to add feature X”.
Talk with the customer about what made them think there was a problem in the first place. It may turn out that what they need is already provided by the product. Discuss with the customer whether the existing feature you see as a solution works for them. Even if there is an existing feature that provides what they need, think about why the user didn’t find it themselves – can you enhance usability?
Finding out what caused the original problem for the customer is essential. There may be a genuine problem or weakness but your solution may be different to the customer’s and be more applicable to a wider section of people.
Assess the Requests & Stay in Control!
When first getting feedback from the customer, resist the temptation to promise them an update.
Make sure the customer knows you are recording the comments and that you will actively consider them. However, do not make promises about if and when the feature will be included until you have had time to consider the comments. If you later decide not to implement a feature or to change the way the feature works you risk annoying and losing future sales to the customer. Explain to the customer that you need time to consider the feedback.
This is particularly important when a new product has been released. You need to gather a range of comments over time before deciding which features to add and in which order.
When assessing suggestions, look if competitor products already have the features. If they do then the suggestion is probably a good one. Even so, ask yourself if there is a better way of implementing the feature.
Always ask yourself if a new suggested feature is correct for the way you want the product to develop. Is the feature taking the product up a blind-alley? Can you see that you might have to drop or drastically change the feature in a future version?
The simplest solutions are always the best. It is better to release a simple implementation of a new feature than a very complicated one. Release a simple addition and get feedback before developing the feature further.
Build a relationship
If the customer has made valuable suggestions, follow them up when you have had time to think the suggestions through. Run the possible new features past the customer. Do they think the new features are suitable? By building a relationship with the customer where they feel that their comments are invited you increase the chances of getting good ideas in the future. From experience I know that some customers are superb at providing suggestions and I sometimes feel I should be paying them!
Keep the customer onboard
If you have a good relationship with the customer, and their feedback is particularly good, ask if they would be willing to trial a new version of the product. This can be a valuable means of getting early feedback before exposing your product to a wider market. It can also be a good way of rewarding a customer, making them feel valued and continuing to build a relationship.
In any business, customers are a vital component – they buy your products and give you money! If customer feedback is handled correctly it can guide you in developing product lines.
Always treat customer feedback carefully. Make sure you do what is right for the future of your company and products. Don’t overload a specific product with features. Think about whether there is the opportunity to create an additional superior product line with additional features and a higher price.