Competitive Edge

Issue 06 – The Top 50 Ways To Sell More Software and SEO Guarantees.

Lists are popular. We all like reading them, and quite rightly so.

My particular list is infinitely more useful than most. If you follow my advice, I can help you to sell more software. Really.

Disclaimer: This isn’t an exhaustive list of everything that you can or should do to sell more software. It’s a collection of 50 items that I think are important. Are there others? Definitely. But the top 60 just didn’t do it for me. And the thought of compiling the top 100 made me want to cry.

Useless yet fascinating facts: Within the top 50 list, the word “don’t” was used 18 times, “you” 48 times, and “marketing” 4 times. Draw your own conclusions.

1. Google AdWords. Invest the time, learn how to tame it or get someone to do it for you.

2. Search Engine Optimisation. If you don’t think SEO is worthwhile, then you probably shouldn’t bother reading the rest of this list.

3. Press Releases. Don’t just go for the free options. PRWeb is a good option if you can write a good release, and companies like DP Directory – http://www.dpdirectory.com – are very good value if you can’t.

4. Blog and RSS feed. If you have something to sell then you should have something to say. But don’t (i) just talk about your dog and favourite Star Trek episodes and/or (ii) only post once every two months. Marcus’ Macro Blog gets the balance right –http://www.mjtnet.com/news/ – and FeedForAll makes creating an RSS feed simplicity. http://www.feedforall.com.

5. Social bookmarking. Learn what it is and how to tap into it. It works.

6. Blitz the software sites. There are a choice of reputable services out there that can do this for you. Doing it yourself is no longer necessary.

7. Online demo. If your application looks good in action then show people. Watching a good demo can be as good as installing a trial version, without the headache. But do it right. Listening to a slow-talking muffled voice over the sound of someone hammering away at his keyboard is painful. BB FlashBack is a good choice – http://www.bbsoftware.co.uk.

8. Pushing it in front of the right eyeballs. Droning on about your app to your grandmother is futile and a little cruel. Making sure that the people who could use and buy it know about is a better idea.

9. Set yourself up as a friendly expert. Forums, notice boards, discussion lists, blogs, panels at conferences and print publications all give you the chance to show people how much you know. We’ve been using this approach for years, and are happy to testify how well it can work. What, you thought I was just a nice guy?? http://www.davetalks.com.

10. Targeted discounts. Depending on your markets, people really like time limited “special offers”. If they’ve already heard about your product and were interested, this can be a good means of boosting your sales.

11. Set the right price. Low pricing is one of the more common mistakes in the online software industry. Experiment and track.

12. Have a fresh set of eyes look at your software. There is no way that you can possibly look at your own software objectively; you are blind to how it looks, feels and works. Have other people look at your software for you – without your hovering over their shoulder telling them what to click and how cool it looks.

13. Use your time more efficiently. Are 20+ postings a day in the ASP newsgroups really more important than developing your product, website or marketing? If you have time to spend hours in the newsgroups and forums each day, you’re either incredibly wealthy and successful, have a lot of spare time on your hands, or have developed procrastination into a fine art form. Be honest with yourself.

14. Accept that you can’t do everything yourself. Look into outsourcing or taking someone on. It’s not as big a hurdle as it might at first appear.

15. Know your strengths and build on them. Are you a golden sales person, a marketing wizard or a code guru?

16. Always know what your competition are doing. Software makes doing so very easy, and you should be aware of what they’re up to.

17. Be the first to know when the winds of change blow through your industry. Don’t wait for your customers to educate you.

18. Expand into new markets. Unless you have the most targeted of niche applications (Excel plugin for UK-based Organic Egg Farmers in the South of England who only export to Germany) then there are almost certainly a whole range of brand new markets just waiting for you to dip your toes in. Find them.

19. Know what your website visitors are doing. Repeat after me: Log Analysis is Essential.

20. Learn to prioritise your work. And don’t do so by reading 15 books about time management. Software like Action Outline makes setting and managing your priorities very easy. http://www.actionoutline.com

21. Have a fresh set of eyes look at your website. You’re far too used to seeing it, and are probably missing the obvious.http://www.softwarepromotions.com/marketing/

22. Use technology to save you time – tools like Macro Scheduler and Type Pilot can save you literally hours every week.http://www.mjtnet.com/ and http://www.colorpilot.com/typepilot.html.

23. Diversify. The more products you have, the more sales opportunities you open, and the more you cover yourself for the future

24. Strike the right balance between a trial version that’s too restrictive and one that’s too generous. Don’t give your software away, but don’t nag them into uninstalling either.

25. Look into partnering. Learn to recognise partners who are worthwhile and the black holes of time and effort.

26. Software bundles. Easy to setup, nothing to lose.

27. Plan. If you drift from day to day, responding to whatever happens upon you, you may want to either get your head looked at or do a little planning. Stay in control.

28. Learn how to upsell. Once your potential customers have jumped over the “I don’t like parting with cash” barrier, they are usually receptive to buying the better version and/or other products at a discount. With one hand on their credit card and the other on their mouse, seize the opportunity.

29. Be seen, be sold. Never miss an opportunity to get your name and/or product in front of people. Within reason.

30. Be prepared to spend money. If you’re looking for a marketing company but are only prepared to spend $100 a week, you’ll get what you pay for. Those who pay peanuts get monkeys.

31. Newsgroup/forum signatures are not just a means of filling space. They are useful. And they work. See rule 9.

32. Be prepared to try everything once. Again, within reason. Every form of advertising or promotion carries a risk. If you don’t try you’ll never know.

33. Set yourself sales goals with action items to make sure they happen. You may have more control over your sales than you realise. Don’t wait for them to come to you.

34. Set aside time for planning every week. Never let the business run your days for you.

35. Invest in time. A part-time assistant to deal with admin can prove to be an effective means of freeing up some time that can be put to better use. And let’s face it, who has ever said “Man, I miss the paperwork”?

36. Walk away from your business once in a while. Make sure you occasionally realign your priorities, and remind yourself why you work hard.

37. Tap into experts. Whether it’s a local business advisor, a friend with a good business head, a mentor or a marketing guru. Hint: If a person describes themselves as a guru of anything, then they’re probably not.

38. Read books that are good for your business. Anyone who will give you new ideas and inspire you (with more than “the world IS my oyster” type of rubbish) is worth reading. And when you’ve bought them don’t just leave them on the bookshelf – that’s my particular specialised sin!

39. Don’t read self help books. They only help the authors and publishers. If you need to gain more confidence, become more attractive, feel more successful and make more money, follow every one of these top 50 pointers.

40. Keep up to date with new technology. Don’t ask your customers what an RSS feed is, or whether your software works on their Vista system.

41. Be flexible with accepting payments. Purchase orders, American Express, PayPal & Debit Cards should all be there next to Visa.

42. Don’t be stingy with your software. Don’t give editors a 90 day trial version, and don’t battle for days with the person who wants a $19.99 refund. See rule 20.

43. Remember that there is a world outside the borders of the US. And most of us are friendly.

44. Insure your company. If you rely on your internet connection, then having a second (low cost) ADSL connection with a different provider on a second phone line might make the difference between being able to work or tear your hair out for a week. Imagine your connection goes down tomorrow for 4 days. It happened to our company last year. $20 a month is very cheap price to pay for peace of mind.

45. Speak the language of your customers. Know what makes them tick. Techies and veterans of Windows 3.x hate the Windows XP child-friendly look. Your parents would hate the power and flexibility of Windows NT. Give your customers what they want and are looking for.

46. Make sure your website looks up to date. Retro isn’t cute, and jagged pixels don’t create confidence. Animated animals that bounce across from side to side, fluorescent green backgrounds and midi music all cause pain. To your visitors as well as your sales.

47. Learn how to write properly. If you can’t, or don’t have the time, then get someone else to do it for you. If English is your second language, I know it isn’t fair. Such is life. Becky Lash from Epic Trends has a well-deserved excellent reputation.http://www.epictrends.com/

48. Reassure your visitors and potential customers. Show them how established you are. Show them your money back guarantee. Reassure them with how secure their transaction will be.

49. Keep it brief. If your website makes me scroll my mouse for five minutes to get to the bottom of the page then I never will.

50. Keep in touch. Make sure that when your website visitors want to contact you they can do so with ease. Every visitor is a potential sale.

51. Always provide more than is expected. Anyone who complains that my top 50 list contains 51 items should follow the advice of rule 36. Fast.

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SEO GUARANTEES AND WHY THEY’RE A BAD THING:

Some things in life come with guarantees. You can reasonably expect your dishwasher to make your dishes sparkle, your expensive suitcase not to break into pieces the first time it encounters an airport conveyor belt, and your car to head left or right when you turn the steering wheel. On the other hand, some things in life come with no guarantees at all, and you have to accept that you can’t be sure how they’ll turn out.

But what about SEO? Many people who come to us are under the assumption that SEO is a kind of puzzle with a definite, perfect solution – a little like Sudoku. It might take time, but as long as you fill in all the right numbers you’ll get there in the end. And “there” always appears to be top ten rankings, since that is what most people assume that they need. After all, there are plenty of SEO companies out there who are happy to give you a “ranking guarantee”. Surely that must mean that there is a recipe for search engine success, so why don’t all companies do the same?

The truth is that aside from the people who actually run the search engines, there’s nobody who can guarantee you a ranking of any kind. They can do things that have a good chance of influencing rankings, but they certainly cannot promise you a certain ranking for a certain phrase. So why do they, and how do they get away with it?

Unsurprisingly, the answer is usually hidden in the fine print, so let’s take a look at some of the companies who do this. Names have been changed, of course, and text altered.

“RipOffRankings will optimise your site for 20 keywords. We guarantee your site will be listed in the top 20 for 5 of these keywords, spread over 5 of the 25 main search engines.”

Looks good, at a glance, but what it basically translates to is this:

As long as you’re number 19 for at least one keyword on Lycos, LookSmart, AllTheWeb, HotBot and AltaVista, we keep your money.

A second company we’ve come across does it a different way, which involves the client doing virtually all the work. You, the client, are urged to write a blog, countless new articles, constant new content and so on. If after 12 months of this you still haven’t recovered the money you spent with them, they will carry on helping you for free – but only if you have done absolutely everything they told you to, and spent at least 10 hours a week on your site for the past 12 months. Sounds like nice work if you can get it!

A third company employs the most common tactic of all:

“At SEOScum we GUARANTEE that you will get top 10 in the search engines for YOUR chosen keywords. If we fail to do so in the time agreed, we will continue your services at no charge for 3 additional periods!”

Also very easy to translate:

You pay us to do a bad job, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll continue do a bad job for free for three months. We’ll keep the first payment, though.

Finally, my personal favourite:

“If we fail to meet the ranking guarantee at least once a month during a 12 month campaign, you can receive a money back refund equal to the prorated percentage of high rankings we did not earn.”

How are you supposed to get your head around that one? Other signs of an SEO company that you may want to avoid include making totally irrelevant claims (“One of our clients now has 188 pages indexed on Google!”), trying to dazzle with bold stupidity (“We specialise in optimizing sites so that they achieve top ten rankings on every major search engine!”!), and coming out with statements that make it painfully clear that they haven’t worked with many sites or been around for very long (“Our average search ranking, for all clients on all engines, is 7th”.) Yes, those are all real quotes, only very slightly altered.

In other words, there are plenty of optimisers out there that you want to avoid like the plague, or perhaps only seek out if you want a good chuckle. But the fact remains that SEO is a serious business, so what should you expect? What can a legitimate company offer you, if they can’t promise you high rankings?

Well, the first thing you want to do is stop focusing purely on rankings. You may think that they’re the bottom line, but they’re not – conversions are. Yes, it’s difficult to attract paying customers if all your rankings are in the low 50s, but it’s still important to keep in mind that rankings alone aren’t the holy grail of SEO.

A number one position for a certain keyword isn’t going to help you unless it’s targeted enough, and perfectly suited to what you’re offering. Similarly, a perfectly targeted keyword isn’t going to bring in any traffic unless people are searching for it. Experienced optimisers know that a successful SEO campaign is all about the keyword research, and trying to maximise the number of relevant, popular terms that you are found for. This takes time and effort, but although no guarantees can be made about rankings, it will virtually always increase the amount of targeted traffic to your site. This, in turn, should translate into increased sales for you.

In short: look out for SEOs who are serious about their keyword research, and who are happy to tell you exactly what they’re doing to your website and why. Accept that you’re unlikely to see any overnight changes, and stop obsessing about rankings. Focus on your product, and work with your SEO to make your website the best it can be. Traffic, and conversions, will follow.

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ON A LIGHTER NOTE:

When it comes to updating software, there are three different user types.

Category 1 is the person who not only doesn’t care about updating their software, but doesn’t even know they can, should or need to. As a software developer you may be familiar with this person. Their long, long, long list of complaints were all addressed in the YourSoftware 2000 release.

Category 2 is the person who more or less whoops for joy when they see an update, as long as it’s free. The moment it’s available they’ll be among the first to install it. Whether or not they need the update is more or less irrelevant.

Category 3 knows that the update is available, but doesn’t like to rush these things. The “don’t fix what isn’t broken” adage fits their outlook perfectly, and unless there’s a compelling reason to upgrade, they probably won’t do so.

As for myself, I fall somewhere between the second and third. At some point we’ve all updated a piece of software that has then gone belly up, and caused us a huge amount of pain, anger and wasted hours.

Most of the software I use is for work, so generally speaking unless I have to update it, I don’t want to risk smashing my schedule to pieces by having to run a Windows Repair. Shudder.

Generally speaking. But there’s something about a free update. Maybe it’s the thought that the app will perform better. Maybe it’s the prospect of security holes being patched. Maybe it’s feeling as though you’re getting something for nothing. But the appeal is there.

Today I installed an update for my email client. It actually fixed a minor annoyance that has been bugging me for years. But it could have gone the other way. I could have been left wishing I’d left it well alone.

Perhaps it’s just my way of getting an adrenaline rush, without having to leap off bridges or jump out of planes. But sometimes I just have to update that software.


The Competitive Edge newsletter is a monthly in-depth look at the issues faced by independent software developers today.

If you’d like to comment on any of the information within the newsletter, please email Dave Collins directly atdave@softwarepromotions.com.

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