As of about a half a year ago I knew literally nothing about marketing or search engine optimization. I've been involved on the technical side of early stage companies a few times and had oft wondered about the magical mystical world of online marketing. I kept hearing things like "landing page" and "conversion rates" and "A/B" testing and thinking "yup, that's what everbody says you need to do..."
Well the company I work for is launching a new product and I decided I want to be involved, both because my personal opinion is that our company isn't awesome at marketing (I have hopes that I can improve things) and because I wanted to learn how it's done. It's been a fun few weeks and I thought I'd share a bit about what I've learned, what we did, what tools helped and where we're at. I'm hoping it'll generate some discussion, potentially help others in a similar place and give me something to reflect on in the future.
We have a two marketing goals for this project right now, and I would describe them as:
1. Build a following of eager early adopters
Our product isn't quite ready for general availability right now, so we're focused on getting in touch with people who will sign up, try our beta release, and give us feedback to help refine the product before we launch into GA.
2. Establish a presence
Becoming a noticable entity on the internet isn't impossible, but it definitely does take time. We don't want to fighting for visibility after our launch so this is definitely an immediate priority.
I cetainly can't gaurantee the quality of these goals, nor am I saying this is the best way to approach product launching. It's just what my inexperienced mind landed on. I would love to hear other opinions and options.
Okay, now that we have some loosly defined goals, how do we get there?
1. Figure out what you're selling
First things first, we need to decide exactly what we're going to "sell". I spent a couple of weeks searching tweets and forums and looking through Google Adwords for various keywords and phrases that could lead somebody to our product. Essentially you need to:
Find the most common problems you product solves, and how users are looking for solutions.
Once I knew the greatest pain points and the keywords, forums, blogs, etc. associated with them I could start building up content that described our product in a way that would meet two goals:
- Readers feel that the solution we're selling solves their problem
- Search engines determine that the content we have is relevent to the problems users are searching about
Granted these are pretty fuzzy goals, but you get the idea. Everything you write, title, post and comment on should have a focused theme and intentional keywords.
The more focused your content is, the more likely you will become "athoritative" in your problem space, in the minds of both real people and search engines.
Okay, now we have a solid sense of who we're writing to, and how we should describe what we're selling.
2. Get it Out
You need some way to focus your traffic. Something to link to. Somewhere to put the content. For us, this meant building a landing page but the best way to funnel your traffic probably depends a lot on what you're marketing.
Regardless, the following priorities are still going to be important no matter how you launch:
Prepare to measure
Before launching a site I wanted to define the goals and–more importantly–how to measure them. Over and over I'd heard people say "measure everything" and I fully agree:
The worst case isn't that you have a site with no visitors, it's that you have a site with lots of visitors and no idea why or how to connect with them.
Our goal at this stage was simple: signups. Right now we aren't selling a product, we're selling a concept. We're selling access to a Beta we haven't even released yet. We want people to associate with the idea, give us their email address, and tell us how they plan to use what we're building so we can build something that genuinly helps them.
I think it's important to consider the following questions before building anything:
- If 100 users came to my site and none of them (insert conversion action here), what does that tell me?
- If 10,000 users come to my site and none of them (insert conversion action here), what does that tell me?
- If 100 users come to my site and 50% of them (insert conversion action here), what does that tell me?
- If 1,000 users come to my site and 5% of them (insert conversion action here), what does that tell me?
The goal is to figure out whether or not your succesful, and if you realize you wouldn't really be learning anything in each of those scenarios then there is no point in launching.
If you don't know what "success" means to you then you don't know what to measure and you aren't ready to launch anything.
Once you can clearly state what success means then you're ready to move on to building up your launchpad.
Initially we evaluated LaunchRock as a simple way to get things up and running and I think that if you aren't tech-savvy at all it might be a convinient way to go, but we quickly ran into limitations when it came to the types of custmizations we wanted to do from a look and feel perspective. I eventually decided to use a self-hosted Wordpress with the Landlr theme. So far I love it.
I also added some handy Wordpress extensions that I would certainly use again:
- SEO Ultimate helps add search engine friendly meta data to your pages and posts.
- XML-Sitemap generates a sitemap of your Wordpress site and notifies search engines when things change. Engines use these maps to gather information about the structure of your site.
- Social Sharing Toolkit makes it easy to add social sharing links to your posts.
- Google Analyticator is an easy way to add Google Analytics to Wordpress.
Once I had the site built, styled, and loaded with a bit of content I wanted to make sure it looked right from a search engine's perspective. There are lots of paid services for SEO site analyzing, but most of them let you do a few checks for free. Rather than pay I just Googled "SEO site analyzer" and used some of the free and trial options available to check my site for obvious blemishes. There were lots of little things this helped me fix, like ALT tags, descriptions, headers, site maps, structured data and things like that.
Okay, now I have a good looking site with some relevent content ready to measure my goals and convert my visitors. Time to get it out.
I started by making search engines aware of my site. Sign up and add your site to Google's Webmaster tools and make sure it doesn't have any issues crawling your site and processing your sitemap. You can use these tools to have Google crawl a paticular page and immediately add it to the index.
This starts building your search priority, but links, social chatter and traffic is what will get you anywhere near the top. Building a useful following in the social media realm is a completely seperate topic I won't get into here except to mention that social media activity is certainly a good thing, although I can't even pretend to be able to give any sort of ROI for your time spent in this space.
Secondly, I searched for forums and blogs related to my problem space. I started commenting and replying anywhere I could honestly position my product as a solution or answer. I wasn't blindly plastering links everywhere, but I was getting it out there wherever I could. It takes a lot of effort, but as far as I can tell this is the best (or maybe the only) way to build links when you're just getting started.
Find your guys
Over the last few weeks I've discovered that
Finding a successful outlet for your content might be the most important thing to do early on.
The last thing I did was submit links to my landing page in content aggregation sites like Reddit, Hacker News, Inbound and Digg and then monitored the traffic and conversions I got from each. I quickly discovered that for me, /r/technology and Hacker News got the most relevent traffic and highest conversion rates. Awesome. Now I have somewhere to go with new content. Every blog post I write and update I release gets pushed out through these channels, with a surprisingly good response.
In fact, while I was in the middle of writing this post I submitted some new content to Hacker News and it completely (relative I guess, but for me it was outstanding) blew up. Typically I would get a boost of ten to twenty users after posting and that was it. This post was different: I hit some sort of magic timing and suddenly I had over 100 active users and my server was completely crushed (I guess another thing I learned is that you never know when you're going to need to upgrade your hosting!).
I guess once you hit a threshold on these sites a lot of other content aggregators immediately pick it up and push it out dozens of other channels.
This was a huge success. Not only did I get a ton of eyeballs on my site and–much more importantly–a lot of conversions, but now Google will see the site as much more popular and relevent leading to increased search traffic in the future. Take the time to find out where your content fits!
That's about it for now.
To be honest I still don't really know if I've been "succesful", but I've realized that getting a few thousand people to check out something you're working on is actually quite a bit easier than I thought it would be. Although this is only one perspective–and I'm sure there are thousands of things I could do better–I'm pretty excited about how this recipie has worked out and I have the sense that we're set up for a succesful launch in the next couple of months.
I'm really curious what you think. Does what I'm doing line up with your experience? What am I missing? What stories of success and failure can you share? Let's discuss.