Dan Wood: The Eponymous Weblog (Archives)

Dan Wood Dan Wood is co-owner of Karelia Software, creating programs for the Macintosh computer. He is the father of two kids, lives in the Bay Area of California USA, and prefers bicycles to cars. This site is his older weblog, which mostly covers geeky topics like Macs and Mac Programming. Go visit the current blog here.

Useful Tidbits and Egotistical Musings from Dan Wood

Categories: Business · Mac OS X · Cocoa Programming · General · All Categories

Thu, 28 May 2009

13 Lucky Marketing Tips for Indie Developers - Part 3 of 3

This is part 3 of a three-part series. Part 1 and part 2 have been archived on the World Wide Web, for your convenience.

10. Make Launches into Big Events

In the past, I assumed that the best way to launch a product was to be as secretive as possible about the product until the big announcement. After all, that's how Apple does it! But, face it, we are not Apple. Apple is able to build up a fever-pitch frenzy by being secretive and letting the rumors fly. Indies, on the other hand, need to make their own buzz. You can build up to your product launch with gradual hints put up on your website, sent to your email list, mentioned on forums, "leaked" to rumors sites as Wil Shipley suggests, and so forth. Make sure to collect an interest email list so that people will be able to buy your program the moment it's out. Perhaps you can partner up others to help you get the word out about your upcoming launch, especially if you have an incentive for the readers of your partner's messages and/or the partner promoting your launch.

Hopefully your launch will not conflict with some other big event in the Mac community. If you start making noises about Launch Day, other developers will probably work their launches around you so as not to saturate the news cycle. Fortunately Apple is pretty good about warning us in advance when they are going to launch something big, so it's easy to work around their schedule as well.

(Today's MacUpdate promo bundle is an example of how not to do this. They could have built up a frenzy for weeks, the way that Panic did for their sale. Instead, they just issued a press release today. No anticipation!)

11. Keep up to date on the main Mac sites

Be sure that you always update your listings for your software on the main software tracker websites. The main listing sites are currently MacUpdate and IUseThis; you should get an account and list your software with each version update. You should strive to get your software listed with the Apple Downloads site: if your product is picked as a featured download, you will get a lot of downloads (and hopefully sales) during that time. Make sure to keep your software updated frequently so its listing doesn't expire! While VersionTracker used to be the king of these sites — we'd get huge spikes in Watson sales directly from VersionTracker back in the day — it's now hardly worth the hassle of registering now that it's been bought out by CNET.

12. Allow your software licenses to be sold and bought by third parties

There are a lot of other models besides a person buying a license for themselves on your website. Try to consider other ways people might buy your software. A simple change in your licensing setup might allow somebody to buy a license as a gift for another, for example. But how about people who want a piece of the action? While individual Mac users are likely to recommend your product to their friends as a courtesy, there are many consultants whose livelihood depends on setting up people's Macs and getting a cut of the sale. So ideally you would set up your selling system so that you could have affiliates (codes that allow you to track how somebody heard about your product so you can compensate the referrer with some percent of the sale). Another approach would be to have an online storefront that allows somebody to perform the transaction themselves to purchase your software on behalf of somebody else, while taking a commission.

Of course the biggest step of all, one which most indies are not willing to take, is to go into boxed product retail stores. You may wish to listen to the audio of the panel discussion that I put together back in 2004 for the O'Reilly Mac OS X Conference, "How to Run Your Own Software Business." Wil Shipley (Sorry to keep mentioning him here!) ranted eloquently about why this wasn't a good idea, especially in the United States, and I don't see any indications that things have changed at all since this conference. Unless you know something I don't know, I'd suggest ix-nay on the ox-bay.

13. Give away licenses liberally

Look, there are something like 20 million people running Tiger or Leopard currently. Of course you'll never reach all of them, but if you can sell your software to a few thousand per year — just a tiny fraction — you are making a living.

So again inspired by Shipley, think of how you can give away licenses of your software to some of the others (the other 19,990,000 people) and use that as leverage. If they write a blog review of your software, you may sell a few more copies to somebody else.

Another place to give away your software is to Apple employees. (Sure, some of them might have paid for your software, but if you can ignite a passionate response in somebody who works for Apple as a sales engineer or a genius at the Apple store, you will sell more copies. We know of many cases where people come into Apple stores and get sold on Sandvox for cases where iWeb won't do the job, for instance.) Contact the Third Party Promo manager for this. Give your software to consultants like members of the Apple Consultants Network. Offer discounts and free door-prize licenses to members of Mac User Groups. You get the picture.

Wow that turned out to be long, and I feel like I've just scratched the surface. Do you agree or disagree with these points? Any further insight you want to share? Add your comments and let me know what you think I should address further, or add your ideas that I didn't mention — maybe I'll find some fodder for another post. And be sure to tell me if you start using some of these ideas, and how it works out.

BTW, I'll be at WWDC (and the pre-WWDC sfMacIndie Party) in a couple of weeks — look for me sometimes wearing a Karelia T-shirt - no wolves, sorry! (See simulation picture here; the shirts haven't actually arrived yet!) If you'd like to chat about some of these ideas over coffee/beer/Jamba, I'd be more than happy to continue the conversation!

Wed, 27 May 2009

13 Lucky Marketing Tips for Indie Developers - Part 2 of 3

This is part 2 of a three-part series. Read part 1 if you dare! (By the way, I think today's big sale by Panic is a good illustration of point #1 from yesterday's post!)

5. Do Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO — I'm not advocating any "black hat" trickery here — is the act of making sure that your website provides the content and structure that the people out there — who are looking for what you provide — need, in order to find you via Google (or its lesser brethren). I'm amazed at how few indies seem to be paying attention to this. I've been studying this for a while now (something that came naturally out of creating a website builder), and although it does require a modicum of understanding and work, it's not rocket science! It really boils down to three prongs: (1) making sure that your site is properly indexed by Google, (2) making sure that your website contains the words and phrases that people are likely to be searching for, and (3) getting lots of links from other websites with good reputations. (Having a useful blog that people will link to, and sending out free or paid press releases through PRMac.com is a good way to get this going.) Of course the nuts and bolts are a bit more detailed. If you are interested in learning more about this, we have found that besides Google's documents (which are of course very useful and accurate but don't tell the whole story), the company StomperNet has tremendous, well-tested knowledge that they have made available either for free or very little cost. Though their own marketing style is a bit too "slick" for my tastes, their information is first-rate. You can get their seven-part free course, and if that whets your appetite, you can get their full SEO course for — golly, gosh — one dollar. (Yeah, they are obviously making money on the "back end" here. Actually the magazine they are trying to get you to subscribe to is amazingly good and I'm very likely to stay subscribed to it.)

6. Tune your "Free Google Ad"

Yes, you can pay for ads in Google (we tried it — it wasn't worth it; there were too many PC users out there clicking on our ads and Google doesn't let you only serve ads based on the user-agent) but did you know that you get a free ad on Google for each and every one of your pages? I'm talking about the organic search results! By controlling what I am coining the "aspect" of your web pages — the title tag and the meta description — you have the opportunity to create a headline and description that people will want to click on when your website shows up in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

We recently added the capacity in Sandvox to control this when we realized how important this was. You get up to 65 characters for your title tag and 156 characters for your meta description tag before Google starts adding ellipses (which, according to StomperNet, drastically reduces the likelihood of people to click on your listing), so use them wisely.

Actually there's one other aspect of your aspect that you should consider — the URL of the web page, which shows up in green in your Google listing. If the domain name and path to your file name have words that are close to what the searcher was looking for, that's also a plus for their likelihood to click through and get to your website.

7. Optimize your Website

Last year I read the amazing book Always Be Testing. I was, uncharacteristically, moved to write a (glowing) review of it on Amazon.com. It really opened up my eyes to the importance of having clearly-defined action for visitors when they get to your site. By using Google Website Optimizer, you can perform experiments on your website and see which variation causes more people to take action — e.g., download your free software demo. Examples are adjusting placement of elements, adding social proof like testimonials, case studies, and award badges, changing colors and fonts, adjusting headline text, adding reassurances at the point of action, and so forth.) The book is a great guide to Google's software, and provides a number of suggestions for what to vary to improve your site. We have been constantly testing and improving our main Sandvox page since last September. If your website gets a decent amount of traffic, you can do this too. (In order to get statistically significant measurements, you need hundreds or thousands of visits, so it may not be feasible to actually run the tests if your website is just getting off the ground.)

Here's an example of an experiment I tried. I got a comment that it wasn't that obvious that our website was selling software, and we should have a "box shot" — a fake (but tastefully rendered) image of a simulated product box, as if our product could be found on the shelves. I found some decent software and created an image, which I then tested in contrast with the program's icon. The results came in pretty quickly — it was a failure. More people downloaded our demo when there was a simple Mac icon than when there was a box shot. (I'm only measuring visitors who are browsing from a Mac.) It might be that we inadvertantly gave the impression that it's not downloadable software, or maybe it looked too much like a Windows image!

One of the insights I learned from the book was that there are four types of visitors to your website. Those who are ready to buy, those who are interested but haven't decided, those who are just "window shopping", and those who really didn't belong on your website in the first place (e.g. the Windows user). It's good if you have actions for the three visitor types who count: as an indie developer, that might correspond to the following: a button to purchase, a button to download a demo, and a form to get on your email list.

If you have been paying attention, you may have noticed that the last three points are a kind of funnel — getting your website to show up in the search engine listings, getting people to click on your listing, and then getting your visitor to actually do something. Yes, I did that on purpose.

8. Give your customer choices

People love to make an order that fits them just so. Look at Apple's options when you buy a Mac through their store, for example. You can do something similar by offering a "Pro" edition of your application. (Or even a third ... uh ... "studio" edition ... read Predicably Irrational for some ideas why three choices is better than two.) Those who are on a budget can get your lower-priced offering; those with money to spend or the desire for power will go for the Pro version. (We have found that Sandvox Pro outsells the regular version by 2 to 1.)

9. Give away free stuff

Other products, add-ons, PDF "e-books", anything like that. If you haven't figured it out by now, people love free stuff. You can use them as incentives for people to join your list, or buy your product by bundling them in as bonuses, or just send out something cool to the members of your email list every so often as an unannounced bonus. You can have a free version of your paid product. If it's free, people will like you for it!

One more chunk to go. Don't forget to leave some comments with your violent disagreements or statements of love and solidarity, or anything in between.

Tue, 26 May 2009

13 Lucky Marketing Tips for Indie Developers - Part 1 of 3

Since I started being an indie developer for Mac OS X (FYI "indie developer" is the same as "Micro-ISV" in Windows-speak) in late 2001 — a long time ago, actually, when most Cocoa software titles available were ports from NeXT — I found myself wearing the "marketer" hat as well as doing programming. Back with Watson, I just followed my intuition and was met with wild success; with our current Sandvox, mac website builder, I think our success has come from a more thoughtful approach to the topic now that the marketplace is much more crowded.

Over the years, I've been learning more and more about marketing as it relates to the indie developer. Some of it comes from my own experimentation, some from maestros like Wil Shipley, and much from some excellent books as well as websites that, even though many contain a lot of good information, make me want to wash my Cinema Displays for a while after visiting them. (If you've seen those "Squeeze pages" with lots of Impact font, black and red text, and yellow highlighting, you know what I'm talking about. They must be appealing to Windows users; I think Mac users have a more refined sense of aesthetics!)

I thought I'd make a little post about marketing that may be of use to other indie developers. Well, it started out being little but it got kind of large, so I'm splitting it into multiple parts!

I have to say that we at Karelia are not yet practicing all these suggestions — though I'd love to be, it does take a while to actually implement some of these ideas — especially the first one I'll list here. We'll get there soon. In the meantime, these tidbits will hopefully be of use to you.

Before I dive in, I guess I should define marketing. To me, it's more about general promotion and getting people to want your software product. It's not about "sales," which I've never been very comfortable with, but instead, making sure that the people who might want to use your software know about it and its benefits, and once they have it, are happy users that are likely to spread the word to others. So for me, marketing is giving more value to our potential customers.

1. Sell — or plan for — more than one active product.

I've mentioned over the years that this is the one piece of advice I wish somebody had given me when I was just getting started as an indie developer.

From a purely technical standpoint, it would have forced me to build our back-end infrastructure (like customer database) in such a way that when we have a second commercial product in addition to Sandvox, it will be easier to bring it to market.

From a marketing standpoint, there are some great advantages to having a second or third revenue-generating product on the market at the same time. One is that every time you get in the Mac "news" for doing something interesting (like issuing an update), your company and all its products will benefit. For instance, each time we issue a new update to our free iMedia Browser, we get a bump in sales of Sandvox for a few days. Having more than one product also means that people who came to buy one item may also decide to buy another while they're at it, either spontaneously, or through a "bump" or "upsell" you do when they go to check out. ("Do you want Yogurt with your McSalad?")

Another advantage to having more than one product is that you can do "loss leaders" where one product, sold for very little, will bring people into your fold — see the next tip — where you then have the opportunity to sell them other products later. This is a technique used frequently by retail stores that advertise one item at a great discount but make up for it by the other things you purchase. MacHeist, I recently realized, is a perfect example of that, so if you have a product you can sell for next to nothing as a leverage for selling your other applications, it can be a long-term win for you as a developer.

2. Have an email list for customers and prospective customers

Back in the Watson days, we didn't have an email list so we had no idea who was trying or buying our software. There was no way to communicate with our entire community. We set one up when Sandvox was in pre-launch phase of Sandvox, so now we have a huge list of people who either bought Sandvox or are interested in our stuff. We can send out monthly emails with tips and tricks for the Sandvox and iMedia Browser, make sure people are up to date, and point out other cool Mac software that our subscribers will find useful. And when we have a new product, there are thousands of people who will be the first to know about it!

If you set up a mailing list, be sure to do all the right non-spammy things like confirm people's intention to sign up and give them an easy way to unsubscribe. You can sign people up the first time they launch your program (as a demo or a paid user), or from a form on your website, or both. (You will probably want to offer some incentive (like a free program or PDF) to entice people to bother to sign up from the web.)

(BTW, You can sign up for Karelia's Email List yourself. Don't be shy!)

Your mailings, whether they are frequent or infrequent, should at least be consistent, and provide some value to the reader. If it's just hype, your subscribers may not stay subscribed for long.

Here's a tip: If you have URLs in your email linking to your site, you are not going to be able to tell where they are coming from when you examine your server logs or use Google Analytics. We worked around this problem by creating a little home-made URL shortener script on our website. We found when using this that a large percentage of our site visitors are actually coming in from our mailings, a fact not evident before.

You can also use your email list to send out periodic emails directly to your new customers to follow up on their purchase. Give them tips and tricks, suggestions, and offers of help. Welcome them to your extended family!

3. Build an Ecosystem

I think I first heard Tim O'Reilly apply the term ecosystem as it relates to Software. If you can make your software part of a bigger universe of other developers or content providers, you will get a lot of marketing juice over the Internet, and find other benefits from time to time. I had designed Watson with an SDK, and it encouraged developers to jump in and build their own modules. (It gave the product more credibility and it may have provided some benefit to the developers —¬†one of them landed his dream job at ESPN after writing a sports module; one has since become a successful indie developer, and one, Terrence Talbot, wound up becoming a partner at Karelia!) With Sandvox, our open design specification has allowed half a dozen designers to create — and in some cases sell, as part of their business — their own designs. (Check out our showcase these independent Sandvox designs, a website which is itself a marketing effort.)

4. Practice "Integration Marketing"

Integration Marketing, coined by marketer (or as I like to say, meta-marketer, because he is one of the many marketers who markets the art of marketing) Mark Joyner, is the act of finding and taking advantage of points where others can market your stuff, or you can market other's stuff. There are usually a number of opportunities for you in your contacts with your customers and prospects to promote useful and complementary products or services. Putting amazon.com affiliate links or Google ads on your own website are two obvious examples. With Sandvox, we have three web hosting partners that we refer people to, so that they will have a good experience publishing their website. (Without such ideas, Sandvoxers might still find a decent host by themselves, or they might just default to GoDaddy and regret it later!) It's topical and helpful, because it fits in with website building software. So yes, it's an additional source of income, but integrating with them is also adding value to our customers. We even added additional value by creating screencasts for each of the hosts, to walk Sandvoxers through the process of signing up for a domain name and hosting.

Of course, the important thing is to find good partners. You could do joint venture ("JV") partnerships with other indie companies, promoting their software (either for a commission, or as we sometimes do, just for what we like to call "good karma") and have them promote your stuff, which of course translates to sales that somebody else made without you doing any work. It doesn't have to be just Mac software companies teaming up with other Mac software companies. It really depends on what your product's domain is.

If you are looking for opportunities for integration marketing, a good idea is to build a process map of your own company. What are your points of customer contact? What flow do they go through in visiting your website, downloading, buying, signing up, confirming, getting follow-up emails, etc.? Where are there opportunities to reach your prospects and customers in a helpful way?

Note: if you are paying or receiving commissions/affiliate payments, there are various accounting/tax implications of this, so make sure you know what you are doing.

OK, that's all for now. In part 2 I'll have some things to say about websites and prices. Be sure to leave some comments here if you agree, disagree, or have some other thoughts!

Mon, 25 May 2009

Get Thee to the Maker Faire!

Every year I try very hard to go to O'Reilly's Maker Faire, held at the fairgrounds in San Mateo, California. It's one of the highlights of my year, seriously. (I missed last year, but I was having fun in Europe, so that's OK.)

I haven't heard a lot of twitter about it this year, so I wanted to make sure people knew about it.

I'm personally not into DIY (other than software) but I love to see what others are working on. There are a lot of amazing creations, both "techno" and "retro" (or a combination of the two). Many items that have been to Burning Man and back. Lots of interactivity, too. The way I've described the event, especially since it's held at the fairgrounds, is as a "county fair for geeks." It is really an amazing event, both for adults (at least of the geeky persuasion) and certainly for curious kids.

I'll be spending my birthday there with my kids (and perhaps their friends) in tow. If you've never been, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Fri, 08 May 2009

Using Twitter to get references for somebody you don't know

OK, I haven't been blogging much here. If you read this with NetNewsWire, my feed has probably been a deep shade of brown. Truth is, I tend to post pithy comments on Twitter most of the time rather than blog here.

But occasionally I have something interesting to share that goes beyond the 140 character limit. So here I am!

Ironically, this blog post is about Twitter. Specifically, how to use it as a tool to get references for somebody you don't know.

I posted a question a few days ago asking if anybody knew somebody who could help us with some system administration stuff. And I got a response, from somebody who was interested in helping us out.

Trouble is, I didn't know that person. Of course when hiring somebody you can ask you for references. But I thought I'd try something different — I figured out some references on my own.

I did this manually, but then fellow twitterer and Mac/iPhone developer Chuck Soper (@ChuckSoper) pointed me to a cool web service TweepDiff.

There are a number of options here, but the operation which will help with this particular case is to compare your friends with the other guy's followers. In other words, find out what people whom you follow also follow the other guy. Hopefully, anybody that follows this other person knows him or at least finds him interesting enough to follow.

With that list (after filtering out any institutional twitter accounts who auto-follow), I was able to contact some of my colleagues and ask what they think of him. And, lo and behold, I learned some useful stuff! In this case, it was positive....