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
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.)
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.
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.
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.)
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!