Testing Products with Real Customers

Okay, this is a bit of a rant today, but bear with me.

If you go looking for a particular product or service online, you’ll probably find that most of the products and services filling a particular niche are pretty similar. In fact, they often have nearly the exact same feature set. One may be more reliable than another, or sexier, or more responsive, etc, but they all allow you to do pretty much the same things.

That’s really annoying from a user perspective, when what you want to do isn’t supported. This happens to me all the time, but my most recent example is when I was looking for an online calendar to share with others. I immediately went to Google Calendar, because Google typically makes quality applications.

What I needed to do was to setup a recurring event, and then other events that depended on the date of the first event. For example, I needed an event the 2nd Wednesday of every month, and another event the Friday before that Wednesday.

The 2nd Wednesday of every month is supported by every free calendar I could find. The Friday before the 2nd Wednesday wasn’t supported by any of them. I couldn’t simply use the 1st Friday of the month, because the Friday before the 2nd Wednesday could be the 1st Friday, or the 2nd Friday, depending on how the days of the month fall.

So I couldn’t use any of the free calendars out there for my project. (If you know of any that will do what I want, please do let me know.)

I can only imagine that most of the calendars have based themselves off of previous calendar services, taking their feature set from the ones that have gone before. I run into this in service after service online, features that would be very useful are missing.

It’s important to test your product or service with real customers, who will use it in ways that you cannot imagine. They’ll stress the feature set to the breaking point and beyond, and give you feedback that will help you make it truly useful.

If all you do is write it based on what you do, or on what a similar product or service has done, then you’re not providing true value to your customers.

WordPress 2.5 Impressions

I’ve used the newest version of WordPress on another blog for long enough to form some definite impressions about it. Like any new release, there are good bits and not-so-good bits.

The Good Bits

Automatic plugin updating — This is my favorite time saving feature. Updating a plugin to the latest version used to take minutes, but now takes seconds.

Image uploading — This was a bit buggy at first, but seems to be working well now. Lots more options for uploading and inserting images into posts.

The Bad Bits

Sidebar management — This is far worse than in 2.3. You only get to see a single sidebar at a time, so you can’t just drag a component from one sidebar to another any more. I loved the 2.3 way of managing sidebars. 2.5 leaves me cold.

Category management — Every new post is set with at least one category…that’s what categories are for. 2.3 recognized this and put categories in a prominent location. Now they’re stuck below the fold in the editing screen, meaning half the time I forget to set a category when I first write the post.

Post management — The 2.3 post management screen had useful actions as separate links. I could view a post from that screen, edit it, or delete it. In 2.5, you can only edit the post there. To view it, you must edit it, and then click View. Two clicks and a wait for the server, instead of just one click to view. A step backward in user interfaces.

Overall Impressions

I’ll use 2.5 for my blogs, but I feel like it’s a step backward from 2.3’s user interface. I’d rather have 2.3’s user interface with 2.5’s useful new features.

Giving Away Products

There’s a lot of perceived value in giving away paid products.

This is something that happens a lot in Internet Marketing circles. Seems like every holiday has a JV giveaway going on, where everyone who had a product gives it away if you’ll join their list. I’m waiting for the Arbor Day giveaway, myself.

Just giving away a free ebook or piece of software isn’t all that exciting, though. What’s exciting is when you give away something that you had previously charged money for. That creates perceived value in your customers. They think, “Other people have paid $49.95 for this product, and here I can get it for free. Where do I sign up?”

It’s an excellent technique with very little downside.

The secret, from the Internet Marketer’s perspective, is to offer for free products that are aging. Sure, people paid $49.95 for the product when it was new, but these days sales have dwindled to a trickle, and the product is just going to fade into obscurity. By giving it away, the marketer boosts his own image as a generous person, creates in his new “customers” perceived value for his product (and by association, for new products he may create), and builds a list of people interested in the sorts of products he creates.

How long you wait before you start giving a product away depends on how well it’s still selling. Some gurus will turn around and give away a product fairly soon after the product launch. These people make their money on product launches. After that they get a better return on investment by giving you their product in exchange for you buying the next big product during launch through their link.

This came to the top of my mind today because I received an email from sitepoint.com, that they’ve giving away their Photoshop Anthology. It’s an ebook filled with tips and techniques on using Photoshop. Frankly, I doubt it can do anything for me, being the graphics ignoramus that I am, but perhaps some of the rest of you can benefit from it.

From sitepoint’s perspective, this is a great loss leader. They get you to read their ebook, and if you benefit from it you’re more likely to purchase some of their others.

Click here for the free Photoshop ebook.

Beginning of Brain Foggles Promotion

For anyone who has followed the contests over at The Advisory Panel, you’ll know that Connie of Brain Foggles won the blog promotion package in April’s activity contest.

Part of the prize was a month of banner exposure on this blog. You can see the banner over at the top of the right sidebar. That was the easiest place to put a banner, since I haven’t quite had time to work out adding banners to other spots on the blog yet. The banner will run for at least a month (a month plus however long it takes me to find time to replace it).

The idea behind the blog promotion package is to provide some new traffic to an existing blog from a variety of sources. In addition to the banner here, I’ll be writing some articles and submitting them to EzineArticles.com, and I’ll be paying for a bit of banner promotion over at Project Wonderful. With any luck the combined effort will give Connie’s blog a traffic boost.

While you’re reading this anyway, head on over to Brain Foggles and see what Connie has to offer!

What Makes A Winning Adwords Campaign?

For a while now, I’ve been experimenting with Google Adwords.

I’ve always thought that the PPC model, paying for clicks and converting those clicks into higher margin sales, was a good one. But I’d never before invested the time to figure it out. Well, a few months after I started, and I feel like I have a good handle on the Adwords side of the equation. Sure, there’s still more to be done there to improve the click through rate of my ads, but I’m getting low priced clicks.

And still losing money.

So for anyone else who wants to get into Adwords, I figured I’d share what I’ve discovered about creating a winning Adwords campaign. Some of this is still to be done for me, but this is what it takes.

Target Low Competition, Low Traffic Keywords

You’ll see some people who argue this point, and with good cause. After all, if you make $1,000 off a sale, you can afford to bid high on clicks. I’m writing this with the assumption that you’re like me, and not selling products with huge price tags.

Shoot for keywords with low to average traffic. Most people go for the higher traffic keywords, and that’s where the bidding wars are found. Stick with lower traffic keywords, and if you do everything else right you’ll get clicks for low cost.

Your ideal keyword will only have a few other ads already on it. This allows you to place well at your minimum bid.

Write Good Ads

There’s a lot of help out there for this. I can’t claim to have figured it out myself, but I am getting clicks, so I’m not totally hopeless at it, either. Mention the pain that your ideal customer is feeling, and how your product can avoid that pain. If they identify with that, they’ll click.

Write Good Landing Pages

The key to getting low minimum bids in Adwords is to target one landing page to one keyword. Optimize that page the exact same way you would as if you were trying to attract search engine traffic for that keyword.

You’ll regularly end up with minimum bids in Adwords of $0.05 and $0.10.

Write Good Copy

The landing pages themselves must do the job of preselling the product. The entire job of the landing page is to get a visitor interested enough to click through to the product page and buy.

This is the part I’m terrible at. I write well for blog posts and articles, but not for preselling. Paying for traffic doesn’t do you any good if you can’t convert that traffic into sales!

My action item for the next month is to go through the Make Your Words Sell book (a free download over at SBI!), and it’s companion, Make Your Content PreSell (also a free download), and see if I can’t beef up the landing pages I’ve created.

I’ll report back here sometime during the summer with updated results.

Email Whitelisting Tutorial

To close out the week, I’m pleased to bring you a guest post by Chris Lang. Chris provides some great reasons to give your customers detailed instructions for setting up an email whitelist after they’ve signed up for your mailing list (and then Chris even gives you a tool to generate the instructions!)

Email Whitelisting, the best way to increase your email delivery rate!

eROI, in a recent survey of 523 e-mail marketers found that many email lists are using a Thank You Page after the opt-in, but not taking complete advantage of this area.

eROI also found that only 29% of email marketers reiterate the benefits of subscribing, 11% define the email frequency, 11% offer a promotion or coupon, a mere 20% display whitelist instructions and 8% offer additional subscription options.

That is four out of five sites not offering any whitelist instructions to their subscribers. Talk about a missed opportunity.

Email whitelisting allows your subscribers to add your email address to a list of sites NOT to be filtered. It just doesn’t just give it priority, it sometimes avoids the filters altogether!

In Hotmail, email whitelisting adds the sender to the “Safe senders” list. At Yahoo! email whitelisting assures the email appears in the inbox rather than the Bulk folder. At AOL, Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo email whitelisting enables HTML, clickable links and HTML graphics. Without whitelisting your HTML emails appear with just placeholders and text emails appear with the links disabled.

The bad news is that you could spend all day, researching, writing, formatting and proofreading a set of whitelist instructions for your site.

The good news is that there is a email whitelist generator that will do all this for you. It now includes the top 10 ISPs, Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird, Blackberries, SpamCop (yes SpamCop has a whitelist) who is now heavily used by Microsoft and ReturnPath, McAffee and Norton and all the popular client side spam filters.

It’s really easy to use, just fill in four fields, click the button and there is your HTML page, ready to be uploaded to your site. No information is recorded, it only creates a web landing page for you.

How do I use this you ask?

Let’s start with what happens when your new subscriber opts into your email newsletter by filling out your form.

A welcome email, or double opt in link is sent to their email inbox. It is very likely that it can end up in the spam folder due to overzealous spam filters at ISPs. Right at the top of the generated instructions this possibility is addressed and the subscriber is asked to check the spam folder and mark it as “Not Spam.”

That is the right thing to do. This usually moves it to the Inbox and sets some priority for your newsletter to get to the Inbox everytime.

This also means that upon subscribing you must display your whitelist instructions as the landing page displayed as soon as the form is submitted.

It is also best to provide some form of irresistible incentive on this landing page. Push your new subscriber to not only whitelist you, but confirm their subscription if you use double opt in.

The second place to use your whitelist instructions is in every email, prominently displayed at the top. Say “To make sure you continue to receive this publication please add us to your address book” and link to the whitelist instructions.

It seems to work best if you use “add to address book” rather than “whitelist us” as that confuses non techies easily.

Using some basic common sense, putting yourself in your new subscriber’s shoes and offering some helpful whitelist instructions will definitely raise your delivery rates, your double opt in rate and continued readership!

This article was written by Chris Lang, an email delivery professional and consultant.

Do you want to learn more about how to avoid spam filters, deliver more email and not end up in the spam folder? Drop what you are doing and click this link: How to avoid filters and Get it to the Inbox!

Building Your Online Credibility

I seem to on a reputation theme this week, for some reason.

When you’re trying to market a product or service, one of the key tools you have is the trust a prospective customer has in you. After all, if they trust your judgment, and you say that a product will help them, they’ll probably buy it.

Maintaining that trust depends on your own credibility. So today’s post is about building your own credibility.

Credibility and trust are subjective impressions that others form of you based on your actions. So we’ll focus on actions you can take that will lead others to think of you as more credible and trustworthy.

Be A Real Person

People trust people. Put some personal details on your site, and in your communications with others. Using your real name helps, but if you’re not comfortable with that, adopt an online name that at least sounds more real than typical screen names.

My level of trust in someone is always higher if they sign comments and forum posts with a name, rather than with keyword stuffing (e.g. “Make Money Online Blogging”). This has some pretty subtle ramifications…if a person is keyword stuffing blog comments, then they’re trying to gain every little advantage for themselves that they can. How do I know they won’t do the same in their dealings with me?

Be Reachable

Prospective customers must be able to reach you with questions and concerns. You’re most credible if you have a phone number where you can be reached. Most people wouldn’t want to provide their home phone number for online business dealings, which is understandable. But you can get a free Evoice.com voice mail number to use online. You’ll get an email anytime someone leaves you a voice mail at the number.

Receiving an email from someone and seeing that they’ve included a phone number in their signature for you to call if you need to builds credibility pretty quickly for me.

Choose What To Promote

Too many people trying to make money online these days pick products and programs to promote based on how much they think they can make from it. Not based on whether the product or program is any good.

You might gain a sale by promoting a product that isn’t any good, but you’ll lose credibility once the customer discovers that the product doesn’t live up to its claims.

Be Original

You’ll find a wealth of sample sales material with pretty much any product you choose to promote. Using it will hurt your credibility.

You’ll see this all the time with the “gurus”. A big product launch is coming, and every marketer with a big list sends nearly identical emails to their list (those emails having been provided by the owner of the product). About the third time you see that same email come by, I’ve pretty much decided that everyone who sent them is just out for a quick buck, and couldn’t even be bothered to give me their honest opinion of the product.

Those that do give me their honest opinion build credibility quickly with me.

Make Claims You Can Prove

How many websites have you seen where the site claims that you can make $10,000 a month by following three simple steps? Anyone who promotes sites with unreasonable claims instantly loses credibility.

If you’re promoting such a site, at least put a front end of your own on it that provides your honest opinion of the site, and provides claims you can prove. That way you keep some credibility by separating yourself from the hype.

Communicate

If you’re building a membership of some sort, communicate with your members regularly. Don’t just send them an email anytime you want them to spend some money on your behalf, keep them up to date with what’s going on in the group regularly. They’ll come to trust you more than if you only contact them asking for money.

Many people online seem to do fine without worrying about credibility, so maybe this is all way off base. But I know that I’d rather do business with someone I trust than not.

Look Mom, No Ethics!

Reputation is a subject I return to over and over again.

There seem to be two broad categories of Internet Marketers. Those who simply copy what everyone else is doing, including heavy use of Fear Based Marketing, and those who make their own way. This post is mostly aimed at those who simply copy what everyone else is doing, such as including forum signatures with lines like, “Ask me how I make $5,000 per month”.

Online reputation is an interesting thing. Google someone’s name, and you’ll not only see what they’re up to lately, but you’ll see what they’ve been up to since they’ve been on the web. Online activity leaves traces that stay around for a long time.

What do you want your online activity to say about you?

I like to think of it in terms of my Mom, who started out on the Internet in her mid-60s. What will she find if she Googles my name, and would I be proud of it?

Too many people seem to think that entering into Internet Marketing means leaving who you are at the door. Don’t get me wrong, some people really are the sort who would scam others just to earn a buck. If that’s who you are, then go to it! The online trace is there for the world to see.

But if that isn’t who you are, do your online activities provide a fair picture of you? Or are you trying to copy what others are doing without regard to who you really are?

What would your Mom find out there with your name on it?

Fear Based Marketing

So many of the Internet Marketing techniques that are promoted these days are fear based.

Countdown timers, limited time offers, good for one-day-only, this video is being pulled soon, price increase tomorrow, etc. All these are basically ways to play upon a potential customer’s fear of missing out, to stimulate them into purchasing a product before they’re ready to do so.

Fear is also used as a way to suggest that, if you don’t purchase the product, all sorts of bad things will happen to you. You won’t make a million in 30 days, you won’t be able to quit your day job, people won’t like you, etc.

To a certain extent, this is unavoidable. If you present proof of success, many people will buy out of a fear that they cannot succeed without your help. But there’s a difference between fear coming up in people because of who they are, and a marketer deliberately instilling fear as a way to convert a potential customer.

What sort of marketer do you want to be? Sure, it’s effective to instill fear, in terms of selling products.

But most of the products bought out of fear go unused. How many Internet Marketing products have you bought that you never used, just because you felt you’d lose out if you didn’t buy them? How many ebooks are on your hard drive, filled with techniques you’ve never used?

Products that get used are ones bought from confidence. People who get to research the product, discuss it with others who have bought it, and come up with a plan for using it, tend to actually use the product. Those are also the products that will succeed for customers. At least that’s been my experience with Internet Marketing related products.

So what’s your measure of success as an online marketer? Is it how much you make, or how many of your customers succeed?

Creative Use of WordPress’ More Tag

In WordPress, you have the option to insert a more tag in your post. The effect of this is that anywhere the post appears other than the actual post page, the post content stops at that point with a link along the lines of “Click here to read more”.

I’ve always hated seeing that link. It’s a disservice to your readers to force them to make an extra click to read something. They’re already on your site, just give them the full text of the post. I generally don’t bother to click to read more, I just leave the site.

But, there’s always a way to use any technique that makes it not only useful, but enjoyable as well. I ran across this on a veterinary student’s blog, Nearly-Dr Ferox. That’s a link to his home page, if you scroll down you might see a post titled, X-ray challenge #1. Or not, if it’s scrolled off by now.

I don’t know if the use of the “click here to read more” was intentional in this case, because most of the posts have it, but in the X-ray challenge it works extremely well. He posts an X-ray, asks some questions about it, and then the link to read more. You’re left with the impression of a quiz…you actually want to look at the X-ray and see what you can find, and then you want to click the link to see the answers.

Just showing the answers without the link to read more wouldn’t have the same effect.

So while I’d previously thought I would never use the more tag in WordPress, I now see that using it in a quiz or challenge sort of post enhances the user experience. Now I just have to come up with some quizzes or challenges!